Posted June 4, 2013 by Colin O'Boyle in Movies & TV

5 Awesome Languages (Somebody Made Up)

Gi nathlam hí!

For those of you who don’t already speak Sindarin, the above means, “We welcome [familiar] you here.” (My thanks to Useful Elvish Phrases.) For those of you who don’t know what Sindarin is, it’s one of the two elvish languages constructed by J.R.R. Tolkien for his “Lord of the Rings” universe. Tolkien, you see, was pretty much a language geek. A language professor at Oxford, Tolkien actually created his two Elvish languages (Sindarin and Quenya) and their histories even before he made Middle-Earth. Those languages, since somebody sat down and made them up, are called “constructed languages,” or “con langs,” and Tolkien wasn’t the only person who’s into that sort of thing.

In fact, there are dozens of conlangs out there (even a whole society dedicated to them). I don’t have the space to write about them all, so I picked five that I thought were cool and would interest you, dear readers. For our sanity (both yours and mine), I’ll write the article in English. My Esperanto is pretty rusty.


1) Klingon


Probably one of the most famous constructed languages out there, just behind Tolkien’s elvish, would have to be Klingon from “Star Trek.” Called “tlhIngan Hol” and designed by Marc Okrand (the guy behind another of the languages on this list), Klingon was first heard in the movie “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” Before that point, Klingons spoke English. (They also looked a bit…different than what we picture now.)

Apparently the language centers on subjects that one would find useful in the Star Trek universe (like battle and starships), but less so in real life. Wikipedia gives an example with the word “bridge.” In the sense of the commanding area of a spaceship, “bridge” in Klingon would be “meH” and has been around since the language’s conception. In the sense of a thing you use to cross over water, “bridge” would be “Ql” and has only been around since last August.

So could you speak Klingon every day if you wanted to? Yes, but it’d be kinda difficult. Though if you’re fluent, you could always take in a play. So far, “Hamlet” and “Much Ado About Nothing” have been translated into tlhIngan Hol.


2) Na’vi


In James Cameron’s movie, “Dances With Smurfs”–sorry. I mean, James Cameron’s “Ferngully Cat-people”–wait; that’s not right. Ah, yes! In James Cameron’s “Avatar“–that’s it–the indigenous people of the planet Pandora are called the “Na’vi.” As a result, their language is also called “Na’vi,” and it sounds pretty neat.

The guy behind it is Doctor Paul Frommer, who’s an American communications professor at the University of Southern California when he’s not working as a language consultant. (He also made the Barsoomian language for Disney’s “John Carter,” which a lot of people panned, but I liked quite a bit.) Apparently James Cameron gave Doctor Frommer a list of words he wanted to be in the language as well as a sense of how he wanted that language to sound. Frommer kinda based his grammar on the Polynesian tongue, as well as using other fun linguistic things that I don’t understand like “ejectives” and “velar nasals.” (That last one sounds like something you’d have surgery to get rid of.)

So can you speak Na’vi every day if you wanted to? Short answer: yes. Long answer: You could, and there’s even a website out there for people interested in speaking like 10 feet-tall blue cat-people, but there are a few factors that might make it difficult. One, Na’vi has only been around for a few years (“Avatar” came out in ’09), so there just aren’t that many words in it. Plus, some of the words you might need aren’t ones used by people living on Pandora, so you’d run into similar issues of Klingon-speakers. On the other hand, Na’vi sounds a heck of a lot prettier than the throat gargling and glottal stops of Klingon.

Colin O'Boyle

Colin wears many hats (only some of which are trilbies). He's a writer of strange and sundry things, from novellas about smugglers on a flying ship to short stories about the perfect prison of the future. He's also a student, currently pursuing a master's degree in creative writing. In his free time he likes to read (especially anthologies of the Year's Best speculative fiction), play video games (Borderlands 2 and Skyrim are practically an addiction), and he's been making board/card games like a MADMAN! (So heads up, game publishers.)