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Crafting Fictional Languages: an artform in itself

Thursday, May 9th 2024

by raxo

Language is a defining characteristic of humanity, basically what separates us from other species. With over 7,000 languages spoken globally, the diversity of human expression through language is vast and rich. This love for language extends into the realm of media, where fictional languages are crafted explicitly for films and TV shows, adding layers of depth and immersion to storytelling. ‘Lord of The Rings’ wouldn’t be so iconic, or realistic, if they all spoke in perfect English.

Crafting a fictional language involves more than just making up words

"Crafting a fictional language involves more than just making up words"

Crafting a fictional language is no easy feat. It requires a deep understanding of linguistics, phonetics, and cultural context to create a language that feels authentic and believable. While some fictional languages are simple and serve basic communication needs, others are complex and fully developed, with their own grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.

One of the most iconic fictional languages is Klingon from the Star Trek franchise. Created by James Doohan and expanded upon by Marc Okrand, Klingon is a fully developed language with its own dictionary and grammar rules. It has become so popular that some fans are fluent in Klingon and use it in everyday conversations.

KLINGON / Star Trek

Elvish from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is another example of a meticulously crafted fictional language. Tolkien, a linguist himself, created multiple Elvish languages, each with its own unique grammar and vocabulary. The languages of Quenya and Sindarin are widely recognized and studied by fans of the series.

Crafting a fictional language involves more than just making up words. Linguists and language creators must consider the cultural and historical context of the fictional world, as well as the anatomy and physiology of the beings who speak the language. For example, the Na’vi language from Avatar was created by linguist Paul Frommer, who based the vocabulary on the physical characteristics of the Na’vi creatures.

QUENYA & THE BLACK SPEACH / The Lord of The Rings

Dothraki and Valyrian from Game of Thrones are other examples of well-crafted fictional languages. Linguist David J. Peterson created these languages, drawing inspiration from real-world languages like Arabic and Spanish to give them a unique and authentic feel.

DOTHRAKI  / Game of Thrones

Some fictional languages have become so popular that they are now part of mainstream culture. We’re not going to mention you-know-who (the author, not Voldemort) but Parseltongue from the Harry Potter series, spoken by those who can communicate with snakes, has captured the imagination of fans worldwide. Although it cannot be learned like a traditional language, its hissing sounds add an eerie and mystical quality to the story.

HIGH VALYRIAN / Game of Thrones

Atlantean, from Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire, is another example of a fully developed fictional language. Created by Dr. Marc Okrand, the language has its own alphabet and numerical system, adding to the richness of the film’s world.

Even cartoons have displayed fictional languages in media, take a look at Matt Groening’s fan favorite Futurama and its Alienese. While it is not a spoken language it is a recognizable written language nonetheless and is featured throughout the show, it was initially meant to be an inside joke to see how long it would take dedicated fans to decipher what the language meant. The fans delivered, having a full translation of the alphabet so quickly that Groening decided to change the language and make it more complicated. The language even appears in the series’ feature-length films, leaving behind cute little tid-bits for those who understand.

The creation of fictional languages adds a unique and immersive element to storytelling in film and television. From the iconic Klingon to the mystical Elvish, these languages enrich the fictional worlds they inhabit and captivate audiences with their creativity and complexity. It’s not an easy task as it takes hours of research, work and dedication from the minds behind a piece of content, but it definitely adds layers and depth to the mythology of any IP.