Thursday, October 6, 2011

book review: in the land of invented languages

I'm determined to write book reviews more often. Now that I am back in school and tutoring students in writing, it certainly couldn't hurt for me to get as much practice as I can with writing. Plus, it's a good excuse to put much more time than I should into pleasure reading. :)

Spending time at work and school around people who share my interests and obsessions has given me so much confidence and really awakened my curiosity, which is probably why, when I happened to see a display of In the Lange of Invented Languages by the linguist Arika Okrent at Half-Priced Books, I just had to indulge. The book centers around Okrent's studies of the history and current life of artificial language invention. If you are the kind of person who would find this subject fascinating, read on! If you are not (weirdo), please read this post about my backpack.


In the few short days weeks that it took me to read this book, I went from barely having heard of Esperanto to putting its study on my list of goals for 2012. If it's possible, I have actually fallen deeper into nerdom now that I am aware of the fact that Middle Earth was "made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse"(from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien). Huge volumes of text and hours of story-telling are a reasonable price to pay, in my eyes, to provide a platform on which to present an invented language. I also sympathize with the grown adults that Okrent describes fretting over their Klingon proficiency exams. That's totally normal, right?

More importantly and (somewhat) more seriously, Okrent asks her audience to simply marvel at the ability of languages to give form to the imperfect jumble of human thought. Though human beings often bemoan their plight of having to take pains to properly communication abstract concepts and emotions, the flexibility of the spoken word really does allow for a huge range of self-expression. Since our thoughts can not be perfect, it stands to reason that language would be the same. It's really no wonder that attempts to clean up the mess and make a universal human communication system have generally been less than successful.

As well as being just plain entertaining, In the Land of Invented Languages was a great encouragement to me to continue to be curious and pursue my linguistic studies. I would recommend this book for anyone with an interest in languages, natural or artificial (though, I will warn you that real comprehension does require a bit of linguistic base knowledge.) Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it and am grateful for the shot in the arm of enthusiasm that I needed to propel me into my studies with renewed vigor.

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