Suzette Haden Elgin’s other conlangs

Rachel Wil Sha Singh

Images of aliens from the cover of Native Tongue books

Suzette Haden Elgin, the creator of Láadan and author of the Native Tongue book series (among others), had been working on a new novel prior to her health problems. According to her LiveJournal, she was in the process of re-writing it by hand.



How complete was the draft? Will it ever be released? Who knows…

The new novel was given the name Alien Tongues. As part of the novel, S.H.E. had also been working on new languages for the book: Thandi, Lenadess, Aubre, and Nangdi. On her official website, she posted the Swadesh Vocab List for these languages.

I’ve parsed these vocab lists to display them in a pretty table.


Community and alienation

Rachel Wil Sha Singh

Throughout my life, growing up and being part of online communities, I was always in one way or another put down and felt alienated, no matter the type of group. And so many people online hold the ability to say anything to anyone to be “sacred”. But that’s not how I run my communities.

I built an educational game development-oriented ecosystem for the past decade or so, and the #1 rule was to treat others with respect. In a community based around learning, one of the biggest enemies is feeling alienated.

As I began learning conlangs, I experienced the same alienation, over and over again. Part of the reason I started “La Aliuloj”, which is now Áya Dan, is because of this alienation. I want to create an environment, a blog, an educational and fun resource that does not alienate people. Because there are plenty of places to go to if you want to feel like shit.

For me, I’d much rather spend my energy supporting people, than trying to debate/argue with others who aren’t going to have their minds changed. When I create videos about asexuality, it is in the hopes of letting others know “See? You’re not alone”, moreso than trying to argue with the vitriol that one sees when they try to post about it.

And that extends to everybody. I don’t want to see anybody being shat on. And this includes religion. There are many people in this world, and many people are good, and many people are also religious.

I’m a firm believer that, even if religion didn’t exist, individuals would still find ways to be assholes to each other.

So let’s not be assholes to each other. Let’s treat each other with a mutual respect, and support each other, and cheer each other on, and create a supportive community where we can all come together and enjoy language.

Kiel ne respondi al plendoj pri diskriminado en la Esperanto-movado

Kiam marĝenuloj plendas pri diskriminado, ĉu en la Esperanto-movado aŭ aliloke, la maniero kiel oni respondas al la plendo tre gravas. Iuj formoj de respondo nur plu doloras la plendanton, kiu evidente jam estas sufiĉe vundita pro la evento, kiu kaŭzis la plendon.

Alfronte de raporto pri diskriminado en la Esperanto-movado kontraŭ marĝenuloj, oni nepre:

1. Ne diru, ke “tio ne okazas en nia movado.” Farante tion, vi nomas la marĝenulon mensoganto, sed kial marĝenulo mensogus pri tio? Kia estus la profito? Ekzistas kruela kaj sufiĉe reakciema mito, ke iuj marĝenuloj serĉas ion por ofendi ilin. Tiu mito estas ne nur kruela sed ankaŭ absurda. Raporti diskriminadon estas ege maltrankvilige pro tio ke marĝenuloj, bedaŭrinde, jam alkutimis al nevalidigo, sarkasmo, kaj plua psika dolorado respondaj al raporto.

2. Ne citu la internan ideon, la Prag-Manifeston, aŭ alian Esperanto-literaturaĵon. Tiuj malvivaj abstraktaĵoj neniel tuŝas la viv-spertojn de marĝenuloj. Ili estas, maksimume, idealoj, kiuj evidente ankoraŭ ne realiĝis se ĉi tia plendo ĵus alvenis antaŭ vi.

3. Ne rimarku, ke vi konas alian anon de tiu marĝena grupo, kiu neniam plendis. Imagu, ke marĝenulino frapis vian kapon, vi diris “Ĉesu!” kaj ŝi respondis, “Sed mia amiko Joĉjo estas blanka, aliseksama, cisgenra, nehandikapa, maldika, riĉa viro, kaj li neniam plendas kiam mi faras tion!” Ĉu tio estus bona kialo plu frapadi vin?

4. Ne parolu pri “veraj Esperantistoj” kaj “malveraj Esperantistoj.” Tio ne nur estas logika misrezonaĵo, sed samkiel #2, ĝi estas tro abstrakta. Kiel la pureco de la atakinto ŝanĝas la sperton de la marĝenulo? Ĝi neniel tuŝas tiun sperton. Ĝi estas tute nerilata al la problemo.

