Excerpts Languages

"A lively, informative, insightful examination of artificial languages -- who invents them, why, and why most of them fail. I loved this book." 

- Will Shortz, Crossword Editor, New York Times

"Hats off to Okrent, who expertly exposes the history, culture, and preoccupations of this insular tribe who live among us. She rescues language inventors, or conlangers, from the oddball bin—utopianists all, they're the first biotechnologists, trying to leapfrog evolution and improve human life. They'll thank her but everyone else will, too, for finally making sense of the conlangers' discontents."

- Michael Erard, author of Um…: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean

"Linguist Okrent explores some of the themes and shortcomings of 900 years worth of artificial languages. …Okrent gamely translates these languages with unspeakably hilarious results, and riffs on the colorful eccentricities of their megalomaniacal creators. Fortunately, her own prose is a model of clarity and grace; through it, she conveys fascinating insights into why natural language, with its corruptions, ambiguities and arbitrary conventions, trips so fluently off our tongues." 

- Publishers Weekly, starred review

"'In the Land of Invented Languages' is a delight to read. It's humorous, intelligent, entertaining and highly informative. And it's a great source of knowledge about human languages and why they exasperate some people - because they are not perfect. But neither are we."

- Daniel Everett, San Francisco Chronicle

"Okrent is a professional linguist and relates the place of these artificial languages in the confusion of human languages. She is also a great storyteller, and eccentric characters and dashed dreams are the stuff of this delightful book. " 

- Fred Cleaver, Denver Post

"In this hugely entertaining and informative book, Okrent... takes us through this remarkable history. She introduces us to some of the people who made up their own languages, tells us the reasons why they did it, and explores the aftermaths."

- David Pitt, Booklist

"...a celebration of the power of natural languages: They are spontaneous, organic, and gloriously, humanly flawed." 

- New York Magazine

"Anyone who has felt the lure of words, odd grammatical systems or the potential connections between human thought and speech, is likely to enjoy this book just as much as I did."

- Faren Miller, Locus

"Her expertise isn't why you should read the book—it's just the reason you can trust what you read. You should read the book because it's a gripping account of some amazing people and some fascinating changes in the European cultural environment...she cares about the people involved, not just their ideas and inventions, and that's what makes the book not just a stimulating read but a powerfully moving experience."

- Languagehat.com

"The author...examines a variety of would-be languages and related philosophical tenets (there are no pure ideas, all signs depend on conventions) in a rigorously linguistical way. And yet her book is a pleasure to read. It shows how language systems connect, or don’t connect, with people."

- Roy Blount, Jr., New York Times

"Arika Okrent is a linguist whose fascination with the "faded plastic flowers" in the "lush orchid garden of languages" is recounted to delightful, often comic effect in "In the Land of Invented Languages."...Okrent's style is eminently suited to her approach, which is at once serious and playful, exemplified by her marvelous, snappy opening sentence: "Klingon speakers ... inhabit the lowest possible rung on the geek ladder.""

- Roger K. Miller, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"[Okrent's] book is both thought-provoking and fun. Even as In the Land of Invented Languages made me admire the dreamers who have tried to improve on natural languages, it gave me new respect for the value of the "flaws" those dreamers set out to overcome. "

- Barbara Wallraff, The Kingston Whig Standard

"superb...Okrent admits that it is the "overblown ridiculousness" of language inventors that first drew her to look into the subject. There is, however, a good deal more than eccentricity involved here as Okrent shows with brisk dispatch, wit, and a good deal of compassion."

- Katherine A. Powers, The Boston Globe

"Arika Okrent's fascinating book offers a comprehensive survey of artificial languages invented to solve an important problem: This tool, language, that we thought we were using, may in fact be using us...Her book is both profoundly erudite and highly entertaining, a rare achievement."

- Tim Redman, The Dallas Morning News

"highly entertaining...She's a wonderfully warm and witty tour guide to this alternate universe, amused by the hubris and grandiose rhetoric that tends to accompany this myriad of failed projects, but unfailingly sympathetic to the urge to improve on the unstable existing methods of human communication."

- Andrew O'Hehir, Salon

"There is much to be learned about language by examining the failures of those that thought they could invent superior ones. And while speakers of Esperanto, Klingon, and all the rest seem so goofy they put Dungeon & Dragons fanatics to shame, they are deserving of Okrent's elegant and sympathetic prose."

- Stephen Rex Brown, The Daily Beast

"it's easy to understand why thousands of people over hundreds of years have tried to create a better language from scratch. Okrent's book is a fascinating look at some of these attempts, from the well-known (Esperanto) to the obscure (Toki Pona, which "uses only positive words . . . to promote positive thinking.") As she notes, the efforts have been mostly failures. If they are spoken at all, these languages are spoken by fringe groups, few of whom get much more respect than those Trekkie Klingon speakers. But it's still worth learning about them, because they shed light both on the perils of idealism and on the evolution of natural language...It's an amusing account -- Okrent is that rare linguist with a gift for lively language. "

- A.J. Jacobs, The Washington Post

"They're called conlangs--constructed languages--and the linguist Arika Okrent has written a terrific book about them...Okrent's book is a compilation of wonderful stories about batty inventors--some lovable, like Esperanto's Ludwik Zamenhof, some not, like Blissymbolics's Charles Bliss. Another of the book's rewards is the way that Okrent, with a light touch, manages to interrogate the positivist's creed that rationality is universal. But people who can't agree on first principles will never come to the same conclusions. Therefore the question becomes: Whose first principles? Whose rationality? "

- Ange Mlinko, The Nation

 

In the Land of Invented Languages

Just about everyone has heard of Esperanto, which was nothing less than one man’s attempt to bring about world peace by means of linguistic solidarity. And every Star Trek fan knows about Klingon, which was nothing more than a television show’s attempt to create a tough-sounding language befitting a warrior race with ridged foreheads. But few people have heard of Babm, Blissymbolics, and the nearly nine hundred other invented languages that represent the hard work, high hopes, and full-blown delusions of so many misguided souls over the centuries. 

In In The Land of Invented Languages, author Arika Okrent tells the fascinating and highly entertaining history of man’s enduring quest to build a better language. Peopled with charming eccentrics and exasperating megalomaniacs, the land of invented languages is a place where you can recite the Lord’s Prayer in John Wilkins’s Philosophical Language, say your wedding vows in Loglan, and read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in Lojban. 

A truly original new addition to the booming category of language books, In The Land of Invented Languages will be a must-have on the shelves of all word freaks, grammar geeks, and plain old language lovers.


About the Author

Arika Okrent received a joint PhD in the Department of Linguistics and the Department of Psychology's Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience Program at the University of Chicago. She has also earned her first-level certification in Klingon. She lives in Philadelphia. For more information about her (and her homemade bagel recipe), visit arikaokrent.com.

 
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