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  • From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages
  • Yin Yin Lu (bio)
Adams, Michael P. , Ed. From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp 304. $19.95 ISBN 978-0-19-280709-0

For every natural language, there is probably at least one invented language. It is virtually impossible to document them all, but Michael Adams has compiled and enhanced a collection of essays that is remarkable in both breadth of scope and depth of detail. In doing so, he juxtaposes constructed languages against natural languages and illuminates why they deserve to be studied. As he states in his introductory chapter, "Each expresses one or more among a wide range of purposes and aspirations—political, social, aesthetic, intellectual, and technological....Even more than natural languages, invented languages both reflect and urge the cultures in which they are proposed, appreciated, and occasionally even used" (3).

Adams's introduction is entitled "The Spectrum of Invention," and proposes the metaphor of a spectrum to capture the relationships among linguistic inventions. It is difficult to describe what is or is not an invented language in black and white terms: even slang has inventive characteristics because it encompasses new words, however ephemeral. On the other end of the spectrum are languages that are codified, elaborated, and in use within a community of speakers: Klingon (to some extent) and Esperanto are prominent examples. The title of this book does not do justice to its content—it is deceptively restrictive, suggesting a much narrower spectrum than what is actually explored. Apart from languages derived from science fiction and fantasy worlds, From Elvish to Klingon includes investigative accounts of international auxiliary languages, with a unique emphasis on Volapük, reconstructed and revitalized languages, George Orwell's Newspeak and Anthony Burgess's Nadsat, languages used in online role-playing games, and even the linguistic inventions of modern Irish writers.

Written by a variety of expert scholars and linguaphiles, From Elvish to Klingon is both informative and accessible, and offers something for uninitiated novices, fluent users of invented languages, and everyone in between. Each of the eight chapters can be enjoyed on its own, but perusing the entire volume will allow readers to gain a clearer sense of the limits of the linguistic spectrum (or lack thereof). At the end, Adams has also provided a complementary appendix for each of the [End Page 269] eight chapters; the appendix either expands upon a specific topic introduced in the parent chapter, as in the case of "Esperanto's Zenith," or introduces a different but relevant topic, as in the case of "The Case for Synthetic Scots." Its overarching purpose is to relate the chapters to one another, to provide the book with a sense of cohesion. The articles in the appendix as well as the chapters themselves are equipped with bibliographies that provide many further avenues for exploration.

One frequently cited reference is Arika Okrent's In the Land of Invented Languages, which partly overlaps in subject matter. Adams often enhances her arguments rather than contradicts or questions them. From Elvish to Klingon complements Okrent's participatory account, for Adams's approach is more objective (and academic) than personal, and includes detailed linguistic analysis of various words, phrases, phonology, lexical categories, and grammatical structures. From Elvish to Klingon also examines the more philosophical underpinnings of invented languages: What are the motives and methods of their inventors? What is their social, political, cultural, and artistic significance? Who are their users? And, ultimately: What exactly is an invented language? How does it differ—or does it differ—from natural languages, which also contain elements of invention? Every chapter provides necessary historical background, the context of creation. In Adams's own words, "The origin and development of each invented language illustrates its inventor's sense of language, what it is, and what it should do, in linguistic and historical terms; each also implies its inventors' and users' dissatisfactions with the language(s) already available to them" (3).

Following Adams's introduction, Arden R. Smith (a noted Tolkien scholar) provides a fascinating survey of international auxiliary languages from the last four centuries, connecting their structural features with the motives...


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