Utopian for Beginners

As someone who has spoken Esperanto to the folks at the International Esperanto Museum in Vienna and who, in 1993, had an outgoing answering machine message in Klingon, I was interested in the recent New Yorker article, Utopian for Beginners by Joshua Foer. The main subject is Ithkuil, a constructed language invented by one John Quijada, but it ranges over the history of constructed languages generally, including Tolkien’s languages and Dothraki. Here are some nice quotes:

  • Amid two dozen men and seven women dressed in kilts, top hats, and kimonos [at a constructed language conference], the quietly aloof Quijada stuck out like an umlaut in English.
  • Dothraki is now heard by more people each week than Yiddish, Navajo, Inuit, Basque, and Welsh combined.
  • [One constructed-language enthusiast] keeps a diary and prays in his constructed language, gjâ-zym-byn. If there is a god paying attention, he is the language’s only other speaker.

Read it to the end for a surprise ending.

Also, watch for some appearances of Esperanto in David Bezmozgis’s The Free World, a novel about a Latvian Jewish family’s emigration from the Soviet Union and several-months-long stay in the suburbs of Rome in 1978. Change Riga to Kiev and 1978 to 1975, and it’s (after also having changed most of the other details) my own family’s story. Highly recommended for anyone with a 1970s Soviet emigration history.