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Conlangs: Linguistics Applied to Fiction

I guess many of you have heard about J. R. R. Tolkien. He was the renowned author of high fantasy trilogyThe Lord of the Rings and many other works as The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. In order to create a whole world with its own different cultures, races and history, there was a founding element he had to deal with: the different languages spoken all over his fantasy world.

Creating a language assured Tolkien that the world he conceived was not only unique but also real like. As many cultures and people existed in the Middle Earth, it would be obvious the language and customs between them should be different.

 

But Tolkien was just a very influent cornerstone in future works. In many cultural products like TV series, books and even videogames, developers try the public feel they are in the midst of a foreign, exotic atmosphere.

We can find invented languages even before him, but let us take him as the binding precedent or milestone in fantasy literature.

If you heard about Tolkien, perhaps you know who George R. R. Martin is. He is one of the most best-seller author nowadays and his saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, set the plot for the HBO series Game of Thrones. Thought he made up hints of Dothraki language in his saga, it was David J. Peterson who developed this whole language for the series along with High Valyrian, other language spoken in some parts of the world described by Martin, which is rich in cultures and languages as well. Actually, the interpreter and translator Missandei is one of the sidekicks of Daenerys, one of the main characters!

Actually, Peterson is member of The Language Creation Society, a non-profit organisation promoting constructed languages (also known as conlangs).

But of course, Game of Thrones is not the only on-screen product with a conlang in it. We can find how Klingon is spoken in Star Trek, the beautiful way in which Quenya is recreated in The Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003) and of course, how Daenerys Targaryen speaks both in Dothraki and High Valyrian. And do not forget Na’vi language spoken by Na’vi people in the very well know film Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)! And those are just a few examples of constructed languages used in fiction works.

To sum up, conlangs make the atmosphere more rich and exotic. The main purpose of creating a language is, of course, to transmit the public exoticness. A world build on different cultures and peoples would be more realistic than a fiction world where everyone speak the same language, indeed.

If you want to start a new and not very popular hobby, you can find many resources to learn conlangs on the Internet.

Would you like to speak High Valyrian as a member of House Targaryen? Would not it be wonderful to understand dialogues of Arwen and Aragorn without subtitles?

Author: Luis Cano Collada

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