Analysis Conlang Descriptions English Language

Potential Paonese: A Reconstruction from Jack Vance’s “The Languages of Pao”

Logan Kearsley lived in Belgium for three years as a child, but didn’t realize other languages were cool before moving back to the anglophone United States, where he started conlanging at a still-young age and eventually studied Russian in high school. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a Master’s in Linguistics, and has had the opportunity to study a wide variety of languages while working to develop software for teaching and learning foreign languages at the university level and researching language pedagogy. He also reviews foreign-language and conlang content in film, audio, and written media.


While Jack Vance’s novel The Languages of Pao provides next to no information about the eponymous languages themselves, there are tantalizing glimpses of the intrafictional natlang Paonese. Based on narrator’s comments, glosses, and a small corpus of individual words, this article describes the process of analyzing the attested data on Paonese and producing a reconstruction. Due to the sparsity of the evidence, there is an enormous amount of room for individual interpretation and creativity in filling in the gaps; thus, we cannot say that this or any reconstruction necessarily represents the original, correct Paonese, or even that such a thing actually exists. Nevertheless, we can create a description of a language that could have been Paonese—a potential Paonese. For this particular reconstruction, I have chosen not to produce the simplest possible language that accords with Vance’s work; but rather to develop a language which is naturalistically complex, does not reflect an obvious anglophone bias, and yet still can explain the evidence in the book.

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