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

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

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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