Humans have been inventing languages for hundreds of years. The first record of a made up language dates back to the twelfth century when German nun Hildegard von Bingen, created a language called Lingua Ignota. Since her time, hundreds more have been brought to life as either a means to communicate, for artistic creation, to give life to fiction, or for philosophical or religious reasons.
Invented by L. L. Zamenhof in the 1880s, Esperanto is perhaps the best-known invented language. It may not have achieved its aim world peace and unifying the world under one language, but at its height it had as many as two million speakers. In 1954 Esperanto was recognized by UNESCO and today it is estimated that about 50,000 speak the language. It is a featured language in Facebook, Skype and Google Translate, and Wikipedia has 150,000 entries in Esperanto. Though many consider it a failed language, Esperanto has more speakers than six thousand of the languages spoken around the world today.
When it comes to fiction, no other language is as popular as Klingon. Created by American linguist Marc Okrand, it is the language spoken by the Klingons in Star Trek. The Klingon language has a complete grammar and vocabulary, an institute in which people can learn the language, a dictionary that has sold over 300,000 copies and even its own translation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Philologist and writer, J. R. R. Tolkien invented Elvish, a complete language for the Elves tribes that first appears in his novel The Hobbit. His creation was a complex language based on Welsh and Finnish, which was made fully functional by hundreds of fans adding their own words and phrases.
When Geroge R. R. Martin wrote his epic fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, he invented a few words and phrases to give life to the Dothraki people. But it was David J. Peterson, a U.C. Berkeley-trained linguist who designed the entire Dothraki language – which includes a 300 page grammar and dictionary – for the HBO show based on Martin’s books, Game of Thrones. The popularity of the show has resulted in Dothraki being heard by more people each week than Yiddish, Navajo, Inuit, Basque, and Welsh combined.
Paul Frommer, a professor at the USC Marshall School of Business with a doctorate in linguists created the Na’vi language for James Cameron’s film Avatar. This language, complete with nouns, adjectives and verbs, is quite complex and is considered a fully learnable language.