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June 8, 2009 at 7:46 p.m.


I thought you might find this book review interesting . I 'm about to buy it .

"In the Land of Invented Languages" Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language

By Arika Okrent (Spiegel & Grau; 342 pages; $26)

In the 1931 movie "Frankenstein," the mad Dr. Henry Frankenstein (played by French-born actor Colin Clive) electrifies the collage of human body parts that was his "monster." As the android creature stirs, Frankenstein famously exclaims, "It's alive. It's ali-ha-hive."

I have always thought of people who tried to invent languages as about as sane and practical as the mad scientists in the movies who try to create life. Less self-destructive, perhaps. Presumably, no group of fear-crazed villagers will come to burn down your castle because they are afraid of your verb structure.

But I had missed the real interest behind created languages - what they have to tell us about the evolved communication systems, natural languages, that all humans speak. In her new book, "In the Land of Invented Languages," Arika Okrent enlivens the enterprise of language invention and takes the reader on an illuminating and highly entertaining tour of human folly and brilliance, pointing out at various places the shortcomings of both natural and invented languages as communicative systems.

Okrent constructs her narrative around her own efforts to learn some of these languages, proudly showcasing her success at learning Klingon, the language of a threatening group of aliens on "Star Trek" (a series I thought was ridiculous in its prime and think so even more strongly now while it infects TV sets with its eternal reruns).

The most interesting languages in the book are the "universal language" of 17th century Englishman John Wilkins; James Cooke Brown's Loglan (Logical Language) and its offshoot Lojban (Loglan as abbreviated in the language Loglan itself rather than in English); and the feminist-inspired language Láadan.

In discussing the origin of these languages, Okrent skillfully explicates the linguistic issues and problems that lead some misguided people to try to invent languages.

There seem to be two major principles that motivate linguistic Frankensteins, aside from delusions of wealth and fame. The first is the desire to create a purely logical language. The second is the idea that one can have a language removed from the socioeconomic and political baggage of natural languages (especially appealing to those who deplore the international influence of English).

The invention of so-called logical languages is driven by the desire to avoid the apparently pernicious effects of language on thought. Because language is seen by many as inseparable from culture, there are those who, following ideas associated with amateur linguist Benjamin Whorf (but in reality much older, going back to early Enlightenment philosophy in Germany and France), worry that we are unable to think beyond the bounds of our language, that it holds our cognitive processes in its tyrannical grip. They seem to believe that we need to break free of our native tongue in order to think freely, without the pressure of its accumulated cultural detritus. The illogic of new languages

It is amusing on the one hand that people who invent language in order to liberate themselves from their own language do not find it inconsistent that their own language is the medium by which they construct the new language. By their own logic, however, their own language's influence on their created language is thereby inescapable. And it is clear that their original, native language does not keep them so pressed in its grip that they are unable to invent or discuss new concepts in the first place.

In fact, science would not be possible if Whorf and these inventors of logical languages were completely correct - for science is in large part discovering concepts for which we previously had no words.<

June 8, 2009 at 7:57 p.m.


Mike this one for you ScienceDaily (May 27, 2009) — There are very few places in the world where dynamic activity taking place beneath Earth's surface goes undetected. Volcanoes, earthquakes, and even the sudden uplifting or sinking of the ground are all visible results of restlessness far below, but according to research by Arizona State University (ASU) seismologists, dynamic activity deep beneath us isn't always expressed on the surface.

The Great Basin in the western United States is a desert region largely devoid of major surface changes. The area consists of small mountain ranges separated by valleys and includes most of Nevada, the western half of Utah and portions of other nearby states.

For tens of millions of years, the Great Basin has been undergoing extension--the stretching of Earth's crust.

While studying the extension of the region, geologist John West of ASU was surprised to find that something unusual existed beneath this area's surface.

West and colleagues found that portions of the lithosphere--the crust and uppermost mantle of the Earth--had sunk into the more fluid upper mantle beneath the Great Basin and formed a large cylindrical blob of cold material far below the surface of central Nevada.

It was an extremely unexpected finding in a location that showed no corresponding changes in surface topography or volcanic activity, West says.

West compared his unusual results of the area with tomography models--CAT scans of the inside of Earth--done by geologist Jeff Roth, also of ASU. West and Roth are graduate students; working with their advisor, Matthew Fouch, the team concluded that they had found a lithospheric drip.

Results of their research, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), were published in the May 24 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience.

"The results provide important insights into fine-scale mantle convection processes, and their possible connections with volcanism and mountain-building on Earth's surface," said Greg Anderson, program director in NSF's Division of Earth Sciences.

A lithospheric drip can be envisioned as honey dripping off a spoon, where an initial lithospheric blob is followed by a long tail of material.

When a small, high-density mass is embedded near the base of the crust and the area is warmed up, the high-density piece will be heavier than the area around it and it will start sinking. As it drops, material in the lithosphere starts flowing into the newly created conduit.

Seismic images of mantle structure beneath the region provided additional evidence, showing a large cylindrical mass 100 km wide and at least 500 km tall (about 60 by 300 miles).

"As a general rule, I have been anti-drip since my early days as a scientist," admits Fouch. "The idea of a lithospheric drip has been used many times over the years to explain things like volcanism, surface uplift, surface subsidence, but you could never really confirm it--and until now no one has caught a drip in the act, so to speak."

Originally, the team didn't think any visible signs appeared on the surface.

"We wondered how you could have something like a drip that is drawing material into its center when the surface of the whole area is stretching apart," says Fouch.

"But it turns out that there is an area right above the drip, in fact the only area in the Great Basin, that is currently undergoing contraction. John's finding of a drip is therefore informing geologists to develop a new paradigm of Great Basin evolution."

Scientists have known about the contraction for some time, but have been arguing about its cause.

As a drip forms, surrounding material is drawn in behind it; this means that the surface should be contracting toward the center of the basin. Since contraction is an expected consequence of a drip, a lithospheric drip could well be the answer to what is being observed in the Great Basin.

"Many in the scientific community thought it couldn't be a

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