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Spoken in: Land of the Lost
Timeline/Universe: Land of the Lost universe
Total speakers: unspecified
Genealogical classification: Commercial conlang drawing inspiration from West African languages
Basic word order: SVO
Morphological type: inflecting
Created by:
Victoria Fromkin 1974 (rev. 1995)


Pakuni is a conlang created for the Paku, a race of humanoids that inhabit the Land of the Lost, a parallel universe developed for the early 1970s (US) television series of the same name. Rather than inflict the usual grunts, Pig Latin or backwards English on the television audience, the producers of the series (Sid and Marty Kroft) thought a superior solution would be to actually invent a language. To that end, UCLA professor and linguist Victoria Fromkin was subsequently approached for the project.

While not the first conlang used a public art media (certainly Tolkien's Elvish languages and Esperanto predate it), it does appear to be the first properly constructed language used in a television show or movie.

Place in Conlang History

Pakuni is of interest to the conlanging community primarily as a matter of historical fact. Later inventions, such as Klingon and Na'vi, are certainly more well known. Whether or not any of their creators took any inspiration from the work of this earlier language maker, we would do well to keep in mind these humbler beginnings of conlangs on television.

One common gripe many fans (and especially fans who are also conlangers) have had about sci-fi and fantasy movies is the abysmal quality of their aliens' languages (e.g. comments about early iterations of Vulcan or the state of conlangs in Star Wars). At worst, what is heard in the theatre is just garbled English or backwards French. At best, the audience is treated to a mish-mash of random and ill-conceived fake words (i.e., a very poorly made naming language). Anymore, Okrand and Frommer and Peterson have raised the bar immensely, perhaps even to the point where the public is now expecting an alternate world and its peoples to come complete with actual languages. It is simply the case that Fromkin was showing them how to do it, way back in the 1970s.

Forms of the Language

There are three different forms of Pakuni that need to be distinguished. Form I consists primarily of Fromkin's own work, which as noted was done for the original television series. Some years later, she revisited the conlang and made changes to her earlier work. (The work of a conlanger is never done!) Form II consists of the work of later fans of her work in the form of fan fiction. Form II consists of the various attempts of the producers and actors in the second tv series and movie to incorporate Pakuni into what is seen on screen. By all accounts, the effort met with no great success and can hardly be called the same language at all. Forms II and III are, at best, only loosely based on Fromkin's original work.

Grammatical Description

The language is SVO and has a simple inventory of five vowels (a, e, i, o, u, all in their continental pronunciation).

Parts of speech are similar to English and have distinctly marked morphologically. This is of course not to say that Pakuni mimics English or that it is a relex. It has some features more similar to Swahili than English (the prefixed semantic classes of nouns, for example). Nouns feature the bare root, to which is added -sa for the Adjective, the various noun class markers, and then -chi for the Adverb. Prepositions and Particles are unmarked, like verbs. Roots are also used to form verbs, adjectives, adverbs and so forth.

According to Wikipedia: "Pakuni shares similarities to the Kwa languages of West Africa. It has regular ante-penultimate stress, homorganic nasals, nasalization of vowels before nasals, and deletion of final vowels before vowel initial suffixes." Pakuni simply means "people" in this language (paku being the singular form).

The phonemic inventory was as follows : a e i o u , b c d f g i j k m n p r s sh t w y ng Ɂ. Syllables can begin with glottal stops and can end in nasals. There are prepositions but no postpositions. There is one example of emphatic VSO word order. Emphatic particles come first in a sentence while the interrogative particle comes at the end. Nouns in sequence have an implied conjunction. The possessive is formed by placing the possessor after the possessed : X i-ban means "X of owner".

Certain aspects of the language are the same or very similar to English. The gestures and quasi-language noises (like English Ah!) are the same as in English. The words for yes, no, I, & you are the rather similar yo, no, me, & ye. These things were probably done puposefully, perhaps in order to make it easier for the actors and program watchers to learn!

Writing Systems

Several writing systems have been employed over the course of the television series and movie, though may not represent Pakuni so much as Sleestak or some other language ancient to this world.

Overall Status of Conlang Corpus

Apart from whatever may be gleaned from the episodes of the television series, there are really only three further reliable sources of information about the language. There is a 1975 "TV Guide" article from 11th September; a more recent "PuffnStuff and Stuff" book section; and a Linguistics exam exercise from Fromkin in which she used Pakuni matieral.

Aside from this, there is no complete grammar or wordlist created by Fromkin, and of course no large corpus of texts.

Later Work and Death of Dr. Victoria Fromkin

It is also of interest to the conlanging community to note that Dr. Fromkin later went on to make the conlang Vampire for the series Blade (1988), which is also left undeciphered by the author. It features similar use of natural assimilation and attention to word etymology as her earlier work, though has a much, much smaller corpus. Fromkin passed over in 2000, joining the likes of St. Hildegard and Dr. Tolkien in the Halls of Mandos, where even now the remaining secrets of Pakuni rest.

Decipherment Efforts

Nels Olsen's Contribution

Nels Olsen has done a good job of scouring the episodes of the show for information about Pakuni. Although Pakuni is by no means a fully developed language, such as has been uncovered can by reviewed here:

Thomas Alexander's Contribution

Tom's work can be seen here.

Keran Shadlag's Contribution

Another attempt to work on Pakuni can be found here, in an at present very rough draft form:

(NOTE: these files consist of PDF, RTF and TXT documents! NOTE: these files contain a rather over-large ratio of personal rant / filler to content).

Jorma Taccone's Prolanguage for the 2009 Movie

Entirely as an aside to Fromkin's conlang, Olsen's work was used as a basis for the Pakuni based prolanguage used by actors in the 2009 movie. As already noted, this form of Pakuni does not take into account Fromkin's earlier grammar.

External Links: