By Word of Mouth: The Art of Language Construction

Learn some background on your favorite fictional languages!

Pradyoth Velagapudi, Columnist

We have spoken language throughout the years to express ideas, share concepts, and communicate thoughts. Languages have been passed down through generations, slowly changing and evolving into the words we speak today. Some languages have the same complexity of our modern-day speak but were actually just thought up on someone’s desk. These are constructed languages.

Some of the most famous conlangs (that’s short for “constructed languages”) are Dothraki from the HBO television series“Game of Thrones,” Elvish from J.R.R Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” Na’vi from the popular 2009 film “Avatar,” and Klingon from the “Star Trek” movie series. Most of these have extensive backgrounds, grammar rules, and lexicons mapped out by their creators; I say “most” because, despite a huge fan following, Klingon was created only for the words that actors needed to say and only has a few real grammar rules. The other languages, however, are very intricate, changing entities, just like real languages. In fact, J.R.R Tolkien revealed to his son that he wrote the “Lord of the Rings” books just to create a world for his Elvish language, with cultural and regional dialects, etymology, and varying pronunciations.

Another popular conlang is Esperanto – but it’s not from any TV show. This language was created in 1887 to serve as a neutral, international language. It was designed to be very simple, rigid, and regular, and therefore easy to learn, speak, and write. It has up to 2,000,000 speakers worldwide, to varying degrees; some even learn it from birth!

Of course, all of these languages suggest that there had to be someone there to make it. It’s even a career: “professional language creator.” Arguably the most famous person to follow this noble pursuit is David J. Peterson, who invented Dothraki and Valyrian for “Game of Thrones,” as well as Castithan, Irathient and Omec for Syfy’s “Defiance,” the language spoken by the Dark Elves in “Thor: The Dark World,” Trigedasleng from “The 100,” Nelvayu from “Doctor Strange,” and Verbis Diablo from “Penny Dreadful,” among others.

Not even Peterson is fluent in all of his languages, but there are many resources available to learn almost any fictional language. Many official and unofficial websites and apps have resources to learn Huttese, Trigedasleng, Dothraki, and others. Peterson himself uses the Dothraki  Companion app for quick referencing. Duolingo is working on courses for Klingon, Elvish, and Dothraki, too.

Until next time, kìyevame! (That’s Na’vi for “See you soon!”)