Sound Stories #020 – Inside the Process of Constructing Languages

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    When you tell a story, how important is it that it’s delivered in the language you speak? If you’re a storyteller who is a self-proclaimed word-nerd, you’re going to enjoy this immersion into the world of constructed languages with Dr. Christine Schreyer, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia and the creator of the Kryptonian language for the 2013 film, Man of Steel.

    Christine Schreyer
    http://www.christineschreyer.ca/About_Me.html

    Language Creation Society
    http://conlang.org/

    TRANSCRIPTION SOUND STORIES #020

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Hi there and welcome to another episode of Sound Stories, an inspirational podcast for creative professionals and storytellers who want to improve their lives at home and at work. I’m Stephanie Ciccarelli, your host and cofounder of voices.com.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Storytellers are used to working under constraints, whether that means tight deadlines or within the narrative parameters set by your characters. Now, however, the language we speak and write in is a constraint that frequently flies below the radar. Have you ever stopped to think about how your narrative would change if you spoke Japanese, Spanish, or even Na’vi? Dr. Christine Schreyer is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Canada, where she teaches linguistic anthropology. But not only does Christine study languages, she helps Hollywood to create them. Maybe you’ve heard of Kryptonian or Eltarian. Today, she joins us to discuss the rich storytelling that’s unlocked through constructed languages or conlanging. Welcome to the show.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Thank you.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    It’s such a pleasure to have you on Christine. I first heard about you through an article in the Alumni Gazette through Western University. And to see it coming full circle here, to have this wonderful conversation two years later, is just a real treat for me. So I’d like to ask you about some serious, serious items, like a PhD, for instance. So what is it about linguistic anthropology that piques your curiosity and passion?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    I really love linguistic anthropology because… I love anthropology as a whole because we get to learn about people from all across space and what people are doing in the world and how somebody in Papua New Guinea for example, is living their life, versus how we’re living our lives in Canada. And for me, the linguistic piece of it was always the most interesting, because you can learn so much through how people speak and the words that they use or the kinship system and the terminology in that or how they talk about the land. So it just is a different way, a window into the society and the social structures, and it’s the most interesting piece, in my opinion.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Wow. Well, language means a lot to people. Certainly we have a heart language. We have a language we’re brought up with and so on, but the work that you do is in this world of constructed languages. So I just want to touch on that. Now, how did you first become involved in constructing languages and as you say, conlanging, I think is another term for that?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    That’s right. Yeah, conlanging was put into the Oxford Dictionary in 2010, so it’s fun that other people are now embracing it. I first started getting interested in conlanging teaching my classes, actually, at the University of British Columbia Okanagan. I teach a course on the introduction to linguistic anthropology. And in that course, my students, as they learn about the pieces of linguistics, are tasked with coming up with their own language. So, when we learn about sounds of languages, the students then choose the sounds that they are going to put into their language. And at first, students are extremely daunted by this. And then as they get along in the course, they realize how fun it actually is. And I get numerous, numerous comments talking about why that was their favorite piece of the course. Because they got to apply what they were learning every couple weeks and they get to make gestures and borrow words from other groups. It’s a really fun project.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    That’s when I first started getting involved in constructed languages. And then early on, when I was teaching the course, there was a news article that came out about Na’vi, which is the language that is spoken in Avatar. And I shared that with the students and said, “Look, somebody has made a language for these movies and they’ve been doing that for years. Klingon has been in Star Trek. So, if they can do it for Hollywood, you guys can do it for this class.” And then after that, I went to Papua New Guinea, where I do some of my research and I learned a new language there called Pidgin. So conlangs are also new languages. And so I was interested in the different types of new languages in the world. And then I taught a course more focused on conlangs and new languages that was called Pidgins, Creoles and Created Languages in the fall of 2010. And then things just kind of spiraled from there.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Wow. In Papua New Guinea, correct me if I’m wrong, but they have north of 30 different languages spoken in that small part of the world.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Actually Papua New Guinea is the country with the most languages in the world. There are approximately 860 languages spoken in Papua New Guinea.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Whoa, I totally stand corrected because I knew it was high. Maybe in certain areas it’s like 30 here but when all’s said and done, oh my gosh, over 800 languages in one part of the world there.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Yeah. Most diverse linguistically in the world.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    That’s awesome. As you were saying, there’s various languages that are created, like Klingon from Star Trek, as you mentioned. And I’m just thinking back to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, where you have Elvish and other variety of languages. And people really just love to do this maybe as a hobby or even as a career move. Certainly, you’ve been able to employ your linguistic skills that way too. So your students, I hope they’re part of that Facebook group because I know I’m in it. It’s constructed language. I don’t make them up, but I wanted to learn more. And certainly I have learned a lot because of the work that you’ve done. So how do people even begin a process like a constructed language? How do you make a fictional language?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Well, I try to in my courses, students start with sounds and I want them to realize that they actually can’t just start with sounds because sounds are the building blocks of language. And then you put sounds into words, but you really need to know who is going to be speaking this language. And I want them to realize that. So I never tell them that, but they figure it out pretty quickly when they get to putting the sounds together to make words. And they’re like, “Well, what words do we need? What are these people doing? Where do they live?” And so you really need to think about the people in the world that you’re building, or maybe it’s just a secret language for a society that you’re already a part of, right? Maybe it’s your friends want to have a secret language or maybe it’s, you’re writing a novel and you want to have an alien race that speaks differently.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    And so maybe they have different vocal chords or their mouths are shaped differently and they can’t make all of the sounds. So right away, that’s going to impact the sounds you choose and the types of words you’re going to develop. So really thinking about who will speak this language and why am I making it is the first step for any conlanger.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Wow. Okay. So it does start then with the people group that will be speaking it. So it’s not like the language-

