by Luisa Brenton
They’re called conlangs – constructed languages – and they have been around for centuries. Solresol, the language of music is an example. It has seven syllables, each referring to a letter note on the music scale. Other not-so-well-known conlangs have been invented for a specific purpose, such as Lingua Ignota. It was invented by a 12th-century German nun, Hildegard of Bingen, as a means for the sisters to secretly communicate with one another. She created a dictionary of about 1,000 words which was found after her death.
Details of Lingua Ignota
A favorite place for conlangs is in literature and film. And while there were early “talking films” that had conlangs, more recent films are probably more well-known. Here are 10 conlangs that appeared in films in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The conlang is called Na’vi and it was developed by Professor Paul Frommer. Originally, the language was developed just for the lines of the aliens, but it grew. It came to include songs too.
Details of the Na'vi language
The language in the film is called Sindarin. It was the language of the elves who lived in the Middle Earth. It was based on the phonetic sounds of the Welsh language. In the novels, which of course pre-dated the movie, there was another language called Quenya, based upon author Tolkien’s love for three languages – Greek, Finnish, and Latin. Director Peter Jackson hired a linguist, David Salo, to provide the expertise for Sindarin.
Trekkies are used to conlangs. During the television series that preceded the movies, there was Klingon – the language of the race of the same name. The language used English but dropped sounds and added new ones, as well as alterations of vocabulary words. When the movies began, Klingon was significantly expanded and new conlangs were developed. Klingon, however, remained the clear favorite. When the new TV series, Star Trek, The Next Generation was launched, a new conlang, Tamarian, was developed. Trekkies use these conlangs at their conventions.
Details of Tamarian
The conlang is called Huttese; the most famous user of the language was Jabba the Hutt, a lovable, smart, and philosophical guy. He was the primary user of Huttese, and Star Wars fans quote him often in his native language. The language is actually a variation of Quechua, spoken in Peru. The sound designer of the film, Ben Burtt, discovered it and used a linguist to develop a language that was similar in sound. This language was used in three of the Star Wars films.
Details of Huttese
The language was Newspeak, and it probably does not fit the tight definition of a conlang. When he wrote his novel, George Orwell envisioned the world in which “Big Brother” had total control of every waking moment of the country’s citizens. A new language was developed, based on English and Russian, but many words were banned and new ones developed such as “joycamp,” which was the name given to forced labor camps to which criminals were sent. The language was based on irony and satire to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the “new order.”
Details of Newspeak
The language was Fremen, and it was that of the desert dwellers in this film. It is based on Arabic although with enough variations that only a few words remain the same. In the novel series, prior to the film, there were even written documents in this conlang.
Details of Fremen
Gaff was the hero, and the language was “Cityspeak” – a combination of Japanese, Spanish, German, Hungarian, Chinese, Korean and French. The dramatic effect of this conlang is that the words and sound seem familiar but they are utterly incomprehensible.
Details of Cityspeak
Clearly, this is not a comprehensive list, by any means. But the point is made. As long as there are creative film directors and just as creative linguists who love “playing” with languages, conlangs will entertain all of us. Even kids develop their own languages.
Luisa Brenton is an ex-brand manager, present writer for top sites, and a future professor at the University of Chicago. You can contact her on Twitter.
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