Archive for October, 2011

In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language (2009) by Arika Okrent.

In the Land of Invented Languages is linguist Arika Okrent’s lightning tour of the strange world of constructed languages, or ‘conlangs’.

Okrent has an M.A. in Linguistics from the Gallaudet University, and a Ph.D. in Psycholinguistics from the University of Chicago. She speaks numerous languages including  English, Hungarian and American Sign Language. She also has a  first-level certification in Klingon.

Okrent takes us through the history of constructed languages from Hildegard von Bingen (Saint Hildegard, or Sibyl of the Rhine), a 12th Century Garman nun, composer and polymath, who gave us the first documented invented language, the purpose of which is long forgotten, to the 17th Century English Clergyman John Wilkins, who’s 600 page opus An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language (1668) attempts to categorise no less than everything in the universe according to a branching hierarchical scheme.

There are excellent chapters on auxiliary languages (‘IALs’, or ‘auxlangs’), which are devised to aid international communication or for the teaching of language. These include L. L. Zamenhof‘s Esperanto, and its ‘offspring’ Interlingua and Ido.

There are also excellent chapters on the engineered languages (or ‘engelangs’) Loglan and Lojban originally designed to test theories of linguistic determinism, or the so-called ‘Sapir-Whorf hypothesis‘.

Suzette Haden Elgin‘s feminist language Láadan is also examined. Láadan appears in Elgin’s feminist sf novels Native Tongue (1984),  The Judas Rose (1987) and Earthsong (1993), and, as such, is as much an ‘artlang‘ as it is an engelang – which leads into a discussion on artlangs proper.

There’s a brief chapter on J. R. R. Tolkien‘s various Elvish languages including  Quenya and Sindarin.

Obviously Okrent can’t examine all constructed languages, so the only science fiction languages she examines in detail are and Klingon from the Star Trek franchise.