1. Marcelo
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    Marcelo Contributing Member

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    Creating a Language

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Marcelo, May 20, 2008.

    I have noticed that using created languages really adds depth to a story, and with these languages you can name places, people and things with words that really have a meaning.

    However, I'm not an expert linguistic and philologist like Mr. Tolkien, and I do not know the procedures to do such a thing.

    So, I am hoping someone out there knows how to create a language by steps, including: Lexicon, grammar, prefixes, suffixes, plural, singular, accents and diacritics, etc.

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I wouldn't advise starting a language from scratch- even Tolkein didn't do that. He used old languages, celtic and scandinavian, from which he built new languages. My advice, if you're determined to do this, is to choose an ancient language to look into, and base your language on that (it might help if whatever civilization is going to be using this language has a culture similar to that of the ancient civilization, but that's up to you).
     
  3. Gloom Kitty
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    Gloom Kitty Banned

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    Orisan Scott card actually advises against using languages other then english in fantasy novels I'll get back to you with the reason for that when I hunt the book down
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Step 1: become an expert in languages and grammars.

    You really need to understand languages (plural) in that kind of depth if you plan on doing a convincing job of creating your own language for a novel. You may get away with a few stray words and phrases, but not with anything more extensive.
     
  5. Al B
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    Al B Senior Member

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    Actually creating a language could very easily turn into a lifetime's work. You'd be far better off adapting an existing, yet somewhat obscure one. So you might try Esperanto, which is often accepted to be the 'international space language' in a great deal of sci-fi, or, if you are going for something more fantasy-based, you could try a language with an unusual diction and structure which the majority of people are not familiar with, such as Finnish.

    Al
     
  6. Vayda
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    Vayda Senior Member

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    Were you looking for an entire new language that characters can speak, or just a way to name things like cities of other races, characters who aren't human, or perhaps some standard phrases? If it's the former, the advice given above me is very sound. If it's the latter...

    Consider the fact that all you need is a few names and maybe a phrase or two, consider a few basic rules of the language. Dwarven languages, for example, are typically more guttural and harsh sounding, with names like "Bartok." Elven languages, on the other hand, tend to be more fluid and contain a lot of vowel sounds, such as "Ellisslyah." Gnomish languages are long and somewhat comical: Glimshamillywigdinggrandon. Lots of individual syllables strung together. You get the idea, it's fairly easy to pick up a fantasy book and find these traits.

    You might also look into some other media that have created little snatches of languages for the reader to hear. In World of Warcraft, a video game, several races will throw in little bits of their own language when you talk to them. For example, when you say hello to a Blood Elf, she might reply with "Baladesh malanori," and when you say goodbye to a Draenai, they might say "Cronatai cristo." Night elves often say "elonia va shalam" (or something like that. I don't talk to night elves very often) and orcs, almost every time you say something to them, will say "Luk'tog!" I don't know what any of these phrases mean (although I think "baladesh malanori" is something like "remember the sunwell"), but it shows a lot about each individual language. Draenai roll their R's. Night elves love to throw long vowel sounds and l's into their words. Orcs speak with shorter, harsher syllables. Blood elf language is similar to night elf, but they throw in harsher sounds, like the "desh" and the "nori."

    I think it's fairly rare for a book to really need an entire, well developed language. It's fairly easy to fake your way through as long as you know a few basic rules of how you want the language to sound/feel on the page.
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I have a degree in Linguistics. Here are my thoughts on the matter:


    The human mind contains within itself the innate capacity to understand language. Language is neither an invention nor is it random, and cannot be faked. The mind will know when what it is reading is just gobble-d-gook.

    Unless you are ready to sit down with someone like myself and discuss the how and why of language function and form, I would not try it. Even a completely untrained individual will subconsciously recognize something that is not truly language.

    Let me give you an example of why the aforementioned is true:

    Way back in time, when the world was still huge and peoples where still meeting unknown peoples in far-off lands to do business, trade, or perhaps capture slaves, languages would meet languages that had no relation one to the other.

    When this happens, people create what is known as a pidgin tongue in order to speak to one another. A pidgin tongue is a cobbled together patchwork of vocabulary and grammar from both languages which is full of grammatical and vocabulary holes and inconsistencies. A pidgin is also sometimes called a patois.

    When these peoples live with each other long enough that they intermarry and have children, their children do something amazing with the broken, cobbled-together pidgin. Without any linguistic training at all, these children fill in all the missing blanks. They fix the grammar. They take something that is not truly a language and turn it into a true, healthy, vibrant, new language called a creole tongue. It’s truly amazing (to a big nerd like me myself.)

