Fantasy languages

busuu loves languages! It’s our passion and our calling is to teach them. But what about learning fantasy languages like the Dothraki spoken in Game of Thrones and the strange sounds the elves use to communicate in The Lord of the Rings? Did you ever think “I wish I could speak High Valyrian like Daenarys Targaryen”? Well, it turns out you can!

Dothraki and Klingon are actually languages

Not only are there a whopping 7000 “real” languages you could learn (if you have the time!), but there’s also languages that aren’t real in the traditional sense of the word. They are called constructed languages (ConLangs). These languages were invented mostly to create a sense of authenticity and show cultural diversity in films and TV shows. But while they don’t have the same purpose as real languages – communication – most of them 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 Klingon fans from translating Shakespeare into the fantasy language! To be or not to be?

Who are these people inventing languages?

The language spoken by the elves in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was, of course, created by the author himself. He used Welsh and Finnish, two languages he was familiar with, as a basis for his constructed language before he even wrote the books. Star Trek’s Klingon was mainly invented by Marc Okrand. It has been used for films and TV series of the franchise. Klingon has a large fan base who devour grammar books and dictionaries in order to be able to speak it (and freak you out at parties).

Don’t underestimate the importance of grammar!

As often happens with languages, translation into ConLang is not a priority and costs are avoided wherever possible. When the TV show Star Trek was resurrected a few years back, the creator of Klingon was asked to help with translation. When after the first season he suggested he should get paid for his translations, he was not consulted again for the following seasons! Hence the Klingon is perfect in season 1 and just a random jumble of Klingon words from season 2 onwards. At busuu we know how important grammar is.

But… why bother create a whole new language in the first place?

For inspiration and creativity of course! David Peterson, the creator of Dothraki, High Valyrian and many other languages is the only paid language creator in Hollywood. When asked why he invented languages even before he was paid for it, he said it was simply a form of art. According to him, “to learn a new language is to learn a new way of looking at the world. To invent a new language is to invent a new way of looking at the world.”

We couldn’t agree more! Happy language learning, fantasy fans!

 

Christiane Bark – Localisation Manager, pictured with conlinguist David Peterson

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