Constructed languages, or conlangs, are languages that didn’t evolve naturally through human beings exercising their social needs with one another. Instead, conlangs are constructed from scratch to fulfill a certain purpose.
These purposes have been wide and varied and range from religious reasons, testing hypotheses, and entertainment to actual communication between real human beings (and even robots).
Some of these languages have become very useful, and some of them have become very well-known, while others have faded into obscurity.
Here are 5 of the most famous constructed languages (in no particular order).
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With a large and dedicated cult following, the Klingon language is certainly one of the most famous conlangs. Before its development, Klingon was first mentioned in the 1967 episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.”
The language wasn’t heard, however, until 1979 when it made its aural debut in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). It consisted of just a few lines at the time that were created by James Doohan, who played Scotty. Although little more than random gibberish at the time, Doohan was thus responsible for the basic sound of the language.
For Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), linguist Marc Okrand was tasked with creating a fully-fledged language. From the few words created by Doohan, Okrand created a grammar and a large lexicon. He avoided features that were found to be common in languages around the world, most notably English. Through this, he tried to make the language as alien-sounding as possible.
When Star Trek: The Next Generation series came to the screens in 1987, the language would get a major boost as the lore of the creative universe was explored and Klingon was expanded. The language garnered a small but dedicated following of Star Trek fans and linguists, and in 1992, the Klingon Language Institute was established.
Since then, books have been translated into Klingon, and in recent years, the language has gained immense popularity. It is even offered as a course on Duolingo! Recent Star Trek series have also featured the Klingon language extensively as plots and storylines surrounding the Klingons have become common.
Naturally, the language has undergone evolution, as necessity requires the lexicon to be expanded. As a language created for a spacefaring race of aliens for a science-fiction show, there are many words relating to the context of space warfare, but few relating to mundane life.
Of all the conlangs, Esperanto is perhaps the most famous language with a pragmatic intent. Created as an international auxiliary language, it was intended to be used as a way for everybody in the world to communicate on an even footing with a language that was logical and easy to learn. Sadly, the language did not end up with the success its creator, L.L. Zamenhof, had hoped for when he unveiled his language to the world at the end of the 19th century; English continues to serve the purpose of the universal language of trade. Nevertheless, it accrued a dedicated following, and today, around two million people speak Esperanto.
The Universala Esperanto-Asocio (Universal Esperanto Association) was founded in 1908 and exists to this day, with members in 83 countries. Fifty of these countries have national Esperanto associations, which participate in the annual World Esperanto Congress.
Over 100 journals and periodicals are regularly published in the language, and over 30,000 books are published as well.
The language was created to be as simple and easy to learn as possible. It was, however, derived from elements of European languages and, as such, has drawn criticism for not truly representing all people. Nevertheless, there is no auxiliary international language that has come anywhere close to the success of Esperanto.
In 2024, the World Esperanto Congress will be held in Tanzania. This will be the first time the Congress has been held on the continent of Africa, and it will represent the 109th time the Congress has taken place.
In his corpus of works revolving around Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien created several fully-functioning languages. The amount of effort he put into worldbuilding is reflected in the languages he created. Along with all his works, he created maps and described dialects and the evolution of Sindarin and the other Elvish languages.
Although he created more than one language used by the Elves in Middle Earth, Sindarin or “Grey Elvish” was the most common tongue of the Elves who lived in the western part of Middle Earth during the Third Age, which is the time of the setting of Lord of the Rings. Sindarin draws extensively from Literary Old Welsh but also has elements of Old English and Old Norse.
Tolkien left behind many notes on his languages, and he never intended them actually to be used in human-to-human conversation. He, thus, did not create a big enough lexicon. Nevertheless, enthusiasts attempted to write in Sindarin during the 1970s even though only a few hundred words were available. As the media franchise grew, specifically with Peter Jackson’s films in the early 2000s, the lexicon had to be expanded, requiring educated conjecture and the coinage of new words and terms. The language has since flourished, with poems and other texts being created, along with the prominent appearance of names and tattoos.
Usage of Sindarin is done in the Tengwar script designed by Tolkien and intended to be used by many of the languages in his Middle Earth.
The immense popularity of the HBO series Game of Thrones, based on the books by George R.R. Martin, introduced a number of foreign tongues to the audience. The most famous are likely High Valyrian and Dothraki. Well before the filming of the series, linguist and expert language creator David J. Peterson was hired to create the Dothraki language, which played a significant part in the show’s first season. Peterson would also go on to develop other languages for the show, including the Valyrian languages heard in season 3. High Valyrian was subsequently adopted as a course on Duolingo.
Peterson went into the creation of Dothraki with two constraints. He had to use words and descriptions already mentioned in the books, and the language had to have an easy pronunciation to make life easier for the actors. He drew extensively from other real-world languages, which influenced the Dothraki language. Estonian, Inuktitut, Turkish, Russian, and Swahili were all used to create the unique character of Dothraki, designed to reflect the nomadic horseback-riding warriors of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire.
While nowhere near as widespread as Esperanto, Interslavic has a small but significant following. Beginning in 2006, the Interslavic Project, then working under the name of “Slovianski,” was designed to facilitate ease of communication between speakers of various Slavic languages.
The language is based on Old Church Slavonic and draws on elements that are commonly found in all Slavic languages. It is an auxiliary language, but unlike other international auxiliary languages such as Esperanto, Interslavic is not designed for ease of learning but rather for ease of understanding by Slavic peoples who already speak a Slavic language as their mother tongue.
As other Slavic languages are written with either the Latin or Cyrillic script, Interslavic can be written with both.
Interslavic has a strong presence online, being active with four Facebook groups and significant groups on VKontakte and Discord.
In the film The Painted Bird (2019), based on the book by the same name by Jerzy Kosiński, the dialogue is Interslavic. This was done to avoid specifying any language and location that would associate any real Slavic group as the villains.
The language has also made it into the music industry. Czech pagan folk group Ďyvina recorded a song in Interslavic, as did Ukrainian reggae band The Vyo, Croatian folk band Mito Matija, and Polish YouTuber Melac.
As a relatively new language, the popularity of Interslavic is increasing. The first Interslavic conference was held in 2017, and a second in 2018. The third was planned for 2020 but was canceled due to Covid-19.
The past two decades have seen a huge surge in the development of conlangs. As society progresses and technology increases, there will be new opportunities for conlangs to be created, for both pragmatic and entertainment value.
People will always need to communicate and be entertained, while the rise of machines makes it necessary for us to be able to communicate efficiently to help them understand and learn.