Welcome again to the world of invented languages, where meaningful words meet quirky grammar structures, and unusual sound combinations transpose humanitarian, scientific or artistic ideas. However strange, eccentric or feckless these languages may seem, they represent somebody’s high efforts and hopes to build a better or unique means of communication, and should be valued as such. This month we will explore three more conlangs, in an attempt to discover why they were created, how they evolved, and some of their distinctive features. Meet Talossan, an artistic language designed to define an outstanding new nation, Láadan, an engineered language created to test an original linguistic theory, and Solresol, an auxiliary language aiming at universality through music.
On December 26, 1979, shortly after the death of his mother, Robert Ben Madison in Milwaukee, Wisconsin founded the Kingdom of Talossa by declaring his bedroom to be an independent, sovereign country (Talossa actually means ‘inside the house’ in Finnish). 14-year-old Madison thus became King Robert I, ruler of a micronation which at the time consisted of a few relatives and acquaintances. In time, with no official objections from the U.S. Government, the Kingdom’s territory expanded, claiming the Greater Talossan Area (the East Side of Milwaukee) bounded by La Mar Talossan (a.k.a. Lake Michigan), the uninhabited island of Cézembre (officially French), and a large portion of Antarctica. In the mid-90s, the story caught the attention of international press, which led to a considerable increase in the number of Talossans. The current population is 221, mostly citizens who reside outside the Kingdom, as far away as the U.K., Argentina, Nigeria, Pakistan or Australia. Although its legitimacy is not acknowledged by the U.N, the U.S.A., or any other legitimate nation, nowadays Talossa is one of the oldest micronations in existence, organized as a constitutional monarchy consisting of eight provinces, with its own cabinet, political parties, laws, institutions, newspapers, flag, and motto (‘A man’s room is his kingdom’, in Finnish). The current sovereign, King John, was elected in the aftermath of a tumultuous history including a queen, a minor king, a republican crisis, and a restoration.
Because his new subjects needed to speak their own language, Madison invented Talossan. Learning that a Berber sub-tribe of Morocco was called the Talesinnt, he decided that his nation was “inexplicably and inextricably connected somehow to Berbers”, which led to Talossan being inspired by Berber languages for mythological purposes. However, it is constructed as a Romance language, influenced by French, Occitan and, for some analysts, Romanian (incidentally, when King Robert I gave his first speech to the people, his crown, an old Milwaukee fire department hat bought for 3 $, was dubbed a “Romanian train conductor’s hat”). Talossan uses the Latin alphabet (including letters not found in present-day English such as ß, þ, ð and ç), has a single word (fieschada) for ‘love at first sight’, and many irregularities which render it quite naturalistic. The language also displays merger of the first- and third-person plural verb conjugations, suggesting a mentality where the essence of communication is the group concept rather than the presence of the speaker (e.g., te burlescarhent means ‘some group, perhaps including the speaker, perhaps not, will laugh at you’). Another remarkable linguistic evolution is that of the verbs irh and viénarh, originally ‘to go’ and ‘to come’ respectively: in present-day Talossan, the former is the only space-motion verb, having incorporated the two meanings, while the latter is used exclusively for motion in time (e.g., viennent da menxharh ‘the group just ate’); in both cases, direction is conveyed by prepositions. Presently, Talossan is one of the best-known micronation conlangs in the world, with a strong online presence, and one of the most elaborate fictional languages, with over 28,000 words in its dictionary. As the official language of Talossa, it is overseen by a special committee, which regularly publishes decrees describing usage changes and vocabulary updates.
Male readers, beware: there is a conlang specifically aimed at expressing the views of women. Láadan was created in the 1980s by linguist Suzette Haden Elgin for her Native Tongue science fiction trilogy, where a group of women linguists tries to revolutionize a world where women have lost their civil rights by building up a language that can “bring to life concepts men have never needed, have never dreamed of – and thus change the world”. Since language construction was a significant plot element, the author decided to go through the process herself before depicting it. Elgin hypothesized that Western natural languages were more appropriate for male communication, lacking ways of expressing emotional information conveniently and forcing women to say what they did not mean. She intended to determine whether a more adequate expression mechanism would be embraced and used by women, thus shaping a new culture, or at least motivate them to replace it by a new “women’s language of their own construction”. Elgin later acknowledged that her construct failed, as it got very little attention as compared to Klingon, the epitome of male conlangs, and concluded that women do not find human languages to be inadequate for communication. However, there is some debate around the social and linguistic pros and cons of Láadan, and a small community nurturing the language and still creating new words online.
