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139

Invented Languages

Mar 9, 2021
Languages
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23
minutes
Language learning
History of language
English books
Film & Cinema
European history

From J.R.R. Tolkien of Lord Of The Rings through to Special English, there are more invented languages than you might think.

From the people who create through to how and why they are created, it's time to learn about the weird and wonderful world of invented languages

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and, hot off the heels of our last mini-series on Disney, I come to you with the excellent news that this is the first episode of another 3-part mini series, this time on language invention, creation, and discovery.

[00:00:38] Now, because talking about basic grammar and vocabulary is a little bit boring, and we are here to listen to weird and wonderful, slightly unorthodox, stories, this mini-series is going to be a little bit different.

[00:00:54] In the first episode, in this episode, we’ll talk about Invented Languages, languages that are completely made up.

[00:01:03] In the second episode, we’ll talk about Cockney Rhyming Slang, the strange dialect, some might say actual language, spoken in a small part of London’s East End.

[00:01:14] And in the final episode you will learn all about The Rosetta Stone, the stone that allowed us to finally understand the writings of the ancient Egyptians.

[00:01:26] This series has been a particularly fun one to make, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:32] OK then, let’s not waste any time and dive into the mysterious world of invented languages.

[00:01:41] Now, if you are thinking that every language is invented by humans, you are of course right.

[00:01:47] Every language we speak was developed, normally over an extended period of time by an extended group of people.

[00:01:55] If you listened to the episode on the history of the English language, you’ll remember all of the different inputs and influences that went into creating the English that you are learning now, and how the language is still developing.

[00:02:10] But the subject of today’s episode isn’t how languages are developed in general, but what’s often called “Constructed language”, language that was invented by one person, or a small group of people, with a specific purpose.

[00:02:28] In this episode we’ll dive deep into the stories of three of these languages, three of these inventors of languages, and through this we’ll better understand what, why, and for whom languages are invented.

[00:02:44] Our first example is of probably the most prolific inventor of languages, and I’m going to start by playing a couple of clips of languages that he invented.

[00:02:55] Ok, here's the first one.

[00:02:57] [Person speaking Elvish language] 

[00:03:07] So that's our first language that he invented, and here comes the second. 

[00:03:26] Now, can you guess who this is?

[00:03:30] Perhaps the dramatic music in the background gives it away.

[00:03:34] These were clips from the languages invented by J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of books such as Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit.

[00:03:44] If you have read the books or seen the films, you’ll remember that most of the dialogue is in English, but different types of characters also speak different languages, languages that you can’t understand and that sound very strange to you.

[00:04:00] That’s because these are completely invented languages, languages created entirely by Tolkien.

[00:04:08] Now, if you have read any of Tolkien’s books or watched any of the film adaptations, you might think that these unknown words that some of the characters were saying were just random, strange sounding words that were inserted for dramatic effect, to make the characters sound more exotic.

[00:04:27] But you would be mistaken.

[00:04:30] These aren’t just random sounds, they are actual languages, languages with their own vocabulary and grammar rules.

[00:04:38] In Tolkien’s lifetime, he created anywhere between 2 and 20 languages.

[00:04:44] Now, the reason I’ve said between 2 and 20 is that this depends on your definition of language.

[00:04:52] If, by language, one means a collection of words and grammar that can be used to convey some meaning, then you could certainly argue that Tolkien created 20 languages.

[00:05:05] But if you define a language as something that you could use to communicate any idea, to translate any text, then you’d probably say he created no languages.

[00:05:16] If we define language as a collection of words and grammar that can be used for practical communication, it’s fair to say that Tolkien created two fully-formed languages, two languages that can be used for practical purposes.

[00:05:32] These are Quenya and Sindarin, which are both Elvish languages, languages spoken by the elves in his books.

[00:05:40] Now, when I say that you can use these languages for practical purposes, I mean practical purposes for the characters that use them.

[00:05:49] You couldn’t translate this episode, or a newspaper, but the languages Tolkien created existed in a different world. Evidently there was no need for Tolkien to create a word for podcast or Internet in his Elvish languages.

[00:06:06] From a young age, Tolkien was completely fascinated with language, playing around with other invented languages, and creating his own while he was still a teenager.

[00:06:17] His first job after leaving the army at the end of the First World War was for the English Dictionary, afterwards becoming a professor in Anglo-Saxon and then English language and literature at the University of Oxford.

[00:06:33] Tolkien himself was a very capable linguist, he spoke and understood many languages, including Latin, Greek, Finnish, Welsh and Ancient Norse.

[00:06:44] The languages that he spoke and understood had a large impact on the languages that he created - you can see elements of Welsh and Finnish in the languages spoken by the elves.

[00:06:58] For Tolkien, evidently the task of creating a language was deeply satisfying in itself, but he also believed strongly in the mythical power of languages, and the power of language to convey meaning.

[00:07:16] Of course, Tolkien could have made everyone in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit speak the same language, but then a huge amount of the story would have been missed.

[00:07:28] Much like if we all spoke the same language, if we were all brought up speaking the same language, parts of our traditions, our storytelling, our cultural heritage, and of course the misunderstandings that exist between different countries precisely because we speak different languages, they would be gone, or at least greatly reduced.

[00:07:49] So, of course all of his different characters needed to have their own language.

[00:07:55] For the Tolkien fans out there, this is no doubt old news, you knew this already.

[00:08:01] If you are a die-hard Tolkien fan you might even have tried learning one of these Elvish languages yourself - there are hundreds, thousands even, of fan websites out there in Elvish, meetups for Tolkien fans to speak Elvish languages to each other, and opportunities to use these languages that Tolkien created.

