# Why do people create fictional languages?

I didn't see this question pop up when I wrote the title, so I don't think this has been asked before (or, at least not the way I'm going to ask it).

Everyone knows and loves fictional languages: they can be really in-depth from Klingon and Eldarin to simple languages like Newspeak. These languages serve different purposes; in the former case they create the feeling of immersion for a fantasy world, and in the latter case they highlight the power a government has.

Creating new languages, however, is a difficult task: it requires a really deep knowledge of linguistics, and it's not sufficient to just take an English corpus and do a one-to-one translation without changing any grammatical structure.

Given how difficult it is, then, my question is: why do storymakers and worldbuilders put this time and effort into making new languages?

I was thinking of a few reasons, but I also felt like I found counters to them.

• It lets a species use words that don't exist in the written text's language (English, for example).

However, it's not uncommon to see words unrepresentable in English be written in some other language, or made-up compound words be created to push an idea across. This results in creating one or two new words, not an entire language.

• It doesn't require aliens or other species to know English, which may otherwise not be logically sound.

This is fair, but in a lot of stories where aliens or other species come to Earth, they are sufficiently technologically advanced - it doesn't sound inconceivable that they would have a device that takes in an English dictionary and translates whatever they speak to English (or whatever they hear to their native language$^1$).

I think I'm missing something here. What really are the major benefits of having a new language? What is the explanation for why it's worth the time to create?

## EDIT

Wow, I did not expect this question to get this much traffic. I appreciate all of the answers - they're all well-written and I don't have the time to comment on them all, but thanks! (:

I want to add a clarifying bit to this question: I know that worldbuilders might make a language for personal reasons, for example:

• To have fun/relax while working out an entirely new language
• To help with immersion in your new fantasy world
• To appeal to a fanbase and be able to sell unique merchandise

I agree that these are valid reasons, but they are all out-of-story reasons. My question really pertains to in-story reasons. I mentioned earlier in this post some arguments like, "some words don't exist in English," so I'm looking for reasons like that.

This isn't to say the answers here are wrong - to be fair, the three bullets I listed above make a good argument for why all the effort that goes into making a language is worth it!

• I think the main reason would be that it adds to the fantasy element, billions of stars, incomprehensible life forms far (de)evolved from our own and they all speak one language? When writing the small details paint a brighter picture – Mr.Burns Jun 14 '16 at 15:21
• Why do people engage in creative activities? Why do they engage in them in one way and not another? – roseannadu Jun 14 '16 at 16:39
• Everyone knows and loves fictional languages - not true, I'm not as example. – MolbOrg Jun 14 '16 at 18:27
• Btw, the device you linked to can't work any better than Google Translate, simply for the fact that Google has server farms to process language translation. And look how well it translates Japanese to English. – Arturo Torres Sánchez Jun 14 '16 at 21:10
• @ArturoTorresSánchez I didn't say it was perfect! The technology exists for humans in 2016, so it's not inconceivable that perfected technology might exist for aliens in 2100, especially if they also have interstellar travel technology (which would imply they're insanely more advanced than we are now). – anonymouse Jun 14 '16 at 21:12

# because

You answered it yourself: Everyone knows and loves fictional languages. Why write your story at all? Why put effort into making your city have consistent locations, distances, and routes across different scenes (by making a map before writing such lines)? Why make a backstory to drive your characters reactions in a deep and consistent realistic way, when the backstory itself is never given in the book?

It's part of the art of worldbuilding. Some people will find it fun in and of itself and be motivated to develop it beyond the degree of consistent background required for a good piece of writing, and tqke it up as an artwork of itself.

Beancounters may decide to fund this effort because it may lead to a better developed and persistent fanbase, as seen from the example of Tolkien. So maybe Okrind was inspired and the studio execs were convinced that it was worth the price.

# some reasons

• stimulate a fan base, in and of itself
• have more products to sell in the franchise
• serve as cultural development, enriching both setting and individual characters
• rather than avoiding language as a trope to get on with the story, make the language translation a part of the story.

