back to article Speak geek: The world of made-up language

The world of invented language is a difficult place to succeed and those who have the patience to create their own tend to have a hard time gathering followers. Klingon and Elvish are notable exceptions, thanks to the huge fan bases for Star Trek and Lord of The Rings. Society tends to regard people who learn these languages …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Nice article

    But what about Mandalorian?

    SW game with Mandalorian music is out there, SW books with some Mandalorian text, etc. etc.

    And it's a mighty fine language too!

    For them who don't know Mandalorian (how dare you? :P ), here's one of my favourite SWRC soundtrack:

  2. LinkOfHyrule

    Sod Elvish

    Sod Elvish, what about Hyrulian!!! :oD

    Anyway, I always thought Elvish was a mega famous rock and roll singer from Cornwall ??!!!

    1. GrahamT

      Imp y Celyn

      Terry Pratchett's music-with-rocks-in Bard from Llamedos: as one character says about him "There's a bloke works down the chipshop looks quite Elvish"

  3. Ian Ferguson
    Thumb Up

    Excellent article

    Not a subject that I'm knowledgable about (my linguistic skills are nonexistent) but a very interesting read nonetheless.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    don't forget Welsh

    and Ulster Scots, two of the most popular invented languages.

    1. Shocked Jock

      @ Anonymous Coward

      Or English! (See my other post.)

    2. Thomas 4

      Funny you should mention Welsh.... reminds me of another made up language:

      "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"

      And on a weekend night out in Cardiff, you could almost believe the Great Old Ones had returned.

  5. Aaron Em


    Say what you will about it -- you can't change the fact that it sounds like a drunk Italian trying to order lunch in Portuguese.

  6. Martin 49

    Surely not...

    "Sarehole Mill, a museum in Birmingham"

    Oh *please* tell me thats a typo.

  7. Antony King

    common misconception

    "non-speaking disorders such as cerebral palsy" - one does not imply the other. Our local pool manager has cerebral palsy. My son has CP. They speak to each other in a way perfectly understandable to any other english speaker. CP is primarily a motor cortex disorder so although speech can be affected it's by no means a given.

  8. Shocked Jock

    Major languages too

    It's worth reminding ourselves that the major European languages, such as English, French, German, Italian and Spanish, were all artificially constructed to some extent. In most cases, one particular writer (Luther and Tyndale spring to mind) set down the recommended form, drawing on existing languages, and in some cases those earlier languages still exist (English - Welsh, Friesian; German - Low German; Spanish [Castilian] - Italian). So studying these other "made-up" languages can tell us something about the major languages that most of us come into contact with.

  9. Elmer Phud

    And they said Elvish was dead!

    I'll get me goat

  10. iamapizza

    "Scaramouche! Scaramouche!"

    Jesus Christ on a winebarrel. You owe me a new keyboard and I'm not exaggerating either. I was merrily reading this article, when I happened to see the Klingonian Bohemian Rhapsody reference. My immediate reaction was to drop my cup - which was weak from years of use - which immediately cracked and spilled its contents as well as bits of tiny shards all over and inside my keyboard. I was, however, too busy choking on the liquids that I had accidentally sent down into my lungs as a result of the laugh that I attempted and so I realized the disaster a bit too late.

    I have now borrowed a coworker's keyboard to type this message out. Said coworker will return from lunch soon and that will be the end of my day.

    How exactly am I going to explain this to management?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      One possibility...

      Perhaps you could attempt to do it in Klingon?

    2. Daniel B.

      You forgot

      the 'I need a new keyboard' icon. ;)

  11. Nigel 11

    Creoles are far more interesting

    The world's interesting real spoken languages are Creoles. These are languages that were invented out of necessity, when history jammed two (or more) peoples speaking totally different languages together in the same society. The first generation speak a pidgin mish-mash plus their "own" language. Soon, in the second or third generation, the pidgin is refined into a creole, and both parent languages soon die out. Nobody plans any of this - it just happens.

    English is (possibly) the grand-daddy of them all. It's been evolving for nearly a thousand years, since Norman and Saxon communities started to merge. Compare Chaucer to Shakespeare. Development has slowed in more recent centuries, but English is still a fast-moving language compared to some. In particular there's a trend towards jettisoning what fragments remain of formal grammar after the incompatibilities of Norman and Saxon destroyed much of it.

