From Cult Texts to Authored Languages: Fan Discourse and the Performances of Authorship – Karolina Agata Kazimierczak

‘If the Author is Dead, Who’s Updating Her Website?’, asks provocatively a Harry Potter fan in the title of her article published in an online fanzine (Angua 2006). And in this short sentence she seems to encapsulate the whole tradition of literary criticism, from Barthes’ famous pronouncement of the death of the author (1967), Foucault’s concept of the author-function (1977) and Derrida’s notion of the absence of the subject in writing (1977), to various contemporary interpretations of authorship as collective or dispersed (Bennett 2005), debating over the problematic position of the author and the complex interplay of his/her presence/absence within a text. What she also alludes to in this catchy phrased title is the no less problematic position of the author in the sensibilities and discourse of fandom.

Fandom has often been pictured as concerned with the issue of authorship (Cf. Fiske 1992, Jenkins 1992, Hills 2002). Within fan culture literature this preoccupation takes form as a twofold phenomenon: on one hand celebrating the author as a Great Creator, an almost godlike figure, on the other subverting the author’s position, poaching on his/her territory, usurping his/her rights not only in the figurative sense of creative re-reading, but also in the most literal one of copyright infringement. And in Matt Hills’ argument this preoccupation with ‘auterism’, coupled with the lack of narrative closure and creation of an elaborate narrative reality, becomes a defining characteristic of any ‘cult’ text (2002, 133-137). In the cases of two popular texts, which have both generated some very influential media franchises – Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings – this concern with the author’s persona (and perhaps also a certain ‘cult’ status) seems to curiously extend beyond the domain of media texts into linguistic field, encompassing the ‘fictional’ languages that originated in these texts: the Klingon language created by professional linguist Marc Okrand and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elvish languages respectively. Although created as a part of the fictive contexts, these languages attracted attention and fan following matching the cultural impact of their source-texts, and became inspiration for scholarly debates, as well as for attempts at creative and practical uses. They also gave rise to large and vivid communities interested in their study, use and development, and to rich multifaceted cultures generating a great diversity of discourses, practices, texts and artefacts. In the midst of this multitude of fan activities, Elvish and Klingon languages remain perceived as the works of their creators, Marc Okrand and J.R.R. Tolkien, as the ‘authored languages’.

In this paper, while looking at the various texts generated by Klingon and Elvish fans and users, I will attempt to picture their complex relationship to the personae of the authors of these languages and reconstruct the visions of authorship that emerge from their discursive practices. In particular, I will try to uncover how the notion of authorship informs and influences Klingon and Elvish users’ understanding of the legal context of their activities, as well as their attempts at establishing and sustaining the canon or standard of those languages.

–  –  –
It seems safe to observe that Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings, the texts in which Klingon and Elvish languages originated, have acquired a status of ‘cult’ objects, both in a common sense understanding and in Hills’ interpretation. They have attracted a significant fan following, inspiring numerous practices of fandom: fan fiction and artwork, conventions and collecting. They brought to life vast and detailed textual universes, but ones still open to readers’ creativity. They gave rise to enormous popularity and ‘iconic’ status for the men recognised as the authors and Creators of these fantastic worlds. I would like to argue here that a similar ‘cult’ status might be easily attached to the languages associated with these texts, the languages created by J.R.R. Tolkien and Marc Okrand.

These languages, through the links with their ‘cult’ source-texts, but also in their own right as constructed languages, appear to display the qualities that Hills attributes to ‘cult’ objects. They defer to the much elaborated textual realities of the Star Trek universe and Middle-earth and are inflected by broader contexts of the fictive cultural environments of ‘the immortal Elves’ on one side, and warlike Klingons on the other. They can also be considered as open systems: firstly, because of their status as constructed languages with limited vocabulary, uncertain grammatical structure and lack of ‘native’ speakers; secondly, because language is never a closed system. Finally, and most importantly in view of the argument of this paper, these languages are most certainly perceived by their fans and users through a lens of their creators’ personae.

That the languages should be seen as authored, and authored by an individual, appears to be problematic. Writing about aesthetic qualities of language, Tolkien compares it to a work of art created by nameless artists (1983, 190). These artists are of course the language users, for language comes into being and continues its existence through the community of its speakers. But what can be said of so-called constructed languages, created in the imagination of an individual and lacking the support of a broader community? Are they to be judged as the property of their inventors, their authors’ private idioms? Saussure’s remarks on the inevitable mutability of all languages, also those constructed, seem to question the vision of the language inventor’s authority, while pointing at the virtual impossibility of controlling the dissemination, use and subsequent transformation of any artificial idiom (1966, 71).

But the question of the authorship of language goes beyond these considerations of the (im)possible control that the language creator executes (or fails to execute) over his/her linguistic creation. It reaches right to the heart of the discussion of a private/social character of language, exemplified by Wittgenstein’s famous paradox of a private language, of which ‘the individual words […] are to refer to what can only be known to the person speaking; to his [or her] immediate private sensations. So another person cannot understand the language’ (1967, par. 243). As Wittgenstein observes, such a purely private idiom is an impossibility. Since languages operate on the basis of social consensus, the individuals as ‘socialised’ members of the community are, in fact, unable to express any of their experience otherwise than through socially constructed meanings. Sarah Higley uses this argument to voice and refute the critics aimed against the creators of constructed languages. ‘His [Wittgenstein’s] is a critique of solipsism, a charge often directed at language inventors’ she observes, and goes on immediately to explain: ‘But very few conlangers that I have encountered are making private languages in Wittgenstein’s sense, because most of them are interested in investing their private words with public meaning, even when they are doing it privately’ (Higley 2000). Although Higley does not refer further to Wittgenstein’s writing, her vision of private words ‘privately invested’ with public meaning, seems reminiscent of the philosopher’s concept of ‘language games’. It invokes the complexity of the interplay between the private and social within language: on one hand bound by the convention – the rule or the grammar – on the other hand constantly redefined in the action of following the rule, in its use in the multitude of individual utterances. In this view language, be it ‘natural’ or ‘constructed’, appears at once as a collective creation of the broader community and as a work of individual authorship.