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Yeah, people group or animal group or…

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Anthropomorphic group. Yeah, sure. Yeah, because that was one of my questions for later on and maybe we will touch back on this again, but it’s like, what comes first? It’s like the chicken and the egg. Is it the language or is it the people who speak it? So, that’s fairly insightful.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Yeah. Tolkien was really interesting because he was so interested in what he called the sound aesthetic. And so for him, I think he did focus more on the sounds and then who could match his sounds because he made his languages and then wrote his books. So for him, the world of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit came because he needed a place to put his languages. A lot of people don’t know that actually, but it was. His first passion was always the languages and then the books came later.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Yeah. Well, he was a great professor. I mean, I didn’t study with him, clearly, but I’ve been outside of Merton College and I’ve been to Oxford and love C. S. Lewis and Tolkien and the whole gang there. And just sometimes you create something and then you need to find a place for it to live, which is interesting. That’s one take, but you’re saying that generally, you would typically start with your characters and who you think will be speaking this language and then you construct a language around those people. And certainly that’s kind of what you did when you were tasked with working with the Superman franchise. So, as you’re creating these words, now are you thinking, Christine, about representing a single object or are you trying to capture a whole sentiment?

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Because we’ve spent some time looking up several words that can’t be translated to English. We had a good laugh with that. I think one of them, I can’t remember, it’s a Japanese term, but it means to look worse after having just had a haircut. There’s a word for that, but it’s kind of like, “Oh my gosh.” Sometimes you can incorporate, I forgot to send that to you guys to put in the show notes, but literally one word could have five or six or seven different words within it, or just kind of represent a concept or a feeling or sentiment or something that has happened. But aside from that, it seems that other cultures have a gift for using the one word to encapsulate the whole feeling of… Have you found this to be the case when you’re writing for languages?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    I have done that a bit. It’s a little harder for the work that I’m doing. I know other people who are making languages and who do put really intricate concepts into one single word, but for my work it’s a little bit harder to do because I’m tasked with translating so often. And so I’m given a sentence like, “The four moons of Uda protect him” or whatever it is. And then it’s hard to come up with something that means more like, I guess in that case we did. So like the word for moon also meant I think it was serenity. There was another meaning to moon. It’s been a little while since I looked at that one. I’ve been working on other movie projects. So that’s Kryptonian. But sometimes what’s really interesting is back formations that you make. So if you forget something like, I actually had two different words for thanking people in Kryptonian and one was because I actually forgot and then I had to come up with a reason why there were two that I had made.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    So one was to thank regular people and one was to thank the gods. And so sometimes you have these things where you’re like, “Oh, well I kind of goofed that up, but it’s not suddenly a goof up. I think I’ll run with that. That’s a really cool idea.” So I’ve had things like that happen, but I know in other people who are making their own languages, they definitely want to embrace these intricate concepts. And even the languages, the real natural languages, I shouldn’t say real cause conlangs are real too, but the natural languages I’ve worked with have these concepts that are bigger and hard to translate with just one word in English. They’re more sentences or whatever they are.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    No, that’s awesome. So for those of us who are creating projects that are being used around the world, and I know we’ve mentioned a number of different countries as we’ve been speaking, what does someone have to be aware of when it comes to how the messages can change or be altered because they’re being localized or translated? You’ve just mentioned translation here, but just thinking about everyone who’s listening because I know we have listeners as far away as the Emirates. This podcast is reaching a lot of different ears in different places and time zones. What does someone need to be aware of when they are going to share a message that may be heard in multiple places? And how should that message be changed or localized depending on the audience?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Yeah. I think one of the things to think about is that often translations aren’t word for word. So even if you have a sentence in English that’s eight sentences, it may end up being four words and not to be alarmed by that, because that will still capture the meaning of it. Right? And sometimes the meaning will shift slightly because of the cultural connections that are from a different culture or there might be different words for different types of things that don’t mean exactly the same thing, but being aware that it’s never going to be word for word and different languages will put the verb at the beginning of the sentence, for example, versus at the end or in the middle, like we do. And so just not trying to put it into a box that matches what your original language was. So being flexible and adaptable.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    And I think that gets tricky because sometimes there’s these slight changes of meaning that occur, like weird versus strange in English. And maybe there’s only one word for that in the other language. And so you get this slightly different meaning that occurs. So yeah, just being aware that there are these tricks or confusions that might occur from the translation. Different languages might have different feeling behind words, and so there might be something that comes across or if different characters are speaking in their languages, there might be something that’s coming across versus the main narrative, if it’s in a particular language. Right. So if the story is in English and then characters are speaking in their language, you almost get a sense of more authenticity from them. I know a lot of people have that critique of movies that it’s a Russian movie and they’re all speaking English or it’s an alien movie and they’re all speaking English. So why are we always speaking English? And so adding that can give us a sense of authenticity to the story.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Yeah. And just thinking about how all Romans were British and-

