Friday, July 4, 2014

An Interview with A Walker Scott, Fellow Conlanger and Nascent Novelist (Part 1)

       When I first started this self-publishing effort, I knew I wanted to get acquainted with other conlangers, since I had constructed a couple of languages for the extraterrestrials in my books to speak. I surmised conlangers would have some interest in what I was doing and I haven’t been disappointed. Through Twitter I discovered the Language Creation Society and proceeded to join. Through those contacts, I met some of the most interesting people on the internet, although only a few of them (like David Peterson, who writes conlangs for TV series, including Game of Thrones) are well-known outside of conlanging and scholarly circles. Recently, in a Facebook discussion, the idea came up of doing an interview with one of my new friends, so I’m pleased to be introducing you to A Walker Scott, one of the most interesting people I’ve met during my self-publishing journey.
·    Welcome to my blog, Walker, and thanks for allowing me to interview you. Let me start by asking you to tell us something about yourself – your background, education, and professional life, and something about the places you have lived. I know you read and speak Chinese and taught for a while in Taiwan.
       Thanks, Lorinda. Well, I'm afraid this is not incredibly interesting. I hold a Master's in Teaching and have started but never finished a Master's in Linguistics. I taught English conversation to junior high and high school students in Taiwan for three years, and then English Literature and various electives (Yearbook, Logic, ASL) to junior high and high school students here in the US for another three years, before a one-year stint at a junior college. I left teaching due to the unpredictability of paychecks and such. Now I work in a warehouse as a shipping and receiving manager (read: I am a one-man department!)  In the past I have worked as a library supervisor (not a real librarian), a house painter, a nighttime stocking clerk at a grocery store, a customer service rep and various other jobs related to teaching – sometimes three or four simultaneously!
       I have lived nearly my whole life in and around Dallas, TX. But there was a brief stay in the San Luis Valley of Colorado when I was five and the three years in Taiwan about a decade ago.
       My Chinese skills have gotten quite rusty as an hour of attempted conversation last week brought home rather emphatically! I never did reach reading fluency. At my peak, I could read and write about 900 characters, but something like 3000 is needed to read things like newspapers.
       · An adjunct question: how did you happen to become proficient in American Sign Language? 
       Well, I have been interested in languages since I was really young, so when I got to college and there was a summer intro class on ASL, I took it. Then I took Beginning Sign Language that fall and Intermediate Sign Language that spring. Then I transferred and the university didn't have ASL and didn't accept it for the required foreign language credits, so it was good I had also taken Spanish. I kept up my ASL using it here and there over the years, and then took some Linguistics classes focused on the world's many signed languages. Now I'm interpreting on a weekly basis.
·     I’m personally not a professional linguist as you and so many other conlangers are; I’m just a writer and student of literature who dabbles in languages. When did you get interested in constructing languages and why?

       Well, I'm not a professionsal linguist either. I have taken some graduate level classes, but that's FAR from being a professional. I have read quite a lot, and I've been playing with language for decades. I would love to finish a Linguistics degree, but time and money are both somewhat lacking.
       I can actually pinpoint my first foray into conlanging rather precisely. It was about a week before my 12th birthday. My mother was in the hospital because of complications with her pregnancy before the birth of my youngest brother. I was riding my dad's delivery route with him and bored out of my head. I had recently checked several language learning books out of the public library – French, Russian and Esperanto. The idea that someone could just “make” a language was really interesting, so I decided to give it a try. That first language was horrid. I did just about everything wrong. But it started an interest that has lasted over 30 years now.
  • How many have you written? Give us some examples! I’m particularly interested in that color language! And I believe you’ve constructed a Romance language that is spoken in North Africa in an alternate history of Earth.
       How many have I written? Well, I have done a lot of sketches, some of which might eventually get more attention, but most just languish on my many, many back burners. Let's see ...  How many have I given enough attention to, to be worthy of mention? Well, Gravgaln, Tvern El, B-G-2-3, maybe Alelliawulian counts, Lrahran, Dabiš. Then there are other languages that only exist in measure enough to include a line of dialogue or a few names in the text of a story. Let’s say eight or so, including the Romance language you referenced.
       Gravgaln is spoken by the Gravgurdan, a race of warriors with some really nasty cultural traits. The grammar is very complicated. The verbs are based on an obscure language from the Solomon Islands. The nouns are inspired by some of the more conservative languages of the Indo-European family and some of the odder members of the Uralic family. You can end up with some really long words, but a two-word sentence in Gravgaln might need 15 words or more to translate it into English.
       Tvern El started out inspired by ASL grammar; I wanted to see how well the grammar of a signed language could be translated to a spoken medium, but pretty soon it acquired influences from Chinese grammar as well as some outright inventions. It is strongly isolating so there are lots of very short words, but the consonant clusters freak people out.
       B-G-2-3 is the color language you mentioned. The Iridians speak by changing the colors and patterns of their skins, much like chameleons or squids, only more sophisticated.  The language looks like some bizarre code when written out, but the letters are colors and the numbers are the patterns in which those colors are manifested.
       The Romance language is called Carrajina and has a whole history and culture attached. It has folk tales, and Scripture passages and recipes and traditions about how to paint your door! I never thought I'd enjoy creating a human language, but once I got started it really took on a life of its own. Someday I may even get around to writing a novel or at least some short stories set in that world. Who knows?

·    So many conlangers write in the abstract – for the sheer love of it, or to investigate the potentialities of language. And some actually write conlangs to be spoken – as auxlangs, or auxiliary languages. What is your view on how a conlang should be utilized? When you began writing conlangs, did you intend to use them in fiction?

       How should a conlang be used? However the creator wants! There is no wrong way to conlang. Some painters use oils, some acrylics, some water colors. Some use badger hair brushes, some a palate knife, some their fingers and some just throw the paint at the canvas. There is no one way to paint, likewise there are many, many ways to go about inventing a language.
       When I first started inventing my first language, I had no thought of using it in fiction, but very quickly my thoughts migrated that direction. I would say most of my conlanging is more or less directed to that goal at present.

·       I believe you’ve written some short fiction that’s been published. Tell us about that.

        Well, actually, the only short fiction I've had published (so far!!) is a science fiction sonnet that appeared in Asimov's. I have written a fair number of short pieces that I should be submitting, but I still find the idea of submitting my work intimidating. However, I am determined to start getting my work out there so, hopefully, I will have more examples soon.
       Though it isn't anything original, only a translation, I do have a translation of the Babel text from Genesis that should be appearing in the next issue of Aequinox.  If you really want to see the Gravgaln language in action, that's the place to look.
·     You’re also a conworlder or conculturist – you create worlds. This is also done by many people simply for the joy of it, without any intention of writing stories laid in these worlds. That’s not my practice – I only create worlds if I have a story to tell in that context. What about you?

        Well, I've done both. My alien languages and cultures are meant for storytelling. Carraxa was just an exercise in “what if.”

Coming in a few days:
Part 2 of this interview, in which we learn
all aboutWalker's exterrestrials and read
some sample text from his novel.

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