?

To what extent do you indulge in conlanging for your fantasy novels/stories?

  1. I write in English, not some fake language, you weirdo

    7 vote(s)
    35.0%
  2. None whatsoever--I just sprinkle some apostrophes here and there to make the names sound realistic

    1 vote(s)
    5.0%
  3. Yeah, I come up with some names and words that strangely coincide exactly with the English versions

    7 vote(s)
    35.0%
  4. I have some grammar

    3 vote(s)
    15.0%
  5. You bet! I'm a dyed-in-the-wool diachronic conlanger. Here's my reference grammar to prove it.

    2 vote(s)
    10.0%
  1. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    Conlanging in Fantasy

    Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by Friedrich Kugelschreiber, May 24, 2017.

    The purpose of this poll is to gauge the number of fantasy writers that actually utilize conlangs in their writing.
     
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I preface this by saying that I'm a trained linguist, interpreter, and polyglot. You would think I'd be balls deep into conlang in my fantasy. Nope. You'd be wrong. I want my reader to know what they're reading without referencing a glossary.

    Also...

    Storm Constantine has a set of books that are referred to as her Wraeththu series. I really like these books. Though she had great success with these books in traditional publication, print form, she's taken advantage of the flexible dynamics of the digital world to update her books a couple of times, so that my hard copy and my kindle copy are no longer the same. In the updated version she played with the idea of altering the pronouns that the Wraeththu, who refer to themselves as har (singular) and hara (plural) use. They no longer say everyone, no one, someone anymore in the updated version. They say everyhar, nohar, somehar. It bugs the crap out of me when I read the digital version of those books because she didn't do her research. Pronouns belong to a select grouping of kinds of words that are remarkably stable across time in any language. They resist the most sweeping of changes. Multiple phonological shifts can alter a language beyond recognition, and yet these words hold on fiercely. This is a known known in the field of linguistics, and her update represents bad linguistics and added nothing to the read or feel of her books.

    Even with my training, my field of work, and my love of language, it would take quite a bit of convincing for me to see the benefit of conlang in a book that is otherwise written in English for readers of English.
     
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  3. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    If there's a concept or item that doesn't exist in the "real" world then I make up a word for it, because... I kind of have to. But otherwise, I write in English. No made-up languages for me.
     
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  4. Mumble Bee

    Mumble Bee Keep writing. Contributor

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    Maybe if the average IQ world wide went up a 100 points or so, and we could all learn new languages without much effort, I'd make one for my stories. As it is asking the reader to learn a new language (or me to come up with one) takes way too much effort for almost no payoff. If I had to create a culture divide between my characters, I'd probably just incorporate a second language I already kind of know, like Spanish.
     
  5. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    Just so you all know, this is not about whether you write your books in that language, but whether your place names, or names or whatever are based on that language, and maybe you include smatterings of that language every once in a while for added realism.
    That is spectacularly stupid.
     
  6. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    It just adds realism. Some people are into it (Tolkien, for example), and some aren't.
     
  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Is "added realism" really the goal for fantasy?

    And how would including made-up words enhance realism anyway?

    If the characters speak a different language but the book is written in English, the words in the different language are translated to English so the English-speaking readers can understand, right? So why would only some of the words be translated? Why would some stay in the original made-up language?
     
  8. QueenOfPlants

    QueenOfPlants Definitely a hominid

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    I would like to make up at least some basics of the language used in a project of mine, but I feel pretty overwhelmed by the task.
    I have made up a few words at first, but to actually construct a language I need to know more about the history and culture of those people.
    Even worse: I would need an old and a new language, because the species has changed a lot over the last thousand years. Language changes a lot in such a timespan by itself, but now the species has also changed biologically, i.e. their mouth and glottis is different now. :meh:
     
  9. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    I got 40 real languages to draw on if I want to throw a curve ball at my reader. I don't see the purpose of making one up. Not to say I am against the idea, it just seems like a lot of extra work to me.
     
  10. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    When I say realism, I'm talking about cultural realism, and internal realism, which should always be a goal.
    If you have a conlang, you will find a way to use it, and your story will be the better for it.
     
  11. izzybot

    izzybot (unspecified) Contributor

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    I have (/ am working on) a conlang for my sf projects, and the intended goal is to be able to structure simple, but complete and legible, sentences. I don't intend for it to be complicated both because that's pretty daunting and because I know myself; I'd get sidetracked doing that and forget to ever write the damn story! So what I'm building is multiple dialects of a garbled version of a dead language, which leaves me a lot of wiggle room on screwing things up and not every bit of it lining up all the time.

