Fantasist's Scroll

Fun, Fiction and Strange Things from the Desk of the Fantasist.


Automation in Conlanging

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I see a disturbing trend…

I spent a little too much quality time on a conlang BBS this week. Well, it’s not a real BBS, but it’s one of those new-fangled, PHP-based web-BBS things. I hate them. I much, much prefer the old-fashioned e-mail list or newsgroup.
Anyway, I got all wrapped up in a discussion about the virtues, or lack thereof, in automated word generators. It started with someone reccomending my old generator, which is really based on code from Chris Pound. Well, someone complained that it would be nice to be able to specify the phonology of the words to be generated. So I worked for several months at PERL and finally coded up my Conlang Wordmaker, which will look really familiar to people who have used Langmaker. Well, when I posted that, it sparked a number of things, but one person made the comment that they “damn well would never use a word generator” to make their conlang. Well, that sort of irritated me. And, when I get irritated before my morning coffee, I tend to type rather sharp replies.

But, sharp replies aside, what’s wrong with using a word generator? I mean, a piece of beautiful furnature that was assembled with power tools isn’t any less beautiful, is it? Is something done by hand, in the slowest, hardest way possible, inherently more worthy of praise? I don’t think so, but apparently quite a few conlangers do seem to think so. And, as I’ve poked around the web, it seems to be a sentiment that conlang people in general have taken to be a Universal Truth. But, why?

I think it’s because so many of them are, or were, linguists or linguistics students. Academia is anchored to a rigid system of learning that tends to insist people follow certain patterns. I have a college degree, but most of what I know that I truly prize, I learned on my own far, far away from a classroom. I think far outside the box that academia tends to force scholarship into. For instance, in learning things like PERL, I learned that whichever way works, is a good enough way. Sure, there may be other ways, but if it works, it’s good enough way. So, too, in my “day job”. I manage servers in a corporate envrionment, so I often don’t have time to find the “best” way. I have to make it work, usually on a budget, quickly. I apply that maxim everywhere in my life.
So, how does that relate to conlanging? Well, I’m not really too hung up on phonology or morphology. I don’t care to spend hours upon hours making a rigid, highly technical scheme of phonology and morphology. It matters more to me how the language sounds. If I’m looking for something that sounds a little bit like Cantonese as spoken by a Polyneasean, what difference does it make how the words are formed? All that matters is that I get my end result, a conlang that sounds right.

I’m not in favor of form over function. I never have been. For most things, I’d rather it get done quick and dirty than never get done at all. So, I’m in favor of using whatever tools get the job done for a conlang. I don’t care if you steal words from a natural language and “mutate” them into a new conlang. Do whatever it takes to make a language that adds that realism to your fiction! What matters isn’t the process, but the art that you create!

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