AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER:
we're back with linguist Arika Okrent, author of the
new book "In the Land of Invented Languages."
One of those
languages was C.K. Ogden's Basic English, first published in 1930.
Arika Okrent describes Ogden as a Cambridge-educated editor, writer,
translator and mischief maker. He tried to reduce English to just 850
ARIKA OKRENT: "The problem was that it relied on these
kind of phrasal verbs which foreign speakers have so much trouble with.
So you can say 'to intend' is 'have a mind to.' So you get rid of the
word intend and use these other small words. But it's not much clearer
to someone who doesn't speak English."
AA: "Well, was Ogden's
intention with that, was it to create an English for international
communications? Or did he have a different purpose?"
OKRENT: "Well, he had multiple purposes -- partially as a sort of
simplified English that could be easy for foreigners to learn. But it
also was supposed to have these mind-enhancing properties, that forcing
yourself to speak this way would make you think more clearly and
express yourself more clearly."
RS: "We also understand from
having read your book that you have what's called a first-level
certification in the language called Klingon. And for our listeners,
that's the language of 'Star Trek' -- '"
AA: "Or of one of the groups on 'Star Trek.'"
"Right, right, one of the groups on 'Star Trek.' So tell us how you got
-- what it means to be first-level certification and what's the
following with Klingon? Or is it merely the enthusiasts for this
ARIKA OKRENT: "The Klingon speakers actually
consider themselves a bit apart from the people who just dress up in
the costumes, because dressing up in the costumes, anyone can do that.
But I went in as the impartial scientist to see what was going on. Were
they really speaking this language? What were they doing? And I got
caught up in the challenge of it.
"It was invented by a
linguist who took the most unusual properties he could think of from
various natural languages and put them together to make this
alien-seeming language that also works in a way that it feels like a
AA: "Could you maybe explain to us -- in Klingon -- what a Klingon is for someone who maybe isn't familiar with 'Star Trek'?"
OKRENT: "Well, it's this warrior race on the show, so they're this sort
of tough, violent aliens who like battles and talk real rough."
RS: "Well, how would you greet someone in Klingon?"
ARIKA OKRENT: "You say 'nuqneH,' which means 'what do you want?'"
AA: "So to describe a warrior race of aliens in Klingon, can you do that or ... "
ARIKA OKRENT: "I only passed the first level."
RS: "So the first level, meaning -- how many levels are there?"
OKRENT: "There's three levels, but for even the first level you have to
know five hundred words of vocabulary. Well, let's see, I can do a
little 'Hamlet' for you."
RS: "You want to do a little 'Hamlet' for us? All right."
ARIKA OKRENT: "taH pagh, taHbe'. DaH mu'tlheghvam vIqelnIS."
RS: "Could you translate that?"
OKRENT: "That's, of course, 'To be, or not to be ... ' Well, actually,
it's 'To continue, or not to continue. Now I must consider this
sentence.' That's how you translate it."
AA: "Have you tried teaching your baby any Klingon yet?"
OKRENT: "I haven't, but somebody did try to make their son the first
native Klingon speaker. He only spoke Klingon to him for the first two
RS: "No way! And what happened?"
AA: "Did they arrest him, or what?"
ARIKA OKRENT: "No, his mother spoke English to him, so he wasn't a monolingual native Klingon speaker."
AA: "That's a real 'Star Trek' fan."
"There's one thing that I noticed when I was reading through your book.
I was thinking about ... I taught one of my sons, who was having a hard
time, to read. I taught him -- you do have picture languages."
OKRENT: "Well, that's what this Bliss Symbolics -- Charles Bliss
invented this language to be this universal logical symbol language. It
would let us see the truth because we couldn't be manipulated by words
as we were looking at symbols.
"And a school for children with
cerebral palsy used it, picked up on it, started using it to help kids
who were so impaired that they couldn't speak, learn how to read and
use English. But he got angry about that because he wanted it to be a
universal logic language, not a tool for learning English."
Arika Okrent's book is called "In the Land of Invented Languages:
Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad
Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language." You can find the first
part of our interview at voanews.com/wordmaster. With Rosanne Skirble,
I'm Avi Arditti.