This question is taken from my google referrer log.
Why does anyone study any language? The languages on the shelf at the book store are uniformly lingua franca’s, i.e. languages that may have large populations that speak it as a mother tongue, but also large communities that use it as an interlanguage. Did you know, that modern Italian is a sort of lingua franca for parts of Italy– where people speak widely varying dialects at home, but when at the office or traveling, use the standard Italian. If you need to speak to someone in in a far off country, then there the language you want to study is obvious. In fact, you don’t really have a choice, unless you don’t want to be understood. If you need a particular lingua franca for your job, maybe Persian, then, duh!, you shouldn’t be studying Klingon or Toki pona.
Dead and artificial languages are studied because someone chose to.
- Pure recreation. It’s fun. People who study languages for fun tend to study languages indiscriminately.
- Scientific and amateur study. One learns things about languages while studying languages, both natural and fake.
Most artificial languages are “smaller” than natural languages. They just have fewer words, the total corpus is smaller, there is just less there. It is easier to cover it all in a short amount of time.
Dead languages have no goals associated with them. The were originally spoken because someone had an organic need to communicate.
Most, but not all, artificial languages have some sort of goal, which may or may not actually be fulfilled by the language. To the extent that a language studier notices or cares about the designers goals, these can be reasons for why fans study these languages.
- Technical reasons. The designers often want to create languages with a technical feature, such as being less ambiguous in certain ways.
- Social reasons. Esperanto’s goal of peace & international understanding is s good example.
- Recreational reasons. Movie and novel languages add to the experience of watching a movie or reading a novel.
- Other. The other category is huge. If you are learning a language to stave of alzheimers, then Latin, French and Klingon are all just as good, and Klingon is probably the easier of the three because it just plain has fewer moving parts.
- Because you don’t normally get a chance to speak anything but English in Iowa anyhow. So how is French any better than Latin? The odds of you meeting a *monolingual* French speaker in Iowa is about as good as meeting a Latin speaker. So if you aren’t going to get a chance to use a language, given your current environment, why the heck would it matter what language you study? I think in the US, this would also apply to Spanish, and Spanish is the current #2 language. If you don’t make an effort to track down, befriend and hang out with *monolingual* Spanish speakers, you won’t often have a chance to use Spanish. And if you do meet a French or Spanish speaker in Iowa, they’re more likely to switch to English than to suffer through your broken French or Spanish, so again, you might as well have studied Klingon.
- The final reasons is that given the abysmal state of second language acquisition in the US, you probably aren’t going to learn French very well anyhow, so if you are going to study a language and fail to learn it well enough to read Tin Tin, why not study Klingon, which has an entertaining reference grammar?
-Oh, and telescoping. This is the idea that if it takes 4 years to learn a hard language, say Icelandic, then if you learn a simpler language, maybe Esperanto, then you may end up spending 1 year on Esperanto and 2 years on Icelandic to achieve the same competency as 4 years on just Icelandic. I have no idea if this works in practice. Typical study fake languages as their fifth or sixth language that they know or have attempted to learn. It is uncommon or unheard of for people to study a fake language first, because public schools get to all the likely test subjects first and ruin the experiment.