Conlangs and the Power of Language
Updated: May 22
Have you ever heard of a constructed language? I’m sure you have, but were probably unaware of the technical term, so let me rephrase it this way. Have you ever heard of Klingon, or Dothraki?
Well, these are constructed languages, also called conlangs, and they are created by a person or group of people for a specific purpose rather than developed naturally. While Klingon and Dothraki were created for fictional worlds, this is only one type of constructed language. Conlangs can also be produced to improve the communication of a community, like Esperanto, or created as an experiment (however most of these don’t go very far). (1)
Constructed languages, in some cases, are in fact complete languages. However inventing languages is no easy trip and some conlangs are not necessarily finished. A lot of constructed languages stem from natural languages taking their grammar, vocabulary and phonology to create something off of it. One the other hand, some conlangs are made entirely from scratch with elements completely different from natural languages. (1)
Languages need speakers to live, they need users. This is one issue facing constructed languages. Someone may create a brilliant conlang but if its not shared and actively used by the public, it won’t be anything more than words on paper. Conlangs have been created for purposes and simply die because they are not used by enough people, while on the other hand, some conlangs become so popular that they almost border being classified as a natural language. Take Klingon, for example: there are language courses, dictionaries, books, etc. Once a conlang is accepted by people, rules and systems start to develop for that language, making it live as long as there are speakers. (5)
Now that you understand a little bit more about conlangs, I’d like to share with you some popular ones around the world:
Esperanto is otherwise known as the international language. It was created in the 19th century by a Polish doctor named Ludovic Zamenhof. His goal was to create a unifying language as he believed that the languages that currently existed had political weight and caused separation between people.
He wanted to create a language where even if people had varying first languages, they could still all communicate together. Similar attempts to establish a language such as this have been made in the past, but none have caught on as well as Esperanto. It mimics the grammar, vocabulary and phrasing of Romance languages, making it relatively easy for speakers of languages under that classification to learn. (1) Today Esperanto has over 100,00 speakers. (2)
Solresol was invented by Jean-François Sudre in the 19th century. It is the first and only language created based on the principal of music. Originally entitled “La Langue Musicale Universelle” or the international music language, Solresol has seven syllables based on the Western music scale: do re mi fa sol la si. Sudre made the language easy to learn and understand, without it being biased to any previously existing language to encourage international communication. It wasn’t widely accepted by the public, however some communities do use the language and interest in learning and elaborating on Solresol has come and gone in waves since its creation. (1) (6)
If you’re familiar with HBO’s Game of Thrones series based on George R. R. Martin’s novels, you’ve probably heard of Dothraki. Languages present in fictional worlds help make that world more believable—having various groups of people from distant areas speak different languages simulates the real world. Constructed by Martin and completed by David J. Peterson for the television series, Dothraki stems from Greek, Anglo-Saxon, and Gothic languages.
With artistic conlangs like Dothraki and High Valerian, the words that are invented are based on the imagined needs or social context of the group of people who will speak said language, while still respecting linguistic rules. This is why Dothraki has 14 terms to say “horse” as they are nomadic tribespeople. (1) (3)
Middle Earth is home to the Elvish language. J.R.R. Tolkien created Elvish before creating the world in which it was spoken. (3) Perhaps this is why Middle Earth seems so original; the language came before the world rather than the other way around. Based on Welsh and Finnish, the Elvish language has two dialects: Quenya and Sindarin.
Although it has enough phrases to hold a basic conversation, it is not a complete language, despite fan’s attempts to extend it. (1) This is yet another artistic conlang that makes a fantasy world more authentic.
Klingon is the language spoken by Klingons, and alien race in the Star Trek films and tv series. It was created in the 1980s by director Leonard Nimoy and writer/producer Harve Benett. They wanted Klingons to speak a real-sounding language, so they commissioned linguist Marc Okrand to create Klingon.
Klingon incorporates retroflex, uvular, and velar consonants, making the language sound alien-like. There are Klingon courses, a dictionary, and a Klingon language institute that publishes a magazine, poetry, and fiction in the much beloved conlang. (4) Live long and prosper.
Minions are small, yellow creatures who often wear goggles and overalls from the animated comedy, Despicable Me. Listening to the minions speak, we think of gibberish—nonsensical words that are simply aimed to make us laugh. However, minionese is a constructed language inspired by Spanish, Italian, and Chinese.
If you listen to it closely, there are noticeable speech patterns that actually mean something in the language. (1) Although it may seem like gobbledygook to some, those who understand the comical language may be laughing at something not apparent to us all.
Why talk about conlangs? Well, we are a language service provider and its important to understand what kinds of languages are out there and how languages work—whether it is a natural language, an artificial one, or something in between. We’ve seen efforts to make fantasy worlds appear authentic and aims to create an international language to eliminate the term “language barrier.”
It makes you think: could there one day be a language in which everyone understands, no matter what your mother tongue is?
Let’s not underestimate how powerful languages truly can be.
That’s all for now,
(1) “Constructed Languages.” Global Language Services, Global Language Serviced Ltd. Sept. 2022, https://www.globallanguageservices.co.uk/constructed-languages/.
(2) “Esperanto: Ethnologue Free.” Ethnologue (Free All), SIL International, https://www.ethnologue.com/language/epo/.
(3) “How Was Dothraki Language Created?” Global Language Services, Global Language Serviced Ltd. , 15 June 2022, https://www.globallanguageservices.co.uk/dothraki-language-created-linguistic-tales/.
(4) “Klingon (TlhIngan Hol).” Klingon Alphabet, Pronunciation and Language, https://omniglot.com/conscripts/klingon.htm.
(5) Oostendorp, Marc van. “Constructed Languages.” Serious Science, Serious Science , 22 Apr. 2016, https://serious-science.org/constructed-languages-6242.
(6) “Solresol.” Solresol Language and Stenographic Script, https://omniglot.com/writing/solresol.htm.