Some science fiction and fantasy movies, games and TV shows are content to just have you suspend your disbelief and buy into a world not quite like (or completely unlike) our own. But others go that extra mile and try to make the unreal more real. One way to do that is to create a brand new language for characters to speak. Obviously, most people don’t love watching completely subtitled entertainment, so they keep it to a minimum, but it does add a little more authenticity.
But hardcore fans even study these languages, becoming fluent speakers or writers. Linguists, writers and even actors often go to great lengths to create these fictional languages. And some are in high demand – you’ll see a few names repeated as we take you through some of the best made-up languages in entertainment.
So here they are, 13 Fictional Languages You Can Actually Learn.
The language of Jabba the Hutt and those of his species was, of course, created for his first appearance on film in Return of the Jedi back in 1983. With help from Larry Ward, who originally voiced Jabba (and Greedo), sound designer Ben Burtt created Huttese while working on Episode VI, based on an Incan dialect called Quechua.
Hutts are not the only characters in Star Wars to speak Huttese. Watto, a Toydarian, speaks it in The Phantom Menace, as does Greedo in A New Hope. Even little Anakin can speak it. As any Star Wars fan knows, we hear a lot of Huttese, subtitled, in the early scenes of Return of the Jedi, in Jabba’s palace as the giant slug speaks to his inner circle and visitors – perhaps most notably saying, in his deep, growly voice, punctuated by a chuckle, “Wee now kong bantha poodoo.” (“Now you're bantha fodder.")
Did you know those little green men from Mars have their own language? In the world of author Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series of novels they do. Only Mars isn’t called Mars, it’s called Barsoom to the planet’s inhabitants, who, in fact, are not all green. They come in many different colors, but all speak the language Barsoomian.
Burroughs had some examples and descriptions of the language in his books, but it was developed into a full language by Paul Frommer for the 2012 film John Carter. Frommer attempted to create a relatively simple language, since in the novels Carter describes it that way, saying he learned it in a week. Burroughs had created over 400 words and Frommer expanded it from there and created the “sound” of the language, though this added touch of authenticity did little to impact the film's box office receipts.
For the 2001 animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire, producers at Disney wanted the people of Atlantis to have their own unique language, so they hired renowned linguist Dr. Marc Okrand to handle the duties. We’ll get into Okrand’s most famous fictional language creation later, but for this one he wanted to try to use elements of as many real languages as possible, because the story dictates that all Earth languages derived from Atlantean.
The language is actually pretty integral to the plot of the film, with Atlantean writings being discovered and being, like we said, the basis for other languages. And there’s another interesting tie between the language and the film: the main character, Milo (voiced by Michael J. Fox), is a linguist himself and was based on sketches of Okrand.
In the 1988 film Alien Nation and the subsequent FOX TV series, the Tenctonese were bulbous-headed humanoid aliens who attempt to assimilate into human society. Oddly, there are actually two versions of their language: one developed by Van Ling for the film, based on Chinese, Samoan and German.
But we’ve heard much more of the second version, developed for the TV show. That one was created by Kenneth and Juliette Johnson, a father-daughter team, and includes a lot of variations on English, with words spelled backwards or syllables rearranged. There’s a written form of the language that is far from English, though, looking more like up and down squiggles on a heart rate monitor.
Fans of the Stargate movie and TV series know that the Goa’uld are a bunch of nasty creatures. The snakey alien symbiotes are the primary baddies for most of the original series, Stargate-SG1. Their language, when a Goa’uld parasite is connected to a host, is said to be based on ancient Egyptian and, not surprisingly, their written script is based on Egyptian hieroglyphics. Of course, within the fiction of the show, our real Egyptian hieroglyphs were based on the Goa’uld’s writings.
Producers even used the hieroglyphics to hide jokes in the series. And in the movie, there was an inside linguistics joke when the linguist character Daniel Jackson (James Spader) says reading ancient Egyptian is easy, “once you know the vowels.” But the fact is, there are no vowels in hieroglyphs, only consonants.
Although popularized on the HBO series Game of Thrones, the Dothraki language first appeared in the source material: the A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels by George R. R. Martin. The language of the Dothraki people was developed in full for the series by renowned linguist David J. Peterson, who also created the series’ Valyrian languages, as well as languages on Syfy’s Defiance and Thor: The Dark World, among others (his name will come up again later).
Peterson has described the language of the warrior nomads as a mixture of Arabic and Spanish sounds, created so that it’s not too difficult for the actors to speak. If you want to speak it yourself, you can find a handy dictionary at Dothraki.org. But if you’ve watched one episode of Game of Thrones, you surely know one Dothraki word: Khaleesi, the title adopted by Daenerys Targaryen, which has become a pop culture phenomenon to the point where people are actually naming their babies Khaleesi.
