Languages: From the real to the fictitious

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SpeakUp London wants to introduce you to a topic of interest which relates to what we do here: languages.

We teach languages that are currently widely spoken from the existing 6,000 that the world can speak. There are also those who catalogue how languages have developed over time. Maybe they even invent or discover new ones. These people are linguists. 


One author who succeeded in combining his love for languages with the creation of new ones was J. R. R. Tolkien, beloved author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He is not the only one, but one of the most successful ones. Other languages created include Dothraki and High Valyrian from Game of Thrones and Klingon from the Star Trek franchise.


Born in 1892, Tolkien was young when language creation was at its zenith in the early 20th century; Esperanto is one of the few languages created at that time period that survived. He was also influenced from an early age by his mother, who taught him Latin, Greek and German. At the University of Oxford, he continued to learn more languages, which included Old English, Finnish, Welsh and Germanic languages, with a preference for Gothic.


Creating Languages

“Anyone who invents a language finds that it requires a suitable habitation and a history in which it can develop.”

There are traces of this implementation in the myths and languages used in Middle-Earth including name and places. The fictitious borrows from the real. For example, Sauron derives from Old Norse and Icelandic languages to mean ‘filthy’ and ‘uncleanness’.  Quenya, the High Elven language, has grammar rules originate from the Finnish language, and Sindarin, the spoken Elvish, is influenced by the Welsh language, a descendant of Gaelic.

For each language in the books to have a genealogy not dissimilar to human ancestry, a mythology w created. This mythology gives the language meaning. It explains why the harsher pronunciation in the Black Speech of Mordor create an association with evil. It is also why the Hobbits’ love for language means they can create riddles. Tolkien maintained that “language construction will breed a mythology” and in this, the man succeeded.  

The truth is if you have siblings you probably created your own language so that Mum and Dad wouldn’t know what you were saying or doing. If you want to become a writer, you can take heart and inspiration from great writers like these.



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