K is for Klingon and other made up languages

Author: Anne

Date Published: Apr 18th 2018, 10:05pm

I love fantasy novels. In the past I read an enormous amount of epic fantasy series although now my attention has turned more to urban fantasy and alightly shorter books. I have also especially enjoyed those where the author has invented whole new worlds, and even better if they have provided a map !. Many of these are based on Medieval England but there are also some which use different historical periods and backgrounds as a base for their world building (Guy Gavriel Kay has books based on China and the Eastern Mediterranean, JK Jemison’s novel are based on Egyptian history, as just two examples).

What an author does need to do, however, in order to make that world seem real to us is to create a whole new language and naming structure which sounds alien to us but which is readable and consistent within itself. Names have to be easily differentiated whilst still being relatively easy to pronounce so they have to be alien but not too alien. Every big fantasy novel set in a fantasy world has to create a language, with new words for concepts we don’t have but which are part of the story, and names for people and places.

JRR Tolkein really started things. His “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is full of languages (Elvish, dwarfish and so on) and unusual names (Bilbo, Gandalf, Gimli, etc.). Tolkein had an advantage though as he was an expert in Norse languages and literature so he used his academic knowledge of language structure as a base. Other authors aren’t necessarily that fortunate and have to start from scratch. They need to work out the rules in advance so that everything comes together easily and sounds consistent although few will go as far as the inventors of Klingon who created a whole new language which apparently is large enough to converse in.

Authors who have books set in two parallel universes also have an additional issue. How will the characters from one world understand someone from the other. A spell is the usual solution but there is always the Babel fish.

I thank authors who go to the trouble to create new languages and think up naming structures for their novels. It makes it all seem much more realistic and different. I would just ask though, could you please try and avoid the apostrophe in the names ? A lot of authors use this and I’m getting a bit tired of it especially as I never know quite how to pronounce things when they are used.

When next reading a fantasy novel take some time to appreciate the work that must have gone into the naming structure and the language used.