Hot Best Seller

In the Land of Invented Languages Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Availability: Ready to download

Just about everyone has heard of Esperanto, which was nothing less than one man’s attempt to bring about world peace by means of linguistic solidarity. And every Star Trek fan knows about Klingon, which was nothing more than a television show’s attempt to create a tough-sounding language befitting a warrior race with ridged foreheads. But few people have heard of Babm, Bli Just about everyone has heard of Esperanto, which was nothing less than one man’s attempt to bring about world peace by means of linguistic solidarity. And every Star Trek fan knows about Klingon, which was nothing more than a television show’s attempt to create a tough-sounding language befitting a warrior race with ridged foreheads. But few people have heard of Babm, Blissymbolics, and the nearly nine hundred other invented languages that represent the hard work, high hopes, and full-blown delusions of so many misguided souls over the centuries. In In The Land of Invented Languages, author Arika Okrent tells the fascinating and highly entertaining history of man’s enduring quest to build a better language. Peopled with charming eccentrics and exasperating megalomaniacs, the land of invented languages is a place where you can recite the Lord’s Prayer in John Wilkins’s Philosophical Language, say your wedding vows in Loglan, and read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in Lojban. A truly original new addition to the booming category of language books, In The Land of Invented Languages will be a must-have on the shelves of all word freaks, grammar geeks, and plain old language lovers.


Compare

Just about everyone has heard of Esperanto, which was nothing less than one man’s attempt to bring about world peace by means of linguistic solidarity. And every Star Trek fan knows about Klingon, which was nothing more than a television show’s attempt to create a tough-sounding language befitting a warrior race with ridged foreheads. But few people have heard of Babm, Bli Just about everyone has heard of Esperanto, which was nothing less than one man’s attempt to bring about world peace by means of linguistic solidarity. And every Star Trek fan knows about Klingon, which was nothing more than a television show’s attempt to create a tough-sounding language befitting a warrior race with ridged foreheads. But few people have heard of Babm, Blissymbolics, and the nearly nine hundred other invented languages that represent the hard work, high hopes, and full-blown delusions of so many misguided souls over the centuries. In In The Land of Invented Languages, author Arika Okrent tells the fascinating and highly entertaining history of man’s enduring quest to build a better language. Peopled with charming eccentrics and exasperating megalomaniacs, the land of invented languages is a place where you can recite the Lord’s Prayer in John Wilkins’s Philosophical Language, say your wedding vows in Loglan, and read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in Lojban. A truly original new addition to the booming category of language books, In The Land of Invented Languages will be a must-have on the shelves of all word freaks, grammar geeks, and plain old language lovers.

30 review for In the Land of Invented Languages Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    Initially this book was fairly amusing, but somewhere around the half-way mark its charms began to fade, and by the end it was just plain exhausting. This was certainly not the fault of the author, who was an engaged and enthusiastic tour guide throughout. But ultimately the cumulative craziness of the various language inventors takes its toll. Okrent's tour of the "land of invented languages" covers a lot of ground, making five major stops, each of which considers a particular example in depth: Initially this book was fairly amusing, but somewhere around the half-way mark its charms began to fade, and by the end it was just plain exhausting. This was certainly not the fault of the author, who was an engaged and enthusiastic tour guide throughout. But ultimately the cumulative craziness of the various language inventors takes its toll. Okrent's tour of the "land of invented languages" covers a lot of ground, making five major stops, each of which considers a particular example in depth: John Wilkins's "philosophical language" (1668) Ludwik Zamenhof's Esperanto (1887) Charles Bliss's symbolic language, "Semantography" (1949) James Cooke Brown's language of logic, "Loglan" (1960) Marc Okrand's Klingon (1985) A major strength of the book is Okrent's ability to place each of these particular invented languages within its historical context. She also manages to convey the essential flavor of each language in a style which is not overburdened with linguistic technicalities, and with a refreshing sense of humor throughout. Her tolerance for the sheer weirdness that permeates the various personalities she encounters along the way ultimately exceeds mine. I had a certain grudging admiration for John Wilkins's noble attempt to categorize everything in the universe, as well as for the idealism displayed by proponents of Esperanto. But the monomania of Bliss and Brown, their protracted legal wranglings in defence of their weirdly idosyncratic creations made for depressing reading. And, though I share a certain geekiness where language is concerned, it doesn't really extend far enough to make me find the development of Klingon and the antics of those who "speak" it anything other than tedious. So, I think this book would have 5-star appeal only to someone far geekier than I. Nonetheless, it is an impressive and entertaining accomplishment. The author is to be congratulated.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Wanda