    This phenomenon took place all over the world, combining languages that had no relationship one to the other, in the least bit.

    Literally from the mouths of babes.

    It is the proof that language is as much a part of you as your eye or your hand. So, with all that said, tread carefully when you try to create a language for your story. I am a trained linguist, and I even I would find the task daunting.
     
  8. Parker3014
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    Parker3014 Member

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    Very well put Wreybies. I love the facts about Creole languages, which are really fun to consider and are giving me a cool idea for a play. Thanks.

    I would say that an author could get by with a very hastily constructed language if they used it in very specific ways. Obviously this would be difficult, but I actually think I might try something down this avenue.

    Wreybies, where did you study Linguistics?
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The University of Florida, Gainseville campus.

    I began my treck into why we talk at the Defense Language Institute, Presidio of Monterey where I trained as a Russian interpreter. Very different discipline, I know. I currently attend the University of Turabo in Caguas, Puerto Rico.

    <-- Eternal student. I hope to be still in class when I am 90 years young. :rolleyes:
     
  10. Titania
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    Titania Contributing Member

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    Wreybies, that's very neat... I love studying languages :) too much fun.

    Marcelo, what I've done has been to lay down some basic ground rules about the language of a certain group of people in my major story. For instance, I know that masculine words often end in 'n', and I know the how the regular plurals are formed for each of the genders (and I know there are three: masculine, feminine, and neuter). I've established that adjectives change based on gender, so that, for example, "Quina", a nickname for a red-headed character, is the feminine adjective for 'red', whereas "Quin Lan" or "Quinlan", a common last name, means "red boat".

    The fact that boats are masculine, rather than feminine as is common is most Earth-based societies (where you always see vessels referred to as 'she') is important because it fits with this society, which is matriarchal. The way you construct portions of a language can say a lot about the society which speaks the language.

    Where laying down some basic ground rules helps is, as you noted, in creating meaningful place names and people names. What I've found most helpful is setting up basic rules about pronunciation, and if there are certain letters or sounds which don't occur in your language. My language is pretty simple, but I have to keep in mind, when naming people especially, that there is no letter 'c', and that the letter 'x' (pronounced 'sh') and the diphthong 'ae' (pronounced like the name of the letter 'a') are very common, much more common than in English.

    Anyway... that just gives you some idea of one way it can be done which has worked pretty well for me so far at least. I don't think you need to construct the entire language because, as others have mentioned, it would be a tremendous project and extremely hard.
     
  11. Marcelo
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    Marcelo Contributing Member

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    Thanks! You gave me an idea dear fellow writers! I'll use words from ancient languages, which I plan to change slightly with my own grammatic rules. Thanks again!
     
  12. ReplicatorJade
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    ReplicatorJade New Member

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    I had the idea of creating a new language and I came up with an interesting idea from thinking about a past event in my schooling.
    I remembered when spelling words, I was always frustrated with how a word sounded and the spelling was completely different from what I thought it was. So, at one point I created by own version of English by spelling words how I thought they should and the way it turned out it looked like a cool language I created.

    The easy part with creating a language, is coming up with symbols, is the pronouncing that gets you, because you have to understand alot about languages. I have noticed from certain books or movies, the creators just use 'key phrases' instead of creating an entire langauge. It doesn't give you the 100% satisfaction, but at least its better then nothing.

    In my spare time I still try to work on creating a new language. Just for fun!
     
  13. MarionRivers
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    MarionRivers Member

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    If you decide you still desire to create a language.

    I have tried before to create languages, and it is terribly complicated in terms of all the elements you need in grammar and structure. It is complicated, though, so bare with me. Vocabulary you can add as you go along. This is an example of a language I attempted to create.


    The idea behind the language is that from a base set of verbs all major expression of words can be created. Suffixes added onto verbs change the part of speech and each suffix connotes a seperate concept of turning the verb. Verbs will only be conjugated in future, present, past, and there will be an indicative suffixed to verbs. Adjectives and adverbs are added onto their action. Adjectives are suffixed to nouns to create compound nouns. Adverbs go on the front of verbs to make compound verbs. There will also be prefixal noun declensions as to avoid confusion.. All verbs are a single syllable of a consonant or consonant blend plus a vowel. Here's the language but only with a select amount of verbs for the hardest part is writing all of them. J can make both Sh and “j” sound, except when one sound is not possible. W makes ch sound. Q makes th sound and s makes long i sound. Z makes both the s and z sound. Y makes both w and y sound, but it only is able to make when in a blend. C makes short “i” sound. New objects and subjects together need conjunctions in sentence. When you make compound nouns, the pluralizer goes at end. X begins every sentence and shows that a noun is proper. Consonant clusters are to be distinguished.