Elvish and Klingon languages, as parts of broader textual creations and in their own right, are perceived as the works of two individuals: J.R.R. Tolkien and Marc Okrand. This seems to account for the actuality of Roland Barthes’ thesis that readers’ of texts (and languages) need and desire the figure of the author, or maybe that of the Creator. Within Tolkien and Klingon fandom this desire has been expressed through the complex discussions of authorial rights and authorial canon. What also have been expressed in those discussions are the echoes of the tensions between the private words and their social meanings, between singular and collective (or dispersed) authorship of a text, and of a language. In the discursive practices of Tolkien and Klingon fans the author is being performed: celebrated, contested, overruled, and reinstated in his/her authority, but always present.
–  –  –
If the issue of the authorship of language appears to be ambiguous or problematic, the same observation would certainly apply to the notion of language as protected by the copyright law. Nonetheless, the question of authorial rights seems to have a great influence over the activities of both Elvish and Klingon users. An analysis of online resources indicates that members of these communities are aware of the legal complexities surrounding the use of the fictional languages, which form a part of the broader literary and cinematic creations. In other words, they seem to be aware that their interest in these languages may fall into conflict with the interests of copyright holders, such as the publishing companies (HarperCollins Publishers, The Tolkien Estate) and media networks (Paramount, New Line Cinema). This awareness results in the habit of addressing the issue of copyright explicitly in various fan publications.

Many web pages devoted to the Klingon language and/or culture incorporate some form of acknowledgment of copyrights to the Star Trek trademark. These legal notices vary in length and formality. While the home site of the Klingon Language Institute ( uses an official statement to present its legal status:

The Klingon Language Institute is a nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation and exists to facilitate the scholarly exploration of the Klingon language and culture. Klingon, Star Trek, and all related marks are Copyrights and Trademarks of Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved. Klingon Language Institute Authorized User (my emphasis),

The Imperial Klingon Expeditionary Forces web page ( limits its declaration to the essential point: ‘Star Trek is owned by Paramount Pictures, no infringement intended’. Interestingly, copyright acknowledgements appear to be less frequent among Elvish users. From the Tolkien-related web sites included in this study only two – Gwaith-i-Phethdain ( and the site of Tengwestië (, the online journal of the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship – published such legal statements:

Copyright of all material submitted is retained by the author or artist. All quotations from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien or Christopher Tolkien are copyrights of their Publishers and the Tolkien Estate. All other material is © Gwaith-i-Phethdain (my emphasis)

Quotations from the works of J.R.R. or Christopher Tolkien are the copyright of their publishers and/or the Tolkien Estate, and are used here with their kind permission. The word TOLKIEN is a registered trademark of The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Limited. The characters and scripts of Tolkien’s invented languages and works in those languages are the copyright of the Tolkien Estate.

It may appear that the awareness of legal matters underlying the use of fictional languages, such as Klingon, is more strongly represented by Klingon fans and users. One might wonder, however, if a ritual application of copyright disclaimers (a common characteristic of fan fiction and artwork) indicates a detailed understanding of legal issues, or alternatively a habit developed among traditional media fandom threatened and often prosecuted by the television networks and copyright owners for unauthorised re-use of their favourite texts. At this stage of analysis it is hard to determine a level of actual knowledge of the relevant regulations among Klingon fans. It seems probable, though, that their legal expertise would vary and would be, perhaps, influenced by such factors as institutional affiliation, organisational status or seniority. Irrespective of these possible differences, it appears clear that the awareness of copyright issues is a common feature among Klingon users. And it could be assumed that such awareness has its source precisely in the earlier experiences of Star Trek media fandom. This last observation could account for the more limited frequency of copyright disclaimers on Elvish-oriented sites. The difference in attitudes of Tolkien fans and Klingon users could be connected to the differences in approaches of the copyright holders to Tolkien’s works and their cinematic adaptation, and to Star Trek trademarks.
–  –  –
Although the use of legal statements is not immediately visible on the web sites devoted to Elvish languages, an analysis of fan publications gives evidence of their insightful reflections and vivid discussions of copyright issues. The Frequently Asked Questions section of the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship site incorporates a passage dealing exclusively with this matter. In this passage the editor of the site, Carl F. Hostetter (2004), firmly declares that:

Unlike Esperanto (which was explicitly placed into the public domain by its creator), Tolkien’s languages are not in the public domain. As the artistic creations of J.R.R. Tolkien, they enjoy the same copyright protections as his literary works, including but not limited to restrictions on the amount of quotation, purpose of use, and creations of derivative works.

In their right to legal protection Quenya and Sindarin – two most fully developed and thus the most popular of Tolkien’s invented languages – are not similar to the most widespread constructed language, Esperanto, but rather to another ‘fictional’ language: Klingon. And, as Hostetter indicates, Marc Okrand’s (and Paramount’s) exclusive rights to publish any lexicons of Klingon language has not been questioned by the users of this language. Yet, the attempts to create similar compilations of Tolkien’s linguistic works are habitually justified by some members of his fandom under the rule of fair use.

Hostetter refers here to a legal opinion published on the web site of Tyalië Tyelelliéva (, a journal devoted to Tolkien’s languages, scripts and related artwork. This legal opinion had been formulated by Robert Wade, former General Counsel, National Endowment for the Arts, on the request of Lisa Star, the editor of the journal and web site’s administrator. According to Wade Tolkien’s languages, despite being a part of his artistic creation, cannot be perceived exclusively as a fruit of his imagination. They are rather the effects of a compilation of different linguistic inspirations and concepts, and as such do not fall into the domain of copyright. The point is simply that Tolkien had no choice but to borrow freely from the family of languages to create his invented words and letter symbols. […] These basic root elements of Indo-European languages are thus part of the public domain of human language. The combination of these fundamental elements into slightly different words and forms does not, in my view, demonstrate sufficient originality to qualify as copyrightable work. The U.S. Copyright Office agrees. (Wade 1999, 6) And so the use of Quenya or Sindarin in original compositions and translations, the transcriptions of any texts into Tolkien’s invented scripts: Tengwar or Cirth, and the attempts at compiling his vocabulary for scholarly purposes could not be judged as a breach of the copyright. It is precisely this stand that Hostetter rejects in his Tolkienian Linguistics FAQ, describing the attitude of Elvish users, or linguists, who accepted similar opinions as ‘hypocritical’ and ‘self-serving’. It appears that this argument forms a part of a broader discussion, and perhaps even disagreement, within Tolkien fandom.