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    A lot of villains are British. Absolutely.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Yeah. That’s interesting.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Yeah. Just adding that extra character to it. Right. A different layer to that character. And so knowing more about that accent and if you’re playing someone from the South, what do you do to your vowels and what do you change even for different accents? Or if you’re British and what do you do with dropping your RS and thinking about that so that you, yourself, as an actor, if you’re playing that person will start feeling more like that person, I think. Right? It’s going to help you get into that worldview and that mindset of the individual.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Right? So obviously there’re little, little quirks here and there where a word might mean something slightly different depending on maybe even the intonation. We know in different languages in the Asian languages and particularly depending on how someone says a word, it could be completely different depending on their tone of voice. Right? So that leads me into the question of just wondering, is there a universal element to all languages? Are there nuances or practices that are distinctly human and not just tied to one region or people group?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    There are things that people call universals of language. And there’s somebody named Charles Hockett who was an anthropologist who looked at what he called design features of language, so what separated human and animal communication. And there are a few different things that are unique to humans, like the ability to be really productive and to take sounds and mix them up as much as possible and animals don’t try to do that. And all human languages has a range of sounds that get mixed. Some of them have huge ranges of sounds that are included in their languages. And others have less like Hawaiian is actually really known for having few sounds in it. And then you get these more complex ones. So, that practice is considered a universal. I’m trying to think if there’s other things, there are what people call universal features, but not all of languages have those.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    And so the communication aspect, the fact that languages are abstract in general, that the word for chair has nothing to do with the thing that is actually a chair. It doesn’t look like a chair. It doesn’t sound like chair. So that abstractness of language is generally universal. Then we do get things like onomatopoeia, where we have words that sound like the sounds. They are like splish and splash, and buzz and stuff like that. And almost every language will have those as well. It’s just interesting trying to find them. I just found, I was working with another language here in British Columbia called Secwepemctsín, which is also known as Shuswap. And I was looking for onomatopoeia in their words and the word sneeze in that language is apse, which sounds to me like achoo. It sounds like a sneeze.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Oh, that’s perfect.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Yeah, which sneeze doesn’t really sound like sneeze in English, but other languages will have different types of onomatopoeia. So it’s really interesting.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Wow. I know you’ve done a lot of work in Papua New Guinea and you did reference that earlier. So can you tell us a bit about the work that you’re doing there?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Sure. So the project that I’m working on there is with a group of speakers called the Kala language. The language is spoken in six different villages in the Morobe province of Papua New Guinea. They’re coastal people. And there are four different dialects of those six villages. So the three southern villages speak one dialect and then each of the northern villages speak different dialect. So for example, the word for turtles in the southern villages is do. In one of the Northern villages it’s zo and the next one is za And then in the next one, it’s sa. So things change as you move across from south to north. It’s not that far. It’s about two hours by boat, motor boat between them. And so originally in 2010, I went with my colleague, John Wagner, and a student of mine, Chara Devolder. And the project was to help develop an alphabet for the language so that the people could teach it in their elementary schools.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Papua New Guinea at the time had a policy that all of their indigenous mother tongues could be taught in school for the first three years and then bridge into English because studies have shown, if you go to school in your mother tongue, you will do better later on when you transition to another language. Unfortunately, that policy has changed. We did end up making an alphabet. The committee chose the symbols. So I suggested ideas for how to represent their sounds based on the Roman alphabet, similar to the English alphabet with some adaptations. And then they chose which ones they wanted to use, and then we made a dictionary after that. So this time when we were there, we were documenting environmental knowledge, more explicitly, particularly the marine environment, so words for the ocean and all of the pieces of the ocean and the things that live in the ocean as well as their rivers in their territory.