Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Conlang" and the OED

So, conlang got an entry in the OED a few days ago. The word has been in use since the early 1990s, and in the post-Avatar, post-Game-of-Thrones world, it is unlikely to fade out of existence any time soon, so this is an obvious move on the part of the OED editorial team.

Compared to some conlangers' reactions, my own personal reaction to this is fairly muted. I absolutely do not view this OED entry as any sort of vindication of the art. First, if I needed approval from others to pursue my hobbies, I wouldn't play the banjo, much less conlang. I don't usually look to others for approval of my pastimes (except my neighbors, I suppose, if I decide to do something unusually loud). Second, there are all manner of very unpleasant behaviors also defined in the OED, which no one takes as a sign of OED editorial approval. The word's in the OED because it is being used now, has been for a few decades, and is likely to continue to be used for decades to come. The OED entry is a simple recognition of that fact.

I was, however, delighted to notice that one of the four citations was a book by Suzette Haden Elgin, The Language Imperative. Few people are neutral on her major conlang, Láadan. I'm a big fan, while at the same time not believing it capable of accomplishing the goals it was designed to attain. I got a copy of the grammar for the language before I had regular internet access, and so was the first conlang I ever saw that wasn't mostly a euro-clone.1 I learned a lot from Láadan, so I have a warm place in my heart for it. It's a shame Alzheimer's has probably robbed Elgin of the opportunity to know she was cited in the OED.

1 Klingon is not nearly as strange as it looks on the surface. Láadan introduced me to a range of syntactic and semantic possibilities I had not previously encountered: evidentiality, different embedding structures, inalienable possession, simpler tone systems, the possibilities of a smaller phonology.

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