Pitchfork announced that Sigur Rós’ new album will feature a song in English, and music-lovers over the world rejoiced.
Mindboggling? Not, when you consider that all this while they have been singing in Icelandic. Moreover, a few other songs and the whole of album ( ) was sung in their invented language Vonlenska! (roughly translated as “Hopelandic”)
In the recent Eurovision song contest, Belgium’s representative Ishtar sang the song “O Julissi” which lyrics are in an invented language. It is a well-known fact that Belgium has a cultural clash with parts of the country speaking in Dutch and the other in French.
John Naisbitt would be proud to know that his global paradox is more and more becoming apparent. In a world where you are more or less expected to know English, why is everyone striving to use invented language?
An obvious advantage of invented language can be found in literature and fiction, where alien civilisations are abound—obviously they don’t speak English. Klingon language is one of the most famous alien language, with quite a number of fluent speakers (Guiness World Record 2006 certified it as “the most spoken fictional language by number of speakers”). It was created in the Star Trek series, and now is an almost certain stamp of geekness, with quite a number of Trekkies’ weddings done in it and books like Hamlet translated.
Another notable examples are the Elvish languages Quenya and Sindarin. To my embarrasment, I could actually speak a number of Sindarin phrases during the LOTR hype—who could forget mellon? Tolkien was teaching English in Oxford, and he put a lot of details into the construction of the languages’ grammar and phonology. His works wasn’t finished though, which left Quenya and Sindarin as incomplete languages not fit for casual usage.
Talking realistically, the biggest project so far to use an invented language as lingua franca that replaces English is the language Esperanto. It boasts around 1-2 million fluent speaker, with numerous organisations using it almost exclusively. It has however, yet to be adopted as official language of any country, but efforts have not abated.
On the other side of the story, while these invented languages are popping out into existence and usage, a lot of ancient languagess have perished or on the brink of disusage. Latin, which was once widely used, and was the language of the elites in the West is now only officially used by The Church and relegated to use of its phrases in specialised discipline such as law and medicine. Earlier this year, Marie Smith Jones, the last speaker of Eyak, an extinct language historically spoken in southcentral Alaska died, reigniting the fight for extinct languages.
It is a well-known saying in Malay, “Takkan Melayu hilang di dunia” (Malays shall not perish on this world). I wonder how long the Malay language will survive. It only took a few decades for the language to change and lose its lustre, while government keeps pondering whether to call it Bahasa Melayu (Malay language) or Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian language).