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The world changes and language races to keep up. Sometimes a word that had a very clear meaning becomes more ambiguous as a result of new inventions or discoveries. Enter the retronym, a type of neologism in which… Read More
Narrative stories around the world have been using alien languages for generations. Sometimes completely made up, sometimes real but distorted, these languages add some mysterious dimension to their speakers.
Below is a non-exhaustive list of some of the most popular representations of these alien languages in movies and TV shows:
1. Star Wars
Remember the Ewoks, the fluffy rebellious teddy bears living in the forest moon of Endor? Their language, although made up, was largely based on Tibetan, Kalmuck and even Tagalog, after the movie’s sound engineer was inspired by a BBC documentary and decided to use this as a basis to create Ewokese.
2. Lord of the Rings
The language spoken in Mordor is called the Black Speech. Created by the books’ author Tolkien, along with several other languages spoken by different characters, the Black Speech has a linguistic value, but being spoken by the evil Sauron, it was quite restricted, not allowing for instance for any poems or songs to be created in that language.
3. Star Trek
The hugely popular TV show had its own language: Klingon. Spoken by the fictional Klingon characters in the series, the language became so popular that some adepts around the world started learning it, and four works of literature (including Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing) have now been translated into it.
The inhabitants of Pandora speak Navi. The objective of the screenwriters was to create a language that would be more detail-oriented than Klingon, that would both sound exotic and not be too close to any existing human languages. The result was a mix of Polynesian and some African languages.
This TV show created a language, Ancient, that can actually be read. Quite close to the English alphabet, it was spoken by the Ancients in the series. An interesting aspect to this language is that some characters have a different meaning when read upside down.
The superhero’s home planet had its own language, Kryptonian. As the story progresses, Superman discovers places where Kryptonian words are engraved, helping him find out more about his background.
7. Mars Attacks!
Alien languages are not always to be taken seriously, as shown in this parody of sci-fi movies. The language spoken by Martians there only consists of a few words, spoken at different pitches and volumes, to convey different meanings.
8. The Time Machine
In the 1895 epic novel from H. G. Wells, the Eloi people speak their own language, quite a primitive one, indicating their lack of social intelligence.
9. The fifth element
The Divine language, spoken by the main character, is a limited language consisting of only 400 words, and created by the director of the movie, Luc Besson, and the female lead, Milla Jovovich. As practice, they were sending each other letters in Divine language when preparing the movie.
10. Game of Thrones
The increasingly popular TV show displays a language called Dothraki, created especially for the series. As the actors had to be able to pronounce and learn the language easily, this restricted the possibilities of making it a true alien language, limiting its grammar and phonology.
The examples shown above have been created for various reasons: whether it is to make fun of alien languages, like in Mars Attacks, to emphasise the dark side of a particular character, like in Lord of the Rings, alien languages are becoming increasingly popular through a developing fan base that is helping to keep them alive. We can’t say for sure that Klingon will end up being widely spoken, but I doubt that the writers of Star Trek thought that it would get this popular when they first created it.
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