Original languages created for Film and Television
Vedui’ il’er! If you’re a fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, then you’ll know I’ve just greeted you in Elvish! The Elvish language is just one example of a ‘conlang’, a language purposely constructed by an individual or group, as opposed to one that evolves naturally over time. Novelist J.R.R Tolkien actually created over 20 languages during his lifetime, each with its own vocabulary and unique set of grammar rules. And he’s certainly not the only writer to have dabbled with linguistics. Several well-known shows and movies utilise their own special dialects; here’s a look at just a few them.
Actor James Doohan constructed the infamous, alien-sounding Klingon language for Star Trek: The Motion Picture back in 1979. Linguist Marc Okrand subsequently developed it into a full language, even publishing a Klingon dictionary in 1985. Since then, the language has prominently featured in numerous sequels and reboots, most recently 2013 blockbuster Star Trek Into Darkness and a small number of people have even learned to speak Klingon in real life!
Fans of James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster will remember hearing Na’vi; the language of the Na’vi species of the fictional ‘Pandora’. Constructed by Professor Paul Frommer in 2005 it was specifically created to match Cameron’s idea of how the language should sound – learnable and pronounceable while not resembling English too closely. Following the film’s release, Frommer continued to develop the language to include over 1,500 words and as of 2011 it was thought to have around 1,000 speakers.
In this 2005 thriller staring Nicole Kidman, the Ku ‘conlang’ was the dialect for the fictional African country, Matabo. The language was constructed by Said el-Geithy who used aspects of Shona and Swahili to create it.
Game of Thrones
The Dothraki language was constructed specifically to give voice to the savage Dothraki people featured in popular HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones. In 2009, the show’s writers called on David Peterson of the Language Creation Society to consult the series of novels from which the show is adapted and develop the language entirely from scratch. Peterson describes its sound as a mix between Arabic and Spanish, and although the language has no writing system, as of 2011 there were over 3,000 Dothraki words in existence.
Suzette Doctolero, the head writer of the Filipino fairy fantasy television series Encantadia, constructed the Enchanta language. It was spoken by the Diwata (fairies) and the vocabulary is thought to be based on Philippine and Romanic languages.
This is just a brief introduction to constructed languages for film and television. I’ve only included a few examples, but there are many more in use around the world – and probably many more to come in the future.
Goodbye for now; or for those of you that speak Klingon: Qapla’!