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    And we’re developing an environmental encyclopedia, which will be in Kala, their language, as well as English and an expanded dictionary because the one we made in 2012 was quite small, as well as a new sketch grammar for people to help them understand the structure of the language. Part of what we’ve been doing this last time too, in 2006, my colleague John Wagner, did a study of looking at how much language shift had occurred from the Pakala language to Tok Pisin, and then we were doing a followup study of that 10 years later. So we were asking all the villages like, “Do the children still speak Kala here, or are they speaking more Pidgin?” And some of them had already been speaking in Pidgin and how much more has come in since then, and which generations are now almost fully in Pidgin versus in Kala. And so that was a big focus of our project as well.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    And so absolutely looking at language revitalization and language maintenance is a major part of my work. And part of why I find conlanging really interesting is because when I was working with the Na’vi speakers. I did a study of Na’vi speakers in 2011 and those are the people who are learning the language from Avatar. And I asked them about why they were learning Na’vi. I just was really curious about that because there had been media stories reporting that thousands of people were learning Na’vi in a very quick period of time. And I kept wondering, “Well, if they can learn Na’vi so quickly, how are they doing it? And why are they doing that instead of looking at these languages that are endangered?” And I got all of these replies that the community was so welcoming and it was an online community. And so I got really interested in how these online fandoms could be models for endangered language communities. And a lot of my work has focused on that since that time.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Well, that’s amazing. I love that because there are a lot of indigenous languages that are frankly endangered, not a lot of speakers left, but it’s just so interesting to know that you could take something that’s like, wow, this fandom idea of “We love to speak Na’vi because we feel like we’re part of a community.” If you can take that and use it in a powerful way to preserve languages that are actually spoken and to have a whole history and thousands of years of being spoken then that’s really something to celebrate.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Yeah. So I also work with endangered language communities in Canada. For my PhD, I worked with a Cree community in Northern Alberta on the Loon River Cree. And I’ve also worked with the Taku River Tlingit. And one of the ideas that came out of the Na’vi research from there was to build a website and actually their language revitalization work has really focused on names for the land and resources and learning about how to respect the land and be a steward of the land at the same time as learning their language because the two, they really see them as connected. And so we developed this Taku River Tlingit place names website, and you can find it by Googling that, and you can go and it’s a website and you can read stories from elders and you can click on a map and see different names of places that are Tlingit.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    And then what is found there in terms of it like, can you get moose there or fish? And it was tied. For my PhD work, I actually helped develop a Tlingit language board game. And then this website has kind of developed from that. And so you can use it as a tool to play the board game. So that’s another piece of what I’ve been working on and we kind of set up the forums and the way that the website works very similar to how the Learn Na’vi website had been set up as well.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    That’s amazing. So we’ve mentioned different cultures and times and places and language and how it all fits together. But if you were trying to create a language for a certain time and place, what would you need to be aware of when structuring that language so that it comes across as authentic in its environment and believable?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    I guess what the words would be at the time. Right. So if you’re trying to do something that’s from early history, there’s probably not going to be words for computers or cars or thinking about those types of things. Right? One of the things that people often think about as well, and this is something that people really like to play with, especially those people who are developing conlangs for themselves for purposes, they like to push the boundaries of what language can do. So there are people who will make languages without verbs. Right? So you can be experimental or maybe there’s no adjectives, or there’s no way to add emphasis, being aware of the diversity of how language works in general, getting a little bit of a background on types of languages or learning about different languages will help you figure out what is the best one for this particular space and time.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    And so one of the things that I did for Kryptonian was I first heard this story when I first went to set and met with the production designer, Alex McDowell. He told me the story of the Man of Steel remake that they were doing of Superman and he talked about how Krypton was going to explode and they’d been very selfish and all the resources were depleted. And so I took that into consideration when I was thinking about the sentence structure, actually. So they’ve been very selfish and they were very me me me centric. And so I put the subject first and then they had also had this long association with their objects. They wrote everything. There was writing all over the set of Man of Steel. And so they would write the history of who had owned robots and the history of the people all over things.