Nonfiction: Linguistics

In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent

I had no idea there were so many invented languages! I could have named Esperanto and maybe Klingon, but there are hundreds and hundreds of them. The first one is credited to Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th century nun. I knew she wrote in a strange way, but I guess I always just assumed it was a combination of Latin and old German and…nunspeak. Apparently, it’s considered an invented language.

One wave of language inventors attempted to create a language that was not just words, but also the definition at the same time. It works in theory, but you also have to memorize an extremely complex tree of ideas and concepts that then lead you to the syllable or word that you want. Then you also have to contend with how the words are being used.

The trend that produced Esperanto came from attempts to unite the world by dissolving the language barrier. It came the closest – there are actually native speakers of Esperanto! Problems here stemmed from the biases within the languages (many of them were based in Western European languages) and the reputations that the languages began to take on (many linguists didn’t take them seriously, often because they viewed supporters of invented languages as eccentrics and outsiders rather than scholars).

There also seems to be a pretty big faction of language inventors that attempted to remove emotion from language, leaving only logic behind. Their theory is that eliminating emotion would eliminate misunderstandings. Unfortunately, the language is so complex that, according to Okrent, actual conversations are few and far between.

Okrent provides histories of the various languages, as well as fairly personal profiles of many of their creators. She also describes the way they work and includes examples of constructions. The grammatical explanations can be a bit technical for those of us who aren’t linguists, but I think I managed to muddle my way through most of them. So if you’re looking for an introduction to invented languages, their uses, and their creators, I would highly recommend Okrent’s book as an accessible, witty, and interesting guide.

My rating: A-

Summer blockbuster tally, part 4: I’m behind!

I actually saw this quite a few weeks ago, but couldn’t decide what to say about it. I liked it. I thought it was a really interesting film. I think Sam Rockwell did a great job. I just don’t have anything particularly witty or insightful to say about it. One review called it the best sci-fi movie of the summer and another called it the perfect antidote to Transformers 2. Not that I would know anything about that. Because I haven’t seen that movie. Not in a million years.

This one I just saw on Saturday. This movie is being called the must-see movie of the summer. I think this was a really well-done movie – the main actor does a really good job (and according to EW, had to do a lot of improvising) and it has a political layer to it that you don’t always expect from a summer blockbuster. But it’s kind of a downer. It’s definitely one of those films that I’m glad I saw, but I don’t ever need to see again. It’s a bit gross at times and fairly violent but I would still recommend it.

Summer blockbuster tally: 3-1-10

The best part of District 9 was that the trailer for 9 was playing for it – I can’t wait for September 9!