That might seem like an insignificant mistake, but constructed languages feel so real because conlangers worry about little stuff like that. Nobody else will. At least until the internet gets hold of their work and never stops picking at it.
Constructing Languages Isn't Always Serious Business
On Game Of Thrones, the Dothraki are like a sexier Mongolian horde, while Valyria is more or less Atlantis with dragons. They are two proud and ancient cultures, and that's precisely what makes it so funny when you mess with them via language.
"The Dothraki word for 'eagle' is 'kolver,' which is based on Stephen Colbert's name," Peterson says. "If there is no connection between the world of the language and the real world, you can do things like have a word that looks (visually) like someone's name in the real world, as long as it's a licit form (i.e. phonologically, it's a pattern that works in the language)."
Fun fact: The Dothraki word for "I am currently choking on my own blood" sounds exactly like it does in English.
"Some [Dothraki] words are even based on my wife's name," he says. Her name is Erin, so we get "erin," "erinak," and "erinat," which mean: "kind," "kind one," and "to be good." Aww, that's actually really sweet, but then again, knowing the Dothraki, how often do you think they actually use those words?
Even the Dothraki word for "friend" ("okeo") is based on the name of the Petersons' family cat. This type of tribute appears in Dr. Frommer's Na'vi as well: "The word for 'happy' is nitram, which is my brother's name spelled backwards," he explains. "It happens to fit into Na'vi phonology just fine."
But conlangers can't abuse their power like the mad, mad gods they are. Because ...
Conlangers Don't Own The Rights To Their Languages
"How does one own a language, given that languages are alive only so far as people use them?" Dr. Frommer asks. "Are Klingon and Na'vi and Dothraki speakers using a language owned by someone else, or do they in fact own it by virtue of their being the ones who use it for real communication? I'll leave it to the lawyers to try to figure that one out."
There's also the fact that constructing languages is always classified as work for hire, but Peterson points out that even if that wasn't the case, they couldn't own the rights to their work. "A conlang can't be copyrighted, and neither can a vocabulary; otherwise one could publish a dictionary, copyright all the words, and sue everyone who uses that language for royalties -- even if the language is English. A specific definition can be copyrighted (the wording used to define a term), but not the word or its meaning in the abstract sense."
"My second is legalese."
Of course, conlangers would love to receive royalties for their work, but it'd require a complete overhaul of our copyright system. So, in the meantime, they have to settle for making our fiction more engaging while immortalizing their loved ones in languages that thousands of people learn every day. That's almost as good as money.
David J. Peterson is a language creator and author. You can find him on Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and his website. Paul Frommer's blog on the Na'vi language is at naviteri.org. For elementary learning materials, see the fan-created site learnnavi.org. Contact Frommer at email@example.com. See also conlangingfilm.com for information on an upcoming feature-length documentary about constructed languages: Conlanging: The Art Of Crafting Tongues. Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist, interviewer, and editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.
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