# overkill

So you might need a general flavor: how names are made, what sounds are used so a poem or inscription can be "made up". But just as a map can be just a sketch showing different districts and distances and only the names of the streets actually used, the artist might simply want to go farther: another step might be to plan a naming convention for the streets in a part of town (say, named after flowers) but not name them all. Someone might go further and fill in the map, even though it's not needed. That might be handy for a series/franchise, later on.

Someone suffering from writer's block or not feeling like working on the plot elements or dialog or whatever needs to be done to finish the story might still "work" rather than just sit there or take off. A OCD-ish task of details can engage you for hours and seem productive, and not be blocked in the same way as the avoided task. Adding details to the city map or to the language dictionary are just the kind of thing that (I suppose) would work here.

So, there are any degrees of development you can work towards, not all-or-nothing. Going beyond is a work of art. Why do any of it? That's the only answer.

• Thanks for your answer! I feel like maps and backstories aren't really the same: for the amount of effort a writer puts into them, they disproportionately affect the overall story or plot. An entire language is much harder to create, in my opinion, and my question was more geared toward why this extra effort is warranted. Again, it seems the answer is: "people do it because they want to." I'm not trying to claim this answer is wrong, but I expected some sort of fundamental advantage to creating a new language. – anonymouse Jun 14 '16 at 15:38
• I added some more based on your concerns. Sorry it's not organized great. – JDługosz Jun 14 '16 at 15:50
• @SSS it all depends on the size an details of the map, If I build the map of a complete kingdom with hundreds of cities and name every street in every city, think about what people live their, how the economics work - develop power-structures with family lines spanning generations... That can easily be just as much work as a small language ;-) – Falco Jun 15 '16 at 8:50
• "my question was more geared toward why this extra effort is warranted" It's hard to question the artistic process. If a writer "needs" to create a language as part of their process, then that effort is not at all "extra", it's essential! I'm not a writer, but as a musician and "composer" of sorts, I've found that imposing arbitrary limitations and challenges is very helpful in finding my voice and creating something I'm proud of. The seemingly irrelevant details of craft are almost certainly artistic requirements of the creator, in most cases. – Todd Wilcox Jun 15 '16 at 14:35

I have found that creating languages, or at least their basic components, actually saves me effort.

If I have a "language" to fall back on with a defined phonology, it becomes much easier to name things in a consistent manner. Instead of having to reinvent the wheel each time I want to give a character a name, I can often just go to my syllable/glyph chart and pick a few that sound good together. Of course this is unideal if you want broader meaning in names, but since the vast majority of human languages have little to no meaning conveyed in names, I don't consider that a major issue.

Further, using a fictional language could save actual time and money in in some contexts. In games, for example, using the native language of the developer in textures could mean substantially increased effort in localization. Using fictional languages can potentially allow you to include text in-game, but avoid having to remake large amounts of the visuals. I suspect this is the reason for the creation of the otherwise undeveloped Hylian language.

The main reason I create fictional languages is for the visual style it enables. If you want to depict anything "native" to a civilization that wouldn't use any human writing system, you have no other option that doesn't come across as cheap. I have a setting with a galactic empire in which humanity as we know it does not exist and never did exist. I couldn't have the ship names written on their hulls in Latin characters, if I want to be at all believable.

And it's not just about believably. A writing system is a very good way to create a clearly recognizable style, even if it is just code for Latin characters. That is valuable in marketing. For example, even people with no understanding of fantasy can tell you what setting this is associated with, and probably even which general group in that setting:

That said, there isn't one single act of "creating a language". There are degrees to it. Just to give some general clearly delimited lines:

• A visual code-only or meaningless language/script (Hylian, Romulan, Dinotopian)
• A functional but limited language (Dwarven, Na'vi)
• A full-fledged designed language with a dictionary, complete grammar, and a body of writing (Klingon, Quenya, Sindarin)

How far someone decides to go with the language development depends on their intended usage of it. If all you want is visual style, as I generally want, there is little reason to worry too much about grammar or to spend time filling up dictionary pages. For example, one of the most easily recognized fictional languages is merely a code for Japanese:

As I suggest by listing Na'vi, you might even be missing major parts of a language depending on context. The Na'vi don't have written language. Many settings have unspoken ancient languages existing only as texts. Some have have incomprehensible scripts which supposedly lost their meaning.

To address the question more directly - people generally create languages for the same reason they create flags, maps, nations, and even character names: to make the setting more believable and rich.