References to some heated discussions over the question of copyright appear in an introduction to the Quenya Course by Helge Fauskanger (2006). In his text Fauskanger recounts the main points of the debate which, according to him, ‘have sadly caused a great deal of bitterness among students working in the field of Tolkien-linguistics’ and ‘essentially blew apart the TolkLang mailing list’ (7). As a starting point of the disagreement, he indicates the opinions posted on TolkLang by a law practitioner, W.C. Hicklin, who claimed that any unauthorised publication of the grammatical descriptions for Tolkien’s languages would clearly violate the copyright held by the Tolkien Estate. In Fauskanger’s view, and that of other Tolkien fans engaged in the study of his languages, such a statement undermines the possibility of scholarly analyses of Quenya or Sindarin or, in fact, any academic practices. ‘I cannot imagine that when studying available Quenya texts, is it illegal for us to put our conclusions into words and tell others about them. If this is what copyright means, then all sorts of scholarly commentary and literary criticism immediately go down the drain’ (8), he writes. And adapting a stand similar to that presented in Wade’s legal opinion, he argues that language cannot be identified with any text written in it or about it, it is an abstract system. While any text in or about language can become the object of copyright protection, language itself, not having a fixed form, cannot be legally protected. Fauskanger acknowledges the fact that Tolkien’s languages have been invented as an element of literary creation, ‘parts of Middle-earth setting’ and in this capacity should be protected. Yet, as abstract systems, they can be separated from their narrative sources and as now ‘actual’ not ‘fictional’ entities can be described and analysed, taught and used without a threat to Tolkien’s copyright. Fauskanger makes here a strict division between scholarly analysis of ‘fictional’ languages and their use in original writings as opposed to translating Tolkien’s work into his linguistic creations. He argues that such translations, like those made into any other language, could be considered as breach of copyright and he urges users of Quenya and Sindarin to limit their attempts to short excerpts meeting the conditions of fair use.

These few accounts seem to suggest that Tolkien fans, similarly to the users of the Klingon language, display an awareness of the legal circumstances of their activities. Their interest in the issue of copyright leads them to establish competing interpretations, not only in relation to the legal position of Tolkien’s languages, but also their status as artwork. While Wade and Fauskanger suggest that Quenya or Sindarin could be treated, like any other language, as abstract systems, the members of the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship believe that considering Tolkien’s linguistic writings as ‘mere information’ leads to ‘a misrepresantation of the artistic nature of Tolkien’s languages, a devaluation of Tolkien and his art’.
–  –  –
Klingon and Tolkien fans’ desire for the figure of the Creator manifests itself in another set of discursive practices: the discussions surrounding the establishing of canon in the study and use of Klingon and Elvish languages. Here, once more, the problem of the author’s rights and his (her) position appears to be questioned and reorganised. The first impression evoked by the publications and discussions of Klingon users is that of the complexity and ambiguity of the term ‘canon’ and, consequently, of any attempts to establish such a standard in relation to the Klingon language. As we read in the Beginner’s Column on the qIb HeHDaq – On the Edge of the Galaxy web site (

Canon is a vague area and limits are drawn differently among Klingonists. We have been lucky due to the large amount of new tlhIngan Hol being published. Because Dr. Okrand is the primary source of new Klingon words, some wish to limit canon to only those things directly attributed to him. This could leave out some of the other sources. We try to be more open to the other sources of Star Trek which Paramount considers as canon sources (my emphasis)

This short excerpt from what becomes a list of the sources for studying the Klingon language raises several issues. Firstly, a reader is being warned that there is no such thing as ‘a canon’ of Klingon language, for its scholars and students, the Klingonists, are not of one opinion as to which linguistic sources they recognise as canonical. Secondly, she or he is presented with at least two different origins of a standard or canonical Klingon language: its creator, Marc Okrand, and the owner of the Klingon trademark and the copyright to all its publications, Paramount Pictures. These themes re-emerge and are further complicated in other statements of the Klingon language users, where the concept of ‘canon’ often appears as an object of reflection and debate.

One of the Klingonists comments in the discussion based on the Klingon Imperial Forums: ‘I know I’ve said it many times before, but Canon would be a lot easier to follow if it wasn’t so fluid. […] Paramount has made it abundantly clear that today’s canon are tomorrow’s forbidden books. Especially as far as Klingons go…’ (qoSagh 2004). While the web site of the Klingon Language Institute – the organisation which seems to be on the verge of becoming itself a source of the canon – makes an attempt to define the term itself: ‘For the purposes of this page, “canon” is probably best represented by Merriam-Webster’s definitions 3 b the authentic works of a writer and 3 c a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works’ (Shoulson 2003). This brief definition recalls and underlines the importance of the author’s figure. It does not come as a surprise then to read that for the members of the Klingon Language Institute the first and most important source of knowledge about this language are the works of Marc Okrand.

‘“Canon” refers specifically to pronouncements by Marc Okrand’, we read on the KLI web site. And this statement is reinforced in another comment from the Klingon Imperial Forums discussions: ‘As I said, my own circle of tlhIngan Hol speakers (mostly the Klingon Language Institute – I am beginning to realize there are many other ‘schools’ of opinion besides this one!) decided long ago to adopt Okrand as our only source of canon’ (teresh 2005). Following the example of the Klingon Language Institute, another organisation engaged in the study of Klingon language, Swedish Klingonska Akademien, presents on its web page ( the archive of ‘Okrandian Canon’, a searchable database of all published works by the language inventor. Curiously, the same site lists also the catalogue of mistakes that appear in ‘canonical’ sources. It might therefore seem that even ‘the pronouncements’ of the author himself are not the origins of an unquestionable standard form of Klingon language. Further reading of the KLI web site strengthens this impression:

