Why Tolkien’s fantastic imaginary languages have had more impact than Esperanto

JRR Tolkien began writing The Fall of Gondolin while on medical leave from the First World War, 100 years ago this month. It is the first story in what would become his legendarium – the mythology that underpins The Lord of the Rings. But behind the fiction was his interest in another epic act of creation: the construction of imaginary languages.

That same year, on the other side of Europe, Ludwik Zamenhof died in his native Poland. Zamenhof had also been obsessed with language invention, and in 1887 brought out a book introducing his own creation. He published this under the pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto, which in time became the name of the language itself.

The construction of imaginary languages, or conlangs, has a long history, dating back to the 12th century. And Tolkien and Zamenhof are two of its most successful proponents. Yet their aims were very different, and in fact point to opposing views of what language itself actually is.

Read more: The Independent

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