1. skistovasti
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    skistovasti Member

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    How does one go about best creating a language?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by skistovasti, May 31, 2013.

    I'm creating a language for an alien race in my little universe, known as the Skrovans. Here's what I got down so far:

    Basic sentence structure is "object-subject-verb", eg. "Ball Billy threw" or "ship I pilot".

    verbs always end in -sti

    possession goes "e-possessor-possessed" (so Ebillyball)

    words can be combined. If the end of the first word is same as beginning of second, combine them (hard to do in English, look at the "tank" in the words below)

    the referring subjects(what do you call those?) for their race go: Skroviin-I Skrovon-you Skroves-we/us Skrova-they(plural and singular)
    For other races, it goes: Krekon-you kreka-they

    I have a basic list of words:

    Eskrovansti'laa-homeworld (home of conquering people, to be precise)
    slaa-ship
    Skrovan-conquering people
    Lavkan-humans(primitive people)
    Krekvan-Xi'Crati(other people[Xi'Crati is another alien race, only other race they've found to be capable of interstellar warfare until they invaded the humans a second time])
    Slista-yes Slisto-no
    Skrovtam-bioweapon(conquering disease, what the Skrovans use to clear out a planet of living creatures before mining operations begin)
    Nosksti-retreat
    Skrovsti-attack(conquer)
    Korstolan-tank(self-weapon)
    Stolan-weapon
    Korsto-self
    Sti'laa-home
    valan-people
    maksti-stop
    veksti-go
    Velsti-flank
    Morsti sta'ron-"take cover!"
    Morsti-acquire
    Sta'ron-cover, block, building
    Zista'al-soldier

    And finally, I have the alphabet down(and the symbols for it, but I'll do it in English): a(ah),B(butter), e(eh), h(hiss), j(jack), l(lily), m(mom), n(nope), o(oh),r(really),s(snake),t(tank),v(vector),x(xylophone),and z(zipper)
    The vowels are a, o, s, and e

    So that's my language. I'm far from finished, obviously, but other than the numbering system(gotta learn how to count in base twelve), I have no idea where else to go. So I have two questions: A) Where should I go from here? and B) What should I change, what should I keep, and what should I remove?
    Thank you in advance for the help!

    (also, if this is in the wrong forum, then sorry. I figured this was the best one.)

    EDIT: So a lot of people have been saying, and I probably should have thrown this in: My stories are not stories I intend to share, or publish, or whatever. My stories are for me, for my own entertainment, for my own use and my own to read. I'm aware people consider it a pain in the ass to learn a whole new language, and frankly, I think it is to. But seeing as I don't plan on sharing my stories, I frankly don't really care.
     
  2. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    why?
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Firstly, yes, why? And secondly, you've delineated a few things, but what is the basic structure of the language? Isolating? Inflected? (which are only two of a number of different systems under which a language can function) If inflected, how many cases? Is there gender? What is the gender based on? Gender is not just masculine, feminine, neutral. Many human languages contain gender for classes of items such as long things, rounds things, edible things, inedible things, wet things, dry things, things men use, things women use, things children use, etc. Language is a deeply complex thing. Deeply. And only artificial languages pay attention 100% to grammar and syntax rules. Real organic languages are much messier.

    Other things to think of when dealing with aliens:

    Can the language contain a visual component? Are the aliens capable of changing color? Can that color be part of the syntax of the language? What if verbal agreement were based on smell, pheromones released into the air, bioluminescent spotting giving a particular pattern? Movement, gesture, posture, all things we call paralinguistic in the realm of linguistics, do carry information in human communication. What if they were actual parts of syntax structure?

    A tentacle held just so, behind the optic membrane, indicating the subjunctive mood...

    The second and fourth walking legs bent upward indicating the reflexive...

    Left gripping hand turned partially yellow for simple past tense and completely brown for present progressive...

    Just things to think about.
     
  4. skistovasti
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    skistovasti Member

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    To be honest, a lot of it is a "Because-why-not" sort of thing. I decided to expand my universe a little while ago, and thought a good way to do that was to create a language for the biggest alien empire out there. So I wrote this up, decided I had no idea what I was doing, and left it. But now that I've found this wonderful place, I realized I could probably find some help from someone who knew what they were doing.
     
  5. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    Just a thought but, most people do not want to learn a new language they just want to read a good story.
     
  6. skistovasti
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    skistovasti Member

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    Thank you for this reply, it really helps me out. It might help if I described the culture of the alien race: It's very militarized. It's sort of a decentralized, individualized hive mind. I considered gender roles, but only in the "male-female" form, didn't realize that there were so many others. This'll be really useful, thank you very much.
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Though linguistics is my bread and butter, there is a part of me that agrees with Nee to an extent. Better than creating a language, a task that could take a trained linguist an entire lifetime, describe the language in ways that flesh the characters out. You say they are a gestalt mind, to a degree, right? What if you described this is part of their communication? What if your story were to contain a component where ideas expressed by individuals take on certain aspects depending on level of agreement of the greater hive mind. Don't make up different syntaxes or word structure to have the reader mouth through, just describe it to the reader, show it to the reader.
     
  8. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    I agree with Wreybies, merely show it to the reader. Because most readers will get frusturated and throw a book at the wall if they have to learn an entirely new language just to enjoy the story. But if you feel that it's right to create an entirely new language, go right ahead! Just don't put too much in your novel that's it's over-barring. You can create the language and develop it as a side project, in the end it will give you more depth to your universe.
     
  9. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm reading Vlad, The Last Confession by CC Humphreys at the moment. He uses tons of either made up words or Ancient Romanian/Hungarian words and has a dictionary at the back of the book - pain in the ass! Imagine a whole language...
     
