Photo credit: Ron Barrett
By Ashley Winchester
1. What do you say to embarrass a polar bear?
2. How might an underwater society write?
3. Can a creature without teeth say “tooth”?
4. How many verbs for “to pray” does an angel need?
These are some of the questions students have pondered in “Invented Languages” at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Tex., as they create languages of their own.
The tongue spoken by the nomadic Dothraki warriors of HBO’s hit series “Game of Thrones” has entered the pop-culture lexicon, and so sparked new interest in constructed languages, or conlangs. “Thanks to the popularity of ‘G.O.T.,’ ‘Avatar,’ etc., more people the world over know what language creation is,” says David J. Peterson, the linguist behind spoken Dothraki and alien-speak on the Syfy network’s “Defiance.”
At schools like S.F.A., Wellesley College in Massachusetts and Truman State in Missouri, students take apart the words, sounds, writing and patterns of such conlangs as Dothraki, Na’vi (“Avatar”), Elvish (“Lord of the Rings”) and Klingon (“Star Trek”) to get a sense of how languages evolve to meet the needs of their speakers. Coursework marries the principles of linguistics with the creativity of speculative fiction genres and pop culture.
So how do you create a language?
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