Find out what Game of Thrones and Star Trek have in common and why fans of both will be living it up in Montreal this weekend!
You’d be forgiven for not having heard of Marc Okrand or David Peterson, though it’s likely that you’ve seen some of their work. Both of these gentlemen are going to be speakers at LangFest and they have a particular job description in common—both of them have created languages for incredibly popular TV shows.
Even if you’re not a Trekkie, you’ve probably heard of Klingons, the warrior race that feature more often than not as the bad guys in the Star Trek TV show and films. Okrand was hired initially to work on Vulcan dialogue required for the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Paramount Pictures then hired him to develop the entire language and coach the actors on it for another three films; he was then asked to invent Klingon, too. His initial basis of the language actually came from a few samples spoken in Star Trek: The Motion Picture by James Doohan, who played Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (or Scotty, as he’s better known).
Not a simple task! However, Okrand’s early work with Native American languages influenced how he created Klingon, with some of the sounds he used not being present in any other language. Nowadays, there are only estimated to be 20-30 people who are conversationally fluent in Klingon, though there are many more people who are interested in learning it.
As for Peterson… he created many of the languages featured on a TV show that took the world by storm when it first aired in 2011—yes, we’re talking about Game of Thrones. Peterson had developed the Dothraki language before the books were even adapted to TV, but it came with a few initial constraints. One was that George R. R. Martin had already written several Dothraki words in his books, and so these needed to be the base that the language was built around. The second was that when creating the language, Peterson needed to be aware that everything should be easily pronounceable and learnable by the actors.
He managed this, as most people are aware, then also going on to create the Valyrian languages used in Season Three. And these languages are popular—while there is no consensus on the number of speakers, over one million people have started learning High Valyrian, which for a language less than ten years old, is a very impressive feat!
Of course, these languages are both kind of niche, so if you’re looking for a constructed language which has a larger community around it (and one where you don’t have to read nearly two million words or watch 726 episodes and 12 films to get all the background info you need), then why not try Esperanto?
Esperanto was created in the late 1800s by L. L. Zamenhof and is now the most widely-spoken constructed language in the world. It is estimated to have up to two million speakers—including around a thousand native speakers!—and most of them point out that Esperanto is relatively easy to learn; so great if you’re learning your first foreign language. Zamenhof created it to serve as a universal second language to help foster peace and international understanding, which should be right up your street if you’re a big Star Trek fan. (Game of Thrones? Uhh, not so much…)
Fancy learning one of these conlangs (constructed languages) right now? Sadly, we don’t offer all of them yet. We do have Esperanto on our uTalk app, which means once you’ve learnt the 2,500-or-so words and phrases for that, you could start using Esperanto as your base language and cement what you’ve learnt even further.
If you’re really craving some Klingon or Dothraki in your life, however, there’s a couple of solutions.
For Klingon: we do have some of our older products—Talk Now Klingon and Rhythms Klingon—which were created with Marc Okrand’s help and approved by him and CBS, who still own the copyright on the official dictionary and canonical descriptions of the language. Our Talk Now course was the first language course for Klingon written both in Latin and plqaD (the Klingon script) fonts, too.
For Dothraki: well, we have nothing for this yet. There are very few Dothraki courses anywhere, in fact—somehow Valyrian is the Game of Thrones language that has really taken off! But David Peterson did note that he used features from several different languages to create Dothraki, including Estonian, Turkish, Russian, and Swahili. And guess what? We do offer all of those! So, if you’d like to get a feel for Dothraki with languages you can speak with up to 166,000,000 other speakers, then why not give one of those a try?
Oh, and if you do happen to be at LangFest this weekend, pop by and say hi! We have a stand and will be running a quiz on Saturday. We tested it out in the office this week—it’s sneakily difficult, so watch out for that!
And if, after all that, you’re still feeling really up for it, why not have a go at creating a language of your own? Maybe one day you’ll be presenting at a language conference, too!
Ĝis revido kaj bonŝancon! (That’s Esperanto for goodbye and good luck!)