The past 3 years of my life have been spent pursuing my M. A. degree part-time at Signum University. I’m getting a degree in Literature and Language with an emphasis in Imaginative Literature (Science Fiction and Fantasy). Part of my degree includes a requirement of two language classes. This past spring I had the opportunity to take my first language course, and boy did I pick a doozie–Language Invention through Tolkien. This is by far the most challenging class and one of the most fascinating classes I’ve taken thus far in my grad school career.
While I was fully expecting to get a crash course in philology and Elvish from my professor and Tolkien Scholar, Dr. Andy Higgins. What I was not expecting was to learn a particularly fascinating tidbit about some classic retro children’s television–Land of the Lost. While Sid and Marty Krofft were out breaking ground in innovative children’s programming with their life-size, colorful puppetry and mystical fantasy worlds, they also set a new standard for science fiction and fantasy television and film. Land of the Lost has the distinction of being the first television series to invent a language specifically for a TV show. The language of Paku, spoken by the Pakumi people, was invented by UCLA professor of linguistics, Dr. Victoria Fromkin. Not only is this the first art language invented for television, it is the first instance of a television show hiring a professional linguist to develop a language for television.
All of this was fascinating to me for many reasons.
1). Who does that for a kid’s show, especially in the 1970s?
2). I also had to ask–“Wait a minute, didn’t Klingon come first?”
Before I could fact check my professor, he stopped me in my tracks. (Really kids, 99% of the time, you shouldn’t have to fact check your professors; I just have a big ego). Land of the Lost aired from 1974-1976. The first instance of spoken Klingon occurred in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), where Mark Lenard introduced a few key phrases; however, the Klingon language did not reach its final form until Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) when linguist Marc Okrand was brought in to fully develop the tongue of our favorite warrior race.
There you have it, Retroids, the first invented language for television wasn’t Klingon, it was Paku. You can now pull this fascinating bit of trivia out of your pocket at parties to impress your friends, or you can take a look at these helpful links to teach yourself Paku!
The next time you watch a science fiction/fantasy show with an invented language, raise your glass to Professor Victoria Fromkin, and of course, Sid and Marty Krofft. Without them, some of our favorite shows and films would be a little less fun. Until next time,