Dothraki, Vulcan etc.

Are any of these fictional languages actually real? How many words does a language need to have to be a real language anyway? What make a few or a few hundred or a few thousand words a language? Or is it the number of speakers of the language?

There is no generally-accepted definition of what constitutes a language. I’m going to offer my own definition: if more than one person speaks it, and they can understand each other, it’s a language.

Btw, Qzwxecrtv means thanks in Bollocks.
We are now both fluent in Bollocks.

Some of them, like Tolkien’s Elvish, and the most recent version of Klingon, have actually been constructed with some care and serious linguistic knowledge. They aren’t just nonsense hodge-podges, like Tarzan’s “Kreegah Bundolo.” They have grammar, tenses, cases, and so on.

Where they created as a “finished product” by the authors of the books or, over time, has the fan base added to the languages?

A language is a language is a language: it doesn’t ever have, or have had, to be used for communication in any way. It is enough that it is a construct, with words and/or symbols having meanings, and could be used if ever called upon.

In the cases of both Marc Okrand’s Klingon and Tolkien’s two most complete Elvish languages (Quenya and Sindarin), the fan base generally considers it unacceptable to invent changes to the languages that don’t appear in canonical works by the languages’ authors. This, I would argue, means that none of these are “real languages”, since it is the fundamental nature of languages that they change with use. A very interesting viewpoint on the state of Tolkien’s languages today is expounded in Carl Hostetter’s essay “Elvish as She is Spoke”, which argues that the current widely used form of Sindarin today, in such works as David Salo’s “A Gateway to Sindarin” and in the Peter Jackson movies, has been regularized and extended to the extent that it is no longer the language that Tolkien intended. Since Tolkien’s goal was never to create a complete and usable language, this is pretty much unavoidable when anyone tries to use it as such.

I think the OP raises a valid point. In order for a language to be considered “real” it has to be able to be used for general communication. And that requires it has to have a fairly broad vocabulary.

When Klingon, for example, was first used it only had about twenty words. By an amazing coincidence, those twenty words happened to be able to convey the lines that the Klingon characters spoke in that movie. But if two Klingon speakers tried to communicate anything outside of that limited vocabulary, they wouldn’t have been able to do so.

The Klingon vocabulary has expanded since then. But it’s probably still the only language where it’s easier to discuss the operation of a starship than to talk about the weather.

The 1985 Klingon Dictionary is fairly limited at about 1500 words, but that’s surprisingly pretty robust, and enough to discuss a lot of everyday topics. People have successfully translated chunks of Hamlet[sup]1[/sup] and A Christmas Carol into Klingon for performance. The dictionary also includes a fairly comprehensive set of grammar rules.

The second edition adds a few hundred new words, which, by amazing coincidence, almost perfectly coincide with Star Trek episodes that required words that weren’t in the original dictionary.

In real life, languages evolve and add new words as they are needed. They also tend to be naturally Huffman-coded with the most commonly-used words being the shortest. That’s easy to observe over time as usages change in frequency.

[sub]1. obligatory[/sub]

A warrior does not notice the weather.


More than chunks; the entire play was translated by Nick Nicholas and Andrew Strader in 1996.

Perhaps relevant to this discussion is d’Armond Speers’ experiment to raise his newborn son as a bilingual English/Klingon speaker. He spoke Klingon to his son for his first three years of life. He eventually gave it up when his son basically stopped responding to Klingon. Speers was undoubtedly one of the most fluent Klingon speakers on this planet and was very active in the Klingon community when I was learning the language. He said he did find it difficult to converse with his son in a language that was lacking many words for basic human concepts like “table” (he had to call it “flat thing”). Here’s an adorable recording of the child singing the Klingon Imperial Anthem.

A warning: clicking that link automatically downloaded a file on to my computer.

Unlike Tolkien, George RR Martin did not invent detailed languages for his books. When Game of Thrones was picked up by HBO, the show’s creators hired a linguist to take the words that were in Martin’s books and turn them into an actual, functional language. The languages in the show like Dothraki and High Valyerian are extremely detailed. David J. Peterson (the linguist they hired) went so far as to even create histories for the languages, showing how they evolved over time based on Martin’s history of his world.

Uh, yeah, that’s what happens whenever you click any link. It’s a Real Audio file. If your browser is not configured to play Real Audio it will save it in your Downloads folder so you can find a program that will play it.

A more useful distinction is between a language and a code: A language has its own grammar, a code is merely a new way of speaking an existing language.

By that standard, Klingon is a language. You can meaningfully talk about how weird Klingon grammar is (and it is quite different from English, for example, being agglutinative in nature) and learning Klingon goes beyond learning the vocabulary, just like how memorizing a French vocabulary wouldn’t enable you to communicate in French. (By this standard American Sign Language is indeed a language distinct from English and Spanish and everything else, assuming you do more than fingerspell English.)

Similarly, Pig Latin isn’t a language. Neither are Ubbi Dubbi nor any other example of Double Dutch.

No, it isn’t. If I click on a link to a video on YouTube or Vimeo or Dailymotion, it doesn’t download a copy of the video on to my hard drive.

Yes it does. Streaming is the same as downloading. In the case of YouTube or Vimeo or Dailymotion, your browser saves the file somewhere unobtrusive and automatically deletes it after some time. It’s called caching.

Tying this back to language…

We have a canned phrase for distinctions without a difference: “Distinctions without a difference”, unintuitively enough.

We need a canned phrase for nondistinctions which obscure a difference. For example, both pike and cod are fish. Insisting that both pike and cod are fish and only fish obscures a useful distinction.

Here, yes, streaming something downloads media to your computer, which usually gets saved in a file not meant to be visible to the user and which gets garbage-collected at some interval by the browser. This is, in some purely technical sense, the same as downloading bits which get saved to a more permanent location under user control. Insisting that downloading and streaming are the same obscures a fairly consistent UI-level distinction made between a process which results in a new user-visible file and a process which does not. (It’s “just UI”, eh? Bunky, everything at the software level is “just UI”; the only thing without a UI is charge patterns on chips or metal.) It’s a non-distinction which obscures a difference.

Book recommendation time.

The languagespoken by the minions in *Despicable Me *is a constructed language with actual syntax and vocabulary.