By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Date: Thu, 1 Dec 2005 13:35:44 -0700 From: Dirk Elzinga Subject: Mixed Artificial Languages
AUTHOR: Libert, Alan Reed TITLE: Mixed Artificial Languages SERIES: Languages of the World 29 PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH YEAR: 2002
Dirk Elzinga, Department of Linguistics and English Language, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA.
Artificial languages are languages which have been consciously invented rather than arising naturally and spontaneously among a community of speakers. Well-known examples of artificial languages include Esperanto and Klingon. An artificial language can be created for a number of reasons: as background for a fictional world, as a private code, as a vehicle for personal introspection, or as an international auxiliary language.
Among artificial languages intended as international auxiliary languages, there is a traditional tripartite division based upon the relationship of the artificial language to national or ethnic languages. _A priori_ languages are languages whose vocabulary and grammar are created from scratch with little or no borrowing from natural languages. _A posteriori_ languages are languages in which vocabulary and grammar are drawn from one or more natural languages. Of course, a priori and a posteriori represent endpoints of a continuum rather than discrete categories, and one can also speak of _mixed_ languages--languages which lie between the two extremes in grammatical and lexical material.
This book is the second of a series of three which discuss artificial languages from a descriptive and typological perspective. The first book in the series (Libert 2000) deals with a priori languages; the third book (Libert 2004) deals with a posteriori languages whose source vocabulary is drawn primarily from Latin and its daughter languages. The present book treats languages of the middle or ''mixed'' category.
Chapter 1 is a brief introduction to the languages which provide the material for discussion including the sources of information on the languages. These languages include: Balta, The Blue Language, Bopal, Dil, Dilpok, Gilo, Menet's Langue Universelle, Nal Bino, Orba, Pan-kel, Qosmiani, Spelin, Tal, Vela, Veltparl, and Volapuk. The sources which Libert uses are not always first-hand and he makes copious use of Couterat and Leau (1903/1907), a compendium of artificial language descriptions. Internet sources are also used for many of the languages.
Chapter 2 presents the sound inventories of the languages under discussion together with their orthographic conventions. At least one of the languages, Gilo, can be represented using non-Roman characters as part of its design, but all examples of the language are presented in the romanization found in the original source material. There is a section on suprasegmentals, but since the source materials available for the languages under discussion have very little to say about suprasegmental properties, this section is correspondingly brief. There is also a section on phonotactics.
Chapter 3 deals with issues in the creation of the vocabulary of mixed languages. Mixed artificial languages are, by definition, drawn not only from natural languages but also from their makers' imagination; the choice of vocabulary items is guided by several sometimes competing principles including brevity (e.g., a preference for monosyllabic roots), internationality, neutrality, ease of pronunciation.
Chapter 4 discusses properties of the inflectional and derivational morphology of nouns, pronouns, numerals, adjectives, adverbs, verbs, adpositions, conjunctions, interjections, and other particles.
Chapter 5 discusses syntactic features of the languages under discussion, so far as they can be discerned from the source material. Libert includes discussion of basic word order in the sentence and noun phrase, binding, pro-drop and object drop, and asyndeton.
Chapter 6 summarizes what can be gleaned from the source materials concerning the semantics of the languages under discussion. Topics include synonymy, ambiguity and homonymy, idioms, and metaphor.
Throughout the book are short discussions relating the descriptive material to language universals. The statements of universals are drawn from the online _Universals Archive_.
Libert's goals in writing this book are both descriptive and typological. On page 2 he states: ''I hope that this book will give an idea of the nature of this interesting group of languages.'' He is also clearly interested in the typological profile of these languages as a group, and he provides some discussion of how well these languages conform to postulated universals of human language.
The structure of the book lends itself well to typological discussion. By dividing it into chapters concerned with phonology, morphology, syntax, etc, Libert provides himself a framework for discussing the typological characteristics of these languages. The pattern is set in the chapter on phonology; there is ample discussion of the phonological inventories of the languages in question, and a nice section on how these languages compare to universals of phonological inventories. Unfortunately, Libert does not maintain this pattern in the other chapters, where discussion of the conformity or nonconformity of these languages to postulated language universals tends to be rather cursory, and there is no consistent place from chapter to chapter where typological observations are made and discussed.
The languages discussed in the book were chosen on the basis of their having appeared in Couterat and Leau (1903, 1907) under the heading of ''mixed languages'', but much of Libert's source material is taken from World Wide Web pages. Without the ease of online ''self- publication,'' many constructed language projects would be completely unknown, and there is a lively online constructed languages community. But as with most online communities, it is rather transient and Web sources are notoriously short-lived. In this respect, Libert's book is potentially an important source of documentation for some of these projects.
The descriptive aims of the book, however, are seriously hampered by the book's brevity and organization. It might have been more effective to provide short grammatical sketches of the languages profiled in the book and then proceed to discuss the typological properties which these languages show. This would, of course, have made for a longer book, but one which would have more descriptively satisfying.
One other complaint is that there are no translations of foreign language passages; in particular, the French quotations from Couterat and Leau are frequent and occasionally lengthy. This is off-putting to a non-French speaking reader who is nonetheless interested in the topic, especially since some of these quotations provide important parts of the description of the languages in question.
Couterat, L. and L. Leau. 1903 and 1907 (1979). _Histoire de la langue universelle_ bound with _Les nouvelles langues internationale_. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag.
Libert, Alan. 2000. _A Priori Artificial Languages_. Languages of the World 24. Munich: Lincom Europa.
Libert, Alan. 2004. _Artificial Descendants of Latin_. Munich: Lincom Europa.
_Universals Archive_. World Wide Web pages at URL konstanz.de/pages/proj/Sprachbau/introduction/>.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Dirk Elzinga is Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA. His primary research interests are Numic (Uto-Aztecan) languages and English phonology. He has been active in the online constructed languages community since 1993.