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Honestly, I don't see very many conlangs these days and I see that normal languages (Such as Welsh or Irish) are much more widely used? Why is that?

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    Besides Esperanto, constructed languages are used in science fiction all the time. Think: Game of Throne or Startrek. Except for amusement, why would you expect to see them??
    – Lambie
    Mar 26, 2023 at 18:27
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    In what context? I feel like you're talking about fiction but the answers are not.
    – Nardog
    Mar 26, 2023 at 23:57
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    Short answer: conlangs have one speaker. Who are they going to speak it with? Naturally you won't hear them speaking it, unless they're in a movie; and even then they're just mouthing noises somebody wrote down for them -- nobody speaks a conlang because it's not really a language and isn't usable for communication. Sort of like ChatGPT writing your school papers; you're not gonna learn much in the class.
    – jlawler
    Mar 27, 2023 at 15:27
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    Welsh has had at least half a million speakers for more than a century according to Census statistics. Irish is the official first language of the Republic of Ireland, population ~5 million. Why would it be surprising that those are "more widely used" than any conlang? As Nardog says, it seems like there is some unmentioned context about where you expect to see these languages.
    – IMSoP
    Mar 27, 2023 at 17:06
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    @jlawler One speaker? Maybe not even that. Who wants to spend time analyzing all this? Maybe the inventor can't speak it at all and just hopes his/her/its utterances cohere with with whatever they invented.
    – Lambie
    Mar 28, 2023 at 16:07

4 Answers 4

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Motivation is an essential factor determining language vitality. For example, the number of Hebrew speakers increased from zero to 9 million with a major spike in the past 100 years. Likewise, Sanskrit has enjoyed a significant expansion in popularity over the past century, though the existence of first-language speakers is unclear. Native American languages are also enjoying a bit of a revival, so that there are many more speakers of Lushootseed now than there were 15 years ago (again, though, none are fluent first-language speakers). A significant feature of all successful language-preservation and revitalization programs is wide-spread use including use in education, as in the case of the various Sanskrit universities of India.

Esperanto has a reasonable number of speakers including a few hundred native speakers, but this is not a geographical community. One might want to discuss with Esperanto speakers their motivation for speaking Esperanto, and compare that motivation to the motivation of speakers of Hebrew, Sanskrit, Lushootseed as well as various language with low numbers of speakers which did not have a phase of being a dead language (e.g. Welsh, the Saami languages, numerous languages of India like Dogri, Meitei, Tulu).

Many conlangs are structurally under-developed, where aspects of the language's grammar are not fixed / public (e.g. there is no reference grammar of Dothraki), so you might want to look at this list and pick appropriate languages that you think might reasonably be spoken by more people. One problem with the expansion of Barsoomian as a language is that it requires speakers to be telepathic.

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    Similarly, a problem with the expansion of Entish would be that nobody has time to spend three days just to say hello and agree that their visitors are not Orcs. Mar 26, 2023 at 20:33
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    +1. One quibble: Hebrew has always had speakers; it didn't have native speakers for a long time, but it was still learned and used for at least some purposes (poetry, religious commentaries and so on, communication between Jews without another language in common, etc.). (Incidentally, this also accounts for many of the differences between Modern Hebrew and the Hebrew of the Torah; Modern Hebrew is in many respects a continuation of the Hebrew that was already in active use before the revival, which of course had evolved over the centuries.)
    – ruakh
    Mar 27, 2023 at 22:04
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    +1 simply for mention Barsoomian.
    – AnoE
    Mar 28, 2023 at 8:24
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    @Lambie, Hebrew is a semi-conlang, insofar as people in the 19th century sat down and filled in scads of missing vocabulary, both for modern concepts and for concepts that existed in earlier times but don't happen to have been expressed in any of the literature (the word for a brush reportedly being an example). Mar 29, 2023 at 20:57
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    Why do we need to be more precise here when it's clear nobody is claiming that Biblical Hebrew is a conlang? I've already explained by analogy with English why we don't need to be more precise. And, yes, as you said, and as I responded, I can see calling it a semi-conlang, and explained why. If any "proper linguist" has a reason why my explanation doesn't justify calling it a (semi-)conlang, I'll consider it. In contrast, giving me no such reason while declaring, without evidence, the non-existence of a "proper linguist" who would call it a conlang isn't an argument. Mar 31, 2023 at 11:36
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Conlangs (usually artistic languages) are widely used for the sake of giving depth to a fictional world. Examples include Klingon from Star Trek, Na'vi from James Cameron's Avatar, Dothraki and High Valyrian from Games of Thrones, and the Elvish languages of Tolkien's Middle-earth.

I assume that what you're actually asking is why don't we all speak an international auxiliary language (IAL), as was the goal behind Volapük, Idiom Neutral, Esperanto, etc.

In a way, we already have one. It's called English, and is already widely used in international business, science, and technology. English is one of the six official languages of the UN, the two official languages of the International Olympic Committee, and the language of international civil aviation.

