A Tour Of The World Of Constructed Languages

One thing that I have been exploring over the last few weeks is the world of constructed languages. As opposed to regular languages, these did not evolve over centuries, but were rather invented by someone. I find the whole idea of creating a language with a specific aim to be fascinating and constructed languages (or conlangs for short) give us amazing freedom to explore how languages work. Even a short study of them can give us an insight into how languages like English do or do not operate. So I thought I would give a tour of the main conlangs that people do learn (excluding those that were created for TV or a book). I have included a translation of the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer) into each conlang as seems to be the standard, as well as an example of the language being spoken or song where possible.


Volapük was one of the first conlangs to receive widespread popularity. It was created around 1879 by a German priest named Johann Martin Schleyer who believed that God had come to him in a dream and told him to create a single language for the whole world. Volapük was initially extremely popular with hundreds of thousands of people learning it and clubs being set up across Europe.

However, it soon ran into problems. The first one was that it is a horrible language. It sounds terrible and uncomfortable to listen to. This is made worse by its use of umlauts (ü and ö for example). Secondly, the movement was torn apart by splits. The greatest advantage of conlangs is also their greatest disadvantage; they are so flexible anyone can change the rules. Soon other people began making suggestions as to how they could improve the language. This came up against another recurring problem of conlangs; their creators get very defensive about them. Schleyer refused to allow any changes and a schism occurred. By 1890 Volapük had splintered into dozens of competing languages, none of which attained any success. As a result, Volapük is worth examining solely as an example of how not to create a language.

O Fat obas, kel binon paisaludomöz nem ola!

Kömomöd monargän ola!

Jenomöz vil olik, äs in sül, i su tal!

Bodi obsik vädeliki givolös obes adelo!

E pardolös obes debis obsik,

äs id obs aipardobs debeles obas.

E no obis nindukolös in tendadi;

sod aidalivolös obis de bad.



Esperanto is unusual for a language as it has its own flag

Esperanto is unusual for a language as it has its own flag

I have blogged about Esperanto twice before so I won’t repeat myself. It is also the only language on this list that I am learning (I am at a roughly intermediate level) so I may be biased in that sense. Esperanto is by far and away the largest conlang with anywhere between 100,000 to 2,000,000 speakers (its hard to measure them as they are spread across the world and it depends on how you define speaker). One of the reasons for Esperanto’s success is that instead of focusing on linguistic purity and creating the perfect language like other conlangs, its creator (Zamenhof) focused on building a culture. It was not created for ivory tower linguistic reasons, but rather to solve the real problem of ethnic strife. His first actions were to write poetry and stories in Esperanto, translate proverbs and organise meetings for Esperantists. Esperanto has a thriving culture with thousands of books and songs as well as many international events where people from all over the world meet up and have fun.

Esperanto is a giant compared to other conlangs and there are far more resources available in it. If you want to hear some examples of it, you can listen to reggae, dance, melody, duets something a bit more lively and more.

Patro nia, kiu estas en la ĉielo,
Via nomo estu sanktigita.
Venu Via regno,
plenumiĝu Via volo,
kiel en la ĉielo, tiel ankaŭ sur la tero.
Nian panon ĉiutagan donu al ni hodiaŭ.
Kaj pardonu al ni niajn ŝuldojn,
kiel ankaŭ ni pardonas al niaj ŝuldantoj.
Kaj ne konduku nin en tenton,
sed liberigu nin de la malbono.



Despite Esperanto’s popularity, there were some people who thought it could be reformed. There were suggestions that it could be improved by removing the hats (as in ĉ or ŝ), changing the way genders are formed and making it more like a Western European language. However these reforms were met with opposition by people who felt they were unnecessary ot would discourage people from learning a language if it was constantly changing. It was the felt that reform would cause more problems than it would solve and would put every feature of the language up for question.

In the end a split occurred in 1907 with the reformers creating their own language called Ido (which means offspring in Esperanto). At the time there was a great deal of competition and bitterness between the two languages, but Ido never really took off. The main reason for this was that the people interested the culture and community of a conlang stayed with Esperanto, whereas the linguist purists went with Ido. A community of Ido speakers never properly formed and it too was subject to frequent splits and other languages claiming to improve on it too. The motto of the first Ido Conference was “We are not here for fun but to work” which probably sums up why it failed to take off.

