I’m in the middle of a deeply fascinating book – Arika Okrent’s In the Land of Invented Languages (discovered through the World in Words podcast #62). According to the author bio, Okrent is a linguist with a jointly granted PhD in linguistics and psychology; and both disciplines are on display in this book. More than just an historical survey of invented languages (although it is that – did you know there are over 900 of them attested in the historical record? They’re all 500 are listed at the book’s website), the book also examines the varied impulses that lead to language creation and looks at what the fact and nature of these languages may tell us about how natural languages work and possibly even how we think. There’s even a bit of participant-observer sociology, as the author discusses her experiences trying to learn Esperanto and Klingon.
I could go on for pages about the interesting languages that have been invented, but let me just mention a few of my very favorites – from the 17th-century “philosophical languages” that attempted to break down the entire universe into rigorously, if sometimes strangely, categorized phoneme-sized pieces; to Láadan, the “women’s language” invented by linguist and SF writer Suzette Hadin Elgin in her book Native Tongue (Janet Kagan’s Hellspark also deals with language issues, BTW); to the French creation Solresol that is based on the seven-tone scale and can be “spoken” musically, and Blissymbolics, a pictorial writing system that has been used with some success in helping severely handicapped children who can’t communicate verbally.