Did you know that i.e. were short for id est? And etc. meant et cetera?

These are relics of the Roman occupation of Europe, as far as I know. The Latin expression remained in the academic dialect for some time after the collapse of the Roman Empire, mostly because it is a characterizing feature of the academic genre. However, history and literary analyses are no fun.

Just for the heck of it, how would you design a constructed language for purely academic purposes? Such a language should address the following needs:

  • Act as a lingua franca for scholars around the world
  • Provide sufficient vocabulary, or at least the ability to adopt new vocabulary to form the terminologies of various disciplines.
  • Have a syntax adapted to compacting information, in other words, have a high semantic density.
  • Facilitate an academic way of thinking, if you believe in linguistic relativity
  • Be intentionally incomprehensible to non-academics, if you are into conspiracy theories.

Of course, you can find better purposes to build you language around.

Just as an example, a constructed language (let's call it Conlang-1) that address some of the aforementioned points could be described like so:

  • Vocabulary: Conlang-1 has posteriori vocabulary, taking basic vocabulary from Latin, and allows the systematic construction of complex terms via the combination of basic words ("Fusilipetra" for example, can mean "lava", with "fusili" meaning "molten" and "petra" meaning "rock") This solves the need for vocabulary, and may facilitate semantic density.
  • Syntax: Conlang-1's syntax is basically a copy of the English language (mostly because I'm lazy) Sentences will take on the form of Subject-verb-object, with phrases appended before and after. One may say that such a simplistic structure ease the learning of this language, but that can be subjective.
  • Special features: Conlang-1 does not have temporal tenses, because academics often cite other scholar's work done decades ago in the present tense. However, Conlang-1 will conjugate verbs according to the velancy of the words. This may help avoid ambiguity in some cases.
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    $\begingroup$ Have you had a look at Esperanto? $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Dec 23, 2016 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ One such language has been designed, called Ithkuil, with the seemingly contradictory aim of being precise and concise at the same time. The creator did not design it for everyday usage but for academic usage, as you ask. I hope it helps. Please take a look at this article and wikipedia for more. $\endgroup$ Dec 23, 2016 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ Lojban $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Dec 23, 2016 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot If you made that into a full answer, I would upvote the heck out of it! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Dec 23, 2016 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ -1 because there are many obvious examples to research that google-ing "constructed language" would uncover immediately. Since we are on Stack Exchange, ask on Esperanto.SE how their language came to be. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Dec 24, 2016 at 6:07

4 Answers 4


I think AlexP is on to something. Reading the Wikipedia entry on New Latin,

an example of the transition is Newton's writing career, which began in New Latin and ended in English (e.g. Opticks, 1704). A much earlier example is Galileo c. 1600, some of whose scientific writings were in Latin, some in Italian, the latter to reach a wider audience.

The use started declining, in favor of national languages, right at the time “real science” was being invented.

What if the opposite had occured? Once science started getting momentum, people complained about the use of myriad languages to keep up with findings. Furthermore, the need was seen for describing apparatus and procedures precicely so it can be understood for both criticism and repitition by others.

Early examples of poetic phrases, metaphorical expressions, and analogies written by this in other cultures took months to straighten out in correspondence with people using different languages, and the resulting paper trail was a bigger publication than the original paper!

In a move that was similar to computer languages of the 20th century in our timeline, they decided to not only extend acedemic Latin to handle all the new stuff succinctly, but reworked it to allow exact meanings to be agreed upon by all. It worked well for the purpose, and will increasing “new things” arising, developed a framework for extension that kept the precision in contrast to natural language evolution which haphazardly repurposes or changes old words.

Thinking about computer languages of today, and applying that to the need for documenting apparatus and procedures, I imagine a system for exactly specifying antecedents in a succinct way, where each thing refers back to a previous usage or detailed description. We can do this in an ad-hic way with labels: “add the contents of beaker A to beaker B” but this could be a specific language feature, like pronouns, with grammar centered around it.

Second, attributes and descriptions can be both succinct and grammatically encapsulated. For the succinctness consider how I use variables in computer algorithms: A.contents or a notation for how much to take from beaker A. For encapsulated, I mean that phrases expanding on something will be explicitly grouped rather than just running the phrases together. “I met a man with a wooden leg named Smith.” explicitly grouped, “I met (a man with a wooden leg) named Smith.” But add in the advanced antecedent/reference system and you can break out the descriptions and put them first, making the final sentence clear.

Perhaps, although inspired by Latin, they will be sick of all the parts of speech, especially when needing to decline not only the new things being added but encapsulated phrases. In the example above, the whole phrase acts as a noun and we know it’s the direct object due to word order, not by changing the ending—something hard to do on a phrase.

