Like a lot of people I’m a huge fan of Tolkien’s books and Peter Jackson’s films, and I think their huge success is due in part to the mammoth effort that Tolkien put into creating all of the intricacies of Middle Earth lore and languages.
As a linguist I’ve always been impressed by the detail of his Elvish dialects with the beautiful Tengwar alphabet (resembling a mishmash of several Eastern alphabets such as Sanskrit and Georgian with vowel diacritics) and a complete grammar (from what I understand Quenya and Sindarin were heavily influenced by his knowledge of Welsh).
It leads me to ask the question:
Do you think it’s feasible that a purely fictional language like Tolkien Elvish could ever be made to become a spoken, living language?
That is, if a group of people attempted to teach their children Elvish as a native language and to communicate solely in Elvish could it be successful in vitalizing the fictional language?
Klingon: A case study
Did you ever hear about d’Armond Speers, the guy who spoke only Klingon to his son for the first three years of his life to see if he’d acquire it as a first language? You can read about it here.
There doesn’t seem to be any published data from the experiment which ultimately ended in failure (the child, Alec, never retained Klingon), though Speers made this remark which would suggest the feasibility of a successful outcome if it was done differently:
Alec very rarely spoke back to me in Klingon, although when he did, his pronunciation was excellent and he never confused English words with Klingon words.
Despite what some would consider to be borderlining child abuse (it’s not the nicest language to listen to!), it was an interesting experiment that I wish had of been documented more thoroughly.
A few adult enthusiasts have also learned Klingon and Elvish to some degree of usability (check out Benny Lewis’ Klingon video or read about David Salo and Tolkien Elvish), however it’s not for the purpose of engaging with a community of real-life speakers but more for fun or interest.
I think the real determining factors in whether or not a fictional or invented language can succeed depend on a genuine need for it (Esperanto was invented and has achieved a degree of success due to a perceived need for a truly international language) or if it’s ideologically motivated (Modern Hebrew, though not fictional or invented per se, had a successful and rapid revival because of its religious significance).
What are your thoughts?
This was written by Donovan Nagel.
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