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From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages Hardcover – 27 Oct 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1 edition (27 Oct. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192807099
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192807090
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 3 x 13.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 517,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


This book is a welcome addition to the growing literature that treats linguistic invention seriously. (Dirk Elzinga, Language Problems and Language Planning)

the book ought to be read by anyone with an interest in the future of Scots, Gaelic, and even English. (The Scotsman)

About the Author

Michael Adams is currently Associate Professor of English and Director of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Indiana. He has contributed to and edited many journals as well as numerous linguistic works, including the Middle English Dictionary and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. He is the author of Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon and co-author of How English Works: A Linguistic Introduction to the English Language.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This volume, the work of several authors, gives a good account of Esperanto and Volapük while glossing over other serious attempts to create an international auxiliary language. It deals sympathetically with the passion and linguistic expertise J R R Tolkien invested in the invented languages that add great power to his fiction. The origins and making of Klingon are described by its own inventor Marc Okrand and others, and an appendix includes the Klingon version of part of Hamlet, said to predate Shakespeare's! There are chapters on the partial languages generated by electronic games and used by those who play them and on invented scripts like Leet. Dead or dying languages that have been artificially revitalized for daily used by their respective nationalities, including Hebrew, Breton, and Cornish are examined quite severely, in my view, and there's an appendix dealing with the legal complexities of who own an invented language: is it the inventor or those who speak it? I found the purely linguistic chapters more satisfying than those exploring the non-linguistic aspects.
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Format: Hardcover
At first sight (with its pretty dust jacket and wacky font for the chapter headings) you think this is going to be a slight overview of its subject, perhaps written in the manner of some cultural celeb like Melvyn Bragg or Bill Bryson. But it turns out to be a funny sort of heavyweight for a little book, and I mean that as no disparagement.

The editor/author has gathered eight writers (or, in some cases, groups of writers) to tackle in turn eight chapters, each about language alternatives of one sort or another. This stretches the book's actual subject matter rather beyond what the title says. The core of the book, for the majority of people who will read the words on the tin, is the two chapters about attempts to create a new language for its own sake - Tolkien's Elvish and Okrent's Klingon (the Klingon chapter is written mainly by Okrent himself). The chapter on Elvish is a tad reverent, the chapter on Klingon a bit tongue-in-cheek, as you would expect - but both are of a good length, fascinating, well-written, and tell you where to go to find out more.

But Elvish and Klingon together(plus a chapter about the languages, sometimes quite developed and sometimes hardly more than verbal codes, that have been invented for computer games) don't take up much more than 150 pages.

So we have a chapter on attempts to engineer a general language in the cause of peace: Volapuk and Esperanto, among others. Of course devising an 'International Auxiliary Language' can't really be called language creation - it's more like language distillation, seeking to render down the various eccentricities of (mainly) European tongues into a medium of basic communication.
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Hmm...... the star system is always an opinion but I did love this book. I am doing some self initiated research into this area and Micheal Adams gave me a lot to think about and a lot of extra areas to look at. Not for anyone who wants to read about wacky nerds learning pointless stuff! He makes good points and I always felt he is a truthful and thoughtful guide in an area which is full of polemical arguments that border on flame wars. So if you are like me ( a bit of a language anorak) and you like the "extremophiles" in the language world then hopefully you'll like this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9cbff5ac) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bfd5144) out of 5 stars Interesting mix of history, linguistics and social context 29 May 2012
By J. Velson - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm no linguist, and nowhere near a cunning one (har har). And to be sure, I think this book isn't really about linguistics - at least as I understand the discipline. Instead, it's a series of relatively non-technical essays that look into the structure, history and context of constructed languages.

Far from exclusively focusing on the science fiction/fantasy languages implied in the title, it also includes expository treatment of internet slang, Newspeak (of 1984 fame), modern revival languages with constructed elements such as Hawaiian, Breton, and Hebrew, and early attempts to create utopian universal languages. Heck, the book even takes a stab at looking at the dialogue of Joyce.

The treatment each language receives varies slightly, but in general it couches the structural and phonological descriptions of constructed languages in the history of their development and the way decisions in the constructed languages play out in their speaking communities. Each bit of context is given to help you understand the motivations behind many of the (often idiosyncratic) people that created these languages, or, if no one creator exists, the interactions between the people in charge. The technical descriptions of the languages, by the way, are unusually accessible given the clearly academic origin of some of the writing. I can't remember a single instance of IPA making its way into the text, for example (although there is a short section in 1337). For those who want additional discussion of the languages, every chapter has an appendix, though it may not contain what you want.

I liked this book, but I will easily say that it's not for everyone. The writing style is academic and thus at times very dry, particularly when moving through the histories of early constructed languages in the late 19th century that I'd never heard of. I managed to power through to read the (alas, breathtakingly short) chapters on Elvish and Klingon, but many others may want to skip them and move to the other self-contained chapters.

The book also is more enjoyable in parts if you have the right external context. Two chapters in this book stand out to me in particular. One covers Newspeak and Nadsat, two constructed languages/jargons from 1984 by George Orwell and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. The other covers "Oirish," the attempt to differentiate Irish English as a written language from Standard English, as written by James Joyce in his many novels - including, at the end, a discussion of Finnegans Wake. Reading about the way language is used in books you've never read is sometimes interesting, but you will get more out of it if you've read those books. Given that I have a realistic idea of how many people have attempted to read (let alone completed) Finnegans Wake, I would advise the average reader to just skip that chapter.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bfd5390) out of 5 stars Fabulous Read 21 April 2013
By Ricardo De La Torre - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a language lover and a fan a Tolkien, this book called out to me. The entire book held my attention and stimulated my mind as I read about the histories and descriptions of the languages covered. The Appendixes added some great extra information as well, so if the basic chapters don't satisfy you, there's plenty more to read. I highly recommend this book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bfd5354) out of 5 stars Insights into invented language 4 Jan. 2014
By Bill Pruett - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The collection of essays on invented languages was an eye-opener. Gym Tolkien's complex, highly developed Elvish to the "like Topsie it just growled" Klingon to the barely noticed invented language used in 1984, this was a fascinating read. For the lay person, it got a little technical at times, but even those parts were worth wading through.
12 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bfd5648) out of 5 stars the joy of languages 17 Feb. 2012
By Joel Bjorling - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When you think of all the things that have been invented, the last thing you'd think is that someone would invent a language. Why do it when the ones we have seem to do the job? Yet you find new languages everywhere--in international languages as Esperanto, in sci fi languages as Klingon, Vulcan, and Romulan, and in fantasy languages as Elvish, Sindarin, Gnomish, and Quenya.
This book contains essays about invented languages, from Newspeak, languages devised by J.R.R. Tolkein, Klingon, and gaming languages. It examines why people invent new languages and what role they play in society.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9bfd56a8) out of 5 stars Most interesting 17 Aug. 2013
By Peter D. Relyea - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is most interesting to me because my hobby is Foreign Languages. Elvish is very interesting reading and can be a jumping off to other more involved books. I can’t wait to get into the subject of Elvish. Pete
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