There are also subtle differences among individuals in determining exactly “how canonical” certain interpretations of Marc Okrand’s writings are. There are people who firmly believe in particular theories of how the Klingon language should work, and who can often twist the known examples to support those theories, while others can use the same examples to support contrary theories. Sometimes clear examples of usage are absent, and divergent extrapolations are possible. In decreasing order of usefulness, one might say “canon says”, “canon shows”, “canon supports”, or “canon is consistent with”. (Shoulson 2003)

The fact that Klingon users are able to recognise certain inconsistencies or apparent mistakes in Marc Okrand’s statements and analyses results in another type of discursive practices, the ones that strive to address, explain or accommodate the language author’s ambivalent pronouncements. Most of the Klingonists seem to accept this situation and play along with Okrand’s changing concepts, as a comment from the tlhIngan Hol mailing list suggests. I quote from Nick Nicholas in HolQeD V6 N2, in which he describes the job of the Klingon linguist:

“The argument I have made here is very much along the lines of ‘Do as Okrand does, not as Okrand says’. The argument may seem presumptuous: as language inventor, Okrand could reasonably be expected to speak about Klingon with some authority. But if we are to do our job as linguists in making sense of Klingon, we have no choice: where the evidence of Okrandian usage contradicts (or seems to contradict) what Okrand has said about the language, priority must be given to his usage.” Wise words indeed! (Trimboli 2007)

Others do not hesitate to express a more subversive perspective on the authorship of the Klingon language and the authority of its creator. To quote the discussion featured on the very same list:

The problem here is that all canon comes from a guy who, while he was the language’s creator, doesn’t speak the language all that well or that often. It is ironic that the KLI has several people who know the vocabulary and grammar better than he does. […] So, it doesn’t surprise me that some of the canon is pretty squirrelly. […] None of this is intended to disrespect a remarkably cool person who single-handedly invented the most fun language on the planet, or perhaps beyond. It’s just that canon from him is such a crapshoot. Sometimes it opens doors. Other times, it just… sits there… strange and… not particularly useful, in terms of helping me say stuff in the language. (Doq 2007)

These few comments already picture the Klingon canon as an ambiguous and multidimensional phenomenon. But, as an example from the Beginner’s Column on the qIb HeHDaq’ – On the Edge of the Galaxy’ web site shows, the author’s perspective – whether approved or contested – is not the only one recognised as canonical by Klingon fans and linguists.

The status of a canon originator is sometimes attributed also to Paramount Pictures as the producer and owner of the trademark for the Star Trek television series and films. Once more I will refer to the statement from the Klingon Languages Institute web site: ‘Some people contend that anything coming from Paramount is just as reliable a source as is Mark Okrand for the purposes of Klingon language. Others make a clear distinction between tlhIngan Hol and Paramount Hol’ (Shoulson 2003). The former position is clearly adapted by the Interstellar Language School, the administrator of the qIb HeHDaq’ site. But in the discussions based on the Klingon Imperial Forums such a stance undergoes a critique in view of the apparent divergences between both ‘sources of canon’:

Paramount[’s] various independent offerings in the form of phrases in the TV shows or game we dismissed because they couldn’t be understood in the context of the ‘standard’ Okrandian language – maybe they’re dialects. (teresh 2005)

[…] thIngan Hol is the official language of the screen. Everything Okrand writes is canon to the language, but it is not canon on the show. Paramount officially states that Maltz is not the origination of knowledge about the Klingon Language as Okrandian canon holds. Screen canon proves it cannot be true […] (Klythe 2003)

In the general discourse of Klingon users these two sources: the inventor of the language and a commissioner of his work, the media network, appear to perform the most important role in the creation of a Klingon language standard. But the forces shaping this language come also from within the community of its users. Klingon language is not only received by them, it is also created, as new words and expressions are constructed and added to different levels of canon. Some of these new elements enter the strictest canon, as they receive recognition from Marc Okrand. Once again the Klingon Imperial Forums offer an insight into this process:

For lack of publications of Okrand himself, all we as fans can do is discuss the language, opt for new words/constructions and wait for Mr. Okrand to comment and/or rule on them. (SoplaHtaHwI’ 2005)

While I am not too familiar with the process involved, I think it is not a matter of getting Okrand to make more words but a matter of getting him to recognize more words as they are made up. From what I have heard this is usually a consensus standard, which comes out of the annual meeting of the KLI. […] In my opinion the KLI has also done more work with grammar than with vocabulary, as they actively try to figure out ways to translate works. (qoSagh 2005)

As Doq’s earlier comment on true expertise in the Klingon language implies, fans are also the most competent, even ‘fluent’ users of the language, surpassing in their skills the author himself. In view of these discussions it seems that, as the definition presented on the Klingon Language Institute web site suggested, the figure of the author holds importance in the standard form of this language, but the establishing of the canon is, in its essence, a matter of a communal consensus achieved through practice. As in the discussions of the copyright issue, the author is at the same time celebrated and overthrown.
–  –  –
nullSimilar discursive practices can be found in the publications of Elvish users, starting with Helge Fauskanger’s Quenya Course (2006). The comment addressing the question of (authorial) canon follows closely his above-mentioned discussion of the copyright issue: “As a student and user of Quenya one should also be committed to preserving the integrity of Tolkien’s system, taking great care not to distort it or needlessly dilute it. Occasionally we have to coin new words, but in such cases one should eschew arbitrary invention and instead work from Tolkien’s own stems, using his methods of derivation”. (12) In this short passage Fauskanger evokes the attachment to Tolkien as a creator of Elvish languages similar to that expressed by Klingon users in relation to Marc Okrand. Quenya appears to be a system at the same time received and created, but in both instances it is ‘Tolkien’s’ language. It might seem then that the status of author as a single originator of the canon is unquestionable in the case of Elvish languages. This opinion has been confirmed by another Tolkien fan interested in his invented languages: Evenstar, the administrator of the Ambar Eldaron – Le Monde des Elfes web site (, as she commented on the status of the languages used by Tolkien fans as compared to the forms created by Tolkien himself:

Yes, exactly, these are the same [as languages created by Tolkien]. The only ‘new’ thing is to create an adverb on the basis of an adjective (‘hardly’ from ‘hard’), or a noun on the basis of a verb (‘to sing’ gives ‘a song’). Nonetheless, these ‘creations’ follow the grammatical rules established by Tolkien. There is no invention. (Evenstar, email correspondence with the author, 25 September 2006)

