From the films we watch to the books we read and the music we listen to; language can be woven in to catchy one-liners, wistful poetry, and melodic lyrics.
I’m sure we’re all very familiar with the emotional impact a few words can have on us; making us laugh, cry, or think. Just consider your favourite movie quote, or that song you just can’t get out of your head. Without a doubt, language plays an intrinsic part in how we’re effectively entertained.
I won’t labour the point, but it would be hard to disagree that moments of entertainment are made more effective by how realistic they seem to us. While music helps us concentrate and CGI makes a film appear more fantastic, it’s words that tie stories together and engage our attention.
As a student of literature I’ll admit that I’m likely biased. However, having worked for the last two years in an agency where 100’s of languages are used every day, it’s profoundly interesting to see how words – no matter what the language is – engage attention and elicit all sorts of emotions.
Inventing a Language
“So”, you may begin to ask, “where’s this all going?”
Well, it got me thinking: I’d noticed over the last decade or so that invented languages (a.k.a. constructed languages, or conlangs) were popping up more often in popular culture.
I’d be confident saying that even a casual observer is at least partially aware of the phenomenon. Think The Lord of the Rings (LotR), Avatar, or Star Trek: odds are you’ll have heard of at least one of their languages: Elvish*, Na’vi, and Klingon, respectively. *(Quenya and Sindarin, for the especially nerdy).
However, the crazy thing is realising just how influential those invented languages – and many more besides them – have become. Their creators go to great lengths to lay down their foundations and ultimately construct intricate patterns of communication.
There’s certainly more to conlangs than you might expect. When I was a child, I simply typed utter nonsense when writing stories with imagined languages in them. However, for the true philologists and etymologists amongst us, it goes much, much further…
First: a little history
We’ll briefly start with a true story and state that inventing languages isn’t anything new.
While pretty much all languages borrow from one another to grow, change, and adapt (consider the English word “pyjamas”, which actually originates from Farsi (Persian) & Urdu), establishing a new language entirely from scratch is something quite different.
However, this is precisely what happened with the language known as “Esperanto”. The following summary is from [source]:
“Esperanto is the most commonly used artificial language. It was created by Polish physician Ludwig L. Zamenhoff and was first presented in 1887 […] Esperanto can be learned considerably quicker than a typical natural language. The grammar is extremely regular, yet not primitive. There is only one paradigm for nouns and one paradigm for verbs. There is a simple [relationship] between written and spoken text. The word order is “free”, allowing topic-focus articulation. About 70% of Esperanto vocabulary come from Romance languages, about 20% from Germanic languages and English and some part from Slavic languages.”
For over 125 years, Esperanto has found a sizeable audience and remained relevant, despite the odds. Here’s a quick overview of Esperanto’s reach and influence:
- The number of speakers range between 1 and 2 million, with estimates increasing every year.
- As a recognised language, these numbers make it akin to a minority language, like Icelandic or Welsh.
- Thousands of books have been published in Esperanto, both original and translated versions.
- It was created to help promote peace and diplomacy. The thought was to use the language to ensure everyone was on a linguistic level playing field.
Attention to detail
While most invented languages are unlikely to reach the heights of Esperanto, they’re artfully crafted in similar ways. Primarily, this means they take influence from more common languages used around the world. Conlangs have their own grammar, phonology, syntax, pronunciation styles, and much more, and all are designed to sound authentic when spoken and heard.
With that in mind, you may or may not have a noticed a popular TV show returning to the small screen…
In Game of Thrones, the TV adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, words are often a far more powerful weapon than the swords and sorcery that feature in the series. From the savage-sounding Dothraki to the velvety smooth Valerian, the show makes use of conlangs to make an already potent world feel even livelier.
David J. Peterson, the man who created these languages, stated that “consumers want ‘authenticity behind [the language], not just the sound of it'” [source]; to make this happen, care and time are essential ingredients to a conlang’s creation.
Ultimately, the conlangs we hear make entertainment more influential because they further the idea of an imagined world being real.
Peterson’s knowledge of nearly twenty languages clearly heavily influence the conglang creative process for the show; just as stories take influence from history, the process of inventing a language borrows structures from real languages; like Welsh, Arabic, and Latin. By establishing rules (or ‘roots’) that a language must follow, it can then grow and flourish.
A legacy of language
Another example comes from J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit & LotR (and an established philologist besides). Tolkien’s entire mythology grew from the languages he was creating and his imagined history of Middle-Earth was both influenced by and influenced how his languages grew and changed. He “started by inventing base-roots and modifying them to show how his fictional languages developed over time…” Indeed, thanks to Tolkien’s efforts, “invented languages … [have] become a hallmark of modern fantasy worlds … shaping the history or cultural characteristics of its speakers”. [Source]
It’s no wonder that 80 years since The Hobbit and 70 years since LotR, Tolkien’s work is still incredibly influential in the real world too.
You’ll be familiar with the inscription: “One ring to rule them all…” [source]
Working in the real world.
I’ll throw in a disclaimer here to say that, while we’re certainly impressed by conglangs, DA Languages Ltd. won’t be offering Dothraki or Elvish interpreters any time soon. However, even when you look at Esperanto, it’s hard not to be impressed that inventing a language can be so influential.
Who knows what’s to come in the future? As technology advances and cultures connect, languages have never moved at a faster pace, but nor have they been so easily accessible.
It may often appear like a lot of information to handle, but if you ever find yourself lost in translation, you can rest assured that we’re here to help.
For nearly twenty years we’ve been establishing our agency’s reputation to provide excellent communication services that overcome language barriers. So, for all your real interpreting and translation needs, be sure to get in touch with our team. We’ll be happy to assist. Click to view our services, or here for Client Testimonials.
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