But while that is typically the motivating factor, there are other reasons that can motivate people to do so beyond merely fleshing out their settings:

• Credibility
• Visual depth
• Aural depth
• Immersion in general
• Marketing / branding
• Localization
• To prove a point (/points) about language (sometimes suggested as why Tolkien, who mostly started the trend, was so obsessed)
• "it becomes much easier to name things in a consistent manner" - I think in this page so far, this is the most in line with what I'm really trying to ask. I didn't think about this point - proper nouns in the fictional language $X$ need to have consistency, and that's hard to achieve without knowing, at least at a base level, what $X$ looks like and sounds like. – anonymouse Jun 15 '16 at 14:19
• Re: "the vast majority of human languages have little to no meaning conveyed in names": Are you sure about that? – ruakh Jun 16 '16 at 0:14
• @ruakh Yes, I am. They might have at one time held meaning, but they quickly lose such due to shifting language, migration, and the tendency to name people after ancestors. Besides, considering names are usually given at birth, the best they can possibly do is hold a general meaning in the sense "this word is recognizable as a word in the language it is used in" - like Joy. Outside of cultures that practice renaming people at coming of age, it's almost impossible to encounter anyone with a meaningful name by anything other than chance. Perhaps I am a "strong-willed warrior"... – user5083 Jun 16 '16 at 0:48
• @WilliamKappler: Ah, you consider names like "Joy" to be meaningless. OK, yeah, that makes your claim weak enough to be uncontroversial. – ruakh Jun 16 '16 at 1:00
• @ruakh Yeah, I suppose I meant meaningful in the literary "symbolic" sense of contextual meaning. Not just "this means something" but "this means something meaningful". – user5083 Jun 16 '16 at 1:10

Why do people create fictional world, stories, characters? Some will do it as a strong background to a book, a game or a movie. Others just like to wonder "what if?". Some are high on drugs and are certain a world where bees are in charge would be awesome (note that I don't talk from personal experience, a bee-premacy would be terrifying (also, don't do drugs)).

People do stuff for multiple reasons and creating stuff seems to be one of our favorite gig. Why would people not want to create a fictional language?

Of course, most people that invent a language are linguists, just like a lot of Sci-fi authors have a scientific background. My guess is, when you love your work, you want to also be creative about it. You want to explore unexplorable land. And language is in no way an exception to that.

I will now finish with a quote I don't fully understand taken from Wikipedia by J.R.R. Tolkien, on his passion of language crafting:

The man next to me said suddenly in a dreamy voice: 'Yes, I think I shall express the accusative case by a prefix!' A memorable remark!

...Just consider the splendour of the words! 'I shall express the accusative case.' Magnificent! Not 'it is expressed', nor even the more shambling 'it is sometimes expressed', nor the grim 'you must learn how it is expressed'. What a pondering of alternatives within one's choice before the final decision in favour of the daring and unusual prefix, so personal, so attractive; the final solution of some element in a design that had hitherto proved refractory. Here were no base considerations of the 'practical', the easiest for the 'modern mind', or for the million - only a question of taste, a satisfaction of a personal pleasure, a private sense of fitness.

Now, I'm not sure of what an accusative case is, but obviously linguists see beauty in it. And if someone can see beauty in something, someone will create more of it.

But let's get out of my philosophical mumbling and get to the actual question: on the practical advantages of creating your language.

For some authors, this may be part of their creation process. Heck, for Tolkien, it was central to it. As language is central to society, creating the language for the world you're building may well be an ultimate commitment to it. If you want realism and immersion, language may well be a powerful tool to do it.

You don't need to do it totally though. Playing with language has been done in a lot of different ways in creations:

• Yoda is "alien", R2D2 is robotic, Chewbacca is untamed
• The use of Chinese in Firefly adds background to the story while passing censorship.

Also, some people just don't have enough realism.

