Klingon, Elvish and Esperanto — Linguist takes a serious look at Invented Languages

Posted on Monday, June 1st, 02009 by Laura Welcher
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What do Klingon, Elvish and Esperanto have in common?  They are all explicitly constructed languages — some for fictional worlds, some for the real world.  Some are created to entertain, others have such lofty goals as achieving world peace.  Some have dictionaries, grammars and language academies.  All have a fair number of real world speakers, and probably even a few native speakers.  But none, so far, have been the subject of serious linguistic inquiry…until now.

In her recently published book In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language, linguist Arika Okrent takes a serious look at as many of these as she could find (about 900 are well documented over the past several hundred years).  In these languages, often dismissed as whimsy, she finds a kind of ingenuity that is uniquely human, and a creative drive that can shed light on our own identification with languages and what they can and cannot achieve for us as speakers.  The NPR program “On Point” aired this hour long interview with Arika Okrent today.

We at The Rosetta Project have always thought invented languages are totally cool (after all, philologist J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in his letters that he created Middle Earth as a way to showcase his invented languages and what could be cooler than that?).  The invented languages Esperanto and Interlingua are both represented the Rosetta Disk — we have Genesis translations for both (hint: look in the European region for languages of France).

  • Jason Green

    To suggest that Okrent’s book is the first “serious linguistic inquiry”into invented languages ignores Umberto Eco’s The Search for the Perfect Language, as well as the fact that both the Klingon Language Institute Journal and the Tolkienian Linguistics Journal Vinyar Tengwar have been MLA indexed for some time.

  • Further to what Jason Green wrote:
    It is not only linguists but also serious authors who are interested in constructed languages.
    One should not forget to mention Geoffrey Sutton’s recent monumental (728 pages!) ‘Concise Encyclopedia of the Original Literature of Esperanto 1887-2007″, NY: Mondial. 2008. ISBN 978-1-59569-090-6.
    It is really quite astounding how much original material has in fact been produced in Esperanto in a mere 120 years.

  • Rogir

    But why is Esperanto grouped with the languages from France? It was created in Poland, the majority of its vocabulary is Romance, its semantics and syntax is somewhat Slavic, and the majority of its speakers are in Eastern Europe. So it could have been placed anywhere in Europe.

  • Pingback: The Long Now Blog » Blog Archive » Ese… Esselen… Esperanto!()

  • Dea

    France and the world need to acknowledge that the romance languages of the Iberian Peninsula does not boil down to much more than Gaelician with a patriotic flavour own to each different country, which woul affect the EU reasons of wanting a “neutral language in which to communicate, the alledged swahili influence in Esperanto could sway it more toward the “Persian side, see the Moorish invasion of the middle ages into Africa and Europe. Esperanto that is spoken with a French accent is French as the way you speak any language is indicative of who you are, perhaps the EU listeners should just try to listen without passing judgement on race and country of origin, the whole EU have languages originating in Proto Indo European, why not start there? They are a nation, even into Urdu in Pakistan

  • alan more

    since when was esperanto created in poland? the man behind it was german and if you speak, german, spanish, english, you can speak esperanto easily too.

  • Dea

    What then about PIE and the genetic coding for language?! THe only diference between most languages from the same tree is pure assumption, if you are human, you should be able to speak whatever you like, as long as it is species related.

  • Pingback: Endangered and invented languages « Language and identity trends tracking project()

  • Henry V. Janoski

    I am surprised that someone today thinks that Ludwik Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, was a German! He was a Polish Jew, born in Bialystok, Poland, who later lived and worked in Warsaw, where he first published this international language in 1887.

  • Dea

    If it were: Language does not dictate what is said, except perhaps in instances of the subjunctive and other rules of grammar borrowed from languages such as Sanskrit. but it could mamake the “setting ever so much more interesting (Elvish) as well as select the partners in dialogue and open them up to easier agreement in the transaction of communication, creating only common ground I’d settle for lack of hostility

  • Amiralrancourt

    I wonder :

    How many people can speak Esperanto fluently ?
    How many people can speak Klingon fluently ?

    How much more are there of the later than of the former ?

    I think a lot more people speak Klingon fluently than Esperanto,
    eventhough the later was created much earlier than the former.

  • For those who think Klingon should be the future international language please see

  • I’ve been starting to see some college courses with this very topic popping up here and there. It’s an area of inquiry that’s slowly gaining popular interest.

  • Dracovyrn

    That is actually a very funny comment… Statistically speaking, there are only about TWELVE fluent klingon speakers in the world, and esperanto has an estimated TWO-MILLION fluent speakers of esperanto.

  • neil_nachum

    I’ve used Esperanto in 34 countries. Thousands of Esperanto speakers have befriended me during conferences and at Facebook and Ipernity, a smaller social network. Nothing compares with this linguistic movement for friendship and peace. Monolingual English speakers, the majority, are being denied a wonderful experience.

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