1. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    Languages

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Xatron, Mar 7, 2013.

    I am not sure if this should be here or in word mechanics, i leaned to setting so here i go.

    What i worry about is this: i write on a fictional setting with no relation to earth. That said, people in different parts of any world speak different languages. What i want to do is use words from a certain language and say they belong to a fictional language, without the fictional civilization bearing any resemblance to the real one. Can i do that? Will people dislike it?
     
  2. CrimsonReaper
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    CrimsonReaper Active Member

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    Several authors do it in science fiction and even fantasy novels. They use will world languages as standins for alien ones. Usually such works are explicit in that they use the "translation convention" viewpoint. Ie the characters are not actually speaking English, their words are just presented that way for the reader. And those guys over there don't actually speak Peking-based Mandarin Chinese. They speak something as equally distant from the viewpoint language as any Chinese language is from English. Unless those guys are orcs. In which case they just grunt and speak a butchered version of English......
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you have a background in linguistics, you will have a much better chance of getting away with it than if you don't. Frankly, I'd advise against it if you don't have a compelling reason for including those scraps, other than "It'd be cool."
     
  4. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    What i want to do is use a number of phrases in English that are actually foreign words that have been introduced in the language over the years. Some of them though contain references to said language's cultural background, and i am afraid it could be troublesome.
     
  5. murasaki_sama
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    murasaki_sama Senior Member

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    If the story is written in US English, then including standard US English terms is acceptable. Words like xenophobia, from the Greek, or abattoir, from the French, would both be suitable terms to use. More exotic/foreign terms, like kamikaze (from the Japanese), for example, should probably be avoided. While making up a language is hard, and, as Cogito said, should probably be avoided unless you have a history in linguistics, you can toss in an alien phrase or two.

    Basically, there is no hard and fast rule. Each word has to be considered individually. How integrated into English is the term? How significant, culturally, is the term in its mother language? How well does the term fit its intended purpose? (You wouldn't use kamikaze to refer to cavalry charging a cannon, would you?) Do you understand the meaning of the foreign term, or just is English usage? Kamikaze, for example, actually means Divine Wind, and is part of a Japanese legend; using it in another world, for a different culture is probably not a good idea.

    So just consider each term carefully, ask yourself some questions and, if it fits, use it. If not, change it. Or, if you really want to, add a few brand new words. Making up a single word or two isn't a big deal; trying to develop sentences and phrases, a bit harder. Avoid that unless you know a bit about linguistics.

    Does that answer your question?
     
  6. Kaidonni
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    Kaidonni Member

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    You don't need an education or history in linguistics to make up a language, but you must be willing to learn. There are plenty of resources online for this purpose, and whole communities dedicated to conlanging. However, this should only be for yourself - you'd naturally expect to only use a few words peppered about any story you wish to have published.

    I will reference Watership Down, in which Richard Adams introduces a few words of Lapine; he uses it very sparingly, and usually from the POV of the rabbits. 'Homba' means fox, and though it's been one and a half years since I last read it, he does actually use both terms at specific times. The only words which he uses exclusively are ones such as 'silflay' and 'hraka'. 'Silflay' refers to going out to graze (I'm unsure if it's only at a specific time, or the first time they do it each day), and 'hraka' is taking a number two - very compact words that embody a significant meaning for the rabbits in their day to day lives. In either case, they work because it isn't the author being too smart or doing it for the sake of it - you're not going to keep going on about rabbits taking a dump now, are you? It doesn't sound nearly as poetic, and for these prey animals, it's a time when they are vulnerable (they also chew on the pellets for certain nutrients, so it isn't just poo to them).

    A story I may one day write (which requires a certain level of research and treatment due to it not featuring cliched-European-Medieval-fantasy-society[SUP]TM[/SUP]) will involve a certain number of made-up words, but only because I like conlanging for its own sake anyway*, and also because it simply wouldn't make sense for the members of the culture to use certain words - even when translated into English. They will be what we might call were-foxes, but they certainly won't call themselves that; any POV character of that culture will refer to themselves appropriately. In fact, part of their name for such a creature includes the name of a spirit that they worship (one that rescued them), so for them to use the word 'fox' would be very insulting. I didn't make the words up just to be different, creating them was enjoyable in and of itself, and they have a cultural significance that 'were-fox' just won't do justice to on any level (Richard Adams wrote about rabbits going out to take a dump and chew on their poo, but he never worded it that way :eek:).

    *This is important - it allows you to come up with lots of material and not feel the need to use it, to enjoy the act of language creation
     
  7. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    Creating a brand new language is not an option for me, since it would most certainly drive me insane before i finished the novel. If i were to make up a new language, i would have to make up grammar, syntax, punctuation, phonetics, spelling and the whole shebang.

    Murasaki's answer was actually exactly what i wanted to know. Thank you!
     

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