Creating an inclusive auxlang

Raye Chell Mahela

Read in EnglishLegu Esperante

An international auxiliary language (sometimes abbreviated as IAL or auxlang) or interlanguage is a language meant for communication between people from different nations who do not share a common first language. An auxiliary language is primarily a second language.

from Wikipedia

Not all conlangs are meant to be auxlangs, but some are – like Ido and Esperanto. However, can a language invented by one man or one small committee be inclusive?

Becca’s post, “How universal can a language be?“, mentions a few things:

For queer people, learning any language can be a very invalidating experience.

[…]

Learning a constructed language can be even more invalidating. Constructed languages have been made with a particular goal in mind, and queer people soon discover that this goal did not involve them.

[…]

When thinking about the possibility of a queer language, it is hard to imagine constructing such a thing without invalidating someone. Any constructed language is very likely to push, consciously or unconsciously, the particular biases of the author.

Which got me thinking about how could we achieve a language that includes as many people as possible. What are some of the challenges that would arise?

1. Be created by many

A single person cannot reasonably create a language that includes everybody and excludes no one. Again, from Becca’s article:

For example, if a transmedicalist were to construct a language designed to be inclusive to trans people, the author would probably make sex equivalent to gender, erase the concept of being cis or trans altogether and strictly assert the gender binary. A person who does not believe in gender, on the other hand, may choose to erase any concept of gender from their language altogether. Yet to many trans people, either of these would be less inclusive and less validating than a Romance language

I think that the only way to reasonably come to rules for the language that most people can agree to, and most people can feel represented by, is to have a group of people create the language. Not just Europeans, not just straight people, not just one gender or another. As many people as possible need to be able to give their input – whether or not they are linguists.

2. Be fluid

With certain conlangs, such as Esperanto, the community in general is very resistant to change, thinking that it might end up killing the language and defeat Esperanto’s goal of being spread to everybody as a second language.

But, in order for a language to be inclusive, it has to be open to changing – after all, even with a committee of people from various backgrounds working on a language together, somebody is bound to be left out. Therefore, the language would need to be open to change when people voice their concerns.

3. Be versioned

Of course conlangs go through various drafts, but I think that it is important to not just stop at v1.0. Each version needs to have people using it and refining it, with new features added for new versions.

That might sound like programming language development – even ol’ C++ has major differences between version 1998 and version 2011. 1998 is a solid language, and many people still use 1998 exclusively, but 2011 adds a lot of modern features that people have come to expect from modern languages.

Perhaps spoken languages should be similar.

If you look at Ithkuil, it is versioned as well — each “version” is marked by a year: 2004, 2007, 2011. I have not learned it myself, but if anyone out there has input on how the Ithkuil community deals with this, please let me know! :)

4. Be modular and extendible

It might seem daunting to build such a fluid language! What if some people want aspects of Láadan’s evidence markers, but want Ido’s reversibility when it comes to word building? You have to choose one focus!

No you don’t! Why not include everything?

The language shouldn’t be written into a corner so that it has to follow one paradigm, but should be built in such a way that it can be expanded upon with minimal pain for the core language itself.

Again, if you’re a programmer, think of libraries of code. Libraries for C++ are built with C++’s rules, but extend the functionality of the language – so, for example, your programs don’t have to just be console-based, white text on a black screen. (Though it’d be interesting to have namespaces in branches of the language, hmm…)


So how do we achieve this?

How could we possibly collaborate on an auxlang, bringing in many voices and allowing for evolution over time? How could we allow people to work on off-shoots of the language, and once refined, asked to be made part of the core language? How do we keep track of all of the changes made to the language over time?

Revision Control.

Ho, ve. That’s a little programmery, isn’t it? But a lot of conlangers I know are programmers.  That isn’t to say that the language should be built by a diverse group of programmers (everyone knows the field of CS has its diversity problems…), but revision control can be a really great tool for this sort of project, and non-programmers can learn to use it, too.

