I Don’t Know These Guys
But that word written above them in yellow has unlocked a world of communication. It’s not a character, a country, or even an ideology.
It’s a language.
Actually, it’s an international auxiliary language (IAL), a class of languages specifically engineered for communication. Created by L. L. Zamenhof, a Polish eye doctor, Esperanto consists of only 16 rules of grammar without exceptions and is widely accepted as the easiest language to learn.
In fact, the language has gone on to become the most widely spoken constructed language in the world with nearly 2 million speakers, support from Google Translate, and even a couple thousand native speakers (i.e. taught from birth).
Not bad for an eye doctor.
And this was something that Zamenhof saw as a means for peace.
A means for peoples on separate shores with no shared primary language to cross the bridge of communication to aid in understanding. He saw the literal silence in his world, and invented a language to shatter it.
Bone farita (‘well done’).
But Zamenhof is not alone in the realm of constructing languages, it’s just that the examples that we are more likely to be familiar with tend to work from the other direction…
From Language to the Worlds
Published in 1937, J. R. R. Tolkien’s series The Lord of The Rings is one of the most popular works of fiction of all time. And this story has to have this character ‘Middle Earth’ in the thick of all of it, or else none of it makes any sense at all. But where did that world start?
With a language.
Tolkien was a professor of linguistics, and began working on a language based on Finnish called Quenya in 1910 as a hobby (source). To accomplish this he felt the need to create the sort of environment that would evolve Quenya into its final state. Namely, a history of creatures that would use it, and a world that would facilitate those creatures. What would they love? What would they fear? What would they want?
This history, combined with his conversations with C. S. Lewis, regarding the then marginalization of fantasy to children’s literature, would go on to motivate him to pen The Lord of the Rings (source).
And perhaps it is the ceiling of that impact that became the floor for Rowling, Lucas, Moffat, and Martin.
But even if the world starts first. It doesn’t take long for a language to follow. Even if it is just a cool way to write English…
26 Years of World Building
Running from 1963-1989, Doctor Who had a bit of a head start before it was rebooted in 2005. Shortly after the re-launch, strange circular symbols began to appear within the episodes, and it wasn’t long before the enormous fan-base took over and decided to ascribe meaning to them.
Catherine Bettenbender, an artist, created the beginnings of a guide to make sense of the typography. She eliminated the ‘silent’ letters that often appear in English and presented a phonetic approach to the circular glyphs. To keep things simple, she managed to boil English down to 12 hard sounds, 6 soft sounds, 3 combination sounds, and 14 vowel sounds. Her guide (available as images through her Deviant Art page linked above) goes into detail on how to combine the pictorial phonetics in circular form.
Her work would serve as the inspiration for Loren Sherman, an MIT student, who continued to build through a 6 page lesson-oriented guide instantly recognizable as a sort of primer in Circular Gallifreyan. What’s impressive is that after only six pages of instruction anyone can create beautiful renderings of the English language using nothing more than a pencil, ruler, and compass.
And yes. At the end of most base thinking on languages we arrive at a smattering of words used to communicate. But the artist knows that there are more languages than that of words; there is the language of song, dance, and acrylic. That a camera lens or watercolor set is just as valid, just as eloquent, and just as capable at telling a good story as anything spoken, written, or submitted in prayer.