Conlangs in the landscape of localization


Localization relies heavily on understanding the nuances of language. But what if the target audience speaks a language that doesn’t naturally exist in our world? Conlangs possess complex grammar, vocabulary, and sometimes even writing systems, thus presenting multiple challenges when it comes to translation. Let’s see how these constructed words influence the way we approach localization.

What are conlangs?

Conlangs, short for constructed languages (also known as artificial languages/auxiliary/planned languages and glossopoeia), are languages that are artificially created rather than having naturally evolved over time. These languages can be developed for various purposes, including artistic, cultural, or even for practical communication within specific communities.

You may have heard of Esperanto, currently the most widely spoken and studied constructed international auxiliary language. It was developed by Polish-Jewish ophthalmologist and linguist L. L. Zamenhof in the late 19th century with the goal of becoming a universal second language. Despite its success, it has not.

Today, conlangs are more often created for fictional worlds, such as in literature, film, or television. They can be designed to add depth to fictional cultures, enhance the storytelling experience, or serve as a form of artistic expression. Notable examples of conlangs include J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish languages (Quenya and Sindarin), Klingon from Star Trek, Dothraki and Valyrian from Game of Thrones, and Na’vi from Avatar.

Are conlangs used in localization?

Although not common, conlangs can be used in the localization process, especially when the original content features fictional languages that are integral to the narrative or cultural context. In movies and TV shows where characters speak fictional languages, localization may include translating and adapting the conlangs to suit the linguistic and cultural nuances of the target audience.

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In video games, especially those set in fictional worlds with unique languages, conlangs are often used to enhance the gaming experience. Localization efforts include translating dialogue, subtitles, and other text elements that involve conlangs to ensure players in different regions can fully understand and immerse themselves in the game.

Novels, comics, or other literary works that involve conlangs may require localization when being translated into different languages. Translators work to convey the meaning, tone, and cultural aspects of the conlangs in a way that resonates with readers in the target language.

The challenges of localizing conlangs

Localizing conlangs may sound like fun, but these fascinating languages present multiple challenges compared to natural languages.

Limited speaker base

Conlangs are spoken by a limited number of people, sometimes only within the context of a particular book, movie, or TV series. The Language Creation Society estimates there are less than 194,000 conlang speakers (statistics based off eight conlangs) worldwide. This limited speaker base may pose challenges in finding qualified translators who are proficient in both the conlang and the target language.

Lack of established rules

Unlike natural languages with well-defined rules and grammar, conlangs may lack the depth and consistency needed for effective localization. Translators might need to work closely with the creators to establish guidelines and rules for translating the conlang into different languages.


Conlangs, by their nature, are unique and often created for fictional worlds or specific cultural contexts. Translators and localization experts may face difficulties in finding equivalent expressions or understanding the nuances of these invented languages.

Overcoming the challenges of localizing conlangs

Ideally, when localizing conlangs, you’d work directly with the person who created the conlang. They can provide insights into the cultural context, intended meaning behind specific words, and the overall feel of the language. Unfortunately, for many of these languages, this is simply not possible.

A comprehensive glossary that defines conlang terms and their cultural significance would be an invaluable tool for translators. The reference guide helps ensure consistency and maintain the intended meaning.

However, a literal translation might not always be the best approach. Localizers should prioritize conveying the intended meaning and emotional impact of the text, even if it requires adapting the wording or finding cultural equivalents.

Wrapping up

While conlangs have captivated us with their intricacy and creativity, they have yet to become commonplace in localization. Unlike natural languages with established communities of speakers, conlangs often lack widespread recognition and usage beyond their original contexts. However, the potential for conlangs to gain popularity in the future is significant due to the growing demand for diverse forms of expression in media, entertainment, and communication.

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