They say that being bilingual makes you smarter, with cognitive benefits ranging from greater success at solving certain mental puzzles to staving off dementia in old age. But what if you’ve proven utterly inept at grasping your mother tongue?
Maybe your brain will take better to something from the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. Most made-up languages are purely gibberish, but there are the rare few that have been lovingly crafted into fully functioning languages with their own grammar and vocabulary.
HERE’S A FEW THAT MAY SATISFY YOUR INNER GEEK.
Klingon may be one of the most recognizable fictional languages. You probably know it from the race of the same name on Star Trek, it’s a low, guttural language that sounds nearly impossible to wrap your tongue around. Created by linguist Marc Okrand, the language even has an organization called the Klingon Language Institute and a quarterly journal dedicated to it.
Okrand says he deliberately designed Klingon to be fundamentally different from existing languages. For instance, he chose features that occur relatively infrequently in human languages and used a phonology that would sound alien to human ears.
Popular language-learning app Duolingo now offers courses for Klingon, so anyone can start learning it. The course is available for free on Duolingo’s website and will be coming to the iOS and Android apps later.
Game of Thrones fans will be familiar with the race of fierce warrior-nomads that roam the vast grasslands of the Dothraki Sea. While George R.R. Martin didn’t properly flesh out the language in A Song of Ice and Fire, the HBO television series eventually went on to complete it.
It hired David Peterson of the Language Creation Society to create an entire lexicon, which reflected the close relationship the Dothraki shared with horse riding and rearing. In addition, Peterson also drew inspiration from languages such as Turkish, Russian, Estonian, Inuktitut, and Swahili.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a Duolingo course for Dothraki (although High Valyrian is offered). However, there is a dedicated mobile app called Dothraki Companion that will teach you the language. Created by Peterson himself, the app is available for iOS devices and offers games, vocabulary flash cards, a grammar summary, and even notes on culture.
James Cameron’s Avatar may have beautifully realized the world of Pandora, but it also spawned a fully functioning language for its alien inhabitants. The Na’vi language was created by linguist Paul Frommer, who came up with an extensive vocabulary and grammar for Pandora’s natives.
Because the language was written expressly for the purpose of the film, it was limited by some practical constraints. This meant it couldn’t be unreasonably complex, so Frommer designed the Na’vi language to be pronounceable by the actors and realistically learnable by the film’s characters. That said, he also took care to ensure that it did not closely resemble any single human language.
There are no official resources for learning Na’vi, but a quick Google search throws up several fan-made guides. https://learnnavi.org pools multiple resources in a single place. This includes a dictionary, pronunciation guides, a grammar and syntax section, and even a Discord server where you can get help from like-minded folks.
And then there’s Elvish, created by none other than J.R.R. Tolkien himself. He started work on the Elvish languages before he even began writing The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and his stories reportedly grew out of his languages.
Tolkien created many variants of the Elvish language, but the two most complete are Quenya, or high Elvish, and Sindarin. They’re both based on Finnish and Welsh, languages that Tolkien was also familiar with.
There isn’t an app for it, but Tolkien’s languages are popular enough that you can find actual books written about them on Amazon. The University of Wisconsin once even had a course for Sindarin.
Online, you can rely on a bunch of unofficial resources online to shore up your knowledge. If you navigate to folk. uib.no/hnohf/qcourse.htm, you’ll find a detailed 20-lesson plan for Quenya.
Nevertheless, subreddits like /r/Quenya provide valuable collections of tips, online resources, and a place for discussions.
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