[00:08:23] Indeed, although the Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit are fantastic stories in their own right, there are people that have suggested that the entire stories were almost an excuse for Tolkien to create this world full of his own linguistic creations, that the different languages almost came first, then the narrative was added afterwards.

[00:08:46] So, that is J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of Lord of The Rings and the creator of some of the most famous mythical languages of the modern era.

[00:08:57] Our second invented language is one that was created for very different reasons, and indeed, it was a language that Tolkien ended up being very disapproving of, calling it “far deader than ancient unused languages, because its author never invented any legends”.

[00:09:16] Just as Tolkien’s languages existed to show the diversity of different groups of people, this language was created to try to bring people together.

[00:09:26] Can you guess what it is?

[00:09:28] I’ll play a little clip of it now.

[00:09:29] [Woman speaking Esperanto] 

[00:09:30] OK, it is Esperanto, the auxiliary language created by L.L Zamhenof in 1887.

[00:09:54] Now, a quick administrative point is that there is an entire episode dedicated to Esperanto, it’s Episode 69, so if you want a full dose of Esperanto, that’s one to listen to if you haven’t done so already.

[00:10:10] As I hinted at, Esperanto was invented for very different reasons to Tolkien’s languages.

[00:10:16] While Tolkien’s were there for mythical, storytelling purposes, to give a voice and a language to an invented people, Esperanto was created to make communication easier between people who didn’t speak the same language.

[00:10:31] The entire philosophy of Esperanto was that language barriers divided people.

[00:10:37] Zamenhof was born in a town called Białystok, which was part of Russia, but is now part of Poland, near the border with Belarus.

[00:10:47] Białystok was a melting pot of different languages, cultures, and ethnicities, and Zamenhof believed that if everyone could speak the same language, then it would be easier to communicate, there would be less fighting, and everyone would be happier.

[00:11:05] He set out to create a very easy language to pick up, to learn, so easy that an illiterate peasant working in the fields could learn it with just 10 minutes a day.

[00:11:17] Esperanto is based on Romance, Germanic, and Slavic languages. The idea was that if you spoke a language from any of these language families, it should come pretty naturally.

[00:11:31] He also removed pretty much all of the annoying, difficult aspects from other languages.

[00:11:38] There are no phrasal verbs or irregular endings.

[00:11:42] There are no subjunctives, or genders of objects.

[00:11:46] And it works on the basis of ‘root’ words, which then have prefixes and suffixes added to them to change their meanings.

[00:11:56] So, to give you an example if you add ‘mal’, ‘m a l‘, to the start of a word, this changes the definition to be the opposite of what the word without ‘mal’ means.

[00:12:08] So juna ‘j u n a’ is young, but maljuna, with ‘mal’ at the front, the opposite of young is….old.

[00:12:19] And blanka is white, malblanka, the opposite of ‘white’ is, well you might have guessed it, it’s black.

[00:12:28] The result of this is that you only need around 500 root words to get by, to manage, so you can learn 500 words, and if you know the rules about suffixes and prefixes, ta-da, you can speak Esperanto.

[00:12:46] It is a logical language, things make sense, it’s easy, it’s functional, and this was exactly why Tolkien, although he was initially supportive of it, it was exactly why he ended up criticising it.

[00:13:00] It didn’t have magic, it had no story behind it, it existed just to facilitate communication.

[00:13:06] And for Tolkien, that was removing a large part of the beauty of language.

[00:13:13] But, that is just Tolkien’s opinion.

[00:13:15] For the hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions of people who do speak Esperanto, it is an absolutely fantastic invention.

[00:13:25] It lowers the barriers to language learning, and lowers the barrier to communicating with people who can’t speak your language.

[00:13:33] And if that’s not the point of language, then what is, an Esperanto purist might say.

[00:13:40] Now, our third invented language is in a very different category.

[00:13:45] Tolkien invented languages to give a voice to his fictional characters, to create myths and stories.

[00:13:52] Zamenhof created Esperanto to facilitate communication, to make it easier for people who didn’t understand each other to understand each other.

[00:14:02] Our third example of an invented language is something called Láadan.

[00:14:07] Unless you are a big fan of invented languages I imagine you might not have heard it before, but here’s a little clip of it being spoken.

[00:14:16] Person speaking Laadan: [00:14:16] Person speaking Láadan.

[00:14:50] Alastair Budge: [00:14:50] Láadan is a language created by a lady called Suzette Haden Elgin in the 1982 science fiction book Native Tongue.

[00:15:00] The reason I think this language, or at least the idea of this language is so interesting is that it was created to test something called the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, which is the idea that the structure of the language you speak changes your worldview, and your behaviour.

[00:15:21] English, as a language, is quite a male-dominated language.

[00:15:26] We often use male words to describe things that apply to both men and women - mankind, for example, instead of womankind.

[00:15:36] And even in that example, of man and woman, the root of the word is man, it's the male part.

[00:15:45] The philosophical idea that Elgin wanted to experiment with, with her creation of Láadan is of a language that put women at its centre, and made it easier for women to use and express themselves.

[00:16:00] To do this, Láadan is constructed completely differently to English.

[00:16:05] At the start of a sentence in Láadan you need to use a word that introduces what you are going to be saying in the sentence, and at the end of the sentence you need to add another word that explains how sure you are about what you have just said, whether it’s something you know to be true, or whether you have just heard someone else say it.

[00:16:27] Elgin believed that male-dominated language means women often have to repeat and clarify themselves, whereas in her invented language of Láadan women wouldn’t need to do this because the meaning is right there in the sentence.

[00:16:44] Láadan now does have some die-hard fans, some people who are absolutely passionate about what it is and what it represents, but Elgin’s idea wasn’t for this to become some widespread language that took over from English or Spanish or Mandarin.

