1. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Creating a new language in fiction?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Thomas Kitchen, Apr 18, 2013.

    Hi there,

    My novel is set in a post-apocalyptic world, and my two main characters eventually meet with a 'free to roam' tribe which has taken inspiration from African tribes. In my first draft, when they spoke, I just wrote some gobbledegook, but in my second draft I want to make it seem more realistic. However, I have not created a new language before (and don't plan to!), meaning the only two ways around this that I can think of is either (A) Refine my gobbledegook to something believable or (B) Actually use an African language in my book. However, will option B be 'politically correct?' That may seem like a stupid question, but I've been known to do un-politically correct things in my time and I don't want to do that in my book.

    Any advice or other ideas would be fantastic. :D
     
  2. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    A) You can invent your own gobbledegook (ironically enough, 'gook' is a racial slur... ;P) by all means, it can be fun too, just make sure that the reader knows what's going on when your characters speak.

    B) Well, if it's a specific African tribe, you probably want them to speak their native tongue. You can sprinkle a few sayings here and there for effect, maintain the rest in English (when from the POV of your main characters, they just don't understand it and only hear sounds without meaning. When from the POV of your tribe, it's English).

    Your choice may depend on how much research you want to do and what kind. As for political incorrectness... urgh, a topic so not my favorite, especially cos even my breathing is most likely deemed politically incorrect in certain circles. Anyway, if you show this real African tribe in such a light that all sides of humanity are there, not just evil ones (and I think you should cos nothing's black and white, right? Not even your heartless male protag ;)), it's less likely you will end up hanging by your-- Yeah.

    I'd be honored if someone placed a fictionalized version of my tribe (provided I had one) into a novel.

    Just don't do the thing that the black African tribe rule the Earth yet call themselves coals while referring to white people as pearls as if 'pearl' was a grave racial slur.
     
  3. Motley
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    Motley Active Member

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    Is this post-apocalyptic world actually Earth? If these people are actually part of an African tribe, research and use the correct language.

    If not, use gobbledegook. Or, maybe more accessible to readers who will be mystified with whole sentences of gobbledegook, use, "the man spoke in some foreign language I couldn't understand, but he seemed mad" or whatever.
     
  4. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    if your characters speak in gobbledygook or Afrish how will your readers understand it?
     
  5. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    How can using an African language ever be 'politically incorrect?' The fact that an aspiring writer felt the need to ask that question is flat-out worrying. It can only be labelled offensive if you make it play up to negative stereotypes, i.e. make it consist of nothing other than 'um bonga' and grunts. If it's anywhere near a realistic African language then there shouldn't be any trouble at all. None you should feel bothered about, anyway.
     
  6. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    That's for the advice, KaTrian. :) Yes, it is Earth. My readers don't need to understand the language - it is the body language in which they say the language that's important. And Gallowglass, I don't know what's 'right or wrong' to say these days, and I don't exactly want people ranting at me and having to go to court. :p I'd rather dodge that, so I thought I'd ask, just in case. I'm not planning to make it offensive in any way. And just to be annoying, I'm not an aspiring writer; I am a writer.

    Thanks, everyone. :D
     
  7. MHJr92
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    MHJr92 New Member

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    Maybe the language barrier can be short-lived?

    For example:

    "Benour trekknoy es shackelton," the man begins to shout while pointing at his house, which was destroyed by the weather.

    "His house," I thought to myself, "His house is destroyed."

    Maybe the character can pick up the language, or at the very least language isn't a major issue after a bit of dialog.
     
  8. Kaga
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    Kaga Member

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    My first thought is that in a post-apocalyptic setting, the whole world has broken down and language might be one of the things that has gone down the drain. So in my opinion you can choose to go with a real language, a bastardized version of a real language or perhaps a mix of several languages, or a constructed language. I know a fellow writer who used Esperanto, since not that many speak it and it looks foreign enough to work.

    If you want to go all the way and construct your own language it can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a heck of a lot of work. I made a language for a fan fiction I wrote once, and ended up with a dictionary containing a couple of hundred words. It was a pain in the neck sometimes, but I also learned a lot about the english language that I didn't know. All in all it was a very interesting experience.
     
  9. blackstar21595
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    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

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    I suggest you look at Chinua Achebe's book "Things Fall Apart." In it, he makes the reader know the MC is in a tribe, but has their speak in "english" even though we know they're not speaking english. Look at how Chinua does that.
     
  10. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    Do you speak a African tribe language? If not my question is; how do you plan on doing it?

    I'd stick with gobledegook. Get someone to speak a language you don't understand to you, it's very difficult to make out separate words unless you spend a lot of time listening to the language. When I first me my norwegian friends I was pretty sure all they said was flippdy flugen over and over again. It was the same when I worked at a casino and dealt to a lot of Vietnamese patrons; Viet sounds like a rapid succession of 'ong bok lok, ong bok'. But, after spending a lot of time with them, I could start to make out different words, and the language seemed to slow down. I still don't speak a lick of either of these languages but it's something to consider. Decide on the sounds and write phonetically, call attention to how fast they sound when speaking.
     
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  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Above all, your responsibility s to communicate with your readers. Creating a language can be important to a story, but is not to be undertaken lightly.

    You have to ask yourself whether the additional opacity resulting from addition of a language your readers will not know is sufficiently compensated by some other benefit that can only be gained by adding that language.

    For example, Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange would not be half as compelling without his created language of the subculture. But Burgess was a skilled linguist, and many of the writers who choose to create languages for their stories are not. It shows.
     
