Spem, the philosopher's conlang

This is a conlang I'm making with the quite serious intention of getting people to speak it. Yes, it's a crazy uphill battle, but the amount we have to gain from a better language is staggering.

Update: the Spem project had a deep flaw which is that the names of everything were based on nothing more than my own subjective associations with sounds. I decided to reapproach the association profiles of each sound, as well as the set of included sounds, with more reasoned design. As this involves redoing most of the vocabulary, I decided to give the language a new name and separate documentation, while leaving Spem up here in its current state until the new iteration, Thaya, is ready to replace it.

The phenome and alphabet

Dictionary search

The goal is that you should be able to learn the language mostly just by reading the dictionary, but a few concepts get dedicated articles:

Verb objects

Multiple predicates

The tense system


Linking clauses


Demonstrative- and quantifier-type compounds

Default identifiers

Degree modifiers

Articles that aren't strictly about learning the language:

Design insight: the tradeoffs of parts of speech

The phonetic mapping: each sound's ideographic profile as I perceive them

Open question: variable dereferencing?

Other open questions (1)

ASCII transliteration scheme

So, here are the reasons why the world needs this so badly, and why Esperanto won't do.

Philosophical accuracy

The language you speak has an enormous impact on the way you think, and likewise the language a society speaks has an enormous impact on its culture. I'd go as far as to say *most* prevalent harmful ideas can be traced to our languages suggesting them (note that most of these points apply to most or all natural languages):


Emotion philosophy

Esperanto doesn't address most of these problems.

Ease of learning

It would be a massive benefit if children learned to communicate faster. One reason is that they could learn other things and mature faster, but a more important one is that a person uncapable of sophisticated communcation is much less likely to be treated as a person. Hence children and animals being the two most brutally oppressed groups.

General design philosophy

Another example is causation. English says "I made X do Y", but Spem says "I caused that X do Y". The Spem grammar is more intuitive and more flexible - sometimes in English when the make-verb construction doesn't seem to cut it we end up saying something like "I made it so ..." which sounds a little awkward. The Spem grammar works anywhere.

I'm ambivalent about whispering. Whispering mostly or entirely removes the distinction between voiced and voiceless consonants, so that would mean that to truly avoid homophones we'd have to also not have any words only distinguished by voicing? I'm not certain whether whispering makes it completely undiscernable, but it seems like something to avoid, except that it's such a hamper.

Obviously these goals clash often and it's not always clear how to prioritizing them, but I tried to list them in order of descending importance.

Broad concrete choices

Basically there are "entity words" or descriptors in Spem that just pile together to describe an entity. The entity has whatever traits the descriptors specify, and all descriptors are created equal.

Japanese is a language that generally follows **SOV**, and that's part of why it needs particles like は (wa), が (ga), and を (o) to denote the subject and object of sentences (I know Japanese doesn't have subjects don't pile on me Japanese teachers I'm simplifying it for the 外人). These particles are all one syllable but needing 1 or 2 of them in most complete sentences adds a *lot* of syllables at the end of the day.

Adjectives before or after nouns?

Although I don't plan to grammatically distinguish the two I think we should still have a custom for it. If there's a custom then whether the custom is followed can be used to convey additional information, such as reversing the order being used to emphasize.

I've developed the de facto standard of adjectives-first, but I'm open to having my mind changed.

Discussion about Spem mostly happens in a public Matrix room:



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