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The few conlangs I've read about/watched being developed in videos (such as those by Biblaridion) either started with phonology, or the description begins that way.

Whether that's a representative sample or not, is there a benefit to starting with phonology, especially when making a natural conlang?

It feels like an easier thing to add in later, vs. things like grammar.

3 Answers 3

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NO.

Videos and how to books often present a cookie cutter method of language construction. There is nothing wrong with this at all. Except that it leads many people to a) follow the recipe and b) get stuck on phonology.

The truth is we can start working on a new language anywhere. We can start with phonology or grammar or syntax. I often start with poetry. The other truth is that there is no particular benefit to the glossopoet or to the language maker of starting in one place over another.

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  • There is at least one conlang that I am aware of (Rikchik) that does not have a phonology because it is used by an alien species that does not speak. Mar 18 at 12:21
  • @JeffZeitlin -- I remember Rikchik from the Long Ago.
    – elemtilas
    Mar 18 at 14:05
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You don't have to start there. But it is a convenient place to start; it's hard to create words or grammar if there's nothing to make them concrete. If I have a phonology, I can start creating words and then short sentences. If I don't have a phonology, I can't create words without creating some sort of phonology; "london" and "rover" and "fog" imply an l-r contrast and nasals and fricatives and plosive and some sort of voicing or aspiration distinction. If you want to have a reasonable Latin orthography, you either have to change the words or accept a phonology consistent with that. If you don't have a phonology or words, grammar is a lot more figurative; "plurals are indicated by an s on nouns and a lack of an s on verbs" implies you have an s in your phonology and that noun + "s" is reasonable for your phonology. Starting with phonology leaves everything else a blank slate; starting somewhere else is going to create a lot of phonology implicitly.

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  • I think if I am not as focused on phonology I'm fine to create it implicitly Feb 23 at 23:19
  • Not to mention that "accepted" sounds change over time and/or region. The sounds may not be the consistent thing in the language.
    – PipperChip
    Feb 24 at 17:55
  • @PipperChip Compare the phonology of English and German, two languages separated by a couple thousand years. Sounds aren't that inconsistent over even a long period. If you're an English speaker and create a phonology implicitly, it's likely to be English phonology, possibly without as many vowels, as the English writing system is most ambiguous about vowels.
    – prosfilaes
    Feb 24 at 18:55
  • @prosfilaes Even with such a close relationship, how these languages use the sounds is still very different!
    – PipperChip
    Feb 25 at 1:20
  • @prosfilaes - Point taken, but Modern English and (modern) German aren't separated by more than about a thousand years; it's less than a thousand years since Old English was contaminated into Middle English, and Old English is very definitely closely related to (then-)contemporary German/Gothic. Mar 18 at 14:08
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You don't have to start there, but it is a good place to start. What often tends to happen if you don't start with phonology is that you will default to the phonology of your native language, perhaps with an additional "weird sound" or two thrown in if you try hard.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with this. That said, if you don't set your phonology at the beginning, it's very hard to make changes later. Everything else you build about your language will use your implied phonology, which again, is likely to be the same as your personal native language's phonology with minor changes.

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