Patro nia, qua esas en la cielo,
tua nomo santigesez;
tua regno advenez;
tua volo facesez
quale en la cielo, tale anke sur la tero.
Donez a ni cadie l’omnadiala pano,
e pardonez a ni nia ofensi,
quale anke ni pardonas a nia ofensanti,
e ne duktez ni aden la tento,
ma liberigez ni del malajo.


Created in 1951, Interlingua is different to most conlangs in that it tries to be as similar as possible to existing languages. In essence Interlingua is a combination of Romantic languages into one. Proponents call it a Modern Latin and claim hundreds of millions of people can have a rough idea of it without even studying it. Its slogan seems to be “the language you already know how to speak”. Interestingly, the main emphasis was on using Interlingua for communication between scientists and the first Interlingua journals were scientific journals.

Personally, Interlingua doesn’t appeal to me. It has set its sights too low. Instead of taking advantage of the freedom conlangs allow, particularly in uniting people of divergent languages, Interlingua only unites people with similar languages who could probably understand each other anyways. What does Interlingua offer that Spanish doesn’t? Being so focused on natural languages, means Interlingua has all the disadvantages that come with them such as irregular grammar with little of the advantages.

Patre nostre, qui es in le celos,
que tu nomine sia sanctificate;
que tu regno veni;
que tu voluntate sia facite
como in le celo, etiam super le terra.
Da nos hodie nostre pan quotidian,
e pardona a nos nostre debitas
como etiam nos los pardona a nostre debitores.
E non induce nos in tentation,
sed libera nos del mal.



Unlike other conlangs Lojban isn’t trying to be the second language of the world. Instead it describes itself as the logical language and hopes to promote logical thinking in its speakers. Created in 1987 from a split from Loglan another logical language, Lojban aims to be a completely clear and unambiguous language. It removes all the room for confusion and misunderstanding in English as in the difference between their, there and they’re. Each word has only one meaning unlike in English where bank could be a place where you put money or the side of a river. Lojban is completely regular (no irregular grammar) and culturally neutral (its roots are taken from the six most widely spoken languages on Earth). Interestingly, Lojban also has words to describe the emotion contained in a sentence which would greatly reduce confusion especially in written conversations.

Lojban is best designed for computer programming and has greatest appeal to computer programmers. In programming it is crucial to have the precise command in order to get exactly what you want. However, I’m not sure if there is as much appeal for the rest of us to know Lojban. A precise and logical language has its advantages but it is also extremely difficult to learn. The grammar alone of Lojban is 600 pages long. To construct a simple sentence is an extremely difficult task that requires a huge amount of research and revision. Some people doubt if it is even possible to be fluent in Lojban. Is ambiguity always bad? For example, some times I love my hometown and some times I hate it. A lot of the time I feel both ways simultaneously. How do you make puns or tell jokes in Lojban?

doi cevrirni.iu noi zvati le do cevzda do’u fu’e .aicai .e’ecai lo do cmene ru’i censa

.i le do nobli turni be la ter. ku se cfari

.i loi do se djica ba snada mulno vi’e le cevzda .e .a’o la ter.

.i fu’e .e’o ko dunda ca le cabdei le ri nanba mi’a

.i ko fraxu mi loi ri zu’o palci

.ijo mi fraxu roda poi pacyzu’e xrani mi

.i ko lidne mi fa’anai loi pacyxlu

.i ko sepri’a mi loi palci

.i .uicai ni’i loi se turni .e loi vlipa .e loi mi’orselsi’a cu me le do romei



By far the most imaginative and novel conlang on this list has to be Solresol. I’ve written a full blog post on this before so I’ll keep this brief. Basically Solresol is based on the seven musical notes, meaning not only can it be spoken it can also be sung or whistled or played on a musical note. The seven colours of the rainbow can also be used meaning you could paint a sentence.

For sheer novelty, this gets 10 out of 10. However, for actually trying to use it as a language, Solresol is pretty unworkable. The problem with having only seven letters is that all the words look very similar and it’s impossible not to get confused between them. The vocabulary is incomplete as gets steadily more confusing as the syllables increase.

Toki Pona

The award for smallest language goes to Toki Pona created by Sonja Lang in 2001 and has only 120 words. This is a deliberative feature done to promote simple thinking and a simple life. The idea is to cut out the unnecessary and focus solely on the core. For example, the only numbers in Toki Pona are one and two. Its aim is to be fun, encourage people to simplify their life, live in the moment and understand the world around us.