[00:17:02] Instead, she created it as an example to get us thinking about how what we say affects how we think.

[00:17:11] If a language is dominated by male words, male roots of words, and men find it an easier language to use than women, how does this affect the behaviour of men and women who use that language?

[00:17:26] The answer to this question might be ‘it doesn’t affect it at all’, but Elgin’s idea was to at least get us thinking about it.

[00:17:34] And as far as that is concerned, she definitely succeeded.

[00:17:39] Now, we actually have a fourth, bonus invented language to talk about today, and it’s a bonus one because it’s not completely invented, or at least it isn’t invented from scratch.

[00:17:52] I’ll play a clip of it now, and I’m sure you will recognise it.

[00:17:55] People speaking Special English: [00:17:55] Where are you from? I am from a big city speak and say your city.

[00:18:05] Alastair Budge: [00:18:05] Now, it’s English, right?

[00:18:07] Well, yes and no.

[00:18:09] It’s actually something called Learning English, but was first called Special English.

[00:18:16] It was created in 1959 by the Voice of America broadcasting service, and intended to be a very basic, simple form of English that helped people learn the language.

[00:18:29] As you can hear, it is spoken slowly, very clearly, and the vocabulary is basic.

[00:18:38] While this isn’t an entirely invented language, it is something called a controlled language.

[00:18:45] It’s based on something called Basic English, which was developed after World War II by a linguist and philosopher called Charles Kay Ogden.

[00:18:55] Similar to Zamenhof and Esperanto, Ogden believed that world peace and prosperity would come from everyone speaking one language and being able to communicate more easily.

[00:19:08] But he took a more colonial approach, and believed that language should be English, either in its basic or in its complete form.

[00:19:18] He said, and I'm quoting directly here “What the world needs most is about 1,000 more dead languages—and one more alive.”

[00:19:28] So, although this is by no means accusing the Voice of America of wanting to kill off every language other than English, the origin of its Learning English, or Special English is Ogden, and his Basic English.

[00:19:43] These four are of course only a tiny selection of the man-made, invented languages.

[00:19:49] We haven’t talked about Valyrian or Dothraki, the two invented languages in Game of Thrones, or Newspeak, the language created by Orwell in 1984.

[00:20:01] All of these languages are created for slightly different reasons, they serve different purposes.

[00:20:07] Some are mythical, others are functional.

[00:20:11] Some use different sentence structures, others restrict what you can say.

[00:20:16] What they do all teach us, though, is that language is imperfect.

[00:20:21] We might try to simplify it to make it easy for everyone to understand, but then it loses some flexibility, we don’t have the words to say exactly what we want and we end up saying things that we do not mean.

[00:20:37] We might try to make it more complicated, but if it’s too complicated, if it's too hard to learn and to use, people cannot say what they mean.

[00:20:48] And often you find words in languages that don’t quite translate to your own.

[00:20:54] I imagine you will have experienced this with English, or with another foreign language that you have been learning.

[00:21:01] You find a word or expression, you might find a definition, or a translation, but the true meaning won’t be exactly right.

[00:21:10] I have an ongoing game with my wife, whose mother tongue is Italian, where I always take a little pleasure if there’s a word in English that you can’t completely translate into Italian, and she will take the same pleasure if she can find one in Italian that doesn’t quite translate into English.

[00:21:29] One might think that languages are complete, that their development over thousands of years has meant that we are able to say whatever we want to say.

[00:21:38] But of course the experience of anyone who speaks more than one language, and certainly anyone who has gone to the trouble of inventing their own languages, knows that this is far from the truth.

[00:21:53] OK then, that is it for today's episode on invented languages, the first part of this three-part mini series on unorthodox language stories, language invention, creation and discovery.

[00:22:08] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that it’s made you think slightly differently about how language is constructed.

[00:22:17] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode.

[00:22:21] What words or expressions do you have in your language that have no direct translation to English?

[00:22:27] And similarly, are there expressions in English that don’t directly translate into your mother tongue?

[00:22:33] I would love to know.

[00:22:35] You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:44] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:49] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and, hot off the heels of our last mini-series on Disney, I come to you with the excellent news that this is the first episode of another 3-part mini series, this time on language invention, creation, and discovery.

[00:00:38] Now, because talking about basic grammar and vocabulary is a little bit boring, and we are here to listen to weird and wonderful, slightly unorthodox, stories, this mini-series is going to be a little bit different.

[00:00:54] In the first episode, in this episode, we’ll talk about Invented Languages, languages that are completely made up.

[00:01:03] In the second episode, we’ll talk about Cockney Rhyming Slang, the strange dialect, some might say actual language, spoken in a small part of London’s East End.

[00:01:14] And in the final episode you will learn all about The Rosetta Stone, the stone that allowed us to finally understand the writings of the ancient Egyptians.

[00:01:26] This series has been a particularly fun one to make, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:32] OK then, let’s not waste any time and dive into the mysterious world of invented languages.

[00:01:41] Now, if you are thinking that every language is invented by humans, you are of course right.

[00:01:47] Every language we speak was developed, normally over an extended period of time by an extended group of people.

[00:01:55] If you listened to the episode on the history of the English language, you’ll remember all of the different inputs and influences that went into creating the English that you are learning now, and how the language is still developing.

[00:02:10] But the subject of today’s episode isn’t how languages are developed in general, but what’s often called “Constructed language”, language that was invented by one person, or a small group of people, with a specific purpose.

[00:02:28] In this episode we’ll dive deep into the stories of three of these languages, three of these inventors of languages, and through this we’ll better understand what, why, and for whom languages are invented.

[00:02:44] Our first example is of probably the most prolific inventor of languages, and I’m going to start by playing a couple of clips of languages that he invented.

