1. IlaridaArch
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    IlaridaArch Active Member

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    Creating fully new language (fantasy)

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by IlaridaArch, May 9, 2016.

    I have decided to create an ancient language for my world.

    Wanted to ask you guys&gals of WF that are there any articles or resources for this, which might give me some guidelines in this task? How about personal experiences?
     
  2. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    Hi Ilarida, google conlang or conlang creation and you will discover a whole world of resources.

    :)
     
  3. yeybez
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    yeybez Member

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    you have the greatest resource of all: your imagination.

    that and typing shit into obscure languages on google translate then muddling a few letters here and there for good measure.
     
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  4. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    First off, do you know any real languages, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, the like? If so then you have the basis for formulating the basic rules of grammar that are generally common to all human languages, and you can change the rules as you need to create an artificial language.

    Secondly, don't overdo it. Tolkien did a great job of creating complete artificial languages, but he was a linguist. While in his early teens, Tolkien had his first encounter with a constructed language, Animalic, an invention of his cousins, Mary and Marjorie Incledon. At that time, he was studying Latin and Anglo-Saxon. Interest in the language soon died away, but Mary and others, including Tolkien himself, invented a new and more complex language called Nevbosh. The next constructed language he came to work with, Naffarin, would be his own creation. He spent more than a few years doing this and he was also a linguist and philologist at Pembroke College, and translated Beowulf which served as his inspiration for the Lord of the Rings.

    If you aren't in his category, keep it simple, a few words here and there, no different than what you would do if writing a story where the characters are speaking a foreign language. In the case where my characters are speaking Bactrian (ancient Afghani) I use exactly one authentic Bactrian phrase 'Lourdh pi t'ao,' (Peace be to you, a greeting) one time, as my female MC lurches into a typical mistake of saying something too well in the language she is learning, convincing the listener that she is more fluent than she is. In response to his rapid fire Bactrian, her response is "Sorry, can we go back to han-yu?" Chinese, which at this point is their lingua franca.
     
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  5. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Conlangs usually have a lot of faults because of their poor development or strange grammar constructions that are highly artificial or simply mimic the source language of the creator. Personally, I think the pinnacle of a conlang is being able to think in that language - no internal translation. Though with a conlang - unlike a real language - you also have to consider expression and idioms and such that are not capable of being translated in English or making 'sense', but would to native speakers. Then you have dialects and generational gaps, the issue of writing and poetry. Sound symbolism is something very important in my conlang and it makes up a significant portion of expressive terms. In essence trying to translate the idea to English is not exactly easy, I tend to obsess over word choices then.

    What was good for me was to solidify my understanding by learning the exact opposite of English. Getting away from the familiar grammar structure and writing system was pretty freeing and did wonders for my expression. It is also pretty freeing to be capable of thinking in a different language... though it is a feeling too few people know.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Though this probably falls outside the scope of what the OP was intending to engage, I have to agree. Speaking both Spanish and Russian opens up different ways in which my mind is willing to engage syntax and expression.
     
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  7. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    I second this (I speak Spanish). Not being monolingual is a huge advantage of you're interested in developing conlangs.

    Also good advice, I reckon, if story is what you're really interested in, and not the developing the conlang for its own sake.
     
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  8. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can read French and Spanish almost as fluidly as English, Russian more haltingly, and Latin depending on the author and their flexibility of word order. At one time I could manage simple haiku in Japanese (Romanji only). I honestly cannot say I have ever had anything more than halting speaking proficiency in any of them, nor the ability to understand them without asking for a lot of repeats. I am listening to French Canadian country music on Sirius channel 166 with the hopes of being able to follow spoken French, but after almost a year, all I can say is that I can occasionally follow a sentence or two if they speak very clearly, the signal to noise ratio of speech to accompaniment is high, and the singer does not use some Canadian accent (Acadian for example) that is too thick. Though I did follow one singer who pronounced "oi" as "way" instead of "wah" (moi, toi, moin, bejoin as mway, tway, mwayn and bejwayn).

    I would love to have an ability to think in a language, but I think it would take constant immersion over a very long period to achieve it.
     