Taking a closer look, Láadan is a tonal language which lacks the phonemes /p/, /t/, /k/, /g/ and /s/, and interchanges verbs and adjectives. It is also an agglutinating language, which means that syllables have their own meaning and form words according to specific rules. Such a system reduces ambiguity and favors subtlety, rendering speakers more responsible for their production. Thus, Láadan makes use of distinct particles to disambiguate sentences, clearly indicating the type of speech act (declarative, question, command, request, promise, warning) or the degree of trustworthiness (e.g., known to speaker because self-evident, perceived by speaker in a dream, assumed true by speaker because speaker trusts source, imagined or invented by speaker, etc.). The language also contains many affixes signifying feelings and moods that natural languages generally indicate by tone, body language or prolixity, such as (-)lh(-) (‘disgust’ or ‘dislike’), dúu- (‘to try in vain to’), or -(e)the (‘possessor by unknown provenance’). Female is the gender-neutral category, and denoting male requires the suffix -id: for instance, with means ‘person’ or ‘woman’, while withid is ‘man’. Moreover, Láadan vocabulary provides a plethora of emotion-related terms which are hard if not impossible to find in other languages, such as áayáa (‘mysterious love, not yet known to be welcome or not’), doóledosh (‘pain or loss that comes as a relief by virtue of ending the anticipation of its coming’), dóthadelh (‘to enable another to persist in self-destructive behavior by providing excuses or by helping that individual avoid the consequences of such behavior’), rathom (‘one who lures another to trust and rely on them but has no intention of following through’), along with semantic nuances which allow refined distinctions like that between dena (‘friendliness for good reason’), dehena (‘friendliness despite negative circumstances’), dina (‘friendliness for no reason’), dona (‘friendliness for foolish reasons’), and duna (‘friendliness for bad reasons’).
Another conlang designed for a specific category of users, but which is unrelated to any natural language, is Solresol. It was created as of 1827, by Jean-François Sudre (1787 – 1862), a French music teacher who dreamed of a musical language that everyone, even the blind or deaf, could use. He called it langue musicale universelle, and first used it as a means of distance communication by the sounds of musical instruments, dubbed téléphonie, which the French military and navy found beneficial, and several academic institutions deemed ingenious. Its effectiveness was demonstrated in international conferences, where Sudre made instantaneous translations of dictated phrases. In order to render the language available to the hearing-impaired, he removed all sound, maintaining rhythmic elements as transposed by the hands. From 1880, France hindered teaching of sign languages to the deaf, so the fleeting popularity of Solresol decreased, until it almost disappeared as other constructed languages like Esperanto were gaining momentum. Nowadays, a small but enthusiastic international community is keeping Solresol alive on the internet.
The accessibility of Solresol resides in the fact that it has eight basic phonemes: the seven musical notes, which can be lengthened or accented, and silence, used to separate words. The language can be represented in several ways: as spoken syllables (solmization), as musical notes on a stave, with the first letters of the seven notes, the seven colors of the rainbow, numbers, symbols, hand gestures, blinking lights, etc. This means that Solresol users can communicate by speech, song, colored flags, painting, stenography, sign language, finger pressing and so on, which makes it easy to use by different categories of disabled persons, and readily learnable for the illiterate. Words are made up of one to five syllables, and those with more than three are divided into meaning categories, according to the first syllable: do – man as a physical and moral being, his qualities, intellect and alimentation, re – household objects, mi – man’s actions and flaws, fa – the countryside, travel, war and navy, sol – arts and sciences (solresol itself means ‘language’), la – industry and trade, si – town, government and administration. When the last syllable is accented, feminine forms obtain, while lengthening it results in pluralization. Remarkably, antonyms obtain by syllable reversal: for example, fala means ‘good’ or ‘tasty’, lafa means ‘bad’. Parts of speech derive from verbs by lengthening one syllable: the first (abstract nouns), the second (agents), the penultimate (adjectives), the last (adverbs). For instance, resolmila is ‘to continue’, reesolmila ‘continuation’, resoolmila ‘one who continues’, resolmiila ‘continual’, resolmilaa ‘continually’.