Latin had different groups of words, each of which declined in a different way, with overlapping spellings. So if you keep the idea of part of speech markers, use a regular set of suffixes on all nouns, pronoun/backrefs, and encapsulated phrases. “I met (man with a wooden leg)-acc named Smith-acc” where I’ve marked nouns as accusative.

The real thing would be nicer, but I like the idea of a mark separating the word proper (which does not change) from its marker (which is universal). In the English example the pronoun I is always a subject (nominative case), but in Latin you would generally not have structured it that way, but instead the verb conjugation would indicate “I” as well as “past tense”. At the very least, making the different person, tense, number etc. orthogonal and regular would be a thing to do.

So the English “I met” would be the generic verb “meet” with indications for first person, singular, past, perfective, indicative.

Now this might get simplified as people working on it will come from languages that don’t have some of those things and don’t see the fuss. The constructed language should be designed so it can be used properly by these various members, so some simplification of conjugation is needed.

Will they ditch the attachment of “person” to the verb as a conjugation? If some of the comittee members have languages that do so (as does English) they will point out the benifits of refactoring and how Latin can still have subject nouns too so make it uniform. The killer will be in unifying it with the flexible antecedent/reference system, so I think the subject will be a general-purpose slot for a noun, and possibly can simply be omitted for a default (as we omit “I” sometimes).

They might be less averse to introducing new letters or other special marks compared with today. So the declinations and conjugations may use newly invented symbols, or special separators may be invented to go between the main word and the modifiers.

Another thing to bring up is the idea of namespaces and scopes. If you look at some function available in CPAN, it can be uniquely identified by its quallified package name. The innermost name by itself is not unique, but many authors combine their code on CPAN and everything has a unique fully-quallified name. This is how distinct names with exact unchanging meanings can be managed.

With conjugation/declining handled as a suffix rather than altering the main word, those words are apparent to be looked up as-shown, and you can make up new words without conflicting with all the declined variations or making sure your new one has all the needed variations. So you make up words with a couple syllables in some nice organization, but they also have “sir names” that make them truely unique. An import mechanism lets you skip or abbreviate the sirnames within a publication.

To summarize, a lot of what we’ve learned from constructing high-level computer languages over the last 60 years can be applied to designing a language for describing observations, procedures, and apparatus. A lot of the features cary over: exact meanings, extensibility, compactness.

I suggest starting with Latin due to plausible history. But it will end up looking about as much like Latin as C++ 14 resembles CPL.

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    $\begingroup$ The English language has a variety of controlled subsets which are generally known as English for Specific Purposes, such as Aviation English. See also Simplified Technical English, which shows how English could evolve in a direction similar to what this answer suggests. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 24, 2016 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ +1 For new Latin. The greatest answers to "what would happen" are usually those that can show "it did happen this way". $\endgroup$
    – Pere
    May 27, 2018 at 11:07

There was such a language, although not a constructed language: New Latin. It was used throughout Europe from the 14th to the 19th century. Everybody who was somebody could read it and write it; speaking was more delicate, because there was no commonly agreed pronounciation, although most people understood the so-called Ecclesiastical pronounciation used by the Catholic church. Books of science and philosophy and medicine and law and geography and biology and so on were written in New Latin by default. Newton wrote in New Latin. Spinoza wrote in New Latin. Erasmus wrote in New Latin. Linnaeus wrote in New Latin. The number of books written in New Latin is several orders of magnitude greater than what we have from the Ancients.

Abbreviations such as i.e., viz., etc., id., ibid., et al., v. and so on are the last remnants of New Latin. Its dominance began to fade in the 18th century, when (initially mostly British and French) scientists started writing in the vernacular. New Latin remained strong for one or two centuries in some countries (such as Germany, Poland or Austria-Hungary) and in some domains (such as law and medicine), but it was eventually replaced with vernaculars. Hungary used Latin as the language of law and government until 1844. Nowadays the last redoubt is Botanical Latin; scientific descriptions of plants were accepted only in Latin until 2012, but today English is accepted too.

If you want to see how it looked like, the Internet Archive and Google Books are full of books in New Latin; as an example, De Jure Belli ac Pacis by Hugo Grotius, Amsterdam, 1704, the book which set the foundations of international law.


There have been a multitude of "constructed languages" developed and some even promoted for these purposes, but for the most part, the adoption rate has been extremely low.

