By Katie Reed | January 18, 2023 | Blog Languages Word Geek
Word Geek is delving into the world of fictional languages in popular culture.
These constructed languages, or conlangs, are not necessarily intended to be used as real-world languages. However, they are also not simply a collection of made-up words as some of the most popular ones were developed by expert linguists with the grammar and complexity of any other spoken language.
With this in mind, Word Geek has taken a closer look into some of the most popular fictional languages we have come to know and love.
The first recorded conlang dates back to the 12th century with the creation of Lingua Ignota, (Latin for unknown language) by Hildegard of Bingen. The language consisted of an alphabet of 23 characters with no known grammar, thought to be used for mystical purposes.
By the end of the 19th century, it’s estimated there were over 300 conlangs recorded, mostly in literature and the arts, including Utopia by Thomas More (1516), Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726) and The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer Lytton (1871).
Fictional languages or conlangs have been used in literature and entertainment to provide an immersive experience for their audience, creating fantasy worlds.
Taken from the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, Elvish is a fully formed language divided into Quenya or High Elven and Sindarin, spoken by the majority of Elves in Middle Earth.
Both dialects are linguistically correct and provide the complexity of any spoken language, so much so they have even been the subject of a class at the University of Wisconsin.
An integral part of the HBO series Game of Thrones, Dothraki was the subject of an internal competition by producers to create a full language. Awarded to the linguist David Peterson, he developed Dothraki from the small snippets in the original books into a complex language of over 4,000 words.
One of the most well-known fictional languages, Klingon, was popularised in the 1980s Star Trek film, The Search for Spock. It was developed by linguist Marc Okrand, who is also credited with the Vulcan language used in the previous Star Trek film.
Whilst not originally created as a fully formed language, Klingon proved so popular with fans that it has turned it into the most widely spoken fictional language. It is now possible to read a Klingon translation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, watch a Klingon opera, sing Klingon karaoke and even learn tlhIngan Hol on Duolingo!
It’s reported that director James Cameron asked experienced linguist Dr. Paul Frommer to develop a complete language, even down to pronunciation, to be spoken by the Na’vi people in the Avatar films.
With a starting vocabulary of around 1,000 words, Na’vi quickly caught on with fans and language enthusiasts alike and Frommer has continued to expand the vocabulary and develop the language.
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