In the Land of Invented Languages is a hilarious book, although it’s not always clear that the author intended it to be so funny, about made-up languages. I could only think of one when I picked up the book — Esperanto — but it turns out that hundreds of inventors have tried to create a simple, universal language, and that for centuries. None of them have had any success, with Esperanto being by far the most successful. Enough said.
So what’s so funny about these repeated failures? It’s their creators. All geeks, as we would call them today, they hold the strong belief that logic can win it all. So they try crazy schemes, including trying to create a universal classification of all the concepts in the universe. If you thought that was difficult to do for plants and animals, it turns out that language is particularly ill-suited to this exercise. Who says that editing and printing are part of “corporeal actions”? Others tried to create language by using affixes (the opposite of prefixes), thereby creating monstrously long words that seem impossible to pronounce or remember.
And those creators that actually were successful, such as with Esperanto and a funny and brilliant sign-based language called Blissymbolics, refused to admit that their new, pristine, logical creations could actually be modified by its speakers. It turns out that speakers of any languages (and for the sign-based language I should say users rather than speakers, since most were non-verbal, severely handicapped children and adults) like to make jokes and create shortcuts, hence the complexity and lack of logic of other, real languages.
Languages, it turns out, are too much fun to be left to geeks and gramarians.
Another good book for language nerds (like this one) — perhaps best read in small doses.