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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”

A Klingon Christmas Carol

Growing up, the cartoon version of “A Christmas Carol” was always a seasonal favorite of mine. But now I’ve found something better. As they’ve done with many other classics, including the Bible, Shakespeare and Gilgamesh, Trekkies have improved Dickens’ Christmas morality tale by translating it into Klingon.

This is actually the fourth year that “A Klingon Christmas Carol” has been performed in the US. The play is performed by the Commedia Beauregard, a theater group based in St. Paul, Minnesota. This year the performance expanded to Chicago, as well. It is the first and only full-length play ever performed in Klingon, which makes me wonder when someone will get around to performing the Klingon version of Hamlet. (Yes, Virginia, there is a Klingon version of Hamlet.)

Although there are only about 40 fluent Klingon speakers in the world, Christopher O. Kidder, the director and co-writer, explained to the Wall Street Journal that you don’t have to know the language to enjoy the play: “It’s like an opera. You know what’s happening because you already know the story.” Read more

Star Trek: The next generation of gadgets

According to National Geographic, every 14 days another language passes into oblivion. New languages are created at a much slower rate. Usually, new languages evolve naturally from older languages over time. On the other hand, sometimes new languages are simply created from fiction. These languages are called constructed languages. One of the most commonly spoken constructed languages is Klingon, the language spoken by Klingons in Star Trek.

Star Trek is known for having the most rabid set of fans ever, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Klingon has become a language with its own dictionary, an organisation called the Klingon Language Institute that was founded to promote it, translated editions of Gilgamesh and plays by Shakespeare, and now, a keyboard that’s lettered exclusively in Klingon.

DVICE has a review of the keyboard that begins with the question “Are you one of the biggest nerds in the world?” If you are a fluent Klingon speaker who has always wanted to be able to express your thoughts more fluently in Klingon, this keyboard is for you.

DVICE gave it a low rating because of its limited utility for the rest of us puny earthlings, but what’s really interesting about their review is the comments section, which quickly turns into a lively debate over whether or not Klingon is a “real” language.

So, is Klingon a “real” language? Yes and no. It’s a constructed language, true, but according to Wikipedia there are at least 12 people who can speak it fluently. This means that in the sense that it can be used by two people to communicate, it is a real language. However, it’s missing one of the key features of a natural language, the ability to evolve over time.

Klingon vocabulary is limited to official Klingon words supplied by its creator, Marc Okrand. He adds new words to the language every so often, but the language doesn’t evolve without his approval.

It will be interesting to see how long Klingon survives under these circumstances…will anyone still speak Klingon generations from now? What happens to the language after its creator passes on?


Man Deals With Dyslexia by Learning Klingon

According to Wikipedia, between 5 and 10 percent of people are believed to be dyslexic. Dyslexia is a frustrating neurological disorder that affects its victims’ ability to process written language. Dyslexic patients have normal and even high levels of intelligence, but they nonetheless have difficulty reading and writing.

Dyslexia is found across the world, but the manner in which it is expressed and the type of difficulties it produces depend in part on the language the person is trying to learn to read and write. As Wikipedia explains:

“Because different writing systems require different parts of the brain to process the visual notation of speech, children with reading problems in one language might not have a reading problem in a language with a different orthography.”

But can learning another language help English-speaking patients improve their ability to read and write in English? The experience of one man from Milton Keynes suggests that it can. Read more