A while back, OUP sent me a reviewer’s copy of From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages, by Michael Adams. I set it aside, thinking it was probably some marginally interesting attempt to cash in on the popularity of all things Star Trek and Tolkien. When I finally took a good look at it, however, it turned out to be a collection of papers edited by Michael Adams, and a fascinating one. The table of contents is after the cut; as you can see, it covers a much wider range of topics than one might think—not only the titular languages and a chapter covering Volapük, Esperanto, et al., but Orwell and Burgess, Hebrew and Hawaiian, even Joyce and Beckett. I was as pleasantly surprised by this book as I was by Arika Okrent’s In the Land of Invented Languages a couple of years ago (see this post). Rather than try to summarize all the chapters, I’ll just quote some bits from the Tolkien one, which is worth the price of admission all by itself. It starts with this wonderful epigraph:
You can’t be a Tolkien fan without liking the look of these fake languages, and I still find them aesthetically pleasing, even now. There is something wonderful about looking at a new language, noticing something of its structure, sensing its power to communicate and hold things. [...] And I remember feeling the ground had opened up in front of me when I got to Appendix F.
Jenny Turner ‘Reasons for Liking Tolkien‘
From the section “Secrecy and hiddenness”:
The piecemeal revelation [of the languages in The Lord of the Rings] preserves a sense of distance, ancientness, and mystery, just as does the gradual and partial revealing of the history of the Elder Days. Instructive comparison my be made with ‘The Notion Club Papers’ [...], an unfinished draft in which the legend of the ancient downfall of Nûmenor is received preternaturally by 20th-century recipients. In a kind of linguistic thriller, the tale emerges as the characters gradually decipher fragments of two languages in which it is described, Elvish and Adûnaic. For the language enthusiast, the phonology and declension system are fascinating, but Tolkien’s instinct in abandoning a story so wholly dependent on linguistic investigation was very sound.
From “The pleasures of Elvish philology”:
Because Tolkien constructed his Elvish language family using the pattern of real-world language change, it is possible for the investigation of Elvish to create the same intellectual and aesthetic pleasure that can be found in real-world philology, delighting in the relations and histories of words.[...] The apprehension of these complex relationships—discovering the relation of an obscure word to another element in the same or another language, or uncovering the transformative effect of a series of sound changes—is a source of fascination whether the context is Elvish or English etymology.[...]
Since few people study classical or even modern languages in depth nowadays, very few have had the chance to discover such philological pleasure; but of those who have, many were introduced to it through Tolkien’s languages.
And reader, I was one of them!
I’m tempted to quote some of the detailed linguistic discussions, but I think I’ll just say if you like the sound of the contents and the excerpts, you’ll like this (amazingly inexpensive) book a lot. And you can still run out and get it if you need a last-minute gift!
Introduction, Michael Adams
“Confounding Babel: International Auxiliary Languages,” Arden Smith
“Invented Vocabularies: The Cases of Newspeak and Nadsat,” Howard Jackson
“Tolkien’s Invented Languages,” E.C.S. Weiner and Jeremy Marshall
“‘Wild and Whirling Words’: The Invention and Use of Klingon,” Marc Okrand, Michael Adams, Judith Hendriks-Hermann, and Sjaak Kroon
“Gaming Languages and Language Games,” James Portnow
“‘Oirish’ Inventions: James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Paul Muldoon,” Stephen Watt
“Revitalized Languages as Invented Languages,” Suzanne Romaine
Appendices (“Owning Language,” “Nadsat and the Critics,” “The Case for Synthetic Scots,” etc.)