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    And so the objects came next, and then the verb as compared to English, which goes subject verb object. So I kind of rearranged the sentence structure based on this idea of what the culture was like at the time. So considering those types of things will help add emphasis or change the way you think about the language and the people who are speaking it.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    So the words often come before the language as a whole, I think, and you’ve kind of emphasized that, too, but it really depends on the culture of those characters. And as you said, if the general consensus among these individuals is that they are a gruff people or that they’re really short tempered, I should say, then their language will reflect that, the way that they speak and how they engage with others. And the briskness of the words perhaps will reflect that too and that’s really interesting.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    One of the things that, Klingon is kind of seen as the most wonderful example of this in pop culture, because it’s been around for so long and the Klingon culture is so gruff and aggressive and the language really emphasizes that. Marc Okrand used sounds from the back of the throat to make it sound harsher. And he changed the sentence structure. So it’s something that is extremely rare in human languages, but objects come first, which hardly ever happens. David Peterson has done this with Game of Thrones, with the Dothraki language as well. The types of sounds and the words and the construction of it make it also fits that culture very well.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    And even just even accents, I’m just thinking to the UK and the very lilting lovely sort of like, I can only imagine that totally influenced Tolkien. It must have, just the way that the Elvish language comes across and you really do take into account just the attributes of the people, even their climate, right, where they are and their history and their approach, a general view of how life is. So that’s really fascinating, but I understand that your work, obviously, as we’ve been talking, is taking you to Hollywood and Kryptonian being one of those languages and you’re working on more projects, no doubt, but I don’t know if you have a nondisclosure agreement or anything, so maybe we can’t go into those.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Well, one of them has already come out. So I can talk about that one. I was also, recently Power Rangers just came out. I’ve done Power Rangers. And so there’s, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but the beginning scene has an alien language in it. And then in the middle of, so the Power Rangers are aliens, they’re from a world called Eltar. And so I developed the Eltarian language for the Power Rangers movie actually. So I got to work with Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks, teaching them the language so that they could have it on screen. So Bryan Cranston was Zordon, who’s the ranger who is seen in the beginning of the movie. And then he’s in the wall directing the new Power Rangers. And then Elizabeth Banks is Rita Repulsa. She’s the villain. So they both had to learn a little bit of Eltarian for the movie.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    So when you are creating a language for an environment like film, obviously there’s going to be so many people watching, like millions upon millions of viewers, is there anything special that you take into account when you create a language for film?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Definitely. So one of the things is the sounds that are included. And so for Kryptonian I actually looked at what was available. I wasn’t sure, I knew that I’d been invited to work with the art department. And so I didn’t know if it was just going to be spoken, but I made it as if it would be spoken. And there were some scenes that were filmed that were including spoken Kryptonian, but it was at a late juncture in the film. And so they didn’t end up making it into the movie. So there isn’t actually anything spoken, but I did consider that because I knew that actors might have troubles with really non-English sounds. And so I wanted to make sure that it was something they were able to do. The other thing is length of words. You don’t want to have things that are quite long as actors are going to be speaking with them.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    So thinking about who the actors are in that case, if you’re working for a Hollywood production or something else where you know that will end up speaking it for whatever project you’re working on, considering not only the culture of those characters, but the actual actors is something important to think about as well.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    So how did you create languages for those Power Ranger characters that help the audience to get a sense of their persona or background?