The main objection to using English as an international language (besides technical aspects like its confusing spelling system) is that it's not culturally “neutral”, unfairly privileging the Americans, British, Canadians, Australians, Irish, and New Zealanders. But hypothetically suppose that some international organization did set out to make a constructed language to use as an IAL. It would be a challenge to make one that's truly globally neutral in terms of phonology, vocabulary, and grammar; as easy for Japanese or Swahili speakers as it is for French or German speakers. (Existing proposals tend to be Eurocentric.) But since this is a hypothetical, assume that a Perfect IAL does get invented. Odds are, some countries would be more able and willing to devote resources to teaching the IAL than other countries would. And then we have a world with disparities in knowledge of the international language — which is the exact situation we find ourselves in with a global natural language. So, the project would kind of be self-defeating.

Of course, you're free to take your own initiative to learn Esperanto and have a global community of 100,000 or so L2 Esperanto speakers to communicate with. But OTOH, you could learn any one of the top 8 natural languages (Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, and Japanese) and have over 100 million L1 speakers to communicate with. Which do you think the average person (as opposed to a linguistics nerd) is going to choose?

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  • Since Esperanto is based on various Indo-European languages, especially Romance languages, couldn't you get at least some degree of mutual intelligibility with other speakers of Indo-European languages such as Spanish, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Bengali, and Russian? Mar 30, 2023 at 3:25
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    @SolomonUcko: Yes, but you don't get mutual intelligibility with Mandarin or Japanese. Hence the argument that Esperanto gives an "unfair advantage" to speakers of European languages.
    – dan04
    Mar 30, 2023 at 21:02
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    Yeah, for sure. That is a significant portion of the modern-day world, though, especially if L2 speakers are included. OTOH, Toki Pona includes vocabulary derived from many different languages (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toki_Pona#Provenance), though nearly half of the roots have Indo-European etymology, the vocabulary is quite small, and some of the words are signficantly modified to fit Toki Pona's phonotactics. Mar 31, 2023 at 1:35
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Because there is little compelling reason to learn them.

Consider the very specific example of Toki Pona. It’s a relatively simple language, and most people can learn it at a basic level in a matter of days. However, even simple conversations can be difficult in it because it has such a small lexicon (fewer than 150 words, despite technically being a properly complete language), so it’s a pretty poor choice as an auxiliary language. What this ultimately means is that there are comparatively few speakers (at most about 50000 worldwide by my estimate), because there is not really a practical reason for almost anybody to learn the language other than saying they learned it.

And that last bit is the key here: Anybody learning a second language does so for a reason, and there are precious few reasons for learning a conlang.

In general, 99% of people who learn a conlang do so for one of three specific reasons:

  • To use it as an auxilary language. This was the design purpose of many especially famous conlangs, such as Volapük, Esperanto, Ido, and Interlingua.
  • Because they think it’s cool or fun. This accounts for most learning of conlangs that are not auxilary languages, especially languages like Ithkuil or Lojban that are built up around specific goals other than becoming an auxiliary language.
  • As a means of social currency among specific groups (IOW, because a large group of people think it’s cool). This is the main reason that people learn fictional languages like Klingon, Sindarin, Dothraki, Goa'uld, Mando'a, or Na'vi, being able to speak even just a few words in these languages is a relatively fast route to being recognized as a super-fan in their respective fandoms.

For the case of learning a conlang as an auxilary language, you run into the bootstrap issue. An auxilary language is only useful if it’s widely spoken, so even conlangs built to be auxilary languages are essentially dependent on speculative learning by prospective speakers (IOW, they are only successful if enough people think they will be successful that there is a reasonably large community of speakers). But, there’s an even bigger limiting factor here: Most people never even hear about these languages, so the pool of prospective speakers is relatively small. Part of what made Volapük so successful early on was how quickly knowledge that it even existed spread (compare Universalglot, which had similar goals and predates Volapük by a decade, but never really caught on).

For the other cases though, you run into even more issues. The prospective groups who might consider learning such languages are very small to begin with. Ithkuil, for example, probably has fewer than a thousand ‘speakers’, and exactly zero people who are fluent in it (due to the extreme complexity of the language). Additionally, a lot of conlangs that are not designed to be auxiliary languages are very complex by most standards (like Ithkuil or Lojban), or very limited by most standards (like Toki Pona), which limits prospective interest even further.

Fictional languages have a slight advantage here in that they tend to have much bigger prospective audiences, but many of them are also not full languages. Klingon is a bit of a strange exception here in that it’s one of the few fictional languages that has been extended into a complete language (and there’s even an opera written in it), but most other fictional languages consist of a a few dozen words and phrases, and don’t even have a complete grammar, let alone a usable lexicon, which essentially automatically excludes them from most people’s lists of languages they speak.

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Children will learn the language(s) used by the adults around them, and natural languages are far more widely used than conlangs. A very small number of people are fluent in a constructed language and use it around children enough for them to acquire it.

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