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Requirements for Canonicality

The goal of the LANGDEV Project to create a set of meaningful fictional languages necessitates the definition of some set of standards for determining when we do, or do not, meet this goal. Languages which meet these standards are referred to as canonical, whereäs those which do not are considered non-canonical.

Canonicality is not a static technical feature of a language, but rather a subjective assessment of its current development. LANGDEV Project features like IETF Language Tags are extended to all languages regardless of canonicality and are formally immutable. On the other hand, the canonicality status of a language, as well as this list of requirements, may change over time. Although non-canonical languages are often not under active development or recommened for general use, information on them is made available under the same terms as for canonical languages, and their records and documentation fall under the scope of the LANGDEV Project proper.

It is the nature of languages that those with histories must at some level decend from those which predate history. Consequently, far from being forbidden, the condition of a canonical language descending from a non-canonical one is generally seen as a requirement. In some cases, the direct link between a canonical language and its non-canonical predecessor has been, intentionally or by accident, obscured. In others, this link may be preserved.

With respect to linguistic analysis, non-canonical languages should be considered, at best, speculative. In particular, information about canonical languages and their origins obtained by means of direct linguistic analysis should take priority over that which can be gleaned from any non-canonical languages from which it might be said to derive, even and especially when such information is contradictory. Because non-canonical languages do not meet the standards for linguistic development set forth below, linguistic analysis performed on them cannot ever be said to be conclusive.

The requirements for a language to be considered canonical are as follows:

Origins and History

Canonical languages must have a linguistic history which is evident. This history should, to the extent presently feasible, follow similar patterns of linguistic change and evolution as those currently understood by modern linguistics. The project of fictional language development is to create a language which would develop naturally within a fictional environment, and consequently languages which could not feasibly be produced through natural conditions cannot be considered canonical.


Canonical languages must belong to a culture which informs them. The relationship between language and culture is two-sided: Culture develops language, and language develops culture. A fictional language cannot, and should not aspire to be, neutral with respect to matters of cultural understanding or practice. Nor should it simply recreate an existing set of cultural understandings, except through well-documented processes of cultural borrowing and interchange as might occur naturally in the real world.


Canonical languages must be complete, which at a minimum means they must be speakable as a language. Languages without grammars or which cannot be used to transmit basic concepts cannot be considered canonical languages.

The requirement for completeness does not necessitate that a language be extensive; ie, have a large lexis. A language which is grammatically sufficient but lexically restricted may still be considered complete if the other requirements are met.