Have you ever wondered if the languages you are hearing while watching TV or playing games are real languages or just made up a few words created for specific scenes? Well, that depends. In past years constructed languages (conlangs) have become a very common part of cinema and video games. They are made up by a person, normally a linguist, rather than evolve over time. Here are just a few conlangs which were created for the entrainment industry to enhance the experience of the audience.
Elf language – Sindarian (LOTR)
Creating languages was Tolkien’s passion which he was ashamed of and he described them as a ‘secret vice’ or ‘nonsense fairy languages’. He started creating languages when he was 13/14 years old and has not stopped until his death. He created his stories so the languages he created would have an environment to live in not like in most of the other examples, the language to make the story more believable. His nexus of languages was created before the publication of “Hobbit’ where the reader can see some singular words in Sindarian. However, the first longer sentences did not appear until the publication of “The Fellowship of the ring” and that was Quenya, the other elfish language created by Tolkien. Both Sindarin and Quenya come from the language Quendian. Tolkien wanted to give the languages the feeling that they were lived in and evolved over the years.
Sinderin is the language of the Grey Elves and is the common tongue of elves in the middle Earth. Welsh was an inspiration for the grammar of Sindarian as well as other Celtic languages. The language however is not complete enough to have a conversation in it. The language that is used in the movies is very often guesswork which was completed by linguist David Salo. There are societies dedicated to languages created by Tolkien’s languages and one of the fellowships collaborated with JRR’s son. They have published the manuscripts of linguists’ materials.
Dragon language (Skyrim)
In the game Skyrim, the dragon language is a part of the game. The person responsible for writing the language was a senior designer and writer for Skyrim Emil Pagliarulo. Adam Adamowicz is a concept artist who decided how the language will be written down which resembles scratch marks and was inspired by a language used in Mesopotamia called Cuneiform. This also allowed the language to look like it was written by a dragon claw. To make the language easy and simple, they have not included apostrophes, conjugation, and verb tenses. The reason for it was the mistakes made by game designers while using the language. It is very short as it only has approximately 600 words.
Game of Thrones ended in 2019 with season 8 and it was the most-watched TV series ever. Besides the mixed feeling regarding the last season, the series was a massive success and has a huge fandom. If you are not one of the fans, Dothraki are nomadic and ruthless warriors. David J. Peterson is a linguist who created the Dothraki language for the Game of Thrones. This was not the only language created by him. He is also responsible for High Valerian and language for the single giant as well as for the same show and Shiväisith for Thor: The Dark World among others.
To create this language David started by looking at Dothraki and their culture and then could start creating a lexicon that would express it. He started with the contents and vowels and decided how this language will sound. Then he moves on to the syllables, and at the end, he focused on grammar, sentence structure and derivation. Reading the numerical system, David decided to use a system based on 8 for Dothraki. And the last step was to create the lexicon. This is the largest language created by him and it counts around 4000 words. As cooperation, the English language has 171,146 words. Peterson compared the creation of a new language to programming, puzzle-making and problem-solving.
Simlish (The Sims)
Not like the previously discussed languages, Simlish is just gibberish. This language was created just to enhance the experience of the players of ‘The Sims’, one of the first life simulation games. For the first edition of the game, Sims were using only 20 words, which are now still part of the Silmish language. The sounds, emotional complexity, and unique cadence of the language were all improvised by voice actors Gerri Lawlor and Stephen Kearin. In the beginning, the creators were trying to base Simlish languages such as Ukrainian or Estonian. However, the language is now mostly made up on the spot. This allowed the creation of a very unique and universal language which left room for players’ imagination when they listen to the characters in their game.
Kingston (Star Trek)
Marc Okrand started his work with ‘Star trek’ as he said by a lucky accident. He has created a few lines for Vulcan language for a previously recorded scene in English. As a linguist, he knew which sounds look similar when they are spoken, and which are invisible. After this, he was called in to create Klingon. It is a language of humanoid warrior species that originated from the planet Qo’noS. Unlike Dothraki, Klingon was not meant to be created as a whole language. The linguist wanted to create only lines that were appearing in ‘Start Trek 3’. The starting point for this linguist was Klingon names which appeared earlier in the franchise as well as a few sentences at the beginning of ‘Star Trek: The motion picture. He has listened to those made-up lines, written them down and decided what means what.
This was the beginning of the whole language. Okrand wanted Klingon to not sound like a human language therefore he tried to add sounds which are quite hard to say and put them next to each other. He also chose ‘object verb subject’ as a basic word order for this language as it is the least common in human languages. Interestingly, sometimes the words or grammar would change because of how actors said it while making the “Star Trek” film. As the whole take would be good however one word was said differently from what the creator intended it to sound. So, Okrand decided to change those words in his dictionary. That way after filming the film, the language came out slightly different than when it was created. It changed just like all languages do however at a much faster pace.
FUN FACT: Did you know that Star Trek fans have translated Hamlet into Klingon and staged productions, and Klingon High and Valyrian are now available on Duolingo?