5. Ne parolu pri libero de parolado. La disputo neniel temas pri rajtoj. Ankaŭ rajtoj estas malvivaj abstraktaĵoj; vi parolas al reala persono, kiu spertis realan doloron. Plue, la Esperanto-movado ne estas registaro, nek la marĝenulo argumentas, ke registaroj forĵetu liberon de parolado. Ĉiu movado havas la plenan liberon forigi aŭ korekti kiun ajn membron laŭplaĉe. Aldone, en la granda plimulto da landoj kun leĝoj, kiuj protektas liberan paroladon, malama parolado ne estas protektita, ĉar ĝi timigas marĝenulojn kaj, sekve, malplimultigas ilian liberon! Ĉu vi kredas, ke marĝenuloj povas libere paroli alfronte de timigado fare de reakciemuloj? Ĉu aktive aŭ pasive, vi faros elekton, ĉu malplifortigi la povon de potenculoj timigi marĝenulojn aŭ plifortigi tiun povon.

6. Ne diru, ke marĝenuloj pli facile konvinkus aliajn homojn se ili agus pli afable. Nu, bone pripensu tion dum momento. Vi parolas al senpotenculo, kiu koleras pro la malafableco de plipotenculoj. Potenculoj kutime plendas malpli ofte (kaj ofte neniam) pri tiu malafableco, ol la tiel nomata “malafabla respondo.” Kial malafableco nur gravas kiam ĝi venas el marĝenulo? Ĉu tio estas malfacila demando? Kiam vi klopodas “afabligi” marĝenulon, vi nur plifortigas hierarkiojn.

Kompreneble mi povas aldoni eĉ pliajn, sed tiuj sufiĉu por nun. Eble en la estonteco venos dua parto.

Natural Gender in Klingon

Warning: Non-linguist talking about linguistics ahead.

Recently I started putting some time into learning Klingon, though I’m not capable of conversing in it and reading it is also very difficult still. My reason for wanting to learn it, more than anything else, is that it’s there.

Klingon is a language designed by linguist Marc Okrand for the Star Trek films, based essentially on a dialog written for the first film by James Doohan. It was deliberately written to be as unlike English as possible, and many of its features are also very unusual for human languages: for example its Object-Verb-Subject syntax is rare, though not unheard of. At the same time, none of its features are completely alien to human language, either.

One of the more common human-like characteristics of Klingon is the existence of gender. It’s important to note, however, that grammatical gender has nothing to do with masculinity and femininity per se. The word “gender” is ultimately derived from a Latin word that simply meant “class” or “category,” and has the same root as “genus.” While this root did have a reproductive meaning, this does not seem to be the meaning when applied to Latin words. Latin writers would talk about the “genera” of nouns but also the “genera” of verbs, by which they just meant “type,” since Latin verbs are not affected by gender, linguistic or colloquial.

From what I have read, mainly in the World Atlas of Language Structures (an extremely helpful resource for conlangers), the linguistic definition of a gender is a class of nouns with bearing on the inflection of other parts of speech (pronouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.). A language may distinguish between rational nouns (humans and gods) and non-rational nouns; or between animate nouns and inanimate nouns; or between 10 or more  categories such as plants, animals, concepts, etc. These are all genders, despite them saying nothing about masculinity and femininity. Not being a linguist, I am using the definition given by the World Atlas of Language Structures, but it’s controversial whether pronouns count. According to WALS, English has gender due to the effect that nouns have on the pronouns he, she, and it. It’s uncontroversial to say that English has natural gender, and so does Klingon.

Klingon distinguishes between (1) beings capable of using language; (2) everything else. The second gender is further differentiated into two classes: (1) body parts; (2) everything else, but this only has bearing on the inflection of the nouns themselves, specifically the formation of the plural. ghaH is the independent pronoun referring to any being capable of using language, while ‘oH is the independent pronoun referring to things and to beings incapable of language. There are also possessive pronominal suffixes, like in Hungarian, Hebrew, Arabic, and many other languages, which are influenced by the gender of the possessed noun. For example, to say “you are my loved one” you say “bangwI’ SoH.”  To say “it is my home,” you say “juHwIj ‘oH.”

It’s interesting to think about how the separation between beings capable of language and not capable of language conforms to the speciesism of Klingons, who have been shown on the series to dislike unintelligent animals such as tribbles and cats. It’s also interesting to consider the parallels this might have to the commonality of masculine and feminine genders in human languages.

Obviously this is all science fiction, but it’s interesting to think about. It also shows the many potentials for gender in conlangs beyond just masculine and feminine. It’s worth mentioning that, according to WALS, a little over half of the world’s languages have absolutely no gender distinctions in pronouns… which is interesting in the context of the debate over pronouns in international auxiliary languages. It’s interesting how many such languages distinguish some form of natural gender, even Lingua Franca Nova (people and things), despite gender’s lack of universality.