    A much more recent arrival is Tok Pisin, the official language of New Guinea, that was once known as Pidgin English. (Tok Pisin = Talk Pidgin = Talk Business). The name of the language reflects its birth, out of the need of local traders to talk business with their colonial masters. But in a country fragmented by hundreds of native languages and dialects, it took deeper root and developed into a fully-fledged language that continues to evolve (and to diverge from its original English roots).

    1. Daniel B.

      The zillion Spanish dialects

      Spanish is another example, the fact that it is used in more than half of an entire continent (America) makes it a multi-language in a language, depending on which country you are in, there are loanwords from the original native dialects, incorporated sounds (like sh) and sometimes, words mean different things in different countries. That brings some things like "Xola" (shola), "Tlapaleria" (hardware store in Mexican Spanish), and a couple of Mayan loanwords in the Yucatan peninsula.

      Spanish variations have deviated so much that some words have different writing rules, like membership (Membresia, Membrecia), pineapple (Piña over here, some weird word in South America), Apricot (Chabacano, again something else in South America). Also, America-side Spanish is less wary of incorporating English-based words into Spanish, hence computers actually being called "computadora" instead of "sorting machines" (ordenador), files called "archivos" instead of "index cards" (fichero) and such.

      1. Vincent Ballard


        'Sh' isn't actually an imported sound, it's just one which has largely been lost. It used to be the sound represented by the letter 'x', as it still is in the other Iberian languages.

        Also, what you observe with Spanish isn't (in general) a creole. It's straightforward dialectal variation over a wide geographic area. There may be some special cases which are actually creoles of Spanish with some other language, but it takes more than a few vocab changes to qualify.

    2. Steve Evans

      Re: Creoles are far more interesting

      I agree, sometimes the root of the words are still understood, which makes for a fascinating history lesson.

      Take various words for animals/meat in English for example. When it's a smelly farm animal, the word is the original old English/Saxon word. Cow, Pig, Sheep. When it's cooked and on the feast table of the Norman masters it becomes Beef, Pork, Mutton. Still recognisable as the French words today (although I'm sure they'd look at you blankly purely because of pronunciation).

      Attempts to get people to learn a universal language such as Esperanto are always going to be an uphill battle. First you have no native speakers, so you can't go for a total immersion course in the country. Then you have to convince people it is required. If the person happens to speak English you could be in with a problem as no matter where you go you can always find someone who can translate English into the local tongue. Add that to the fact that they kept genders for inanimate objects in Esperanto and most English speakers are going to look at you like you're mad!

      If you want odd languages you don't need to learn Klingon, there's a world or real ones out there, complete with countries full of people that can speak it back to you... Try Hungarian!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Toki Pona?

    Nice article! You should have mentioned Toki Pona, though, which is in a category of its own, as is Esperanto, of course.

    Esperanto is different because no other invented language (meaning a language that originated with a single person and wasn't just a variety of a previously existing language) comes anywhere near it in terms of usage. Esperanto has hundreds of thousands of speakers, tens of thousands of books, hundreds of native speakers, etc. Other invented languages tend to be at least a factor of 1000 behind that.

    Toki Pona is quite different. It has only 120 words and isn't supposed to be a "complete" language. It's a toy language, and a way of embracing Taoism, or something like that. I find it very interesting to experiment and see how much you can and can't say with just 120 words.

  13. Cliff


    Lojban? A language designed to be completely unambiguous. It's the language of choice for anyone who has ever tried to write a programme in C

    It's like a programming language for communicating with others, for instance...

    .oiro'o bu'onai pei

    [physical pain!] [end emotion] [?]

    Are you no longer in pain?

    le cukta be'u cu zvati ma

    that-which-is-described-as book [need!] is-at what

    I need the book! Where is it?

    Give it a try, you'll love it, even if you can't be arsed learning it.

    1. Marvin the Martian

      The only reaction possible to this...

      (Did I overlook this in the article?)

      Man: If you learned to speak Lojban, your communication would be completely unambiguous and logical.

      Black Hat Guy: Yeah, but it would all be with the kind of people that learn Lojban.

  14. VeganVegan

    Programming languages

    All artificial, with lone or committee inventors, devotees, confabs, debates, diatribes, etc., etc.. All operating in a world of fantasy, the mind of the programmer and the CPU.