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    For Power Rangers I also had a really great consultation process with Dean Israelite, the director, and Melissa Flores, who is from Saban, which is the creator of the Power Rangers. Dean was one of the most interested directors. He had a lot of thoughts and feelings about how the language should be constructed. And he really wanted sounds that were more ancient. So things like that would have come from Greek or Aramaic or whatever, some guttural sounds. And he was very interested in that where the Saban consultant gave me ideas about the culture, because she knew a lot about the history. And so she talked about how they were elegant but firm, and they’re not soft spoken, but they’re powerful, but not argumentative sounding. And she said, she reminded me of the Power Rangers motto, “Never escalate the battle,” and how this could be useful. And I also loved that the Power Rangers morph. That’s one of the things they do, they morph into their Zords.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    And so I’ve thought a lot about morphology, which is how words are put together. And so that was one of the things that I considered a lot when I was making this language. So there were a lot of challenging sounds in the language actually. And so if you listen to some of the media from Bill Hader and Bryan Cranston talking about how hard it was to pronounce the sounds, it was because of these ancient ideas of the language, because the Power Rangers were aliens who’d been around for a very long period of time.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    My goodness. And I guess just thinking about what you said about the morphing and that must have had some very interesting side effects, I guess, to the way that those words came out. Was it the same language essentially, it’s just that it came out in a little bit of a different gruff or level of kind of, I guess, urgency or did it sounded bigger or how did that morph? How did your language morph as they physically morphed?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    So it wasn’t English at all. It was very different from English, but it, the words themselves had a lot of pieces that were creating meaning within them. And so they were very full of morphemes. Morphemes are the pieces of words that have meaning like, so if we have the word happy and then we add ness to it, so ness is what’s called a morpheme. So I thought about these like making longer words than I would have typically have done for this particular language. And yeah, there was a lot of different sounds to it. And so it definitely changed. One thing that always happens is that during editing, things morph during editing, right, lines will be cut, lines will be added. So things changed at that point in time as well.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Wow. So I’m guessing people had to come back to do some dubbing in the studio or was it at that stage, like as they were editing, cutting words out or probably some ADR, some looping happened there?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Absolutely. Yeah. So I was Skyped into the ADR session because I got to be on set when Brian was doing his lines. He was on a green screen and then they did outdoor shots. And so I was there helping him learn how to say the words. And then sometimes the line just wasn’t on camera and his mouth wasn’t moving properly or because now it was a new line, right? So changing those lines is always something interesting when that ADR process is happening.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    I was going to say the lip flaps and matching that, that would be really, really tricky. And you couldn’t just pull on any voice artists who actually happened to sound like one of the actors, because then they’d have to learn the language. And that’s a whole other learning curve that you wouldn’t find in English.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    Right. That can also get tricky for sure. The other thing which was really lucky though, is that they wear helmets. So in some cases, it’s a robot and so it doesn’t really matter about its lip movements or they’re wearing the alien Power Rangers helmet. So that was also helpful in terms of some of those issues.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    We just need to ask, because obviously you’re rubbing shoulders, in some ways, with some very high profile people in the work that you do, what was it like to walk in and meet Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    It was really fun actually. They were very lovely. I didn’t actually get to meet Elizabeth Banks in person. I was Skyped in to meet with her while she was in studio, but she was just so chill and relaxed and very calm about doing the language. She was very, yeah, relaxed doing the language where other people might get a little bit nervous. Brian was really funny and he’s such a down to earth guy that it was great meeting him. And at one point they were asking him, “Do you mind if Christine comes to tell you the line?” And he said, “No, if Christine could stand right there where I’m directing my lines, that would be very helpful.” And they had to check to make sure it was okay with him. And he was just really welcoming. And we had to do sound recordings later on together and I was reading the other lines and he was just always really friendly and encouraging. And so it was lovely to meet him.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    I also got to Skype in to his ADR sessions and he’s just such a great actor. His voice is so expressive. So it was wonderful to hear him say my language. It was the first time that my language was spoken on the screen. So I’m really glad that it was Brian Cranston who got to do it.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    That’s fantastic. And I’m just thinking back to, you did obviously the work on Superman and Kryptonian, and there were some very high profile actors there too. And of course, Russell Crowe immediately comes to mind. So what was your level of involvement with these actors? Were you tasked with teaching them? And if so, how did you go about doing that?