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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
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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

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  2,009 Ratings  ·  319 Reviews
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, which was nothing more than a television show's attempt to create a tough-sounding language befitting a warrior race with ridged foreheads. But few people have heard of Babm, Bli ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published May 19th 2009 by Spiegel & Grau (first published January 1st 2009)
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Jun 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
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:
I think I would really enjoy sitting down for a cup of coffee and a discussion with this author! She is a linguist and linguistics is a favourite subject of mine. She knows a thing or two about the Library of Congress classification schedules too (or at least the P section of them, linguistics & languages), which appeals to my inner cataloguing nerd. Plus, she is just interested in words and their history and in the psychology of people who strive to build better languages.

I was absolutely g
Nov 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009
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
Dec 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: languages, nonfiction
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
Ian Tregillis
Oct 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
I’m not much of a linguist in the technical sense, though I do enjoy learning languages (and especially doing translation), so I wasn’t sure if reading a book about invented languages might be too technical. Luckily, it isn’t: In the Land of Invented Languages is actually a really easy read, with a more personal than professional analysis of the languages discussed — although it does go into some details about how each one works, why it’s effective or not, how much it’s used, etc.

Better, Okrent
May 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book! I have been in love with languages since childhood, and this book fed my obsession fully. It is amazingly well-researched and the writer is clearly knows more about languages than any person should, but the writing feels natural and not academic-dry, is full of humor and keeps you turning the pages to learn what other crazy stuff people have come up with, and what it can teach us about how language and the human mind work. One of the best non-fiction books I've read this year, an ...more
Feb 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 31, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Dec 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. After reading it, almost wish I was able to express my admiration and appreciation in an invented language. Well, I suppose technically I can. I just need to invent one. Apparently it's been done for centuries to varied (albeit mostly low, very low) degrees of success and recognition. I'm not a linguist per se, just someone who holds language structures and words in general in high esteem, fan of crosswords, polysyllabics, word games, etc. If you're like me, if you th ...more
Jan 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

Go ahead and consider my mind blown. I had no idea that that many people (going back to the 1600s in Europe!) have taken that much time and energy to create new languages for such a plethora of idealistic, silly, and/or creative reasons. I laugh that so many seem(ed) to think that their precious baby language was going to be The One. The One that solved all our problems, that united all of humanity. LOL. Fail.

The two types of invented languages that caused my head to throb in agony were
Joshua Buhs
Sep 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Arika Okrent is intrigued by languages that have been created whole-cloth--like Esperanto or Klingon or the elvish tongues of Tolkien. Ultimately, it is, as she says, a story of failure--depending upon your definition, either very few or no invented languages have really succeeded. And most are forgotten. But it is still worthwhile to explore the various impulses that lead to these attempts, and contemplate the reasons for their failure.

After a couple of introductory chapters, Okrent divides
Nov 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: esperanto
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
May 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: language, npr
If you've listened to any stories about conlangs (or "constructed languages") on NPR over the past few years, you've almost definitely heard the author, Arika Okrent (her first name is pronounced like "Erica.")

In this fun read, Okrent charts the colorful history of invented languages--from Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century up through Mark Okrand's invention of a full Klingon lexicon for the Star Trek films and TNG. Until several decades into the 20th century, language inventors were Utopi
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language, non-fiction
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
Jun 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Jan 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2012
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
Jul 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language
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
Bastian Greshake Tzovaras
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
The title of the book pretty much says it all. A great and fun journey into the world of invented languages. Recommended for everyone who's able to speak/read 2+ languages (or want to be able to!). ;)
Emily Jusuf
May 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My to-read list on Goodreads has now gone down by one, but the list of languages I legit want to learn has gone up by at least two
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
A very interesting and entertaining book, as much about the people who invent languages as the languages they invent.
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.

Genia Lukin
Jan 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
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
Apr 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Andy Love
Mar 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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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.” 20 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.” 16 likes
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