Fictional Languages from the World of Books and Movies

You’ve probably heard of languages like Klingon, Dothraki, Parseltongue or many other fictional languages created for a story in a book, movie or TV series. But do you know anything about them apart from where they are used? If you want to learn a bit more for the next time your friends talk about Game of Thrones or Harry Potter, you’ve come to the right place.

  1. Elvish — J.R.R. Tolkien novels

Elvish actually refers to all languages spoken by Elves, but only Quenya and Sindarin have enough grammar and vocabulary developed to be considered learnable. Tolkien started constructing his first Elvish language between 1910 and 1911, and the books came out in 1954. This puts into perspective the struggle of creating a language. During those 44 years, the language changed and evolved until it was ready for the book. He even took things a step further and created scripts for his Elvish languages. The complexity of the languages made them the benchmark in the world of fictional languages. Heck, even Tolkien himself said that Elvish is too complicated, and that he never intended for people to speak it.

fictional-languages-ring

  1. Newspeak – 1984

George Orwell created this fictional language for his dystopian novel 1984. This fascinating novel paints an incredible picture of how the language we speak can affect the way we think. There can be no socially unacceptable thoughts if there are no words you can use to express such thoughts. In the language, there are no words with negative meaning. For example, the only way to say “bad” is through the word “ungood”, and something especially bad is called “doubleplusungood”. This fictional language was very simplified, which fits in with the purpose of the novel amazingly.

  1. Dothraki – Game of Thrones

Many believe that Dothraki was created by the author of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin. However, Martin actually only roughly described the language in his books and used some Dothraki words throughout his story (54 words to be exact, half being names). It was, in fact, David J. Peterson who was hired specifically to develop the language exclusively for the TV show from the small amount provided by Martin. He was a part of a competition that was held among language creators and after he won, it took him a month to come up with the language.

Peterson was also the one who developed High Valyrian, for which he only had four words and two sentences from the book to work with.

  1. Klingon – Star Trek

Klingon is the official language from the Star Trek franchise spoken by a warrior race. It was never intended for it to become a completely developed language, but it quickly took off and now there is an actual Klingon Language Institute which helps people learn Klingon. James Doohan, who played Scotty in Star Trek, was the one who created the first Klingon words for the first Star Trek movie, after which Marc Okrand was hired to create the language. He wanted it to be as complicated as possible, so that it sounds extraterrestrial. This led to the word order in a sentence feel backwards: object-verb-subject. This would make the English sentence “I see a dog” be translated as “A dog see I” in Klingon.

Even Shakespeare’s Hamlet was translated into Klingon.

  1. Parseltongue – Harry Potter

All who watched Harry Potter grow up throughout the movies and read about his adventures in the books are already familiar with Parseltongue. Those who speak it are called Parselmouths. It’s actually almost exclusively a hereditary trait, Harry being one of the exceptions. Since it is a language of serpents, it mostly consists of hissing sounds, similar to those of a snake. It doesn’t have a written form and J.K. Rowling only vaguely described it in the books. Parseltounge is not simple, but it’s very concise. Snakes are known for being shady and manipulative, and the language nicely represents those features. The language is built so that one can create only short sentences, consisting solely of the subject, object and verb. The complete meaning of a sentence must be interpreted by the listener based on their knowledge, context or clues.

Harry Potter and the Problems in Translation

  1. Minionese – Despicable Me

One of the main reasons for the global obsession with minions is the way they speak. They use simplified words from many languages, such as English, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Filipino, Russian, and French. The creators of the language, Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, who directed the Despicable Me movies and also voiced the minions, say they basically improvised the language by combining multiple languages from around the world. That is why we can hear words like la boda (wedding – Spanish), Terima Kasih (thank you – Indonesian) and, of course, banana.

  1. Groot – Guardians of the Galaxy

I am Groot.

Would you like to learn a fictional language or even make your own? What’s your favorite fiction novel or movie?

Mateja Ilišin

Mateja is a holder of a Master's degree in the English language and literature and Pedagogy. She specialized in translation and she translates, localizes and proofreads texts in Sinonim. She is a big fan of music and books, and she enjoys quality movies and good company.

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