A Designed Language

The idea is simple and quite beautiful: if we all shared a second, politically neutral language, people of all different nations and cultures could communicate freely and easily, and it would foster international understanding and peace. This is the idea behind the invention of Esperanto. It was a linguistic solution to what seemed like a linguistic problem.

Esperanto may not have achieved the goal of ubiquity and international peace, but it has become the most widely spoken constructed language in the world. Much of its success has to do with its design as a language. The grammar is very regular and easy to learn, but it also has a flexible and poetic nature that facilitates wordplay and artistic expression.

Sam Green performing Utopia in Four Movements

For this episode, I talked with Sam Green, director of the live documentary Utopia in Four Movements. “What’s a live documentary?”, you ask. Good question. Quoth the website: “In this ‘live documentary,’ filmmaker Sam Green cues images and narrates in person while musician Dave Cerf performs the soundtrack.”

I also spoke with the linguist Arika Okrent, who wrote a really great book 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.” There’s a large section on Esperanto, as well as the other dominant, modern-day, invented language: Klingon.

  1. Ken

    Hey 99% Invisible Team!
    I love your work, and I know this is an old episode, but I listened to it the for the first time last month and there is one thing that’s been bothering me. Around 2:55, Sam Green says that Esperanto was created by a “Polish eye doctor” and then a few seconds later that he lived in a town with “Poles, Jews, Germans and Russians”. This is misleading. Had Sam just called him Polish (i.e. implying he was Polish by nationality) and left it at that it would be totally fair. But since he immediately thereafter distinguishes between Jews and Poles, the implication is that he was *ethnically* Polish. He was ethnically Jewish and his native languages were Yiddish and Russian, not Polish. Anyways, that’s my only complaint. I only started listening somewhat recently and have been binge-listening to catch up!

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