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    I was, actually. So at first I was working with the art department because they wanted Kryptonian writing on the council chamber’s chairs and in Jor-El’s lab and various places. And so people got really excited though, when they found out this was actually a language and you could speak it. And so I was asked to translate lines that were being shot and filmed with the actors. And I would do that by making an audio recording and then sending that to them, and then being on standby with my cell phone in case Russell Crowe had an emergency on set, trying to say whatever line it was. Unfortunately none of that made it into the final cut because it was kind of mid-film. And it would be a little bit odd, I think, to have Kryptonian spoken in the middle of filming. So I didn’t get to hear Kryptonian spoken in that film, which is why I was very excited to have Eltarian spoken in power Rangers.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Wow. Imagine being on call for Russell Crowe. Not many of us can say that we’ve ever been on call for Russell Crowe. That’s amazing. Thank you for sharing that. Wow. Well, this has been absolutely fascinating, Christine. Now, is there anywhere that people can go to learn more about your work?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    I have my own website. So christineschreyer.ca. There has also been a Kryptonian website. I think it’s kryptonian.info. And that is a website that is produced by another language creator called Darren Doyle. He started developing another Kryptonian, which was based on the symbols found in Smallville back in the time that that show was running. And so Darren has done a historic Kryptonian website now where the previous comic book versions of the language are listed there as well as his work and then as well as the Man of Steel version of Kryptonian. So that’s a great source of info. Otherwise, there are a few videos around where I talk about Kryptonian. There’s not much out there on Eltarian from Power Rangers yet. It came out at the end of March and then I ran away to New Guinea. So perhaps there will be more in the future.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Where can some of our producers and writers and anyone who’s listening here who wants to make a constructive language? Where is the place that they should go to get kind of the kind of outline or guideline, if you will, for how they should go about creating their own language?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    That’s a great question. And there are a few different resources that are available. One of them is the Language Creation Society, and there’s a website for them. You can Google them and they have a group of people who’ve been making languages for numerous, numerous years. They have a biannual conference. There’s actually the Language Creation Conferences running in Calgary, Alberta, this year at the University of Calgary. I’m one of the co-hosts with a linguistic student, a PhD student named Joey Windsor. And we’re actually premiering our conlanging film there. Mark Okrand, who made Klingon, Paul Frommer, who made Na’vi, David Peterson, who made the languages from Game of Thrones, as well as many, many other things, and David Salo, who is the Tolkien linguist for The Lord of the Rings movies, and then our director, Brennan Watkins, and our editor, Josh Feldman. And so we’re very excited to be having our premiere talking about how people have begun to make languages and the documentary film coming up soon.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    And the other thing that I would suggest is David Peterson’s book The Art of Language Invention, and he has made this wonderfully funny book on how to start from the very beginning and move on to learn about making languages. So those are my two suggestions, the Language Creation Society, as well as David Peterson’s book.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Oh, that’s awesome. If you have any parting words, some advice that you would give to someone who’s about to do this just from your own experience, how could you encourage them right now?

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    I would say have fun with it. It’s so fun. One of the things I love most about this side part of my career is that it’s fun. It’s an escape from reality. You get to play with different ideas and concepts and ways of thinking about the world. And it’s a wonderful tool to have at your fingertips. When you start getting into it, you can think about things in such different ways. I think it will help you in other parts of your life, but also, don’t get frustrated if you’re trying to put sounds together and it’s not working. Tolkien worked on this for years and years, and so has many other really successful conlangers so don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t go smoothly right away and just keep at it. And there are so many people online who are willing to help out and give you advice. So look for those people. They are out there and they’re willing to help.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Oh, fantastic. Well, thank you so much for being on the show, Christine.

    Dr. Christine Schreyer:

    It was my pleasure.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Thank you for tuning in and if you haven’t already done so, I’d like to invite you to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, as well as give us a rating. We love hearing from you and gathering your feedback. Once again, I’m your host, Stephanie Ciccarelli, and I hope you can join us for our next Sound Stories podcast.

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