‘Non-Translation’: The Aesthetic Effect of Constructed Languages
Lara Wilhelmine Hoffmann
(University of Amsterdam)
Friday (April 21st), 15:45-16:10
Lipsius 147

Is there an aesthetic effect of speech sounds on listeners who don’t know the languages spoken? In works of fiction – such as Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Avatar, and Arrival – constructed languages inherently have an aesthetic function: They contribute to the creation of fictional universes and evoke specific atmospheres. However, do these languages also have an aesthetic effect on listeners when heard outside of the artistic context? 

This paper presents the results of an empirical study on the aesthetic effect of constructed languages. 20 participants with different linguistic repertoires are asked to respond to speech sounds in four Hollywood Languages: Dothraki, Klingon, Na’vi, and Sindarin. Interviews investigate aesthetic word-usage based on open questions as well as on a list of words for describing aesthetic experiences. The preliminary conclusion that can be drawn from this research show that, whilst there is an aesthetic effect of constructed languages on listeners, this aesthetic experience very much depends on the individual encounter between listener and language. This research serves as an introduction to further inquiry into the aesthetics of languages and offers insight into trans-disciplinary language-related research. In my Master’s thesis, the results presented here are combined with theories from translation studies and semiotics in order to explore the aesthetics of ‘non-translation’.