English 270: Invented languages: from Elvish to Dothraki
The creative force of language is nowhere so apparent as in the fictional languages that we invent. The earliest constructed language (or conlang) that we have records of is by a twelfth century nun, and people have been crafting languages ever since: to create community, to solve social problems, and to tell a good story. This course will give you an introduction to the tools for approaching invented languages analytically: the study of sound systems in language (phonology), and the study of the way that words and sentences are put together (morphosyntax). We will then examine invented languages as a historical and cultural phenomenon.
We will read Arika Okrent's In the Land of Invented Languages, with its account of auxiliary languages like Esperanto, and we will consider speculative fictional depictions of conlangs by J.R.R. Tolkien, Jorge Luis Borges, Anthony Burgess, Ted Chiang, Suzette Haden Elgin, Richard Adams, and Cathy Park Hong, as well as the screen depictions of Klingon, Na'vi, and Dothraki. We will also look at the role of the internet in the recent explosion of interest in and circulation of invented language; this is, according the Guardian newpaper, a "golden age of fictional languages."
This course satisfies the university "W" requirement for intensive writing. No background in linguistics or literature is necessary, only enthusiasm.