Language Construction Workshop

A comprehensive, hands-on introduction to conlanging.

Course Goals

This course is a hands-on introduction to making constructed languages (or conlangs) as a creative pursuit, taught by a linguist and experienced conlanger. The course also serves as an introduction to linguistics, but instead of learning the material in a dry, lecture style, you'll learn it all by doing. By the end of the course, you'll not only have created a language of your own, but you'll also have the ability to repeat the process and create whole worlds full of languages.

Colin is an absolute genius, a patient teacher, and a thrilling linguist.

He encouraged our cohort to explore unique directions and was able to facilitate everyone’s different ideas. Throughout the course, Colin brought each of our projects from a handful of lip-and-tongue noises to a complex, beautiful, and unique language. I hope to take another course with him soon! —Jake

Length / Commitment

  • Length: 8 weeks
  • Classes: 1 hour live workshop sessions, offered 3 times a week
    • Come to at least 1 a week (or more if you want!)
    • Offered at a variety of times to accommodate different timezones/schedules.
    • These are live session but are recorded for you to review if you need to miss a session.
  • Homework: Approx. 1 hour per week
  • Also includes:
    • Course textbook written by me, Colin (~90pp)
    • Membership in private Discord channel for asking questions between sessions (optional)

Syllabus / Schedule

Week 1: Introduction

What is a language and what does it mean to construct a language? In this session you’ll learn enough of the basics of linguistics to figure out what we need to do to make our first conlang. We’ll use this knowledge to break the task into chunks and set up a logical progression which will guide the rest of the course. Finally I’ll send you away with a mission to find a spark of inspiration for your first language that will guide you throughout the process.

Week 2: Sounds

What gives a language its unique sound? In this session, you'll learn about the range of sounds made by the languages of the world. You'll also learn a system of classifying sounds and use that information to create a palette of sounds for your language to draw on.

Week 3: From Sounds to Words

In this chapter, you'll learn how to combine sounds to make words according to a blueprint that you'll develop for your language. This is where your language starts develop its unique flavour.

Week 4: From Words to Sentences

This session is about going from your language’s first words to your language’s first sentences. To do this, we’ll learn the different strategies languages use to package meaning into words. Then we’ll learn about the different ways languages express relationships between words. This will give us the tools to start making sentences.

Weeks 5–6: A More Powerful Grammar, Parts 1 and 2

In these sessions we will start to increase the expressive power of your language by introducing the many things you can do with sentences that are not so simple. You'll learn thrilling grammatical strategies for adding additional details about when, where, and why something happened. You'll marvel at the ease with which you'll be combining sentences – ok, look: it's hard to write a captivating description of grammatical topics. But trust me, we'll have fun making your language capable of doing more.

Week 7: Languages with a Past and Present

This week we will take your nicely laid-out rules and start adding complications and exceptions. We'll look at how irregularity in language is the most regular process of all. We'll also examine how words change their form and meaning over time and see how we can express aspects of the culture and history of the language's speakers through the language.

Week 8: Show and Tell

This week we'll share the results of the translations and get feedback on how the languages have turned out. Most importantly, we'll get a chance to try out speaking each others' languages! We'll end with some suggestions on how to develop the languages from this starting point.

Artifacts

By the end of the course, you will have created a set of core reference material for a new language:

  • A short guide to your language, including information on spelling, pronunciation, as well as how to form words and sentences.
  • A small dictionary for your language
  • A translation of a short fable (< 100 words in English)

I must say I was really curious before we started the course - and all of my expectations went completely fulfilled. I think the course is really well structured as a sort of path that guides the student through the basic steps of building a conlang. At week 0, I knew nothing about conlangs and in just two months I got to write a sample story, how exciting! —Sandro

Who Should Sign Up

This course is for you if you:

  • Have a creative project you'd like to make a realistic language for (e.g. authors, game designers, worldbuilders).
  • Want to learn to conlang as a creative pursuit.
  • Are curious about linguistics and want to learn it in a fun and creative way.

But it's probably not for you if you...

  • Are an experienced conlanger (this will be too basic for you).
  • Are most interested in making a planned language for international communication (i.e. an auxlang) or to explore a logical idea (i.e. a logical language). This course focuses on naturalistic conlangs.

Requirements

  • No linguistics background is assumed.
  • You'll need a Google account to participate in shared Google Docs/Sheets.

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