10 Fascinating Made-Up Languages in Literary Fiction and TV
There’s a long and proud history of made-up languages (or ‘conlang’ – meaning constructed language) in works of fiction.
While some writers will settle for a few made-up words here and there to give their fictional world an air of authenticity, others go to extreme lengths in order to make their fictional languages convincing.
Often crafted with the help of professional linguists, the ‘languages’ listed below all have their own comprehensive vocabulary, grammar and pronunciations – and are all completely, one hundred percent made-up!
Created by: George Orwell
Spoken by: Winston Smith and the inhabitants of Oceania in Orwell’s landmark novel ‘1984‘
The official language of Oceania (the fictional totalitarian state, not the real-world geographic region), Newspeak is a language designed as a means of thought control through limiting vocabulary.
It’s essentially a dumbed down version of English, with complex thoughts and phrases abbreviated and contracted into a more simplistic form.
Orwell’s novel had such an impact that many of the terms used in Newspeak – most prominently ‘doublethink’ and ‘Big Brother’ – have since passed into the popular lexicon.
Example phrase: ‘Crimestop’ (Translation: ‘To rid oneself of unwanted thoughts‘)
Created by: George R. R. Martin and David J. Peterson
Spoken by: The inhabitants of the Dothraki Sea in the TV series ‘Game of Thrones’, based on George R. R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels, ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’
Originally appearing in G. R. R. Martin’s source novels, Dothraki was then expanded into a complete constructed language when the now-massive TV adaptation went into production.
For this reason, despite sounding fairly harsh and guttural, the speech patterns were kept similar to English, so that the actors would actually be able to pronounce their lines properly!
Due to the huge popularity of the HBO series, this is another of the made-up languages that’s beginning to seep into popular culture – and providing inspiration for some unique baby names.
Example phrase: ‘Hajas!’ (Translation: ‘Be strong!‘)
Created by: H.P. Lovecraft
Spoken by: Cthulhu in the short story ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ and many subsequent stories
The stories of revered horror writer H.P. Lovecraft are nothing if not distinctive, and the same can be said of the fictional alien language which he created as part of his ‘Cthulhu Mythos’ shared universe.
Described as guttural and otherworldly when heard aloud, R’lyehian also looks pretty intimidating written down.
Take ‘ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn’ as an untranslated example, and you’ll quickly realise that the real horror in Lovecraft’s writing comes from this language that doesn’t distinguish between verbs, nouns and adjectives!
Example phrase: ‘Gof’nn’ (Translation: ‘Children‘)
Spoken by: The serpents and those who can communicate with them in the ‘Harry Potter’ book and TV series
Created by: J.K. Rowling and Dr Francis Nolan
Another made-up language which had to be constructed for an on-screen adaptation, Parseltongue was originally only described as snake-like hissing in J.K. Rowling’s world-conquering source material.
Phonetics expert Dr Francis Nolan stepped in to create a proper vocabulary for the Harry Potter film series, resulting in the constructed language featured more heavily in the later movies.
Fluency in Parceltongue (or being ‘Parcelmouth’) is rare within the series, and is generally implied to have some association with ‘Dark Magic’.
Example phrase: ‘Fraelis’ (Translation: ‘Friend‘)
Created by: Edgar Rice Burroughs
Spoken by: The great apes in the ‘Tarzan’ novels
Intended by ‘Tarzan’ writer Edgar Rice Burroughs to be bestial and animalistic, the language of the Mangani (literally ‘Great Apes’) actually has a rather large, complex vocabulary.
It is, however, spoken in a suitably primitive sounding series of grunts and growls, with the words representing very simple concepts and thoughts.
Other than the apes whom the language is named for, the only other Mangani speaker is obviously Tarzan himself, who is regularly depicted conversing with his monkey companion Nkima in the Mangani tongue.