  9. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I'd think about to what extent you're going to be using this language first. Creating an entire language is a massive undertaking and unless you're into doing it for fun, it might be better to just narrow down to what words/phrases you need for your story - make sure what you've got is internally consistent so it looks like it could be a real language. Or you could do what I'm doing and intend to do that, and have it working out, but then also go, "Nah, I wanna make a whole language after all."

    I'm starting with vocabulary, specifically with the phonemes that make up people's names because they're the most common, and expanding from there. For instance one character's name has a diminutive in it (his uncle's name meant 'falcon', his name means 'little falcon'), so I was able to 'teach' myself a semi-common word that's not a noun because of how their names are constructed. I also know that 'se' means 'bird', because the word for 'falcon' is composed of 'predatory' and 'bird'.

    That's been my (probably super flawed) method, anyway. I haven't even gotten into grammar issues. I'm also cheating because the language I'm creating is one that's all but dead in-universe, so only a certain small group of people know any of it and their understanding is shaky. It wasn't me who messed up the language in that one line of dialog, honest, it was the characters :D
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You're not wrong, and it does eventually happen. About three quarters of the way through my Russian course at the DLIFLC, I will never forget the day the cashier at the PX handed me back my check and said, "No, no, sweetie. It needs to be in English." I hadn't even realized I'd written it out in Russian.
     
  11. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    -Kwe ambi-rad-i- tu, sindo Mi weid-?

    No articles or resources that I know of. I work with an actual ancient language. For me, verb conjugation is a bugger. I'd suggest looking at how actual languages are used and constructed, then decide which "rules" you want to adhere to.
     
  12. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    My daughter spent a summer in college in Germany with a family that didn't speak German (she was German major) and she was most surprised to reemerge back into the English-speaking world. So I know it can happen, just never yet to me. At 68, it may never happen!
     
  13. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nothing flawed in that approach. This sounds like a very practical way to create an artificial language that is credible without requiring your reader to take a conversational grammar course to read the book
     
  14. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    My issue with conlangs is that they usually have rudimentary grammar and poor vocabularies. Most are placed in the background and this is probably fine to give an impact to certain stories, but it takes a lot of time to make even a decent conlang. Tolkien clearly was not fluent in Elvish, but it clearly worked.

    The market of people who want a detailed look into a conlang is probably extremely small, but even that farce which is from Game of Thrones still passes as 'good'.
     
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  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    And that they tend to be over-simple and over-logical. Few people are versed in knowledges like consonant groups, how they travel together, how they trade places with one another, the way in which consenant shifts can alter whole swaths of a language but leave some parts untouched, etc. I was chatting with one of the mods earlier and elsewhere concerning etymology and how the word kind and the word gender aren't just related but are pretty much the same word when looked at from an etymological and phonological stance. G and K are, for all intents and purposes of I.E. word roots, the same phoneme, just voiced and unvoiced versions. When you know that vowels never count in word roots you see:

    K - i - ND
    G - e - ND - eR

    When you accept that G and K are interchangeable, and do switch places all the time, you see that they are the same. This level of detail is usually missing from conlang.
     
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  16. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    Off topic, but it's interesting to see that I'm not the only one here who has been kept awake by the sea lions...
     
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  17. IlaridaArch
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    IlaridaArch Active Member

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    Thank you all for the replies!

    @izzybot gave me a good reminder about the usage of this language. It would be the language of a race that was killed to extinct, and now another race habits their lands. So this language would come up in old tomes, carvings and so on. I also plan this language to influence the other race, and they would borrow some words from it.

    So I guess I only need basics. Maybe I need to create some basic logic behind the word structures, and I'm almost set. Thanks @Wayjor Frippery for the tip. :)

    I speak finnish, swedish and english, so I might have a bit better pool to start with!
     
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  18. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    So - essentially places, popular terms and technologies maybe some idioms? A key point in names would be 'descriptive' chunks in geographical features or resource-related terms.
     
  19. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    New spoken languages don't arise very often so it's difficult to study how they develop. However, there is one field where languages are constantly being improved and sometimes radically changing: computer languages. Study up on the development and evolution of these and I'm sure you'll be able to parallel it to developing a new spoken language.
     
