Why are we so squeamish about describing women’s everyday experiences?

The way that language is shaped by the facts of biological sex is a rich subject. (The way that biological sex is framed, and sometimes refuses to be shaped, by language is perhaps one for another day.) Some languages have evolved forms which are distinctly those of male or female users. Japanese has speech patterns described as male or female, such as (male) the informal use of da instead of desu. There are scripts used exclusively among women, such as the syllabic Nüshu in Hunan, China. Many languages have gendered grammatical forms in ways that are not just metaphorical. Nouns such as ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ are masculine and feminine in

A universal language will always be an unattainable dream

The comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, in his stage persona as the dim-witted interviewer Ali G, once asked Noam Chomsky if a person could simply invent a new language from scratch. The renowned linguist gave him short shrift: ‘You can do it if you like and nobody would pay the slightest attention to you because it would just be a waste of time.’ Throughout history, however, a motley array of eccentrics has done just this, and received a fair bit of attention. Originally published in 1984 but only now translated into English, Marina Yaguello’s fascinating survey of constructed languages revisits the history of two distinct but interlinked – and equally fanciful