Most people have at least heard of Esperanto, but other languages have been constructed as well. Loglan may be the most complete and complex one (being developed for linguistic research), but because its inventor placed many restrictions on its use (essentially copyrighting it), an alternative known as Lojban was developed using similar principles. Reference has been made in other answers to other constructed languages like Ithkuil, which seems to be an attempt to create an entirely different method of writing or symbology to go along with it.

One problem with these elaborate constructed languages is that people really do not think in tightly constrained or logical formulations, and also that natural languages evolve over time, and similar pressures will be placed on constructed languages as well.

In terms of usage, people use slang, make up contractions, use words in non standard ways (in the military, for example, there is a strong trend to turn and use almost any word as a verb, and to first take things down into acronyms, and then use the acronym as a word in itself). Languages like Ithkuil or Lojban rely on tightly constructed logic to function, so the idea of Lojban "slang" would probably cause a clash of gears for people not versed in the subculture (although teen slang or texting in natural languages seems designed to do the same for the adult population....). Specialists tend to change language in order to both communicate more clearly to fellow specialists and to exclude non specialists (the military use of language is perhaps the most extreme and fluid form, but listening to lawyers or doctors talk among themselves is pretty enlightening).

Language also evolves according to what is known as Grimm's law, where letters and pronunciation tends to shift and contract over time. Reading Shakespeare in the original is very difficult given the 500 year time difference, and reading "middle" or "old" English becomes almost impossible for the untrained reader or listener. This website has some interesting discussion and speculation on how the English language will evolve for the next 500 years.

Finally, language needs to evolve to meet changing situations. Scholars studying Proto Indo European (PIE, the presumed ancestral language of the Indo European language family) can trace some of the evolution by looking for the appearance of words for things the speakers hadn't seen or discovered before. Words for different species of trees, fish or animals reflects the movement of the PIE language speakers as they moved from the Steppes of Central Asia and spread into Europe, the Middle East and India. Of course, PIE speakers moving eastward into India developed different words than people who moved south into Iran or west into Europe because they were encountering entirely different things. The longer a constructed language is around and the farther ranging the speakers move, the greater the differences in vocabulary will develop as they encounter new and different things.

So a constructed language may start off with a specific function, but over time the natural tendencies of humans will cause it to mutate and change.

  • $\begingroup$ We can’t have “slang” in C++ or Haskel. A conlang for formally describing stuff in scientific papers would not be a spoken language, and journals could enforce rules (like a modern compiler) so it can’t have words used wrong. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Dec 27, 2016 at 5:04
  • $\begingroup$ Can't have slang... but casting to (void*) comes close insofar as it dodges the semantic checking that normally ensures that only sane operations are performed. An open instruction language would probably develop similar semantic escape hatches. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Dec 27, 2016 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz can't have slang? What about using a new lib with function names different from stdlib but having similar behaviour just because (fill here any if possible options causes for divergence: copyright, new processing architecture, preferences, split in ANSI support,...) $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2016 at 7:11
  • $\begingroup$ Those are still properly defined, and will have fully-quallified names different from the normal ones. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Dec 27, 2016 at 7:49

One of the issues you will run into is that a constructed language will not remain pure. This can be from minor things (teenagers using one or two words of the academic lanuage in their non-academic language conversations to seem smart) to serious issues (describing something that doesn't exist in the constructed language yet. Consider that French uses the English words for many weird things (brainstorming is a fascinating one for me. faire un brainstorming is a french phrase). There's really not a lot of ways to prevent this "bleeding" to and from the language, because humans are built to communicate things.

This necessitates two layers of this constructed language. The Official version, that all peer-reviewed papers and the like would need to use (and would decide when new words enter the vernacular), and the Unofficial version, which would be used in anything else. This itself runs into a few problems. How does a paper in the Official language, on say, linguistics, discuss topics that utilize the Unofficial language? Can it ever be peer reviewed? Eventually you will have bleeding from one to the other. If you have a scenario where a lot of new words need to enter the Official Version quickly, and there is a holdup on that process, then the Official Version will be deprecated and everyone will use the Unofficial version for any communication.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting point, but I do not believe that the problems are unavoidable. Peer-reviewed papers already cite conversations held in colloquial environments, only in the case of English, the difference between "official" and "unofficial" is mostly in in syntax, vocabulary and sometimes connotation. As to the hold up in vernacular addition, solutions include dividing the task to different disciplines or creating built-in features to allow systematic construction of new words. $\endgroup$
    – Luna
    Dec 27, 2016 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Luna it's your world, so it really follows your rules, I was just pointing out the real world issues that arise in such a scenario $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2016 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ And those are meaningful problems to think about, please don't take me wrong! $\endgroup$
    – Luna
    Dec 28, 2016 at 20:41

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