I Resent Learners of Fictional Languages

Let me start by saying that I understand learning a fictional language is a hobby. Many people have hobbies that don't seem to have any particularly useful purpose. I'm sure I have hobbies that some would judge to be a waste of time, and I certainly have plenty of knowledge (including knowledge of fictional worlds) that many would judge to be useless.

Nevertheless, I resent learners of fictional languages. I resent those who learn fictional languages not because I believe their pursuits are harmful, but because they clearly have aptitudes that could be put to exceptionally greater uses.

made up Klingon weapons (source) vs. the knife and sheath
of Tlingit leader Sheiyksh VI (source)
Klingon, a fictional language from Star Trek, is especially infuriating to me because of the connections people draw between it and Tlingit, the endangered language of my home. Though it seems unfounded that the creator of Klingon based it on Tlingit, he certainly did draw from Native American languages he had studied, including the Mutsun language, which went extinct in 1930. Many people have put massive amounts of effort into studying Klingon, becoming fluent in it, translating famous literature into it, and even composing an original opera in it.

My heart aches when I think of the difference that could have been made to real languages—languages with real history, languages that undergird real, endangered cultures—if those skilled, passionate language learners and linguists had put their time to better use. Around the world, languages—and whole language families!—are dying, dying largely because of how their speakers' communities have been marginalized and dominated by other cultures. All of those languages could use all the help they can get.

Leduey (center) with Eyak learners.
(source)
One inspiring story is that of Guillaume Leduey, who started learning the dying Alaska Native language Eyak when he was 15. He had interests in other languages, to be sure, but the time and effort he put into Eyak meant that when he later visited Alaska, he actually began to teach the language in order to help revive it. Eyak's last Native speaker died in 2008, making the language officially extinct, but people like Leduey—and all the Eyak people now making an effort to learn their ancestors' language—are breathing life into it again.

I'm so glad someone's looking out
for them, you know? (source)
What if Leduey had spent his time and ability on learning Klingon, Elvish, or Dothraki instead of Eyak? It's entirely possible. Then another poor, dead, indigenous language containing invaluable human tradition and history would be even more likely to stay dead.

People often compare linguistic diversity with biodiversity: The world is losing species of animals all the time, just as it's losing languages. Learners of fictional languages are like passionate and skilled conservationists who, instead of protecting species in need, decide to build nature preserves for unicorns and squirrels. It might be a lot of fun for them, and fun for people who visit, but it's really a crying shame.

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