I watched an interesting segment on the morning news. For one, it was Good Morning America, which I normally avoid for obvious reasons, but happened to catch this while channel flipping.
The segment was about the made up language of Avatar. I find this incredibly interesting for many reasons. It's not the first movie universe to create it's own language or the first literary one either. Today, it's quite popular for fans to 'learn a new fantasy language'. I've done it myself with Tolkien's languages before (I have a basic ability to understand both Quenya and Sindarin, which is useful...you know for fanfiction writing). What I find interesting is how quickly this Avatar language developed. It's only been around, as a language with grammar and vocab, for about three months, and the news station managed to find half a dozen people who could sit down and have a conversation.
Cleary, made up languages are popular. But why? Is it the ability to say to the geek sitting next to you 'Well I speek such-and-such, don't you?'. Is it really just bragging rights, or is it something more? I think it is.
The greatest books of the past 1000 years have been those that have created a complete universe. By this I mean books written by the likes of Tolkien and Lewis and even Rowling; not your run of the mill fantasy series. People love these books for a lot of reasons. Some of the simple ones are because it's a good story and they're well written. Some of the more complex reasons are because these books are entire worlds so unlike our own. People read fantasy to get lost in it; to have a break from the real world. The more complete that fantasy world is, the more they can get into it. I've done it myself on more than one occasion. It's the only reason I re-read LOTR every single year.
But what makes a fantasy world complete? Is it the fact that it's set on it's own planet? Is it a whole range of people that fulfill all the appropriate roles and leave no gaps? Is it a world where you can write your own gap-fillers? Is it a universe with it's own politics, religion, language, social customes? I think it's closest to that last sentence. The best fantasy worlds are the ones that are entirely complete. We fall into them because everything is there for us for the believing and we only have to enjoy.
Which brings me back to language. It's part of our world. It's part of what makes us who we are. It's just as important to most people as their political views and their religion. So, to have a fantasy language makes a fantasy world complete. It allows the reader to immerse themselves completely in that world and then bring that world back into our own, for a little while. You see this at fan conventions where people go around dressed in character, speaking in language. I've done it myself. (Yes, I have). Language allows for that extra little step, which explains why it's so popular.
And it's becoming more and more common. Tolkien was not the first to create languages; though he's definitely the most well known, having more than four languages that contain vocab lists and grammar in his books (though some are more developed than others). But is it becoming easier? How do you create a language from scratch? I tried one; I gave up. It's so hard to be original these days. So my congratulations to the people who spent the time and effort to create Na'vi, specially as it already contains 1000 words after only 3 months.