Spontaneous Order and Constructed Languages

First some definitions are in order.

Spontaneous Order: “order which emerges as result of the voluntary activities of individuals and not one which is created by a government…[1]”

Constructed Language: “A language, such as Esperanto, that has been artificially created rather than having evolved naturally through use. [2]”

In the definition of constructed language it is contrasted with natural languages, in way that shows that nature languages are created by voluntary use and constructed languages are constructed. Natural languages, it can be said, are evolved through spontaneous order. Language is an example of the how people can benefit from the spontaneous order and how people can independently shape and understand rules without a master. Leland B. Yeager states:

“[Economist and Social Scientist F. A.] Hayek used language as a prime example of how people can come to follow rules that few could state explicitly. … Hayek emphasized the striking ‘ability of small children to use language in accordance with the rules of grammar and idiom of which they are wholly unaware. [3]”

Language is a type of action and may be study under the methodology of praxeology, the study of human action [4]. As Ludwig von Mises wrote:

“Action means the employment of means for the attainment of ends. As a rule one of the means employed is the acting man’s labor. But this is not always the case. Under special conditions a word is all that is needed. He who gives orders or interdictions may act without any expenditure of labor. To talk or not to talk, to smile or to remain serious, may be action [5].”

Language as a human action arises best out of spontaneous, voluntary action. Note what David Crystal states about language change:

“For the most part, language changes because society changes. To stop or control the one requires that we stop or control the other – a task which can succeed to only a very limited extent. [6].”

How than can Constructed Languages be rectified with this view of language? Are those that construct languages no better than government agent that performs Quantitative Easing in opposition to spontaneously arrived at economic law? In short, what is the nature of the conlang and conlanger?

In the view of this writer constructed languages are not a violation of spontaneous order and those that create language are not in violation of linguistic natural right. The reason for this is quite simple, the conlang is a tool by which one may discover the linguistic natural right and law. By artificially creating a language the conlanger comes to realize some striking facts about language. Conlanging is rather like cooking. Mixing ingredients and cooking them does not violate the natural, spontaneously arrived at order of cooking. The young cook discovers what many already may know. Cooking and conlanging are both, simply, hands on experimentation with the spontaneous order. As the young cook may discover that pork cooked in coffee and soot is not a good recipe, the conlanger may discover that a language with only two sounds is likely not viable.

Conlanging is a philosophical thought experiment. However, it may pass into a violation of spontaneous order and natural right. Similarly, natural language can take that same course. If a state, or some mastermind, forces people to use a specific language, a specific way, this would violate natural right and spontaneous order. The experiment may be released to the world but if the original creator does not allow that the language take the natural course of things and change, the experimental conlang is not governed by spontaneous order and natural right. Esperanto was given up to the world and has no doubt changed from the original work of L. L. Zamenhof, in short, it is now a truly spontaneously governed language.

A constructed language may begin life as a non-spontaneous action but, if actually given up to the world, it may become a spontaneous action. Some may claim that natural languages are born of no less non-spontaneous action. As Eric Lenneberg wrote, “[language is] an activity that develops harmoniously by necessary integration of neuronal and skeletal structures and by reciprocal adaptation of various physiological processes [7].” Thus, Lenneberg seems to support the view that natural language itself does not simply derive from voluntary action but by mental, physical, and physiological developmental.


[1] Online Library of Liberty Staff (2015). Spontaneous Order. Retrieved from http://oll.libertyfund.org/groups/104

[2] Oxford English Dictionary Staff (2015). “Constructed Language.” Oxford English Dictionary Online. Retrieved from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/constructed-language?q=constructed+language

[3] Yeager, L. B. (1998). “Are Markets Like Languages?” The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics vol. 1, no. 3. Retrieved from http://mises.org/sites/default/files/qjae1_3_2.pdf

[4] Hieber, D. (2013). “Language as Action.” Mises Daily. Retrieved from http://mises.org/library/language-action

[5] von Mises, L. (2008). Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. Scholar’s Edition. Ludwig von Mises Insitute: Auburn, Alabama.

[6] Crystal, D. (1987). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge University Press: New York.

[7] Lenneberg, E. H. (1966). “The Natural History of Language.” The Genesis of Language: A Psycholinguistic Approach. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts.