“Language Construction Kit,” by Mark Rosenfelder | AIM Non-Fiction Review

This is the second conlanging book that I have read for my blog. It has helped me in ways that Peterson’s book did not, yet it also misses some points that I needed to hear.

Plot

This is basically an introduction to conlanging, just like David J. Peterson’s book. It starts with the rudimentary steps of developing sounds, which leads the discussion to grammar, orthography, and social context. It progresses smoothly for the most part, however there were moments when I felt lost.

Author

Mark Rosenfelder is a conlanger who is dedicated to his own linguistic work, which are featured on his website Zompist. There is no bio, from what I could find in the book, though he seems important enough to be engaging with a linguistics course in a Google Hangout.

Themes

Recurring advice that Rosenfelder makes is to make sure that a language is not so complicated that it becomes confusing. He begins making that case for words and sounds, since he wanted the reader to start at an elementary level before incrementally proceeding into a fully functioning language. He also focuses on starting with names and then deciphering those names for their root words. He also talks about how English names come from a variety of languages.

Languages have the tendency to evolve, which he points out many times. That is why he encourages conlangers to begin a proto-language before proceeding into the actual conlang. He also discusses the concept of polysemy and how words tend to either degrade or upgrade their meanings. Evolution especially becomes evident when the sounds start changing.

As such, the use of context is important when creating a language, since it establishes common understanding through metaphors and implications. This applies when making class and seniority distinctions in a setting, as well as elaborating a story or account.

Another point that Rosenfelder emphasizes to the avoid English features, either the grammar, phonology, or words. This is, I presume, to make sure that the conlanger does not rely on any Anglophonic bias when developing a new language. He further notes that the English language should not be the sole language to learn, since it would result in reduplicating its features. However, a major problem that I have is that he informs the reader to avoid using English features, yet he constantly uses English features as examples throughout the book. It would not be as much of a problem if those examples also pertained to other real-world languages, however that is not the case.

He spends a lot of time discussing about the possibility that the reader might have in creating an alien language. This may be the case that the reader would need to take into account cultures and environments that are completely unrelated to Earth, he does not go as far as Peterson did in proposing that if the aliens are not humans, then they would not have the same articulators and would therefore produce different sounds. Rosenfelder touches upon it briefly, of course.

Historical Context

I notice that a lot of the subjects discussed in this book is exactly what I read in Peterson’s book about conlanging. It is important to note that this book was written before Peterson’s. So, it would feel like I am rehashing the information, however it does help to reinforce that type of information, since I do not want to forget it.

Though, since the linguistic field is very dense with strict use of terminology, I would think that the differences are coincidental.

He does mention how the works of Whorf revolutionized linguistics during the 1960’s counterculture movement, since he made the case that languages are based off the culture of the people who speak it in the first place. He says that while it should not apply to real-world languages, he has no problem applying Whorfian theory to conlangs.

Writing Style

Rosenfelder uses a lot of linguistic terminology in order to explain the functions of language itself. Unlike Peterson, he does not coin any terms, which definitely made this book less distracting.

Like Peterson, Rosenfelder writes the conlanging book in a conversational way, so as to make the material easier to understand. There are moments where he will use relevant humor in order to drive a point, and even use profanity.

He makes frequent references to his own conlangs, especially at the end of the book where he provides samples of them. He will also mention which languages the conlang takes inspiration from, such as Mandarin Chinese and Japanese.

Real World Application

Rosenfelder constantly references the conlangs that he created as examples within his book. Definitely, he has demonstrated, through his website, that he is extremely dedicated to linguistics, since they help breathe life into a world from non-existence.

My issue with Whorfian theory being applied to conlangs–specifically at least–is that if the purpose is to make the conlang unique, then there are ways of doing it without trying to make the language represent something. The supposed connection between language and culture is much deeper than language influencing thought, since that culture would have to be shaped by the biosphere upon which the people would have had to live in for thousands of years. Language does not shape a worldview; for in a conlang, the vice versa is true.

Rosenfelder makes frequent references to linguistic scholarship that he suggests to readers. I know I would be giving him the Trumpian non-answer of “I’ll look into it,” but currently I am reading recommendations made by YouTuber Biblaridion.

Suggest This To…

  • If given the choice, I would prefer the Peterson book over this book. Although he provides a lot of coverage of the nuances of speech, I do not have the time to confirm that they happen in any language besides English.
  • Any non-conlangers who might think about writing literary fiction as opposed to genre fiction. The reason why I would recommend to those types of writers is because Rosenfelder discusses in great depth social context, as previously mentioned before. As such, he would be helpful in formulating dialogue.
  • Anyone interested in Rosenfelder’s own conlangs and how he managed to create them.

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Rosenfelder, Mark. “The Language Reconstruction Kit.” Yonagu Books. 2010.

Image Attribution: Micky Milkyway

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