Jacob / Julie's Reviews > In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language

In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent
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Jun 03, 09

bookshelves: esperanto
Read in May, 2009

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 that makes the book approachable, and perhaps a bit philosophical. (And fun!)

Even when the material was familiar to me -- like the early history of invented languages, which is similarly covered in Pierre Janton's book Esperanto Language, Literature, and Community -- Okrent manages to find new material that hasn't been presented elsewhere or she is able to present a new viewpoint on the material. In fact, I would say that a theme of this book, which sets it apart from other books on invented languages, is that the author tries to experience the languages and communities herself and is reporting to us on those experiences. For example, she presents Wilkins' Philosophical Language by trying to do a translation into the language -- an experience which was surprisingly revealing! Had no one thought of doing anything like this before?! That personal exploration of the subject obviously develops further as the author gets into languages like Klingon and Esperanto, where she can go as far as taking a proficiency test and attending conventions. But it's also the personal experience of talking with the family and friends (or ex-friends) of people like Bliss and Brown. It definitely differentiates the book from previous works, and it's definitely a positive thing.

In my reading about invented languages, I'd also never seen mentions of pictorial languages, so it was very cool to see that included. The stories of the inventors of those pictorial languages also fits very well into the theme of "mad dreamers", which is the more explicit thread throughout this book: The story of Charles Bliss is an excellent example of the engrossing nature of this book. The first chapter on him sets up a very nice story about a sweet old man and the children he helped, and yet there are suggestions of dysfunction hiding just around the corner, and I could barely contain the anticipation of finding out what was going to go wrong. Would you believe that that's where I had to put down the book between sittings? What a cliff-hanger!!

As a collector of old books on invented languages (we're talking 1880s), I found myself becoming very jealous at the books that Okrent stumbles upon in her research. I am sure that there must be so much more (in the way of facts about invented languages) that she didn't put in the book -- I wish I could have been able to experience going to all of those libraries! :) (The author informs me, though, that many of the books are now browsable online through Google Books.)

As I said, I highly recommend this book both to language (and invented language) geeks and to the casual reader who is looking for some intellectual enlightenment while also a fun read. Also check out the many reviews and interviews with Arika:

NPR's "On Point": http://www.onpointradio.org/2009/06/i...
NPR's "Studio 360": http://www.studio360.org/episodes/200...
TIME: http://www.time.com/time/arts/article...

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message 1: by Dejo (new)

Dejo I liked the book too. The author really did her homework.


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