Posted by: Prospector PJ6 AUG 2009
More than 900 constructed languages have been “invented” over the past nine centuries. Samples of more than 500 of them are listed in a recently published book, ‘In the land of invented languages’ by Arika Okrent.
Artificial languages have been constructed for a number of purposes. John Wilkins attempted to classify the whole of human knowledge in a logical manner in 1668 in his Philosophical Language, for example. And Loglan was invented in the 1960s to test the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that the structure of a natural language influences the way its speakers think about the world. Purely artistic efforts include J. R. R. Tolkien’s elven tongues, Quenya and Sindarin, spoken in his ‘Lord of the rings’ trilogy.
One of the most widely known constructed languages is Esperanto, launched by Ludwig Zamenhof in 1887 with the lofty ideal of improving communication and fostering harmony between different nationalities.
Esperanto [“Hello pharmacists” of the title] is now the most widely spoken international auxiliary language in the world. Its use has been continuous for more than a century, with between 100,000 and 2 million speakers at any one time.
There are even native Esperanto speakers, or denaskuloj, born into families in which Esperanto is regularly spoken. The most famous denaskulo is George Soros, the billionaire currency speculator and philanthropist, who was taught Esperanto from birth by his father, an Esperantist writer.
Although no country has adopted the language officially, Esperanto is used in cultural exchange, conventions, literature, language instruction and broadcasting. It even has its own Google portal.
In 1908 the tiny neutral state of Moresnet, on the border of the Netherlands and Prussia, declared itself the first free Esperanto state of Amikejo (Friendship Place). More than 3 per cent of its 4,000 inhabitants learnt the language and a flag, stamps, coins and an anthem were readied. But in the increasingly tense and nationalistic atmosphere of pre-war Europe, Esperanto failed to acquire a homeland.
As a potential vehicle for international understanding, Esperanto attracted the suspicion of many totalitarian states. Esperantists were particularly persecuted by the Germans during the 1939–45 war because Zamenhof was Jewish.
In ‘Mein Kampf’, Hitler described Esperanto as a language that would be used by an international Jewish conspiracy once the Jews achieved world domination. Stalin denounced Esperanto as “the language of spies” and had Esperantists exiled or executed.
Educators have estimated that Esperanto can be learnt in somewhere between a quarter to a 20th of the time required for other languages. Four primary schools in Britain are currently teaching Esperanto in a University of Manchester pilot to raise language awareness and accelerate subsequent learning of other languages.