Talking Rabbit

In Cockney rhyming slang, ‘rabbit’ is the word for talking, derived from ‘rabbit and pork’. Fans of Cockney rebels Chas n’ Dave will no doubt recall their charming ditty on the matter.

Anyhow, it is currently fifty years since the publication of one of the world’s most beloved children’s books – Watership Down, by Richard Adams. To celebrate this fact, the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow is hosting an academic conference on the novel. Ponying the Slovos decided to examine the invented language, Lapine, attributed to the plucky rabbits of Adams’s creation.

What we found was inevitably very interesting. We found that Watership Down features an extensive linguistic topography, including not only the rabbit language, which features also in an extensive glossary prepared by Adams, but also a ‘hedgerow patois’ spoken as a form of common creole by all creatures, and implicitly other species-specific languages too.

We also discovered that Adams’s linguistic creation, Lapine, was not as fully realised as other seminal art-languages such as Tolkien’s languages or even Burgess’s anti-language, Nadsat. Nevertheless, like elements of Elvish or Nadsat, some terms from Lapine actually entered human popular culture briefly.

There’s a lot more too, but if you want to discover why Kehaar the gull sounds like he has German and Jamaican parentage, you’ll have to attend our paper at the conference this weekend.

The Aesthetics of Anthony Burgess

Just a brief plug for this book which is authored by one of the investigators on the Ponying the Slovos project.

Though it doesn’t directly address issues of invented languages, as the first text on Anthony Burgess’s fiction in a generation, it may well be of interest to those who enjoy and study his work.

How do you order a pizza in Dothraki?

We thought we’d share the symposium press release here on the blog too.




Researchers from three continents will gather in Coventry later this month to discuss invented languages.

Scholars from as far afield as India, Italy and the United States will convene at Coventry University on the 18th March to debate the curious process of translating invented languages.

With an estimated 5,000 existing natural languages on the planet, the idea of creating new ones can seem alien (and indeed, one of the main sources of invented languages historically has been Science Fiction.) However, amateur linguists have for centuries attempted to invent their own languages, sometimes with the intention of ‘perfecting’ natural languages, other times with the aim of simplifying them for learners, and occasionally just for the sheer fun of creating a way of communicating differently.

Evert since J.R.R. Tolkien invented a whole imaginary world to justify his compulsive creation of languages like Elvish, as seen in the Lord of the Rings movies, writers have been at the forefront of language creation. In some instances, as with George Orwell’s Newspeak from 1984, these languages have been created to convey the dangers of allowing political ideologies to control communication.

A team of researchers based at Coventry University and the University of Birmingham have now come together to examine what happens when an invented language is translated. Using Nadsat, the teen slang from Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, they hope to discover what happens during the translation process.

“The great thing about A Clockwork Orange is that it is a classic which has been translated more than fifty times,” explained Dr Jim Clarke who is heading up the research.

“Each time a translator encounters Anthony Burgess’s original novel, they are forced to make crucial decisions about how to translate all these words and ideas from a slang which has never actually existed,” he added.

“This helps us build up a picture of how translation actually happens. By comparing as many translations as possible using cutting edge linguistics techniques, we can see what happens when languages clash with each other.”

At the Ponying the Slovos symposium later this month (the title comes from Nadsat, and means ‘Understanding the Words’), experts in the area of language invention, corpus linguistics and translation studies will gather to discuss not only Nadsat, but also Tolkien’s invented languages, Klingon from Star Trek, Na’vi from the movie Avatar, Orwell’s Newspeak and Dothraki, the language of the fierce horse lords from hit TV series A Game of Thrones.

“Some of these languages have a surprisingly large number of speakers,” said Dr Clarke. “More than 300,000 people own the Klingon dictionary, which suggests that this alien language may have almost as many speakers as Welsh.”


* “Fichas anhaan hadaen anni ki nhizosi.” It literally translates as “Bring me my food by raven.”