However, looking into various publications of only one Elvish linguist, the above-cited Helge Fauskager, one might observe that this issue is, in fact, much more complex and multidimensional. For instance, in the Quenya corpus, a list of Quenya resources published on the Ardalambion web site, Fauskanger presents at least two different forms of Tolkien’s standard: ‘the early material, that does not always have full authority because of Tolkien’sfrequent and sometimes substantial revisions’ and ‘the samples of Tolkien’s more developed form(s) of Quenya found in LotR and other sources’ ([2006c]). This differentiation between the initial stages of Tolkien’s linguistic creation and its later forms associated with The Lord of the Rings not only evokes the idea of two perhaps competing canons, but also passes a judgement about their ‘authority’. The early forms, also called Qenya, subject to ‘frequent and substantial revisions’, are denied the ‘full authority’ of canonical sources. By comparison then, the ‘more developed forms’ appear to be gaining the ‘authority’ and position of a Quenya canon. It is this later form, also called ‘mature Quenya’ or ‘LotR-style Quenya’ that is exemplified and analysed in Fauskanger’s Quenya Course. Interestingly, this choice of a standard is justified through recalling the supposed author’s intentions:

[…] this is certainly the version of Quenya that Tolkien himself would have wanted us to study; if it had been up to him, we would never have seen any other versions! He took the utmost care to ensure that his mythos would remain free from internal contradictions, and he would never have recognized contradictory variants of Quenya as being somehow equally valid. Indeed it should be noted that elderly Tolkien referred to his earliest form of “Qenya” as “very primitive” (PM:379).

[…] If we have any respect whatsoever for Tolkien’s intentions, the form of Quenya that we attempt to crystallize must be LotR-compatible. (2006, 23-24)

This short passage may give an impression that there exists one mature form of Quenya, compatible with the style presented in The Lord of the Rings, preferred by Tolkien himself and, therefore, ready to be adapted as a canon by Tolkien fans. Yet, in the same introductory part to his course, Fauskanger admits that Tolkien never finally ‘fixed’ his languages, he never stopped rebuilding or refining their structures and in their ‘frequent revisions’ he tended to retrace his steps reintroducing previously dismissed forms. And although this process of constant alterations had been seemingly restrained after the publication of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s linguistic writings cannot be pieced together into one coherent entity of canonical Quenya. It appears then that the task of canonising or standardising Elvish languages is to be performed by the members of the Tolkien fandom. As Fauskanger writes:

Precisely because Tolkien’s Quenya is a somewhat fluid entity, fixed in general outline but with endless contradictory variations when it comes to the details, we can to some extent feel free to crystallize our own standard (not making it more difficult than we have to). As long as we piece together a usable system from elements Tolkien provided, even though there is no way we can accept all the known variations within a single, unified system, the resulting language will be “real Quenya” – to the extent such a thing can exist. (24)

In this comment Fauskanger tackles several interesting issues. Firstly, he gives testimony to the intentions of Tolkien fans engaged in the reconstruction of a coherent form of his languages. It is the practical purpose of establishing a ‘usable system’ that guides their efforts. It could be argued then that what motivates the users of Tolkien’s invented idioms is a wish or dream to be able to express their own thoughts and feelings in Elvish languages. And in his other texts, Fauskanger refers to this motivation providing guidance for ‘a person interested in writing in LotR-style Quenya’ ([2006b]), or quoting Lisa Star’s ‘bold declaration’ that ‘the ultimate goal is the revival of the Elvish languages for speaking, writing and art’ ([2006d]).

But the above passage brings forward another interesting question: that of the limited freedom that one experiences while working on the ‘crystallisation’ of a canon for Tolkien’s languages. Fauskanger writes that in such attempts ‘we can to some extent feel free’. But what would be the extent of this freedom in view of the multitude of Elvish variations? It seems that the limits of fans’ creation are set within a broadly treated ‘integrity’ of Tolkien’s system and its internal coherence which accepts the ‘cannibalisation’ of earlier material ‘for useful vocabulary items’ but privileges the later forms. Fauskanger summarises his position in a review of the lexicon of an early Qenya canon:

Those who want to develop a useable, LotR-compatible form of Quenya will have to approach the Qenya Lexicon with caution. Mindlessly mixing “Qenya” and Quenya together would produce a hybrid language that does not correctly represent Tolkien’s intentions at any of the many stages his conception went through over the decades. To protect the integrity of Tolkien’s later system we must in each case make sure that a word taken from the Lexicon fits the phonological, morphological and grammatical structure of LotR-style Quenya. If not, we must either ignore the “Qenya” word or subtly alter it to make it fit. We must also make sure that the “Qenya” word in question does not clash with later words. ([2006b], my emphasis)

In view of this comment, any standardising attempt appears to be balancing on the thin line between two, or rather multiple, canons working to enrich the LotR-style Quenya without polluting it with incompatible elements of earlier systems. And here we might argue that the line between ‘a crystallised standard’ and ‘a hybrid language’ is, in fact, a very subtle one. In response to this problem creators of canonical forms of Quenya or Sindarin, such as Helge Fauskanger or Thorsten Renk, developed a habit of clearly listing and explaining any borrowings or deductions they had made on the basis of various competing forms. For instance, in an alternative course of Quenya proposed by Renk, a reader is confronted with the following warning:

Longer sections describing uncertain grammatical rules are greyed out. […] These sections do not claim to represent anything other than my best guess of what a particular rule may be, based on all my knowledge of the Elvish languages. In general, they represent one of several possibilities to interpret a given text and the reader is always encouraged to check the sources himself and make up his own mind (2004, 10)

And the very same warning in a much briefer form can be found in Fauskanger’s analysis of the evolution of Quenya: ‘While I do believe the interpretations here set forth are generally sound, they should not be taken as “Tolkien fact”’ ([2006a], 9).

