Tag Archives: conlangs

Constructed languages (not just Esperanto)

If you have heard of Esperanto (and there are many who haven’t) you might be surprised to learn that it is only the most successful of literally hundreds of constructed languages (“conlangs”), going back to the 17th century (or even the 12th century, if you include the private language of Saint Hildegard of Bingen). A few books have been written about this topic, the most interesting in my opinion, being In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent. But if you want a quick overview, and to hear what a number of the languages sound like, you can watch this (35-minute) video (made in 1994 by Steve Hawley and Tony Steyger for the Arts Council of Great Britain and Channel 4):

It’s a quirky video, about some obviously quirky people. This presumably is deliberate, to make the video more interesting. The picture it presents of the average speaker of a conlang is an eccentric man aged in his late 60s. In fact, the first sight we have of a woman conlang-speaker aged less than 40 is only two minutes before the credits roll! I accept that the population of Esperanto-speakers (at least the ones I have met) is more skewed to older age than younger, but if this were your only exposure to conlang-speakers, you would probably expect that by now most of them would have died out or lost interest; and that is certainly not the case, at least not with Esperanto.

Finally, here is a guide to the topics covered in the video, by time:

00:33 Volapük introduced
03:41 Occidental
04:50 Esperanto introduced
06:15 Interlingua introduced
08:15 Solresol
10:46 Excerpts from Angoroj, the first full-length feature film in Esperanto
11:59 Volapük poem (‘in 48 syllables’)
13:57 Glossa introduced
16:53 Number languages
17:50 An Esperanto “day of action” at Stoke-on-Trent
19:11 Why not English?
21:31 Basic English
22:08 Novial
25: 30 Ido
26:37 The Babel myth
27:51 Disputes between [speakers of] different conlangs
28:44 Fiat TV ad, in Esperanto*
32:25 The Volapük Hymn
34:30 Credits

* The film-makers were a bit naughty here. The voiceover says:
‘Mi haltas… kaj rimarkas kiel la manbremso bone efikas sur veturilo kun kvar diskobremsoj. Nun, mi ekveturas denove.’
(In English: ‘I stop, and remark how well the handbrake works on a vehicle with four disk-brakes. Now, I start off again.’)
But the subtitles say:
‘I stop. And I wonder what is the future of the artificial language movement? Where do we go now?’