However, simple thinking has its disadvantages and care must be taken so that it does not result in ignorance. It is very difficult to converse in Toki Pona about anything but the basics which I would find very restrictive and more of a harm than a help. With so little words, it is easy to get confused and misunderstand people.

mama pi mi mute o, sina lon sewi kon.
nimi sina li sewi.
ma sina o kama.
jan o pali e wile sina lon sewi kon en lon ma.
o pana e moku pi tenpo suno ni tawa mi mute.
o weka e pali ike mi. sama la mi weka e pali ike pi jan ante.
o lawa ala e mi tawa ike.
o lawa e mi tan ike.
tenpo ali la sina jo e ma e wawa e pona.


Susan Haden Elgin felt there was no language to allow women to properly express their views and feeling of the world, so she created Láadan in 1982 in her novel “Native Tongue” (I haven’t read it but the reviews I found were mostly negative). She removed a lot of ambiguity from language so that women would no longer have to say “I said this, but I meant that”. For example all sentences include a word to indicate how you know what you are saying. Wa means it is known to be true as the speaker observed it themselves, wi if it is self-evident, wáa because the speaker trusts the source, wo for a hypothetical or imagined scenario etc.

There are a lot of words in Láadan that cannot be expressed in English such as dina (friendliness for no reason), duna (friendliness for bad reasons), rahobeth (non-neighbour, someone who lives close but does not fulfil any duties of being a neighbour) or radíidin (non-holiday, a time allegedly a holiday but actually so much a burden because of work and preparations that it is a dreaded occasion; especially when there are too many guests and none of them help).

To be honest I think a lot of these words and concepts are very useful. In fact I don’t really see how Láadan is supposed to express women’s points of view. After all men too are capable of expressing emotion or the source of their knowledge and to say women are far more emotional than men is just falling into the old stereotype. Sure men and women have different experiences, but do we really need a separate language?  I don’t see anything particularly feminist about Láadan or anything unique to women about it.


So that’s my summary of the main conlangs. Esperanto and to a lesser extent Lojban are the only ones with a strong community behind them. Volapük and Láadan are dead, Solresol has a handful of people interested in but no speakers, while Ido, Interlingua and Toki Pona have tiny communities. The internet has been a blessing for conlangs as it has allowed far more people to hear of them, it has made resources freely available online and while I don’t personally know any other Esperantists here in Ireland, I am able to freely communicate with scores of them online.

I would recommend “In The Land Of Invented Languages” by Arika Orent for anyone who is interested in learning more about these languages. A google search will also bring you to the main sites as well as other conlangs I didn’t mention here. Feel free to leave a comment if you have experienced any of these or other conlangs and want you think of them.


Filed under Esperanto

22 responses to “A Tour Of The World Of Constructed Languages

  1. Other than Esperanto I was totally unfamiliar with these other conlangs

    Thanks for the exposure on these

  2. Hey, what about Klingon and Elvish? ;o)

    • Ha I decided to leave out artlangs (languages created for books or tv) and just focus the main one that are intended as serious languages.

      • oreso

        Hey, the artlangs are serious business, especially compared to Toki Pona and Solresol.🙂 (taso, Toki Pona li pona mute tawa mi!)

        You note artistic expression and “getting together for fun” was one of the reasons Esperanto has been so successful. I agree, and I think this is why the artlangs are among the most popular.

        Heck, the creator of Game of Throne’s Dothraki (and many other languages) is something of a celebrity in his own right now.

        • They’re certainly serious money, but I don’t think there are any actual communities who speak them. Do you speak much Toki Pona? Is there much of a community? I found it difficult to find much about it, so I’d be interested in hearing more.

          • oreso

            No communities for artlangs? Bwuh? Klingon is getting pretty old now (20+ years?) and it still has regular meetings (qep’a) around the world, not to mention theatrical performances, learning courses, etc. If your franchise has obsessive nerdy fans, then they’re IDEAL for learning a conlang. And many do.

            I do speak Toki Pona, but in all fairness, it isn’t a hard language to learn. There’s a community on Facebook and Twitter (just search for #tokipona), and a just-about-active forum. A user has just released a bunch of lessons on YouTube too. Certainly nowhere near as popular as Dothraki, Klingon, etc though.

            mi kin toki kepeken Toki Pona. taso, toki ni li lili li pona. kulupu pi Toki Pona li lon lipu Facebook li lon lipu Twitter. sina ken lukin e ni kepeken toki #tokipona. tempo pini lili la, jan kepeken li pali e sitelen tawa pi pana sona pi Toki Pona. Toki Pona li pona li lili. taso, toki Dothraki en toki Klingon li suli.


