Andrew O'Hehir: Excuse me, do you speak Klingon?

by mattdentler
June 3, 2009 3:31 AM
7 Comments
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Over at Salon, film columnist Andrew O'Hehir takes a break for a moment to write about languages. Specifically, he reports on Arika Orent's book In the Land of Invented Languages, which dissects the phenomenon of invented vocabulary. The two most popular languages in this camp: Esperanto and Klingon. O'Hehir examines the contents of the book, which sounds fascinating, and also asks questions about J.R.R. Tolkien's invented Elvish. He muses, "Tolkien's languages, one might say, form the missing link between Esperanto and Klingon." However, there's a lot to be learned from those two. More from the O'Hehir article:

Klingon and Esperanto have both created odd, outsider cultures, and have both invited derision from the mundane, natural-language world, but it's important to reiterate that the intentions behind them could hardly be more different. Esperanto represents the non-triumphant culmination of many efforts to foster worldwide peace and equality by breaking down language barriers. Whether they admit it or not, Esperantists are presumably disappointed that their language, designed to be spoken by ordinary people all over the world, has instead become the focus of a minuscule and familiar kind of subculture. As Okrent describes it, "Esperantoland" is a realm of aging socialists and hippies, nudist vegetarians, pot-smoking anarchists, folk musicians and backpackers, and other sweet-natured dreamers determined to resist the global hegemony of English.

But not even the most ardent speaker of Klingon expects or wants it to be adopted by the United Nations. It is a new variety of invented language, one meant to be exclusive rather than inclusive, and one whose point is to be pointless. It invites fans to ramp up their fandom to absurd levels, and lifelong social outsiders to go nuclear with their outsiderness. As Okrent diplomatically puts it, "Klingon is a type of puzzle that appeals to a type of person."

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7 Comments

  • Bernardo | June 18, 2009 9:01 AMReply

    "As Okrent describes it, “Esperantoland” is a realm of aging socialists and hippies, nudist vegetarians, pot-smoking anarchists, folk musicians and backpackers, and other sweet-natured dreamers determined to resist the global hegemony of English."

    Actually, no -- that's how Okrent described her expectations of what kinds of people would speak Esperanto, in contrast to the more ordinary and not-so-stereotypical people that she actually found. She was also surprised to find that Esperantists actually speak the language, and speak it well enough and easily enough to actually conduct their meetings and social activities entirely in Esperanto. Klingon on the other hand, is

  • inga Johansson | June 7, 2009 12:18 PMReply

    "Excuse me, do you speak Klingon?"
    I find the question odd. If I happen to speak or use Klingon and meet a fellow in the street,
    I would not ask that in English, I would use Klingon.

    Ĉu vi komprenas la internacian lingvon?

  • Brian Barker | June 5, 2009 7:05 AMReply

    I think that the choice, realistically, of the future global language lies between English and Esperanto rather than an untried project.

    It's unfortunate however that only a few people know that Esperanto has become a living language.

    After a short period of 121 years Esperanto is now in the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide, according to the CIA factbook. It is the 17th most used language in Wikipedia, and in use by Skype, Firefox and Facebook.

    Native Esperanto speakers,(people who have used the language from birth), include George Soros, World Chess Champion Susan Polger, Ulrich Brandenberg the new German Ambassador to NATO and Nobel Laureate Daniel Bovet.

    Further arguments can be seen at http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU Professor Piron was a translator with the United Nations in Geneva.

    A glimpse of Esperanto can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

  • Stephen Thompson | June 4, 2009 9:54 AMReply

    I've read several reviews of Okrent's book, but had not previously seen the quote about "Esperantoland"; I'm grateful to Tono for putting the record straight as to what the book actually says.

    As a resident in Esperantoland, let me say that I may be aging in some people's opinion - 64?, but have never been a socialist. I was never a hippie, never went naked (there's still time!) or given up meat-eating. A pot is for cooking or planting in and I've never been an anarchist. I do sing sing folk, yes, quite often in Esperanto, and I missed out on backpacking because I didn't discover Esperanto and its network of free hospitality soon enough. As for old men seeing visions and young men dreaming dreams - or is the other way round? - I think the world needs people with vision.

    Enrique says the rest. Bondeziras Stephen el Britio.

  • Vilchjo de Mesao Arizono, Usono | June 3, 2009 9:13 AMReply

    Enrique estas vera!

    Vilchjo

  • Toño | June 3, 2009 6:03 AMReply

    As Okrent describes it, “Esperantoland” is a realm of aging socialists and hippies, nudist vegetarians, pot-smoking anarchists, folk musicians and backpackers, and other sweet-natured dreamers determined to resist the global hegemony of English.

    From what I have read, Okrent says that this is the popular image of Esperantists, but this is NOT what she mostly found. In fact, this is a stereotype, quite far from real Esperanto-movement. It is far more plural than what you may think. And not all of us are obsessed with English. Many of us try indeed to write in it :-)

  • Enrique Esperantofre dot com | June 3, 2009 2:11 AMReply

    >Esperantists are presumably disappointed that their language,

    No, we are not. We are very happy about the accomplishments of Esperanto. Many of us use it every day.

    >“Esperantoland” is a realm of aging socialists and hippies, nudist vegetarians, pot-smoking anarchists, folk musicians and backpackers,

    I didn't find any of them last week in Saint Louis, at the USA Esperanto Convention.

    Please visit the Esperanto World Convention in Bialystok, Poland, next July, where more than 2000 people from more than 60 countries will meet for 8 days without any need for translators.

    Give Esperanto a try. Please take 20 hours of your time to learn Esperanto. You will never regret it.

    Best wishes,
    Enrique
    from Fremont, California, USA