[Membroj] artikolo pri Esperantomobilo

Emil Volcheck volcheck at acm.org
Sun Feb 29 17:42:34 SGT 2004

Eble vi audis ke Chuck Smith, kiu fojfoje venis al Baltimore
por kunvenoj, faras projekton "Esperantomobilo".  Legu chi tiun 
artikolon en la Fort Worth Star-Telegram pri la populareco
de artefaritaj lingvoj, inkl. Esperanto.



Elvish lives! 

By Cary Darling
Star-Telegram Pop Culture Critic

Go ahead, laugh. Hard. They've heard it all before. But then, they can
talk about you, and you won't have a clue what they're saying.

For anyone speaking in any of the more than 1,000 artificial tongues -
languages carved out of someone's word-wise imagination - these are very
good times.

`The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,' the film to beat for
Best Picture at Sunday night's Oscars, gives wide exposure to the elf
languages of Quenya and Sindarin - collectively known as "Elvish" -
concocted by `Ring' author and linguist J.R.R. Tolkien.

Klingon, the guttural tongue of war and weaponry from `Star Trek,' is
the subject of a new documentary, `Earthlings,' to be shown at the
Cannes Film Festival in May.

And later this year, the Esperantomobilo -- a team of six speakers of
Esperanto, one of the oldest invented languages and the most widespread
-- will be barnstorming the country extolling the joy of saying
"saluton," their version of "hello."

It's just a little taste of sweet victory for invented-language fans,
many of whom are linguists, philologists, or amateur enthusiasts who've
encountered everything from curiosity and ribbing from onlookers to
government censure. Esperanto was banned in Nazi Germany, the Soviet
Union and, until recently, China. And then there are the visions of that
infamous `Saturday Night Live' sketch where William Shatner, playing
himself appearing at a `Star Trek' convention, exhorts the gangly crowd
to throw off their geek chains.

"I don't live in my parents' basement. I'm 44 years old. I've been
married. I have a real job," says Lawrence Schoen, a Pennsylvania
psychologist and director of the Klingon Language Institute. "I think I
successfully dispel most of those [geek] criteria."

"Most of my family said I should spend time with an actual language,"
concedes Collin County Community College student and Klingon speaker
Michael Roney Jr. of Plano. "Putting Klingon on an application doesn't
get you in any doors." "I'm a really intellectual, dorky guy. I've
learned to embrace that," says University of Texas at Austin linguistics
student Ben Hamill, who studies Elvish on the side. "Most of my friends
say, `I didn't know how you could [study Elvish]' or `yeah, `you'

But thanks to the Internet and Tolkien, exposure and respect may slowly
be dawning.

"Interest has increased," notes Frederick Hoyt, a UT linguistics grad
student who conducts a class about Tolkien's languages. But he admits he
got the big eye-roll from some in other departments when they heard
about what he was teaching. "[The popularity] has to do with the movies.
. . . There was always a community there that was doing their thing. Now
there's a huge increase. But how much is serious and how many just want
a wedding ring in Elvish is hard to tell."

"The reason it's taking off is because a lot of people did this as kids
and never realized there were people like them," says Jeffrey Henning,
who runs langmaker.com, a site dedicated to artificial languages. "With
the Internet, it's reawakened that interest. And then the fact that
[`The Lord of the Rings' ] movies took the language so seriously --
subtitling everything -- prompted people to say `What is this language?'

Of course, artificial languages didn't begin with the `Rings' movies, or
Tolkien's hobbit tales, which he began to create in the '30s. As long as
there's been conversation, people have made up words and phrases, from
pig Latin to Snoop Dogg's "izzle"-speak slanguage.

But a true artificial lanuage has more of a complete sense of grammar
and syntax. Perhaps not the oldest such tongue but the most well-known
is Esperanto, created in 1887 by a Polish doctor, Ludwig Zamenhof, as an
easy-to-learn, politically neutral, global tongue that could bridge
cultural barriers.

An estimated 2 million to 8 million people worldwide speak it today and,
in a synchronous blend of artificial-language unity, the Esperanto
translations of `The Hobbit' and `The Lord of the Rings' have sold out,
according to Joel Brozozski, office director at the Esperanto League of
North America, a group with about 700 paying members.

The `Star Trek' universe put artificial languages into pop-culture warp
drive when the warlike, today-is-a-good-day-to-die Klingons became fan
favorites. The language, created by linguist Marc Okrand, has all the
grace of a kung-fu kick to the head.

"Even when you're telling someone they have nice hair, it sounds like
you're cursing them," says Roney. 

And it was Klingon's leap from fiction to reality -- Shakespeare has
been translated into Klingon, iambic pentameter intact -- that attracted
documentary filmmaker Alexander Philippe to make `Earthlings.' 

"About three years ago, I was at the Denver airport and went to the
bookstore and found a copy of the Klingon `Hamlet,' which was pretty
much the strangest thing I'd ever seen. The idea popped into my head
that I had to do something about this."

The big question all artificial-lingo fans get peppered with can be
summed up in one very real, English word: Why?

After all, these languages can be used only with others who speak them,
and that means mostly at conventions or online. (And, according to
Elvish enthusiasts, their Middle-earth-inspired language -- unlike
Esperanto and Klingon, which incorporate modern concepts -- is
particularly unsuitable for contemporary conversation.)

Some note that natural languages represent the culture and politics that
birthed them and that an artificial language is more of a blank slate.
This was certainly the case for Euless computer programmer and Esperanto
League Vice President Philip Dorcas. "The basic idea of the language is
politically and religiously neutral," he says.

"One of the problems with nonconstructed languages is the political and
mental baggage they come with," agrees UT linguistics major Doug Bigham,
who speaks some Esperanto and Klingon. "As far as linguistics goes, if
we want to test any theories, testing them on natural languages is
problematic because of these political things."

Dallas business consultant Anita Mills was attracted to Esperanto for
its simplicity.

"It's exceedingly regular. I have a booklet, 20 pages long, that I carry
with me to hand out. You could take this booklet and learn the

Others say learning a constructed language can make getting a grip on a
natural language -- with all of its grammatical irregularities and
cultural biases -- easier because an interest has been sparked in how
words work together. "It's given me insights into languages in general,"
says Klingon speaker Roney, who is also studying French and Hawaiian,
because his fiancee is from Hawaii.

Elvish fan Ben Hamill switched majors from music to linguistics because
of his interest.

For others, such as University of Rochester professor Sarah Higley, who
teaches Old English, is creating her own language, Teonaht, and is
working on a book about invented languages, it's a hobby akin to
model-ship building, playing the piano or painting.

"People have no idea how common inventing languages is. Unless you are
Tolkien or the inventor of Klingon, you don't get any press," she says.
"It's as common as mapmaking. Lots of people who like to draw maps,
they're ideal basically for inventing languages. A lot of people are
highly skilled in linguistics or are computer programmers."

"It's an odd hobby," admits Henning of langmaker.com, "but you do learn
a lot about language. Most people want to know: How do we come up with
words? Most people are a little curious about how language came about."

Cary Darling, (817) 390-7571
cdarling at star-telegram.com

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