Sorry if this post rambled a bit, and if you read it, then thanks for reading.

Being Kindhearted in the Conlang World

Rachel Wil Sha Singh

If there’s one thing that burns me out on conlangs super fast, it’s people being shitty to each other. It can be about anything – inter-conlang insulting, sexist comic strips translated into that conlang, insulting other peoples’ religions, anything.

Conlangs are spoken by human beings, and there will always be trouble when human beings are involved, but when your conlang’s thesis is around world peace, I’m always disappointed to find this kind of shit posted:

Various religious guys looking afraid of a brain

Really? We have this auxlang and many hope that it will be spoken around the world, and you’re a speaker of this language for whatever reason, but post shit like this?

This is why I’m an Atheist who generally doesn’t bother telling people I’m Atheist; because so many Atheists can be so “holier-than-thou” (ironic) than gigantic populations of people.

And even then – it doesn’t matter if this is what you think about these things, but to blatantly lack any sort of respect for other human beings by actively shitting on them just pisses me off.

Stop it.



Be kind and be respectful towards each other.

Kial viaj ludtradukoj ne havas supersignajn literojn?!

Rachel Wil Sha Singh

A screenshot with

Se mi tradukas ludon, kaj ĝi ne uzas la “ĈĜĤĴŜŬ” literojn, ekzistas kialon:

A. La ludo ne emas esti tradukita.

Iu, mi ne havas la fontkodon por iu ludo. Iufoje, mi povas traduki ludon per HEX redaktilo.


Ofte, estas la plej simpla afero por nur traduki al la anglan ASCII literon; la ĈĜĤĴŜŬ literoj bezonas UNICODE.

B. Ne estus facila.

Multaj ludkonstruistoj verkis iliajn ludojn, sen funkcio por traduki. Ofte, la angla teksto estas en la programkodo mem, kaj ne en ekstera dosiero.


Ĉu mi povas elpreni la tekston? Se la ludo estas malfermitkoda – jes, mi povus. Sed tio estas plej granda afero ol simple ŝanĝi la tekston.

Kaj mi ne volas labori tiel, ĉar…

3. Mi preferus labori je novaj ludoj.


Fakte, mi ankaŭ verkas novajn ludojn, kaj tiuj ludoj havas multajn lingvojn. Laŭ mi, mi preferus labori tiel, ol labori longe je la tradukado de aliaj ludoj.


Rachel Wil Sha Singh

This article was sent to me by Idist Brian Drake who reached out to me about their work in the language, and also pointed out this article to me, from La blua plumo:


It not only has a non-gender-specific way of talking about people […], but we’re even working on a trans-appropriate affix and pronoun. I think that’s pretty great.

I’m not a very quick Ido reader, but if somebody would like to provide an English-language summary for me, I will add it to this blog post for more people to learn about! :)


Gender in Volapük

Yesterday I was surprised to see that there was a Volapük tag, so I thought I would take the opportunity today to write about the language.

Volapük was constructed by Johann Martin Schleyer, a German Roman Catholic priest, in the late 1800s, after he claimed to have had a vision from God. It was the original international auxiliary language movement; the third international Volapük convention took place entirely in Volapük, which was the first time (that I’m aware of) when a constructed language was brought out of theory and into practice. The second was probably Esperanto.

Volapük eventually died as a result of infighting between the Academy and Schleyer (the Cifal or Chief) over control of the language. This same story has often been repeated in the communities of various constructed languages, such as Loglan for example. The Academy went on to make Idiom Neutral, which was very heavily influenced by Volapük, but the movement never recovered. Today there are a handful of people who still speak it, and a significantly larger number of people who study it. Personally, I am not fluent in Volapük, but I do study it, and if I ever had the time, I think it would be fun to become fluent.

Volapük, as spoken today, has three third-person pronouns: on, om, and of. On is an all-purpose pronoun, usable for both people and things. A group of men would be caled oms as a pronoun, a group of women would be called ofs, and a mixed group would be called ons. It is also possible to simply refer to everyone as on and ons. This system is the result of the grammatical reform of Arie de Jong, which happened decades after the original Volapük movement had mostly died out. Under the old system, men and things would go by om in the singular, oms in the plural. Women would go by of in the singular, ofs in the plural.

