Jörg Rhiemeier's Conlang Page
It is a well-known fact that the major (and many minor) languages of Europe - such as English, German, French and Spanish - share a number of features, which is why they are sometimes called Standard Average European languages, or, in short, SAE languages. Some of these features, such as SVO word order or accusative alignment, are fairly common among the languages of the world, and found in languages as remote from Europe as Chinese or !Xu (a Khoi-San language of southern Africa). Others, such as the perfect construction with to have and past participle, are very rare outside Europe. Most people in Europe and the Americas are not aware of this, and it is thus hardly surprising that many conlangs show the same features.
Conlangs that resemble SAE languages are often referred to as euroclones, and this is largely considered a flaw rather than a virtue. In auxlang circles, euroclones (which include most of the more popular IAL projects) are often criticized as not being culturally neutral, seen from a global perspective. An euroclone IAL, so they say, would give Europeans an unfair advantage learning it, which in turn would put non-Western nations at a disadvantage. The problem with this argumentation is that real cultural and linguistic neutrality is probably impossible to attain: unless one chooses a design that radically differs from human language as a whole (and is thus virtually unworkable), there are always languages that are more similar to the IAL than others.
In the artlang community, euroclones are equally controversial, but the reasons are of course different. Euroclones are often seen as unimaginative and thus uninteresting; they are to conlangs what boy bands are to music: products of insufficient imagination, made by people who mistake Europeanisms for universals of language. (This is probably indeed true in many cases of euroclone artlangs.)
This rejection of euroclone artlangs often borders on intellectual snobism. Sure, it is extremely unlikely that, for example, alien intelligences speak an SAE language. But it is equally unlikely that they speak, say, an ergative language with Bantu-like class prefixes and 19 cases. (Most likely, alien languages lie beyond our wildest fancies.) And there are cases where an SAE-like language design is actually justified. If you are designing a fictional Germanic or Romance language spoken in the heart of Europe, making it an 'euroclone' is only realistic. Germanech, one of my conlangs, is SAE, but it is consciously SAE - because if there really was a Romance language in Germany, it would most likely be SAE. Another case where 'SAEness' probably doesn't hurt anyone is a language meant for a fantasy culture modelled on medieval Europe. One may even argue that a language for such a culture ought to be SAE, because it fits the style. Mark Rosenfelder's Verdurian, one of the community's most celebrated conlangs, is quite typically SAE.
Rejecting SAE languages out of hand is also unfair against beginner conlangers who have not (yet) familiarized themselves with exotic language types and thus orient themselves at what kinds of languages they know. Put your hand on your heart: just about everybody of us started conlanging with a design that was modelled after either one's mother language or a language learnt in school. Many of us feel, in hindsight, that their first projects were regrettably lusterless, but we were learning back then. No-one is born as a master. And even experienced conlangers who routinely juggle with strange sounds and exotic grammatical features in their main projects, sometimes turn towards a less exotic, unpretentious side project for a refreshing change of pace.
There is nothing wrong with 'SAE' or 'euroclone' artlangs per se. It depends, however, on the nature of the project. There are cases where an euroclone design only feels right, and nothing speaks against consciously designing an SAE language. And beginner conlangers ought to be forgiven for designing unimaginative SAE languages out of lack of experience with 'exotic' languages. We should not turn off young talents just because they have not yet reached mastership.
Accusative alignment: What is meant by 'accusative alignment' is the rather simple fact that subjects of intransitive verbs are treated the same way as subjects of transitive verbs. There are languages where this is not the case.
© 2007-2009 Jörg
Last modified: 2009-01-24