Film looking at creation of languages premiering in Calgary - 660 CITYNEWS
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Film looking at creation of languages premiering in Calgary

Conlanging: The Art of Crafting Tongues

The creation of language may seem like a forgotten art form to some, but it is alive and well in the science fiction world.

We’ve seen it ever since Star Trek debuted with the Klingon language, and invented languages are also seen in the likes of Star Wars, Game of Thrones and Avatar.

This will all be covered in the film Conlanging: The Art of Crafting Tongues, which debuts Saturday night at the Plaza Theatre in Calgary.

Director Britton Watkins told 660 NEWS it’s an overlooked subject.

“Something that people have been doing for hundreds of years, it happens all over the world, very few people know that it’s going on. Except when you get something famous like Avatar and the Na’vi language, or Dothraki coming out of Game of Thrones.”

This then allows people another outlet to better connect with their favourite films and TV shows.

“It gives the fans something to do when they’re not watching the movie,” said Watkins. “It gives them a way to go to conventions and be more immersed in the culture that got created for the film.”

One of these creators is Paul Frommer, a linguistics professor who invented the Na’vi language after a colleague passed his name along to the director, James Cameron.

Watkins also initially connected with Frommer by sending him an email written in Na’vi.

Frommer says there is a lot of work that goes into creating a brand new form of communication. It begins with just what kind of sounds go into a language, how the sounds relate to each other, then words can be created, followed by syntax and sentences.

“And then you have to think about the cultural connections,” explained Frommer. “How does this language reflect this culture, and the environment and even physiology of the beings who speak it? So there are lots of things that go into it.”

Physiology was an important part of Na’vi, as the beings in Avatar have only eight fingers, so Frommer made their counting system based on that rather than the five fingers humans have.

Then he had to teach this new language to the actors, which is also hard work.

“It’s not just learning to pronounce stuff that no one has ever said before and twisting your mouth around to make a very strange combination of sounds, but you have to do that while you’re acting and while you’re moving around and there are no cue cards and you have to memorize your lines. And you also have to know which parts of the sentence to emphasize, and the melody of the sentences and it’s not just pronouncing individual words.”

Frommer said this has been a great experience and he has met many new people, including Watkins, and he currently is working on both of the upcoming Avatar sequels. However, he was not able to reveal any secrets.

Conlanging isn’t also just about things like Star Trek and Avatar, but creating languages in the real world too.

“The fact that First Nations cultures, for example, might adopt some of these methods and then use them for their language enrichment and revitalization programs, too. So there’s amazing angles of how constructed language intersects with natural language and we’re trying to explore all of those in the film,” added Watkins

Frommer will be speaking at the film’s premiere along with Marc Okrand, who created the Klingon language for Star Trek.

Doors open at 7 p.m. Saturday for the debut at the Plaza Theatre. More information and tickets can be found at