  12. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    If someone takes you to court for having an African language in a book, you'll get a) free publicity and b) them to pay your legal fees for wasting everyone's time ;)
     
  13. NumberOneChin
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    I would suggest that, for your readers at least, the dialogue itself would be better suited if it remained in English. As another mentioned, simply stating that they are speaking another language would probably be more beneficial. Creating a new language is one thing, but using it in a book and ensuring everyone understands it is another matter entirely.

    Whilst reading Simon Scarrow's Eagle Series, for example, everything is written in English, though it is patent that the language spoken is Latin (being Roman and all!). There are times when a minor character speaks in a different tongue (one which Cato understood), and Scarrow justly states that the characters are then conversing in Greek (or whichever), before switching back to Latin.

    Above all, it would save the reader a great deal of time and confusion if you just wrote it in English. Particularly if the rest of the book is in English, and the market is predominantly English.
     
  14. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    Here's what I'm doing. In my novella there's a tribe and they speak "Kasso."

    Make a list of words. It can be gibberish. Then, put beside them what they mean in English. When you write with this language in the novella, it is imperative you include a translation, that is, if you want your reader to have a clue what they're saying.

    Example:
    San kasso poori moji ponta
    The kasso is my language.

    If a novice speaker is talking, include all the ellipses, subtle mistakes, and whatnot, to give some authenticity. I'm learning French. I've been learning it for a while, and have made great strides. I still can't spout it out flawlessly at the speed I can speak in English.
     
  15. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    I forgot to mention, and this is something that needs to be done when i edit the story: Make patterns. In English, we have "ly" for adverbs, "y" for adjectives, conjugations, etc. In other languages, like French, it's even more complicated, with genders and much more diversified conjugations, subjunctive forms, conditional forms, etc, that English "lost" a lot of.
     
  16. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    My recommendation would be that by all means either use a known foreign language or an invented one, but do so very sparingly in order to give just a flavour of the 'otherness' of the language barrier. Most of your readers won't like having to read lots of words they are unfamiliar with and will stop reading rather than struggle through with dialogue or description that means nothing to them. Once that 'otherness' is established, use the suggestions in other posters' replies to avoid quoting the foreign language directly.
     
  17. Somnus
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    I would suggest using the foreign language (either a version you twisted from this African language, the actual African language or a completely made-up one) for a few lines before switching to English. The reader should understand the characters are still conversing in another language, but you simply changed it for their convenience. Also, as another poster stated - I shouldn't think that using an existing language would cause you any trouble. For one, I wouldn't expect many (if any at all) readers to take the time to try and determine what language it is (the other possibility is if they speak said language), so some will possibly assume it's complete gibberish anyways. Secondly, if you keep the use of your language neutral (non-disparaging) relative to the tribe in question, that shouldn't be an issue for anyone.
     
  18. slamdunk
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    slamdunk Member

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    I suggest page after page of dialogue in a made up language to really test your readers patience, then sell a dictionary to anyone interested and make double the profit!
     
  19. Inquisitor Ehrenstein
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    As soon as you say African, you're not being politically correct. Any time you say African, replace it with European. If it fits, it's ok. If it seems oddly unspecific, it's portraying Africans as a single people. Anyone who has studied Africa is going to have a WTH moment at "African language." What would be good would be to find specific languages for basis.

    Making a language can be fun and add a lot of depth, but there's not going to be any return on it. It's unlikely anyone will ever learn it, let alone use it. It could also be potentially negative socially, to spend a lot of time working on creating a language. It probably won't take more time than any other hobby, but it might seem eccentric. And I'm not quite sure what I'm worried about. I'm sure most of the things we do here are eccentric.
     
  20. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    I just had a "WTH" moment.

    Because everyone who lives in Africa is European?... Also, the original poster said "an African language" as in there are many and then he would select one of them.
     
  21. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    it is rather pointless to create a new language because you will have to somehow translate anyway, unless you are making a scene that requires getting through a language barrier. in that case base it off another language IE french has few stark words, it favors flowing words,many v's S's P's by contrast German and Icelandic are guttural.....so decide how you want it to sound ...go from there.
     
  22. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    BTW a good portion of urban Africa speaks French. Other parts speak English
     
  23. Nicki_G
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    Nicki_G Member

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    I'd like to look into this...

    But, if the reader and the characters don't need to understand what exactly it is that they are saying then I would just be consistent with what you are using as your language, develop a pattern for it. Otherwise, just have fun with it! =)
     
  24. Kaidonni
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    I shall invoke the Richard Adams example - Watership Down. He invented a number of words belonging to a language he named 'Lapine', and each of these words had a purpose to serve that straight and up English could never achieve.

    Take for instance 'hraka'; it means to go take a number two, to relieve oneself. For the rabbits, it wasn't as simple as going to the toilet, they had to go outside where they were vulnerable to predators. They also chewed on the pellets at a later time for additional nutrients. The word 'hraka' had the effect of making this an event of significance, and sounds so much better than the alternatives. 'Silflay' referred to going out to graze, and was another significant element of the rabbit culture. There were even names for predators, but Richard Adams referred to predators in both plain English and Lapine at different times (can't remember, but I believe he specifically used Lapine when writing from the POV of one of the rabbits). He only sprinkled the story with these words, and they served a purpose English itself was unsuited to.

    If you enjoy conlanging, by all means invent a language and sprinkle your story with a few select words that can't be rendered well in English. You don't need an education or career in linguistics, but you do need to be prepared to learn a heck of a lot. I enjoy conlanging, and for a world I'm constructing, there are certain words that cannot be rendered in English because it would completely change the whole significance of the concept behind the words, but I will choose those words carefully (and one of them is 'fox', but I won't tell why, I'll tease :p), and of course it will depend on the POV character also.
     

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