Klingon, Quenya, Esperanto, Dothraki – Constructed Languages Around and Beyond the Globe: Part 1

Artificial languages – sometimes called planned, invented or constructed languages – are those languages whose grammar and vocabulary have been intentionally constructed by people instead of having developed naturally. There have been several efforts to introduce artificial languages into daily life, but they had very limited success. All of these languages have a restricted range of users, which means that there is no universally used artificial language. Since the 17th century there have been over 1000 artificial languages proposed, many of which only exist in brief sketches. A few were worked out in great details and there are some that managed to attract a great number of followers.

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Artificial languages can be divided into three groups:

The first group is called priori languages which were mostly created in the 17th century. They use invented elements, such as special symbols or numbers to represent basic concepts, and are sometimes called philosophical languages. Their vocabulary is based on abstract combinational principles.

The second is the so-called posteriori language group. The posteriori languages are intended to facilitate communication across language boundaries and most of them were created in the 19th and 20th century. Posteriori languages are closer to natural languages than priori languages.

The last one is the group of artistic languages that have characteristics determined by their creators’ aesthetic goals and can also be called fictional languages.

There are various reasons for constructing a new language: to facilitate international communication (e.g. Volapük, Esperanto) or to help create a fictional world (e.g. Tolkien’s Quenya, Klingon in Star Trek or Dothraki used in Game of Thrones).

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In this part I would like to show some examples for languages that were created as international languages universally spoken by everyone:

  1. Volapük: was created in 1879-1880 by a Roman Catholic priest Johann Martin Schleyer in Baden, Germany. He said that God had told him in his dream to create an international language. In 1889 there were about 316 textbooks in 25 languages and the language claimed nearly a million supporters. The Volapük is based on English and German. It has no r but included the German vowels äö, and ü and its grammar patterns are difficult and complex. In the 19th century Volapük was displaced by Esperanto.

    Here’s the Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights in Volapük:

    Valik mens labons leig e lib in dinits e dets. Givons lisäls e konsiens e mutons dunön okes in flenüg tikäl.

    All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

  1. Esperanto: one of the most successfully constructed languages in history. Ludwik Lazarus Zamenhof, a Polish-Jewish oculist and linguist, who used the pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto detailed the language at first in his work Unua Libro in 1887 with the intention of making it ‘the international language’. It uses the symbols of the Roman alphabet, its structure is heavily influenced by the Indo-European languages and the vocabulary is mostly derived from the Romance and Germanic languages. There are about 500,000-2.000.000 Esperanto speakers of which 200-2000 are said to be first language speakers. Both Google and Wikipedia provide services in Esperanto.

    En multaj lokoj de Ĉinio estis temploj de drako-reĝo. Dum trosekeco oni preĝis en la temploj, ke la drako-reĝo donu pluvon al la homa mondo. Tiam drako estis simbolo de la supernatura estaĵo.

    In many places in China there were temples of the dragon king. During times of drought, people prayed in the temples, that the dragon king would give rain to the human world. At that time the dragon was a symbol of the supernatural.

In part two we’ll see examples for fictional languages, stay tuned!


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