1. Fullmetal Xeno
    Offline

    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2011
    Messages:
    1,364
    Likes Received:
    141
    Location:
    Kingdom of Austniad

    The requirements of a Fantasy language?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Fullmetal Xeno, May 1, 2012.

    I have been dreaming of developing a constructed language for my fantasy world for awhile now, and that ive only written very little down. Only because i have no idea where to start besides alphabet and numerals. But symbolics and syntax and everything seems overwhelming and confusing, and i need somebody to break it down for me simply so i can begin working on it the right way and fix some of my mishaps that i wrote today even though i've been really lost. Im only 14 so linguistics is not a largely learned factor, i know what i need for english and it's advanced speech but i find it very herculean for the fact of creating my own. I so want to just start, but i know i will need some help and some professional advice so my language makes sense and won't fall flat.

    If i can develop what i need, i can work on the next few languages i plan on developing. Not fully constructed, but the simple things. My word structure for the language im working on now feels oxidizing. Im hoping that i atleast know a slither of what i'm doing.

    Out of all these steps of creating my world, i find this the toughest task to nail down.
     
  2. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Unless you're a linguist, I suggest you stay away from creating your own language. You don't need it to construct a great fantasy novel, and the only benefits you can gain from doing so require an understanding of how language and culture affect one another.

    Tolkien knew more than a dozen languages and was a professor of Anglo-Saxon. Anthony Burgess, the author of A Clockwork Orange, was also adept in multiple languages and possessed a deep knowledge of linguistics. These men were linguists before they were writers, and it shows in the structure of their created languages.

    There is no simple way to break it down. You MUST know more than one language to start out with, so you have examples of the range of syntax, and so you see the interaction between culture and verbiage.
     
  3. Kesteven
    Offline

    Kesteven Member

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2011
    Messages:
    45
    Likes Received:
    1
    Yeah, I think everyone's had a go at a fantasy language at some point, but it usually just makes the actual linguists laugh at you.
    That said, if you need to get across the fact that another character is speaking a language the protagonists are unfamiliar with more vividly than just saying 'he said stuff in a language they didn't understand', I think it's sometimes acceptable to drop a few blocks of a made-up language with whatever pseudo-grammar sounds right, perhaps even to the extent of there being a conversation that the protagonists struggle to pick words from. Just don't expect it to hold up to any scrutiny.
     
  4. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,123
    Likes Received:
    5,322
    Location:
    California, US
    I agree with Cogito.

    If you want to throw in a few words here and there for flavor, I don't see an issue with that. But if you're going to try to develop a full language (or even a substantial portion of one) and present it as such in your work, odds are it will be a disaster unless you know a great deal about language and how it works. Odds are you care more about this aspect of your work than most of your readers ever will.
     
  5. Allan Paas
    Offline

    Allan Paas Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2011
    Messages:
    201
    Likes Received:
    5
    Location:
    Estonia
    Developing a language is not that difficult. Simply examine the languages you yourself speak, see how they work, what are all the aspects, what other possibilities are there for a language to work. The downside is that it takes a lot of time, time you could spend writing the actual story. Either way, I will create a language or two or more myself, one day, years from now.
     
  6. PeterC
    Offline

    PeterC Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2011
    Messages:
    191
    Likes Received:
    24
    Location:
    Vermont, USA
    Would it be possible to take an existing language, such as English, and come up with a few "transformation rules" that allows one to produce reasonable sentences in a "new" language in a consistent and realistic way? Basically this would entail hijacking the grammar of English to create an artificial language that looks different (but really isn't) with a minimum of fuss.
     
  7. Kael
    Offline

    Kael Member

    Joined:
    May 1, 2012
    Messages:
    15
    Likes Received:
    0
    First things first; making a language or learning how to, is not something you can just "do". :)

    I can help you a bit. I have recently taken into Linguistics a year or two ago and could help provide some answers. I, myself, have problems with syntax (have not started that part of the text books), so I cannot help with that bit (yet). I both agree and disagree with Cogito. It is not necessary to know more than one language to actually do this, just Linguistics and basics. It is helpful to look at other languages, morphology and more, though. Before I started, I knew nothing of another language and then started learning Gaelic and some Native American languages AFTER I constructed a language. The reason it is helpful to look at other languages or perhaps learn them, is because it will help keep your mind from creating a cypher of English, aka, a duplicate of English with exact grammar, syntax, cases etc etc.

