Analysis English Language

The Culture of Conlanging: What Can We Learn About Culture from Created Languages?

Christine Schreyer is an assistant professor of anthropology at UBC Okanagan, where she teaches courses in linguistic anthropology. Her research focuses on language revitalization in Canada, and, more recently, in Papua New Guinea, as well as ethnohistorical research on Aboriginal place names in Canada collected by the Hudson’s Bay Company.


In my Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology class, my students are assigned the task of creating a new language over the course of the term. As the students learn new aspects of linguistic analysis they develop those pieces of their languages, including: phonology, morphology and syntax, proxemics and non-verbal communication, and language change. In this paper, my students and I argue that created languages help anthropology students realize how closely connected language and culture are, since students have usually found it hard to create any piece of their language without first imagining who the people are and what their culture is like (in other words – world building). Finally, we argue that creating languages allow students to more fully understand the concept of “cultural relativity” or the idea that each culture is unique and that we should not judge a culture based on how it compares to our own way of looking at the world.

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