            • I’ve heard there’s a few hundred Klingon speakers, but are there many Dothraki or Navi speakers? People who write or hold conversations in the language?

              I might check out Toki Pona as it wouldn’t take too long. Do you enjoy it or do you find it too limiting? Is expressing yourself too difficult or is that part of the appeal?

              • oreso

                I don’t really know about Dothraki and Na’vi. I personally doubt Na’vi will get a long term fanbase, given it doesn’t have a popular franchise behind it, but a quick Google search revealed an ‘Avatar Meet’ which involved lessons in the language. Couldn’t find anything about a Dothraki meet. Obviously there are forums for them though, with folks speaking the language.

                Re: Toki Pona, yeah, it’s very restrictive and that’s part of the fun. Especially when you’re trying to communicate complex ideas that the language shouldn’t really handle. Like translating Wordsworth:


    • You got interlingua completely wrong. It is not a conlang in the same sense as the others, yet you treat it as being one more conlang among many, but it’s not. Read the basic rules of interlingua and you see it. Interlingua was not set to unite people and it is not a language created to “look natural”. It is a register of the most influential international words, a common nucleus of the “control languages” and probably the most widely understandable language in the world. I don’t mean to offend, i like esperanto too. But it is the concept behind interlingua that makes it different of any conlang.

      • Sure it is different from other conlangs (as is Lojban for example) but it is still a conlang among many. It is not based on “the most influential words” but only Latin ones. Its concept isn’t that different and I would argue that it still aims to unite people, just speakers of Latin languages rather than all European languages. In that sense it has more in common with other conlangs than you give it credit.

        • It sure has a lot in common, but it is different in some important ways. What i meant was that Interlingua is a set of rules based on the common characteristics of the language, which generates its words and its grammar. One can’t just come up with a word or a grammar rule unless it matches the chosen criteria. The result is a language that has a natural looking and functioning. They didn’t choose random words and grammar rules to make it naturalistic.

          Most of the other languages’s creators just chose words and grammar they thought would accomplish their scopes, which were simplicity, “learnabilty”, logic, etc. Interlingua chose “meta-rules” which occasionaly resulted in its grammar, vocabulary, etc. Others just constructed a grammar and vocabulary fit for their purpose.

          I hope you see my point. Thanks for the reply.

  3. leo

    Some years ago I decided to learn Esperanto and visited a fairly large bookshop to look for a book on the subject. Unfortunately the shop did not have any, but when entering the language section there was a big pile of Klingon books. There are 24 working languages in the EU, and many minority languages also. It would be preferable to have one common language, and for political reasons a conlang would be ideal. I have this horrible vision, however, of finding Klingon as being the common European language.

    There is an interesting concept of “Basic Englieh” where a study was made as to the very minimum vocabulary that was required in order to be able to express anything that can be said in English. It turns out that the word list contains about 2000 words. This was intended for use by learners of English and is not a real conlang since it still uses English grammar and spelling. Hogben developed Glosa based on this with something the same ideal – the minimum vocabulary in order to be able to say anything. The wordlist here is about 1000 words. Not as small as Toki pona, but it is not limiting.

    Psychology: Does anyone else think that using one of these simplified languages leads to clearer thinking?

    Just a personal note – Thank you for your posts. They are interesting, clear and well thought out.

  4. gzoref

    Modern Hebrew is a partially constructed language. It’s way different than Biblical Hebrew, and was constructed by a congress of linguists.

  5. Michael

    For me like a Dutch native speaker I think each conlang has its strong and weak points. I think the strong point of Esperanto are the correlatives which are easy to learn. Ido is more based on Latin. Some words even come frome Latin like “hike” for here. I am not familiar with Latin. I also agree with you that Ido make some things more difficult like the way to give orders. Verbs don’t end on -u but on ez. That is for a native Dutch speaker an unfamiliar thing. Why is it not -a like in Italian and Spanish?

    But Ido is in some way also more clear to me because nouns in plural don’t end at -j but at -i. And the opposite of words is not made with mal- but with dis- or des-.

    There are also other problems. The Ido word for collection is kollekto, but in
    Dutch a “collecte” is the fundraising in a church. You can better use koleciono because there is also naciono and leciono in Ido.

    An disadvantage of Esperanto are the pronunciation of some words like kiuj, sxtono and scias for example.

    I think Esperanto is a good language but it is not good enough to be a world language. And some reforms make it a better language but other ones make it more difficult.


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