    For me, I looked at a lot of languages before I started constructing a language. You don't have to know them or be fluent in them, but just go through the differences some languages have and their phonemes, allophones and more. For example, some languages are isolating, agglutinative or fusional (etc etc) and have many, many different grammar rules. Say you like Italian sounds and wanted a language that sounded Italian or had influences of it. You could go to Wikipedia for that, and see all the phonemes (sounds or "letters" to some who have not yet started) it has. Or say you wanted your language like Chinese, which is tonal. You could look into Chinese a bit. Again, you don't have to know more than one language, it is just FAR, FAR easier just because it keeps you from repeating English, mostly.

    You can start Linguistics at 14, or even 12 or before that, it depends on the person. I know 12 year old Brazilian kids who have made very awesome conlangs (as we call them, and its easier). What do you know thus far? If you know any of the list below, then please say so. If not, I am willing to help you learn and whatnot, and provide amazing sources to learn as well. I myself, being dyslexic and practically unable to put my thoughts down in written form, have a bit of trouble understanding, so I always try to make my posts as easy to understand as possible, and correct them if they aren't.

    Do you know what these are:

    Allophones
    Phones
    Phonemes
    Morphology
    IPA & how to write the "letters" (phonemes) down.
    Vowels
    Diphthongs *and their "extras"*
    Consonants
    Morphemes
    Graphemes
    Stress
    Syllable/s

    You also need to know what adjectives, adverbs, verbs, pronouns etc etc are, because when creating words, you will need to know how to distinguish them for logical reasons. Also, conjugation! If you know English well enough, this is definitely not as hard as you might think it is.

    The hardest part, for me at least, learning Linguistics was remembering the locations of origins to the sounds you make. For example, learning how to make a Nasal sound and where it is in your mouth/nose. That, and it takes time. I would suggest, if you already have the story down and whatnot, you have someone make it for you. Because making a language requires massive amount of time. But considering you have limits to what you want or need, that makes this far more possible for you. Assuming I understood you correctly. You just want basics, right? Some words and perhaps some simple sentences for story? You don't plan on this being a really big, functional language?

    @Allan Paas:

    I do not suggest making a cypher of English; it would function well enough, but will be too similar to English to be a constructed language.

    EDIT:

    Oh phooey, figures my post would finally go through after another one came through.

    Yes, it is possible, it is called a cypher. For example:

    Dasjo moh hejdani ralda noka tralduna!
    This man attacked this village before!

    Grammar I used: English syntax and grammar rules, sentence is literally word for word.

    However, how do you tell tense? For example, what part of "hejdani" makes it past tense? How do you go about making past tense for another word? For example:

    Dasjo moh rottal ralda noka tralduna!
    This man burned the village before!

    Why is "rottal" and "hejdani" still root words without tense? In English, we usually add suffixes like "ed", so why isn't there something similar here? One could simple say "i" made "Hejdan" past tense, and we just add "i" to "rottal" to be "rottali" so the sentences becomes: "Dasjo moh rottali ralda noka tralduna!" > "This man burned the village before!"

    Stuff like that usually is missed with making cyphers of English. At least that's what I have seen from many newcomers to conlanging.

    If there isn't a need for the language in your book, best to leave it or hire someone. If there is, say magic or something and it is used constantly, then I suppose you do need it.
     
  8. thecoopertempleclause
    Offline

    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2012
    Messages:
    206
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    Cornwall, UK
    I only see the point of constructed languages when they serve a point (think newspeak in 1984). All a created language is going to do is take up months of your time with the end-result of providing an obstacle between your reader and an immersive reading experience.

    Just because a few people pulled it off, doesn't make it a requirement. Look at Emily Bronte and Wuthering Heights, this does not mean that all accents need to be reproduced phonetically.
     
  9. Erato
    Offline

    Erato Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2012
    Messages:
    294
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    A place called home
    Read some Wikipedia articles and jumble stuff up. Come up with a separate alphabet - don't just say "this curlique means 'a' sound" because then you haven't made a new alphabet, you've just rehashed the English one; rather say "this backwards/on its side ampersand can be a ph sound or a th sound or a ch sound depending on its placement in the word." Complicate the Latin cases by adding one or two. Combine Greek tense sequence with English. Japanese deference and Finnish speech patterns. Really, you do have to be a linguist; the only fictional languages ever to work were created by linguists. Tolkien. Whoever came up with Klingon. Oh, and studying a "universal language" like Esperanto might be useful. You will almost certainly never write one that does take off, simply because a language is so complicated and yet so fundamental; but you can come up with basic conjugations and declensions and vocabulary as you need it and that should get you through the actual writing of the book where you need the odd quote.

    I don't see, though, why you would need such a language at all. You wouldn't be relying on it for spoken dialogue; obviously you aren't writing a whole book in it; so the only time you would really need it is if you were illustrating it and you wanted to show "this is the inscription on the ring" and even then, it would all be in strange characters and to the reader it would mean nothing more than "so they don't actually speak English here" which he shouldn't be asking in the first place. So pardon me for asking... but why construct it anyway, besides that it's fun?
     
