There are no better examples of language in fiction than the one-two nerd-punch of Elvish in the Silmarillion and Klingon in Star Trek: TNG. Fans of these fandoms, as well as the fans of other specific series, love the detail that words in another language provide.
This extends, in varying degrees, to both real, living languages and created, fictional languages. We, as fans, love languages in fiction for a variety of reasons. We also get some of the dozens of mental benefits to learning languages, even only learning a small portion. The more you learn of a language, the stronger the benefit But we still see some of this with learning only small portions.
Learning some or all of a language in fictional situations has some specific appeal to fans:
- We love to have the “secret code” of quoting in another language. Any schmoe can say “It’s a good day to die,” but only hardcore fans can pull off “Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam.” We have the bonus of being able to use these references to quickly identify ourselves and others as fans, like a geek-awesome duck call.
- A good language reference is either an actual language with culture and history behind it, or a detailed created language with the rules and backstory invented for it. This is important because, as the Silmarillion shows, language grows and changes due to the experiences and history of the people who speak it. In this way, language and culture are a symbiotic relationship – to learn the language, you have to understand at least some of the histori-cultural context. This brings the story to life even more.
- Studies show that both reading fiction and learning languages increase empathy and acceptance, and lower xenophobia. While it has not been specifically studied (yet…), it would be realistic to think that learning a language, real or fictional, within the context of fiction might give an even greater effect. #NotAllOgres
- Languages change how our minds process things. Whether it’s a few words in Elvish with a referenced backstory explaining the three Elvish rings, or a Hungarian-based linguistic seduction by a vampiric species, the learning of even a handful of words, with all their subtle nuances, changes how we look at the concepts and ideas that the words are relevant to. This is the best part of fiction, made better by “secret phrases.”
What is your fav language from fiction? Is it the language of a current or historical culture in real life? Or is it a beautiful creation of an author who has taken world-building to the next level?
Let me know in the comments here or on my Discord server!