Science vs Art
Hello and welcome to ConlangCut, the weekly service bringing all you conlangers great content on all aspects of the wonderful art... or is it a science? Well, that's what we'll be discussing in today's article of ConlangCut. Don't forget to share your opinion by commenting, I'd love to know what you think about the idea of a weekly article. Also, I've included a poll on this thread - Conlanging - Sciene or Art? Wait! Before you cast your vote, read the article, it may sway your decision.
I've already informed you on today's topic: is conlanging an art or a science? To break down such a big and broad question, we first have to define some words. Firstly, we need the definitions of conlang, art and science.
Conlang 1. A language that has been artificially created.
Science 1. A systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject.
2. The structure, commonly more complex than not, of a particular subject.
Art 1. Works produced by human creative skill and imagination.
Now that we have our keywords and their definitions, how do they fit together? Let's first focus on the aspect of sciene. A conlanger (or any linguist, for that matter) first needs to understand that languages are much more than just words strung together. Take this English example. We have the words cat, dog, sit. And we also have the knowledge of the word order of English: SVO. So we can say "dog sit cat" or "cat sit dog", right?
(Note: Click here for information on the Word Order of English)
No, because English Syntax doesn't allow this. "Ugh! More confusing words!" Well, it's quite simple: syntax states the rules that tell you where words go in a language - a bit like the word order, just more advanced. Word order just states where the words are placed, while syntax tells you what has to change when a word goes there. For example, you couldn't say "I love he", right? You'd say "I love him", and syntax makes that clear. It tells us that "he" (subject pronoun) must become "him" (object pronoun) when it is placed into the object's place (after the verb). English and many languages alike have intransitive verbs, and "sit" is one of them. Intransative verbs can never have an object. You can't "sit" something, can you? The opposite of intransitive is transitive, and these verbs do have objects. For example "eat" is transitive because you can "eat" something. So, this proves that language is more than just words thrown together - there are rules.
And before we go any further, the definition of syntax is...
"the set of rules that describes the order of words in linguistics."
Let me pick up on a keyword there, "linguistics". What does this mean?
"The scientific study of language and its structure."
I understand that this is about general language and not just conlanging, but here's my argument: Conlanging is creating the structure of a language (the syntax), and therefore conlanging is heavily scientific. This have given us our first argument - it's in favour of conlanging being a science. So let's now move on to the aspect of art.
If you take a look above, you can see the definition of art. For all you lazy people who can't be bothered to scroll (I feel ya!), here it is...
"Works produced by human creative skill and imagination."
We can break this down fairly easily. Firstly, "works" - what is a work in this context? It's a thing that has been made or constructed. So, a conlang ticks this box straight away! How about "produced by human"? Well, I haven't heard of any animals creating conlangs, so we'll assume it hasn't happened, and tick that box too. Next up, "creative skill and imagination". Let's define those words for a clearer understanding, shall we?
Imagination 1. The faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.
Creative Skill 1. The ability to turn ideas from the imagination into reality.
The part in bold from the imagination definition is the important part that we'll focus on. So when we are making conlangs, we are performing the action of creating new ideas for the language. It tends to have a particular process, though it can vary from person to person. When making new words, I take into account the syllabic constructs of my language. What the... Okay, I'll stop with the crazy words, I promise. Syllabic constructs are the rules of how syllabes (each part of the word) are allowed to appear. For example, in English, we couldn't have a word such as "sdglpowct", because our syllabic construct doesn't allow that string of letters. Anyway, back to my process. Words must sound like they fit in a language, and this can be hard when making one from scratch. To solve this, a good starting point is to remember to use the syllabic constructs. My latest language, Sbiliace, allows s and b (as seen in the name of the language) to be together. I took this from Italian, along with much of the language's vocabulary. Try and think of a word starting with sb in English. Impossible, huh? So that's my imaginative process. And this shows that ideas are made using the imagination, therefore ticking the first box.
Next, "creative skill". When making languages, we first come up with the ideas, as explained above. And how do we apply them? Using creativity, of course! So this gives the box of "creative skill and imagination" a double tick! To review, let's look at the statement again.
"Works produced by human creative skill and imagination."
We've just proved this statement to be completely correct, giving art a vote. So hold on... IT'S ART AND SCIENCE?! Well, yeah, I think that's what I'm trying to say. In general, conlangery is artistic and scientific - it will change for different people at different times. Within the group of people conlanging, whether it's one person or one hundred people, tasks from both aspects will pop up if you want a full, rich and natural-sounding language. I tend to find that when creating grammar rules, it becomes very scientific due to syntax, morphological agreement, etc (I know I promised to stop with the fancy words, but I'm sorry). In contrast, when creating words I see it (though it has scientific aspects) as more artisitic, and I take the approach of "Think of a word and make a sentence with it. If it sounds right, it stays, otherwise, it goes". There are better ways of doing it, but I'm happy with my syllabic constructs and my ears.
I hope you've enjoyed the first article in the ConlangCut series, and don't forget to visit again next Sunday for another thread. Also, take the quick poll above so I can see what you think of ConlangCut, and whether you think conlanging is an art, sciene or both. Thanks for reading the article, and I hoped you learned something. You can give praise, feedback or criticism in the reply section, and I thank you all for visiting the Conlang Forum. Have a great day.
Moderator and Content Editor of the Conlang Forum.