12 Fictional Film and TV Languages You Can Actually Learn
By Rudie Obias
While many movies, books, and TV shows take place in alien or fantasy worlds, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to speak their fictional languages. Here are 12 that you can start studying right now.
In the 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, author Anthony Burgess created the language Nadsat for his teenage characters who used it as slang throughout the book and later in the 1971 movie adaptation. The fictional language is essentially English with some borrowed Russian and Gypsy words and terms, along with childish phrasing. Nadsat is derived from the Russian word for teen; it also borrows from cockney slang and German.
Example: “I read this with care, my brothers, slurping away at the old chai (tea), cup after tass (cup) after chasha (teacup), crunching my lomticks of black toast dipped in jammiwam (jam) and eggiweg (egg).”
Before he even started to write The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, author and linguist J.R.R. Tolkien developed the Elvish languages Quenya and Sindarin for Middle Earth. Quenya is the language of the High Elves of Eldamar, while Sindarin was spoken by the Grey Elves of Telerin. Tolkien based Elvish on Finnish and Welsh, along with a few elements of Greek and Latin.
Example: “Êl síla erin lû e-govaned vîn.” — “A star shines on the hour of our meeting.”
Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt created Huttese for Return of the Jedi in 1983. Burtt derived the language from an ancient Incan dialect called Quechua. It’s a fictional language that is mainly spoken by Jabba the Hutt and his species on Tatooine, but many other characters can speak Huttese, such as C-3PO, Anakin Skywalker, and Watto from 1999's Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Example: “Wee now kong bantha poodoo.” — “Now you’re bantha fodder.”
Created from only a few words and phrases, Klingon was first used in Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, but it became a full-fledged language five years later for Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. Linguist Marc Okrand created and developed the alien language from words originally made up by actor James Doohan (who played Scotty) in the original film. In 1985, Okrand, who also created the Vulcan language, later wrote The Klingon Dictionary, which includes pronunciation, grammar rules, and vocabulary from the Star Trek alien species. Over the years, many plays from William Shakespeare were translated into Klingon, such as Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing.
Example: “bortaS bIr jablu'DI' reH QaQqu' nay.” — “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
Despicable Me co-director Pierre Coffin created Minionese for the animated movie and its sequels. While the language might sound like gibberish or baby talk, Coffin, who also voices the Minions, borrowed Minionese from other languages, such as Spanish, French, Japanese, Tagalog, Korean, and English.
“I have my Indian or Chinese menu handy. I also know a little bit of Spanish, Italian, Indonesian, and Japanese. So I have all these sources of inspiration for their words,” Coffin told the Los Angeles Daily News. “I just pick one that doesn’t express something by the meaning but rather the melody of the words.”
Example: “Le jori e’ tu” — “For better or worse”
J.K. Rowling created Parseltongue for the Harry Potter book series. It’s the fictional language of serpents and those who can speak it are known as Parselmouths, who are descendants of Salazar Slytherin, with Harry Potter as an exception. Rowling even wrote a user guide to Parseltongue on her website, Pottermore.
Author Richard Adams created the fictional language called Lapine in his 1972 novel Watership Down and its sequel Tales from Watership Down. It’s primarily spoken to make the rabbit characters sound more “wuffy, fluffy” and comes from the French word lapin, which means rabbit. "I just constructed Lapine as I went—when the rabbits needed a word for something, so did I," Adams explained during an Reddit AMA.
Linguist David J. Peterson developed the Dothraki language for Game of Thrones from George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novel series. He created the language for the nomadic warriors with a combination of Arabic and Spanish sounds, along with Swahili and Estonian. Currently, there are over 3100 Dothraki words. Peterson also wrote Living Language Dothraki: A Conversational Language Course, so Game of Thrones fans could also learn and speak the language.
In 2015, “Khaleesi” Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), the wife of the Dothraki ruler “Khal," was a very popular name for newborn baby girls.
Example: “Dothras Chek!” — “Ride well! Godspeed!”
To give the world of the 31st century more realism and depth, Futurama co-creator David X. Cohen created an alien language called Alienese, which was mainly used as background graffiti and store signs for in-jokes. It was a simple substitution cipher that fans quickly decoded. This forced the writers of Futurama to create another language called Alienese II, which was math-based and more complex to figure out.
Although it’s referred to as the Divine Language, Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) speaks the Mondoshawan alien language in 1997's The Fifth Element. It’s a limited language with only 300 to 400 words in total that director Luc Besson created. Jovovich had to memorize and refine the language before filming began. By the end of production, Besson and Jovovich were speaking Mondoshawan to each other between takes.
Disney hired linguist Marc Okrand (the same linguist who created Klingon for Star Trek) to develop a living language for 2001's Atlantis: The Lost Empire. He made Atlantean as the “mother language” for the animated film’s screenwriters and concept artists. The fictional language was derived from Indo-European words with a mix of Sumerian and North American languages. Okrand created a complex writing and language system with writer's scripts, an Atlantean alphabet, and reader's script for the Disney animated film.
James Cameron was developing Avatar for 15 years before it was released in December 2009. While Cameron was developing the filmmaking technology to bring the 3D film to fruition, he also brought on University of Southern California linguist Dr. Paul Frommer to help bring the alien culture of the Na’vi to the big screen. The pair worked for months, creating a language that was a mixture of Ethiopian and New Zealand Māori languages to develop a lexicon with more than 1000 words. Since the release of Avatar, Frommer has continuously added new words and expanded the grammatical rules of Na’vi on his website, so fans could learn to speak the alien language.
“The sound system has to be all nailed down first, so that there is consistency in the language,” said Dr. Frommer. “When you create a language, you experience the joy of rolling sounds around in your mouth, hearing unusual sounds, playing with the sounds and structural properties of language—it’s a process that took about six months for the basics,”
Example: “Oel ngati kameie.” — “I see you.”