ULG's Language Services Blog

Constructed Languages: Reinventing Babel


Spending hours, sometimes days, at a time fine tuning the phonetics, grammar, verb tense and vocabulary of an invented language probably isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time.

But for “conlangers,” this kind of linguistic academia is their escape, a sort of artistic expression that allows them complete control over their language creations.

Conlangers are those who construct (con) their own languages (lang). Sometimes it’s a hobby, but in other instances, an attempt to create a language could have more purpose. Esperanto, created by Ludovik Lazarus Zamenhof in the late 19th century, was his attempt at unifying a multilingual world. Meanwhile, Marc Okrand’s Klingon acted as the official language for other worldly beings on Star Trek.

The Internet has buoyed the practice of inventing languages and kept arcane and little-known dialects alive. The web has also piqued more interest in the endeavor, and given conlangers a larger platform to find kindred spirits.

Creating A Language From Scratch

Constructed languages are purely a product of their creators. They don’t refer to the evolution of a language over time, but rather a dialect that has been made completely from scratch. And if you think about what that entails, dedicated conlangers are not only extremely smart people, but also adept students of language.

Klingon, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish and Game of Thrones’ Dothraki are among some of the best-known constructed languages. But these notable dialects only represent the tip of the iceberg. The conlang community is rich with unknown language geniuses.

Take for example, John Quijada. Quijada was a California State Department of Motor Vehicles employee before he developed a following thanks to his constructed language, Ithkuil. The New Yorker featured a piece on Quijada in 2012, documenting his rise to linguistic fame after his invented language started to generate international praise.

Ithkuil, according to Quijada, was meant to achieve “the highest possible degree of logic, efficiency, detail, and accuracy in cognitive expression via spoken language, while minimizing the ambiguity, vagueness, illogic, redundancy, polysemy and overall arbitrariness that is seemingly ubiquitous in natural human language.”

Household Names

Klingon has exploded into a sort of cultural phenomenon. The language has been referenced and used in TV, plays and has its own dictionary. There’s also a translation of the Bible in Klingon, and according to the Guinness Book of World Records, it’s the most widely spoken fictional language in the world.

A more recent example of a conlang taking off is Dothraki, the vernacular spoken in the critically acclaimed Game of Thrones. Dothraki’s creator, David Peterson, has been able to make a career out of creating languages, inventing fictional dialects for multiple television shows.

With recent interest in Dothraki and other mainstream linguistic creations, it seems as though conlanging will continue to gain ground. The practice has even made its way into the classroom, with UC Santa Cruz offering a course on the history of constructed languages.

And, if you’re so inclined, Duolingo will begin offering Klingon lessons come August, according to the language learning app’s website. Or, for those looking for a more ambitious endeavor, there are plenty of resources online to get started on your own constructed language.

So, to all of the aspiring conlangers out there: Good luck. Or, Bonŝancon, as an Esperantist would say.