When I was twelve or so I read The Lord of The Rings. I read it so often that the books eventually fell apart. In particular I reread the appendices for their treasure trove of scripts and invented languages. It fired me with a love for languages, the way they work and for picking features from them to mix and build my own. I am very far from alone in this. Arika Okrent's book picks some of the highlights from the history of constructed languages, from John Wilkins' quixotic Philosophical Language to Klingon with diversions to languages like Laadan and Lojban.
Most of the languages she focuses on were attempts to improve the human life, from the Zamenhof's language of hope (if we can all communicate with each other we'll treat each other better, right?) to James Cooke Brown's Sapir-Whorf-embedded Loglan. All these languages began with utopian intentions and crashed into people and their emotions.
Okrent finishes with Klingon, devised to add a sense of reality to a film and, it seems to me, the most vibrant of the languages presented, because it has been devised only to exist and to allow its growth and change.
This is a wonderful book: intelligent, benign and forgiving of the frailties of the all-too-human inventors of these languages. Now, about those evidentials...
An unusually well-written and enlightening insight into the problems and thoughts behind invented languages. Anybody with an interest in representation and communication of knowledge and ideas, an area where aspects of linguistics, psychology, logic and computer programming meet, will find this book both interesting and inspiring. It is Arika Okrent's great accomplishment to write a highly readable and entertaining book on this esoteric subject!
Arika Okrent has written a fascinating book which reveals the obsessions, motivations and sometimes self-destructiveness of the men (and they are usually men) who have felt compelled to invent their own languages. Of course, Esperanto is in here, but it's the other languages that stick most in the mind, such as John Wilkins' idea that words ought to link form and meaning - so that the word itself tells you what it means - or Brown's Loglan, a language designed to remove the ambiguities inherent in human languages, by allowing only logically precise sentences. You would imagine that Vulcans would speak such a language (maybe they do!) but it's the Klingons who get airtime in this book. Yes, we all know how sad they are, those who attend Star Trek conferences with plastic mouldings on their foreheads, but did you know that Klingon looks like a real human language (albeit a very odd one)? I really couldn't put this book down - it was such a great read. If I have any criticism at all, it's that there just wasn't enough about the grammar of each of the invented languages described. I would have liked a syntax summary in the appendices for each of the languages, so as to get more of a flavour of the oddness (or otherwise) of each of them. But that's really a minor point, as we can all go and look them up online if we wish.
So, do YOU have the "secret vice"? Have you ever dabbled in made-up languages? Go on... admit it! You're not alone, you know! They can't arrest you for it!
One thing I particularly liked about this book is its messy humanity. Most descriptions of the people who invent languages or speak invented languages are either mocking, or coldly scientific, or worship the great founder of the coming world tongue. Okrent acknowledges the eccentricity but isn't afraid to get hot under the collar in defence of her Klingon- and Esperanto-speaking friends, or to acknowledge that some intellectually impressive pioneers of invented languages were kind of nuts, actually, and not in a nice way.
The description of the doomed labours of John Wilkins (one of the nice ones - a tolerant man in an intolerant age) to produce a truly universal and logical language is particularly fascinating.
I've taken one star off what would have been a five star review because it is difficult to read the diagrams, graphics and the concluding list of 500 invented languages in the Kindle edition. If you try to use the magnifying tool everything is blurred and the formatting is lost. I acknowledge that this sort of thing is difficult to show on a Kindle-sized page, but a little more thought could have been put into re-casting the visuals for Kindle use.
Great read for anyone interested in languages, and a dire warning to anyone who wishes to create their own one. Reads very easily, especially considering amount of author's research poured into it. Funny and engaging!
After reading about international auxiliary languages on Wikipedia I thought I'd get an experts opinion. It was a surprisingly entertaining read detailing the mad and passionate in their quests for language perfection. The details on the 17th century a priori languages were lost on me though!
Arika Okrent leads you on a very entertaining tour through a strange place. Reading this might not alleviate the guilt associated with the secret vice, but at least you are not alone... Spread the word (in the language of your choice) and buy this for someone's birthday.
For anyone that has dabbled in, or wondered about invented languages this is an excellent background narrative. It cleared up my understanding of the differences (and reasons for them) between loglan and lojban, and offered an excellent summary of the sideshow of personalities involved in that particular experiment. Great write-up on Bliss symbols too. An engaging and entertaining read for anyone interested in the subject.
If it does nothing else, it will certainly give you a window into the eccentric and often "socially challenged" world of those people driven enough (for whatever reason) to want to invent their own languages. For those actually interested in the mechanics of such languages it is not a bad atlas, and includes a full list (of the names only) of the hundreds of artificial languages that have appeared from time to time.