    I think I would really enjoy sitting down for a cup of coffee and a discussion with this author! She is a linguist and linguistics is a favourite subject of mine. She knows a thing or two about the Library of Congress classification schedules too (or at least the P section of them, linguistics & languages), which appeals to my inner cataloguing nerd. Plus, she is just interested in words and their history and in the psychology of people who strive to build better languages. I was absolutely g I think I would really enjoy sitting down for a cup of coffee and a discussion with this author! She is a linguist and linguistics is a favourite subject of mine. She knows a thing or two about the Library of Congress classification schedules too (or at least the P section of them, linguistics & languages), which appeals to my inner cataloguing nerd. Plus, she is just interested in words and their history and in the psychology of people who strive to build better languages. I was absolutely gobsmacked at how many artificial languages are lurking out there and how often that particular bee seems to get into someone’s bonnet! Mostly, the creators seems to be altruists—Esperanto was going to be the language that allowed us all to understand one another and prevent future wars. Many of these language developers were hoping to express “pure” concepts and keep prejudice and politics out of things. Unfortunately for them, language just doesn’t work that way! One of the best uses of language is politicking! Also unfortunate is the tendency of these men (and I think we can say that it’s mostly men who attempt this) to be unable to let go and let their languages run free, to change during regular use. Their rigid attempts to control the people using their languages seemed to negate any positive uses for their creations. I was amused as the author’s type-A, gung-ho attempt to learn Klingon. If I had been at that particular conference, I would have been right at her side competing to my heart’s content! I loved that in her author note at the end of the volume, she listed both PhDs and her Klingon 1st level pin as her accomplishments. What I found a bit freaky: I returned to work on Monday (having read the book on the weekend) and the very first volume that I picked up to catalogue was written in Esperanto! (I’ve been working on a big collection of materials by and about H.G. Wells and am busy with translations right now.) That little piece of synchronicity was amusing.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent is a book ostensibly about invented languages (like Esperanto) that is filled with love for the beauty and inventiveness of natural languages. Okrent gives us the tour we'd expect of funny invented languages like Esperanto and Klingon (she even attends a Klingon convention). She has sport with many of the creations. For the childish mind the temptations of Volapük are great. If you think the word pük is funny, then you will love how it figures in In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent is a book ostensibly about invented languages (like Esperanto) that is filled with love for the beauty and inventiveness of natural languages. Okrent gives us the tour we'd expect of funny invented languages like Esperanto and Klingon (she even attends a Klingon convention). She has sport with many of the creations. For the childish mind the temptations of Volapük are great. If you think the word pük is funny, then you will love how it figures into all kind of other words related to the concept of language [like püked, "sentence"]. ... I can't help throwing in another example here. "To succeed"? Plöpön.But the book is much smarter than this. It gives a history of invented languages in a historical context, showing how the form and function of the languages fit in with the scientific or linguistic fads of the time. In the 17th century, scholars were just discovering the power of mathematical notations to reveal concrete truths and permit international debate. Many became convinced that nonmathematical concepts could be expressed in similar ways, resulting in a language where every concept had to be looked up and its meaning made precise, through a table, and then all the concepts jammed together into an unreadable "sentence." The language failed, but the table gave us Roget's Thesaurus. In the late 19th century, scholars were mesmerized by the idea of Proto-Indo-European as an ancestor of most European languages and wanted to create easy-to-learn languages that drew on those commonalities--of which Esperanto was the most successful among hundreds of attempts. In the 1960s, some people wanted to have a human language with precision and unambiguity of computer languages, which led to Loglan. As Okrent goes through these examples, she is really giving us a history of what people think their languages should be. The attempts at invented languages could be roughly said to progress from systems that are very unnatural (unspeakable assemblages of numbers or letters) to systems that seek to combine all of the inventor's favorite aspects of natural languages. For example, one language created by a feminist fantasy author includes words like "radiidin: non-holiday, a time allegedly a holiday but actually so much a burden because of work and preparations that it is a dreaded occasion" and requires a syntactic structure "indicating the speech act being performed (statement, question, command, request, promise, warning)." Both Klingon and Lobjan (a fork of Loglan) are essentially composed of elements from obscure natural languages that some linguistics nerds found interesting and wanted to play with. This is simultaneously a quirky book about silly languages, a respectful book about language communities, and an informative book about linguistics--much more than I expected it to be.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    The author looks at the history of invention surrounding well, invented languages. And if you like languages at all, then it's fascinating. Although I could have wished for a little better organization. The author seems to jump about in time here and there, which can be confusing. And there is some repetition of information, as if she forgot she already told us that. Oddly, I was at least a third if not halfway through the book before I realized the author was a woman. It was an odd experience ha The author looks at the history of invention surrounding well, invented languages. And if you like languages at all, then it's fascinating. Although I could have wished for a little better organization. The author seems to jump about in time here and there, which can be confusing. And there is some repetition of information, as if she forgot she already told us that. Oddly, I was at least a third if not halfway through the book before I realized the author was a woman. It was an odd experience having to make that shift in my head. What finally clued me in? Her reference to her husband. But of course then I had to stop and reread that, and realize.. no, she still didn't say she wasn't a man who happened to have a husband. But of course flipping to the author bio and author picture on the back dust flap.. well, that was pretty definitive. And you might think 'Arika' would've made me think it was most likely a woman. And yet.. No, somehow I didn't really notice the author's name. Did not read her bio before reading the book. Did not see her picture before starting to read the book. And yes, even though I know linguistics is one science where there are a lot of women.. somehow I still thought it was a man writing it for a good way into the book. End tangent. So the author starts out learning about Klingon and going to a Klingon convention (excuse me, conference). And that part was interesting, and then she leaves us there to backtrack and talk about all these other languages that were invented before Klingon. Which is kind of shame, because I found the discussion of Klingon culture (that is, the culture of human Klingon speakers, not actual Klingons) and the discussion of Esperanto culture to be, actually, more interesting than the history of the people who invented the languages in the first place. But that was interesting too. A lot of men with ideas that natural languages just weren't doing it for them, and thought they could do better. And not too far into it, I started to think.. you know, these languages probably have a huge male bias to them. Like, there's one chart of bodily functions and I did not see menstruation on there. I bet he left that concept out of his language. Or there'd be languages where the default is 'male' and to make 'female' or 'woman', you had to add something. As in English. So I was thinking that would be a really interesting study to do and wondering if I was capable of doing it without a linguistics or women's studies degree. And then somewhere after the point where I realized the author was a woman, she starts talking about Laadan. And of course I knew about that language already, because I loved Suzette Haden Elgin's book (before I knew it was a series). And of course the first words she uses in discussing her female-oriented language is.. menstruation. And to form the male version of like man and boy, you first start with the default of female and turn it male. So yea, female linguists noticed that male-ness before I ever conceived of it. And it's nice to know not all invented languages are male in origin. Even though I sort of already knew that. And, in the end, I got more interested in Esperanto, Laadan, and Klingon. As the three languages that I consider most useful to know more about. Considering two of them are alive and well, and the other is gendered differently. I downloaded an Esperanto learning app on my iPhone. I did not do a Klingon one, because that COSTS MONEY STUPID PARAMOUNT GREEDMONSTERS GRR. I did not look for a Laadan app. I kind of assumed there wasn't one. (Searched. Does not appear to be one.) So, in short: LANGUAGES AWESOME SQUEEE!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    This book was the perfect balance of everything: humor, information, history, thought-provocation, etc. And the exact book I needed to get me out of the rut of non-reading I've been in the last 2 months. It's a look into the amusing world of invented languages, ones invented by a single person as opposed to a language arising organically through a community of users who create it on the fly, evolving it to their needs. And there have not been a shortage of them: an estimated 900 in the last 900 y This book was the perfect balance of everything: humor, information, history, thought-provocation, etc. And the exact book I needed to get me out of the rut of non-reading I've been in the last 2 months. It's a look into the amusing world of invented languages, ones invented by a single person as opposed to a language arising organically through a community of users who create it on the fly, evolving it to their needs. And there have not been a shortage of them: an estimated 900 in the last 900 years. Almost all of these are complete failures, if you define a failure of a language as one that isn't used by anyone. But what drives these people to create them in the first place, against all odds of mass adaption? Well, first of all, it takes a hell of an eccentric to come up with a language and have the guns to stick with the laborious task of creating a full vocabulary, rules, syntax, etc. These folks are usually dreamers. They were unsatisfied with natural languages for various reasons: inconsistencies, illogicality, difficulty, imprecision, etc. so they set out to create a language of their own that would be free from these flaws. This book follows five main invented languages as well as covering many other competing ones in lesser detail: Wilkin's Philosophical Language, Esperanto, Blissymbolics, Loglan, and Klingon. Each one had a different history, a different ideal that the inventor wanted to achieve, and a different outcome in terms of real world use. But what makes this book head and shoulders above most other books that cover a fascinating subject is… 1. Unlike some books written by a journalist who has dabbled in a weird subculture, Arika Okrent is herself a linguist that just happens to be a really good writer, and so she is more than equipped to bring out subtle insights (without getting too technical for the layman)... things like what made this language unique, and why did it succeed/fail? I particularly enjoyed the section on why the many flaws and imperfections in natural languages are actually necessary and/or good for certain things (usability for example). And she's more than just a distant academic voice, throughout the book she makes a good effort to learn each language that she talks about, and when available, immerses herself in the subculture of its speakers (Esperanto, Klingon). Even though she is an academic, there is no sober stuffiness here, her enthusiasm for her subject is evident on every page. 2. The book is hilarious! I laughed through many parts of it, especially the part where she described going out to a restaurant with a bunch of Klingon speakers who have sworn to speak only Klingon that day, and how she died of shame as they started to order in their made-up language, pointing and grunting at the menu despite the poor waiter's confusion. But the humor isn't a cheap one. It would be easy to just poke fun all day at this cast of characters (they definitely give her plenty of material). But because she relates to them (to a degree), she sees through to what drives them, what makes them devote so much time to such a futile enterprise. And so the humor is very good natured, very balanced and genuine, and in a way, it's as if she's having a good chuckle at herself at times. 3. She doesn't just highlight these languages and the people behind them, providing factoids and interesting tidbits good for dinner-party conversations. No, at the beginning of each chapter she gives a timeline of the key events before and after. This allows you to see that these languages weren't invented in a vacuum, but that they represented a real continuity sprung from a certain context. These inventors were idealists, but idealists within their time, and so the languages they invented reflected these dreams: the need for an ultimate order to the world for example (Wilkins), or the need to circumvent the duplicity of words (Blissymbolics). She's somehow able to tell very human stories through the medium of linguistics.

