The New Languages of the 21st Century

Can you imagine having a conversation in Elvish with the supermarket cashier in the not-so-distant future? Or going to buy cigarettes from the convenience store clerk in Klingon? For years the languages created in literature, film and TV were reproduced solely by a limited amount of hardcore fans. However, these days the languages such as those mentioned, i.e. Klingon from Star Trek and Elvish from the books of Tolkein, or Dothraki from Game of Thrones and even Na’vi from Avatar, enjoy a greater level of acceptance.

They are known as conlang, an abbreviation of the term “constructed language.” What is peculiar about them in contrast with artificial languages such as, for example, Nasdat from A Clockwork Orange or the Newspeak in 1984 is that they possess their own grammar, the verbs have specific conjugations and there is a defined alphabet for writing in them, rather than being a simple substitution of words.

The growth of conlang is attributable above all else to the fans themselves, who have taken it upon themselves to broaden it and use it in everyday situations. For example, nowadays you can already find a version of Hamlet completely translated into Klingon (though nobody has yet to be sufficiently brave to represent it in this language). On the other hand, a year ago the famous application Duolingo implemented the “Incubator,” a medium through which users partake in a mutual learning of languages. The demand for conlangs was enormous, and though they’ve yet to offer it, it’s also not out of the question for the future.

The international popularity gained by Game of Thrones following its TV version led to a proliferation of online applications and tutorials for learning Dothraki. And James Cameron plans a similar expansion of Na’vi for the release of the Avatar sequels, taking conlangs into the field of marketing.

Will literary works ever be translated to Elvish? For the time being it seems hard to imagine, but the future always gets the last word.