[00:02:55] Ok, here's the first one.

[00:02:57] [Person speaking Elvish language] 

[00:03:07] So that's our first language that he invented, and here comes the second. 

[00:03:26] Now, can you guess who this is?

[00:03:30] Perhaps the dramatic music in the background gives it away.

[00:03:34] These were clips from the languages invented by J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of books such as Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit.

[00:03:44] If you have read the books or seen the films, you’ll remember that most of the dialogue is in English, but different types of characters also speak different languages, languages that you can’t understand and that sound very strange to you.

[00:04:00] That’s because these are completely invented languages, languages created entirely by Tolkien.

[00:04:08] Now, if you have read any of Tolkien’s books or watched any of the film adaptations, you might think that these unknown words that some of the characters were saying were just random, strange sounding words that were inserted for dramatic effect, to make the characters sound more exotic.

[00:04:27] But you would be mistaken.

[00:04:30] These aren’t just random sounds, they are actual languages, languages with their own vocabulary and grammar rules.

[00:04:38] In Tolkien’s lifetime, he created anywhere between 2 and 20 languages.

[00:04:44] Now, the reason I’ve said between 2 and 20 is that this depends on your definition of language.

[00:04:52] If, by language, one means a collection of words and grammar that can be used to convey some meaning, then you could certainly argue that Tolkien created 20 languages.

[00:05:05] But if you define a language as something that you could use to communicate any idea, to translate any text, then you’d probably say he created no languages.

[00:05:16] If we define language as a collection of words and grammar that can be used for practical communication, it’s fair to say that Tolkien created two fully-formed languages, two languages that can be used for practical purposes.

[00:05:32] These are Quenya and Sindarin, which are both Elvish languages, languages spoken by the elves in his books.

[00:05:40] Now, when I say that you can use these languages for practical purposes, I mean practical purposes for the characters that use them.

[00:05:49] You couldn’t translate this episode, or a newspaper, but the languages Tolkien created existed in a different world. Evidently there was no need for Tolkien to create a word for podcast or Internet in his Elvish languages.

[00:06:06] From a young age, Tolkien was completely fascinated with language, playing around with other invented languages, and creating his own while he was still a teenager.

[00:06:17] His first job after leaving the army at the end of the First World War was for the English Dictionary, afterwards becoming a professor in Anglo-Saxon and then English language and literature at the University of Oxford.

[00:06:33] Tolkien himself was a very capable linguist, he spoke and understood many languages, including Latin, Greek, Finnish, Welsh and Ancient Norse.

[00:06:44] The languages that he spoke and understood had a large impact on the languages that he created - you can see elements of Welsh and Finnish in the languages spoken by the elves.

[00:06:58] For Tolkien, evidently the task of creating a language was deeply satisfying in itself, but he also believed strongly in the mythical power of languages, and the power of language to convey meaning.

[00:07:16] Of course, Tolkien could have made everyone in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit speak the same language, but then a huge amount of the story would have been missed.

[00:07:28] Much like if we all spoke the same language, if we were all brought up speaking the same language, parts of our traditions, our storytelling, our cultural heritage, and of course the misunderstandings that exist between different countries precisely because we speak different languages, they would be gone, or at least greatly reduced.

[00:07:49] So, of course all of his different characters needed to have their own language.

[00:07:55] For the Tolkien fans out there, this is no doubt old news, you knew this already.

[00:08:01] If you are a die-hard Tolkien fan you might even have tried learning one of these Elvish languages yourself - there are hundreds, thousands even, of fan websites out there in Elvish, meetups for Tolkien fans to speak Elvish languages to each other, and opportunities to use these languages that Tolkien created.

[00:08:23] Indeed, although the Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit are fantastic stories in their own right, there are people that have suggested that the entire stories were almost an excuse for Tolkien to create this world full of his own linguistic creations, that the different languages almost came first, then the narrative was added afterwards.

[00:08:46] So, that is J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of Lord of The Rings and the creator of some of the most famous mythical languages of the modern era.

[00:08:57] Our second invented language is one that was created for very different reasons, and indeed, it was a language that Tolkien ended up being very disapproving of, calling it “far deader than ancient unused languages, because its author never invented any legends”.

[00:09:16] Just as Tolkien’s languages existed to show the diversity of different groups of people, this language was created to try to bring people together.

[00:09:26] Can you guess what it is?

[00:09:28] I’ll play a little clip of it now.

[00:09:29] [Woman speaking Esperanto] 

[00:09:30] OK, it is Esperanto, the auxiliary language created by L.L Zamhenof in 1887.

[00:09:54] Now, a quick administrative point is that there is an entire episode dedicated to Esperanto, it’s Episode 69, so if you want a full dose of Esperanto, that’s one to listen to if you haven’t done so already.

[00:10:10] As I hinted at, Esperanto was invented for very different reasons to Tolkien’s languages.

[00:10:16] While Tolkien’s were there for mythical, storytelling purposes, to give a voice and a language to an invented people, Esperanto was created to make communication easier between people who didn’t speak the same language.

[00:10:31] The entire philosophy of Esperanto was that language barriers divided people.

[00:10:37] Zamenhof was born in a town called Białystok, which was part of Russia, but is now part of Poland, near the border with Belarus.

[00:10:47] Białystok was a melting pot of different languages, cultures, and ethnicities, and Zamenhof believed that if everyone could speak the same language, then it would be easier to communicate, there would be less fighting, and everyone would be happier.

[00:11:05] He set out to create a very easy language to pick up, to learn, so easy that an illiterate peasant working in the fields could learn it with just 10 minutes a day.

[00:11:17] Esperanto is based on Romance, Germanic, and Slavic languages. The idea was that if you spoke a language from any of these language families, it should come pretty naturally.

