Films have had many languages designed especially for them. Some have been ignored and been lost in history whereas others are used today by diehard fans and have dictionaries and translators online. Here are some of the more popular that are used amongst fans.
We’ll start with a language that has gone down as one of the most widely used and popularised fictional languages ever. Klingon was first used in Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 although only 11 short phrases were used. Marc Okrand and James Doohan (Scotty) created the famed language in the mid-seventies and is centred on the Klingon principles of spacecraft’s and warfare. It has been used on several occasions in other films and on TV shows including The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory, Paul (2011) and Kill Bill (2003). Klingon is so popular that it has its own dictionary and classic plays such as William Shakespeare’s Hamlet have been performed in the language and even the Bible has been translated in to Klingon.
In 2009, James Cameron released the record breaking Avatar which had its own language called Na’vi. The Na’vi language is spoken by the tribe of the same name who live on the planet Pandora. It was created by Paul Frommer in 2005 who worked on set with the actors to help refine their pronunciation and understanding of the language even though the script contained Na’vi before the cast was assembled. Na’vi hasn’t had any notable uses in other films or TV shows but it is still a growing language that only contains around 1,500 words as of 2011.
Minionese is the fictional language spoken by the Minions in the Despicable Me franchise. It can also be called the Banana Language as a reference to their colour. While it is a new language, it already has more online translators than any other fictional language. While it is an official language with its own dictionary and words, it does borrow some English words in order to help the younger viewers understand what is being said. It even has some phrases that are Spanish – “Para tú” meaning “for you” – and Italian words such as “Gelato” meaning “ice cream” and that’s only naming a few languages. There are also examples of Korean, Filipino and Chinese. It was both made and voiced by the directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud.
Writer George Orwell created Newspeak for his novel “1984” without knowing that one day it would be used in the film adaptation 1984 which was released in 1984! To represent the totalitarian future, Newspeak didn’t contain words for freedom or free because the concept of freedom with literally unthinkable. Newspeak contains no antonyms, so words such as warm and good become unwarm and ungood because it limited the thoughts of the subjects. The word equal is used in Newspeak but only means equal on a physical level rather than social rankings, class and economic wellbeing. And anyone who tries to use “oldspeak” (Normal English from before the totalitarian regime) would be sent to a “joycamp” (forced labour camp). While as a language it sounds simple, Orwell explained in a BBC interview how complicated it was to create and develop so that it wasn’t too complex for a reader and eventually a viewer too.
How could you talk about languages in film and not reference at least one language from Middle Earth? J. R. R. Tolkien was a philologist and so could construct a language at will by merging prehistoric languages to create a new language. He created Elvish as his first language for the series and didn’t stop there. He created different dialects and languages within Elvish as a whole. As a written language, Elvish has 7 scripts although most of them are only used in a certain area or city. Gondolinic Runes are only used in the city of Gondolin and Sarati is only used within the Second Clan. Many of Tolkien’s languages have ties with Latin, Spanish, French, German and English.
Star Wars is another franchise that has developed a reputation for creating an obscene number of languages but a favourite amongst fans is Huttese which is spoken by the Hutts of Evocar. While it has no ties to any current languages, it does share similarities with long dead languages such as Mayan and Nahuatl (spoken by the Aztecs in Mexico). It was created by Ben Burtt and Larry Ward. It is used in 4 of the 6 films and most famously used by Jabba the Hut, although a young Anakin Skywalker uses it to communicate with people on Evocar who don’t use English. It was first seen in Star Wars – later renamed Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Han shot first) – when used by Jabba the Hut and it astounded audiences in 1977 and it still does to this day. It is rarely used in other media but was referenced in the final series of How I Met Your Mother.
The Harry Potter series also contains many fascinating languages but none are more interesting than Parseltongue. Parseltongue can only be used by certain gifted witches or wizards in order to communicate with snakes. It was first seen in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). Speakers of the language are referred to as Parselmouths and it is commonly a sign of Dark Magic and evil. The final film in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011), explains why Harry has the ability. If you haven’t seen it already I won’t tell you any more in case I spoil it for you. Although Parseltongue was referenced in the books it was written in Standard English to reflect the fact that the character knew what was being said.
Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel A Clockwork Orange contains the Nadsat language. It is a Russian influenced English language where the name is derived from the Russian prefix “teen”. It contains some Russian words and phrases, some English slang such as “sod off” and there are some child-like elements to it including “appy polly loggy” which mean apology. Burgess himself created it as, not only was he a novelist, but he was a linguist too.
Disney also provided us with some memorable languages but by far the most popular was Atlantean from the film Atlantis: The Lost Empire. It was based on the language of the ancient Babylonians and is mixed with Biblical Hebrew, Latin, Greek and Chinese. Disney tasked the creation of the language to Marc Okrand – the guy who helped create Klingon – who took 5 years to develop the language. According to Disney mythology it was written down as the film was created and it wasn’t until its release in 2001 that it was written down how it should be using the Atlantean alphabet and phonetically so that it could be spoken outside of the studio too.
The 1997 film The Fifth Element starring Bruce Willis came with the Mondoshawan language, sometimes called the Divine Language. It was created by director Luc Besson and Willis’ co-star Milla Jovovich who had to speak the language on screen. It only contained 400 words and Besson and Jovovich wrote letters to each other and spoke to one another in the Divine Language so that they could practice using the language. It has a total of 78 letters and its native speakers, called shape shifters, can only speak it as they can change their vocal cords instantly in order to create the correct sound.
Well 28 pages of Google and 12 pages of Bing results later and there are no more languages to write about. So there you go, a run-down of all the major notable languages used in films.
Written by Aiden Froud.