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3 Iconic Science Fiction/Fantasy Scenes That Gave Translators Fits

When translating, one does not simply swap one word for another. Writers choose their words carefully, combining characteristics like sounds, sentence structure and meaning to create different effects. Often, what works in one language simply doesn’t work in another, and translators have to come up with creative solutions that preserve the impact of the original words.

Here are 3 iconic moments from fantasy and science fiction that probably gave their translators fits:

Game of Thrones: Hold the Door!

**SPOILER ALERT**

You may have seen this collection of images floating around the interwebs this week.  It shows how Game of Thrones translators dealt with the death of everyone’s favorite gentle giant, Hodor.  Just in case you missed it: it was revealed that Hodor was originally an intelligent, articulate stablehand named Wylis. An accident of time travel gave poor young Wylis a vision of his eventual death in the show, fending off undead long enough for his young charges Bran and Meera to escape. The vision caused a seizure that left Wylis brain-damaged, endlessly repeating “Hodor!,” a contracted version of “Hold the Door!”

Obviously, this was not an easy scene to translate, as the equivalent words for “Hold the door!” do not necessarily sound like “Hodor!” in other languages.

For example, the Dutch translators had it easy: DRVuUJB

The Italian translators had to get a bit more creative, changing “Hold the Door!” to “Block the horde!”:

2nuEORs

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The Top Five Fantasy Languages

Constructed languages, more informally known as “conlangs,” make fantasy and science fiction more realistic. They also provide a hobby for both amateur and professional linguists across the globe, and a paying job for a select few.

Sometimes, people make up languages “just because.” But in general, there are two main types of constructed languages: languages made for real-world use, like Esperanto, and languages created for fictional worlds. Today, we’ll focus on the second category. Here are the top five constructed languages from fantasy and science fiction:

Quenya

tolkienIt shouldn’t come as a surprise that the top two spots in this list are taken by languages created by Tolkien.  He was by no means the first author to create fictional languages for his books, but he did put an extraordinary amount of effort into the languages he created and helped to (somewhat) popularize creating languages as a hobby.

In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Quenya is the language of the “high Elves”, the elves who left Middle Earth after its creation to live in the Elven homeland. A large group of high elves later returned to Middle Earth, and spoke Quenya as a second ritual language or in poetry.

Main real-world influences: Finnish, but also Latin, Greek and other languages.

Sample Phrases:

Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo.  A star shines on the hour of our meeting.  (A fancy way of saying “Hello.”)

Namárië: Farewell.

Istan quet’ Eldarin.  I can speak Elvish.

Sindarin

MoerbinIn Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, Sindarin was the language of the “grey elves,” a group that decided not to leave Middle-Earth to live on the Elven homeland after the world was created.

Main real-world influences: Welsh, Old English, and Icelandic, though it’s also clearly related to Quenya.

Sample Phrases:

Êl síla erin lû e-govaned vîn. A star shines on the hour of our meeting. 

Novaer. Farewell. 

Pedin edhellen. I speak Elvish. 

Klingon

KilngonsThe Klingon Language was created for Star Trek in the 80’s by Marc Okrand. It is definitely the most widely spoken fantasy language. One fan even tried to raise his son as a bilingual Klingon native speaker! Alas, the experiment was unsuccessful.

Main real-world influences: Klingon was deliberately devised to sound “alien,” it has some features of Native American and southeast Asian languages.

Sample phrases:

NuqneH. Hello

Hab SoSlI’ Quch! Your mother has a smooth forehead! (Don’t say this to a Klingon who is bigger than you!)

Qapla’! Goodbye!

Dothraki

DothrakiThe most well-developed of the languages constructed for the Game of Thrones series, Dothraki is spoken by the nomadic horse lords of The Dothraki Sea.

Main real-world influences:  Turkish, Russian, Estonian, Inuktitut and Swahili.

Sample phrases:

M’athchomaroon! Hello, or more literally, “With respect!” 

Hajas! Goodbye. 

Me nem nesa. It is known.

Na’vi

I see youNa’vi was created for the natives of Pandora in the 2009 movie Avatar by linguist Paul Frommer.

Real-world influences: Like Klingon, Na’vi was specifically designed to sound alien, but has a vaguely Polynesian flavor.

Sample phrases:

Kaltxì. “Hello” 

Hayalovay. Goodbye or  “Until next time.” 

Nga yawne lu oer.  “I love you”