  6. 5 out of 5

    ALLEN

    Whatever happened to Esperanto -- is it still ticking? And Volapük, does anyone still speak it? Here's the low-down on invented languages, starting with the mystical Seventeeth and enlightened Eighteen centuries, when serious attempts were made not only to name BUT TO ORDER every word out there in wholly new languages that would be not only rational but would unpack our (now we know) unpackable universe. Then came the One Worlders: the rise of nationalism in the Nineteenth Century provoked a rea Whatever happened to Esperanto -- is it still ticking? And Volapük, does anyone still speak it? Here's the low-down on invented languages, starting with the mystical Seventeeth and enlightened Eighteen centuries, when serious attempts were made not only to name BUT TO ORDER every word out there in wholly new languages that would be not only rational but would unpack our (now we know) unpackable universe. Then came the One Worlders: the rise of nationalism in the Nineteenth Century provoked a reaction in Esperanto, Ido, Volapük and other invented languages that were meant to cross national boundaries, be easy to learn, simplify grammar, and generally pull humankind together. Those movements generally went into decline after the Second World War. However, don't accept the blithe assumptions that English has become the world's *lingua franca* and that's that. A lot more is going on and new invented languages are popping up all the time, though often, as with the "Blissymbol" system, they find uses other than pure communication. (Blessedly, author Akira Okrent knows just when to stop shy of entering the realm of computer languages, so if you're looking for a taste of Fortran, Cobal or Linux, go elsewhere.) A recurring theme in this insightful work is that no perfect language can be obtained because by the time one can be compiled, the social uses of it change and prompt either schisms or evolutions in the invented language. **SPOILERS**: An example of breach is Loglan, whose adherents so strongly rebelled against its conservative founder that they came up with Lojban, originally meant to incorporate changes the master would not permit. (For the record, these are both difficult and complicated languages and would probably have any old-school Esperantist shaking his *kapo* (or her *kapa*) in dismay.) Esperanto itself is an example of a created language refusing to remain static, as younger speakers casually drop the "n" accusative ending of nouns much as English-speakers commonly dismiss with terminal "g" from our words, and slang expressions and colorful idioms continue to bloom and grow. You can probably see that I enjoyed Akira Okrent's book very much. If you like books about language, you probably will too.

  7. 4 out of 5

    AdiTurbo

    Fantastic book! I have been in love with languages since childhood, and this book fed my obsession fully. It is amazingly well-researched and the writer is clearly knows more about languages than any person should, but the writing feels natural and not academic-dry, is full of humor and keeps you turning the pages to learn what other crazy stuff people have come up with, and what it can teach us about how language and the human mind work. One of the best non-fiction books I've read this year, an Fantastic book! I have been in love with languages since childhood, and this book fed my obsession fully. It is amazingly well-researched and the writer is clearly knows more about languages than any person should, but the writing feels natural and not academic-dry, is full of humor and keeps you turning the pages to learn what other crazy stuff people have come up with, and what it can teach us about how language and the human mind work. One of the best non-fiction books I've read this year, and I enjoyed every minute reading it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ian Tregillis

    Delightful, fascinating, funny. This could have been written for me. I read this over a year ago and can't stop recommending it to anybody who will listen to me. While writing up my thoughts on something else tonight, I realized that Okrent's book has become the gold standard for a particular strain of my non-fiction reading. So I thought it only fair that I state in public that I loved this book, and wish it had been twice as long. Even longer. If I could, I would have this book's babies. I'm not Delightful, fascinating, funny. This could have been written for me. I read this over a year ago and can't stop recommending it to anybody who will listen to me. While writing up my thoughts on something else tonight, I realized that Okrent's book has become the gold standard for a particular strain of my non-fiction reading. So I thought it only fair that I state in public that I loved this book, and wish it had been twice as long. Even longer. If I could, I would have this book's babies. I'm not a linguist; I don't even have a knack for languages. But I am fascinated by linguistics, and I've always been fascinated by conlangs like Esperanto and the even more exotic Volapuk. And I've long been really, really fascinated with the various medieval efforts to reconstruct the "perfect" language of creation. All of which feature prominently in this book. The author's scholarly training shines in the way she cleverly organizes the discussion into distinct eras, each distinguished by the prevailing motivations for the men and women behind the constructed languages of that time. It's quite effective. But while the organization is clear and methodical, the tone and delivery are never dry or high or academic. At times funny, at times poignant, the book never loses sight of the fact that a book about language is a book about people who love language. Some of the major players in this book are, or were, well, odd ducks. But the author never descends into elbow-ribbing ridicule. She veers close to it in the opening chapter when she describes her first interactions with Klingon speakers, but when the book returns to Klingon much later, we see (and share) a fondness for the Klingon enthusiasts thanks to a journey through centuries of (mostly) failed attempts to change the way we communicate with one another. Which is really the ancient story of people seeking connection with one another. And I think the author's approach brings that to the fore.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    I’m not much of a linguist in the technical sense, though I do enjoy learning languages (and especially doing translation), so I wasn’t sure if reading a book about invented languages might be too technical. Luckily, it isn’t: In the Land of Invented Languages is actually a really easy read, with a more personal than professional analysis of the languages discussed — although it does go into some details about how each one works, why it’s effective or not, how much it’s used, etc. Better, Okrent I’m not much of a linguist in the technical sense, though I do enjoy learning languages (and especially doing translation), so I wasn’t sure if reading a book about invented languages might be too technical. Luckily, it isn’t: In the Land of Invented Languages is actually a really easy read, with a more personal than professional analysis of the languages discussed — although it does go into some details about how each one works, why it’s effective or not, how much it’s used, etc. Better, Okrent actually participates or participated in some events based around these languages, like Klingon and Esperanto, so she has an insider view (to some extent, anyway). It’s kind of fun reading about how she got hooked on learning Klingon, and her mixed feelings about hanging round with the other Klingon speakers. While she mostly talks about why these invented languages aren’t really successful, she does so with sympathy and an eye to how they create communities and cultures, and also a deep appreciation for the coolness of conlangs and the communities around them. (Even if that coolness is a very geeky, linguistic coolness, obviously.) It’s an absorbing and entertaining read, which is also pretty informative, and I found myself wanting to share it immediately. For those with a bit more knowledge, I think you might want more detail about the technical workings of some languages, but as a survey of invented languages and their communities, I think it’s pretty awesome. Originally posted here.