  15. Oldgoat

    Words for modern concepts

    I well remember a quiz passed around by a lecturer at college to find the Latin words for various home appliances, IIRC: (a) dishwasher, (b) floor polisher, (c) food mixer, (d) lawn mower. The answer of course was just one word, slave (in translation.) The point being that a language from another culture (whether historic or made up) may not have exact words for modern technologies but equivalents may be found if the tasks involved can be compared. Abstract concepts such as those embodied in the US Constitution or the Scientific Method are very much harder to translate.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Is another ancient language which has to accommodate new concepts. Unlike fellow Scandinavian langauges, Icelandic does not tend to import English words and change the spelling; it actually relies on a committee to come up with new words - some of which are brilliant:

      Þota (thota) - jet - translates pretty much as 'whoosh';

      sími - telephone - literally 'a thread'

      farsími - mobile phone - literally 'travel phone'

      tölva - computer - a combination of tala (number) and völva (sorceress) - which is awesome

      my favourite though is their word for jackpot - hvalreki which literally means 'beached whale'.

      1. The Indomitable Gall

        Meanwhile, in English...

        We have a few interesting words.

        We "fire" guns, even though we don't use a flaming torch to light a fuse any more.

        When we get behind the wheel of a car, we lead a herd of livestock to market ("drive").

        Emission of television and radio programmes is described as scattering seed ("broadcasting").

        And of course "skiing" "skating" "gliding" "sliding" "sledging" "sledding" and "skidding" were probably originally all the same word.

        1. Vincent Ballard


          Driving doesn't have to involve a herd of livestock. Taking the Authorised Version of the Bible (~1610) as evidence, one can equally drive a chariot.

          2 Kings, chapter 9: "So Jehu rode in a chariot, and went to Jezreel; for Joram lay there. ... And the watchman told, saying, He came even unto them, and cometh not again: and the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi; for he driveth furiously."

          1. Shakje


            It still works. If you're in a chariot you're driving the horses forward.

  16. Toastan Buttar

    When the elvish conference ends..

    ..."Elves have left the building".

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Esperanto vs English

    The problem with Esperanto is that it is based on Spanish and not on English and modern English is already a constructed language that has demonstrated an ability to displace other languages. It was created at a time when the languages of the court were French and Latin.

    They were inspired by the fact that the French language had a dictionary and set about creating what has become modern English. It includes most of the old English, which was already a bit of a mish-mash of Anglish,Kentish,Saxon and Germanic and added many common French words as well as many Latin words that had French equivalents.

  18. Blue eyed boy

    (This title intentionally left blank)

    Ha dos bilvumora dumashai valun sheghim hon gerat. Ruvashu om omeshu sil somada dale riolam Halan, noim dumashai gerat toja talion ha.


    I've been making up artificial languages since I was a kid. If anyone fancies trying Hallon, my main childhood fantasy language, take a look at

    1. Steve Roper
      Thumb Up

      Me too

      Ta sadi ghan, chak ta tan korinad anghan korinyanya, son ghalad la ji tikya shalayneth lianyan la ansharanya. Law taeli la tunai anlani anke ahyanadi faw korinya chak'kailan.


      "So have I, but I haven't published my language, preferring to restrict its use to a few friends. Thus we can talk to each other without police spying on us."

      (The word order isn't necessarily one-for-one; the grammatical structure and syntax are very different to English. There are also several semantic nuances in my language above that would take several paragraphs to convey in English, but I'm not going into that here!)

  19. Daniel B.


    Oh my. So someone actually translated Shakespeare to "the original Klingon"?

  20. J 3


    I'd rather learn Borogravian, ta.

  21. J 3


    "He [Tolkien] believed Mythology touched us all at a very deep level and those that disagree simply don't understand the power it holds. Once, after attempts to get such feelings across to a fellow writer and friend CS Lewis, Tolkien came home, frustrated and wrote this poem."

    So, irony, anyone? The Christian apologist who does not believe in the power of mythology, eh? The mind boggles.

    1. JimC
      Thumb Down

      > irony

      Umm, that depends on when the disagreement was. Tolkien knew Lewis before Lewis was a Christian. Lewis' views and attitudes at say 25 were very different to those at say 45.

