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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Kaj Vi Thought Esperanto Estis Stulta

Today's word is "Conlanger," a "person who constructs new languages."  (I can't help but wonder if the presence of the word "con" has any significance.)  Apparently, the field of conlangering is one of the nation's fastest growing professions, right up there with nurse and Republican presidential candidate, because of the proliferation of science-fiction and fantasy films and TV shows that want to add a bit of verisimilitude to their productions by incorporating the native tongues of various alien or otherwise mythical civilizations.  No longer is it acceptable for Klingons, Romulans or other alien entities to enter our quadrant of the universe from an intergalactic wormhole, de-cloak their starfighter, teleport aboard the Enterprise, and proceed to vaporize redshirts with handheld photon blasters, all the while speaking perfect English.

Because it's the fact that they speak ENGLISH that makes the whole thing unbelievable.

And it's not good enough simply to throw together a bunch of random syllables, hoots, and warbles.  Today's discerning science-fiction nerd--uh, fan--will see right through that.  Instead, today's producers hire linguistic specialists to construct full-fledged languages, complete with grammatical rules and expansive vocabularies.  In other words, these are languages that people can actually learn and speak--and a handful of people do.  According to an estimate Marc Okrand, who invented Klingon and must therefore be considered the Isaac Newton of Conlangers, approximately 20 people worldwide are completely fluent in Klingon (for the record, Okrand is not one of them).  At the same time, thousands of people know enough Klingon "to get by."

I'll end today's column here so you can ponder the ramifications of that last phrase.

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