From Klingon to Dothraki, invented languages have gained popularity in recent years. One German student has created his own language called Garadálava — and he tells Euronews how it’s done.
Fynn Schlemminger knew exactly what he wanted to do for his A-levels special project: create a language from scratch. And that’s exactly what he did. The invented language is called Garadálava, and, according to its creator, it is unique. “The premise of creating Garadálava was to make it unlike any spoken language. I came up with a phonology people usually interpret as harsh or pointed, featuring some guttural sounds and a very unmelodious tone,” he explained.
All languages are, to a point, constructed because they went through corrections and reforms over time. However, there is one main difference according to a professor of linguistics at Wellesley College. Angela Carpenter, who has been teaching a course on invented languages since 2010, said the main difference is that “an invented language originates in someone's mind and is developed and expanded upon mostly by that person. A natural language evolves within a speech community, usually from another language, dialect or creole, over a period of time.”
When Schlemminger began working on Garadálava, he started with a sketch, an idea of how the language should sound and feel like.
“You begin with the more superficial things, the shape of the language so to speak, some basic words, a sound inventory, sentence order. After that you simply go into more detail and mostly rotate between making up words and grammar rules, until you are done,” he said to Euronews. To him, the experience of creating a language was not unlike making a sculpture, creating a work of art.
“Inventing a language is a very creative process that also requires knowledge of linguistic structures to make it a viable language. Having to create your own language really helps you to understand linguistic structure and the complex nature of language communication,” explained Carpenter.
The art of invented language
In the early 20th century, Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure came up with the idea that language signs are arbitrary. This means that the word for “dog” has nothing to do with the dog’s intrinsic characteristics. That’s why every language has its own word for that animal. In German, it’s “Hund,” in Polish, it’s “pies,” and in French, it’s “chien.” In Garadálava, it’s “àmman.” These words just describe a creature that has four legs, a tail, and barks, but by themselves, they will tell you nothing about the object they describe. And nothing makes us realise this about language than a language that we created from scratch.
But languages, even constructed ones, don’t appear in a vacuum. In her class, Angela Carpenter asks the students to develop a culture in which their language will live. Schlemminger imagined Garadálava speakers as “a desert tribe, or early Middle-Eastern advanced civilization, with a very egalitarian and sophisticated philosophy, yet technologically limited.”
Garadálava has a dictionary of 3,500 words, and there are poetry and songs in this language. It also has its own alphabet. According to the German newspaper WAZ, Schlemminger planned to use the language in a book. He has been interested in languages and linguistics for a long time. His A levels presentation was in English, which he speaks in addition to his native German. He is now a linguistic student at Ruhr University Bochum.
Klingon to Dothraki: Invented languages gain popularity
The idea of invented languages is not new. People have been trying to create new tongues for a long time. One of the most famous examples is Esperanto, created by Ludwik Zamenhof in 1887 which he hoped would become a globally spoken unifying language. The fact that it is based on 16 very simple rules and took words from languages already present makes it very easy to learn. This was a conscious decision by Zamenhof who hoped that if everyone spoke one language, there would be fewer wars and conflicts.
So far, none of the existing constructed languages has achieved a large number of speakers. Klingon, the invented language of Star Trek has around 20-30 speakers. Na’vi, the language created for the movie “Avatar” has one fluent speaker, 10 intermediate speakers, and over forty novices. Dothraki, which was crafted specifically for the series Game of Thrones, boasts seven intermediate speakers and around a hundred novices. For now, Garadálava has exactly one speaker: Fynn Schlemminger himself.
But Esperanto is a notable exception: it’s estimated that the language has around some 1,000 native speakers, and many parents teach it to their children.
TV series, movies, books, and especially the Internet have given invented languages a chance like never before. According to the BBC, Esperanto, which was created almost exactly 100 years ago, is currently experiencing a boost, mostly thanks to the language learning app Duolingo, and a highly engaged online community. Wikipedia is also available in this language.
Euronews found Wikis created for both Dothraki and Na’vi, and the people who have added themselves come from all over the world. “No credible sci-fi film has 'aliens' speaking pure nonsense and calling that a language,” explained Carpenter. That’s why the producers of the Game of Thrones series have hired language specialist David J. Peterson to create Dothraki specifically for the show. In January last year, Melissa May, a young woman from Wiltshire, UK, also invented a language that she called Skénavánns.
With the amount of time and effort it takes to learn a new language, it is rather unlikely that an invented tongue will achieve world domination in the same way English has. But it is clear that there is rising interest in creating new languages.
“Yes, there might be more of them in the future, or more people will try their hand at it,” said Carpenter.