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  • To many, one of the coolest things

  • about "Game of Thrones"

  • is that the inhabitants of the Dothraki Sea

  • have their own real language.

  • And Dothraki came hot on the heels

  • of the real language that the Na'vi speak in "Avatar,"

  • which, surely, the Na'vi needed

  • when the Klingons in "Star Trek"

  • have had their own whole language

  • since 1979.

  • And let's not forget the Elvish languages

  • in J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy,

  • especially since that was the official grandfather

  • of the fantasy conlangs.

  • Conlang is short for constructed language.

  • They're more than codes like Pig Latin,

  • and they're not just collections

  • of fabricated slang like the Nadsat lingo

  • that the teen hoodlums

  • in "A Clockwork Orange" speak,

  • where droog from Russian

  • happens to mean friend.

  • What makes conlangs real languages

  • isn't the number of words they have.

  • It helps, of course, to have a lot of words.

  • Dothraki has thousands of words.

  • Na'vi started with 1500 words.

  • Fans on websites have steadily created more.

  • But we can see the difference

  • between vocabulary alone

  • and what makes a real language

  • from a look at how Tolkien

  • put together grand old Elvish,

  • a conlang with several thousands words.

  • After all, you could memorize 5,000 words of Russian

  • and still be barely able to construct a sentence.

  • A four-year-old would talk rings around you.

  • That's because you have to know

  • how to put the words together.

  • That is, a real language has grammar.

  • Elvish does.

  • In English, to make a verb past,

  • you add an "-ed".

  • Wash, washed.

  • In Elvish, wash is allu

  • and washed is allune.

  • Real languages also change over time.

  • There's no such thing

  • as a language that's the same today

  • as it was a thousand years ago.

  • As people speak, they drift into new habits,

  • shed old ones,

  • make mistakes,

  • and get creative.

  • Today, one says,

  • "Give us today our daily bread."

  • In Old English, they said,

  • "Urne gedaeghwamlican hlaf syle us todaeg."

  • Things change in conlangs, too.

  • Tolkien charted out ancient

  • and newer versions of Elvish.

  • When the first Elves awoke at Cuivienen,

  • in their new language,

  • the word for people was kwendi,

  • but in the language of one of the groups

  • that moved away, Teleri,

  • over time, kwendi became pendi,

  • with the k turning into a p.

  • And just like real languages,

  • conlangs like Elvish split off into many.

  • When the Romans transplanted Latin across Europe,

  • French, Spanish, and Italian were born.

  • When groups move to different places,

  • over time their ways of speaking grow apart,

  • just like everything else about them.

  • Thus, Latin's word for hand was manus,

  • but in French, it became main,

  • while in Spain it became mano.

  • Tolkien made sure Elvish did the same kind of thing.

  • While that original word kwendi became pendi

  • among the Teleri,

  • among the Avari, who spread throughout Middle Earth,

  • it became kindi

  • when the w dropped out.

  • The Elvish varieties Tolkien fleshed out the most

  • are Quenya and Sindarin,

  • and their words are different

  • in the same way French and Spanish are.

  • Quenya has suc for drink,

  • Sindarin has sog.

  • And as you know, real languages are messy.

  • That's because they change,

  • and change has a way of working against order,

  • just like in a living room

  • or on a bookshelf.

  • Real languages are never perfectly logical.

  • That's why Tolkien made sure

  • that Elvish had plenty of exceptions.

  • Lots of verbs are conjugated in ways

  • you just have to know.

  • Take even the word know.

  • In the past, it's knew,

  • which isn't explained by any of the rules in English.

  • Oh well.

  • In Elvish, know is ista,

  • but knew is sinte.

  • Oh well.

  • The truth is, though,

  • that Elvish is more a sketch for a real language

  • than a whole one.

  • For Tolkien, Elvish was a hobby

  • rather than an attempt to create something

  • people could actually speak.

  • Much of the Elvish the characters

  • in the "Lord of the Rings" movies speak

  • has been made up since Tolkien

  • by dedicated fans of Elvish

  • based on guesses as to what Tolkien

  • would have constructed.

  • That's the best we can do for Elvish

  • because there are no actual Elves around

  • to speak it for us.

  • But the modern conlangs go further.

  • Dothraki, Na'vi, and Klingon are developed enough

  • that you can actually speak them.

  • Here's a translation of "Hamlet" into Klingon,

  • although performing it would mean getting used

  • to pronouncing k with your uvula,

  • that weird, cartoony thing hanging

  • in the back of your throat.

  • Believe it or not,

  • you actually do that in plenty

  • of languages around the world,

  • like Eskimo ones.

  • Pronouncing Elvish is much easier, though.

  • So, let's take our leave for now

  • from this introduction to conlangs in Elvish

  • and the other three conglangs discussed

  • with a heartfelt quad-conlangual valedictory:

  • "A na marie!"

  • "Hajas!"

  • Na'vi's "Kiyevame!"

  • "Qapla!"

  • and "Goodbye!"

To many, one of the coolest things

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B1 US TED-Ed na vi dothraki vi language klingon

【TED-Ed】Are Elvish, Klingon, Dothraki and Na'vi real languages? - John McWhorter

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