Volapük is a pro-drop language, meaning you ordinarily don’t use pronouns in the nominative except for emphasis. But the personal suffixes of verbs are exactly the same as the pronouns:

binom: He is
binof: She is
binon: It is; They (sing) are
binons: They are
binoms: They (masc) are
binofs: They (fem) are

Informally and regardless of whatever the official policy might be, genderqueer people could certainly add pronouns to Volapük the same way they do in Esperanto with e.g. “ri”. The following letters are currently used for Volapük pronouns: b, d, f, k, l, m, n, r, s, y. This leaves the following letters left over: g, p, t, v. There are other letters in the Volapük alphabet (c, h, j, x, z), but it would be hard to pluralize them in pronouns, since plurals are formed with s. The pronoun os is impersonal, and has no plural form. Yet it might still be feasible if you wanted your personal pronoun to be (for example) “oz”, and for the plural of it to simply be “ons.”

Of course, you would be likely to find the same difficulties using non-standard pronouns in Volapük that you did anywhere else.

There are also two Volapük gender prefixes, hi- and ji-, which make a noun masculine or feminine, respectively. So the Volapük word for “human” is men (derived from German Mensch), and if you wanted to say “man” you could either say himen, or you could synonymously say man. For “woman” you could say jimen or, synonymously, vom. There is no prefix that makes something non-binary, but as with pronouns, I’m sure someone could find a way if they wanted to :)

I find it interesting that Volapük uses “on” to represent both people and things. There are Esperanto speakers who claim that this function is fulfilled by ĝi in Esperanto, but unlike in Volapük, this has never been common or established usage except in reference to animals and babies.

I personally love Volapük; it’s a fun language with its own character, and it gets a very bad name in the Esperanto community. It’s easier to understand than it seems, once you get used to its alphabet and weird ways of assimilating words. Most of the words are derived from natural sources, and are more phonologically faithful than orthographically. This means that spoken aloud, some of them even sound more like their original root words than Esperanto words do.

Also, because Volapük has religious roots, I find the idea of talking about irreligious (or even sacrilegious) things in the language amusing :)

You can learn more about Volapük at volapü

An Experiment in Conlang Gender Diversity

I set out in November to write a constructed language that celebrated gender diversity. Many conlangs skirt the issue of gender through the use of a single third-person pronoun, as is also seen in many natural languages. I wanted to do something a bit different.

Part of my inspiration for this was, in fact, Suzette Haden Elgin, who constructed Láadan out of a belief that women were “not superior to men (Matriarchy) or interchangeable with and equal to men (Androgyny) but rather entirely different from men.” I felt similarly about gender in conlangs: it is very easy to make everyone the same, but it misses the point of gender diversity.

Just as Elgin created a series of books about the construction of Láadan, I ended up creating a culture of people who spoke the language, a world they lived in, and various other cultures who lived alongside them. It’s still in progress, and the language is still “evolving” (being developed by me) in many ways. Some of the things that were true about the language at the beginning of December have been changed since then.

The contest Lexember was very helpful to me in developing it, although the gender system has been there from the very beginning and has barely changed aside from a few tweaks. You can read about the gender system on my conlanging Tumblr.

It has occurred to me, though, that the gender system of this fictional culture is still centered around the concept that binary gender is the norm (I wish I knew the word for this). You are either male, female, or “miscellaneous.” So as I keep developing this culture and its world, I will have to think of ways to break out of this in future cultures, worlds, langs, etc. This experiment will, hopefully, inspire better ones, either in me or in someone else.

Gender Diversity is a Very Old Concept

Gender diversity is not a recent fashion trend or a problem with late-stage capitalism. It has always existed, but throughout the centuries it has been a taboo, to the point where generations upon generations of gender-diverse people have been erased from the history books.

To give one example, take a look at these Classical Jewish Terms for Gender Diversity, compiled by the website This demonstrates that in the Mishna and Talmud, very early works of Jewish Biblical criticism and commentary written down after the expulsion of the Jews from former Judea/Palestine, there was already a concept of “Saris Adam”, a person who is identified male at birth but develops female characteristics as a result of human intervention. Such a person would probably, in modern English, be called a trans woman.

There are many other examples, like the Hijra in India, or the effeminate dancers of Roman society (cinaedi, which later became a pejorative term). One only needs to actually seriously occupy oneself with history to stumble into things like this. If “saris adam” was known to classical Jewish scholars, then a lack of gender diversity cannot simply be ascribed to ignorance. Rather, in the past, gender-diverse people have been deliberately and artificially excluded from various cultural institutions because it was convenient for the functioning of society. But as is so often stated, society and culture are man-made, socially constructed. And gender diversity is natural, a fact that any trans person who has come to terms with themselves could tell you, despite the fact that many privileged non-trans people claim otherwise.

So any attempt at correcting these erasures has nothing to do with fashion, late-stage capitalism, political correctness, censorship, or an artificial attempt to control nature. It has to do with allowing what has previously been censored to become fully expressed.