Proposal: Linguistics

Short version. Just for the purposes of this proposal, what criteria does a language have to satisfy to be considered a natural (i.e. on-topic) language?

Long version.

I have a vested interest in the answer of this question, because although I am interested in linguistics on an amateur level, my principal interest in committing is to contribute by asking unusual questions (and picking some linguists' brains) on a topic which seems to me to be the proper domain of linguistics, but outside of what one would normally consider a natural human language in the wild. Therefore I'm interested to know whether my idea is on-topic for this proposal.

What are the criteria for determining whether a language is natural? We can come up with some clear exemplars on either side:

  • The different flavours of English as it is commonly spoken or written in various places are considered natural; so are Italian, Cantonese, etc.
  • Latin, though now dead, was a natural language.
  • Esperanto, though synthesized from elements of natural languages, is typically described as an artificial language.
  • Klingon is most certainly an artificial language.

But surely there are some grey areas. Certain classic proscriptions of English grammar, once a core component of English education, were derived from Latin; those who adopt these recieved rules of grammar are (or at least the first generations to do so were) speaking a not-entirely natural dialect of English. American Sign Language and many others were initially designed; but is it regarded as an artificial language, or does it have a status similar to a creole, where it has organically evolved from an un-natural beginning? If "naturalness" of a language is measured by continual usage by large numbers of people, is Latin any more a natural language than Esperanto, neither of whom have many native speakers to speak of?

I'm not looking for definitive answers to these questions right now (though I may ask them again once the beta is live). I ask these as an interested outsider, as test-cases for the real question: for the purposes of this proposal, what properties does a language have to have in order to be considered natural-in-practise? Does it have to have authors who are invested in its continued usage and development? Does it help if not all these authors know one another, nor agree perfectly on meanings/pronunciation/orthography?

  • I think this probably needs to wait for the site to go live, and be asked there - not sure it's a good fit for being discussed here in advance
    – Gagravarr
    Sep 1 '11 at 16:08
  • @Gagravarr: I can see the argument for that, though it's somewhat unfortunate that I can't find out in advance whether some of my other questions would even be considered on-topic as a result. Sep 1 '11 at 16:12
  • 2
    @Dori: the question is about the current proposal. In order to provoke a thoughtful response, I also ask questions which would be suitable for the proposal. However, the actual question is as to what would be on-topic for the proposal, in view of the discussions above in which constructed languages are considered off-topic. Sep 2 '11 at 10:31
  • @Niel de Beaudrap: Questions in this discussion forum are to field questions about the proposal: clarifying the definition, how to find support, etc. Posting "test cases" for the subject is not what this forum is about. Better to ask once the site is created. Sep 5 '11 at 3:03
  • @Robert Cartaino: my question is about the forum definition. I'm not asking for answers about the test cases. I present the test cases in the hopes of provoking a nuanced answer to the question of the forum definition. Sep 5 '11 at 8:45
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    From my perspective this seems to be a valid Area 51 Discussion question about defining a topic's edge in one particularly grey area. But, on the other hand, a question like this will likely be more effectively dealt with during the private beta. I'm not familiar with this topic per se, but based on the existing sites I expect the most effective way to define this border will be asking several grey area questions and seeing how the off-topic close votes fall. (In this case, especially so given that the last time I looked the proposed site was only about 7 commitments under the 100% threshold.)
    – moberley
    Sep 6 '11 at 2:42
  • Niel, you might be interested to know that there is now an Area51 proposal for Planned & Constructed Languages where this sort of question would be on topic. If you haven't already, please consider committing to that proposal. Apr 6 '12 at 17:54

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