With the rather marvellous sci-fi film, ‘Arrival’ out on DVD and Blu ray and its specially created alien language we thought we would have a look at other films that have used languages made specifically for them. The eloquent use of lyrical language is something that we often try to persuade the Editor to use having told him no end of times that the ladies love nothing more than cunning linguists (‘You’re fired!’ – Ed)…….
- Klingon – Star Trek
Top of the list has to be this one developed by Marc Okrand to sound ‘alien’ the language was first used in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It’s probably the most famous language invented for film and there is even a Klingon Language Institute to promote its use. A design principle of the Klingon language was dissimilarity to existing languages, and English in particular. Okrand avoided patterns that are typologically common and deliberately chose features that occur relatively infrequently in human languages. This includes the highly asymmetric consonant inventory and the basic word order. Many Star Trek anoraks who have learnt the language have been puzzled at the response from non- Trekkies which is normally a punch in the throat.
- Na’vi – Avatar
Naʼvi is the constructed language of the Naʼvi, the sapient humanoid indigenous inhabitants of the fictional moon Pandora in the 2009 film Avatar. It was created by Paul Frommer, a professor at the USC Marshall School of Business with a doctorate in linguistics. Naʼvi was designed to fit James Cameron’s conception of what the language should sound like in the film, it needed to be learnable by the fictional human characters of the film, and to be pronounceable by the actors, yet not closely resemble any single human language. Those who want to learn it are often put off by being told they must first paint themselves blue.
- Dothraki – Game of Thrones
Dothraki language is a constructed fictional language and was developed for the TV series by the linguist David J. Peterson based on the Dothraki words and phrases in George R. R. Martin’s novels. The language had to match the uses already put down in the books and be easily pronounceable or learnable by the actors Peterson drew inspiration from Martin’s description of the language, and languages Turkish, Russian, Estonian, Inuktitut, Swahili and bollocks.
In 2012, 146 baby girls in the United States were named “Khaleesi”, the Dothraki term for the wife of a khal, or ruler. Incredible to think that there are that many nerds who’ve found someone to procreate with.
- Nadsat – A Clockwork Orange
Nadsat is a fictional register or argot used by the teenagers in Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange. In addition to being a novelist, Burgess was a linguist and he used this background to depict his characters as speaking a form of Russian. Nadsat was also used in Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation. The antihero and narrator, Alex, uses it in first-person style to relate the story to the reader and to communicate with other characters, such as his droogs, parents, victims, and any authority-figures he comes into contact with. Nadsat is basically English with some borrowed words from Russian and also contains influences from Cockney rhyming slang, the King James Bible, German, words of unclear origin, and some that Burgess invented including a liberal sprinkling of cobblers.
- Aurebesh – Star Wars
The Star Wars films contain a number of different languages some of which were criticised for not being true constructed languages. Aurebesh is a written language used to represent spoken Galactic Basic and is the most commonly seen alphabet in the Star Wars franchise.
The alphabet was based on shapes designed by Joe Johnston for the original trilogy, which are briefly featured in Return of the Jedi. Johnston’s design, called Star Wars 76, was created into a font and again used in Attack of the Clones.
In the early 1990s, Stephen Crane, an art director at West End Games, became intrigued with the shapes as they appeared on the Death Star, and wanted to develop them into an alphabet to be used in licensed Star Wars products. Lucasfilm gave permission for him to do as long as it was presented as one of many alphabets in the Star Wars galaxy, not the sole and exclusive alphabet. After copying the letters from screenshots by hand, he standardized the letters based on shapes similar to the Eurostile font. He named and assigned a value to each letter, and derived the name “Aurebesh” from the names of the first two letters: aurek and besh. We’re guessing he may not have a girlfriend.
In anticipation of the December 2015 release of The Force Awakens, Google Translate added a feature to render text into Aurebesh.
- Newspeak – Nineteen Eighty Four
Newspeak appears in George Orwell’s 1984 and is the language of Oceania, a fictional totalitarian state ruled by the Party, who created the language to meet the ideological requirements of English Socialism (Ingsoc). In the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Newspeak is a controlled language, of restricted grammar and limited vocabulary, a linguistic design meant to limit the freedom of thought—personal identity, self-expression, free will—that ideologically threatens the regime of Big Brother and the Party, who thus criminalised such concepts as thoughtcrime, contradictions of Ingsoc orthodoxy.
- Elvish languages – The Lord of The Rings
- R. R. Tolkien created many languages for his elves, complete with races, to speak the languages he had constructed. The languages were the first thing Tolkien created for his mythos, starting with what he originally called “Qenya”, the first primitive form of Elvish which later became known as Quenya (High-elven) and is one of the two most complete of Tolkien’s languages (the other being Sindarin, or Grey-elven). The phonology, vocabulary and grammar of Qenya and Sindarin are strongly influenced by Finnish and Welsh, subsequently, many fans have contributed words and phrases, attempting to create a fully usable language. It’s not known if there is an Elvish phrase for ‘Just how many endings does The Return of the King have?’
- Lapine – Watership Down
Lapine is a fictional language created by author Richard Adams for his 1972 novel Watership Down, which is spoken by fictional rabbit characters. The language was again used in Adams’ 1996 sequel, Tales from Watership Down. It appeared in both the film and television adaptations. The fragments of language presented by Adams consist of a few dozen distinct words, and are chiefly used for the naming of rabbits, their mythological characters, and objects in their world. The name “Lapine” comes from the French word for rabbit, lapin, and can also be used to describe rabbit society. The sound of Lapine contains influences from Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Arabic Lapine has also been frequently compared to Sindarin used in Lord of the Rings. We think that rabbits are wholly capable of taking fluent English having seen rare footage of a grey rabbit that’s able to stand on its rear legs and has been heard to say, ‘What’s up, Doc?’
- Parseltongue – Harry Potter
Parseltongue is the language of serpents and other magical serpent-based creatures, like the Runespoor and Basilisk. An individual who can speak parseltongue is known as a Parselmouth, but It is a very uncommon skill, and typically hereditary with nearly all known parselmouths being descended from Salazar Slytherin; Harry Potter and Herpo The Foul being two notable exceptions. When spoken, it sounds similar to a snake hissing and cannot be understood by non-speakers. Apart from communicating with serpentine lifeforms, Parselmouths also seem able to influence the will of serpents to a certain extent as well as being able to communicate. The language is not a constructed language, and does not have a system of grammar or words, unlike some other languages used in film and fiction. J.K Rowling took the name parselmouth from an old English word for someone with a hare lip. It’s not known where the word gobshite originated from.
- Atlantean – Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantean language is a constructed language which like Klingon was created by Marc Okrand. Okrand structured it to include a vast Indo-European word stock with its own grammar, inspired by Sumerian and North American languages. Atlantean was created using the fictional principles that Atlantean is the “Tower of Babel language”, the “root dialect” from which all languages descended. To achieve this, Dr. Okrand looked for common characteristics from various world languages and combines words from is Proto-Indo-European languages, with inspiration from Biblical Hebrew, Latin and Greek alongside a variety of other ancient languages or ancient language reconstructions. There is no punctuation or capitalisation in the native Atlantean Writing System, which again Okrand based upon ancient writing systems and the Editors hand written post-it notes.