Example phrase: ‘Bal’ (Translation: ‘Golden‘)
Created by: Marc Okrand
Spoken by: The Klingons in the entertainment franchise ‘Star Trek’
First heard on screen in 1972, Klingon was then developed by Okrand into a full-blown language. The Klingon Dictionary was published in 1985, and provides detailed descriptions of Klingon’s vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.
In order to make the language look and sound alien, Okrand included uncommon typological features – for example, unusual consonant pairings (e.g., /q͡χ/).
If you fancy attempting to learn the language, there are plenty of resources available: not only is there The Klingon Dictionary, the Klingon Language Institute also offers online lessons!
Example phrase: ‘Nuqneh’ (Translation: ‘Hello‘)
Created by: Anthony Burgess
Spoken by: Teenagers in the novel ‘A Clockwork Orange’
A striking aspect of Burgess’s best-known novel is Nadsat, a slang language spoken by the protagonist and narrator Alex, along with other members of the teen subculture.
Nadsat is strongly influenced by Russian, with the name itself originating from the Russian word for ‘teen’. In addition to Russian influences, Nadsat is also a patchwork of elements from other languages, including Romany and Cockney rhyming slang.
A linguist as well as a novelist, Burgess aimed to construct a timeless language reflective of the novel’s imagined dystopian future.
He eliminated a number of words and modes of speech in use at the time of writing, thus cleverly ensuring the novel did not become dated, and contributing to its longevity.
Example phrase: ‘Raskazz’ (Translation: ‘Story‘)
Created by: Richard Adams
Spoken by: The rabbit characters in the novel ‘Watership Down’
Derived from the French word for rabbit, Lapine is an almost human-sounding language reminiscent of Arabic.
The language was constructed organically as the plot of the novel developed: as the need for a specific word emerged, Adams made one up.
Thus, Lapine words are generally used to indicate concepts unique to rabbits (e.g., ‘silflay’ is a term used for both grass used for grazing and the act of grazing).
Throughout the novel, Adams acts as ‘interpreter’, translating the concepts into English, and also includes a glossary of all Lapine words at the end of the novel.
Example phrase: ‘Hain’ (Translation: ‘Song‘)
Created by: Hergé (a.k.a. Georges Prosper Remi)
Spoken by: The inhabitants of Slydavia, in the comic albums ‘The Adventures of Tin Tin’
Slydavian is the national language of Slydavia, a fictional Balkan country in the hugely popular ‘The Adventures of Tin Tin’ stories.
The national motto of the kingdom is ‘Eih bennek, eih blavek!’ which translates to, ‘If you gather Thistles, expect Prickles’ – but can also be interpreted as a rendering of the Dutch phrase ‘Hier ben ik, hier blifj ik’ (‘Here I am, here I stay’).
Although Slydavian is a Germanic language, modeled on the West Germanic Marols dialect spoken in Brussels, it shares many features with a number of Eastern European languages too.
Example phrase: ‘Zsalu’ (Translation: ‘Hello‘)
Created by: J.R.R. Tolkien
Spoken by: The tribes of elves in the fantasy novel and TV series ‘The Lord of the Rings’
When discussing fictional languages, it would be virtually impossible not to mention Tolkien.
Fascinated by languages from an early age, Tolkien constructed many Elvish languages, the most famous of these being Quenya and Sindarin. Quenya is influenced by Finnish, whereas Sindarin is based on Welsh.
The popularity of Tolkiens’ Elvish script was given a contemporary boost by Peter Jackson’s film series – nowadays you’re as likely to see it tattooed on a passer-by as you are written in print.
Example phrase: ‘Amin naa lle nai’ (Translation: ‘I am yours to command’)
How to Create Your Own Made-Up Language
Has the endeavour of all those writers and linguists got you inspired to try making your own fictional language? If so, we’ve got just the thing:
Our free Fictional Language eBook guides you through the process of crafting a convincing made-up language – from naming to developing vocabulary and creating tenses and conjunctions:
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Have we missed out any of the best made-up languages in fiction? Let us know in the comments below!
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