The Top 5 Constructed Languages in Films and TV Shows

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The Festival De Cannes (Cannes Film Festival) will start in less than one week and we thought it would be interesting to conduct some research into the best constructed film languages. We have based our findings on the syntactical (system for creating sentences), phonological (sound system) and grammatical (structural rules) complexity of each language. But first things first…

Constructed languages are languages whose vocabulary, grammar and phonology have been consciously designed by an individual or group, instead of having developed naturally. Natural languages are often seen as an imperfect media for communication and with the idea of functional perfection, artificial languages are constructed. They aim for simplicity, logic, precision, creativity and richness, but above all universal appeal.

Long before English became the language of the international media, business, science, communication and education, many linguists were convinced that the world was in need of an international language. The creation of an artificial universal language had been proposed about fifty times between 1880 and 1907, but never succeeded.

The most famous and most widely spoken constructed language is Esperanto, an international language developed to achieve world peace. It was invented by the Polish-born doctor L. Zamenhof in 1887. The vocabulary, syntax, phonology and semantics of Esperanto is largely based on Indo-European languages spoken in Europe. This suggests an inequality for some learners of the language: its heavy eurocentricity possibly precludes a wider use in other continents.

Constructed languages are more and more used for fantasy literature, science-fiction films and video games, because they give fictional worlds an extra touch of realism. Some languages borrow features from human tongues to sound natural (e.g. Sindarin was influenced by Finnish and Welsh), whilst others are explicitly created to sound alien.

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The Top 5 Constructed Languages in Films and TV Shows

5. Huttese (Star Wars)

  • Spoken by: Hutts
  • Invented by:  B. Burtt
  • Syntax: relatively free word order
  • Phonology:
    • 3 vowels, 15 consonants
    • based on Quechua languages
  • Grammar:
    • inflections on nouns:
      • number: singular and plural
      • gender: masculine, feminine
      • case: genitive
    • inflections on verbs:
      • tense: past, present, future
      • mood: indicative

4. Sindarin (Lord of the Rings)

  • Spoken by: tribes of immortal Elves in Middle-earth
  • Invented by: J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Sounds: noble
  • Syntax: mostly subject-verb-object
  • Phonology:
    • 6 vowels, 15 consonants
    • very similar to Welsh, Old English and Old Norse
  • Grammar:
    • inflections on nouns:
      • number: singular and plural (plurals are formed in ‘unpredictable way’)
      • gender: none
      • case: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative + vocative
    • inflections on verbs:
      • tense: past, present, future
      • mood: indicative, imperative

3. Klingon (Star Trek)

  • Spoken by: fictional Klingons in the Star Trek universe
  • Invented by: M. Okrand
  • Sounds: harsh, guttural, unusual
  • Syntax: object-verb-subject
  • Phonology:
    • 5 vowels, 21 consonants
    • strict syllable structure: a syllable must start with a consonant, followed by a vowel
  • Grammar:
    • inflections on nouns:
      • number: singular and plural (various suffixes for plural)
      • gender: masculine, feminine, neuter
      • case: genitive
    • inflections on verbs:
      • tense: past, present, future
      • mood: indicative, imperative
      • person and number
      • certainty
      • dynamic

2. High Valyrian (Game of Thrones)

  • Spoken by: Valyrian Freehold
  • Invented by:  G. R.R. Martin
  • Syntax: flexible word order
  • Phonology:
    • 6 vowels, 19 consonants
    • very similar to English
  • Grammar:
    • inflections on nouns:
      • number: singular and plural + paucal (a few) and collective
      • gender: solar, luna, terrestrial, aquatic
      • case: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative + vocative, locative, instrumental, comitative
    • inflections on verbs:
      • tense: past, present, future
      • mood: indicative, imperative


1. Na’vi (Avatar)

  • Spoken by: sapient humanoid indigenous inhabitants of fictional moon Pandora
  • Invented by: P. Frommer
  • Sounds: alien, but pleasant and appealing
  • Syntax: free word order
  • Phonology:
    • 7 vowels, 20 consonants
    • no voiced plosives ([b], [d], [g])
  • Grammar:
    • inflections on nouns:
      • number: singular and plural + dual (two items, used to exist in Old English) and trial (three items, only found on pronouns in human languages) forms
      • gender: masculine and feminine
      • case: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative+ ergative and topical (transitive and intransitive objects are also marked)
    • inflections on verbs:
      • tense: past, recent past, present, future, immediate future
      • mood: indicative, imperative

After comparing the syntactical, phonological and grammatical complexity of our Top 5 constructed languages in films and TV shows, we came to the conclusion that the Na’vi language spoken in Avatar is the most advanced one, although it was a very close race between Na’vi and High Valyrian. The Game of Thrones language has a more evolved inflectional nominal system, but Na’vi has additional specific verbal distinctions and more vowels and consonants.

TranslateMedia provides translations for film and TV scripts. Please contact us for further information.

 


2 Comments

  1. interesting article. thx for the effort.


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