Klingon, Elvish and Feayran contribute to increased cultural awareness

Nov. 10, 2014

Eleanor Skelton
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Klingon and Elvish lessons are not just for obsessive fantasy and sci-fi fans. Learning fictional languages and ancient languages like Koine Greek or Celtic dialects can enrich understanding.

Linda Watts, anthropology chair, teaches the class the Nature of Language.

“Fictional languages are not generally full languages and are used by people to show their in-group status as a fan of a fi ctional world.”

History professor Brian Duvick says people study ancient languages and fi ctional languages for different reasons, but acknowledges there is overlap.

“[Languages] still constitute our best means into the minds of other peoples and invariably lead to the creative reconstruction of their cultures or simply the construction of new, often fi ctitious worlds.”

David Edwards, who graduated with a bachelor’s in symbolic systems from Stanford University, started creating languages at age 12.

Feayran, his most wellknown language, came from a high school collaborative fantasy project.

“Feayran was spoken by a tribe of shape shifting hunter-gatherers in the harsh, cold climate of the world’s northern continent,” he explained in an email.

Edwards has created several websites and YouTube videos to host and explain the Feayran Project.

“I became enthralled with the absolutely incredible things that languages can do,” he said. “Feayran became a way to experiment with my mind, to stretch and challenge the ways I was accustomed to conceptualizing the world.”

At Stanford, Edwards joined the Esperanto club with other language creators, where they played a game called “Where are Your Keys,” intended to save endangered languages.

“The game works for established languages as well as it works for endangered ones, and it’s also highly addictive, so we ended up playing in just about any language we could get our hands on,” he said.

Edwards said his hobby has changed his career direction.

“After I had been playing WAYK for a while, I signed up to do a summer internship at an endangered language revitalization project,” he said. “Until then I had planned on pursuing a career in artifi cial intelligence research, but that summer convinced me that I wanted to keep helping communities and saving languages.”

Michelle Gluck learned to speak and write Feayran while Edwards was creating it.

“Feayran became a connection to a developing world where I spent much of my time assisting in hammering out details and learning the cadences and social implications in building a language,” she said.

“That gave me a much greater understanding of the evolved world of our languages, and a greater capacity for thoughtful speech.”

“Studying languages and even helping to build one has grown me creatively to reach for the point where an imagined world becomes real, not just a ghost of an experience that could be had here, and has improved my social understanding of the world in general,” she added.

Gluck also studied Klingon, both dialects of Tolkien’s Elvish, Dwarven, Middle English, and Norse in middle school, high school and college.

Mary Nikkel, associate editor at NewReleaseTuesday. com and LeTourneau University alumna, taught herself Elvish at age 12 using online resources and studying the appendices in “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.” “I think I wanted to prove to myself that I could teach myself a made up language,” she said.

“I’d just fi nished a few years of Latin, so I was interested in languages anyway, but super interested in Lord of the Rings,” Nikkel said. “I felt like learning Elvish would be the next step in fully immersing myself in the story, in really engaging and living it.”

Nikkel can identify the meaning of an Elvish passage on first reading.

“My ability to actually construct sentences is rusty, particularly as my memory of the tenses and conjugations has faded a bit, but I can usually remember with brief refreshers,” she said. “At the peak of my Elvish scholarship when I was 14 or 15, I could, and did, write full metered, rhyming poetry in Elvish.”

Nikkel later took two years of Koine Greek for her Bible minor in addition to her digital writing major. “My motivation for learning Greek later in life would be similar: to better engage on all levels the story of scripture,” she said.

In addition, Nikkel created the framework of a language for a novel she wrote as a teenager.

Katie Sawyer, sophomore majoring in creative writing and music at Metro State, uses ancient languages in her language creation and world building for her novel, “The Valkyries of Drascera.” Four dialects are spoken in Sawyer’s fictional world, a dystopian, steampunk parallel dimension.

The common, spoken form is “a mix of Greek and Norse languages and combines the [fl ow] of Greek with the sharp [consonants] of Norse. The written version of this language is called Ruif and carefully combines the two language letterings into something new and unique.”

“Finally, there is Druim which is the spell caster language of this world. This language is a mix of Celtic, Latin and Greek and uses mostly Greek lettering with a few adaptations when written down,” she said in an email. Sawyer’s process involves identifying parallels between the actual languages.

“By looking at their various sentence structure, word differences and verb usage, I picked and chose where the two different worlds could safely collide into something beautiful,” she said.

Sawyer has also studied some Elvish as well as German and Italian.

Do nerdy things, without fear. Creating a language adds color to an imagined setting, and you might even end up saving a language from extinction. As Sawyer explained, “nerd power unite.”