What, in the name of Jean-Luc Picard, is a conlanguage?!”

A conlanguage, in contrast to ethnic languages, is intentionally crafted rather than naturally evolving through cultural development.

Did you know our name, Ludejo, is a conlanguage word? Ludejo is an Esperanto word and it means ‘playground’. As you might have noticed, Ludejo is currently organizing a fundraiser for Translators Without Borders (TWB). This year’s theme is ‘With Great Power’ (WGPforTWB), inspired by superheroes, comic books, and graphic novels. It references the famous Spiderman quote, “with great power comes great responsibility,” a mantra embraced by many Marvel universe superheroes.

Wondering if this is a new trend you’re not aware of?

Given this theme, I delved into the role of language in popular comic books and TV series featuring superheroes and supernatural characters. The first striking observation was the abundance of conlanguages created by the imaginations behind these works. You might be thinking, “What on earth are conlanguages? Is this some new trend I don’t know about?” Well, it’s quite the opposite. In fact, according to David J. Peterson, conlanging has existed for over a thousand years. “Though language creation may seem recent with the success of shows like Game of Thrones and films like Avatar, the conscious construction of language is probably as old as language itself” (Peterson, 7).

The first example of conlanging, as mentioned by Peterson in his book, is Hildegard von Bingen’s Lingua Ignota (Latin for ‘unknown language’). A more well-known example is Esperanto, invented in 1887 by Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, also known as ‘Doctor Esperanto’ (1859-1917).

What exactly is a conlanguage?

But before I delve further, let me clarify what conlanguages are. Unlike ethnic languages, conlanguages are not a product of natural cultural evolution but are intentionally designed. Reasons for creating conlanguages vary, from facilitating communication between people of different backgrounds, as in the case of Esperanto, to serving artistic purposes in imaginary worlds, like Na’vi, the language of Pandora.

Now that’s clear, let’s explore recent developments in conlanguages. After Esperanto, the late 20th century saw a resurgence in interest in conlanguages, known as the ‘artlang movement’ (Peterson, 9). J.R.R. Tolkien, author of ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, is a notable figure in this movement, although his linguistic contributions are often overshadowed by the success of his books.

Moving from books to film, notable conlanging examples were scarce until the late 20th century. However, the 1974 TV series ‘Land of the Lost’ featured ‘Paku,’ a conlanguage developed by linguist Victoria Fromkin. Fast forward to the present, and conlanguages are now commonplace in films, series, and books. Think of Na’vi in James Cameron’s film Avatar (2009) or the Valyrian languages in the Game of Thrones series.

Did you know even a toy had its own made-up language? Remember Furby, the owl-hamster hybrid from the ’90s? It had its language called Furbish, although it didn’t gain the same status as other conlanguages.

Need help translating to or from Na’vi?

While we don’t have Na’vi translators in-house, we do have a network of partners world wide. However, we offer various language-related services, including copywriting, technical documentation, voice-overs, (SEO) translation, audio-visual content production, and subtitles. Visit our website for more information and check out our ‘With Great Power’ fundraiser for Translators Without Borders on Instagram—it’s going to be awesome.

back to top button