Top Ten Sci-fi/Fantasy Conlangs
Constructed languages, or conlangs as they’re called, are a staple in many science fiction and fantasy works. They add a depth to otherwise shallow worlds and a new level of complexity to already deep settings. The three things that ultimately relate the uniqueness of a culture are its religion(s) (or lack thereof), its art, and its language(s). Language conveys meaning to an otherwise hum drum world, breathing rich life into the mundane. Without further ado here are our top ten conlangs.
*Note: This list is primarily in order from most complete to least complete, and by most popular to least popular.
- Elvish– How else could this list start than with the example all other conlangs aspire to be like? Elvish is a fictional language created by J.R.R. Tolkien for his sprawling Middle Earth mythology. The legend states that he first began constructing Elvish in the trenches of WWI, the muse for much of what is in his stories. There are two primary forms of the language: Sindarin (“Grey-Elvish”, or the common Elvish tongue) and Quenya (the high, or royal, Elvish tongue). According to Tolkien, the language was primarily derived from Finnish, Greek, and Latin as well as Tolkien’s own creativity. The written script, Tengwar, seems to be to some degree based on a hybridization of Arabic, Latin, and Nordic letters although this is unconfirmed. The Elvish languages are the most comprehensive and complete fictional conglangs in the world. Elvish is so influential and revered that large portions of the Bible have been translated into it.
- Klingon– Ok, so perhaps this one is stretching it just a bit since this site is dedicated to the art of literature, not the screen. However, countless Star Trek novels and short stories have been written so I think it can be permitted. Klingon is a fictional conlang from the Star Trek mythos spoken by the race by the same name. Next to Elvish, it is most likely the fullest conlang in existence. It is spoken on a regular basis worldwide by a community of dedicated fans. It was created by Marc Okrand who has written three books and recorded two audio-courses for learning the language. Klingon is so developed and popular that many classic works, such as Much Ado About Nothing and the Epic of Gilgamesh, have been translated into it.
- Dothraki– Dothraki is perhaps the most well-known of contemporary conlangs. It was created by George R.R. Martin for his epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire and has even made it into the HBO adaption A Game of Thrones. It is spoken by the warlike Dothraki people, and is intricately constructed. It has gained such popularity that the renowned Living Languages group has published a book for learning it: Living Language Dothraki.
- The Ancient Language– This language appears in the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. It is a prehistoric language steeped in magic, and it is implied that it is impossible to lie in this language. It is a language of spells and “true names”, shrouded in mystery. The language is very heavily grounded in Ancient Norse, but Paolini has created his own words from scratch when needed.
- Old Solar– Old Solar is the primary language for the inhabitants of the Solar System in C.S. Lewis’s The Space Trilogy. Also known as Malacandran (Martian), it is the oldest language in the Field of Arbol, and is generally interpreted to be the Biblical original language that God disrupted at the Tower of Babel.
- Newspeak– Newspeak was an engineered form of English in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was created by the tyrannical state of Oceania to control its populace. The state realized that if you could control the speech of a nation, if you could control its very language, then you could control their thoughts and by proxy their minds. The stated goal of Newspeak was to become less and less like English, cutting out as many words as possible at a time in order to recreate a culture in the state’s image. It is perhaps the best fictitious example of how language can shape culture. This language is somewhat learnable but be warned: you may be falling into Oceania’s hands!
- Nadsat– Nadsat is a well-developed slang language created by Anthony Burgess in his cult classic novel A Clockwork Orange. Burgess was a polyglot (one who speaks more than two languages) who understood how language, specifically slang, effected culture. Slang, like culture, is constantly changing and the change of one inevitably leads to the change of the other. Nadsat was created to prevent his novel from becoming dated, and to suggest that youth subculture is independent of societal norms. Nadsat was influenced heavily by Russian, and the name itself derives from the Russian word for thirteen, indicative of the demographic that uses it.
- Lapine– Though much less complete than many other conlangs, the language of the rabbits in the heroic fantasy/political allegory Watership Down by Richard Adams is significant in letting us know the culture of the characters.
- Huttese– Like with Star Trek, this may be technically cheating. Huttese is the language of the Hutts in the Star Wars universe. Although only a handful of phrases exist, many fans like to use it for its grotesque sounding cadence. Huttese first made its appearance in Return of the Jedi and was described as the royal or courtly language of the Hutts. Since then, Huttese has been adapted into various other media including novels and short stories.
- R’lyehian– This language was created by H.P. Lovecraft and is the language of the Great Old Ones in his Cthulhu mythos. First appearing in The Call of Cthulhu, it was designed, like most things involving the Old Ones, to drive mere mortals insane. Like Huttese and Lapine, only a precious few phrases exist, but they are more than enough to give readers a hint at the Old Ones’ culture (if you can call it that).
Article by Tripp Bond