Ever fancied learning a fantasy language like Klingon or Dothraki?
Well, it turns out you can!
Not only are there a whopping 7000 ‘real’ languages that you could learn, but there’s also languages that aren’t ‘real’ in the traditional sense of the word.
Fantasy or fictional languages are actually called constructed languages (conlangs). These languages were invented to create a sense of authenticity and show cultural diversity in films and TV shows.
While they don’t have the same purpose as real languages – communication – most fantasy languages can be used to communicate.
They’re not just random gibberish, even if they might sound it. These languages have grammar structures and were brought to life by linguists and other creative minds.
However, most of these languages have a very limited vocabulary – the conlinguist David Peterson says he’ll invent about 3000 words per language.
Compared to the tens of thousands of words real languages have, you might imagine Klingon to be quite difficult to converse in for non-Klingons. Its vocabulary is limited and centred mainly around spaceships. And that didn’t stop fans from translating Shakespeare into Klingon! To be or not to be?
Did you know this?
As often happens with languages, translation into conlang is not a priority and costs are avoided wherever possible.
For example, when the TV show Star Trek was resurrected a few years back the creator of Klingon was asked to help with translation. After the first season he suggested he should get paid for his translations… he was not consulted again for the following seasons!
That’s why the Klingon is perfect in season 1 and just a random jumble of Klingon words from season 2 onwards. Go figure!
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There may be limitations to learning a fantasy language, but Busuu’s Senior English Language Expert Hannah Morris says there are some benefits.
“Learning a language, fictional or not, is great for brain training. Not only does it improve your memory, but learning a conlang, or fantasy language, is a challenge and great fun.
“If you love Game of Thrones, for example, learning Dothraki is a good way to immerse yourself in the book and show’s culture. If you think about it, it’s just like learning Italian because you love Italian food!”
The author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy started creating his Elvish languages way before he started on any of his well-known works. J.R.R. Tolkien was a successful linguist, creating dialects for his fantasy world of Middle Earth. There are two main languages that his elves speak, Quenya and Sindarin, both based loosely on Finnish and Welsh.
Regarded as one of the best-known fictional languages, Klingon was created by linguist Marc Okrand for the warrior race Klingon on TV’s Star Trek. Several books have been published about the dialect and there is a quarterly journal dedicated to it. Fans have used the language to conduct their marriage ceremonies, have secret conversations and write songs.
This language evolved through George R.R. Martin’s book A Song of Ice and Fire, HBO’s series Game of Thrones, and fans using the dialect. Dothraki is the name of a nomadic horse-rearing community and the language they use. Fictitious words and phrases are used to reflect the community’s relationship with horse rearing and the language is based on a mixture of Arabic and Spanish sounds, so that it was easier for actors in the show to learn and speak.
Na’vi is one of the newer, well-known fictional languages and was developed by the team behind the blockbuster film Avatar in 2009. With the help of professional linguist Paul Frommer, it took six months to form the fully formed language of the blue-skinned humanoids the film is based around.
The ‘Alien Language’ used in the intergalactic cartoon Futurama was originally created as an in-joke to see how fast fans could decipher it. There are two versions of the dialect, both of which can be easily decoded with a simple mathematical formula. Numbers act as symbols that correlate with the English alphabet, which clever fans managed to solve almost instantly.
In the early days, most Kryptonian writings were represented by random, alien-looking squiggles in Superman comics. It wasn’t developed any wider until the 1970s, when E. Nelson Bridwell took these squiggles and turned them into a 118-letter alphabet, referring to the language as ‘Kryptonese’. The alphabet and language got revamped by DC Comics in 2000, who opted to use the name ‘Kryptonian’.
Fans of the Despicable Me movies may have previously thought the gibberish that the hysterical yellow Minions used was a load of nonsense. However, that isn’t strictly true. Also known as Banana Language by some fans, Minionese is a collection of words and sounds taken from a variety of other languages to give the films a global appeal, as well as some silly-sounding onomatopoeia, and an assortment of syllables that sound funny together.
In the dystopian, futuristic landscape of A Clockwork Orange, teens in the book and film use a fictional register to communicate. The author, Anthony Burgess, knew that using the slang of the 1960s would make the characters sound outdated in years to come. Burgess was a keen linguist and used this background to depict his characters speaking a form of Russian-influenced English, full of rhyming slang and compound words.
This language is used in The Sims. It debuted in the 1996 SimCopter simulation game and has been especially prominent across The Sims franchise since. Players of the game might be unsure how the nonsense speech can be understood, but it is based on real-life languages. Those familiar with Latin, Navajo, Ukrainian and Tagalog can technically already understand over 90% of the fictional language.
The fictional language of Oceania, a totalitarian superstate in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The fictitious ruling party in the novel developed Newspeak to meet the ideological requirements of English Socialism in Oceania. The audience is told in the book that the language is newly introduced, and that it is expected to be fully rolled out by 2050… so we have not got long left to learn it!
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