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Alex Thomson

From Pravic to Palp-Semaphore: Seven Ingenious Languages in Speculative Fiction

Anyone wishing to learn Quenya, one of the Elvish languages, will have to get to grips with its staggeringly detailed grammar. Each noun has forty possible endings, from yulma (the cup) to yulmannar (towards the cups). It’s a perfect example of a fictional language taking on a life of its own, and becoming as linguistically complex as any organic language. Tolkien is the grandfather of these “conlangs” (constructed languages), and the tradition has continued with Duolingo adding Klingon to their stable of languages; and the publication of HBO-approved Dothraki dictionaries and courses. And yet, although the act of creating and developing them is undeniably impressive, they remain variations of human, typically European languages—with twists on morphology or phonology, but variations all the same. You can plausibly imagine Quenya or Dothraki evolving in some corner of the Baltics, just as Basque has done in south-western Europe.

My favourite languages in SFF are instead the ones that require a leap of the imagination—humans, creatures or aliens who communicate in an ingenious or unusual manner. Here are seven of the best:

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