[00:11:31] He also removed pretty much all of the annoying, difficult aspects from other languages.

[00:11:38] There are no phrasal verbs or irregular endings.

[00:11:42] There are no subjunctives, or genders of objects.

[00:11:46] And it works on the basis of ‘root’ words, which then have prefixes and suffixes added to them to change their meanings.

[00:11:56] So, to give you an example if you add ‘mal’, ‘m a l‘, to the start of a word, this changes the definition to be the opposite of what the word without ‘mal’ means.

[00:12:08] So juna ‘j u n a’ is young, but maljuna, with ‘mal’ at the front, the opposite of young is….old.

[00:12:19] And blanka is white, malblanka, the opposite of ‘white’ is, well you might have guessed it, it’s black.

[00:12:28] The result of this is that you only need around 500 root words to get by, to manage, so you can learn 500 words, and if you know the rules about suffixes and prefixes, ta-da, you can speak Esperanto.

[00:12:46] It is a logical language, things make sense, it’s easy, it’s functional, and this was exactly why Tolkien, although he was initially supportive of it, it was exactly why he ended up criticising it.

[00:13:00] It didn’t have magic, it had no story behind it, it existed just to facilitate communication.

[00:13:06] And for Tolkien, that was removing a large part of the beauty of language.

[00:13:13] But, that is just Tolkien’s opinion.

[00:13:15] For the hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions of people who do speak Esperanto, it is an absolutely fantastic invention.

[00:13:25] It lowers the barriers to language learning, and lowers the barrier to communicating with people who can’t speak your language.

[00:13:33] And if that’s not the point of language, then what is, an Esperanto purist might say.

[00:13:40] Now, our third invented language is in a very different category.

[00:13:45] Tolkien invented languages to give a voice to his fictional characters, to create myths and stories.

[00:13:52] Zamenhof created Esperanto to facilitate communication, to make it easier for people who didn’t understand each other to understand each other.

[00:14:02] Our third example of an invented language is something called Láadan.

[00:14:07] Unless you are a big fan of invented languages I imagine you might not have heard it before, but here’s a little clip of it being spoken.

[00:14:16] Person speaking Laadan: [00:14:16] Person speaking Láadan.

[00:14:50] Alastair Budge: [00:14:50] Láadan is a language created by a lady called Suzette Haden Elgin in the 1982 science fiction book Native Tongue.

[00:15:00] The reason I think this language, or at least the idea of this language is so interesting is that it was created to test something called the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, which is the idea that the structure of the language you speak changes your worldview, and your behaviour.

[00:15:21] English, as a language, is quite a male-dominated language.

[00:15:26] We often use male words to describe things that apply to both men and women - mankind, for example, instead of womankind.

[00:15:36] And even in that example, of man and woman, the root of the word is man, it's the male part.

[00:15:45] The philosophical idea that Elgin wanted to experiment with, with her creation of Láadan is of a language that put women at its centre, and made it easier for women to use and express themselves.

[00:16:00] To do this, Láadan is constructed completely differently to English.

[00:16:05] At the start of a sentence in Láadan you need to use a word that introduces what you are going to be saying in the sentence, and at the end of the sentence you need to add another word that explains how sure you are about what you have just said, whether it’s something you know to be true, or whether you have just heard someone else say it.

[00:16:27] Elgin believed that male-dominated language means women often have to repeat and clarify themselves, whereas in her invented language of Láadan women wouldn’t need to do this because the meaning is right there in the sentence.

[00:16:44] Láadan now does have some die-hard fans, some people who are absolutely passionate about what it is and what it represents, but Elgin’s idea wasn’t for this to become some widespread language that took over from English or Spanish or Mandarin.

[00:17:02] Instead, she created it as an example to get us thinking about how what we say affects how we think.

[00:17:11] If a language is dominated by male words, male roots of words, and men find it an easier language to use than women, how does this affect the behaviour of men and women who use that language?

[00:17:26] The answer to this question might be ‘it doesn’t affect it at all’, but Elgin’s idea was to at least get us thinking about it.

[00:17:34] And as far as that is concerned, she definitely succeeded.

[00:17:39] Now, we actually have a fourth, bonus invented language to talk about today, and it’s a bonus one because it’s not completely invented, or at least it isn’t invented from scratch.

[00:17:52] I’ll play a clip of it now, and I’m sure you will recognise it.

[00:17:55] People speaking Special English: [00:17:55] Where are you from? I am from a big city speak and say your city.

[00:18:05] Alastair Budge: [00:18:05] Now, it’s English, right?

[00:18:07] Well, yes and no.

[00:18:09] It’s actually something called Learning English, but was first called Special English.

[00:18:16] It was created in 1959 by the Voice of America broadcasting service, and intended to be a very basic, simple form of English that helped people learn the language.

[00:18:29] As you can hear, it is spoken slowly, very clearly, and the vocabulary is basic.

[00:18:38] While this isn’t an entirely invented language, it is something called a controlled language.

[00:18:45] It’s based on something called Basic English, which was developed after World War II by a linguist and philosopher called Charles Kay Ogden.

[00:18:55] Similar to Zamenhof and Esperanto, Ogden believed that world peace and prosperity would come from everyone speaking one language and being able to communicate more easily.

[00:19:08] But he took a more colonial approach, and believed that language should be English, either in its basic or in its complete form.

[00:19:18] He said, and I'm quoting directly here “What the world needs most is about 1,000 more dead languages—and one more alive.”

[00:19:28] So, although this is by no means accusing the Voice of America of wanting to kill off every language other than English, the origin of its Learning English, or Special English is Ogden, and his Basic English.

[00:19:43] These four are of course only a tiny selection of the man-made, invented languages.

