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In the Land of Invented Languages

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  • David Bratman
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 9, 2011
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      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
      comfort
      .
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