In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language
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In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  1,067 ratings  ·  209 reviews
Here is the captivating story of humankind’s enduring quest to build a better language—and overcome the curse of Babel. 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. But few people have heard of Babm, Blissymbolics, Loglan (...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published May 19th 2009 by Spiegel & Grau (first published January 1st 2009)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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:...more
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
...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
Jacob / 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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
Andy Love
This book was a delight. I loved the history of invented languages: the ones that were supposed to make thought more rational (like Loglan (I know someone who speaks it)), the ones that were supposed to categorize the world optimally (which eventually resulted in the thesaurus), the ones that were supposed to end war (like Esperanto, Volapuk, and others), the ones just for fun (like Klingon), the ones that were supposed to help handicapped children communicate, and the one that became the langua...more
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...more
Eric
Okrent, a degree-holding linguist, gives us an overview of the long history of constructed languages, giving a fair treatment to some notable failures (including a few conditional successes). She takes a hands-on approach to the languages that still exist in the wild, so in the process of researching the subject, she attends some Esperanto functions, gets a first-level certification in Klingon, and almost forgets how English works thanks to the magic of Lojban.

As someone who's spent the past fe...more
Alana
If I didn't find the subject matter so compelling, I probably would have been far more put off by the writing style than I was. The author frequently inserts notes about her own personality quirks into otherwise interesting material. I know this is common (if grating) in popular nonfiction, but Okrent's attempts to distance herself from the nerdiness of attending a Klingon conference make me actively dislike her personality. (She reserves her room on-line, unable to imagine admitting to an actua...more
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...more
Kate
I'd heard about Esperanto in high school. That it was the language of the future, and I'd wondered over the years, why I didn't hear about it anymore. I found out why in this book. It's still around, barely, though it's done better than hundreds of other invented languages. The reasons for inventing languages cover a broad range, from garnering fame for their authors to improving the "weaknesses" of natural languages. But it turns out there are good reasons for the "inconsistencies" of natural l...more
Sara Q
Arika Okrent treats what could be a dry subject with a healthy dose of good humor. She takes the reader on a whirlwind tour through a few of the artificial language movements of recent history. But rather than give a textbook chronology of who-wrote-what, she interviewed friends and family of the language inventors to give us more intimate portraits of some fantastic personalities. Best of all, she has listed 500 of the known invented languages with dates in Appendix A and then samples of transl...more
amy
Fascinating. I was a bit worried to read a book by a linguist after the book just before this one being so dry, but this was a really fun and engaging look at the evolution of invented languages, and the process of inventing languages, with vignettes about the lives of a few of the very eccentric types that dare to create the perfect language.

I also enjoyed the chapter with the gentle suggestion that while perfection of language is a lofty goal, that with the wide variety of people using a langu...more
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...more
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...more
Madeleine
I LOVED this book. Putting it down was physically painful. But a well-written (and often charmingly cheeky) narrative penned by a professional, curious linguist exploring invented languages is essentially candy for my brain. I drank up every well-researched tidbit, every cleverly made observation, every lovingly crafted account of just how interminably weird Klingon speakers are.

If reading Bukowski poems is a thank-you to myself, getting lost in this book was the literary equivalent of onanasti...more
Henry
I liked this book alot. It is a light hearted and humourous, but also thought provoking story of a linguists journey in the strange land of invented languages. All the hard work and effort put into failed dreams and aspirations (for the most part), but also of some of their partial successes.

From the notoriously difficult to learn Lojban, which is essentially like spoken computer code; completely logically unambigious, to the very easy Esperanto which is essentially just a mix of European langua...more
Michael Jenkins
A lively and personal overview of the history constructed languages. Okrent knows her stuff, and presents some rather complex linguistic ideas in accessible-if-a-bit-oversimplifed terms. There are a few notable absences; plenty of attention paid to Klingon and some other scifi/fantasy languages while ignoring Tolkien's groundbreaking work. Given the length of the work, however, this is a bit forgivable and the book doesn't suffer terribly for it.

My one complaint--all books must have a flaw, afte...more
Justin
I read this book after someone recommended it to me (probably because I speak Esperanto).
In the Land of Invented Languages is a fun, informative read. It covers the history of invented languages, focusing from philosophical languages (like that of John Wilkins) of the 1600s to conlangs like Klingon of the 20th century.
Even though Okrent admits she herself is not a conlanger, she does provide insight and personal accounts regarding the languages. For example, she delves into Esperanto culture and...more
Garriguscarraig
Okrent's book is a very well structured & well written one. It competently provides a survey of the history of invented languages, highlighting key elements of the phenomenon by focusing in on some of its notable languages and characters. I highly recommend it for anyone who has an interest in the topic. Am I biased by the fact that I met the author at a Lojban conference while she was researching the book? Almost certainly. Caveat lector.
Jason
I picked this up after listening to a fascinating feature on it on Patrick Cox's The World in Words podcast on PRI. The book doesn't disappoint. A few sections can get a little technical, but, for someone like me who studied language acquisition at the graduate level, it's clear and relevant. The writing is fun and the jokes (especially all the puke jokes at the expense of the invented Volapuk language) are legitimately pretty funny. The best moments are where Okrent exposes anecdotes of the mad...more
DoctorM
Delightful, clever, funny...and rather thoughtful. Okrent considers the idea of "constructed" languages and the people who've tried to make those languages part of the mainstream world. And, yes--- she did get a certificate of proficiency in Klingon. A clever book for anyone who may ever have wondered how languages are born and spread or who've ever wondered if a new language could remedy social ills.
oriana
Mar 27, 2013 oriana marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-read-soon
Oooh, look at this delicious nerdery! The internet led me here after reading Arika's piece "10 Old-Fashioned Swears to Spice Up Your Cussin'," and if that's any indication, well, by the double-barrelled jumping jiminetty, I want to read this book!
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“The job of the linguist, like that of the biologist or the botanist, is not to tell us how nature should behave, or what its creations should look like, but to describe those creations in all their messy glory and try to figure out what they can teach us about life, the world, and, especially in the case of linguistics, the workings of the human mind.” 9 likes
“Before you judge me as some kind of 'anything goes' language heathen, let me just say that I'm not against usage standards. I don't violate them when I want to sound like an educated person, for the same reason I don't wear a bikini to a funeral when I want to look like a respectful person. There are social conventions for the way we do lots of things, and it is to everyone's benefit to be familiar with them. But logic ain't got nothin' to do with it.” 9 likes
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