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Elvish and Klingon: Artificial Languages in Popular Culture

Elvish and Klingon: Artificial Languages in Popular Culture
on June, 24 2013

An artificial language is a systematic means of communication created purposefully for a specific reason. Human civilization has seen around 200 artificial languages since the 17th century. The very first were created by philosophers for exclusive communication amongst themselves. Much later, artificial languages were invented for other uses such as commerce and trade and international communication.

One of the most popular artificial languages used in real life is Esperanto, invented by a Polish Jew in 1887. Esperanto, which literally means, “one who hopes” was created by Ludwig Zamenhof from a blend of English, German, Latin and Romance elements. Today, it is spoken worldwide by about two million people.

Artificial languages in literature

The Elvish Linguistic Fellowship is an international organization that is devoted to the scholarly study of the invented languages of JRR Tolkien. Those familiar with Tolkien’s work know that the English author and scholar invented more than one language for his fictional body of work. But the most popular of these is Elvish in its two main forms, Quenya and Sindarin. In addition to an introduction to the vocabulary, grammar and phonology of Elvish in the appendices, various other scholarly resources are available to those who want to do more than say “hello” in Elvish.

Verses in these languages are found in Tolkien’s most popular works – “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy” and “The Silmarillion.” In the movie adaptations of the Ring novels including “The Hobbit,” Sindarin was spoken substantially by the actors and a few lines of Quenya.

What follows is a Sindarin translation by Ryszard Derdzinski of the verse inscribed on the notorious Ring of Power: “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them/ One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them/ In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.”

“Er-chorf a thorthad hain bain, Er-chorf a chired hain
Er-chorf a thoged hain bain a din fuin an nuded hain
Vi Dor e-Mordor ias i-Ndúath caedar.”

Artificial languages in popular culture

Klingon, the Warrior’s Tongue, emerged from the popular TV and movie franchise, Star Trek. The inventor of the language, Dr. Marc Okrand for the fictional Klingon race, is a professional linguist who responded admirably to the challenge of creating a language for an alien race.

Klingon was first spoken by actor James Doohan in the 1979 movie “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” which was based on the original science fiction television series. It was only afterwards that the Klingon language that was developed in full by Dr. Okrand and actors playing Klingon characters spoke in their own language onscreen.

“taH pagh taHbe'. DaH mu'tlheghvam vIqelnIS.”

This sentence is Klingon for Hamlet’s famous line, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” translated by Nick Nicholas and Andrew Strader.

Klingon has been fully developed with its own vocabulary and grammatical rules. These days, there are a handful of people who can converse in Klingon. A full play where everyone speaks Klingon called “The Klingon Christmas Carol” is entirely in Klingonese (which is different from Klingonaase which was used in John M. Ford’s Star Trek novels). A number of websites are devoted to the language and also serve as a venue of enthusiasts to interact and communicate.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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