Do you speak Minion? Fictional languages in movies

Sindarin, na’vi, minion, klingon, … We take a closer look at the languages invented for film, television, literature and comic books.

Have you ever dreamed of learning the Elvish language Sindarin so that you can invite Liv Tyler for a drink in a Middle Earth tavern? Or na’vi to learn to fly mountain banshees on the planet Pandora? When it comes to inventing fictional languages to breathe life into fantasy or science fiction worlds, the conlangers are the most sought-after talents in Hollywood. Here are some examples.

Universal languages

Before meeting with success thanks to cinema or television, the first “artificial” languages were conceived of from a universal point of view to enable men from all linguistic backgrounds to communicate with each other. The first to meet with success was Volapük by J.M. Schleyer, a German Catholic priest who devised this idiom after experiencing a divine revelation in 1880. However, it was quickly (1887) supplanted by Esperanto, which was invented by L.L. Zamenhof, a mixture of French, Italian, German, English and Russian, which millions of followers still practice and is taught in universities around the world today.

TlhIngan Hol Dajatlh’a’?

“Do you speak Klingon?” This is the fictional language of the best-known television series in the world, spoken by an alien race (and a certain Sheldon Cooper!) in the fictional universe of Star Trek. Inspired by Amerindian languages, Marc Orkrand developed a language with very specific guttural intonations and suffixes which change the meaning of words. However, it is no obstacle for “Trekkies” keen to learn the Klingon alphabet and grammar and join private clubs or even the Klingon Language Institute, a recognised educational establishment in the United States.

More recently, Dothraki, the fictional language of the warriors in the popular series Game of Thrones, looks set to achieve the same success as it attracts more and more followers.

More elaborate languages

For his complete works, the prize without a doubt, goes to J.R.R. Tolkien! The author of the trilogy The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit invented more than ten languages and as many alphabets. Each people of the Middle Earth has its own language, so you can choose between the Elvish idioms Quenya and Sindarin, directly inspired by Welsh sounds and grammar, the dwarves’ Khuzdul or the Adûnaic spoken by the men of Númenor.

The mini(on)malists

There is no need to invent an entire dictionary to give life to characters in a film. Just as our childhood was marked by the crazy smurfing of Peyo’s Smurfs, a few words of Spanish, Japanese, and even Filipino were enough for Pierre Coffin to endow his present-day army of Minions, small banana-yellow humanoids in shorts, with a weapon of mass seduction. Given the global success of the endearing little servants of the ugly and “despicable” Gru, an exclusive spin-off of their adventures was subsequently released to the delight of the Banana fans.

Finally, it is worth noting that these fictional languages share many characteristics, such as a constructed writing system, a lexicon, grammar, and above all, a reference culture.

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