The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #7 January / February 2014
Letter From The Editor
The Highlander Condition
by Erik Zidowecki
January / February 2014 | 

I was listening to a group of language lovers discussing Esperanto in the chat one day. Esperanto is a subject that can easily start a fierce debate among polyglots. There are those that believe it to be a great invention and they will exalt it the highest levels of human achievement. There are others that will curse it as a monstrosity and give you details of how it fails in every way possible. This debate fell somewhere in between.

After a while, the talk moved slightly onto the more general topic of all international auxiliary languages (IAL) and their usefulness, or complete lack thereof. One complaint, stemming from the topic of Esperanto, was how no IAL could truly be created that wasn't biased for some languages and against others. Esperanto has a basis more in Romance languages, which makes it harder for someone with, say, an Asian native language, to learn.

When this had been batted around for a few minutes, the conversation expanded again, this time toward all constructed languages (conlangs). Conlangs can be an even nastier topic among language learners than Esperanto. While some people spend a large amount of time learning other languages, there are some that spend their time and efforts attempting to develop their own language. At one point, the question was raised as to what was the true purpose of creating a conlang. The idea behind an IAL is, supposedly, to facilitate communications between people that don't share a common language. Of course, both sides would then have to know the IAL. In that case, wouldn't any other language be sufficient, whether its a natural language or a conlang?

It was said that some conlangs are created purely for fun, but normally one is created for the same purpose as an IAL: to have lots of people learn it and speak it. This is where the topic of conlangs really upsets some people, because, as they point out, what is the point in creating another language to make people learn it when there are already so many natural languages available?

A real annoyance from people who develop conlangs, claimed one person, is that they try to make everyone else learn it. Even worse, they will criticize and denigrate everyone else's new language while preaching their own. This was described by one of the participants as "The Highlander Condition".

For those who aren't familiar with the reference, "The Highlander" was a movie about immortals doing battle with each other over the centuries. When two would fight, it would be to the death, ending it decapitation, so that eventually, there would be only one last immortal who would then rule the mortals. The tag line and catch-phrase of the film was "There can be only one".

It is an apt phrase for the way in which people who create their own languages often behave. Only their language should be used, not any others.

But is this really the proper way for a language learner to think? Normally, polyglots want to learn all the languages they can, loving the diversity of each one and embracing it as a prized possession. What twists that love into hostility? Why must there be only one?

However you feel about conlangs, IALs, or Esperanto, it does make you wonder about this strange mind shift. Don't lose your head.

Erik Zidowecki

Letter From the Editor
Writer: Erik Zidowecki
Ed Schipul / eschipul: Sword fight

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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