    As for what it adds, I do think there's an aspect of realism to it. Obviously everything in the universe isn't going to speak the same language, or even be physically able to (that's how my conlang got corrupted in the first place). But I'm less interested in that - I let everyone speak 'common' by way of translator tech - and more interested in how having this broken relic of a language informs the setting. It's spoken exclusively by a people who knew the original, now-also-dead speakers some thousands of years ago, and effectively regarded them as gods. The ones who can still fluently speak (their version) of it are treated as being closer to the gods than other folks. These are people who, to varying degrees, believe that they're connected to godliness, and believing that they're better/more important than everyone else is a huge part of their isolationistic, callous culture. The decay inherent in their language is also in keeping with a theme of decay (and rebirth) throughout the story.

    Could the story and setting exist without it? Sure. But I think it's richer for having it. Also, it's fun. Worldbuilding!
     
  12. Domino355

    Domino355 Senior Member

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    I just take an existing languadge that's not English, and maybe change it a bit. Depends ofn the setting
     
  13. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    That's what I was talking about :)
     
  14. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    Only forty?
     
  15. Arktaurous34

    Arktaurous34 Active Member

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    I use conlangs in my writing for magic words. Sometimes constructed words just sound so much cooler than simply stating the desired effects of a spell. I also use them for complicated titles for the same reason. Bob the guy prophesized to slay dragons, restore the space time continuum, open up a coffee shop, and resurrect the king of Cashmere just sounds way less cool than Bob the Romager, Cremlitch, Drossotar or whatever. I like some titles in a constructed language because they can quickly cover a myriad of complicated duties, expectation, and powers that the characters and communities in your story have come to believe in and understand. Conlangs can also add a little flavor to a culture. When you write a word or title in a characters native (invented by you) language it gives the reader a feel for the sounds of their speech. Or heck, there could easily be words in your worlds that just don't translate to English so you have to state them. Think about how many words are lost in the translation of Greek to English for example.

    P.S. I may be a horrible writer so don't take my words too seriously! Best wishes :)
     
  16. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I'm afraid that too many writers have a conlang and therefore find a way to use it and their story is not the better for it.

    As a reader, I find them a waste of time and space and effort, so as a writer, I can't imagine putting one into one of my stories. Except, as mentioned above, if I need a new word to reflect a truly new concept or item.
     
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  17. Silent Lion

    Silent Lion Active Member

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    So much I disagree on here!

    - Is realism the goal of fantasy? Well, yes. Fantasy is escapism, immersing yourself and living for a while in a different world. How are you meant to do that unless you make it as believable as possible?

    - It also adds worldbuilding, which is a big attraction for readers of fantasy and why people like Tolkien were so successful. You get the sense there's something to explore something to wonder about.

    - Why are only some words translated? Because there can be more than one language. People can speak 'common speech' (that's a common tact) and place names and similar can derive from dead languages or even just other languages. If you were writing a book set irl and your character got lost in China, would you have all the Chinese people speaking English? How about if they went to Los Angeles, would you say your character was "travelling to The Angels"? No? Well, there you go!
     
  18. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    To my mind there's a difference between "realism" and "believable". Not for you?

    I'm a reader of fantasy. Made-up languages do nothing for me. If you enjoy them, great, and if others enjoy them, great, but there's no universal generalization that can be applied.

    Are you suggesting that if you wrote a book set irl in China, you'd have all the Chinese characters speaking Chinese? You'd actually write the Chinese dialogue into your book? Really? Or would you either write a translation (if your POV character spoke Chinese) or write something along the lines of "the men kept speaking Chinese, which made it pretty damn hard for me to know what was going on"?

    I'm not sure where you think we've gone... Los Angeles is a proper noun... I'm not suggesting that proper nouns be "translated"...?
     
  19. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    Well, there you go.
     
  20. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No, no. I understand this. I guess my point of view is a rarefied one given my proximity to the underlying concepts.

    (Important to note that the story I reference below is of the "Lost Colony" trope and is really Science Fiction dressed as Fantasy.)

    As @BayView mentioned earlier, if there is no word in English for a thing in my story, then yes, I make one up. For example, in my WIP there are little shrimp-like creatures that are often caught by the denizens of the world in which my story takes place. They are mildly illicit in my story because eating them induces a hazy, marijuana-like high. They come up a few times in the story so I thought something other than just shrimp was needed to invoke the idea that they are indeed a different thing. I call them talimas. But in another part of the story I make mention of deep sea oysters that are nearly a foot in diameter. There's no such thing in the real world because oysters are a shallow water creature and are nowhere near that large, but these oysters get a one-time mention, and that's it. Nothing else. Since I wanted to invoke the idea that they are bivalves similar to oysters in the reader's mind, and their one-time mention doesn't warrant any deeper explanation, oyster, a real English word, serves just fine, with the deep sea modifier to denote their difference.

