My thirteen year-old son knows more about grammar than I do, and I’ve been called a Grammar Nazi (I prefer “Grammar Advocate”, thankyouverymuch). He’s really taught himself the majority of what he knows. In addition to a great understanding of English grammar, he’s also got a fantastic grasp of how our language works.
How? Through “Conlanging” – constructing languages.
He started out by learning Esperanto, probably the most well-known constructed language — although that honor might be shared with Klingon and Tolkein’s elven languages. Now he spends his spare time constructing his own languages.
Awhile ago, I had him write an essay about constructing languages. Here are a few paragraphs out of that essay:
When making a language, you must start with the phonology, which is the set of sounds in the language. A phonology is divided into two parts: consonants and vowels. Consonants are defined in English by three separate features: place, manner, and voicing. Place is where in the mouth the sound is made: options include labial (such as b or f), dental (such as th or a Romance t) and velar (such as k or German ch). Manner is how the sound is made: options include stop (such as t or g) or fricative (such as s or v). Voicing has only two options, voiced and unvoiced, and is whether or not the vocal cords are vibrating when the sound is made. Some languages have more or less distinguishing features in consonants: for example, the Slavic languages have palatalization.
Vowels have three distinguishing features as well: height, place, and roundedness. Height is how open your mouth is: options include open (i, u), open-mid (o), and close (a). Place is where your tongue is: options include front (i, e) and back (o, u). Roundedness is how rounded your mouth is: options include rounded (o, u) and unrounded (i, e, a). Many languages also distinguish length, which is how long the vowel is pronounced. Some have more than two length categories, and some have more than two roundednesses.
After the morphology comes the grammar. A grammar can be fusional, agglutinative, or isolating. With a fusional grammar, one affix has a variety of meanings; for example, when the English -s is added to a verb, it means present tense, singular, and third person. With an agglutinative grammar, one affix has one meaning; for example, the English verbal -s would be composed of three separate affixes: one for present tenst, one for singular, and one for third person. With an isolating grammar, there are no affixes; the English verbal -s would use helper verbs, like English “will” for future tense. Once you’ve decided on a grammar type, you can start coining affixes and/or helper words, but remember that they have to fit your morphology. You also have to pick a syntax; first decide your order of subject, object, and verb (for example, English is SVO, and Latin is SOV; Yoda-speak is OSV), and then your order of modifier and head (English is modifier-head; Romance languages are head-modifier). Once you’re finished with the grammar, you create your vocabulary. Simply create words and define their meanings; make sure they fit your morphology.
Okay, I’ll quit showing off now. I’m a proud Mommy.
I asked my son for some links for beginners to Conlanging, and he enthusiastically shared these three:
The Language Construction Kit
Geoff’s Homepage (which includes “Creating an Earthlike Planet” and “The Climate Cookbook”, too)
How to Create a Language
I’m very impressed with the way my son’s knowledge of language has grown through his hobby of constructing languages