Monday, January 29, 2018

How Studying Artificial Languages Can Help You Learn Natural Ones by Ann Baker

An artificial language, also called a conlang, is one created by humans instead of one that naturally develops over time. They are often used for artistic purposes and many artificial languages in your favorite TV shows and movies were created by linguists and have real grammatical structures. This means you can learn to speak the languages from your favorite works of fiction or even use them to aid your natural language studies. Here’s how studying artificial languages can help you learn natural ones.

Studying and Applying Grammar

You have to study natural languages in order to create a conlang. Linguist David J. Peterson, who created Dothraki and Valyrian in Game of Thrones, has studied over a dozen languages. Though he had material in George R. R. Martin’s books series to work off of when creating Dothraki, he was inspired by multiple natural languages, including Russian, Turkish, and Swahili.

However, if you take the opposite approach and study a conlang first, you’ll begin to understand linguistic structures, which is knowledge you can apply to any language. For example, the Atlantean language from the Disney film Atlantis: The Lost Empire has seven grammatical cases for nouns. Many natural languages — including German, Japanese, and Greek — have multiple noun cases. Though Atlantean cases differ greatly from German ones, understanding what cases are and how they work as a grammatical structure can benefit you when learning another language.

Inspiration and Determination

If French class has got you down, reinvigorate your studies by examining an artificial language. Learning about an artificial language from a beloved fictional work can put personal studies in a new, more fun context. Use your interests to your advantage! The more interested you are in learning a language, the more diligent you will be about practicing and studying it.

Take that newfound enthusiasm and study. Once you learn a second language, your brain will be more receptive to learning a third (and fourth, and fifth). Learning another language is good for your brain, and it doesn’t care if you’re studying Russian or High Valyrian. Luckily, you can find courses in both.

Be diligent when working toward your linguistic goals. If you’re teaching English abroad and don’t want to be “that” person, study your host country’s language. If you want to watch The Lord of the Rings without the subtitles on, study Elvish. Conlangs are as real as natural languages, and studying them can benefit you in similar ways. 

And if you really want to take your language skills to the next level, try creating your own artificial language. Think about everything, from root words to punctuation to verb conjugations. You’ll gain a newfound appreciation and perspective for studying all languages.

At the end of the day, learning a language should be fun! Don’t be afraid to learn whichever language you’re passionate about. Just keep in mind that if someone can learn Klingon well enough to write an opera, you can learn any language, whether it’s “real” or not.

Ann Baker is a writer, language lover, and pop culture enthusiast who lives in Idaho. Literature and linguistics are her two passions, both of which she studied in college. In her free time, she enjoys hiking with her dog and binge-reading fantasy novels.

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