Can you tell which written languages are real?

Well, sure, but people do speak Klingon now, even if it’s small number of people…

My question here is really when does a language become “real”? Because, of course, all languages were created and evolved over time. So when does language, developed for fictional people become a real thing?

Well, I’m not entirely sure that anyone really speaks Klingon, at least not with any fluency. (It would be interesting to see how well that small number of ostensible Kingon-speakers, who share no other language, actually can communicate with each other. Fairly rudimentarily, would be my guess.)

But yeah, framing this as about “real” vs. “fake” languages is totally wrong. (Even ignoring their omissions and inconsistencies.) It raises a question for me though, about whether a conlang, that’s developed enough to be theoretically speakable, even if no one actually speaks it, counts as a “real” language…

1 Like

Thanks for the correction. I’m not going to change the headline to “Can you tell which of the orthographic representations of a language are real?” because in this case, inaccuracy provides clarity.


Thank you [I’m rather flattered], but you don’t really have to indulge my pet - and rather technical - peeves.

There are no native speakers of Klingon.

In that there do exist some non-zero number of conversational-level speakers of Klingon, presumably with differing first- or primary languages, it does function as a pidgin, but in that it contains none of the phonemic, leximic, or grammatic/syntactic elements of either interlocutor, it fails the test of actually being one.

So when does language, developed for fictional people become a real thing?

Some suggestions:

When there is some critical mass of people who were raised speaking it.

When there is some body of cultural work that was created in it.

When a native speaker can talk to their native-speaking grandchild in it.

When a colonizer actively stamps it out.

1 Like

Am I the only one who tried to identify the “real” scripts’ languages? I got about half of them, but I am ashamed that I mistook Bengali for Tibetan.

1 Like

Interesting that Ogham is shown, but I didn’t see Runic, which was used across a number of Northern European languages, whereas Ogham was only used across part of the British Isles by native speakers, pre-Saxon/Anglo-Saxon invasions. Makes for interesting tattoos, I’ve got two, but the script lacks certain characters that are used in modern English, so that limits what can be written; one of mine says ‘This too shall pass’, which is proving rather appropriate under current circumstances, the other refers to the mountain biking I used to do, before messing my knee up; ‘Can’t ride for shit’. :grin:

My better half says the example didn’t make sense: “ah-many-glot?” Then, I figured out “omniglot.”

In that sense, it’s “Ge’ez” in the sense that what I am typing right now is “Latin.” Today, Ge’ez itself is a liturgical language (though I’m sure there are some who’ve learned it anyway, i.e. non-clergy who just wanted to learn it).

So it’s not even a loanword… But speaking of “omniglot”:

P.S. There’s an issue from MAD (from back in the 50s) that had a different script up on the top margin of each page. I did a double-take when I noticed this one:

It seriously messed with my head and that’s why I loved Mad. (That said, the script is apparently jibberish, and approximately says “letamerenos” which [at least, in Amharic] doesn’t mean anything)

1 Like

Tenth row, second from left.

(Yes, it’s satire, but sadly may have a large element of truth to it)

1 Like

These alphabets of the world remind me of the promotional and collectible bottles that Coca Cola launched in the 1980s. The name coca cola written in foreign languages ​​brought an air of mystery and made me want to study other languages.


I do think that’s a reasonable list for deciding what’s real. And I’m not attempting to diminish the violence done to minority languages, rather to point out that the “real” descriptor is problematic. Colonizers often don’t consider minority languages “real” either. This process promoted by white Europeans in the colonies was also deployed against people within in their own borders, too. There were attempts to stamp out Welsh and Irish, variants of French, even today with Kurdish in Turkey. The violent process of creating and organizing the modern world included attempts to get rid of anything that deviated and couldn’t be controlled and that includes linguistics of course.

But by these metrics is something like Esperanto also not “real”, because it was an intentional project of lingustics aimed at giving a simple, easy to learn language that the world can learn to better share?

So I guess these all fall under “constructed” languages, which I think really gets at what I’m trying to say here, that the designation of “real” it’s self is problematic. If something is constructed for a fictional universe, but manages to take up residency among non-fictional people, aren’t they as real as anything else being spoken, even if the preservation isn’t as critical as that of languages dying due to colonial violence?


1 Like

I’ve been listening to this lately…

Some are trying to do the work of repopularizing the language by promoting every day usage rather than just preservationism, which just seeks to preserve the language rather than live in it.

At the end of each episode, he goes around and asks the panel for one of their favorite Irish words, which is always interesting.


Going to school learning irish really seemed like a chore. Rote memorization, and being force-fed poetry from Irish idealists. Not terribly engaging for a young child.

If it was integrated into history or science classes, rather than as a stand-alone subject, I’d probably have been more engaged. I did benefit from being reasonably close to a gaelteacht and had to interact with Irish-speaking shopkeepers during my milk-delivery days. Probably had a better impact on me for my conversational Irish.

I love Motherfocloir, but the intro really grates on me (Amhran na bfiann played as a midi file, uugh).

1 Like

There are schools that are duel language from the beginning. They immerse the student in both the main language (here in the US, English) as well as another language (Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese, etc). In some cases they switch off days of the language. That seems like the best approach for getting kids to learn a language, as it’s how we learn languages from our birth. I had a friend whose daughter was in such a program with French and when they went to France, she was just able to naturally speak it, as she’d been doing so since she was 4 or so at school.


I think in the case of the goals in getting back a native speaking population, that should be the approach, to make it as natural as possibly by just integrating it natural into instruction. The problem might be finding enough kindergarten, early grade teachers who are native speakers or close enough to be able to handle daily instruction in Irish.

It’s really made me interested in the language and it’s place in modern Irish society and culture. I’ve learned a lot about modern Ireland from listening to it. It kind of makes me want to actually learn Irish, too… Maybe one day I’ll get a language app and start…

1 Like

Going to the actual link had Cyrillic, and that gave it away for me; my katakana is too rusty (rustier even than my hiragana) to have picked up on it.

Otherwise I have learned I know less than I thought I did.

1 Like

I think this is the story of Modern Hebrew, no? IIRC, before the 1900s(?) it was only still used for liturgy. (Some do still only use it for liturgy.) But there was a deliberate and successful attempt to bring it back for day-to-day use.

I have heard of attempts to do this with Ge’ez (both written and spoken), but in the context of using it as a neutral language in Ethiopia as opposed to Amharic or Tigrinya. However, it’s not too neutral, because Oromo and Somali (for example) are both in a different linguistic family and use the Latin alphabet.

Entirely true. Most European Jews (in central Europe especially) spoke Yiddish and the language of the country in which they lived. Of course, now there are fewer Yiddish speakers in the world, though that is still over a million, so similar numbers maybe to Irish speakers (at least according to wikipedia?).

As for your second example, I think that shows how political language has become in the modern period. Standardization of languages in the nationalist projects have been pretty destructive to the variety of languages out there for use. In some cases that went along with acts of outright genocide and/or ethnic cleansing.