  10. 5 out of 5

    CarolineFromConcord

    This was a hoot! Even though some parts were penetrable only by a linguist like the author, I really enjoyed it. Okrent is a very good writer and knows how to choose and lead up to the funniest aspect of a constructed language -- or of the inventor. I learned a ton of random facts, and I thought I knew it all, having a decent knowledge of Esperanto. Turns out, there are more than 900 known invented languages. One that was invented to express a woman's perspective is Laadan and has words like thi This was a hoot! Even though some parts were penetrable only by a linguist like the author, I really enjoyed it. Okrent is a very good writer and knows how to choose and lead up to the funniest aspect of a constructed language -- or of the inventor. I learned a ton of random facts, and I thought I knew it all, having a decent knowledge of Esperanto. Turns out, there are more than 900 known invented languages. One that was invented to express a woman's perspective is Laadan and has words like this: "radiidin, non-holiday, a time allegedly a holiday but actually so much a burden because of work and preparations that it is a dreaded occasion; esp'ly when there are too many guests and none of them help." Okrent gets into the wildly varied reasons people invent a language and why natural languages are more flexible. She covers some languages (like Klingon, invented only for artistic fun) in depth. I loved the part about the U.S. Office of Nuclear Waste Isolation asking "semiotician" Thomas Sebeok in the 1980s how to post warnings that would last 10,000 years on waste-storage sites. He recommended all known languages, pictures, icons, all sorts of symbols, and having the keepers every 250 years rethink the warnings based on current messaging. He also recommended creating a spooky mythology around the site that would be passed on from "priest' to "priest" beyond the time they could be expected to know the reason for it. All they would know is the "curse." Too many great tidbits to describe here. I laughed all the way through.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    If you've listened to any stories about conlangs (or "constructed languages") on NPR over the past few years, you've almost definitely heard the author, Arika Okrent (her first name is pronounced like "Erica.") In this fun read, Okrent charts the colorful history of invented languages--from Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century up through Mark Okrand's invention of a full Klingon lexicon for the Star Trek films and TNG. Until several decades into the 20th century, language inventors were Utopi If you've listened to any stories about conlangs (or "constructed languages") on NPR over the past few years, you've almost definitely heard the author, Arika Okrent (her first name is pronounced like "Erica.") In this fun read, Okrent charts the colorful history of invented languages--from Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century up through Mark Okrand's invention of a full Klingon lexicon for the Star Trek films and TNG. Until several decades into the 20th century, language inventors were Utopians who dreamed of fixing the flaws of natural languages and/or bringing about world peace. Alas, many of them were also cranks who were legendarily difficult to get along with, their death grip on their inventions and general litigiousness dooming their projects virtually out of the gate--see the chapters on the inventors of Blissymbolics and Loglan. With Tolkien, a new type of conlanger came about: creators of fiction who developed languages to enrich and deepen their world-building (see any number of Middle Earth languages, Klingon, Dothraki, or Láadan, for example.) My favorite of all of these now is Láadan, a language created by feminist scifi writer Suzette Haden Elgin. If you want a language that distinguishes ways to menstruate (for the first time, late, “joyfully”), here is your solution. (“I menstruated with great joy and felicity,” said no woman ever.) Okrent also takes a brief detour into the resurrection of Hebrew from a strictly liturgical language into a daily form of communication after an almost 2000 year hiatus (I could have read a lot more about Hebrew than the few pages here. That story is fascinating.) One of the first things you learn in linguistics is that living languages change, so any language that is used-really used-is inevitably going to evolve in meaning, in grammatical standards, in spelling. So any "perfect" language is destined to deviate from perfection as soon as it becomes a spoken thing. This is virtually a moot point though as the most arguably successful conlangs, Esperanto and Klingon, are still relegated to a small community of speakers globally. The chapters on Klingon were the most entertaining (tugh qoH nachDaj je chevlu'ta', am I right?), but the whole book is worthwhile. Being a language nerd helps, but I think any non-fiction reader or even a scifi/fantasy fan would enjoy this.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    You’ve heard of Esperanto and Klingon, but did you know that there have been over five hundred invented languages that have seen some sort of publication or scholarly effort in the past several hundred years? I, too, thought that an astonishingly high number. Okrent’s narrative takes us from the playful invented languages (like Klingon, which have no “real use” according to hard-core Esperantists), to the pictoral/symbolic used to assist young children with language production disorders, to the You’ve heard of Esperanto and Klingon, but did you know that there have been over five hundred invented languages that have seen some sort of publication or scholarly effort in the past several hundred years? I, too, thought that an astonishingly high number. Okrent’s narrative takes us from the playful invented languages (like Klingon, which have no “real use” according to hard-core Esperantists), to the pictoral/symbolic used to assist young children with language production disorders, to the universal philosophical ones (like John Wilkins’ efforts), to the highly logical ones (like Loglan and its offspring) that their creators hope will cure all social ills and create everlasting peace on Earth. (Esperantists also hope for that last bit, too.) One delight was learning that Roget’s Theasaurus – which I discovered when I was the ripe age of twelve, and which I devoured throughout my teenage years (it came in mighty handy whenever I was writing my own comic book stories, or for those tough high school writing assignments) – was directly inspired by the universal philosophical language efforts of Wilkins. Sure, his language is undoubtedly cumbersome. But its schematic organization had a direct influence on Roget’s work, as well as the classification systems used in many of the sciences (particularly biology). Of course, the claim that a pure logical, universal language can “bring about peace, dissolve selfishness, and align the conscious and subconscious mind” (Weilgart) is an illusion, the efforts of the die-hard linguists is nothing short of admirable. In fact, one could argue that these efforts – although they often ended up fruitless as actual spoken languages – have had a major influence on modern logic, law, and mathematics – if not the computer sciences. For a delightfully wondrous and equally bizarre journey into the extreme fringe of the field of linguistics, Okrent’s book can’t be beat. And if that isn’t recommendation enough, consider that she learnt Klingon and passed a proficiency exam at an annual Klingon qep’a’ when writing her book. You can’t slight someone who practices what they preach.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bandit

    I really enjoyed this book. After reading it, almost wish I was able to express my admiration and appreciation in an invented language. Well, I suppose technically I can. I just need to invent one. Apparently it's been done for centuries to varied (albeit mostly low, very low) degrees of success and recognition. I'm not a linguist per se, just someone who holds language structures and words in general in high esteem, fan of crosswords, polysyllabics, word games, etc. If you're like me, if you th I really enjoyed this book. After reading it, almost wish I was able to express my admiration and appreciation in an invented language. Well, I suppose technically I can. I just need to invent one. Apparently it's been done for centuries to varied (albeit mostly low, very low) degrees of success and recognition. I'm not a linguist per se, just someone who holds language structures and words in general in high esteem, fan of crosswords, polysyllabics, word games, etc. If you're like me, if you think being able to instantly look words up is the best feature of digital reading...then you'll probably really enjoy this book too. Okrent, erudite and very funny, assembled a real cast of characters, who, often armed with nothing more than good intentions and some scientific/linguistic skills, have tried to do the (pretty much) impossible, unite all mankind in a pre Babel sort of way. English is sort of taken that gig now, Esperanto might be the most famous attempt, Klingon the most entertaining. The sheer fact that so many have tried, to such mixed results, is mind boggling. And what an entertaining bunch too, from language creators to its users. Really fun read, very well and accessibly written, informative, educating and humorous. Qatlho to author, that's thank you in Klingon. Awesome, right. I think it is, geeky in the greatest possible way. Highly recommended.