• See here. Flashbacks from Latin class... – JDługosz Jun 14 '16 at 15:26
• @JDługosz thanks! Getting flashbacks too now :-) – PatJ Jun 14 '16 at 15:29
• Firstly I shall say, even after googling accusative case I still dont know what it is really and Secondly I would like to say I love your answer, Kudos to you – Mr.Burns Jun 14 '16 at 15:30
• It's on a list of different ways to transform a verb. Nomative, dayative, night-ative, ablative, accusative, infinitely-and-beyond-ative, ... – JDługosz Jun 14 '16 at 15:36
• @SSS updated, hope this is more like it. If someone has ideas to add to the list (which may be a bit of topic) please submit an edit. – PatJ Jun 14 '16 at 15:53

One factor to consider is that it is not always necessary to create an entire language to include it in your world. Most of the time, simply stating the language that a character is speaking is enough, whether or not that language exists. Any major benefits as you have described them could be achieved through this method. Actually building the language would give insight into where translation issues and misunderstandings would arise and help you write characters speaking that language in a consistent dialect, but these are very minor benefits of a very large undertaking. The only real reason to create a fictional language is because you want to. It's as much a part of the finished product as the setting and the characters themselves.

# For Immersion and Fun!

Language is a huge part of a people/species' culture, and it's a delight to immerse yourself in an imaginary world.

Consider the following conversation between two orcs:

English:

"Hello, old friend! I've just come back from hunting deer. We'll have lots of food tonight. Yay for food!"

Orc-english:

"Lok'tar, brother! I have been hunting the gu'ul—the bouncing four-legs. Tonight we feast, we will have a great brog'nar. Brog'nar!"

Here enough language is given to grow a culture, a mindset, while still conveying enough English for the reader to understand what's happening.

It creates a communication barrier between different characters. Something that not only enriches the characters and their culture, but is also a challenge they must overcome.

I think the most basic answer, without delving into why, say, a publisher would support a conlanging endeavor (revenue, obviously), is that humans like to make art. Whether it's underwater basket-weaving, conlanging, or turquoise jewelry on Etsy, there is going to be some population of people who enjoy expressing themselves through a particular medium. Conlanging is often a more technically bent art form, but not necessarily either. You can find lots of conlangers on Tumblr, for example, who conlang not as an outlet for skill in the science but as a way to express their dreams for a more just, equitable, and gender-inclusive culture. I can't throw actual stats at you, but it's generally acknowledged among the community that a huge proportion of conlangers are LGBT+, and it's easy to imagine why.

As an aside, I feel that it's worth mentioning a deep knowledge of linguistics is far from necessary to try your hand at conlanging. I mean, I would certainly suggest knowing what you're technically doing, but one glance at the "Ancient Language" of Christopher Paolini's Eragon series should be enough to convince anyone that you can shoehorn your conlang into any cash cow even if it's just a relex--no one will know any better.

In any case, the overwhelming majority of fictional media doesn't contain conlangs at all, so it actually does take a special love or devotion to the craft or its worldbuilding value to commit to the effort.

If everyone in a story speaks and understands a common language, that can be represented as being the language the story itself is written in. If it's necessary to represent the characters as being sometimes unable to understand each others' languages, however, it's much more effective to say:

The Quazark wandered in and shouted Snaem gnihton!--The village is under attack!--while tugging at people's sleeves, but nobody understood him or paid him any heed.

than it would be to say:

The Quazark wandered in and shouted, in perfect Quazarkian, "The village is under attack!" while tugging at people's sleeves, but nobody understood him or paid him any heed.

If one knew an obscure language or dialect that nobody would recognize, one could use that rather than inventing a fictitious language, but doing so would likely cause those who did know the language to wonder why the characters would be speaking it.

Sometimes you really want to explore concepts which are difficult to capture in English. In such a situation, you can construct a fictional language to state such concepts. You then get to spend your effort helping the reader understand the language well enough to get your point across.

Sometimes you don't even need a full language. In Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, one of the focal points of the book is his invented verb "to grok." One might even say the book is a several hundred page attempt to teach us what grok means. If he had tried to describe the concept with just English words, it would have been very difficult to convey the idea.

I think it helps in creating culture and personality to characters or people and allows the author to ask himself more questions that can help flesh out the world.

What sounds does the language use? Is it loud and boisterous filled with gruff sounds or clicks or is it erotic and enticing with soft tones or a musical quality? What words are bad words? Why are they bad? Same for good words. Do they have words for things that English doesn't and what words do they not have that English does? What does the written form look like and what impression does it give to non speakers (compare Tolkiens elvish to elder scrolls Dragon language).