  10. Areadrill
    Offline

    Areadrill Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2012
    Messages:
    129
    Likes Received:
    0
    I believe creating a language can be easier than it is mistified to be. I am from Portugal, so my home language is portuguese. Apart from that, I am fluent in english, german and spanish and an adept in french and japanese. A deep knowledge of linguistics will of course aid you if your goal is to create a brand new language, but everyone learns the basics of it in school. There are three "subfields", so to say: Grammar, Morphology and Phonology.

    That said, you have to have a slight notion of who you are writing to. If it's people whose language stems from latin, you should look into creating something closer to that, so that the readers can make some sense of it. Or you could create something completely different, and give the readers an "exotic" feeling.

    This is, of course, the opinion of a seventeen year old dunce.
     
  11. Ettina
    Offline

    Ettina Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2011
    Messages:
    441
    Likes Received:
    20
    My idea is to make up a conlang if you really want to, but don't let not having your conlang get in the way of writing your story.

    Or you could do what I did for one story, and pop over to UniLang and ask some of the conlangers if they'd let you borrow one of their conlangs. They're quite nice.
     
  12. ManOrAstroMan
    Offline

    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2012
    Messages:
    817
    Likes Received:
    342
    Location:
    Missouri
    The nearest thing I've ever gotten to making my own language (and I KNOW every fantasy fan has tried) is making an alphabet. I basically went through the pronunciation symbols in my Webster's and made up a sign for each phonetic sound. I actually got pretty good at being able to write stuff in this code. But that's really all it was--a code.
    I suggest only creating your language as needed. Stick to particular words or phrases which will hold meaning in the story. If you try for a full-on language, and don't have a degree in linguistics, you will not only go completely bonkers, but you'll find yourself using up a lot of time you'd probably rather use writing.
     
  13. thecoopertempleclause
    Offline

    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2012
    Messages:
    206
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    Cornwall, UK
    There are loads of other factors to consider too. Is the written language letter, or syllable based (chinese uses one symbol for each syllable), not every language has vowels and consonants in written form (Hebrew for example). If your language was for a different world, you wouldn't be able to use any of the characters in any earth-based languages without stretching credulity a little. You'd need to consider how advanced the intellect of the race is, and how advanced the language needs to be to reflect that. Is their communication even verbal? Does it use signs, facial expressions, props? Perhaps even a mixture of all of those. Then you'd need to consider how the culture of the race shaped the language. With English, we've absorbed many words from other languages, and immigrants from other cultures brought many words, or coined them ('cool,' for example, is a ubiquitous adjective coined by African-American jazz musicians). Do they have a literary culture? Many new words come from authors.

    There are literally, a thousand things to consider before you even get down to the linguistic element of language construction. Personally, I would ask myself, what would a new language add to the story, or am I perhaps focussing too much on what is essentially a gimmick, when readers really want a compelling story, no matter how it is told.
     
  14. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    As a child, I loved the idea of creating my own language - I started numerous ones, always beginning with an alphabet that I never memorised. Thanks to this experience, I never really wanted to have my own language in my novel - at best it has its own name, but that's it.

    Chinese - every word is a pictogram, there're whole books published detailing Chinese words with its historical origins etc. Ancient Chinese script looks nothing like modern Chinese script - the modern has gone further away from its pictogram origins although it can still be seen in some words, but in other words, the shape no longer resembles what it should reflect visually. Because every word is pronounced independently - eg. there's almost no way of working out how to pronounce the words as a general rule - the sounds have changed over centuries. Thanks to the fact that many Chinese words exist as "compound" words - eg. made up of 2 words, with one of them being the root word - as in, the word that carries the major meaning - this helps you work out what the next word should sound like. Several times I've come across Chinese words I didn't know and because I know the ones that came before and after the unknown word, I could work out what it meant and how to say it. Doesn't always work, but it helps.

    Japanese - from my limited knowledge of Japanese, its vocabulary is more or less quite basic. Much of the language is carried in the culture - through facial expressions, tone of voice and body language. These non-verbal cues form the more important part of the language. Japanese is composed of 3 alphabets, including Kanji, which isn't really an "alphabet" but words borrowed from Chinese and then transformed to hold its own pronunciations and meanings - often they are identical in sound, or meaning, or both, to the Chinese but sometimes they are not.

    Some foreign words that gets integrated into other languages - for the Chinese, we have cheese, strawberry, pizza as our foreign words. For the Japanese, they have "mystery", "love story", "shirt". For the Japanese and Czechs, they borrowed "tea" from the Chinese, calling it "Caj" - almost identical in pronunciation as the original Chinese.