  14. 4 out of 5

    TBML

    This book is a joy. Okrent offers 26 chapters of insights into some of the world's hundreds of invented languages. She is selective, of course, and organizes the material around a few key themes about language that resonate with any reader: transparency, perspective, accuracy, and invention. And Okrent has a feel not just for the languages but also for the people behind them. She peppers this subject with some of the heroes and villains behind invented languages; enter John Wilkins (who construc This book is a joy. Okrent offers 26 chapters of insights into some of the world's hundreds of invented languages. She is selective, of course, and organizes the material around a few key themes about language that resonate with any reader: transparency, perspective, accuracy, and invention. And Okrent has a feel not just for the languages but also for the people behind them. She peppers this subject with some of the heroes and villains behind invented languages; enter John Wilkins (who constructed a philosophical language), Ludwig Zamenhof (whose Esperanto sought world peace), Charles Bliss (whose Blissymbolics helped children with cerebral palsy), and John Cook Brown (who devised the logical language Loglan). One also meets linguists Mark Okrand, inventor of Klingon, and Suzette Haden Elgin, who created Ladaan, a language encoding women's experiences, and who wonders why a language for women has languished while one for alien warriors thrives. Quirky characters and topic make this a success! Annalyn http://tinyurl.com/49l6nzv

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    3.5 stars Go ahead and consider my mind blown. I had no idea that that many people (going back to the 1600s in Europe!) have taken that much time and energy to create new languages for such a plethora of idealistic, silly, and/or creative reasons. I laugh that so many seem(ed) to think that their precious baby language was going to be The One. The One that solved all our problems, that united all of humanity. LOL. Fail. The two types of invented languages that caused my head to throb in agony were 3.5 stars Go ahead and consider my mind blown. I had no idea that that many people (going back to the 1600s in Europe!) have taken that much time and energy to create new languages for such a plethora of idealistic, silly, and/or creative reasons. I laugh that so many seem(ed) to think that their precious baby language was going to be The One. The One that solved all our problems, that united all of humanity. LOL. Fail. The two types of invented languages that caused my head to throb in agony were philosophical and logical (for a lack of a better term) because they just couldn't resist mathing it all up. Reducing every word to its essential concepts (philosophical languages) or structuring a language into mathematical formulas via functions and arguments seem to be the two best bet ways to create amazingly unwieldy languages (plus, I was extremely skeptical of the "universality" of both types of systems). But, um, A for effort. I'm going to go watch an episode of Star Trek to ease the (delightful) pain in my brain.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Buhs

    Fun. Arika Okrent is intrigued by languages that have been created whole-cloth--like Esperanto or Klingon or the elvish tongues of Tolkien. Ultimately, it is, as she says, a story of failure--depending upon your definition, either very few or no invented languages have really succeeded. And most are forgotten. But it is still worthwhile to explore the various impulses that lead to these attempts, and contemplate the reasons for their failure. After a couple of introductory chapters, Okrent divides Fun. Arika Okrent is intrigued by languages that have been created whole-cloth--like Esperanto or Klingon or the elvish tongues of Tolkien. Ultimately, it is, as she says, a story of failure--depending upon your definition, either very few or no invented languages have really succeeded. And most are forgotten. But it is still worthwhile to explore the various impulses that lead to these attempts, and contemplate the reasons for their failure. After a couple of introductory chapters, Okrent divides the story into five, based on both chronological and thematic considerations. The first section looks at Enlightenment attempts to create perfect languages. It was during the Enlightenment that mathematical symbols--+ - x, etc.--were first introduced, and this helped give shape to how a perfect language could be imagined: like a mathematical formula, or a calculus of thought. All of which relied on another Enlightenment fascination: cataloguing the entire known universe. In order to have a perfect language, one needed to know all the possible words, and so language inventors spent most of their time classifying every possible thought, every possible nuance. No one should be surprised that this project was doomed to failure. Okrent is a game investigator, though, with a facility for languages, and so she tries out these invented tongues and, as most would, does so by considering swear words. Her struggles illuminate exactly why natural languages are superior, and why invented languages are so often ridiculed. For all that natural languages are riddled with inelegance, they can be used and improved from within. The investment of learning an entirely knew--and ugly--language to fix communication seems too high. The second section focuses on Esperanto and its various competitors and successors. Arguably Esperanto is the most successful of the invented languages, created by a Pole--it is amazing how much of the story of invented languages is driven by Poles and Russians--Esperanto focused on a different way of creating a universal language. Rather than trying to classify every possible thought, Esperantists borrowed from a variety of languages to create a lingua franca, obviating the need for translations. It came at a time when French was losing status as _the_ language of diplomacy and Germany was losing its place as _the_ language of science. Unfortunately, it was undone by the very political forces it was trying to combat: Esperantists were one-worlders, but the one world was being riven by deep nationalist divides and pride in language. Indeed, nationalism and ethnic pride led to the (re-)creation of Hebrew, which had been a dead tongue of scholars and became a living language, somewhere on the continuum between natural tongue and artificial language. Esperanto found its adherents, and has even been passed down through the generations among families, but remains very circumscribed. In the third section, Okrent turns to symbolic languages, invented mostly in the 20th century, and based on a simplistic understanding of Chinese graphology. This part of the story touches on attempts to simplify spellings. But mostly it's a throwback to 17th century attempts to discover the basic elements of thoughts, and turn these into symbols, which could be combined. But of course, one's ideas of basic concepts are another's of complicated thought, and so the various systems mostly failed. One, invented by an Australian named Charles Bliss, did have a bit of success, Okrent found with some deft reporting, in a Canadian school for disabled children--but only as a bridge to learning English. A fourth attempt at inventing languages also comes from the twentieth century, this one trying to make languages adhere more closely to formal logic. There was some of this impulse in Korzybski's General Semantics, which sought to expose and eradicate hidden assumptions. But there were other, more complete revolutions; attempts to give (literal) voice to formal logic. Okrent roots these attempts in the Whorf hypothesis that different languages make different parts of reality available to be noticed. If a language was fully logical, advocates thought, then all the relationships could be seen. But of course, Okrent points out, one of the reasons that natural languages flourish is that the speaker need not consider every logical implication of what they say! That's a good thing. Okrent spent time trying to learn one of these languages--Lojban--and emerged feeling that "everything I heard seemed to be filtered through the sensibility of a bratty, literal-minded eight-year-old." The final section focuses mostly on Klingon--which is the language she first mentioned in the introduction--but touches on other languages invented by science fiction and fantasy aficionados. These are associated with less grandiose plans--not finding a universal language, not bringing about world peace--but mostly for fun. This marks them as strange--as does, say, their tendency to dress as Klingons--but it is a harmless, nerdy kind of fun. And a kind of fun not likely to change the world.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    This book is excellent! If you're not familiar with the history of invented languages, this an excellent one-stop introduction. But even if you are (like me), you will still enjoy this book. The writing is excellent and engrossing -- I'm a slow reader and I can't stand to read for long periods, but I devoured this book in just two sittings. The material is covered with enough depth and facts to satisfy language nerds, while also being presented with a very personal -- and personable -- style tha This book is excellent! If you're not familiar with the history of invented languages, this an excellent one-stop introduction. But even if you are (like me), you will still enjoy this book. The writing is excellent and engrossing -- I'm a slow reader and I can't stand to read for long periods, but I devoured this book in just two sittings. The material is covered with enough depth and facts to satisfy language nerds, while also being presented with a very personal -- and personable -- style that makes the book approachable, and perhaps a bit philosophical. (And fun!) Even when the material was familiar to me -- like the early history of invented languages, which is similarly covered in Pierre Janton's book Esperanto Language, Literature, and Community -- Okrent manages to find new material that hasn't been presented elsewhere or she is able to present a new viewpoint on the material. In fact, I would say that a theme of this book, which sets it apart from other books on invented languages, is that the author tries to experience the languages and communities herself and is reporting to us on those experiences. For example, she presents Wilkins' Philosophical Language by trying to do a translation into the language -- an experience which was surprisingly revealing! Had no one thought of doing anything like this before?! That personal exploration of the subject obviously develops further as the author gets into languages like Klingon and Esperanto, where she can go as far as taking a proficiency test and attending conventions. But it's also the personal experience of talking with the family and friends (or ex-friends) of people like Bliss and Brown. It definitely differentiates the book from previous works, and it's definitely a positive thing. In my reading about invented languages, I'd also never seen mentions of pictorial languages, so it was very cool to see that included. The stories of the inventors of those pictorial languages also fits very well into the theme of "mad dreamers", which is the more explicit thread throughout this book: The story of Charles Bliss is an excellent example of the engrossing nature of this book. The first chapter on him sets up a very nice story about a sweet old man and the children he helped, and yet there are suggestions of dysfunction hiding just around the corner, and I could barely contain the anticipation of finding out what was going to go wrong. Would you believe that that's where I had to put down the book between sittings? What a cliff-hanger!! As a collector of old books on invented languages (we're talking 1880s), I found myself becoming very jealous at the books that Okrent stumbles upon in her research. I am sure that there must be so much more (in the way of facts about invented languages) that she didn't put in the book -- I wish I could have been able to experience going to all of those libraries! :) (The author informs me, though, that many of the books are now browsable online through Google Books.) As I said, I highly recommend this book both to language (and invented language) geeks and to the casual reader who is looking for some intellectual enlightenment while also a fun read. Also check out the many reviews and interviews with Arika: NPR's "On Point": http://www.onpointradio.org/2009/06/i... NPR's "Studio 360": http://www.studio360.org/episodes/200... TIME: http://www.time.com/time/arts/article...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

