When I was a kid, my friends and I spoke in pig Latin when we wanted privacy while others were present. The rules were simple and familiar to many, though in our smugness, we weren’t aware of that until our 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Brown, slapped us down with a few pig Latin phrases of her own. In pig Latin, words that begin with consonant sounds were placed at the end of the letters with “ay” attached. “Pig” became “igpay” and “banana” becomes “ananabay,” for example. Words beginning with a vowel or silent letter ended with “yay.” “Eat” became “eatyay,” and “omelet” becomes “omeletyay.”
Years later, I bumped into J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, where this scholar in both Old and Middle English not only developed different languages for his tribes but provided a dictionary complete with entomologies – etymology studies the origin of words and the way their meanings have changed over time.
Still later, I picked up a few Klingon phrases from Star Trek and the invented languages of The Game of Thrones. Esperanto came earlier and had a more serious purpose: to unite the world under one language. It never took off.
David J. Peterson, a linguist from the University of California, has a website listing 13 languages he’s created and has a new book out called, The Art of Language Invention, or “colanging.“ To colang is to invent constructed languages. ((Speaking in Tongues,” by Josephine Livingston, New Republic, November 2015, pgs. 80-83.) Language invention has become so popular, today it’s a profession. Hollywood and businesses in other entertainment fields use colang experts as consultants. (Ibid pg 80.)
One task of a colang master is to match the sound of the language to the spelling. Sound, after all, is another part of language creation. What may seem harsh or guttural in one culture is ordinary in another.
An almost impossible task for colangers is to provide a new language with the patina of one centuries old. Invented words don’t carry layered meanings as do those developed over time and layering is vital for poetry and storytelling. The advantage to colanging is that if a situation requires a descriptive word, a colanger can make it up. Given the state of the world, I’ve considered colanging a few expletives, myself.
Of course, as a former English teacher, I’d prefer people learned the basics of their native language before inventing new ones. Unfortunately, especially among our presidential candidates, the idea hasn’t caught on. (Click)