Now, it is worth noting that even such a guarded view of the canon of Elvish languages does not remain unquestioned among Tolkien fans. In the FAQ section to the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship web site, Carl F. Hostetter indicates that the establishing of a fixed or standard system of any of his languages was not, in any case, the intention of Tolkien himself. On the contrary, his purpose was to give expression to the evolving character of language, to its ‘fluctuations’. In this view, any attempt to distil a canonical form of Quenya or Sindarin can be judged as artificial, inevitably simplifying, even belying the true intentions and scope of Tolkien’s creation. As Hostetter writes: "What is referred to by some as ‘mature’ Quenya and ‘mature’ Sindarin ‘of the Lord of the Rings era’ are in fact artificially selected and dubiously homogenized sets of data spanning decades of ‘fluctuations’, which are nonetheless asserted to be essentially uniform in nature and conception". (2004) While criticising these standardising procedures Hostetter does not entirely dismiss the value of the linguistic knowledge and critical analysis invested in establishing such models. But he suggests that, as essentially popularising works, they cannot be paired with truly scholarly ways of approaching Tolkien’s languages: a meticulous study of Tolkien’s own writings. To quote Hostetter’s words:

This is not to say that the artificial, homogenised Quenya presented on Helge Fauskanger’s Ardalambion site, or the pseudo-Sindarin inventions of David Salo for Peter Jackson’s films, are without interest or merit (but neither are they without serious problems); but rather that meaningful study of Tolkien’s languages cannot be achieved simply by mastering the artificial, simplified, patch-work systems of these popularizers. Instead, the study must be always and primarily based and centred on reading, pondering, and understanding the examplars and statements that Tolkien himself made, in their context and in relation to one another, across the decades of his life and the millennia of internal development they were created by Tolkien to exhibit. (idem.)

This comment appears to be introducing an opposition between two methods of approaching Tolkien’s work and, consequently, between two understandings of the nature and purpose of ‘Tolkienian linguistics’. The work of linguistic ‘popularizers’, such as Fauskanger and Salo, with its practical goal of establishing a usable standard form of Elvish languages, although scholarly informed, cannot be perceived as a truly meaningful (one might want to add: scientific) study of Tolkien’s languages. This work seems to belong rather, together with the Elvish compositions it encourages, to the domain of fan fiction. As Hostetter writes in the later parts of his text:

[A] scholar of Tolkien’s languages has no more inherent use for fan compositions than a scholar of Tolkien’s writings does for fan fiction; the two endeavours are orthogonal. […] it should be recognised that the goal of Tolkienian linguistics, the scholarly study of Tolkien’s art-languages, is no more to be able to ‘speak’ Quenya or Sindarin or any such utilitarian purpose, than the goal of the scholarly study of Tolkien’s writings is to be able to write new fictions set in Middle-earth (idem., my emphasis)

This last opinion, recalling in a curious way the concept of discriminating practices of fandom proposed by John Fiske (1992, 35-36), offers an interesting insight into attitudes and activities of Tolkien fans interested in his invented languages. It appears that in negotiating what is to be considered a canon or a standard of Quenya and Sindarin, or if it is even possible to establish an ‘authorised’ form of any kind, the users of Tolkien’s languages unravel the status and role of their community. And in these discursive practices surrounding the question of authorship, similarly to the Klingon users, they refer to the views and habits of both fan culture and academia.
–  –  –
It seems that in their nuanced discussions of the possibility of establishing a standard for Elvish and Klingon languages and in their often heated debates over the legal circumstances surrounding their use, Tolkien and Klingon fans call forth and question the notion of the author’s rule over the reading of his/her text. In these discursive practices they appear to be operating in the midst of various interpretations or performances of authorship: an intentionalist approach of traditional criticism, a Romantic vision of inspired genius pertinent to the fan imaginary of the Great Creator, and – to a certain point – a poststructuralist concept of dispersed or collective authorship. By recalling these different perspectives on authorial rights and authorial canon, Klingon and Elvish linguists seem to open up a certain space, where the status of the author is negotiated, in constant move between celebration and overruling. This space for transgressing the author’s authority becomes at the same time a site for the negotiations of fan/scholar identity, with Klingon and Elvish users’ textual analyses bringing forth various images of authorship and scholarliness in the exegesis of or commentary to authorial texts and in the reference to other fan/scholarly texts.


This work would not have been possible without a generous help from Tolkien and Klingon fans. I am indebted to the members of elfling, thlIngan Hol and the Klingon language mailing lists, and of the Internet messageboards: ‘Elendili – Przyjaciele Elfów’ and Klingon Imperial Forums, for kindly accepting my presence among them; and to other Tolkienian linguists and Klingonists for sharing their insights and experiences. I want to thank my supervisors, Professor Lucy Suchman and Dr Yoke-Sum Wong from the Department of Sociology at Lancaster University for their guidance during my doctoral research.


