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12 Fictional Film and TV Languages You Can Actually Learn

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While many movies, books, and TV shows take place in alien or fantasy worlds, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to speak their fictional languages. Here are 12 that you can start studying right now.

1. NADSAT

In the 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, author Anthony Burgess created the language Nadsat for his teenage characters who used it as slang throughout the book and later in the 1971 movie adaptation. The fictional language is essentially English with some borrowed Russian and Gypsy words and terms, along with childish phrasing. Nadsat is derived from the Russian word for teen; it also borrows from cockney slang and German.

Example: “I read this with care, my brothers, slurping away at the old chai (tea), cup after tass (cup) after chasha (teacup), crunching my lomticks of black toast dipped in jammiwam (jam) and eggiweg (egg).”

2. ELVISH

Before he even started to write The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, author and linguist J.R.R. Tolkien developed the Elvish languages Quenya and Sindarin for Middle Earth. Quenya is the language of the High Elves of Eldamar, while Sindarin was spoken by the Grey Elves of Telerin. Tolkien based Elvish on Finnish and Welsh, along with a few elements of Greek and Latin.

Example: “Êl síla erin lû e-govaned vîn.” — “A star shines on the hour of our meeting.”

3. HUTTESE

Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt created Huttese for Return of the Jedi in 1983. Burtt derived the language from an ancient Incan dialect called Quechua. It’s a fictional language that is mainly spoken by Jabba the Hutt and his species on Tatooine, but many other characters can speak Huttese, such as C-3PO, Anakin Skywalker, and Watto from 1999's Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Example: “Wee now kong bantha poodoo.” — “Now you’re bantha fodder.”

4. KLINGON

Created from only a few words and phrases, Klingon was first used in Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, but it became a full-fledged language five years later for Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. Linguist Marc Okrand created and developed the alien language from words originally made up by actor James Doohan (who played Scotty) in the original film. In 1985, Okrand, who also created the Vulcan language, later wrote The Klingon Dictionary, which includes pronunciation, grammar rules, and vocabulary from the Star Trek alien species. Over the years, many plays from William Shakespeare were translated into Klingon, such as Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing.

Example: “bortaS bIr jablu'DI' reH QaQqu' nay.” — “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

5. MINIONESE

Despicable Me co-director Pierre Coffin created Minionese for the animated movie and its sequels. While the language might sound like gibberish or baby talk, Coffin, who also voices the Minions, borrowed Minionese from other languages, such as Spanish, French, Japanese, Tagalog, Korean, and English.

“I have my Indian or Chinese menu handy. I also know a little bit of Spanish, Italian, Indonesian, and Japanese. So I have all these sources of inspiration for their words,” Coffin told the Los Angeles Daily News. “I just pick one that doesn’t express something by the meaning but rather the melody of the words.”

Example: “Le jori e’ tu” — “For better or worse”

6. PARSELTONGUE

J.K. Rowling created Parseltongue for the Harry Potter book series. It’s the fictional language of serpents and those who can speak it are known as Parselmouths, who are descendants of Salazar Slytherin, with Harry Potter as an exception. Rowling even wrote a user guide to Parseltongue on her website, Pottermore.

7. LAPINE

Author Richard Adams created the fictional language called Lapine in his 1972 novel Watership Down and its sequel Tales from Watership Down. It’s primarily spoken to make the rabbit characters sound more “wuffy, fluffy” and comes from the French word lapin, which means rabbit. "I just constructed Lapine as I went—when the rabbits needed a word for something, so did I," Adams explained during an Reddit AMA.

8. DOTHRAKI

Linguist David J. Peterson developed the Dothraki language for Game of Thrones from George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novel series. He created the language for the nomadic warriors with a combination of Arabic and Spanish sounds, along with Swahili and Estonian. Currently, there are over 3100 Dothraki words. Peterson also wrote Living Language Dothraki: A Conversational Language Course, so Game of Thrones fans could also learn and speak the language.

In 2015, “Khaleesi” Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), the wife of the Dothraki ruler “Khal," was a very popular name for newborn baby girls.

Example: “Dothras Chek!” — “Ride well! Godspeed!”

9. ALIENESE

To give the world of the 31st century more realism and depth, Futurama co-creator David X. Cohen created an alien language called Alienese, which was mainly used as background graffiti and store signs for in-jokes. It was a simple substitution cipher that fans quickly decoded. This forced the writers of Futurama to create another language called Alienese II, which was math-based and more complex to figure out.

10. MONDOSHAWAN

Although it’s referred to as the Divine Language, Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) speaks the Mondoshawan alien language in 1997's The Fifth Element. It’s a limited language with only 300 to 400 words in total that director Luc Besson created. Jovovich had to memorize and refine the language before filming began. By the end of production, Besson and Jovovich were speaking Mondoshawan to each other between takes.

11. ATLANTEAN

Disney hired linguist Marc Okrand (the same linguist who created Klingon for Star Trek) to develop a living language for 2001's Atlantis: The Lost Empire. He made Atlantean as the “mother language” for the animated film’s screenwriters and concept artists. The fictional language was derived from Indo-European words with a mix of Sumerian and North American languages. Okrand created a complex writing and language system with writer's scripts, an Atlantean alphabet, and reader's script for the Disney animated film.

12. NA'VI

James Cameron was developing Avatar for 15 years before it was released in December 2009. While Cameron was developing the filmmaking technology to bring the 3D film to fruition, he also brought on University of Southern California linguist Dr. Paul Frommer to help bring the alien culture of the Na’vi to the big screen. The pair worked for months, creating a language that was a mixture of Ethiopian and New Zealand Māori languages to develop a lexicon with more than 1000 words. Since the release of Avatar, Frommer has continuously added new words and expanded the grammatical rules of Na’vi on his website, so fans could learn to speak the alien language.

“The sound system has to be all nailed down first, so that there is consistency in the language,” said Dr. Frommer. “When you create a language, you experience the joy of rolling sounds around in your mouth, hearing unusual sounds, playing with the sounds and structural properties of language—it’s a process that took about six months for the basics,”

Example: “Oel ngati kameie.” — “I see you.”

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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