Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

The Language of the Time Lords: A linguistic study on the effect of invented languages on the social hierarchy of fandom communities

The Language of the Time Lords: A linguistic study on the effect of invented languages on the social hierarchy of fandom communities

Cory Taylor

Constructed languages or conlangs are consciously created for many reasons, including the exploration of new ideas, finding an alternative way to communicate or to connect with others. This connection is also a reason why many people join fan communities, places where many of these conlangs are used. BBC’s “Doctor Who” is a popular television show that is celebrated within some of these fandoms. The language of the main character’s home planet is Gallifreyan, seen at various points throughout the show. Although seen in written form, Gallifreyan has never been contextualized within the show. The first objective of this paper was to establish why and how conlangs are created, done through a review of the literature already published on the subject. The second was to examine why conlangs are learned by fans and the third was to determine how knowing a conlang affects the social standing of members of fandom communities. These two objectives were accomplished through a survey, posted on various blogs and received 315 responses. The respondents were asked about their age, gender and whether they had heard of Gallifreyan. Additionally, respondents were asked why they thought people learned conlangs and if they thought learning a conlang positively or negatively affected their social standing within their fandom community. The majority of respondents stated that people learned conlangs because it is fun and it immerses them further in their fictive world. Additionally, respondents felt that learning a conlang positively affected one’s social standing within a fandom community.

April 2, 2018 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Reblogged this on eclectic haze.

    Comment by eclectic haze | April 10, 2018 | Reply

  2. Did any of your respondents say that they’ve attempted to speak Gallifreyan? And I wonder if they’ve learned it through similar websites, blogs, videos, or created their own symbols…Definitely interested to read this!

    Comment by Haley Scott | April 16, 2018 | Reply

    • Actually no, none of them did! I’m not sure how one would even go about speaking the language, though I am sure someone will likely try in the future. Since there is no Gallifreyan encyclopedia and the BBC has not integrated it into the show’s context, there are only informal dictionaries, translation websites (similar to Google Translate) and personal blogs that fans post on with new ideas for characters.

      Comment by Cory Taylor | April 20, 2018 | Reply

    • I think it would be nearly impossible for someone to speak Gallifreyan and it would sort of go against the nature of the show to do so. The T.A.R.D.I.S. automatically translates any written/spoken language other than those that are too old for it to translate (as I recall, there was only one episode where this was the case, other than written Gallifreyan).

      Comment by Samantha Spolarich | April 23, 2018 | Reply

  3. The creation of languages fascinates me. I don’t know if you got this far into it but once the hierarchy is established in the fandom who has the authority to continue the creation of the language?

    Comment by Craig Meiners | April 17, 2018 | Reply

    • Your reply only makes me want to read this paper more, and then hope that someone attempts to answer your question.

      Comment by Jami | April 20, 2018 | Reply

    • I was not able to get that far in depth with my analysis, though it does sound interesting!

      Comment by Cory Taylor | April 20, 2018 | Reply

  4. While I haven’t watch any of the new iterations of Doctor Who and have little recollection of Gallifreyan, the question of social hierarchy of language use in fandom is reason enough to want to read this paper.

    Comment by Jami | April 20, 2018 | Reply

  5. As you know, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your paper. Initially my interest in your paper was due to the subject being Doctor Who. As I read the paper, however, I realized how interesting it would be to anyone who belongs to any fandom because of the way you explore what it means to be part of a fandom in general and how doing things, like learning invented languages, can impact your role within the community.

    Comment by Samantha Spolarich | April 23, 2018 | Reply

    • Thanks Sam! There are a lot of books already published on the topic of fandoms and comic conventions so I was able to use those to enhance my analysis. I was surprised that most had been published within the last decade or so and they included a lot of interviews from attendees.

      Comment by Cory Taylor | April 23, 2018 | Reply

  6. Though I am not caught up on Doctor Who, I enjoyed learning about your topic of invented languages as it pertains to the show. Also, in terms of hierarchy I wonder (from a broader perspective) if some invented languages from similar shows are more popular or provide a higher social status within the fandom community (i.e. Dothraki from Game of Thrones)?

    Comment by Kelsey Mckoy | April 26, 2018 | Reply

    • Since I did not study that aspect of fandom communities in this paper, I cannot provide hard data to support this comment but based on my experience, there are definitely languages that are more popular than others. The feeling I was getting from my survey was that as long as you are using the conlang “for good” and not using it to put down others or things of that nature than it positively impacts your social standing within that fandom community. Perhaps it is similar to people who are bilingual in more than one natural language are viewed socially?

      Comment by Cory Taylor | April 26, 2018 | Reply

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