As all linguists know, there are only about 6,000 languages left in the world today, and that number is shrinking rapidly. Constructed (or created or invented or planned) languages, on the other hand, number more than 128 trillion, according to conservative estimates, and more and more flower into existence each and every day.1 Though up to now, formal linguists (or, at least, respectable formal linguists2) have largely ignored the works of language creators, it seems inevitable that at some point in time during the late 21st or early 22nd century, there will remain only one natural language (Lithuanian), while constructed languages will number, quite literally, in the decillions.
Given that eventuality, as well as the need for linguists to remain gainfully employed, I wish to provide today’s linguists with tips for doing fieldwork on constructed languages. Treat these as a set of guidelines, not commandments, as constructed languages (or constlangos, as I believe they’re called by language creators themselves) are notoriously fickle creatures, appearing in this state one day, and another the next.
Be Wary of the Internet: A constructed language can be changed by its creator in mere moments. The Web can be treated as an invaluable record of a given stage of a constructed language, but should not be regarded as either the most current version, or the most accurate.
Date Your Work Carefully: A given constructed language may have five cases one day and seventeen the next. If working on a given language ABC, never publish an article with a title like, “Noun Case in ABC”. The title will likely be inaccurate the moment it’s penned. Instead, be sure to accurately record the date of your fieldwork, and then re-
Hide Your Work: Language creators google themselves
Throw Away Your DAT Recorder: Only one in every 152 thousand created languages is ever spoken aloud
Everyone Has to Eat Sometime: Though the average language creator operates on 39.5% less sleep than the average human, all language creators do eat.4 Mealtimes are the perfect time for the adept fieldworker to gain access to a language creator’s computer and/or notebooks
“Yeah, When I Was Younger”: Constlangoleurata were for many, many years suspicious and a bit fearful of linguists. Linguists in the past were highly skeptical (and jealous) of constlangofication, and, as a result, frequently derided and insulted language creators. Though those days are gone, language creators still prefer to keep linguists at arm’s length, so to speak. If your informant asks you, “So, did you ever create a language?”, there is only one correct answer, and that answer is: “Yeah, when I was younger.” If your informant presses you for more information, distract him/her by producing the grammar of a rare language (for which, see the next point).
Bring the Grammar of a Rare Language: Language creators can never get enough of wild and wacky natural language data. They find language fascinating,5 so if you bring along some data from a truly rare language (and, no, Basque is not rare enough), they’ll stop whatever they’re doing and spend the next hour or so devouring it bit by bit (which, I might add, will provide you with plenty of time for espionage [cf. Everyone Has to Eat Sometime above]).
Your Informant Is Always Right: This advice, of course, applies to all fieldwork, but in the case of language creators, it’s especially important. For example, their use of linguistic terminology may differ from the mainstream in ways that yours may not differ (or, perhaps, in ways that differ from the ways yours differ). If presented with a term that strikes you as odd, simply smile and say, “Indeed, that is what a trigger system is,” or, “Yes, I would call that case the extrapolative”. Your interpretation, which you’ll write up later, can read however you want it to (though cf. Hide Your Work).
Know Your Informant: It’s never wise to offend your host. Chances are, your informant will love one of the following languages and hate one or more of the rest of them: Esperanto, Klingon, Lojban, Quenya, and Sindarin. So if you see a green star flag on your informant’s wall, don’t start off a conversation with, “Man, so how about that Zamenhof! What a nut, am I right?”
Waffles Work: Most language creators, being human, like waffles, as most humans like waffles. This information should prove invaluable to you in the field.
In the coming centuries, constructed languages will be the bread and butter of linguistics. By following these simple guidelines (modified, of course, by your own understanding of fieldwork and common sense), you’ll be able to accurately and profitably conduct fieldwork on any of the innumerable constructed languages that exist in the world today
1 The same study (Ballsworthy, 2006) estimates that one out of every three persons who uses a cell phone after eleven p.m. local time on a Wednesday will have invented a new language within the past nine hours.
2 Cf. Steinenblatzerin’s 1993 paper “Yuh Huh!: A response to those ignorant jerkwads who say Esperanto is not the world’s best language because they’re jerks! (And wads.)”.
3 Graduate students, those dreadful curs, are famous for “anonymously” informing language creators of the existence of a given article about one or more of their languages, simply so those spiteful little chimps, upon publication, can write a new article about the most recent version of the language, rendering the first article (whose form they likely copied, where possible) obsolete.
4 For more, see Jensen-
5 Which, of course, is why they make such bad linguists.
|Writing a Fieldwork Dissertation—Kai Tak Suvarnabhumi|
|The Prudent Fieldworker’s Guide to Preparation and Packing—Part II—Professor Athanasious Schadenpoodle|
|SpecGram Vol CLIX, No 1 Contents|