The Top 10: Invented Languages

From Esperanto via Quenya to Unwinese: languages that have been created rather than having evolved

John Rentoul@JohnRentoul
Saturday 10 September 2016 11:57
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Michael Dorn as the ‘Star Trek’ Klingon, Worf
Michael Dorn as the ‘Star Trek’ Klingon, Worf

This one was started by Tom Doran, who nominated the first three. He also suggested Nadsat, from A Clockwork Orange, but I ruled that it isn’t a language. It’s a dialect slang, with the same grammar and a few different words.

1. Chanel 9-speak from The Fast Show. “Scorchio!”

2. Elvish. Matthew Randall and others pointed out that there are two Elvish tongues, Sindarin and Quenya. We could have done a Top 10 just of languages invented by JRR Tolkien.

3. Klingon (above). “Obviously,” said Tom Doran. My colleague Tom Peck went to the UK’s first Klingon wedding...

4. Sign language. Nominated by Matt Charles, who also mentioned Makaton, a signs and symbols language for people with no speech or whose speech is unclear about which I did not know.

5. Esperanto “is numeron unu I assume”, said Atticus Beaterband. Well, numeron kvin, anyway.

6. Newspeak. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Goodthink by John Ruddy and Citizen Sane. Fittingly, Jeremy Corbyn launched his digital manifesto at a place called Newspeak House in Shoreditch.

7. Parseltongue. The language of serpents in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Thanks to Citizen Sane, Tom Doran and Chi the Cynic.

8. Emoji. Smiley face, Ian Douglas.

9. Critical Theory. Smiley face, Alan Benzie.

10. Unwinese. “Could I humblyfy in nominatory the magnificolly Stanley Unwin for his talkywrite the Toppy Tendency of langyspeak that have in the inventybole?” asks Paulty Horganvole.

The selection process was long-drawn-out this time. Dan Fox nominated modern Hebrew, which was constructed out of the nearly extinct ancient language. But Arieh Kovler says: “It’s very close to the Hebrew used consistently for the last 3,000 years. Hebrew was in constant use. Modern Hebrew basically created new words for an existing language, and a bit of the grammar was standardised too.”

Less seriously, Twlldun nominated Welsh. Ben Stanley, similarly helpful, asked: “Does Ulster Scots count?” There is a lovely account in Tony Blair’s memoir of a tetchy exchange between Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister, and David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, about Ullans, as it is called. Ahern suggested that “maybe David would like to speak some of the ‘fecking thing’ so we could hear what it sounded like”. Trimble took umbrage at “the idea that the dialect was a Unionist invention, explaining solemnly and at length the Scottish roots of Ullans with all the sensitivity of a landowner talking to the village idiot”.

So I thought I should discourage Peter A Russell, Gary Bainbridge and ‏Kenny Hodgart from nominating the language of Rab Wilson, columnist in the Scottish pro-independence The National, such as: “Time an agane, likesay, we wir stoapt in oor tracks bi braithtakkin view eftir braithtakkin view.”

Honourable mentions, however, for Tim Allon and David Paxton, who suggested Kobaïan (“the band Magma have sung in it for years; it has a whole mythology”); David Boothroyd, who proposed Gellerese, the generic foreign language signs used in the Mission: Impossible TV series (named after series inventor Bruce Geller); Ben Ullmann, who nominated Vogon, in which the worst poetry in the galaxy is written, according to Douglas Adams; Chris Deerin for reminding me that the Mitford sisters had a private language they called Boudledidge, which was a bit like pig Latin or egg-speak; Andrew Richards for Ro, invented by Edward Foster, “which was not very successful but an interesting idea”; Ed Cumming for Simlish, from the Sims games (again, bands recorded in it); and for Anna Rhodes, who nominated Atlantian, from Disney’s Atlantis, as featured on McDonald’s Happy Meals.

And, no, I wasn’t having anything from Game of Thrones.

Next week: Unnoticed Things the British Are Good At, such as post boxes, lawns and dry stone walls

Coming soon: Popular Zombie Bad Policies, inspired by the return of grammar schools

Listellany: A Miscellany of Very British Top Tens, From Politics to Pop, is available as an e-book for £3.79. Your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, in the comments please, or to me on Twitter, or by email to top10@independent.co.uk

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