    All this is just to tell you - within a language, there should always be foreign loan words, and which ones your people would pick up would depend on how the cultures interact and what is currently lacking in your own country I think. The structure of language can also be complex as there're a variety of ways to build one - Japanese and Chinese are two quite cool examples, as they are so distinctly different to any western languages I know, where we rely on only one set of alphabet.

    Even English is unique - a language that often doesn't follow its own rules either of grammar or of spelling and pronunciation. Whereas the Germans and Czechs pride themselves in pronouncing every letter according to its assigned sound. Grammar in English allows for implications, subtle hints and great generalisations whereas Czech and German are very precise languages that always indicate subject and object and gender etc.

    Just some unique things to language that you may wanna keep in mind, or use to build a language of your own :) But I'd strongly advise against it. It's too much hassle and no one will be able to read it, no one would ever use it. Think Elvish - except for the cult following, who speaks it!? It's good only for your own pride, but really, it is more or less without function.
     
  15. thecoopertempleclause
    Offline

    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2012
    Messages:
    206
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    Cornwall, UK
    Plus it'll be a pain for the publisher, who has to typeset all the bizarre new symbols you've created - should you ever get published.
     
  16. Kaidonni
    Offline

    Kaidonni Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2011
    Messages:
    86
    Likes Received:
    9
    There is nothing wrong with created a fantasy language as long as you do not let it get in the way of writing the story - a conlang should be an end in itself, separate from the story, something else you are interested in. The story should not depend on creating a conlang.

    Whenever these conversations pop up, I always want to mention Watership Down - Richard Adams incorporated a conlang into the story (Lapine), but only a phrase or name here and there, and it largely depended on the PoV. All of the words he created also made sense in the context of the story - 'hraka' meant going out to poo, basically, and it was an event of importance to such vulnerable creatures (plus you wouldn't say the character went out to poo, it just doesn't sound so eloquent). He didn't go overboard, and if he created much more of the language than the reader got to see, then that was because he was interested in the art of conlanging itself. He certainly never let it get in the way of writing the story.

    All you need to do is be consistent with names of people, places, etc. They should ideally be 'transliterated' into an English equivalent (it's how I perceive Richard Adams' Lapine) - Germans say Köln, the English say Cologne; the French say Pierre, the English say Peter. There are also so many sounds out there that you have to be careful anyway, so don't go mad putting those sounds into a story. Letters themselves mean little - the speakers of language A may think the same word pronounced differently to the speakers of language B. Keep it simple.
     
  17. TheStaters
    Offline

    TheStaters New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2012
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    1
    Have you ever watched the show Firefly? In it, they speak English with spatterings of Chinese. What if you took this model and used a "common tongue" (English) and made up a few interesting words or phrases for characters to reference!
     
  18. lallylello
    Offline

    lallylello Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2012
    Messages:
    54
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Sunny England
    Firefly works because they chose the right elements of the language to change and kept just enough English for the audience to get the gist even when there were foreign words involved. Also, because it was spoken not written, they were able to use English emphases - swear words were in Chinese but it was clear they were swear words because of the way they were said. This isn't as easy when it's written down.
    Try David Crystal's Encyclopaedia of Language for some really useful insights into how languages work. He's my all time favourite Linguist. There's a few articles about made-up languages and a lot of other useful stuff. It's nicely written - very accessible and got me interested enough in Linguistics to study it at Uni. (Would make a good Birthday/ Christmas present for your writer-friends too!)
    If you're really up for creating a language, why not post a few examples on the forum and see what comments you get. Maybe we could all get together and develop a language called Forumese! (Or Forumish?):D
     
  19. maidahl
    Offline

    maidahl Banned

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2012
    Messages:
    332
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    I'mscared
    I think your own language is corny. It worked for enough established novels. It's cheesy and clunks up the flow imho, especially if you're a beginner.
     
  20. BallerGamer
    Offline

    BallerGamer Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2010
    Messages:
    165
    Likes Received:
    1
    I don't want to be terribly discouraging but I don't see the purpose of created languages other than it just seems cool. Sure it adds authenticity to your created world but imagine if you're in a room and everyone is speaking in a language you don't know and you want to find out what they're saying. Would you think "that's pretty cool, I don't know that language but it sounds asian," or "SPEAK IN ENGLISH PLEASE!"

    They're nice but not essential, and like said before they may detract from the reading experience, which is what you want to avoid doing completely. The only time I've seen a created language being particularly useful was in a video game, Final Fantasy X to be exact. It had its own language and scattered around the world were items that allowed you to slowly translate the language into english that helped you better understand some parts of the game. Though that's a video game.
     

Share This Page