  22. Tron Silver badge


    Languages don't cause wars. Religion and politics do.

    So a duff founding premise there, and a lot of wasted effort.

    Ironically, the newly invented languages were becoming popular as Latin was being phased out in English schools as not being terribly relevant.

    Leet, being written rather than written and spoken, is interesting, not least because it developed largely through use rather than being consciously created by committee.

    Brazil would be better off with Welsh than Esperanto. If only for the higher quality hymn singing.

    1. Blue eyed boy

      Watch it boyo

      It's not so much that singing in Welsh gives higher quality, but that the singers are higher quality to start with.Welshmen singing in Esperanto would still sound better than your average Brazilian. Cymru am byth!

      "La malnova patroland', kara al mi," etc.

      (Jes mi parolas Esperanton kiel naciano.)

    2. peter_dtm

      no actually

      Religion & politics are the excuse given - its economics that cause wars - even the Children;s Crusade.

      And the religious & political leaders that use these excuses tend to be self serving liars that you shouldn't trust to even put the cat out. And they will lie about their political and religious beliefs just as they lie about everything else - their one and only policy being 'more power for me'

      1. Shakje


        I sort of agree. The underlying cause of wars is economics, but without religion or politics you wouldn't have the soldiers to do your bidding :) Whether it's a belief in a divine war or a belief in your country, people don't generally risk their lives purely because it's a job, most of them have an underlying belief that they're doing something worthy. With that sort of argument, of course, you can also say that you wouldn't have the weapons without science so science is to blame for almost all war.

        While I'm an atheist, I'm not of the opinion that religion is necessarily evil, although I do think it creates an environment which makes it relatively simple to foster corruption.

  23. Grave


    how about ?

  24. Watashi



  25. Sandra Greer

    ESPERANTO - the inventor paid his dues

    Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof (born Leyzer Leyvi Zamengov in 1859 in Bialystok, Poland) spoke Russian, Polish, and Yiddish as a child. He later learned a number of other languages. The languages of his childhood are highly inflected, and when he came to invent Esperanto, he could not stand to be without just one. So direct objects (accusative case) take a suffix "n". Aside from that, there is extensive use of suffixes and prefixes to carry all the other features of grammar in a quite regular way.

    He felt that Italian was the most beautiful language to the ear, so the sound of Esperanto tends toward that sound.

    Vocabulary was stolen/borrowed from various European languages, both Latin-based and English-based.

    Back when I started programming, I also studied this language briefly, as an alternative form of code-talking. How very geeky!

  26. Araldite
    IT Angle

    You Forgot

    Stargate, and the "excellent" and well named Ancient.

    Closely related to Latin.

  27. Michael Habel

    Could someone please

    pass me a Babelfish?


  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lets step the geekery up a bit

    Bal'a dash, malanore, Anu belore dela'na

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      RE: Lets step the geekery up a bit

      Anar'alah belore. Doral ana'diel?

  29. Doug Glass


    All languages are made up. At some point there was none, then there was some .... they were made up. BFD This is the same kind of uninformed chatter that leads the morons of the world to believe in "sea salt". All salt is sea salt. How the hell do you think it got into those vast deposits that get mined? It's not Manna ya know.

    Idiots at the keyboard. "Chain a monkey to a typewriter and sooner or later he'll write a novel." For the younger among us you can safely substitute "word processor" for "typewriter".

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Not "made up", "evolved"

      Most languages evolved over time, and have internal conflicts in consistency and logic. A constructed language is generally logically consistent, and lacking in some of the odder quirks of spelling that bedevil languages like English and French.

      Constructed languages are extremely different from natural languages, even those that try to mimic natural language.

  30. Wesley Parish

    Some of us linguistic geeks

    some of us geeks make up languages for fictitious linguistic communities we happen to be writing about - mostly to add a touch of authenticity. There's a certain pleasure in having a character insulting another character in words like this:

    "Ya tshanyhusun ya hepetraisun ya kurrunia ya ayhe yhe E'avaturu!" It's cowardice it's drunkenness it's foolishness of course it's E'avaturu!"

    (Substitute "Dubbya Bush" or "Tony Blare" for E'avaturu at your pleasure ... :)

    Or singing some mournful song like:

    "aie, shailyain ili, shailyain ili, shailyain ili ri ne rau!