Overall the final question is what does this language have to say about the character, government, people, and their culture/ethics/values?

It might depend on how much the artificial language gets focus, and how interested the writer is in having the audience analyze it. Speaking only for myself: in my writing, artificial languages are only there as flavor. For the most complete example to date, I developed a fictional font for an alien culture, and wanted the writings featured in the story (as background decoration, console readouts, etc.; it's a webcomic) to have natural language patterns, without just being a real language in a different font. And generating realistic-looking gibberish would at once take more effort to keep consistent, and be less able to withstand an attempt to decode it, should any reader care enough to try.

So, drawing on my smattering of knowledge of various languages, I invented a few fictional sentences on the spot, derived general rules from them, and referred back to those rules to create new sentences. New words were generated at random from various known Earth languages (mostly Germanic, Romance, Semitic, and Indonesian).

None of it is necessary to understand the story (characters speak in the language of the story itself when necessary for reader comprehension), it's not a fully developed language, and it has little prominence, but I feel better knowing that the "foreign text" would stand up to some elementary level of scrutiny.

I don't think anyone's mentioned indentifying with the character, which you (the writer) often want the reader to do. If the character enters a situation where there's some aliens, and they say a bunch of stuff she doesn't understand, and you don't understand it either then you identify with the character: you are both thinking "Gah, what are they saying? Is it bad?". So it's a useful way of putting you in the character's shoes, so to speak.

If you are capable of creating a full language and you need a new language as a part of other form of art / storytelling / fiction (not as an end in itself), it makes no sense to do a full language. It's wiser to use your time to fake it well, given that you know how a new language should be, and use the saved time to specifically focus on what would have been side benefits on a full fledged language. It only makes sense as a means of expression for its creator, valve of some sort, or if it's an end in itself.

Rant version:

I like the other answers, they enter the details of the 'why', analyzing the objectives, effects and results of such process, and the objective benefit it could bring into story-making. Many of them explain perfectly valid reasons.

It kind of depicts the writers as entrepreneurs, with plans for everything, win-loss balances for their actions and cost-estimations for their time, or caring about the cost of opportunity on investing time in give depth to one aspect of their work.

I think maybe a plausible answer is the other way around. It may be a symptom for a vocational writer, the opposite of money driven people who would create just nice sounding phrases, and strange looking symbols, (i.e. efficient investment of time) and be contempt with it (it has more or less the same effect on the general audience). So I'll try to address some of your questions from the creative standpoint:

Considering both type of writers with the same intelligence and knowledge level, both with the skill and understanding of linguistics deep enough to create such thing from the start, one kind vocational and the other 'entrepreneurial' (for my lacking for a better word):

Why do storymakers and worldbuilders put this time and effort into making new languages?

Surely not because someone with the skills to create a new language couldn't arrange some sounds and place some crafted symbols in consistent enough ways that in the end, the audience feels like there is a complete alien language behind. The entrepreneurial writer (or the vocational pressured by uncaring publishers, equal in this case) will patch up something smartly, and have a happy audience nevertheless. Not many will care what hardcore 'freaks' like to brag they can squabble in, or talk about in forums that 99% of their audience won't even know exists.

Why then put the effort into something that is wholly behind the scenes?

Other answers point out that it may help bring depth, or attract hardcore fans, or develop a better story altogether. That makes sense, from the perspective of writers that pursue completeness or depth in itself, but from a (vocational) artists standpoint, not so much. Their point of view is from what they want to express, not what they want others to perceive. (Why would not make sense if what you care about is what others perceive is discussed more deeply in the answer to the next question).

Those storymakers and worldbuildes ALREADY have that language in mind, like working on it on their free time, and happen to feel the urge to either share it with the rest of their work or it inspires the rest of their world.

