Behind the Scenes

The section discusses several aspects of Skerre beyond just describing how it works as a language. Included in this discussion are the external history of Skerre, my design goals in inventing Skerre, and a classification of Skerre among the types of conlangs.


I began inventing Skerre the summer of 1994. The impetus for doing this most directly came from having taken a three-week class in Latin at Joseph Baldwin Academy, although other contributing factors include having invented an alien race (in May) that was in need of a language, having discovered Esperanto while at Baldwin (a momentary, but important initial influence), and having wanted to invent a language for some time (I had twice tried to invent a language previously).

In the early days, Skerre looked a lot like Latin (with a healthy dose of English), though the (near) absence of labials in Skerre was a reaction to the labial-heavy morphology of Latin (though, of course, at the time, I didn't realize that sounds like [p], [b], and [m] were called labials). Also, since I began taking French during the first year of Skerre's existence, many features were borrowed from or otherwise influenced by French. The language, at this point, bore only a slight resemblance to the present version. One can see this from the example below, from the play to be discussed below.

original orthography: Dêven chálâsor rälú au tekenaa.
revised orthography: Divân čalêsor rälu au tekena.
phonetic transcription: [div6n tSAlesor r\&lu aU tEkEnA]
interlinear: Dêven ča-lêsor räl-u au teken-a.
gloss: 3SG COND-like speak-INF with 2SG-PREP.
free translation: He would like to speak with you.
  (cf. current Skerre Kitor saa res ya nen.)

Interlude: The Skerre Play

The most notable event that happened in Skerre's first year of existence was that a play was written in it. One of the teachers at my middle school heard that I was inventing a language and decided to design a class around it, with goal of looking at the relationship between language and culture (the play being the means to do this). To facilitate this goal, many more details about the langauge and culture had to be invented. This was done under the supervision of this teacher, and while, in hindsight, it seems that both the invention and the guidance were rather unsophisicated, the exercise of trying to precisely state how the language and culture work did get me pointed towards the rigorous direction that I would eventually take in linguistics (and the rigor on these pages). After this initial round of invention, further cultural details were invented by others involved with the project. The outline of the plot for the play was developed by the class as a whole (not the best idea). Subsequently, the class was divided into teams of two or three people and each team wrote a couple of scenes of the one-act play, in English. I then translated the play into Skerre (doing a less than wonderful job) and thus production began. The play was performed, with all dialogue in Skerre, three times on May 16, 1995 to all of the eighth grade and most of the seventh grade. Subtitles were provided on overhead slides (I later learned that some people couldn't see them, so this strategy didn't work out so well).

History marches on...

Over the course of the next several years, Skerre changed quite a bit as I gradually became familiar with the grammars of more languages, and became familiar with the basics of linguistics. By 1996, the language had the beginnings of a principled phonology, had morphed into an agglutinative language like Turkish, and had acquired ergativity after I encountered the phenomenon in Basque. In the late 90s, after I discovered the basics of typology, Skerre became more typologically informed.

While I was an undergraduate, Skerre underwent numerous changes, some of them quite drastic. In the spring of my freshman year, I changed the word order from SVO to VSO, and then spent the next couple of years working out the ramifications of that change. Because of this shift, I got interested in languages with verb-initial order from several areas of the world (Oceania, North America, and Central America) and Skerre began to be influenced by these languages. Also during this time, the phonological inventory was seriously pruned, but the phonological alternations grew substantially. Skerre grew into a bit of a Polynesian clone, though not long after it arrived at that state, it was changed again. This involved a "back-to-basics" campaign that restored many features present in earlier versions of Skerre that I'd previously discarded, while keeping the best of the newer changes and additions. This is basically the language described on the grammar pages of the site.

Though not intrinsically tied with these linguistic changes, but probably motivated by some of the same impulses, the concultural ideas associated with the Skerre also changed drastically from the play era to the present (ironically, most of the development done for the play was abandoned within two years of the play's writing). The Skerre changed from being a vaguely Vulcan-like space-faring race living on several planets* to being elves living in a futuristic and complex multi-planar world to finally losing their "alien"-ness completely and becoming the people described on the Skerre Culture page.

Of course, Skerre isn't "done" and probably won't ever be "done" (i.e. it'll probably be subjected to more changes and additions in the future), so this story is, by no means, "done" either...

Design Goals

The first two design goals I have for Skerre are very closely tied together: (1) not creating a re-lexification (i.e. not creating an language that is English with different words) and (2) creating a languge which I find interesting as a linguist. I have thought, over the years, that these were really one goal: to make Skerre "exotic." However, upon further reflection, I think that "exotic" is just a cover term for (1) and (2) above. This pair of goals has led me to investigate a wide variety of the languages for inspiration for Skerre (Russian, Turkish, Basque, Tagalog, Siuslaw, and Nêlêmwa being a small fraction of that list). This, in turn, has partially contributed to the professional interests I now have. The two goals listed above are actually outgrowths of the fact that Skerre was originally a language for an alien race. Interestingly enough, unlike some other conlangers, this alien origin didn't ultimately lead me to create a language that intentionally violates purported language universals or is otherwise "non-human." In fact, as I detail below, the opposite happened.

The seeds of a third design goal were first sown during the year I was working on the play, but this goal was not raised to the pedestal of Design Goal until I was an undergraduate (after I had become more familiar with the ideas of linguistics). This is the goal of creating a "possible natural language." By this, I mean that Skerre should seem to be a plausible language that linguists could conceivably discover somewhere. This design goal is not without its problems (and I have thought of giving it up on more than one occasion), since who knows what the next language might reveal. So, in effort to make this goal more manageable, I simplify "possible" in two respects. First, I take the existing body of linguistic description as a good indicator of what is "possible," and, second, I occasionally supplement it with my own intuitions of what is "possible."

I found these design goals (usually) work well together. The conflicting interests of pushing linguistic boundaries (embodied in the first two goals) versus inventing a "possible natural language" keep each interest from dominating the other, and I think I derive a fair amount of conlanging excitement and joy by trying to balance these two extremes.


I would classify Skerre as an a priori personal (fictional) realist artlang. It is a priori because, ultimately, the phonemes, the phonological rules, the words, and the morphological and syntactic rules are all up to me, and not based on any single pre-existing language (as a posteriori conlangs are). This a priori nature is clearest in the pairings of roots and affixes with meanings; the other parts I mention above are more controversially a priori (especially given the third design goal discussed above, which has motivated me to "import" morphosyntactic patterns from other languages into Skerre).

Skerre is a personal language because it basically serves as just a language for me, although maybe some people would be inclined to categorize it as a fictional language, due to the play and its role in some other fiction I wrote many years ago. The term realist signifies the "possible natural language" aspect of the design goals (the term "scale model language" has also been used). Finally, it is a classified as an artlang, because it is neither an auxlang (international auxilliary language) nor a loglang (=logical language, like Logban), and there are important aesthetic factors in its design. Skerre is a 2.1.2 language in Rick Harrison's classification system.

* This was the conception at the time of the play, although the play was set in a vaguely medieval age in Skerre history. Back to text

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