Constructed language experts head to Cambridge

Published: 20 June 2019 at 15:46

Lord Ashcroft Building in Cambridge

ARU prepares to host the eighth Language Creation Conference this weekend

The dulcet tones of Dothraki are set to ring around Cambridge this weekend, with the eighth Language Creation Conference taking place at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) on Saturday and Sunday [22-23 June].

The event is attracting leading language creators from around the world, with interest in constructed languages, or conlangs, growing in recent years thanks partly to the phenomenal success of Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and, more recently, Game of Thrones.

The event in Cambridge is the Language Creation Society’s bi-annual conference and is organised by Dr Bettina Beinhoff, Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at Anglia Ruskin University, and features a number of speakers from Anglia Ruskin’s Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Dr Beinhoff says that the recent surge in interest in constructed languages isn’t all down to Game of Thrones, which features two languages – Dothraki and Valyrian – both created by ‎conlang expert David J. Peterson.

“Languages have been constructed since ancient times and the first recorded constructed languages we know of is Hildegard von Bingen’s Lingua Ignota from the 12th century.

“But creating languages, or conlanging, really started to take off with the birth of the internet which meant that people recognised there were whole communities of people across the world who shared this interest.

“Some people create languages purely as a hobby and for fun, for others it is an art form or a way of expressing a facet of their identity. For some, however, it is increasingly becoming a source of income with requests for constructed languages coming from authors as well as film and TV producers who recognise that their characters need to speak a new language to be credible to the audiences.”

Dr Beinhoff, who will be chairing the panel discussion “Conlangs in Popular Fiction” with Dr Dimitra Fimi from the University of Glasgow, Margaret Ransdell–Green from the University of Hawaii, Jackson “Jack” Bradley from Columbia College Chicago, and Dr Tiffani Angus and Professor Sarah Annes Brown from Anglia Ruskin’s Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy, says there are some basic rules for a successful conlang:

“First of all, it should work for the character it supports, so it needs to be credible and well developed, with a history that convincingly explains the structures of the language.

“It should be based on solid linguistic principles and it also needs to sound good. Some conlangs sound really enchanting, such as Naʼvi and Elvish. The key thing is that it supports the storytelling and therefore enhances the viewing experience.

“I think we’re all becoming a little more sophisticated in our viewing habits and so we come to expect additional layers of authenticity that these languages can bring to a film or programme.  People speaking English in funny accents isn’t quite good enough nowadays.”