    Verb Conjugation
    Sample verbs jto (to kill) ung negates
    Future zg jto jtozgung He will kill He will kill not
    Past nw jtonw jtonwung He killed He killed not
    Present v jtov jtovung He kills He kills not
    Infinitive(suffixed to verb) t jtovjtot jtovungjtot jtovjtotung He killed to kill He killed not to kill He killed to not kill

    Prepositions
    +
    O as prefix negates- Add b to use between adjectives (mrimkbrubvrumk)
    Of- wu
    (As to give the same affect as of and only of of may it be done that a noun that has a suffix of “c” at the end in the front of an “ofed” will show as the thing it is in front of is the prepositional object of it through of. Fishes Food. Vlelntildc Tleldlilk. Tleldlilk wu Jtelvlelntild. Food of Fishes. It is not declined as an object of a preposition because “Vlelntildc” is an adjective.)
    Gru- to
    Qu- In
    Lu Over
    Tu Under
    Ztu For
    Ku With
    Vyu As
    Bru- By
    Qtvu- Behind


    Conjuctions
    Conjunctions restart declining Add b to use between adjectives

    No- and
    Bo- or
    Ls- but
    That- Ke
    If- Ze
    Who- Tli (add z to make question) (add zd to pronounify)
    What- Zbi (add z to make question) (add zd to pronounify)
    When- Gli (add z to make question)
    Where- Myi (add z to make question)
    Which- Bli (add z to make question) (add zd to pronounify)

    How- Tri
    Questions are reversal of object and subject.



    To Alter Speech

    Noun
    Sample verbs fri (to hate) ow of quality
    lq The doing of the action frilq the hating frilqow the hatingness
    ltz What the action was done to fritj the hated the hatedness
    lk The result of the doing of the action frilk the hatred the hatredness
    lnt What action is done to frilnt the hateé frilntow the hateéness
    lj What does action frilj the hater friljow the haterness
    Add ild as suffix to show plural.



    Adjective
    Sample verb zkre (to sicken) ew is of quality
    mq Thing is doing of the action zkremq zkremqew sickeningist sickeningish
    Sickeningish Sickening zkrelqzkremq
    mtz Of what the action was done to zkremtz zkrenkew sickendist sickendish
    Sickendist Sickening zkrelqzkremk
    mk Of the result of doing the action zkremk zkremkew sickenmentist sickenmentish
    Sickenmentish Sickening zkrelqzkremkew
    mnt Of quality of what verb is done to zkremnt zkremntew sickeneéist sickeneéish
    Sickeneéish Sickening zkrelqzkremntew
    mj Of what does verb zkremj zkremjew sicknerist sickenerish
    Sickenerist Sickening zkrelqskremj


    Adverb
    Sample verb zli (to kiss) iw is of quality
    rq Action is of doing zlirq zlirqiw kissingly kissingly
    He kisses kissingly zlirqzlirv
    rtz Of what the action was done to zlirtz zlirtziw kissedyly kissedly
    He kisses kissedly zlirtzlirv
    rk Of the result of doing the action zlirk zlirkiw kissmentyly kissmently
    He kisses kissmently zlirkzliv
    rnt Of what the action is done to zlirrntz zlirrntziw kisséyly kissély
    He kisses kisséyly zlirrntziwzliv
    rj Of the doer the action slirj slirjiw kisseryly kisserly
    He does kiss kisseryly zlirjiwzliv

    The same can be done onto adjectives.
    Kissinglykissedkiss
    Zliqzlirtzlimk

    When an Adverb or adjective is added it creates a compound word.

    Prefixal Noun Declensions
    Rsl Subject Tsl Multiple Subjects
    Zkil First object Zkyil Multiple Objects
    Qil 2 Qyil
    Til 3 Tyil
    Tvil 4 Tvyil
    Vil 5 Vyil
    Jil 6 Jyil
    Qmil 7 Qmyil
    Ztvil 8 Ztvyil
    Wil 9 Wyil
    ZkilKil 10 ZkyilKyil
    Etc. (takes number and drops xds for il)
    Objects of prepositions
    (It is just like above but “I” is replaced by "a")
    Tlel When not in any above situations Jtel Multiple not in any above situations





    Numbers (adjectives) (10 and up are just the reading of the digits)
    Zksd(ud instead of sd for adverb) 1
    Qsd(ud) 2
    Tsd(ud) 3
    Tvsd(ud) 4
    Vsd(ud) 5
    Jsd(ud) 6
    Qmsd(ud) 7
    Ztvsd(ud) 8
    Wsd(ud) 9
    Ksd(ud) 0



    Articles

    Tur is definite article
    Mir is the indefinite article

    Pronouns
    Gizb- I
    Ruzb- He
    Fuzb- She
    It- Rizb
    You- Mazb
    That- Jszb
    This- Bszb


    I have a list of existing verbs, but it is very hard to portray on the forum. Let me give three sample setences.