    There are also dolphins in my story that are referred to as delfi, a corruption of delfín, the Spanish word for dolphin. The terminal N fades away in pronunciation (a common occurrence in sound change) and the remaining I is assumed to invoke a plural, which it now does because delf is the new singular, but none of this was the original case (that's called rebracketing).

    I don't write stories in the "Five Races" trope (or any permutation thereof), so I've never really come across a want or a wish to create languages for said races, and I would still need my narrator to serve as interpreter and.... No. I'm not going to do that. When I read books that contain Babblese (especially dialogue) my eyes skim until I come across the next words in plain English. The effort is lost on me. But if I did... Oh, goodness... I know myself too well. I would spend oodles and oodles of time carefully crafting their languages, following all the known effectors for linguistic flux, and in the end it would serve as yet another way for me to think I'm in the writing process without actually writing a word of story.

    Not saying this is you. This is defo a me thing. :-D
     
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  21. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Apparently I've gone there twice, and I'm still not sure where you think I am...
     
  22. MusingWordsmith

    MusingWordsmith Shenanigan Master Contributor

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    I like how @BayView does it, I'm considering that approach myself. I found a tool online that's really helpful, vulgarlang. It's a conlang generator and I think it's really cool. The technical stuff kinda goes over my head, but it's still fun.
     
  23. Myrrdoch

    Myrrdoch Active Member

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    I'll be honest - once upon a time, in my misspent youth, I thought that to effectively tell a story set in another world, I needed to know everything about that world. I started making up languages, religious texts, political treatises, all that sort of thing.

    I made it a few days. Do I like the idea of a conlang? Sure, I think it adds a uniqueness when it is done well. Elvish and Klingon are two great examples of this (of course with Klingon you get those subtitles!) and I think that it can be handled well without requiring a glossary, but the writing would have to be very carefully crafted to provide the context clues you'd need. But a poorly done conlang is worse than none at all. And frankly, at this point in my career it's effort I'd rather put into other things (researching and such). I just throw in the odd alien word if I want to illustrate that they have a word for a concept that we require explanation for.

    But I swear, if I can get a few novels published, I'm going back to those texts and treatises.
     
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  24. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    It's unfortunate that you don't conlang; you'd be good at it.
    No, that's totally me.
     
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  25. Silent Lion

    Silent Lion Active Member

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    Generally, yes, but less so with fantasy. That is, to me, realism is normally research stuff like, "do the Detroit police REALLY use those terms?" whereas believable is... well, unbelievable is something which breaks your immersion. That's an easier description. If a realism point rises to the attention of the reader such that it breaks the immersion, it becomes a believability issue. At least that's how I see it. As worldbuilding is so integral to the fantasy and sci-fi genres, realism overlaps more with believable than it normally would.

    Fair.

    I believe a conlang should be a background thing, something to dive into if the reader wants to. So you could stick a couple of phrases or even single words of Chinese in if it fitted, under the understanding that the MC (and reader) will not understand it. Normally in fantasy /sci-fi, whatever the MC speaks is translated into English (or is called 'common tongue' and is miraculously identical to English, but as most readers will accept that into their suspension of disbelief, that is certainly a point of realism but not believability) and all the other languages are either left vague or conlangs. Particularly conlangs imo are great for adding depth when they just poke out from time to time. Like in proper nouns.

    If real life were a fantasy world, a place name like Los Angeles is a great example of worldbuilding depth. English speakers are happy to use the term, but actually being from the Spanish language it's a relic of a much deeper and more layered history than it's current 21st century English-speaking snapshot. You don't need to learn Spanish to understand a novel referring to Los Angeles, just like you don't need to learn Elvish to read about the hobbits in Rivendell. But it's there, and even if you don't look into it its mere presence adds tangibility. Also, I think it's noticeable if certain proper nouns (belonging to a shared culture or geographic area, eg) share something in common - a style, a structure. It gives something extra to think about.

    I know you're not arguing to translate proper nouns. But in a fantasy world, the problem is reversed - there is no Spanish with which to name your city. The great thing about real life is that it comes with its own conlangs and backstory - we are all enjoying the sort of depth conlanging brings every time we call it Los Angeles. In fantasy you have to invent that language in order to translate (detranslate?) it, or just make up some nonsense word (which is fine, if you're not a big worldbuilder). Or you can call it something in plain English, which is usually either corny, dull or cumbersome. There's a halfway where you can invent some very rudimentary pattern to your proper nouns, with the potential to develop it later.

    I guess it comes down to how much pleasure you take from 'inhabiting' a world aside from just enjoying the story itself.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2017

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