Fictional Language Use and Cultural Assumptions

Wickman, Gloria
In various forms of media, fictional languages have been created to give invented cultures more depth. Film franchises such as Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings have worked with professional linguists to insure that the fictional languages that the actors speak are portrayed accurately. Given that so much time is spent in the development of these languages, it is likely that the creators hope the audience will gain something from hearing them. The purpose of this study is to determine whether or not people assign cultural traits to the languages they hear and if so, from what basis do they build those assumptions. To answer this question, a number of participants took a survey of fictional and dead languages. The participants listened to samples of three different languages and were asked to draw conclusions about the culture the language represented. The results showed that there was a great deal of agreement about cultural characteristics for the various languages which is likely due to participants drawing on common methods of categorization and stereotyping. This study shows that people are willing and able to draw a startling number of conclusions about an unknown group of people based solely on a small audio sample of their language.
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