HBO’s Game of Thrones hits our screens next week on Sky Atlantic. It is set in Westeros, a mythical world where pseudo-Celtic royal types (including Sean Bean) conspire and compete for power. And, yes, there are dragons. Westeros also has its own language, Dothraki, devised by David J Peterson of the Language Creation Society, based on fragments by author George RR Martin in the books that form the basis for the series. Here are five other fictional languages that you might be interested in learning if you have already mastered our world’s estimated 7,000 known tongues.
Properly known as “tlhIngan Hol”, this is ideal if you wish to insult strangers without their knowledge (“Hab SoSli’ Quch!” means “Your mother has a smooth forehead!”). A full Klingon lexicon was developed by linguist Marc Okrand, and Star Trek devotees really speak it. I was once in a lift at a science-fiction convention in Atlanta with a fan dressed as a Federation starship captain. A Klingon got in. The captain nodded and said hello to the Klingon, in Klingon. It was a touching and respectful gesture.
Alex and his “droogs” in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962) converse in this allusive stew of Russian, German, Cockney rhyming slang and anything else the author happened to be thinking at the time. Burgess aimed to make his novel timeless by avoiding contemporary slang. In these days of text abbreviations it seems quaint that tearaway youths would use such flowery, polysyllabic argot.
This is one of many languages that JRR Tolkien devised to make the Middle-earth of The Lord Of The Rings (1954-1955) seem rich and real. There are several dialects of Elvish and two of them, Quenya and Sindarin, are drawn directly from real tongues, respectively Finnish and Welsh. An English professor at Oxford Unversity and philology fanatic, Tolkien considered these the two most sublime languages around.
The purpose of Newspeak in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) is to eradicate individualism by refining language to a bare minimum. Compound words such as “unbellyfeel” and “plusgood” are part of a process to do away with nuance and imprecision, purifying speakers’ minds until all nonconformist thought is erased. What Orwell did not foresee is that reality TV shows would have much the same result.
In the sinister horror stories of Arthur Machen and HP Lovecraft, Aklo is the language set down by the Serpent races 1.5m years ago, possibly dictated to them by the Old Gods. Its main use is in incantations designed to summon Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth and other evil cosmic entities from the nether regions, but lines such as “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” have the secondary effect of making your computer’s spell check explode.
James Lovegrove’s latest novel is ‘The Age Of Odin’