    It killed him by sickening him with food.

    Rslrizb jtonw zkilruzb bru tur zkrelq wu zkalruzb ztu jteldlilk.

    Or literally, It killed him by the sickening of him with food.


    I love you because I want to go to the store.

    Rslgizb dlav ztu tur jtelqmalk ke rslgizb jkevbret gru tur zkilbrulj.

    Or literally, I loved you for the reason that I want to go the store.


    They are nice.

    Rslruzbild vomq bev.

    Or literally, Mulitple "he"s nicely are.


    Sorry, if this is a confusing overload, but if you can a bit out, this is basically the linguistic basis for a language. I've given up on this language, so feel free to steal from it or use it.
     
  14. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Creating a full language, as many have noted, is not the feat of an hour, or even a year. If it is not something you enjoy, then I would not adivse attempting it. If you want an actual language, then altering a real one is a very good possibility, though if you just want a few words and names, you might be able to get by with merely a phonology and maybe some phonotactics. A good resource for something like this would be the "Language Construction Kit" at Zompist.com.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The problem: "I want to create a language."

    The first question I would ask is, "How many languages do you speak or read?" I don't mean you have to have a huge vocabulary in several languages, although that would certainly help. What is far more important is having some familiarity with the variety among languages, especially in terms of syntax and style.

    Language is far more than vocabulary. Understanding how different languages treat verb tense, the role of pronouns (e.g. in Latin the pronouns are mostly implicit in the verb form and not represented by separate words), pluralization rules and other variations in nouns, whether word gender has anything to do with biological gender, whether certain types of words are split (e.g. many German verb forms), and the preferred placement of sentence elements (subject verb object, subject object verb, verb subject object?), the role of inflection in sentence semantics, etc.

    Only then can you begin creating a vocabulary. Ever notice how the most common or important words of a language tend to be the shortest? Or how certain terms that are one word in one language are subdivided into different words in another (for instance, English uses hot where Spanish differentiates between caliente - thermally hot - and picante - spicy hot).

    In short, constructing a believable language is far more than simply creating a lexicon. Unless you have a strong interest in linguistics to begin with, I would recommend against undertaking that challenge when you could better put your efforts into writing your story.

    You may possibly need a special word or two to encapsulate concepts that dominate life in your setting, and that is not quite as huge an undertaking. But it still helps to know more than one language to understand how such words fit into a language.
     
  16. Sephie913
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    Sephie913 Member

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    I've worked for a while to create a language for my world. I debated for some time whether I should pull a Tolkien, but decided- and rightfully so- that I'm not nearly as ambitious in that area. I've started a language common to an ancient empire, whose fragments still linger in the current society, and especially in magic.

    I've built basic alphabetic/phonic structure, as well as grammatic outline. Outside of that, I've started a dictionary to keep track of the words and their meanings.

    So basically, I keep in mind all of the preexisting rules, and the language nearly creates itself. Not that much harder than making original character names. "the lazy person's guide to language creation," I guess.
     
  17. Scarlett_156
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    Scarlett_156 Active Member

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    I see that a lot of folks have put some good work and thought into this thread, so I enter my remarks here with the disclaimer that I don't intend to offend or put anyone off by saying the following. I also have studied languages from an early age, though I'm fluent only in English. (I'll bet I can speak Latin better than you, though! :p) I'm one of those people who will take a crash course on a language just because I think it's cool. It is indeed very good to have at least a working knowledge of language in general before attempting to create an entirely new one.

    Anyway, moving on.

    This is what I do:

    When I come to the first place in the story that the "new" language is to be used, I make up the necessary words or phrases. I put those in a separate list with their meanings. This list is kept open as a second document while I'm working on the story.

    When I come to another place in the story I take the phrase(s) that I want to translate, and if the words or some form of them have already been used, I use those. I make up conjugation and tenses as I go along, but in any case, I add what I have just created to my searchable word list.

    And so on. It is seldom necessary to make up an entire new language for a story. As long as you keep your new language consistent with its own rules--established by you as you go along--then you shouldn't run into any serious trouble. ​

    That's the great thing about modern writing. In the "good old days" we had to do all this stuff with notebooks and it sucked donkey balls. Now we can create searchable lists in word processing and keep them handy so we don't have to be flipping through a notebook at four a.m., muttering, "Hm... 'barnyard'... 'barnyard'... I KNOW I've used the word 'barnyard' in here before, WHERE IS IT!!!???"