1. As Wittgenstein asks: ‘Doesn’t the analogy between language and games throw light here? We can easily imagine people amusing themselves in a field by playing with a ball so as to start various existing games, but playing many without finishing them and in between throwing the ball aimlessly into the air, chasing one another with the ball and bombarding one another for a joke and so on. And now someone says: The whole time they are playing a ball-game and following definite rules at every throw. And is there not also the case where we play and – make up the rules as we go along? And there is even one when we alter them-as we go along’ (1967, par. 83).
2. ‘… in the text, in a way, I desire the author: I need his figure … as he needs mine.’ (Barthes 1975, 27).
3. These formal differences in addressing the legal issue of copyright might be perceived as the manifestations of divergences in an institutional positioning of Klingon fandom. The Klingon Language Institute is a big and influential organisation, and one which, due to its activities of scholarly study of the Klingon Language, has been recognised by Marc Okrand. It is, as the legal statement published on its web site suggests, authorised for the use of the language and other Star Trek related trademarks. On the other hand, Imperial Klingon Expeditionary Forces describes itself as an association of autonomous fan clubs interested in portraying ‘the Klingon Empire side of the Gene Roddenberry universe’. As such, it is not affiliated with the owners of Star Trek copyrights.
4. This last remark claiming fans’ rights to texts and artwork they have created resonates with Murray’s interesting observations of the ‘curiously proprietarial’ attitudes within otherwise ‘much libertarian fan poaching rhetoric’: ‘Online fan fiction, itself inhabiting an IP grey area, is frequently marked © by authors, while LOTR fansites deriving much of their content from New Line drip-feeds have registered their URL names as trademarks, for example®.’ (Murray 2004, 22).
5. According to McCardle (2003), the first conflict between fan fiction authors and copyright holders took place in 1977, as Paramount opened the case against Linda Maclaren and Gina Martin, the publishers of Star Trek fanzine. This case has been resolved by Paramount’s withdrawal of charges after their recognition of the unprofessional character of the publication. However, with the development of the Internet and the increase in online presence of fan fiction similar cases became more and more common and the issuing of cease and desist letters to the owners of fan sites appears to be a routine practice of the copyright holders. For other accounts of the legal difficulties experienced by the fans of Star Trek see: Jenkins (1992) and Bacon-Smith (1994).
6. The informal email interviews that I have conducted as a part of this research displayed Klingon users’ confusion whether the language was, in fact, a property of Marc Okrand and/or Paramount Pictures protected by the copyright law, or whether these regulations referred only to the textual context of television series and films in which the language originated. What was apparent in the comments of Klingon fans, however, was a strong sense of threat that the media network’s attempts to enforce its rights posed on their activities.
7. This observation appears to be inaccurate. Although the members of the Klingon Language Institute refrain from constructing any complete wordlist for the Klingon language, recognising Marc Okrand’s rights to the material published in The Klingon Dictionary (1992) and Klingon for the Galactic Traveler (1997), other Klingon users have, in fact, attempted to produce their own dictionaries, i.e. Zrajm C. Akfohg’s Klingon Pocket Dictionary (2002).
8. The current list of canonical Star Trek sources can be found on the official web site of the show in a brief article from October 2003 titled “How Do the Star Trek Novels and Comic Books Fit into the Star Trek Universe? What Is Considered Star Trek “Canon”?”:
‘As a rule of thumb, the events that take place within the live action episodes and movies are canon, or official Star Trek facts. Story lines, characters, events, stardates, etc. that take place within the fictional novels, the Animated Adventures, and the various comic lines are not canon.
There are only a couple of exceptions to this rule: the Jeri Taylor penned novels “Mosaic” and “Pathways”. Many of the events in these two novels feature background details of the main Star Trek: Voyager characters. (Note: There are a few details from an episode of the Animated Adventures that have entered into the Star Trek canon. The episode “Yesteryear”, written by D.C. Fontana, features some biographical background on Spock.)’.
9. ‘tlhIngan Hol’ is a Klingon term for the Klingon language.
10. See: ‘Archive of Okrandian Canon’ (1999-2002).
11. See: ‘Errors in Okrandian Sources’ (1999-2002).
12. A similar observation on Tolkien’s limited fluency in his invented languages is brought forth in Carl F. Hostetter’s article Elvish as She is Spoke (2006). In this case, however, the fact that the author is not a fully competent user of his language is used not to display the more significant expertise of his fans and followers, but rather to support the argument that such an expertise in neither possible nor asked for:
‘Tolkien himself was neither fluent in either of his two chief Elvish languages, nor himself able to compose in them with anything like the facility that would be required to produce substantial amounts of Elvish narrative. That is, at least not in anything less than geologic time, since on most occasions that Tolkien did set about to compose a poem in one of his invented languages, or allowed himself to digress into discussion of Elvish forms and terms encountered in the course of his extended essays or letters on topics in Middle-earth, there resulted a flurry of new invention, reconsideration, and change in the languages; so that essentially every attempt made by their own creator to “use” the Elvish languages ran up against not only the incompleteness of the languages, but also Tolkien’s restless aesthetic.’ (233)
13. The introduction to Okrand’s Klingon Dictionary (1992) describes the figure of Maltz, a Klingon prisoner held by the Federation, as a fictitious source of the knowledge of the language.
14. ‘Oui, exactement, ce sont les mêmes. La seule chose de “nouveau”, est de créer un adverbe à partir d’un adjectif (“hardly” from “hard”), ou un nom à partir d’un verbe (“to sing” gives “a song”). Cependant, ces “creations” suivent les règles grammaticales mises au point par Tolkien. Il n’y a pas d’invention.’
15. This last remark resonates with the intentionalist approaches in literary criticism recognising the dominant position of authorial intentions in reading of the text. And the argument of Tolkien’s supposed intentions is recalled also by other Tolkien fans. Curiously, it is used to support often quite contradictory approaches, such as that of Carl F. Hostetter, opposing the idea of standardising procedures for Elvish languages. I will return to this issue in later parts of this discussion.
16. Just how thin this line was and how illusory the concept of Tolkienian standard became in a context of the actual use of Tolkien’s languages was articulated by Bill Welden in the discussion during the Second International Conference on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Invented Languages, Antwerp, August 10, 2007:
‘It is becoming clear to me that we’re really on our own. Tolkien is not here now. Even in the conversation at our level it often goes to: ‘what’s the right way to say this?’ And that can only be taken in the context that Tolkien would have taken it, which is: ‘I don’t know, but I will try to find out’. And what Tolkien would do, he would take a council with himself. And he would apply his tremendously deep insight into language to this issue and see if he could come up with a solution, which would satisfy him. Which he could not always do. So when he said ‘trying’, he really meant that he was trying. And Tolkien is gone now. So what source of authority do we have? We can hope that something comes out … a part of the material […] which can provide insight, that you need in order to answer the questions. But in addition we have our own insights. And we produce an idiosyncratic Quenya. The person that produces the Elvish passages is expressing their own ‘lámatyávë’. When you write a poem, there is no authority to say if it’s right or wrong.’ (my emphasis)
17. Hostetter gives a much more detailed discussion of the ‘artificiality’ of the attempts to standardize Tolkien’s languages in a jokingly titled article Elvish as She is Spoke (2006). And throughout his analyses he frequently refers to the notion of Tolkien’s supposed intentions. As I remarked earlier, this argument has been used by other Elvish users, Helge Fauskanger among them, to support a contradictory claim. This is what Hostetter observes: ‘Indeed, it seems plain that it was never Tolkien’s purpose either to fix and finalize his invented languages, or to make them “usable” in narrative or in any other prosaic or quotidian application, even by himself; or to describe them in such way and bring them to sufficient completion that they could be learned and used by others as a living speech.’ (233)


Akfohg, Zrajm C. 2002. Klingon Pocket Dictionary. (Accessed12 August 2009).

