In 2013 Man of Steel ushered in a new era for DC Comics, launching a new cinematic universe utilizing an incredibly detailed film with the world’s first superhero at the helm.
Director Zack Snyder wanted to create an original take on Superman while also incorporating material from the source inspiration fans know and love. His attention to detail is unparalleled, especially when it came to Krypton.
While Man of Steel was still in its production stages, Linguistic Anthropologist Dr. Christine Schreyer of the University of British Columbia Okanagan was asked to assist in the creation of a new Kryptonian language.
To assist fans in the comprehension of this originally complex language, Superman enthusiast, Dave Sorkin, has composed an elaborate directory. Sorkin’s guide is bellow.
-Zack Benz, Daily Planet Editor-in-chief
Why learn about the Kryptonian language?
In 2013, the interconnected “DC Extended Universe” was born with the release of Man of Steel (MOS)—an origin story not just for Superman, but also for the worlds that surrounded him.
“Worlds” is plural, as MOS and subsequent installments portray Superman’s story as one of dual citizenship. He is both Clark Kent of Earth and Kal-El of Krypton. With the latter world’s genetic codex stored literally within his cells, Superman is the embodiment of two peoples and carries with him both of their cultural heritages.
Even after its death, Krypton’s writings and technology live on throughout the DCEU, allowing Clark to maintain an ongoing connection with his ancestors. Rather than invoking previously established versions, the world of MOS creates an entirely novel Kryptonian language with its own writing system. Although it is never spoken in any films, its writings are seen throughout MOS, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League.
Where does this language appear?
As one would expect, we see the most Kryptonian early in MOS before Krypton explodes. Jor-El’s home bears the names of his ancestors—prior members of the House of El. The council chamber is also covered in Kryptonian writing, providing a stunning demonstration of thoughts and ideas flowing into one another. In the linked image, the four highlighted sections are translated as follows:
Another abundant source of Kryptonian was introduced in BVS when several phrases were inscribed directly into the texture of Superman’s suit. They come from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) and are translated as follows:
Shield: “And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god.”
Wrist gauntlets: “Where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.”
Upper arms: “Where had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence.”
Belt trim: “Where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
How does the “Schreyer Kryptonian” work?
The MOS Kryptonian was created by Dr. Christine Schreyer, a linguistics associate professor at the University of British Columbia with research focused on endangered languages and the communities around them. Using existing Kryptonian words and lore, Dr. Schreyer sought to create a language that reflected Krypton’s culture of expansion and academics, as well as the evolution of its social structure.
Words are typically written using an abugida (a.k.a. alphasyllabary)—a system in which symbols represent consonant-vowel pairs. More specifically, each Kryptonian symbol represents a specific consonant sound, whereas the orientation of that symbol indicates the vowel sound. This idea took inspiration from Cree syllabics, a 2,000-year-old Canadian Aboriginal language with numerous dialects that is still spoken in territories across northern Canada.
To reflect Krypton’s history spanning over 100,000 years, Kryptonian also continues to use ancient ideaograms to represent people and concepts with a single symbol. The best example is the symbol of the House of El which, as Kal tells Lois, “On my world, it means hope.” These are typically used in more formal or decorative settings, and so the word “hope” can be spelled out or written as a single symbol. The same is true for the symbols of other houses, as well as the names of Kryptonian dieties.
The symbols themselves were designed jointly by Dr. Schreyer and Kirsten Franson. Each symbol was shaped to fit within the standard Kryptonian shield. Additionally, every symbol includes at least one closed cell, allowing readers to quickly determine the symbol’s orientation.
Take note that Kryptonian sentences follow a subject-object-verb (SOV) organization. Whereas Clark tells Lois, “You are my world”, this would instead be spoken in Kryptonian as “You my world are.”
Finally, Kryptonian utilizes many accents to indicate nuances. Grammatical accents are used to indicate a declarative, exclamatory, or questioning statement, while large curves and loops distinguish past and future tenses. Various types of smaller loops indicate biological and technological modifiers.
We have Rachel Veer to thank for an expansive document including all known Kryptonian words. Note that Dr. Schreyer has alluded to additional Kryptonian words that have not yet been released, so keep your ears perked for new words to sporadically surface!
We can also thank Darren Doyle for his chart of all Kryptonian consonant-vowel pairs, as well as instructions regarding modified pronunciations in certain contexts.
About the author
Dave Sorkin was introduced to George Reeves’s Superman at two years old, so the character is pretty entrained in his upbringing. Sorkin doesn’t have any official connection to the Kryptonian language, other than some brief back-and-forths with Dr. Schreyer about a phrase that he ended up getting tattooed (“Where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”) and a few tangential questions stemming from that. Sorkin thinks that one of the things that makes Superman such a timeless character is his dual citizenship between Krypton and Earth.
- Bush, A, Santa Cruz, S, and Schreyer C. Creating Kryptonian – An Interview with Christine Schreyer. Superhero Stuff You Should Know. SuperHouse. Aug 15, 2020. Available at https://youtu.be/W32qYZ0bb_4.
- Conrad, KL. Inventor of Kryptonian aims to revitalize endagered languages. The Ubyssey. 2017 Aug 24. Available at https://www.ubyssey.ca.
- Doyle, D. Man of Steel Kryptonian Writing System. Kryptonian.Info The Languages of Krypton. Updated 2016 Mar 14. Available at http://kryptonian.info/schreyer/writing.html.
- Veer, R. Christine Schreyer’s Man of Steel Kryptonian Language. Updated 2020 Feb 1. Available at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Xo7A4ZlfXJ8a_xMCvGDe3cVntfCa9uG7qM3BBJgDGeA/edit.
- MOS Kryptonian creator, Christine Schreyer, PhD