I would love to see a conlang develop on GitHub, or Bitbucket, or Sourceforge, or on its own server with its own website, and see tools develop to aid in teaching and using that language. It would take a lot of effort and a lot of time, but perhaps it’s an experiment that should happen at some point.

But Rachel, how do we get people to learn such an auxlang?

Honestly, if you want people to learn a language, there has to be stuff to do in that language. This can be chatting with others, but there is more to that. Perhaps if we are able to create films and animations and video games and news websites and everything else in such a language, we build value for the language.

It’s hard to learn a language specifically on ideals, and it’s very hard to learn a language that has virtually no resources out there but a few language lessons.

But creating content is something that is required for the language itself to grow and evolve. We would need to use it for our entertainment or daily lives, find out what is lacking, and build onto it.

I do not think that having an evolving language would hinder this too much. There is still entertainment from older versions of English that get adapted and are still shared today, and with revision control history (and, hopefully, branches for each new ‘version’), all of the historical data would be there to enable somebody to adapt their work to newer versions, or other works from older versions.

What do you think?

  • Do you know any conlangs built by a group, with the intent of being inclusive?
  • Do you know any conlangs that are being built on GitHub or with other open source methodologies?
  • Would you be interested in taking part in such a project, either by building out the core, testing the language by using it, or creating resources otherwise?
  • What downfalls do you foresee?

(One problem I foresee is that I’m writing this in English, and to get people from around the world contributing, we’d need resources in each language – at least to learn the core language, then communicate with that for language building.) :)

The times when we need new words…

Raye Chell Mahela

Here are some things we may experience often, but don’t have a concise way of saying it…

  • “When one claims that the other person should not perceive the feelings that they do, because they perceive ones own hardships to be greater than theirs”
  • “When one initiates an argument, only to immediately cut it off by saying do not wish to discuss it once they want to discuss a counter-point.”
  • “When one is simultaneously desperate for attention and terrified of being noticed for fear of being used and manipulated”
  • “When one is trapped in the car at one’s destination and frustrated, because the program on public radio is too good, and they want to finish it.”

What do you think? Have anything you experience often, but are frustrated by the lack of a word to describe it in detail? What might be an appropriate phrase or word in Láadan to describe these?

Mandarin Chinese Class Review #1

Raye Chell Mahela

Mandarin Chinese Class Review #2 >>

Tuesday nights I’m taking a Mandarin Chinese class through KU’s Confucius Institute. I need to review and practice speaking more, because even though I am listening and reading between classes, I get flustered when asked to actually speak. :)

Hello!

Nǐ hǎo

你好

What is your name?

Nǐ jiào shénme míngzì?

你叫什么名字?

I’m called Rachel Morris.

Wǒ jiào Rachel Morris.

我叫 Rachel Morris.

My family name is Morris.

Wǒ xìng Morris.

Morris.

What is their name?

Tā jiào shénme míngzi?

他 (or 她)叫什么名字

Please speak a little slower!

Qǐng shuō màn diǎn’r!

请说慢点儿。

How do you say _____ in Chinese?

____ Zhōngwén zěnme shuō?

___ 中文怎么说?

Please say it again.

Qǐng zài shuō yíbiàn.

请再说一遍。


Chinese Practice Theater

(Visual Novel art by Halcyon and sei.chan)

Note that tone marks aren’t being updated based on tone sandhi rules.

Rachel’s Láadan Vlog #1 – If you build it, will they come?

Raye Chell Mahela

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4l1OwVMh_A

Seems like the worst possible time to learn Láadan, considering Suzette passed away a few months ago, and one of the two language course sites is down. The only one with Láadan sound-clips! Ho, ve!

But, I’m starting to study it. I’ve retrieved the Amberwind webpage via the Wayback Machine and I have links to the Wayback archive, as well as an archive hosted on my site (sorry, couldn’t salvage the sound-clips). I’m also trying to build a grammar reference (more for me than anything) and tools (like a quick-lookup dictionary) to make the experience easier.

The Problem with Video Game Character Creators

Raye Chell Mahela

For video games where you build your own character, why does it only give you the option of “male” or “female” to choose from?

