26 February 2008

language design: art or craft?

A certain online forum has had another close encounter with the question: Is language design an art or a craft? One person said it "can be" an art, but can never be as emotionally impactful as other arts such as music, cinema and so forth.

Hmm. It's true that music and movies can cause a major mood swing. A well-written propaganda movie can change one's views of a social issue. Can contemplating someone else's constructed language lift you out of a depression (or plunge you into one), or change your viewpoint on any issue? Can a lang design hit you with the same impact as a beautiful painting, movie or symphony? I have no doubt that working on your own lang can be an exalting experience.

Don't be too quick to imagine what your response would be, if you were going to respond. This is the kind of question that should be mulled over for a few years.

Somewhat dated but vaguely related is this article about ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. "Many of her students have been reduced to tears by what they have created," says the article. Okay, but have they ever been moved to tears by anyone else's ikebana?


na-tëàctöp'r said...

The only thing that prevents ikebana from being sculpture is its fragility and transience (which, knowing the Japanese, are probably part of the appeal).

I have recently been moved, if not to any sublime heights, at least to envy and appreciation, by carefully going over Matt Pearson's 1997 version of Tokana, which I had received a paper copy of at the time. It took more than just reading through the materials, though.

riku said...

More than just reading through -- what else did you do? Pause to visualize the culture? Use the language a little?

Hardcopy is so much better at getting a message across than text on a computer screen. Some of the youngsters don't want to admit that.


na-tëàctöp'r said...

Re: what else I did -

Well, I was being vague because it seems kind of copyright-violate-y, but having made readable copies of the mangled 1999 Tokana grammar on the .ru site, I then took the printed-out 1997 materials I'd got from Matt a decade (!!!) ago, and... scanned them in. And I've been going through the 1997 dictionary correcting all the scanner errors. You can really get to know a language that way.

Next I will fix the scanned 1997 grammar, run diff a few dozen times, and write down all the differences I find between the 1997 and 1999 grammars.

This is addictive...

riku said...

Yeah, over a decade. Time is slipping away. I googled Matt's name and found this, he seems to be doing well in life. Do you know if he still conlangs?

na-tëàctöp'r said...

Not a clue. I didn't know him except to send away for Tokana materials, which I undoubtedly knew about from the Conlang list.