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FILM REVIEW BY MARC OKRAND -Inventor of Klingon Language [Star Trek]

People have been making up languages for at least a thousand years – undoubtedly more. Most of these constructed languages – or conlangs -- are spoken by (and maybe even known to) only their inventors, but a few have been learned by communities of speakers ranging in proficiency from beginner to fluent and in size from a handful to many thousands – maybe even more than a million.  Probably the most well known of these is Esperanto, a language developed in the late 19th century specifically to facilitate communication among the world’s people, one to be used by people who may or may not have a language in common, and one to be relatively easy to learn.

How easy it is to learn, though, depends in part on what language or languages the learner already knows.  And how well and how quickly one learns a language depends in part on one’s reasons for learning it.

Plena Rondo is a fascinating look at both language learning and language use.  It begins as a chronicle of one woman’s seemingly tireless efforts to attain reasonable fluency in Esperanto so she can find out whether it is actually possible to use it to communicate with people from anywhere (an idea she initially thought of as  “surreal”).  After the 60 days she has given herself to learn the language, she visits a gathering of Esperanto speakers from all over the world.  Here we meet speakers of the language using it in various settings, and we learn their feelings about this language in particular as well as their ideas about how the choice of what language to use on any given occasion affects such notions as self-identity, community, politics, and pride.

The nature of these relationships could come up when looking at the social and cultural roles of any language or group of languages, but what is particularly interesting about this exploration is that it is done with reference not to a natural language, but to a constructed language, a language not associated with any nation or tribe, but one explicitly and intentionally designed to be everyone’s language. The learners of this language do so specifically to be able to talk to people of all nations -- or, perhaps better, to be able to talk to all people despite the existence and influence of nations.

The concepts are amplified and clarified by occasional interviews with a pair of sociolinguists, but the thoughts and insights of the Esperanto speakers themselves – and their interactions with each other – are what really bring the community’s embrace of the language and the “surreal” idea behind it to life.