[00:19:49] We haven’t talked about Valyrian or Dothraki, the two invented languages in Game of Thrones, or Newspeak, the language created by Orwell in 1984.

[00:20:01] All of these languages are created for slightly different reasons, they serve different purposes.

[00:20:07] Some are mythical, others are functional.

[00:20:11] Some use different sentence structures, others restrict what you can say.

[00:20:16] What they do all teach us, though, is that language is imperfect.

[00:20:21] We might try to simplify it to make it easy for everyone to understand, but then it loses some flexibility, we don’t have the words to say exactly what we want and we end up saying things that we do not mean.

[00:20:37] We might try to make it more complicated, but if it’s too complicated, if it's too hard to learn and to use, people cannot say what they mean.

[00:20:48] And often you find words in languages that don’t quite translate to your own.

[00:20:54] I imagine you will have experienced this with English, or with another foreign language that you have been learning.

[00:21:01] You find a word or expression, you might find a definition, or a translation, but the true meaning won’t be exactly right.

[00:21:10] I have an ongoing game with my wife, whose mother tongue is Italian, where I always take a little pleasure if there’s a word in English that you can’t completely translate into Italian, and she will take the same pleasure if she can find one in Italian that doesn’t quite translate into English.

[00:21:29] One might think that languages are complete, that their development over thousands of years has meant that we are able to say whatever we want to say.

[00:21:38] But of course the experience of anyone who speaks more than one language, and certainly anyone who has gone to the trouble of inventing their own languages, knows that this is far from the truth.

[00:21:53] OK then, that is it for today's episode on invented languages, the first part of this three-part mini series on unorthodox language stories, language invention, creation and discovery.

[00:22:08] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that it’s made you think slightly differently about how language is constructed.

[00:22:17] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode.

[00:22:21] What words or expressions do you have in your language that have no direct translation to English?

[00:22:27] And similarly, are there expressions in English that don’t directly translate into your mother tongue?

[00:22:33] I would love to know.

[00:22:35] You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:44] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:49] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and, hot off the heels of our last mini-series on Disney, I come to you with the excellent news that this is the first episode of another 3-part mini series, this time on language invention, creation, and discovery.

[00:00:38] Now, because talking about basic grammar and vocabulary is a little bit boring, and we are here to listen to weird and wonderful, slightly unorthodox, stories, this mini-series is going to be a little bit different.

[00:00:54] In the first episode, in this episode, we’ll talk about Invented Languages, languages that are completely made up.

[00:01:03] In the second episode, we’ll talk about Cockney Rhyming Slang, the strange dialect, some might say actual language, spoken in a small part of London’s East End.

[00:01:14] And in the final episode you will learn all about The Rosetta Stone, the stone that allowed us to finally understand the writings of the ancient Egyptians.

[00:01:26] This series has been a particularly fun one to make, so I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:32] OK then, let’s not waste any time and dive into the mysterious world of invented languages.

[00:01:41] Now, if you are thinking that every language is invented by humans, you are of course right.

[00:01:47] Every language we speak was developed, normally over an extended period of time by an extended group of people.

[00:01:55] If you listened to the episode on the history of the English language, you’ll remember all of the different inputs and influences that went into creating the English that you are learning now, and how the language is still developing.

[00:02:10] But the subject of today’s episode isn’t how languages are developed in general, but what’s often called “Constructed language”, language that was invented by one person, or a small group of people, with a specific purpose.

[00:02:28] In this episode we’ll dive deep into the stories of three of these languages, three of these inventors of languages, and through this we’ll better understand what, why, and for whom languages are invented.

[00:02:44] Our first example is of probably the most prolific inventor of languages, and I’m going to start by playing a couple of clips of languages that he invented.

[00:02:55] Ok, here's the first one.

[00:02:57] [Person speaking Elvish language] 

[00:03:07] So that's our first language that he invented, and here comes the second. 

[00:03:26] Now, can you guess who this is?

[00:03:30] Perhaps the dramatic music in the background gives it away.

[00:03:34] These were clips from the languages invented by J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of books such as Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit.

[00:03:44] If you have read the books or seen the films, you’ll remember that most of the dialogue is in English, but different types of characters also speak different languages, languages that you can’t understand and that sound very strange to you.

[00:04:00] That’s because these are completely invented languages, languages created entirely by Tolkien.

[00:04:08] Now, if you have read any of Tolkien’s books or watched any of the film adaptations, you might think that these unknown words that some of the characters were saying were just random, strange sounding words that were inserted for dramatic effect, to make the characters sound more exotic.

[00:04:27] But you would be mistaken.

[00:04:30] These aren’t just random sounds, they are actual languages, languages with their own vocabulary and grammar rules.

[00:04:38] In Tolkien’s lifetime, he created anywhere between 2 and 20 languages.

[00:04:44] Now, the reason I’ve said between 2 and 20 is that this depends on your definition of language.

[00:04:52] If, by language, one means a collection of words and grammar that can be used to convey some meaning, then you could certainly argue that Tolkien created 20 languages.

[00:05:05] But if you define a language as something that you could use to communicate any idea, to translate any text, then you’d probably say he created no languages.

[00:05:16] If we define language as a collection of words and grammar that can be used for practical communication, it’s fair to say that Tolkien created two fully-formed languages, two languages that can be used for practical purposes.

[00:05:32] These are Quenya and Sindarin, which are both Elvish languages, languages spoken by the elves in his books.

[00:05:40] Now, when I say that you can use these languages for practical purposes, I mean practical purposes for the characters that use them.

[00:05:49] You couldn’t translate this episode, or a newspaper, but the languages Tolkien created existed in a different world. Evidently there was no need for Tolkien to create a word for podcast or Internet in his Elvish languages.