I'm basing this answer in the fact that I myself feel similar urges and like 'daydreaming' in similar ways. If I ever make a game, or write a novel, or make a film, it won't surely be because I want to do something people like and get recognition, or to attract hardcore fans, or to make money with merchandising in the long term. That may be a welcome side-effect, but it won't be the WHY. That's has nothing to do with what a (truly) creative person thinks about when making something. It's the other way around. They have inner worlds, and feel the urge to 'solidify' them into something. It's more of a mind relief, or and act of conservation of ideas. I myself, feel the urge to at least write down or sketch most of the creative ideas I come up with. It's hard to let them go knowing that doing so may incur in forgetting them completely, and so, maybe losing them. So it's either to create a tangible version of your inner world, or risking not thinking about it for enough time until it's forgotten. The decision may be based upon your perceived worth of the idea and your skills to create any form of representation of abstract thoughts.

Some will feel relieved and don't do anything else, others, completist enough, may refine such sketches into something more. After completion, some of the creative people is confident or bold enough to release such creations into the wild. Some get recognition, may even find out that their success was based on the sincerity of the representation of their inner worlds, breaking what's established without much shame. Some end up with things that are already common, but is possible that it feels new to some critics and audiences. It's even possible that it has nothing so original about it, we are mostly under the same conditions and sharing environment, after all, so it's perfectly natural that the same ideas evolve simultaneously and from distant origins, isolated or not.

What really are the major benefits of having a new language?

From the audience and money driven writer point of view:

Asides from less work creating social and cultural background for the species involved, not much. If the part of the time saved is put in designing better cultural backgrounds and social structures for your species involved, or more original sounds and alphabets; the positive side effects are greatly diminished by the cost of creating something complete rather than just a facade. In many aspects you could create far better results with superficial patches if you invest half the time it would take to build the real thing (almost a must in most aspects of the cinematographic industry, where the creation process involves too many paychecks to be done the way the director/writer wishes it'd be really done). I don't think it's hard to extrapolate this to many of the aspects of the creative process.

Then, once again, the major benefit might be that the creator does not have to be constantly thinking about some thing that he/she likes and will be lost if forgotten. And even more important, once 'solidified', you can free your mind and expand upon the idea, add detail, explore and tweak it to let it be more than it could possibly had been holding it all in your head at the same time. Musicians do it, writers do it, ... Is a must to succeed? Probably not. So the major benefit for having a new language might be, simply, that the creator is happier.

What is the explanation for why it's worth the time to create?

Generally, it is not economically worth the time to be any kind of artist or create any kind of thing. It's a ticket draw. It will be worth a lot it if it's what the audience fixates upon, and if they like it so much after they notice. Or it can be ignored. Or disliked. But as any ticket draw, for every successful artist there will be many more who have put exactly if not more effort and won't succeed. I don't have the numbers, but you can easily see that dividing the collective benefit any of this could bring (mostly will be from the successful artists) to the collective effort put in it (where non successful people outshine the others) won't add up to any economical worth.

On the other hand, other kinds of 'worths', like the ones mentioned before, less tangible but providing happiness to the one that invests the time and effort, may be unquantifiable. I'm quite sure they wouldn't be doing it if it was not for those other kinds of worth. They'd be earning a paycheck doing some other thing that makes them equally not happy but brings more money and is more reliable, or investing in other more noticeable aspects of their novels or whatever. People doesn't do theses kind of things for money. (Creating intangible depth, that is. People will surely write what is easy to sell without liking it!)

I tried to answer in the most general way, as I felt that the answer to the tangible benefits of an invented language were already pretty well exposed on other answers, but as your question incurred in the 'WHY', I felt like there was no good answer exploring the reasons behind all the dubiously economically worth forms of art or creation, which I think this is a case of.

The answer in short terms: Because whoever creates something does not want it to be just an idea in their head.

Finally, I'd like to add a reason some people do things: They think it's soo damn cool. It could answer to 'why?' too, though it really is just a simplification of the above reasons.

• Your answer in brief is about the artistic vs. economic motivations for creation. Although the best projects often are primarily artistically motivated, ignoring economic factors is one reason why the starving artist is a trope; someone who is purely artistic often doesn't make enough to feed himself. – Mark Ripley Jun 16 '16 at 7:09
• That's exactly my point. It makes no sense to do a full language if you need one and are capable of doing so. It makes more sense to fake it well. The point in my answer is that only makes sense as a means of expression for its creator, so it serves no economical purpose,just a purely expressive or artistocal one. – Oxy Jun 16 '16 at 9:50