    One of the novels that I started quite some time ago but never finished involves several races of people each with its own language, and one "trade language" that all these characters spoke for cross-culture communication. It was not difficult to create each of these languages, and make each one different, because I didn't sweat all those words that I knew I would never use--I only concerned myself with the words that were actually being used, which in almost every case are going to be relatively few.

    Naturally, most of your story is going to be in English, or whichever language you write it in that you speak and understand the best. You want your readers, who also speak that language, to enjoy your writing without having to keep these extensive lists themselves, right? (Plus you don't want to hack off people whose lifelong passion has been the study of languages!)

    So write your stuff out in your own language first and make sure it reads well, BEFORE you go creating another language. I assure you: No one will want to read your story for the sole reason that you have, for this story, created a new language. They will ONLY want to read it if your writing is good in your own language.

    I hope this was helpful. yours in Chaos, Scarlett
     
  18. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Cogito is correct, and I have chimed in a time or two in this thread already, but just to add some more...

    Language is an amazingly complex thing. It has been likened to a biological organism in the way that it develops, evolves over time and space, and it is not always straight forward. Sometimes it seems to make little sense to the logical part of our minds, and yet it is the way it is. I'll give you a small and simple example from Spanish that will seem strange to those whose first language is English:

    Reduplication

    This phenomenon takes many forms in various languages. In Spanish it is seen in the syntax of the indirect object. Example:

    Yo le di a mi mama un libro.

    I gave my mother a book.

    In the preceding sentences the words in red represent the recipient of an item in the dative case or more commonly known as the indirect object.

    You'll notice that in the Spanish sentence there are two portions that are in red. If the recipient of the item (the indirect object) is not known from context, then it must obviously be mentioned explicitly. In this case, the words a mi mama is the explicit mention, meaning to my mother.

    But in Spanish, regardless of whether the indirect object is explicitly mentioned or not, there is always a grammatical requirement that the indirect abject also be mentioned as an inflected pronoun, in this case as the word le. So, if you were to make a literal translation of the Spanish sentence I have provided, it would read:

    I to her/him* gave to my mother a book.

    * The word le is genderless and can mean him or her.

    It seems strange to mention the person receiving the item twice in one sentence, and in English it would be just plain wrong, but in Spanish it not only makes sense, it is absolutely required.

    See what I mean about not always straight forward? :rolleyes:
     
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  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    J.R.R. Tolkien was fascinated with the linguistics in his Middle Earth, as much as he was with the stories. A lot of it shows in the careful construction od the words so there were clear connections (simple example: nazg - ring, nazgûl - ringwraith).

    But all but the most dedicated Tolkien fans skim past the carefully-designed snippets of Elvish or Dwarvish, at least in the first couple of readings. If he had written it for his readers, it would have been largely a waste of effort. Who'd have really noticed if he had left it out?
     
  20. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    As someone who has actually studied(sort of), Tolkein's languages, I can say that as fascinating as they are to me, I would not have noticed if they hadn't been in the story, or if he had cheated and used random words. Unless you really, really enjoy language, you are better off using something like scarlett's method; though anyone who is an avid conlanger or linguist might be disappointed in you, the vast majority of your readership will take absolutely no notice whatsoever. if the story is your main priority, you'll do youself a favor in not creating an entire language.
     
  21. pippin1710
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    pippin1710 Member

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    For my one fantasy novel i decided to create a language i learned as much as i could about doing so off of online sources and that really helped me once you get the basic stuff down pack my advice is to write down 1000 commonly used words and when you write if you need another one write it down too
     
  22. Rio Moss
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    Rio Moss Member

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    I liked Malcolm Bradbury's fake language in Rates of Exchange, but on the whole, if there were too much of it, it would distract be from the story itself and become a nuisance.
     
  23. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I once wrote a whole short story in a rough draft of one of my conlangs. It was absolutely fun (but frustrating). No one would spend the eight years to learn the language just to read that story, even if it had won the nobel prize in literature.
     
  24. Farseer
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    On the subject of writing using a made-up language, it's generally best not to set down the rules directly. Let them be revealed by the use of it rather than bombarding and confusing the reader with grammar rules which they won't likely read anyway. Show, don't tell, to put it very simply.
     
  25. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've yet to see a story used merely as a grammar lesson. Why anyone would bother to set the rules down in the story except in a special circumstance baffles me.
     

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