Beyond Elvish: Lord of the Rings and the origin of languages created for the screen
BY PATRICK COX
Forget Klingon, Na’vi and Dothraki—languages created for the screen. These are languages paid for by producers, created by linguists.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit is getting the three-part Hollywood treatment. The return of the Elvish languages to the big screen is a reminder of just how inventive fiction writers have been over the years in dreaming up new tongues. Think of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, with its thuggish Russian-inflected slang called Nadsat (a girl is a devochka, a friend a droog).
This urge to create new words starts at a young age. Children often make up words before they have a proper command of their native tongues.
“We enjoy exercising the way we produce sounds,” says Indiana University’s Michael Adams, editor of From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages.
Adams says he likes to play with the sounds of language, ”in the car or the shower or wherever I am…in the way that I suppose a poet has to think about sound and language.”
Tolkien needed to do a lot of that. A trained philologist, he did it for years before creating his fantasy world.
He worked on his fantasy languages during the First World War. It helped to pass the time, says Adams: “He did a lot of language invention and some of the prehistory of the language of Elvish is from those days in the trenches.”
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings came decades later. By then, Tolkien had imagined an entire history of his imagined languages.
“He would even leave unexplained thing in the languages he was working on,” says Adams. “Any real language you were reconstructing would have unexplained things in it too. So he was trying to mimic behavior of natural language very closely.”
That degree of detail may be unrivaled among novelists, although Michael Adams does have someone up his sleeve. More about that in a moment.
First, consider what most language creators do in their novels: they set up thought experiments.
In her science fiction novel, The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin created the Pravic language. Or rather, she created a breakaway society of anarchists who themselves created Pravic.
This group of anarchists “want to remove from the language anything that implies ownership,” says Le Guin.
World Language Communications.comis an international translation service provider with clients in countless industries including government, pharmaceutical, energy, banking, telecommunications, media/advertising, automotive and beyond. Such clients range from the US Department of Justice, US Army, FBI, DEA, UCLA Medical Center, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer, AT&T, Ericsson, Nokia, Cingular, Fox, HondaandVolkswagen, Siemens as well as hundreds of law firms, clinics and hospitals around the world. 150 different languages.