Lights! Camera! Conlang? An investigation of the indexical relationship between constructed languages and characterisation in science-fiction and fantasy telecinematic media

Bridget Moloney is a recent linguistics graduate of the University of Sydney who received First Class honours for her research on telecinematic fictional languages. Her interest in the area emerged out of a lifelong love of both languages, and science-fiction and fantasy media. With the feeling that a sociological phenomenon was at play and a lack of existing research on conlangs to help guide her inquiry, she sought to fill the gap herself. Despite having spent a year intimately acquainting herself with all things conlang, she has never attempted to make one herself.

This thesis investigates conlangs and their role in characterisation in contemporary science-fiction and fantasy film and television. The work is under-pinned by a multi-method approach, involving a survey of the current state of the art, and a case study of five telecinematic conlangs. The findings indicate conlangs to be used much like other forms of linguistic variation in visual media: to index certain ideas or features about its speakers. These investigations inform our understanding of the mechanisms (especially phonological) by which constructed languages can index character, and moreover, the potential for conlangs—as an increasingly salient form of linguistic variation in visual media—to inform our ideas and perceptions of foreign languages and their speakers.

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