If you’ve ever played the Myst series of video games, you’re very familiar with the D’ni people and their language, which was first seen in written form in the game Riven. Created by Cyan game designer Richard A. Watson, it often appeared throughout the game, creating intriguing mysteries for players to solve.
The D’ni language features an intricately developed alphabet and numbering system. There’s actually a community known as the Circle of D’ni that dedicates itself to studying the language. And there are a number of websites you can check out if you want to learn the language in detail, although many don’t appear to have been updated in the 21st century.
Dothraki language creator David J. Peterson also pieced together the Trigedasleng language of the Grounder people on the CW series The 100. You may know that the Grounders are the survivors of a nuclear apocalypse on Earth, so since they essentially are humans, it’s no surprise that Peterson describes this language as having evolved from English. So you have the phrase, “Taim yu drag raun,” which means, “If you fall behind.” You can see the yu meaning you and drag, which comes from the meaning behind the English word fall in this context.
Interestingly, on The 100, most Grounders speak Trigedasleng – however, the Grounder warriors are also able to speak traditional English so they can understand and take an upper hand on their English-speaking enemies. Meanwhile, some of the humans who had escaped the apocalypse and have returned to Earth have also made attempts to learn Trigedasleng.
Dovahzul is the language of the dragons in the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, as well as books based on the game. Created by the game’s concept artist, Adam Adamowicz, the written form of the language is said to look like cuneiform, which was the written language used in ancient Mesopotamia.
Within the game, hostile dragons have been known to taunt players in their language, and when spoken, rarely are more than three words uttered in a sentence. Skyrim’s main musical theme is actually sung by a choir of 30 people in Dovahzul, made to sound more spooky and menacing by tripling the layers, so it sounds like 90 voices. Head to Thuum.org for an extensive dictionary and community forums.
One of the newer fictional languages, we first heard the language of the alien species Na’vi in Avatar back in 2009. And we’ll probably hear much more of it in the four new sequels that were recently announced. The language of the blue-skinned humanoids was created by linguist Paul Frommer (who you might remember from Barsoomian in John Carter), based on about 30 words created by director James Cameron, along with Cameron’s conception of how it should sound.
Frommer took an entire six months to create the vocabulary we heard in the film, but since its release, he has expanded the language and grammatical rules so that fans can attempt to learn it. But Frommer isn’t done expanding Na’vi. He has a blog called Na’viteri, last updated in November 2015, where he occasionally releases more words and phrases.
There may be a more famous fictional language in Star Trek lore (more on that one later), but Vulcan was the first to be heard on the original series. Certain words in Spock’s native tongue were created and spoken on camera during the original series. The reason we say “spoken on camera” is because in some later instances in the films, the actors spoke the words in English, then later dubbed in Vulcan words, which were devised to match the movement of the actors’ mouths.
It was actor James Doohan, the actor who played Scotty, who originally devised the Vulcan words to be dubbed during 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the language was more fully developed by Marc Okrand. There are a few different styles when it comes to the written Vulcan word, one of which kind of resembles sheet music. Probably the most famous phrase in the Vulcan language is the oh-so-provocative pon farr, which means “time of mating.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series, was himself also a linguist, so he rejoiced in creating fully-fleshed languages for his fantasy world of Middle Earth. In fact, he even created the Elvish languages before anything else. And, yes, we say “languages” plural because there are two main languages that his elves speak: Quenya and Sindarin. Though Tolkien himself didn’t flesh them out into fully conversational languages, fans have since done exactly that.
Quenya is spoken by the “High Elves” of Eldamar, the first-born of the immortal race. Sindarin is spoken by the Grey-elves. Quenya in particular is very much influenced by Finnish, Greek and Latin. Sindarin takes more from Welsh than Finnish. As we’ve heard in the films, Elvish has a very pleasant, lavish sound, but can also, like any language, be made to sound threatening. You don’t want to see Galadriel mad.
Speaking of angry languages in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien also created Black Speech, but not into a full language, partly because he found it vile. The Orcs incorporated some of it into their language, but it’s best known as the language seen written on the One Ring.
Arguably, there’s no more famous fictional language than that of those bumpy-headed beings from Star Trek, Klingon. One of the stereotypical references for the ultimate in geekery is the ability to speak the harsh guttural language of these warlike aliens. It was popularized as a language for anyone to learn thanks to the 1985 book The Klingon Dictionary by Marc Okrand, who also mainly developed the Vulcan language. But, interestingly, it was first conceived by Scotty himself, actor James Doohan, in much the same way he did with Vulcan.
First heard in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture (when they spoke on the original series, they spoke English), the full language was developed for 1984’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, when Okrand developed a large group of words and grammatical structure. Classic works of literature like Hamlet have been translated into Klingon, full original plays and operas have been written in it, and one man even raised his son to speak Klingon as his first language.
Did we forget any of your favorite fictional languages? Will anyone out there fess up to being able to speak any of them? Let us hear it in the comments section.