Babel

Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt is A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma, and I am supposed to reveal something most people don’t know about me.

Ooh, another secret!

OK… [Deep breath…] Here goes… [Deep breath…]

One of my favorite pastimes is languages and linguistics.

[Ducks… Peeks… Observes world has yet to be Chicken Littled into oblivion. Sighs relief.]

Tower of Babel, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder; Source: Wikipedia

The Tower of Babel, by Peter Bruegel the Elder; Source: Wikipedia

My fascination with languages started when I was a young lad. I had two grandparents who sometimes spoke fragments of their respective Norwegian and Czech. Early elementary school added a dash of Spanish. And, on rare occasion I saw the flash of hands of a televised ministry’s ASL interpreter.

In high school, the school’s Apple II computers brought me into the world of languages used to communicate with machines. I taught myself about half a dozen programming languages and studied at least as many more. I designed a few of my own, and wrote interpreters for some. Nothing teaches a person how programming languages work like building one and using it tell a computer to perform a task.

Whew! I’m glad I finally got that off my chest! Since tomorrow is a holiday, let’s celebrate with another secret.

[Anonymous man shouts, holds his head. Anonymous woman screams, faints.] Good grief, you two. If this is all it takes, I’d hate to meet you in real life.

The Klingon Dictionary, by Marc Okrand

A friend of mine had a set of awesomely detailed blueprints for the USS Enterprise. Perhaps not that awesomely detailed. But detailed enough to show where the crew goes when they have to go. But enough about the ship.

One day I happened across the blueprints’ linguistic equivalent in a bookstore: Marc Okrand‘s The Klingon Dictionary. The book went beyond “dictionary.” It had an amazingly detailed set of grammatical rules, giving the language realism lacking the typical extraterrestrial tongue.

To my dismay, insufficient pocket change forced me to leave the book behind. However, the realization that Klingon was actually usable beyond a movie script left a lasting impression. Eventually that impression, fed by a discarded linguistics textbook, grew into a thing for creating conlangs (constructed languages) of my own.

Yes, I am a conlanger.

[Crickets chirp. The sky remains intact.]

By the way, nothing teaches how human languages work like trying to build one that is usable enough to accurately and meaningfully record even just a handful of sentences. Like those traditionally used by conlangers as an initial benchmark: Genesis 11.1-9.

Fiat lingua!