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Auxiliary languages are used in many communities but are not anyone's native language, being used in particular contexts or for particular purposes, such as:

  • Liturgical purposes (Church Latin, Ge'ez)
  • avoidance ('mother-in-law' and 'brother-in-law' languages of Australia eg Damin)
  • in support of ethnic identity (Eskayan of the Philippines)

Some of these are known to be constructed languages, some have developed in some other way, for some their origin is unknown. Is discussion of the linguistics of these languages on-topic for Linguistics SE?

  • Might we add pidgins? – James Grossmann Jul 7 '12 at 0:46
  • @JamesGrossmann Yes, for sure (see Dan Velleman's comment to his answer, below). – Gaston Ümlaut Jul 8 '12 at 0:42
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Linguistics as a discipline clearly does take Damin and Ge'ez to be part of its legitimate subject matter. So if we've defined "linguistics" in such a way that Damin and Ge'ez are ruled out, then I'd argue we've got the wrong definition.

My sense is that the descriptivist/prescriptivist line is the right one to use. This would have the consequence that we'd have to accept descriptivist questions about Esperanto. But I don't see the harm there. If someone has a legitimately descriptive question about Esperanto — for instance, "Which word order do real-world Esperanto speakers use most in spontaneous face-to-face conversation" — then I'm totally fine with that. (And honestly I think most working linguists would be too. If a student in my department wanted to do fieldwork at Esperanto conventions for their dissertation, I don't think anyone would bat an eye.)

The real problem with Esperanto is that most discussions about it aren't descriptivist. The question most commonly discussed isn't "As a matter of descriptive fact, how do Esperantists actually talk?" but rather "How should Esperantists talk?" and "Why is Esperanto better than Lojban?" and so on. We should definitely exclude those questions. But we would exclude those questions even if they were about natural languages: "How should Anglophones talk?" and "Why is English better than Spanish?" would be deleted just as quickly. For that matter, "Why is Damin better than Lardil?" would be deleted. It's a single consistent standard we can apply across the boad.

Similarly, if a conlang has never had a substantial community of human speakers, then you can't do real linguistics on it, because there's no human verbal behavior there to study. Even if a conlang does have human speakers, discussing its written grammar isn't linguistics, because it's focusing on a prescribed standard rather than on actual usage. But if someone wanted to know, like, "As a matter of descriptive fact, how do Klingon speakers at sci-fi cons tend to articulate the phonemes /q͡χ/ and /q/?" then I'd be perfectly happy to see discussion on that point. (And again, if a student in my department wanted to do that research, we'd be perfectly happy to give 'em a degree in linguistics at the end of it, so long as they did a solid job with the evidence and argumentation.)

I realize I may be an extremist here, but I figured I'd put my two cents in.

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    Another argument against using native speakers as the criterion: Pidgin languages, on most definitions, have no native speakers. But it would be ridiculous to say "Anyone who studies a pidgin is not doing linguistics." – Leah Velleman Jun 15 '12 at 20:57
  • +1 Interesting points Dan, I agree with you! – Alenanno Jun 18 '12 at 23:30
  • I see nothing extreme about your reasonable answer, Dan. The standard you're using seems pretty clear, and I agree with it. – James Grossmann Jul 9 '12 at 3:12
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Yes, on the continuum of 'fake' languages, these are some of the less fake and already have some respectability & published books and research about them.

I would also put in this category natural languages that have been standardized, especially when the standardization was highly prescriptive. I haven't read any good names for the phenomena when a natural language acquires made up grammar rules, such as the introduction of Latinisms into English, like "never split an infinitive because Latin doesn't"

I would only quibble about calling the auxiliary languages because that is generally the same phrase used for projects with Esperanto's aspirations (a global, artificial, lingua franca, generally purposefully constructed to be an average of many languages and to have been simplified in some manner for ease of acquisition).

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    It's true, 'auxiliary language' is sometimes used for Esperanto-style projects (though 'international auxiliary language' is more common for that idea), but it's not a usage from the discipline of linguistics. In linguistics 'auxiliary language' is normally used much as I've used it--at least, afaik. – Gaston Ümlaut Jun 10 '12 at 7:46
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I think these should certainly be "in scope" - they are not anybody's native language, but they are natural languages, each with a speech and cultural community, undergo change, follow grammatical rules, etc. For example, Church Slavonic, Standard Arabic, Shelta, and even Cornish arguably fall under your definition but are quite in scope.

It appears that Klingon falls under your definition, too, so the line may be fuzzy.

I agree with @MatthewMartin's comment on calling them "auxiliary languages" because of the overloading of that term.

  • Don't Conlangs fit into auxiliary languages? If we allow these, we are going to allow conlangs too. – Alenanno Jun 7 '12 at 15:06
  • @Alennano Yes, I am troubled by the line too. – Mark Beadles Jun 8 '12 at 21:04
  • @Alenanno Some auxiliary languages are constructed languages, but I don't think that means that all conlangs need be allowed. – Gaston Ümlaut Jun 10 '12 at 7:50
  • @GastonÜmlaut What is your opinion on this? Which ones would you allow, if any? – Alenanno Jun 10 '12 at 7:57
  • @Alenanno I'd like to allow all the ones I list in the question. But I'm still figuring out my thoughts on this--I think it would be based on their being in established, ongoing use by some speech community. I'm sure Klingon (eg) enthusiasts would claim it is in established use within a speech community, but I think this is highly dubious. – Gaston Ümlaut Jun 10 '12 at 8:04
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    Some conlangs are meant to be(come) auxiliary languages in the linguistic sense but far from all. – kaleissin Oct 6 '12 at 18:06

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