  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I may be wrong here, but I think JRR Tolkien 'invented' languages for his Middle Earth setting. However, while the reader is aware they exist, he didn't make us learn the languages in order to enjoy The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit.

    I guess it boils down to how much time you want to spend on creating this language—and if you find it fun to do, go ahead!—and how much work you expect the reader to do to understand it, once you've finished.

    As erebh has suggested, above, most readers will NOT want to spend time flipping back and forth between a dictionary and the story. So, if you can imply the meaning of the strange words by using context, or other means, I'd go that route. You could also employ the tactic of giving 'us' a few of your created words, so we know what they look and sound like, but present most of the aliens' speeches in the manner you illustrated—"ship I pilot", etc. That lets us know the alien is speaking, without becoming a shintangle of words we need to look up.
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Give a read to Embassytown by China Mieville. The entire book focuses on the very subject of alien language, interspecies communication, and the process of language acquisition. It is the theme and focus of the book. He never makes the reader learn a new language, he describes the process and and nature of it instead to the reader to a brilliant degree. Think of it as research for your novel. :)
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I must echo erebh and Wrey, and ask, "Why?"

    A language is far more than a mapping of words (lexemes) and grammar (sentential construction rules), Done well, it can reveal much about the culture that developed it (developed with it). But the subtlety will go over the heads of most readers who aren't linguists, and if you are not yourself a linguist, your efforts may come across as silly.

    In truth, you don't need to develop a language to use one in your writing. It suffices to develop the characteristics of your language, and convey those to the reader.
     
  13. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    When I invent a language, I do it by almost randomly coming up with words for things, actions, etc. I make a note of what words indicate what and keep that away from the reader. Then I use just the occasional word or two, possibly a paragraph, to give a flavour of the foreign tongue to the reader. Invariably I know that for any words I use I will most likely have to translate them in some way for the reader so they can understand what's being said, so using too much of any foreign language that a reader doesn't know becomes a waste of my time as a writer and a waste of the reader's time.

    The one exception I have used is a paragraph or two of an invented language for one of the secondary characters in my second novel. In that case I was specifically using the foreign language as a way to convey a main character's failure to understand what the secondary character had actually said because the MC didn't know the language of the secondary character, and thereby keep the reader in the MC's point of view rather than that of the other character.
     
  14. Kaidonni
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    Kaidonni Member

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    I've said it before, so I won't say it again - I'll quote it instead! :D

    It helps if you're doing it because you love it, you won't be using many words in any story. They'd have to be special words. I conlang, and I'm working on a language that would be included in a story, but only select words that cannot be rendered well in English terms will make the cut. The rest is just for me. Tolkien really did the same, put tidbits in LotR for us. George RR Martin did it with ASoIaF, including terms such as Valar Morghulis ('All men must die').

    I will give you some additional advice, skistovasti - learn the International Phonetic Alphabet if you're going to conlang. It is a library of symbols that represent specific phonemes, sounds Humans make across thousands of different languages, both consonants and vowels. If you show your work to other conlangers, they'll need to know how your words are pronounced, and using the IPA gives a more precise indication (conlangers usually post their work in both IPA and using the orthography they have chosen to represent those sounds). It'll also help you get away from mirroring English phonology by prompting you to try out sounds that aren't in English. Wikipedia has a great article, complete with a fair few audio samples combined with examples from various languages.
     
  15. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    I know if i was the one reading that book i would get annoyed and stop reading it for awhile. The worst mistake a writer can make is by confusing the reader or making them do extra work. It makes more chore than fun.
     
  16. TimHarris
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    TimHarris Senior Member

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    I have to agree with many of the posters above here. What's the point? Unless you are making some kind of epic fantasy saga spanning several novel where you intend to include the language in the back of one of them for fun, don't bother. If you want aliens to speak in their own tongue, why not just use a single word now and then? Like this.

    You never have to explain what the word means, yet the reader will get the meaning and understand it is supposed to be in the alien language.
     
  17. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Or depending on context, you could do something like, one alien speaks to the other and the MC hears (insert alien word), though they don't understand the language, they've seen enough to know it means death.

    In short, yes only use single words or MAYBE a sentence here and there, don't bother with a full language it'll confuse the reader in the long run.
     
  18. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    What about using it for intentional confusion? Such as a previous poster mentioned?

    MC doesn't understand said language. Have someone ask them a question in your made up language. They don't understand, so they switch to English. Or something like that. To much work for the reader to read a sentence of something they don't understand? Or will readers whine about not knowing what they just read (which is the point).
     
  19. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If you enjoy making up languages, DO IT! But like others have said, only sprinkle it here and there in the story, just for flavor. You can publish the whole dictionary and rules e.g. in a blog for those who are interested to read more about it.

    When creating a new language, it helps if you can speak other languages than English. If not, just browse a lot of different languages. Tolkien knew, according to Wikipedia, Latin, Greek, Spanish, and several ancient Germanic languages, Gothic, Old Norse and Old English, and he even went and learned some Finnish, a pretty damn obscure language for many Europeans at the time (and still is, I suppose), to be able to sprinkle some of its characteristics in Elvish.
     
  20. skistovasti
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    skistovasti Member

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    The thing is, and I really should have pointed this out, I don't care. This is my story, for my own uses, I don't plan on ever publishing, sharing, or doing otherwise. I don't enjoy writing so much as I enjoy creating a universe, and the one I'm creating is just for me, no one else.
     
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  21. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, by all means do it! :) If it's meant as an exercise for yourself, I think it would be fun. Again, I work in the field of linguistics, so it won't take much to sell me on the idea. :D Writing exercises are great. I wrote a short story completely in the passive voice (KaTrian!!) just to see if I could and I wrote a poem with the intent to use all of the archaic goal of motion words in English for the same reason. ;)
     

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