In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Artificial Languages

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works and Lists of Languages
  • Journals and Collections of Papers
  • Original Descriptions of Individual Languages
  • A Priori Languages
  • Histories of Other Specific Languages
  • Acquisition
  • Sociolinguistics
  • General Linguistic Analysis
  • Relation to Natural Language Revitalization and Creolization

Linguistics Artificial Languages
Arika Okrent
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0164


Artificial languages are languages that have been consciously devised, usually by a single creator. They are also sometimes called planned languages, constructed languages, or invented languages. Specific types of artificial languages may be called fictional languages, auxiliary languages, or interlanguages. This article does not cover jargon, contact languages, creoles, or other systems that arise organically out of group interactions. Nor does it include language games, codes, or other re-encoding of existing languages. While there is overlap between the formal languages of logic, mathematics, and computation and the ideas behind some of the artificial languages covered here, this article deals specifically with languages intended to be spoken by humans. For centuries, people have consciously invented languages for the following reasons: to make language less arbitrary, ambiguous, and irregular; to provide a vehicle for international communication; for artistic purposes. Language creators have often believed that their artificial languages would bring about such benefits as clearer thinking or world peace. Artificial languages have generally not been of much interest to linguists because of their association with fringe elements and their lack of historical derivation, speech communities, and native speakers who can vouch for the correctness of implicit rules. They can, however, shed light on the way language has been viewed in different eras, and in the rare cases where they do develop speech communities (or even, in the case of Esperanto, native speakers), they have been examined within the theoretical frameworks of sociolinguistics, language acquisition, creolization, and revitalization. There have been over 1,000 artificial languages proposed since the 17th century. Many of them were published as brief sketches, but a few notable ones were worked out in great detail, and some of those managed to attract a following. This article discusses several general overviews of the history of artificial languages as well as bibliographies of published proposals and lists of languages categorized in various ways. In addition to a few journals and collections of works about artificial languages, there are papers devoted to specific languages of interest. Artificial languages can be categorized into types, which largely, but not completely, overlap with specific time periods: a priori languages (17th century) have vocabularies based on abstract combinatorial principles and are usually claimed to be representations of true conceptual structure (also called philosophical languages); a posteriori languages (19th and 20th centuries) have vocabularies based on natural languages and are usually proposed as easily learned vehicles of international communication (also called interlanguages or auxiliary languages); artistic languages (modern) have characteristics determined by their creators’ aesthetic goals (also called fictional languages or conlangs).

General Overviews

There are a number of overviews that discuss artificial languages within a larger historical context. Eco 1995 deals primarily with the early period from the dark ages to the Renaissance. The period from the Renaissance through the 20th-century preoccupation with international languages is the focus of Large 1985. Yaguello 1991 and Okrent 2009 cover the same period, but Yaguello is oriented toward the languages of fiction and mystics and Okrent follows the history into the current modern era. Adams 2011 is a compact overview of the history of language invention through the modern era. Bausani 1974 includes projects from outside of Europe and North America. Pei 1968 covers the history from the perspective of his own advocacy for an international language.

  • Adams, Michael. 2011. The spectrum of invention. In From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring invented languages. Edited by Michael Adams, 1–16. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An accessible introduction that looks at language invention as a creative endeavor and discusses its motivations.

  • Bausani, Alessandro. 1974. Le lingue inventate: Linguaggi artificiali, linguaggi segreti, linguaggi universali. Rome: Ubaldini.

    A history of language invention and language creativity. Includes discussion of secret and mystical languages, as well as language games, including some from the Middle East and Africa. In Italian.

  • Eco, Umberto. 1995. The search for the perfect language. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

    Focused on theological and mystical approaches during the pre-Renaissance preoccupation with finding the original language of Adam. Good background on the history of ideas leading to the era of 17th-century a priori languages. Academic style.

  • Large, J. A. 1985. The artificial language movement. Oxford and New York: B. Blackwell.

    Good scholarly account of projects within their contemporary intellectual environments.

  • Okrent, Arika. 2009. In the land of invented languages: Esperanto rock stars, Klingon poets, Loglan lovers, and the mad dreamers who tried to build a perfect language. New York: Spiegel & Grau.

    Engaging popular history that makes a good introduction to the subject. Includes reporting on active language communities.

  • Pei, Mario, 1968. One language for the world. New York: Biblo and Tannen.

    An opinionated argument in favor of the need of an international language that includes a lot of background on previous attempts to provide one.

  • Yaguello, Marina. 1991. Lunatic lovers of language: Imaginary languages and their inventors. London: Athlone.

    In addition to discussion of 17th-century philosophical languages, covers imaginary language in fiction and spiritual movements.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.