Conlanging as a Tool for Language Revival?

Hello everyone! It’s been a very long time, and I’m glad to finally be writing an article! I’ve been reading, seeing, and doing a lot recently, what with papers and student events. But, I have something pretty interesting this time around.

As you may remember from a few posts back, I’ve flip-flopped on my opinions about conlangs, or constructed languages. I originally felt that learning constructed languages was a waste of time. I felt that it detracted from time that could be spent on learning natural languages, especially ones in need of documentation and study. However, after working on a research project on Sankethi for the past few months, I’ve done some rethinking.

I’m currently in a Facebook group for discussion of constructed languages, and many of the members have an in-depth knowledge of linguistics. They’re very well-versed in how languages have changed over time, how change occurs, among other things. Their ability to generate usable paradigms for constructed languages, and build an organic structure from scratch is just amazing. I recently read up on efforts to reconstruct languages like Akkadian, the language of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Proto-Indo-European, the postulated shared ancestor of many European and South Asian languages. There is currently a recording of the Epic of Gilgamesh in reconstructed Akkadian that you can hear online. The reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European has been in the works since the 19th century.

All of this has me thinking about how many minority languages like Sankethi have a fairly limited technical or literary lexicon. I once thought, “Oh, what if I wrote something in Sankethi and imported Tibetan, Chinese, or Korean words for fun? How would that sound?” It made me think that conlanging could potentially be a form  Of course, there are complications in this, such as ethnic/national tensions. A command of linguistic knowledge could be useful for constructing useful words to build the lexicon of languages without a developed written form. Or one could better introduce and naturalize words into a language.

These are just thoughts, and not a serious investigation into the actual possibility, since I don’t know enough. If you have thoughts on this, feel free to leave comments!

The Ethnopolitics of Language

On March 25, 2016, I gave a research presentation on “The Ethnopolitics of Language” at New York University’s Global Research Colloquium. My talk concerned the development of nations from ethnic groups as defined by their languages, and how that contributes to notions of transitional democracy. You can watch the video below on YouTube. Video credits go to Susanna Horng, my amazing advisor.

Check Out the Sankethi Language Page on Omniglot!

I recently contributed some of my material on Sankethi to Simon Ager, who runs a blog about foreign languages and their scripts, called Omniglot. Thanks to that, there is now a page on how to read and write in the Sankethi language! You can check it out here: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/sankethi.htm.

Omniglot has been an invaluable resource to me as learner of foreign languages, as I learned to read and write in Hindi, Kannada, Hebrew, and Korean because of it. I highly recommend the blog, as even the pages on languages with Latin scripts are immensely helpful, as it details all the possible combinations of letters and what the pronunciation of those combinations will be! French learners, do not pass up the opportunity to use the French page! It just seems to me that it clears up a lot of ambiguities and such. As a rule of thumb, I always visit the Omniglot page of a language before I start learning it or even consider starting to learn it. So, bookmark his blog and make use of the incredible resource!

Documenting a Language

About two months ago, my grandparents arrived from India to celebrate my graduation from high school, and with them, they brought me an opportunity to practice Kannada. However, more interesting than that, was that I found that my grandparents spoke yet another language, called Sankethi. Sankethi descends from Madurai Tamil, and the migration of many Tamilians from Sengottai and Madurai facilitated the formation of this language. Sankethi is spoken by two communities in Karnataka. The two varieties are Kaushika and Bettadpura, where Kaushika Sankethi has grown away from Tamil the most.

Due to the dearth of information on Sankethi on the internet, such as the rather sparse information given in the Wikipedia article, I decided to document Sankethi for linguistic purposes. From what I’ve seen, it is merely acknowledged that Sankethi exists. As it happens, my grandparents speak Kaushika Sankethi, and I have extended family members who speak Bettadpura Sankethi. Currently, I’m getting Kaushika Sankethi done. I’ve been recording lists of nouns, verbs, and particles, as well as verb forms. Granted, it might be incomplete, as I’m assuming that grammar is almost identical to that of Kannada and Tamil. In the future, I’d like to submit the document to a linguistics professional and see if it’s a valid set of information. I’m not going to post the full document at the moment, seeing as it’s incomplete and I’d like to proofread it a few times, once it’s nearing completion.

In my search for info on Sankethi, I also discovered that there exists a Dravidian language in Pakistan, called Brahui. It borrows heavily from Arabic and Persian vocabulary, to the point that I can’t even pick out what’s supposed to be Dravidian. The Brahui language seems like it would be interesting to research, so I’d like to study it in the future, if someone doesn’t beat me to it first! If you’re interested in hearing what it sounds like, there’s a video published by the Brahui Language Board, at the University of Balochistan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_Oj1poUWXA. Oddly enough, it used to be written in the Arabic script, but now it is written in a modified Latin script, much like Vietnamese’s current form.

If you, a relative, or a friend speaks a language with little documentation, you should try to write down as much information as you can. Minority languages with little to standardization and smaller communities are much more susceptible to language death. Even if the language will die in the future, there is no wrong in trying to keep it alive. Giving up is what really kills a language. I am thankful that there is enough literature and information on Kannada that if I was so unable to teach my children, I could send them to a school where they could learn. However, some other languages, like Sankethi or Brahui, are not so fortunate.

I’ll be posting more updates on my research and I hope you found this interesting! Don’t forget to share this on Facebook and Tumblr!