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David J. Peterson

Five Books with Invented Languages

In Jack Vance’s The Languages of Pao, an off-worlder named Palafox has a plan to save Pao. The Paonese, it seems, keep getting bullied by the Brumbo Clan from the planet Batmarsh, on account of their cultural passivity. According to Palafox, though, the root cause of the problem is the language that all Paonese share. In order to rectify the situation, Palafox hatches a preposterously circuitous plan, whereby he will create three new languages for the Paonese, each designed to elicit a certain characteristic response from its speakers. One of these languages will be a “warlike” language that will turn all its speakers into soldiers; another will enhance the intellectual capabilities of its speakers; the third will produce a master class of merchants. Once different segments of Pao’s population have adopted these languages as their own, the resultant cultural diversity will allow the Paonese to defend themselves against all comers.

The premise of this book is pure fantasy and has absolutely no grounding in linguistic science. Often when an author decides to incorporate language into their work, the results are similar, whether the story is entertaining or not. Certain authors, though, have managed to weave language into their work in a realistic and/or satisfying way. Below are five books or series that I think have done a particularly good job with their invented languages.

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