Top 5 Made-Up Languages in Film

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Of course all languages are invented, but some situations demand creating an entire language from scratch. In the case of film and fiction generally, these languages are typically spoken by creatures living on other planets or in a fantasy realm that is, itself, made up. While there are plenty of instances where a “language” is created that consists of nothing other than a few lines of dialogue, some writers and filmmakers go the extra mile to create an entire language with its own rules of grammar and robust vocabulary.

5 Huttese

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The language of Jabba the Hut is the most fully developed of any of the languages in the “Star Wars” universe. Spoken in at least three of the films, the language itself is the creation of sound designer Ben Burtt and linguist Larry Ward. Burtt knew what he wanted the language to sound like, so he gave Ward recordings of people speaking in Qenchua, a native language in Peru and the Andes. Essentially, he wanted Ward to help create a language that sounded something like Quenchua, but wasn’t Quenchua—and so Huttese was born. From the Huttese dialogue in the “Star Wars” films, it appears threats and insults make up the bulk of the Hut vocabulary.

4 Fremen

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In many ways, Frank Herbert’s “Dune” is to science fiction what “Lord of the Rings” is to fantasy—a complete fictional realm, complete with cultures, history and languages all created from whole cloth. The common language of the desert-dwelling Fremen has Arabic origins. Some Arabic words, such as “jihad,” are used in Fremen without any change in pronunciation or definition, and the language shares many structural attributes with Arabic. The film adaptations of the novel series, including David Lynch’s “Dune,” feature Fremen dialogue, as well as scenes in which documents written in Fremen can be seen.

3 Na’vi

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A lot of work goes into creating an epic. When writer-director James Cameron began work on his 2009 film “Avatar,” he realized the alien Na’vi tribe needed their own language – it just wouldn’t do to have them speaking English. So he hired Paul Frommer, professor of linguistics at the University of Southern California. Frommer spent four years crafting an entire functioning language from the ground up, starting with sounds and creating a unique vocabulary and syntax. The most painful limitation, from Frommer’s point of view, was that the language had to be spoken by humans. At the time of the film’s release, Na’vi had a 1,000-word vocabulary that Frommer intended to expand.

2 Klingon

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When the “Star Trek” creators wanted an alien language to use in the films, they called on linguist Marc Okrand to create one. Okrand designed Klingon as an entire language system, complete with extensive vocabulary and rules that govern grammar and usage. The Klingon Language Institute, established in 1992, is the focal point of study and exploration of the language. The institute publishes a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal, the HolQeD, which is cataloged by the Modern Language Association.

1 Sindarin (Elvish)

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J.R.R. Tolkien created two languages spoken by the elves of Middle Earth in his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and other novels exploring the vast world. He based Sindarin, the commonly spoken tongue, on the sounds of the Welsh language. When Peter Jackson adapted the books into his own epic film trilogy, he hired linguist David Salo, one of the world’s leading experts in Sindarin, to translate film dialogue from English to Elvish and provide pronunciation advice to the cast. Tolkien wrote down less than 400 words in the invented language, but it was enough for Salo and other experts to work with, creating a more extended vocabulary so the language is usable in conversation.

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