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Are Elvish, Klingon, Dothraki and Na’vi real languages?

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What do Game of Thrones’ Dothraki, Avatar’s Na’vi, Star Trek’s Klingon and LOTR’s Elvish have in common? They are all fantasy constructed languages, or conlangs. Conlangs have all the delicious complexities of real languages: a high volume of words, grammar rules, and room for messiness and evolution. John McWhorter explains why these invented languages captivate fans long past the rolling credits.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator John McWhorter
  • Director Joyce Stenneke
  • Sound Designer Werner Urban
  • Narrator John McWhorter

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
Author J. R. R. Tolkien created many languages for his Elves, which eventuated in the creation of a mythology (expounded in his books), complete with races, to speak the tongues he had constructed. His interest was primarily philological, and he said his stories grew out of his languages. The languages were the first thing Tolkien created for his mythos, starting with what he originally called "Qenya", the first primitive form of Elvish. This was later called Quenya (High-elven) and is one of the two most complete of Tolkien's languages (the other being Sindarin, or Grey-elven). The phonology, vocabulary and grammar of Quenya and Sindarin are strongly influenced by Finnish and Welsh, respectively. In addition to these two, he also created several other (partially derived) languages. In addition to Tolkien's original lexicon, many fans have contributed words and phrases, attempting to create a language that was fully usable in reality.

There are seven different words in Dothraki for striking another person with a sword. Among them: “hlizifikh,” a wild but powerful strike; “hrakkarikh,”a quick and accurate strike; and “gezrikh,” a fake-out or decoy strike. But you won’t find these words in George R. R. Martin’s epic series A Song of Ice and Fire, which is where Dothraki originated as the language of the eponymous horse-riding warriors; rather these and more than 3,000 other words were developed by David Peterson, the world’s authority on Dothraki.
Welcome to the Klingon Language Institute. That's right, Klingon. Those bumpy headed aliens of Star Trek really have their own language, one which has far outgrown mere television and film. That's what we're about. We're here to promote and support this unique and exciting language. So, whether you've just stumbled in here by accident, or lost a bet, or have sought long and hard for people who share your passion for the warriors' tongue, come on in. Our site has information and resources to interest both skeptic and enthusiast alike. Join us in our exploration of the galaxy's fastest growing language.
Does texting mean the death of good writing skills? John McWhorter posits that there’s much more to texting -- linguistically, culturally -- than it seems, and it’s all good news.
All it takes is a simple S to make most English words plural. But it hasn't always worked that way (and there are, of course, exceptions). John McWhorter looks back to the good old days when English was newly split from German -- and books, names and eggs were beek, namen and eggru!
Where do nicknames come from? Why are Ellens called Nellie and Edwards Ned? It’s all a big misunderstanding from the early days of the English language, a misunderstanding that even the word nickname itself derives from. John McWhorter tracks the accidental evolution of some familiar diminutives.

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About TED-Ed Originals

TED-Ed Original lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed original? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator John McWhorter
  • Director Joyce Stenneke
  • Sound Designer Werner Urban
  • Narrator John McWhorter

Share

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