  20. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, Naval Postgrad School 1975-1977... and don't forget the peacocks on campus. They sound like women being assaulted!
     
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  21. MichaelP
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    MichaelP Active Member

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    I can't imagine why it would be necessary to create a working language for the sake of a novel unless understanding the intricacies of the language is important to the story. But, if you must, it would probably suffice to create a series of simple grammar rules and make up the language's words as you write the story, keeping track of each word in a notebook or whatever.

    Here is everything I can think of regarding grammar. Maybe you can create rules for the following.

    1. Pronunciation.

    2. Writing System.

    3. Word order. (Subject-Object-Verb sentences, subject/predicate, Incomplete sentences, etc.)

    4. Nouns. (Gender, Articles, Numbers, Names, Titles, Compound Nouns, Noun Suffixes, etc.)

    5. Pronouns. (Personal Pronouns, Special Usages, Interrogative/Indefinite/Demonstrative/Relative/Reflexive Forms)

    6. Particle Usage.

    7. Verbs. (Agreement, Conjugation, Indicative, Tenses, Gerund Form, Imperative/Presumptive/Conditional/Potential/Passive/Causative Forms, Clauses, Nominalization, etc.)

    8. Adjectives. (Noun Modifiers, Verbal Forms, Adverbial Forms, Comparisons, Nominalizations, etc.)

    9. Adverbs. (Place, Time, Manner, Degree, etc.)

    10. Random Things. (Counting, Telling Time, Seasons, Days of Week, Months, Years, Weather, Family Relationships, Greetings, etc.)
     
  22. Buttered Toast
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    Buttered Toast Active Member

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    Maybe I'm just thinking outside of the box but does it have to be a language with letters?
    Why not draw a language?
    Ok that might be daft? But the writer can explain how the language sounds like instead of making up a totally new thing?
    I don't have a different language in my book but I do have to make up unique words for different spells, although it's not as unique as I like to think as most of them sound Elvish (love you Tolkien)
     
  23. misteralcala
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    misteralcala Member

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    As a writer, your main goal should be to provide the reader with a story they will want to invest their time, imagination and emotions in. By introducing something as daunting as a complete language, you risk alienating and discouraging your audience. They came for a story, but now it's become a study in linguistics! I think it's a good idea to use different cultures to distinguish your characters, but there are better ways to make your world unique that don't involve making your reader constantly flip to the glossary to look up a word or phrase, or waste pages full of "translations".

    NOBODY wants to work that hard. You can use key phrases or words here or there, like honorific titles, greetings and commonly said phrases, but less is more - use them sparingly and tastefully. Even using too many "strange words" to describe common objects is frowned upon.

    Which is easier to follow?:

    1. The scraatyi crept around the thranx, silently stalking the shadow cast by the Uthibii. Only the swaying of it's pelingi alluded to it's playful mood.
    2. The cat crept around the bush, silently stalking the shadow cast by the Cleric. Only the swaying of it's tail alluded to it's playful mood.
     
  24. Revilo87
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    Revilo87 Member

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    I'm actually am thinking about a similar endeavor, except I might just limit it to place names, titles, and a few phrases, though I'm curious on how creative to get since the most common advice is to not create names and words that are too difficult for the readers.

    Are constant sounds like 'Kh" or "Gh" to hard to pronounce? Also how would I indicate that all the "A's" in this language are gonna sound like the "A" in "all" and not the A in "apple?" etc.
     
  25. Lyrical
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    Lyrical Frumious Bandersnatch

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    NPR did this fascinating interview with a linguistics expert by the name of David J Peterson. You can find it here. He talks at length about the invention of languages. He is fluid in 8 real languages and many fictional ones.

    He is the inventor of all three fictional languages used on Game of Thrones, one for Thor: The Dark World, and four languages for some show on SyFy called Defiance. He has two degrees in linguistics, so I'd say if anyone knows what he's doing, it's this guy.

    I found the interview to be highly informative. I'll never attempt to invent a language of my own, but you might find his insight helpful.
     
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