Angua. 2006. If the Author Is Dead, Who’s Updating Her Website: J.K. Rowling and the Battle for the Books. Scribbulus. (Accessed 12 August 2009).

Akfohg, Zrajm C. 1999-2002. Archive of Okrandian Canon. Klingonska Akademien. (Accessed 13 August 2009).

Akfohg, Zrajm C. 1999-2002. Errors in Okrandian Sources. Klingonska Akademien. (Accessed 13 August 2009).

Bacon-Smith, Camille. 1994. Enterprising Women. Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Barthes, Roland. 1967. The Death of the Author. Aspen 5-6. Ubuweb. (Accessed 10 November 2006)

Barthes, Roland. 1975. The Pleasure of the Text. New York: Hill and Wang.

Bennett, Andrew. 2005. The Author. London, New York: Routledge.

Derrida, Jacques. 1977. Signature Event Context. Glyph: John Hopkins Textual Studies 7: 172-97.

Doq. 2007. Re: “To-Be” + . tlhIngan Hol. 23 December 2007.

Fauskanger, Helge. 2006. Quenya Course. Ardalambion. (Accessed 25 August 2006).

Fauskanger, Helge. [2006a]. The Evolution from Primitive Elvish to Quenya. Ardalambion. (Accessed 29 September 2006).

Fauskanger, Helge. [2006b]. The Qenya Lexicon Reviewed. Ardalambion. (Accessed 29 September 2006).

Fauskanger, Helge. [2006c]. The Quenya Corpus. Ardalambion. (Accessed 29 September 2006).

Fauskanger, Helge. [2006d]. Tolkien’s Not-So-Secret Vice. Ardalambion. (Accessed 22 February 2006).

Fiske, John. 1992. The Cultural Economy of Fandom. In The Adoring Audience. Fan Culture and Popular Media, ed. Lisa A. Lewis, 30-49. London, New York: Routledge.

Foucault, Michel. 1977. What Is an Author? In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, 113-138. Oxford: Blackwell.

Gwaith-i-Phethdain – the Fellowship of the Wordsmiths. (Accessed 13 August 2009).

Higley, Sarah L. 2000. Audience, Uglossia, and CONLANG: Inventing Languages on the Internet. M/C: A Journal of Media and Culture 3.1. (Accessed 23 November 2005).

Hills, Matt. 2002. Fan Cultures. London, New York: Routledge.

Hostetter, Carl F. 2004. The Tolkienian Linguistics Faq and Frequently Needed Answers. The Elvish Linguistic Fellowship. (Accessed13 August 2009).

Hostetter, Carl F. 2006. Elvish as She Is Spoke. In The Lord of the Rings 1954-2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder, eds. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, 231-255. Marquette.

Hostetter, Carl F. Tengwestië – the Journal of the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship. (Accessed 13 August 2009).

How Do the Star Trek Novels and Comic Books Fit into the Star Trek Universe? What Is Considered Star Trek “Canon”? StarTrek.Com. 8 October 2003. (Accessed 13 August 2009).

Imperial Klingon Expeditionary Forces. (Accessed 13 August 2009).

Jenkins, Henry. 1992. Textual Poachers. Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York, London: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc.

Klythe. 2003. Tlhingan Hol or Klingonaase or More. Klingon Imperial Forums. 30 November 2003.,112.0.html (Accessed 13 August 2009).

McCardle, Meredith. 2003. Fan Fiction, Fandom and Fanfare: What’s All the Fuss. Journal of Science and Technology Law 9.2. (Accessed 10 July 206).

Murray, Simone. 2004. ‘Celebrating the Story the Way It Is’: Cultural Studies, Corporate Media and the Contested Utility of Fandom. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 18.1: 7-25.

Okrand, Marc. 1992. The Klingon Dictionary. New York, London: Pocket Books.

Okrand, Marc. 1997. Klingon for Galactic Traveler. New York, London: Pocket Books.

Proechel, Glen. qib Hehdaq – on the Edge of the Galaxy. (Accessed 13 August 2009).

qoSagh. 2004. Strict Canon Versus Fandom. Klingon Imperial Forums. 23 May 2004.,157 (Accessed 13 August 2009).

qoSagh. 2005.Degrees of Canon? Klingon Imperial Forums. 12 July 2005.,697.0.html (Accessed 13 August 2009).

Saussure, Ferdinand. 1966. Course in General Linguistics. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co.

Shoulson, Mark. 2003. Canon. The Klingon Language Institute. (Accessed 13 August 2009).

Shoulson, Mark. The Klingon Language Insitute. (Accessed 13 August 2009).

SoplaHtaHwI’. 2005. Degrees of Canon? Klingon Imperial Forums. 10 July 2005.,697.0.html (Accessed 13 August 2009).

Star, Lisa. 2009. Tyalië Tyelliéva. (Accessed 13 August 2009).

teresh. 2005. Degrees of Canon? Klingon Imperial Forums. 24 December 2005.,697.0.html (Accessed 13 August 2009).

Tolkien, J.R.R. 1983. English and Welsh. In The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, ed. Christopher Tolkien, 162-197. London: George Allen & Unwin.

Trimboli, David. 2007. On Studying Klingon. tlhIngan Hol. 19 December 2007.

Wade, Robert. 1999. Legal Opinion on Languages and Alphabets. Tyalië Tyelliéva. (Accessed12 October 2006).

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1967. Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Author bio:
After completing in 2009 my doctoral thesis on the cultures of Klingon and Tolkien fans in Sociology at Lancaster University, I have moved to the University of Aberdeen where I work as a researcher in the Institute of Applied Health Sciences and as a teaching assistant in the Department of Sociology. My research interests combine different theoretical and disciplinary traditions (sociology, cultural studies, literary theory, communication studies, and recently health studies) and centre on the complexities of exchanges between the ‘popular’ and ‘authorised’, between the values and activities attributed to ‘high culture’ domains of art and scholarship and their (re)enactments in lay expertise, fan discourse, popular texts, and everyday practices.