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The Nerdiest Languages You Need to Learn are Invented

Game of Thrones

Studies have shown that learning a second language has multiple benefits for intelligence, memory, and concentration. But who wants to learn Spanish or Chinese? Everyone speaks that. You want a real challenge? Try a constructed language like Klingon or Dothraki. HPR’s Ku’uwehi Hiraishi delves into the world of made-up languages with a local linguist attempting to construct his own.

Geoffrey Taylor can say “aloha” in more than ten languages – English, German, French, Spanish – you name it, the Hawai’i Kai linguist studied it. But today, he greets me in the language of the nomadic inhabitants of the Dothraki Sea.

Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
Linguist Geoffrey Taylor sports some toki pona gear. Toki pona is one of the easiest constructed languages to learn with only 120 words and a simple vocabulary. Taylor hopes to invent a similar conlang of his own.

“Athchomar chomakaan,” says Taylor.

Dothraki may be familiar to the ears of all you Game of Thrones fans, but the more than 3,000 words that make up this fictional language were invented only six years ago. It was created by linguist David Peterson, who Taylor calls the king of constructed languages.

“He literally wrote the book on conlanging, the art of language construction,” says Taylor, “His languages have irregular verbs and exceptions to the rules, and different genders and cases, and just things that make them really have a lot of depth and so it’s fascinating and really interesting but it’s also really difficult to learn.”

Constructed languages or conlangs for short have been around for centuries – from Tolkien’s Elvish to Avatar’s Navi and Star Trek’s Klingon language. But learning a conlang didn’t seem all that practical to Taylor.

“I really didn’t understand why anyone would want to learn a language that’s made-up that nobody speaks,” says Taylor, “When I started to see how fun it was, how interesting the words were and the grammar, and how it had a culture behind it, I got hooked.”

Credit Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Klingons Worf and Gowron in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The language of the fictional extraterrestrial humanoids from Star Trek is one of the most popular constructed languages boasting a 5,000-word vocabulary and its own Klingon Language Institute.

He began to deconstruct the world view he’s built around the languages he speaks and dove deeper into the world created by conlangs.

“When you learn to communicate using a different code – it’s a different way of thinking and it changes the way you think,” says Taylor, “You start to notice that the way that you’ve thought all your life has kind of been bound up in the language that you’ve learned to think in.”

Taylor is sharing his love of conlanging at this year’s Mensa Hawai’i Regional Gathering, in hopes of finding other conlangers in Hawai’i.

“There’s thousands of languages being constructed all the time. It’s an art form. It’s a labor of love,” says Taylor, “People they’ll go to these conlanging communities and share with each other ideas and say, ‘Hey look at what I did with the grammar here,’ and then they’ll give each other pointers, and totally nerd out and have a really good time.”

Credit Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
The pronunciation guide for Toki Puna, a constructed language so simple, linguists like Taylor say it could profoundly change the way we communicate.

Taylor is also working on a conlang of his own that is inspired by the Taoism-based language toki pona. Toki pona was created in 2001 with only 120 words, very simple grammar, and a complete enough vocabulary to create full conversations. He says it may be far-fetched, but a simple conlang like this could be a game changer in the world of linguistics.

“Toki pona could potentially be used to bridge cultural barriers or to bridge barriers between people that speak different languages because it’s so simple,” says Taylor, “that it would be easier for two people to both learn toki pona and talk to each other than for them to learn each other’s languages.”

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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