    In the Land of Invented Languages was an impulse purchase that came about while I was browsing the heavily discounted “Philosophy and Linguistics” section at the Borders where I’ve worked for six years. I’ve never come across a more readable book written by a linguist in all my time earning an undergraduate and master’s degree in the subject. And where was this book when I was working on my undergraduate thesis paper on Tolkien’s invented language and the difference between truly natural languag In the Land of Invented Languages was an impulse purchase that came about while I was browsing the heavily discounted “Philosophy and Linguistics” section at the Borders where I’ve worked for six years. I’ve never come across a more readable book written by a linguist in all my time earning an undergraduate and master’s degree in the subject. And where was this book when I was working on my undergraduate thesis paper on Tolkien’s invented language and the difference between truly natural language and logic games? I absolutely loved this book. It was a fun look through the history of invented languages and what drives men to yearn for a more perfect language. Okrent identifies different eras of language development, including: philosophical languages intended to correlate sound with meaning, pictographic representations and easily learned languages to facilitate cooperation among different nationalities. Although there is some technical discussion about the different languages, the jargon is kept to a minimum (I think. I meant to monitor this better, but I got so caught up in the overall discussion that I forgot to keep tabs on the jargon.) If you have any interest in invented language at all, pick up this book. It’s worth it. Favorite quote: on picking a language to learn by impact-to-proficiency ratio: “Pretty good Hungarian gets you a lot more love in Budapest than perfect French buys you in Paris…”

  19. 5 out of 5

    Res

    Nonfiction: A brief and breezy overview of the history of artificial languages. I enjoyed this; it's very much like a series of magazine articles in the sort of magazine that only exists in my dreams. It was full of those interesting tidbits that make you annoy the people in the room by interrupting them to say, "Wow, did you know that ..." (the table-form thesaurus seems to have been accidentally created by people who were trying to make a language? As native speakers use Esperanto, it's changin Nonfiction: A brief and breezy overview of the history of artificial languages. I enjoyed this; it's very much like a series of magazine articles in the sort of magazine that only exists in my dreams. It was full of those interesting tidbits that make you annoy the people in the room by interrupting them to say, "Wow, did you know that ..." (the table-form thesaurus seems to have been accidentally created by people who were trying to make a language? As native speakers use Esperanto, it's changing, and one of the ways it's changing is by becoming irregular?) I imagine real linguists would consider it unbearably reductive. I don't know much about created languages, but I know enough about American Sign Language to feel that it should have had its own chapter. The author is fond of putting herself into the story, often to confess, with an air of humble full disclosure, that she only did this or that or the other because she wanted people to admire her. This charmed me the first time; the next dozen times, not so much. (The 11-year-old read two chapters and went off to create her own language. After reading about the usual fate of language-creators, I was relieved when she got bored and abandoned the project in favor of recording and defining all the sounds the cats make.)

  20. 5 out of 5

    John

    This book is a gem for linguists - it is a fun, breezy account of invented languages and their place in linguistics. The writer clearly knows her stuff and talks as a linguist to other linguists, discussing how these languages have developed following the patterns of other, existing languages (though I will note that from this standpoint she could have left the lengthy explanation of Whorf out). Her account is humorous and detailed, with the introduction of her own opinions about the subject a w This book is a gem for linguists - it is a fun, breezy account of invented languages and their place in linguistics. The writer clearly knows her stuff and talks as a linguist to other linguists, discussing how these languages have developed following the patterns of other, existing languages (though I will note that from this standpoint she could have left the lengthy explanation of Whorf out). Her account is humorous and detailed, with the introduction of her own opinions about the subject a welcome addition to what could otherwise have been a very detached view of the subject. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in linguistics or languages.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    I truly love a journalistic, popular science-y kind of work, and I've read some great ones. This book ranks up there with the very best, like works by Jared Diamond, Michael Pollan or Mary Roach. Okrent is a wonderful writer. She has compiled her (very thorough!) research here with an impressively fluid organization such that one concept flows seamlessly into the next. Her writing has just the right balance of authority and humor. She writes like your smartest, funniest friend explaining somethin I truly love a journalistic, popular science-y kind of work, and I've read some great ones. This book ranks up there with the very best, like works by Jared Diamond, Michael Pollan or Mary Roach. Okrent is a wonderful writer. She has compiled her (very thorough!) research here with an impressively fluid organization such that one concept flows seamlessly into the next. Her writing has just the right balance of authority and humor. She writes like your smartest, funniest friend explaining something incredibly cool they've been learning about. I tore through this book in three days, and wish I had more to read. This was a god damned delight.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bastian Greshake Tzovaras

    The title of the book pretty much says it all. A great and fun journey into the world of invented languages. Recommended for everyone who's able to speak/read 2+ languages (or want to be able to!). ;)

  23. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    A very interesting and entertaining book, as much about the people who invent languages as the languages they invent.