[00:06:06] From a young age, Tolkien was completely fascinated with language, playing around with other invented languages, and creating his own while he was still a teenager.

[00:06:17] His first job after leaving the army at the end of the First World War was for the English Dictionary, afterwards becoming a professor in Anglo-Saxon and then English language and literature at the University of Oxford.

[00:06:33] Tolkien himself was a very capable linguist, he spoke and understood many languages, including Latin, Greek, Finnish, Welsh and Ancient Norse.

[00:06:44] The languages that he spoke and understood had a large impact on the languages that he created - you can see elements of Welsh and Finnish in the languages spoken by the elves.

[00:06:58] For Tolkien, evidently the task of creating a language was deeply satisfying in itself, but he also believed strongly in the mythical power of languages, and the power of language to convey meaning.

[00:07:16] Of course, Tolkien could have made everyone in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit speak the same language, but then a huge amount of the story would have been missed.

[00:07:28] Much like if we all spoke the same language, if we were all brought up speaking the same language, parts of our traditions, our storytelling, our cultural heritage, and of course the misunderstandings that exist between different countries precisely because we speak different languages, they would be gone, or at least greatly reduced.

[00:07:49] So, of course all of his different characters needed to have their own language.

[00:07:55] For the Tolkien fans out there, this is no doubt old news, you knew this already.

[00:08:01] If you are a die-hard Tolkien fan you might even have tried learning one of these Elvish languages yourself - there are hundreds, thousands even, of fan websites out there in Elvish, meetups for Tolkien fans to speak Elvish languages to each other, and opportunities to use these languages that Tolkien created.

[00:08:23] Indeed, although the Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit are fantastic stories in their own right, there are people that have suggested that the entire stories were almost an excuse for Tolkien to create this world full of his own linguistic creations, that the different languages almost came first, then the narrative was added afterwards.

[00:08:46] So, that is J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of Lord of The Rings and the creator of some of the most famous mythical languages of the modern era.

[00:08:57] Our second invented language is one that was created for very different reasons, and indeed, it was a language that Tolkien ended up being very disapproving of, calling it “far deader than ancient unused languages, because its author never invented any legends”.

[00:09:16] Just as Tolkien’s languages existed to show the diversity of different groups of people, this language was created to try to bring people together.

[00:09:26] Can you guess what it is?

[00:09:28] I’ll play a little clip of it now.

[00:09:29] [Woman speaking Esperanto] 

[00:09:30] OK, it is Esperanto, the auxiliary language created by L.L Zamhenof in 1887.

[00:09:54] Now, a quick administrative point is that there is an entire episode dedicated to Esperanto, it’s Episode 69, so if you want a full dose of Esperanto, that’s one to listen to if you haven’t done so already.

[00:10:10] As I hinted at, Esperanto was invented for very different reasons to Tolkien’s languages.

[00:10:16] While Tolkien’s were there for mythical, storytelling purposes, to give a voice and a language to an invented people, Esperanto was created to make communication easier between people who didn’t speak the same language.

[00:10:31] The entire philosophy of Esperanto was that language barriers divided people.

[00:10:37] Zamenhof was born in a town called Białystok, which was part of Russia, but is now part of Poland, near the border with Belarus.

[00:10:47] Białystok was a melting pot of different languages, cultures, and ethnicities, and Zamenhof believed that if everyone could speak the same language, then it would be easier to communicate, there would be less fighting, and everyone would be happier.

[00:11:05] He set out to create a very easy language to pick up, to learn, so easy that an illiterate peasant working in the fields could learn it with just 10 minutes a day.

[00:11:17] Esperanto is based on Romance, Germanic, and Slavic languages. The idea was that if you spoke a language from any of these language families, it should come pretty naturally.

[00:11:31] He also removed pretty much all of the annoying, difficult aspects from other languages.

[00:11:38] There are no phrasal verbs or irregular endings.

[00:11:42] There are no subjunctives, or genders of objects.

[00:11:46] And it works on the basis of ‘root’ words, which then have prefixes and suffixes added to them to change their meanings.

[00:11:56] So, to give you an example if you add ‘mal’, ‘m a l‘, to the start of a word, this changes the definition to be the opposite of what the word without ‘mal’ means.

[00:12:08] So juna ‘j u n a’ is young, but maljuna, with ‘mal’ at the front, the opposite of young is….old.

[00:12:19] And blanka is white, malblanka, the opposite of ‘white’ is, well you might have guessed it, it’s black.

[00:12:28] The result of this is that you only need around 500 root words to get by, to manage, so you can learn 500 words, and if you know the rules about suffixes and prefixes, ta-da, you can speak Esperanto.

[00:12:46] It is a logical language, things make sense, it’s easy, it’s functional, and this was exactly why Tolkien, although he was initially supportive of it, it was exactly why he ended up criticising it.

[00:13:00] It didn’t have magic, it had no story behind it, it existed just to facilitate communication.

[00:13:06] And for Tolkien, that was removing a large part of the beauty of language.

[00:13:13] But, that is just Tolkien’s opinion.

[00:13:15] For the hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions of people who do speak Esperanto, it is an absolutely fantastic invention.

[00:13:25] It lowers the barriers to language learning, and lowers the barrier to communicating with people who can’t speak your language.

[00:13:33] And if that’s not the point of language, then what is, an Esperanto purist might say.

[00:13:40] Now, our third invented language is in a very different category.

[00:13:45] Tolkien invented languages to give a voice to his fictional characters, to create myths and stories.

[00:13:52] Zamenhof created Esperanto to facilitate communication, to make it easier for people who didn’t understand each other to understand each other.

[00:14:02] Our third example of an invented language is something called Láadan.

