24.917 | Fall 2018 | Undergraduate
ConLangs: How to Construct a Language


Course Meeting Times

Class meetings: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours per session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Description

This course explores languages that have been deliberately constructed (ConLangs), including Esperanto, Klingon, and Tolkien’s Elvish. Students construct their own languages while considering phenomena from a variety of languages of the world. Topics include writing systems, phonology (basic units of speech and how they combine), morphology (structure of words), syntax (how words are put together), and semantics (the expression of meaning, and what language leaves unexpressed). Through regular assignments, students describe their constructed language in light of the topics discussed. The final assignment is a grammatical description of the new language.

Grading and General Expectations

There will be no quizzes or papers; just homework assignments, and a final project. The final project will be worth 15% of your total grade; the rest will come from homework assignments, and attendance and participation.

There will also be no readings, or textbook. This means attendance will be very important.

The homework assignments will all have the same form; I’ll ask you to use what we’ve discussed in class to describe some aspect of the language you are constructing.

The final project will be a summary of what you’ve given me so far, together with a text. In general, I will try to make assignments due on Mondays.

Late policy: In general, late homework will not be accepted except by e-mailed permission of the instructor requested before the due date. Permission, if granted, will be granted in two categories. For illness and similar emergencies, you will not be penalized for handing in the problem set late. If I decide that your excuse does not involve an emergency, then you will be given permission to hand in the problem set late, but your grade on the problem set will go down by one letter grade for every day it is late.

You are encouraged to discuss the class with your classmates, and general discussion of the homework is fine—even encouraged. But make sure you arrive at the solution yourself, and write your own answers.

Laptop policy: You should feel free to use laptops in class (though not, of course, during the midterm). I reserve the right to change this policy.

Approximate Schedule

Session # Lecture notes
1 Phonetics 1
2–3 Phonetics 2
4 Phonology 1
5 Phonology 2
6 Klingon, etc.
7 Morphology
8 Case
9–10 Transitivity
11–12 Agreement
13–14 Word Order
15–16 Embedded Clauses
17 Questions
18 Word Order 2
19 Giving, Having
20 Discourse Particles
21 Kinship Terminology
22 Colors, Numbers
23–24 Writing Systems
25 Historical Linguistics
26 Language Games, Honorifics, etc.
Course Info
As Taught In
Fall 2018
Learning Resource Types
notes Lecture Notes
assignment Activity Assignments