  24. 5 out of 5

    E

    I wanted to enjoy this more than I did. I really liked reading about the ways the different people decided to create their own languages i.e. through taxonomy (creating basically the first thesaurus) or through pictures (Blissymbols). I didn't so much care about the history of the person though, like how Bliss alienated everyone and stole money from disabled children in lieu of the recognition/love he craved. I liked the stories about people using the languages, making friends, and the couch-sur I wanted to enjoy this more than I did. I really liked reading about the ways the different people decided to create their own languages i.e. through taxonomy (creating basically the first thesaurus) or through pictures (Blissymbols). I didn't so much care about the history of the person though, like how Bliss alienated everyone and stole money from disabled children in lieu of the recognition/love he craved. I liked the stories about people using the languages, making friends, and the couch-surfing network for Esperanto speakers was amusing and wonderful. My favorite part of this was the entire last chapter that dealt with conlangs i.e. Quenya and Klingon. I wish there had been more pages on those, but I understand that it's likely both have already been covered in other books. I suppose conlangs is really what I wanted all along, so this wasn't a bad reading experience it just wasn't what I was looking for.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    Informative and interesting. I would have given it more stars were it not for the author’s own insecurities and hangups. She’s too easily weirded out and embarrassed for my tastes.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Frumenty

    This book was a Christmas present from my daughter (thank you Morgyn), and after some difficulty with "philosophical languages" I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read. "Philosophical languages" are a nice but totally impractical idea which had a certain vogue in the 17th century. You tabulate all human knowledge and thought, then speak strings of syllables to represent locations in your tables; with additional tweaks to indicate that an idea is to be used as verb, adjective, etc. the words are This book was a Christmas present from my daughter (thank you Morgyn), and after some difficulty with "philosophical languages" I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read. "Philosophical languages" are a nice but totally impractical idea which had a certain vogue in the 17th century. You tabulate all human knowledge and thought, then speak strings of syllables to represent locations in your tables; with additional tweaks to indicate that an idea is to be used as verb, adjective, etc. the words are as long as your arm, unpronounceable and impossible to memorise - and finding an idea in a table can be difficult too; everybody constructs their universe differently (is a tomato food or something botanical?). These guys did the groundwork that led to the Library of Congress classification of books and to Roget's Thesaurus, so their magnificent effort wasn't wasted. The next big push was to make languages that people could learn quickly and easily. If we can all make ourselves understood then there will be no more war, right? Tell that to Serbs and Croats, Tutsis and Hutus! It seemed like a good idea at the time. Speakers of the most widely-spoken European languages will see much that is familiar about them, and it is familiarity and the deliberate removal of irregularities that make them easy to learn. One language still has a significant dedicated following - Esperanto. There is a real and evolving Esperanto culture and community - marginal and a bit naff, but holding on better than many natural languages against the hegemony of English. Blissymbolics tries to bypass speech altogether - symbols that are so "intuitive" (as IT folk like to say about GUI interfaces) that with a few simple instructions they can be read with equal facility by a monoglot Mandarin speaker, Amazonian Indian or Frenchman. They don't quite succeed, but have been found to be a useful pathway into communication in English for handicapped children unable to articulate sounds. The children point at symbols to construct sentences that can convey moderately sophisticated ideas; a vast improvement on "needs based" communication that only provided symbols for food, a toilet, etc.. The idea that language brings with it a whole lot of cultural baggage that makes it difficult or impossible to express certain things in one language, and make the implication of those same things difficult to avoid when on the same topic in another another language, led to a quest for a value-neutral or "logical" language. An experiment was proposed in Scientific American in which such a language would be developed and people from various cultures and language backgrounds would be taught to use it to see how their thinking was changed when communicating in a "logical" language. The experiment never happened. Learning Loglan (which has morphed into Lojban) requires more dedication than you can reasonably expect from any psych-experiment volunteer. Lojban has a nerdy following dedicated to the idea of a totally logical language, but most normal human beings will continue to prefer imprecision and cultural baggage because they are comfortable and convenient. Lastly there are the "artistic" languages. These are created by people for whom creating a language is has no higher purpose than fun or a creative impulse: wouldn't it be cool if there was a language that combined this feature of Finnish with that feature of Welsh! Often these languages are an adjunct to works of fiction, but in the well-known case of the author of The Lord of the Rings, the fiction was a by-product of the invented languages. The most sophisticated "artistic" languages are the work of professional linguists or philologists, and the stand-out popular success has been Klingon (300,000 dictionaries sold!) and annual conferences continuing. I think the thing most readers will find most appealing about this book is the personal histories of the people who have created and worked on invented languages. They are for the most part eccentrics, some sad, many completely admirable and a few totally barmy, but harmless. The author, Arika Okrent (what language is that?) is a linguist, and beginner Klingon speaker. Her writing is easy and accessible. Recommended, if the topic appeals.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Okrent begins with her semi-inculcation into Klingon in New Jersey. I sigh, scratch my head, and flip to the back to revisit her credentials. Then she jumps back a few centuries to some cat named John Wilkins in Black Plague-era London where she attempts something of a deconstruction of his invented “Philosophical Language” – contorted diagrams and all – with the aim of tracking down his reinvention of the word “shit.” Things aren’t necessarily looking up. No way I’m getting through this one. Ind Okrent begins with her semi-inculcation into Klingon in New Jersey. I sigh, scratch my head, and flip to the back to revisit her credentials. Then she jumps back a few centuries to some cat named John Wilkins in Black Plague-era London where she attempts something of a deconstruction of his invented “Philosophical Language” – contorted diagrams and all – with the aim of tracking down his reinvention of the word “shit.” Things aren’t necessarily looking up. No way I’m getting through this one. Indeed, I soon enough toss the book aside, bookmarked at page 208, roughly 300 years after Wilkins, so I can go to bed. I don’t want to and I can’t wait to resume the following morning. Yes, I’m supposed to be reading a thick, obnoxious study guide about mechanical and electrical engineering systems, so even a book about Australian Jai Alai champions from the seventies might seem an appealing diversion, but this story is quite fascinating. The book is the result of the linguist Okrent finally giving into her sick desire to investigate that odd selection of books that lie roughly between mid-PM and PN on the shelves of her local libraries and, if only to save the rest of us such a trip, this is a terrific synopsis of the history of intentionally constructed languages (in direct contrast to the more incrementally/evolutionarily developed, non-“authored” languages that most of us actually use). The seemingly pat estimate is that around 900 fabricated languages have been developed within the previous 900 years. Mercifully, she doesn’t touch on all of them (in the appendix she compiles a list of 500 she feels should qualify – having a decently documented history, verifiable dates, amusing names, and so forth). What she does is select a handful that had/have, for various reasons, acquired a certain longevity – an Elite Eight or thereabouts – and presents the stories of their development, following, and, in most cases, eventual demise (I think one can safely forecast the death of Klingon and Lojban). Importantly, she tethers these ideas and their manifestations to their attendant historical, social, and political contexts to explain the underlying intentions. From the mathematically deduced alternatives to illogical western languages, the creation of a post-Babylonian language to enable World Peace, through to the seeming uselessness of Klingon and other recent “Conlang” proposals that may or may not result in a smallish convention at an Albuquerque Hotel. In case it’s not apparent, I’m not necessarily a big enthusiast of Invented-Languages-for-Invented-Languages-sake. Actually, I don’t think I’ve thought about this subject since…well…ever (or at least since I saw the fellas speaking Jive in the movie Airplane circa 1981). The author apparently wasn’t either – and some of it still seems to strike her as so much crap – but she approaches this in such a manner that I couldn’t help but become engaged with this perplexing history. Okrent the linguist even seems to subtly disclose a bit of envy. At the very least she develops a respect for these “kooks” and bored engineers who toil away, inventing their own lexicons – often quite sophisticated in structure if not necessarily digestible. And, in contrast to some of the disgruntled fabricators from previous eras, the internet-era guys (apparently 99% men) seem to really enjoy it all despite guaranteed failure and social deprecations. Perhaps this should be read as a sweet, autobiographical, coming-of-age tale or whatever, but at the very least I enjoyed the historical foray into a strange world where few have gone before.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Genia Lukin

