While it appears some languages are disappearing at a pretty steady rate due to lack of speakers, leave it to Hollywood to be in forefront of inventing new ones. The following list showcases 10 of the most popular movies with completely fictional languages invented for the story.
Granted, the majority of the movies on this list were adapted from books whose authors should be credited as the inventor (and are). However, thanks to the magical preservation powers of celluloid (and the dwindling number of people who actually read books anymore), this list pays respect to the cinema versions and the vigilance of the production team to go above and beyond what the original story/author had created.
1. Na’vi language, “Avatar” (2009)
Director James Cameron’s Avatar featured an original language constructed for the film by real-life professor Paul Frommer. Na’vi-ish started out just large enough to encompass all of the aliens’ lines for the film, but went on to grow and include songs, syntax and plenty of material for fans to use in their own jungle LARP-ing adventure on “Halo” the theme park ride.
2. Sindarin, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001)
J.R.R. Tolkien created two languages spoken by the elves of Middle Earth in his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and other novels exploring the vast world. He based Sindarin, the commonly spoken tongue, on the sounds of the Welsh language. When Peter Jackson adapted the books into his own epic film trilogy, he hired linguist David Salo, one of the world’s leading experts in Sindarin, to translate film dialogue from English to Elvish and provide pronunciation advice to the cast.
3. Klingon, “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991)
When the “Star Trek” creators wanted an alien language to use in the films, they called on linguist Marc Okrand to create one. Okrand designed Klingon as an entire language system, complete with extensive vocabulary and rules that govern grammar and usage.
4. Huttese, “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” (1983)
Jabba the Hutt was easily the most quotable alien with his own language in the Star Wars universe (ahem, films). Spoken in at least three of the films, the language itself is the creation of sound designer Ben Burtt and linguist Larry Ward. Burtt knew what he wanted the language to sound like, so he gave Ward recordings of people speaking in Qenchua, a native language in Peru and the Andes. Essentially, he wanted Ward to help create a language that sounded something like Quenchua, but wasn’t Quenchua—and so Huttese was born.
5. The Divine Language, “The Fifth Element” (1997)
Director Luc Besson fashioned just enough vocabulary to serve his script’s needs in “The Fifth Element,” but Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) drove every last word of it home like she meant it. The scale of the fantastic scenes in the movie were epic and amazing, but performances like Jovovich’s made it believable in its absurdity, as well as pull off one of the greatest outfits ever in a Sci-Fi movie.
6. Fremen, “Dune” (1984)
The common language of the desert-dwelling Fremen has Arabic origins. Some Arabic words, such as “jihad,” are used in Fremen without any change in pronunciation or definition, and the language shares many structural attributes with Arabic. The film adaptations of the novel series, including David Lynch’s “Dune,” feature Fremen dialogue, as well as scenes in which documents written in Fremen can be seen.
7. Newspeak, “1984” (1984)
Newspeak was created by George Orwell for his novel 1984. The book’s totalitarian was in the process of replacing English with Newspeak, intending to eventually wipe out English altogether. Newspeak’s purpose was to ‘narrow the range of thought’: for example, it did not contain the words free or freedom, so the idea of freedom became literally unthinkable once there was no word to describe it. Rather than creating new words, the government aimed to destroy them. Several words from Newspeak like doublethink and ungood have been picked up into English, where they’re usually used to make a point about something that’s considered totalitarian in nature.
8. Nadsat, “A Clockwork Orange” (1972)
“But where I itty now, O my brothers, is all on my oddy knocky, where you cannot go. Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers and the turning vonny earth and the stars and the old Luna up there. … And all that cal.” Appearing in both British novelist Anthony Burgess’ dystopian morality tale of teenage delinquency and Stanley Kubrick’s horror show film adaptation that stunned audiences in 1972, Nadsat (translation: “teenage”) isn’t a proper language per se. Rather, it’s a Russian-influenced English argot — a term used to describe verbal shorthand or slang used amongst a small group of people — created by Burgess who, among other things, was a polyglot and trained linguist (he also invented the Neanderthal language spoken/grunted in the 1981 caveman flick, “Quest for Fire.”)
Lapine — a Welsh-inspired language constructed by British author Richard Adams for his allegorical adventure novel-with-a-twist “Watership Down” (that famous twist being all of the characters in the book are anthropomorphized bunnies). While Adams’ original Lapine isn’t nearly as developed as other fictional languages such as Klingon, it has been studied and expanded upon by academics and fans of his award-winning 1972 bestseller, which itself has been adapted into an animated film in 1978 (remember Art Garfunkel’s hit, “Bright Eyes”?) and a 39-episode British television series from 1999-2001.
10. Cityspeak, “Blade Runner” (1982)
• Slot: Idiot or jerk
Edward James Olmos imagined the hyper-multiculturalization of a future Los Angeles in his role as Gaff, and blended Hungarian together with German, French and other languages. The result was a vaguely Esperanto-sounding style of speech that made his words simultaneously sound a little familiar and utterly incomprehensible.