Call for papers closing, booking page open

The booking page is now LIVE for the Ponying the Slovos conference!
If you want to attend, please go to and register. There is no charge for attending the symposium, which will include refreshments throughout the day, but if you want to attend the informal dinner afterwards, there will be a cost of £20 or so for a three course meal in a delightful local establishment.
Those who hope to speak at the event are asked to submit an abstract ASAP!

Crowdsourcing language construction

Like Klingon before it, the languages of George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ (better known to many in its televisual form, ‘Game of Thrones’) have a peculiar mode of construction, being partly generated by individuals and partly crowdsourced.

The Klingon language was, as originally presented in the first ‘Star Trek’ movie, a mere collection of guttural grunts. However, the producers of the movie series later contracted professional linguist Dr Marc Okrand to help them transform these grunts into the basis of a functioning language.

Okrand’s text derived from this work, 1985’s Klingon Dictionary, was an unexpected publishing success, selling over 300,000 copies, and resulted in the creation of a fan community who, like many Tolkien fans beforehand, were keen to develop their fandom into a linguistic arena.

By the early 1990s, this had developed into a formal Klingon Language Institute, where fans worked alongside Dr Okrand in generating not only additional lexis, but entire ‘translations’ of existing works of literature, including famously ‘Hamlet’ ‘in the original Klingon’.

This hybrid creation paradigm has extended into the arena of Westeros also. While George R.R. Martin obviously originated the idea of languages like Dothraki and Valyrian, and included a few gnomic phrases of both in his novels, it was not until the televisual adaptation by David Benioff and Dan Weiss that a professional linguist was hired to develop these fragments into working languages.

David Peterson, of the Language Creation Society, an organisation dedicated to the art and practice of creating invented languages, was recruited for this task, and quickly developed basic functioning languages of both Dothraki, the tongue of the nomadic horselords, and Old High Valyrian, the language of a long-lost high civilisation in Essos. Peterson has since moved on to work as language creation consultant on a number of other television programmes also.

In a similar process to the development of Klingon, Peterson’s (and Martin’s) creations have grown beyond their originator and become a passionate interest for many fans. Websites proliferate online which offer to teach people these growing languages.

Peterson’s background as originator of the Language Creation Society has perhaps inspired this process of crowdsourced proliferation of invented languages. Equally, this may simply be a product of the mutuality format of globalised fandom. Or there may be other explanations, and we would be keen to know more.

If you have a theory about how invented languages come about, please consider submitting an abstract for our conference on the 18th of March in Coventry. Details and the call for papers can be found in the archives of this blog.


Bowie sings Nadsat

Music legend David Bowie’s unexpected new album ‘Blackstar’, released on his 69th birthday two days ago, features a rather experimental track entitled ‘Girl Loves Me’, which appears to be sung primarily in Nadsat, with additions from the gay London slang of the Sixties, Polari.

Slooshy well, my little droogies:


How do you translate a dialect?

In our project using corpus linguistics methodologies to analyse the invented language of Nadsat in Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’, we have discovered that there are significant grey areas demarcating the borders between language, creole, pidgin and dialect.

Is Burgess’s ‘Nadsat’ a language? Is it merely, as some glossary compilers and editors have suggested, a lexicon of slang appended to English? Is it somewhere in the hinterland between – a creole, perhaps? Is it maybe even just the protagonist’s own dialect, an idiolect? Whichever it is, it is certainly not formal English.

While the process of translation already offers problems to translators dealing with formal versions of established languages, such as how to translate idioms or culturally specific terms, this becomes even more complex when dealing with less formal examples of language.

Students challenged with Old English texts, such as Beowulf, often struggle with the idea that they are, in fact, still dealing with the English language, and desire a modern ‘translation’ to ease comprehension. This can even be encountered among students dealing with later texts again, such as the works of Chaucer, or even the Elizabethans.

Similarly, people who speak strong dialectal versions of a language may struggle with comprehending a different dialect of the same language. I recall a Glaswegian friend asking a barman in Cork whether the local customers were speaking Irish when in fact they were communicating in their local heavily accented and dialect version of English.

So all sorts of issues can arise when a translator is faced with dialect or similarly informal versions of a language. Luigi Bonaffini has written intelligently of the many challenges faced by translators when they are confronted with dialectal language: As he correctly points out, the problems begin with perceptions that dialect is a “subaltern, marginal” form of language which diminishes the validity and cultural role played by dialect.

Some translators seek a kind of metaphoric or analogous transformation, rendering dialect in one language into a comparative dialect in the target language. For example, the poems of Giacomo Belli, a 19th century sonneteer in the Roman dialect, have been variously translated into Scots, “Tyke” (a Yorkshire dialect), “Strine” (1960s Australian dialect), Mid-Ulster Hiberno-English and many more regional dialectal variants of formal English. In each case, the translator has been forced to render the unique cultural environment evoked by Belli’s 19th century Rome into analogous cultural environments located within the 20th century Anglosphere. This can quickly lead to significant semantic differences opening up between the source text and the translation.

Obviously, when the dialect involved is an invented one, with no existing penumbra of culture upon which to draw, the translator is faced with an even more exacerbated problem. How can one translate a culture which doesn’t really exist beyond the pages of a slim novella?

As a team, we’re looking at various translations of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in order to see what is happening in them, and to compare the translation strategies and processes, in the hope that this may shed useful light upon the translation process in general.

Obviously, we’re therefore interested in hearing from other scholars who have an interest in how components like dialect come to be translated, and we would urge anyone with an interest in this area to look at our call for papers and consider presenting their perspectives at our symposium in March.

Closing date for abstracts is 29th January.

Happy new year!