    I am a semi-professional linguist - that is to say, I am rapidly on my way to becoming one, as degrees go - so one would think I read popular linguistics books all the time. Not so. My linguistics reading is usually limited to things with names like "Government, Binding and Control" (which is not a political treatise) and "Language Typology" or "Universal Constraints". In short, just like physicists don't normally read A Brief History of Time, and mathematicians don't use Fermat's Last Theorem a I am a semi-professional linguist - that is to say, I am rapidly on my way to becoming one, as degrees go - so one would think I read popular linguistics books all the time. Not so. My linguistics reading is usually limited to things with names like "Government, Binding and Control" (which is not a political treatise) and "Language Typology" or "Universal Constraints". In short, just like physicists don't normally read A Brief History of Time, and mathematicians don't use Fermat's Last Theorem as a textbook, I generally don't encounter popular linguistics books. It helps that the genre practically doesn't exist. It has all of one author, namely, Steven Pinker, and perhaps one more famous name all told (Chomsky, not really famous as a linguist, but famous nonetheless). So outside of gift books I really don't encounter the genre much. This book was precisely that - a gift. Frankly, one of the reasons I do not read popular linguistics is that, all told, one rather expects t be bored, reading popular books of one's profession. After all, most of them rehash upon those things the public is most ignorant of, and we the professionals get most tired of hearing. Blah blah language is acquired... Blah blah feral children... Blah blah Sign languages this and that... etc' etc'. One can only hammer on the same things so much, after all, before one says 'enough is enough'. So I freely admit that I was very much afraid I would be bored. I am happy to report that I was disappointed. I was not bored. Furthermore, I was interested. Admittedly, not in the part that bore to real-life languages, because, well, see above - but in all that pertained to the history and personalities of the artificial languages, I must say I was quite intrigued. For one, while I could guess that invention of language is Serious Business, I hardly thought it was a bloody business, too. The amount of metaphorical blood and guts, not to mention reputations, self-esteem and other less tangible qualities, spilled in the creation, propagation and killing-off of said languages is as impressive as anyone could ever desire. It's a true neglected drama, and the personae and events are quite interesting. Secondly, whereas the question of what natural languages do may not be so fascinating to me, it is rather fascinating to see what people think they do - or what people think they ought to do. The amount of thing people think language has to be capable of - from world peace through enlightenment and straight on till morning - is downright mind-boggling, and, as such, they all tried to express these 'shoulda, oughta' qualities in their work. The history and the creative pathos of all these invented languages, written about in such lively, compassionate manner, is really what made the book so fascinating. The arena of world history is strewn, apparently, with these failures and quasi-failures; even the wildest constructed successes, such as Esperanto, seem a little bit pathetic. Like someone attempting, again and again, to construct the Tower of Babel from the ground, and failing repeatedly. The whole notion of universal, invented languages is rather like trying to put a giant humpty-dumpty together - a million little pieces being glued onto each other in a futile attempt. but it's an interesting undertaking, sometimes hilarious, sometimes genuinely sad, that humans get into, like they do into a thousand other scrapes.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Julie Capell

    As someone who has taken more than the average number of linguistics classes, I knew I was going to love this book simply from the title. When I saw the title of the first chapter was "Scaring the Mundanes" and the first two words in the chapter were "Klingon speakers," I immediately knew it was COMPLETELY in my lane. I dont speak Klingon, but I did once recite a poem in Quenya at a funeral for a Tolkien fan. I don't have any Star Trek costumes, but I do have lots and lots of Star Wars costumes, As someone who has taken more than the average number of linguistics classes, I knew I was going to love this book simply from the title. When I saw the title of the first chapter was "Scaring the Mundanes" and the first two words in the chapter were "Klingon speakers," I immediately knew it was COMPLETELY in my lane. I don´t speak Klingon, but I did once recite a poem in Quenya at a funeral for a Tolkien fan. I don't have any Star Trek costumes, but I do have lots and lots of Star Wars costumes, and have been known to shock mundanes by parading around in non-convention venues like restaurants and city streets. Sorry I geeked out there for a minute. Let me reassure you that you don't need to be a scifi nerd to enjoy this book. In fact, the majority of the content is solidly grounded in the non-scifi languages, many of which were invented for purposes other than entertainment, like Esperanto (goal: world peace) and Wilkins´ philosophical language (goal: speaking truth in every utterance). If you have any kind of interest in the development of language over time, you will love this book even if you've never seen a Star Trek episode in your life.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alpacapanache

    What's it about? Artificial languages throughout history, what inspired their creation, and how most of them failed. Why did I read it? I'm interested in languages, and I dabbled with Esperanto a decade ago, so I wanted to read more about them. How many are there? Why and how do people create new languages? Favourite idea/part? I didn't know that Modern Hebrew was artificially brought back as a spoken language (after centuries of existing only in religious texts). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rev What's it about? Artificial languages throughout history, what inspired their creation, and how most of them failed. Why did I read it? I'm interested in languages, and I dabbled with Esperanto a decade ago, so I wanted to read more about them. How many are there? Why and how do people create new languages? Favourite idea/part? I didn't know that Modern Hebrew was artificially brought back as a spoken language (after centuries of existing only in religious texts). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revival... Overall I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed it so much I spent an hour writing a detailed summary/review of the book, only to click the wrong thing and refresh the page and lose it. So, I'm not doing that again. Go read someone else's summary. :P It was interesting and the TL:DR of it is that I'm practicing Esperanto again, on Duolingo this time. (No. I'm probably NOT going to go near Klingon, even when they add it to Duolingo. I've seen enough of it from this book that I will give those people props for trying and carry on. :D) Some neat facts - Esperanto is no longer 100% an artificial language - people are speaking it, some children are brought up learning it, and it's evolving like other languages. The rules are no longer 100% true in every case as the culture around Esparantists have changed the language organically. Neat! Also Klingon is one of the most successful languages, despite the fact that it has no 'real purpose', as some have argued. But some of the appeal is the challenge and the prestige and that's as good a reason as any other to learn a language Oh, and Charles Bliss created a symbolic language with was adapted by a group in Ontario that worked with disabled children, and as a communication tool. So even though it wasn't used how he intended, his artificial language was a real boon for others.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.