    "aie, waya wehi ri ne, waya wehi ri ne, ne wa shailyain!"

    Alas, broken the walls, broken the walls, broken the walls of my heart!

    Alas, gone my love from me, gone my love from me, I am broken!

    (You just have to remember the back-beat, and the ornamentation on the "aie", the "ili" and the "ne" - and that the accompaniement is a small drum between the tasha and the nakkara in size ... ) Yes, linguistic geekishness creeps into all sorts of fiction ...

  31. Blitz

    We should all learn Martian

    Martian from 'Mars Attacks' is a great language.

    "Ack ack ACK ACK GEDACK!"

    Which loosely translates too:

    "Our heads also explode when we watch Ann Widdecombe 'dance'"

    1. blackworx

      King of the potato people?

      Was it just me, or did the image of Doris Karloff in that gingham dress with the pony tails and toy dog put anyone else in mind of the unhinged, holovirus-infected Arnold Rimmer and his puppet Mister Flibble?

  32. RW

    Natural languages far more interesting than synthetic ones

    The problem with all (or maybe just most) made up languages is that they are constrained by the linguistic background of their inventors. (Klingon is a possible exception in that it was deliberately intended to violate as many of the linguistic universals as possible.)

    If someone wants to learn an exotic language so their world perspective broadens, there are plenty of candidates out there. Georgian, for example, not only has a grammar that will drive the innocent mad (check out online resources on Georgian grammar, esp. verbs), but its own alphabet and a phonological inventory very very different from English. Or if you want to have lots of tongue twisting fun, Chechen has something like 40 consonants *and* 40 vowels.

    Ubykh, now extinct but well-documented, features over 80 different consonants. Your vocal tract will become an acrobat if you learn Ubykh.

    American Indian languages are notorious for their grammar, which is strikingly different from anything most readers of El Reg are familiar with. The distinction between verbs and nouns is vague in many of them (the languages, that is), and a single very long word can correspond to a complex English sentence.

    And so it goes. Why waste time on inept fiction when the real thing beckons?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Natural" languages more interesting?

      Arguably yes, but they are also much harder to learn. Depending on exactly what you're interested in you might get better value (in terms of insight gained per hour expended) from studying an "invented" language. I have gained quite a lot from a few dozen hours spent looking at Toki Pona. I don't think I'd get as much from a few dozen hours spent on Georgian.

      And to the person who wrote "Constructed languages are extremely different from natural languages": That's not true, in general. Some try to be extremely different. Some try to be basically the same. If they are actually spoken - admittedly, most invented languages never are actually spoken - but if they are actually spoken, as Esperanto is, for example, then they are processed with the same mental hardware that is used in processing "natural" languages. Unsurprisingly, they end up being basically the same thing on some levels. But really the question whether constructed languages are different from natural languages is something that has to be answered by empirical investigation. There are a few scientific papers on Esperanto, but not a lot, so the real answer has to be that we don't really know.

      1. Tony Smith, Editor, Reg Hardware (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: "Natural" languages more interesting?

        Toki Pona?

        I'd rather poka Toni...

  33. Saucerhead Tharpe

    You forgot Tsolyani

    And the various other languages created by M. A. R. Barker, possibly the most obsessive philogist for fantasy language after Tolkien

  34. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge


    "Until recently, expanding the speaker numbers was a challenge: conventions were the only place for enthusiasts to gather and sporadic publications the only other method of sharing their passion."

    Well, I can comment that the Klingon Language Institute (which you mention in the article) had a Fidonet forum before they had a web site.

  35. Anonymous Coward


    The only marklar you marklar is marklar. Everything marklar is a marklar maklar of marklar.

  36. Brian2

    Esperanto's success

    All this talk about other conlangs which are in opposition to Esperanto ignores the fact that the language now has official recognition.

    Please click on below for confirmation :-

    Official recognition at the United Nations

    Used by the Council of Europe

    The online study course now has 120,00 hits per month.

    What other conlang can compare with this ?

    1. Steve Evans

      Re: Esperanto's success

      It's still a seriously rare language, and to make matters worse, you can't go anywhere specific (bar an Esperanto conference) to use it face to face! Estimated speakers 2 million... Which puts it about level with Macedonian. Except you can't just hop on a plane to Esperanta to experience the culture!

This topic is closed for new posts.