Terence's Reviews > The Dictionary of Made-Up Languages: From Elvish to Klingon, The Anwa, Reella, Ealray, Yeht (Real) Origins of Invented Lexicons

The Dictionary of Made-Up Languages by Stephen D. Rogers
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Aug 16, 13

bookshelves: reference-works, sf-fantasy
Read in January, 2013 — I own a copy, read count: 1

A Dictionary of Made-Up Languages is a very disappointing reference work. The author’s overbroad definition of “constructed language” includes everything from Quenya, the language of Tolkien’s High Elves, to Krakozhian, the language of the mythical country Tom Hanks comes from in “The Terminal.” One is a fully developed language with a grammar, syntax and vocabulary that fans learn. They maintain websites, write theses and converse in the language. The other, as far as I know, is a collection of Slavic-flavored words used to give an already-forgotten movie verisimilitude.

And regardless of an entry’s scale, none get more than three pages, and oftentimes much of what’s there is irrelevant. Let’s take Krakozhian as an example. Every entry is potentially divided into 12 sections (not all conlangs can supply information for every section):

• Spoken By
• Documented By
• Behind the Words
• Derivation of the Language
• Characteristics of the Language
• A Taste of the Language
• Some Useful Phrases
• Numbering System
• Philological Fact(s)
• In Their Own Words
• If You’re Interested in Learning the Language
• For More Information

Krakozhian supplies information (loosely defined) in seven categories. Who speaks it? People of Krakozhia, of whom we meet one – Hank’s character Viktor Navorski. Documented by? Steven Spielberg directed. What’s behind the words? A summary of the film’s plot. From whence is Krakozhian derived? Apparently it’s an ersatz Bulgarian. Linguistic characteristics? It sounds Slavic. Philological facts [Note 1]? Viktor learns English while staying in the terminal; and the story is similar to an Iranian’s plight at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. To learn more, check out the film’s page on IMDb.

I fail to understand why there’s an entry for Krakozhian.

I could go on for any number of entries but I’ve made my point. The author lacks a discriminating eye [Note 2]. This would have been a far more useful and interesting book if he had focused on more-developed conlangs.

There was one omission I found odd considering the dross Rogers included and that’s no entry for M.A.R. Barker’s Tsolyani. Here we have a language for which fans have created fanzines and websites, and for which there’s a rich corpus about its grammar and literature, yet it doesn’t even get the page that Gobbledegook, the language of J.K. Rowling’s goblins, merits. Similarly, I question why the author mentions only Verdurian of the many languages Mark Rosenfelder has created for his fantasy world Almea. Rosenfelder devotes a great amount of energy to developing realistic conlangs, with detailed grammars and snippets of literature, but Verdurian gets a page and a half, mostly fluff.

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding Rogers’ purpose in putting this information together but I didn’t find much of use or real interest here so I can’t recommend it.

Note 1: I’m not sure but I believe the author’s grasp of “philological” is fatally flawed. Another example of a “philological fact” found in “The Old Tongue” entry is “[b]efore The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan wrote Conan the Barbarian novels” [Note 1a].

Note 1a: I should mention that the aforementioned Conan novels are some of the best in the post-REH stable. It was a literary reboot of a series that had been languishing in the unimaginative hands of Lin Carter for far too long.

Note 2: This is the second reference work I’ve read recently where the author exhibits such a lack of judgment (see my review of Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia). Neither seems able to distinguish important material from drivel.
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Reading Progress

05/12/2013 marked as: to-read
08/16/2013 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Batgrl (No, GR I Don't Trust You With My Paperwhite Data) This sounds a bit more like something you'd read on a website full of articles about lists of things than a book. Which is sad - it's an interesting subject.


Terence Batgrl wrote: "This sounds a bit more like something you'd read on a website full of articles about lists of things than a book. Which is sad - it's an interesting subject."

Exactly! That was my very thought as I was reading.


message 3: by Forrest (new)

Forrest Missing Tsolyani is a major oversight. Didn't Barker base it on a cross between Mayan and Hindi?


Terence Forrest wrote: "Missing Tsolyani is a major oversight. Didn't Barker base it on a cross between Mayan and Hindi?"

The entire Empire of the Petal Throne project (both RPG and books) was a reaction to the euro-centric, medieval bias of most fantasy (at the time - this was the mid-'70s).


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