In the Land of Invented Languages
- I've finally read this 2009 book by Arika Okrent, two years after everybody
else did, but I don't recall what most struck me about it as having been
pointed out elsewhere.
In her concluding section about her adventures in the Klingon Language
Institute, Okrent recounts telling an Esperantist about it and receiving his
baffled comment, "But what are they _doing_?" Her answer is that "They are
enjoying themselves. They are doing language for language's sake, art for
art's sake." (p. 280-1) The same thing would, of course, apply to Tolkien,
whom she discusses next. (Briefly and inadequately, saying nothing about
the extent of the Elven-tongues and what he used them for, let alone
alluding to the existence of Tolkien language institutes.) (p. 282-4)
What intrigues me is that the Esperantist didn't grasp this motive. The
Esperanto movement has as its purpose the quest to build a better human
society through a universal language. By that criterion, "art for art's
sake" languages, created for beauty or enjoyment, have no purpose. Thus the
Esperantist's puzzlement. But don't Esperantists _also_ enjoy their
language, as well as having a social goal to pursue by using it? I would
think that they do, given that Okrent reports that Esperanto grammar has
spontaneously evolved over the century-plus of its usage, just as natural
languages do: altogether appropriately as, for a small but real group of
people, Esperanto _is_ a natural langauge.
I would think that putting your energy and effort into some social project
_solely_ for its uplifting goals, and not _also_ because you enjoyed it,
would be a rather cold-blooded and soulless way to pursue life, though some
of the utopians I meet - of a variety of ideologies - do seem to have that
attitude. If that were the case, the Esperantists would be forced to
acknowledge that their project hasn't worked very well beyond building a
small community of like thinkers. Only enjoyment of what they're doing can
paint their movement as anything other than an exercise in futility.
In that context, "language for language's sake" is a more robust argument
than a social goal would be, since enjoyment is actually being achieved.
For those of us pursuing projects purely for art's sake, I hope that is a