I've seen questions before such as "What is the best open-source equivalent for Mathematica?", but that specific question (and that line of inquiry in general) cares more about the computer algebra system and less about the core language and its unique and powerful features.
My interest in Mathematica come from a slightly different angle--namely, I find a tremendous amount of value in the power and flexibility of the language that Mathematica implements (I think of it as a slightly less scary looking syntax for Lisp with some very novel additions such as the powerful pattern matching system).
Are there any projects that have made a concerted effort to build a Mathematica-the-language work-alike instead of focusing on the Computer Algebra System?
Mathics is the closest project I've found so far (since it does, in fact, try to stay faithful to Mathematica syntax where it can), but even it pitches itself as a computer algebra system. And it was written in Python, which isn't bad by itself, but it sets itself up to not be as fast as Mathematica for computationally intensive tasks.
It seems to me that Wolfram Research would actually benefit tremendously from having an even bigger programmer community around Mathematica as a language and developer platform, because more packages would be produced to solve more off-the-shelf programming problems (just like almost any other programming language).
An open (or at least freely available) implementation of the core programming language wouldn't even dilute their secret sauce which I would say primarily lies in Mathematica's base of mathematical rules and algorithms, in the scientific computing tools that they've bundled into one enormous and broad package, and into the insanely well-integrated notebook experience that they should have no trouble keeping ahead of any kind of open source project.