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What is a Constructed Language?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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A constructed language is a language that has been intentionally built by a person or a group of people, rather than naturally evolving over time. Constructed languages are also referred to as artificial languages and may be referred to by the shortened term conlang. A constructed language that is built to be used as an internationalist language may also sometimes be referred to by proponents as a planned language.

A constructed language may be created for a number of different reasons. For groups attempting to create an international language that can be easily learned by disparate groups, the use of a constructed language is an obvious choice. Far and away the most famous example of this sort of constructed language is Esperanto, a language created in the late 1890s as an auxiliary language to be used worldwide to help build international understanding. Esperanto has an estimated one million speakers worldwide, with approximately 1,000 native speakers.

Many works of fiction also make use of a constructed language as the primary language for their fictitious cultural groups. Much contemporary fantasy and science fiction makes use of constructed language to some degree, with some such languages being incredibly complex and thoroughly fleshed out. J. R. R. Tolkien’s languages created for his Middle Earth fantasy setting are perhaps the most detailed of these, with entire language families, a highly-fleshed history of the language evolution, and rather extensive lexicons. The Klingon language developed by Marc Okrand for the Star Trek universe is another example of a language created for use in a fictional world, although it now boasts many thousands of speakers in the real world.

Some early constructed languages were not viewed as intentionally constructed, but rather as divinely inspired tongues. These include the 12th century Lingua Ignota, which was presented as a mystical language spoken by the angels, and some Kabbalistic attempts at resurrecting the original language of man that was lost at Babel.

Constructed languages may also be used to try to create more logical and precise alternatives to natural languages. These languages may be either philosophical languages or logical languages, and they are collectively known as engineered languages. A logical language, such as Lojban, tries to reduce any ambiguity in a sentence to the point where it is virtually non-existent, so that the meaning one is attempting to convey is the only meaning that can logically be derived from the sentence. A philosophical language, such as Ro, often tries to reflect some philosophical truth in the form of the language. Ro, for example, is a constructed language in which the meaning of a word can be derived from the construction of the word itself, so that if one knows the rules by which words are formed, any new word’s meaning can be understood immediately.

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