[00:14:07] Unless you are a big fan of invented languages I imagine you might not have heard it before, but here’s a little clip of it being spoken.

[00:14:16] Person speaking Laadan: [00:14:16] Person speaking Láadan.

[00:14:50] Alastair Budge: [00:14:50] Láadan is a language created by a lady called Suzette Haden Elgin in the 1982 science fiction book Native Tongue.

[00:15:00] The reason I think this language, or at least the idea of this language is so interesting is that it was created to test something called the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, which is the idea that the structure of the language you speak changes your worldview, and your behaviour.

[00:15:21] English, as a language, is quite a male-dominated language.

[00:15:26] We often use male words to describe things that apply to both men and women - mankind, for example, instead of womankind.

[00:15:36] And even in that example, of man and woman, the root of the word is man, it's the male part.

[00:15:45] The philosophical idea that Elgin wanted to experiment with, with her creation of Láadan is of a language that put women at its centre, and made it easier for women to use and express themselves.

[00:16:00] To do this, Láadan is constructed completely differently to English.

[00:16:05] At the start of a sentence in Láadan you need to use a word that introduces what you are going to be saying in the sentence, and at the end of the sentence you need to add another word that explains how sure you are about what you have just said, whether it’s something you know to be true, or whether you have just heard someone else say it.

[00:16:27] Elgin believed that male-dominated language means women often have to repeat and clarify themselves, whereas in her invented language of Láadan women wouldn’t need to do this because the meaning is right there in the sentence.

[00:16:44] Láadan now does have some die-hard fans, some people who are absolutely passionate about what it is and what it represents, but Elgin’s idea wasn’t for this to become some widespread language that took over from English or Spanish or Mandarin.

[00:17:02] Instead, she created it as an example to get us thinking about how what we say affects how we think.

[00:17:11] If a language is dominated by male words, male roots of words, and men find it an easier language to use than women, how does this affect the behaviour of men and women who use that language?

[00:17:26] The answer to this question might be ‘it doesn’t affect it at all’, but Elgin’s idea was to at least get us thinking about it.

[00:17:34] And as far as that is concerned, she definitely succeeded.

[00:17:39] Now, we actually have a fourth, bonus invented language to talk about today, and it’s a bonus one because it’s not completely invented, or at least it isn’t invented from scratch.

[00:17:52] I’ll play a clip of it now, and I’m sure you will recognise it.

[00:17:55] People speaking Special English: [00:17:55] Where are you from? I am from a big city speak and say your city.

[00:18:05] Alastair Budge: [00:18:05] Now, it’s English, right?

[00:18:07] Well, yes and no.

[00:18:09] It’s actually something called Learning English, but was first called Special English.

[00:18:16] It was created in 1959 by the Voice of America broadcasting service, and intended to be a very basic, simple form of English that helped people learn the language.

[00:18:29] As you can hear, it is spoken slowly, very clearly, and the vocabulary is basic.

[00:18:38] While this isn’t an entirely invented language, it is something called a controlled language.

[00:18:45] It’s based on something called Basic English, which was developed after World War II by a linguist and philosopher called Charles Kay Ogden.

[00:18:55] Similar to Zamenhof and Esperanto, Ogden believed that world peace and prosperity would come from everyone speaking one language and being able to communicate more easily.

[00:19:08] But he took a more colonial approach, and believed that language should be English, either in its basic or in its complete form.

[00:19:18] He said, and I'm quoting directly here “What the world needs most is about 1,000 more dead languages—and one more alive.”

[00:19:28] So, although this is by no means accusing the Voice of America of wanting to kill off every language other than English, the origin of its Learning English, or Special English is Ogden, and his Basic English.

[00:19:43] These four are of course only a tiny selection of the man-made, invented languages.

[00:19:49] We haven’t talked about Valyrian or Dothraki, the two invented languages in Game of Thrones, or Newspeak, the language created by Orwell in 1984.

[00:20:01] All of these languages are created for slightly different reasons, they serve different purposes.

[00:20:07] Some are mythical, others are functional.

[00:20:11] Some use different sentence structures, others restrict what you can say.

[00:20:16] What they do all teach us, though, is that language is imperfect.

[00:20:21] We might try to simplify it to make it easy for everyone to understand, but then it loses some flexibility, we don’t have the words to say exactly what we want and we end up saying things that we do not mean.

[00:20:37] We might try to make it more complicated, but if it’s too complicated, if it's too hard to learn and to use, people cannot say what they mean.

[00:20:48] And often you find words in languages that don’t quite translate to your own.

[00:20:54] I imagine you will have experienced this with English, or with another foreign language that you have been learning.

[00:21:01] You find a word or expression, you might find a definition, or a translation, but the true meaning won’t be exactly right.

[00:21:10] I have an ongoing game with my wife, whose mother tongue is Italian, where I always take a little pleasure if there’s a word in English that you can’t completely translate into Italian, and she will take the same pleasure if she can find one in Italian that doesn’t quite translate into English.

[00:21:29] One might think that languages are complete, that their development over thousands of years has meant that we are able to say whatever we want to say.

[00:21:38] But of course the experience of anyone who speaks more than one language, and certainly anyone who has gone to the trouble of inventing their own languages, knows that this is far from the truth.

[00:21:53] OK then, that is it for today's episode on invented languages, the first part of this three-part mini series on unorthodox language stories, language invention, creation and discovery.

[00:22:08] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that it’s made you think slightly differently about how language is constructed.

[00:22:17] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode.

[00:22:21] What words or expressions do you have in your language that have no direct translation to English?

[00:22:27] And similarly, are there expressions in English that don’t directly translate into your mother tongue?

[00:22:33] I would love to know.

[00:22:35] You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:22:44] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:49] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]