The first character creator that stood out to me, honestly, was in My Sims, an adequate Wii game spin-off of The Sims. You create your character in it, but you don’t assign any gender – you have access to all options in the editor.  Of course, all the characters are chibi so there isn’t really a “body type” difference in the characters you see around town, so why bother having that constraint?

But what if more games did that? Even if you did have different body-types, why not have all the options available, and not have to assign a gender? The lead character is usually addressed by their name anyway, and the Singular They could be used when your character isn’t directly being addressed.

I’ve had some people just recently argue with me about how “Singular They” is an abomination to the English language and that they refuse to use it, however. (Really? English? English itself is an abomination…) So I have a different suggestion for your character creators to get around this.

Don’t assign gender to your character in a character-creator. Assign pronouns.

The programming is not going to be much different from switching between he/she in the dialogue. You could store variables to be swapped out based on the pronouns. (He Him His – She Her Hers – They Them Theirs – and so on).

But that doesn’t go far enough – since these values are going to be stored in variables anyway, why not allow the user to type in their own pronouns?  Just have them enter in the three-or-so variations of the pronoun that shows up in the given language.

pronounbox

Many games allow the user to type in their own name – so give it a try, let people enter their own pronouns. Let people choose any option in the character editor.

Update, February 19th

I recently watched a GiantBomb Quick Look for Sunless Sea, and during the character creation process, I saw that they ask the question, “What term of address do you prefer ashore?” with options like “Madam”, “Sir”, “Citizen”, and more, which is a nice, story-integrated way to deal with this.

address

You can check out Sunless Sea’s official webpage here.

Do you know any other games that do this?

Update, November 10th

Read Only Memories also lets you choose pronouns! :)

read only memories

Languages, Text Parsers, and Video Games

Raye Chell Mahela

I can speak English and Esperanto. I’ve started learning a handful of other languages, though I tend to have a hard time sticking with one. Oddly, sticking with Esperanto is easy, perhaps because I already have communities I’m part of, and uses for it, while with other languages – say, Korean – I really only get to use it at the nearby Korean grocery store.

But, I’ve decided to start learning Chinese. I decided that a couple of weeks ago, but so far I haven’t done much studying yet, just skimming pieces here and there. Do I start with reading on grammar? Do I start by studying Pinyin? Do I start by learning the building blocks of the writing system? Hm.

I’m a bit restless when it comes to sticking with a single textbook, and I want to start using the language as soon as I can, so then – do I memorize phrases and investigate how words are put together?

I began compiling a list of the verbs, nouns, and adjectives I find myself using the most in Esperanto. It’s hard to really quantify what English I use in my day-to-day life because it’s so engrained, but that’s one of the good things about being familiar with Esperanto – I have more of an explicit idea of what I’ve learned over the past three years, so it could perhaps be a blueprint of what I would need to learn for another language.

Building this list of words and common ways I end up combining them actually reminds me of writing a text parser for a text adventure (or something like the old King’s Quest games).  Actually – wouldn’t it be kind of fun to learn some basics of language through mixing and matching verbs and nouns together to interact with a virtual environment? (OK, maybe it appeals to me because I grew up with Sierra adventures…)

Though a problem with this method of “learning the patterns and extrapolating from there” would be more difficult for an irregular language, when you can’t always be sure that it will be something like “Verb-command-form [the] noun”

On a similar note – games can be a great way to give a controlled, somewhat immersive experience. If designed properly, a whole game could be in the target language, while not overwhelming the player with more nuanced parts of grammar.

If I pick up a new multiplayer game, for example, I pretty much always want to play Single Player first to get a feel for the maps, weapons, gameplay, etc. Similarly, I am going to be pretty shy when it comes to actually practicing a new language, I want a “safe sandbox” to practice in first.

And, with respect to old Sierra and LucasArts games, I know that I, personally, have heard a number of non-native-English speakers say that those games were a big part of how they learned English.

So, what might be a good way to apply language learning in a game medium? What games have done this, and done a decent job? Hmmm…