1. I.A. By the Barn

    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

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    How do you get across the 'feel' of a language?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by I.A. By the Barn, Jul 3, 2017.

    I wasn't sure whether to put this in word mechanics or here??? Please move if you think it needs it :/

    Rightio, I have a lot of countries. As I want people to read and enjoy the thing, I'm not actually going to sit here and invent a language for each ruddy country. Now, I have my lanuages based on real world countries' languages and I have tried throwing in the odd random word, but it doesn't really flow. I can't say 'bla had a french accent' cus no France in this world.
    I've tried giving like accents to the dialogue, but of course it looks stupid. What do I do?
    Here's the accents, dialects and languages that my world's ones are based on:
    Norfolk (english, east anglian)
    Doric (scottish)
    Danish
    Finnish
    German
    Russian
    Greek

    Dunno if that would help clear things up?
    Thanks!
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I've heard "lilting" used to describe some languages, and I think you could definitely describe German as harsh or angry-sounding or something. But I'm not sure you're going to get clear descriptors for that many different accents.

    It's probably not that important. Your readers don't need to know everything about your world in order to form an impression of it.
     
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  3. Night Herald

    Night Herald The Renaissance Supporter Contributor

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    I'm wrestling a bit with the same, at the moment. Some of the things I've tried / considered:

    One of my languages is basically a blend of Old Norse and modern Scandinavian languages, which I then mangled until the words sound like they might be Old Norse, but totally isn't. I then wrote a scene with two of my characters, a native and a bilingual traveler, each speaking a single sentence in this language. Of course, this means inventing a handful of words, but I got by with six or seven. I think a small sample like that can leave a good impression of what a language might sound like.

    Then you can always inject the a word here or there, such as an italicized swearword, I see that a lot, but it seems you've already rejected this method. I don't really do this either, but I can see some merit.

    Something else I typically do is describe the language in the narrative. This can range from a single adjective (singsong, gutteral, harsh, clipped, etc.) to a short description (you could say of a Danish-style language that "She spoke from the throat" or, as the old stereotype goes, "They sound like they have a potato stuck in their craw") all the way to colorful metaphors (as Dylan Moran once described German, "Like typewriters eating tinfoil being kicked down the stairs")

    I'm partial to a mixture of methods one and two, personally. Hope you find something that works for you.

    Edit: This doesn't pertain to accents as such, but I find it useful to borrow some grammatical quirks from elsewhere. Makes these languages more interesting and seem more like they're their own thing.
     
  4. Wreybies

    Wreybies Arroz Con Admin Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Just as an aside, the feel of another language can have quite a bit to do with one's own language and won't be the same from language to language. What my Spanish-speaking hubby hears as the "signature sound" of American English is the rhotic R. When he wants to pantomime me speaking English, he sounds like he's goofing on Scooby Doo. But when I lived in Berlin, my East German friends told me it was all the N's of English that stood out to them. They said English sounded like crazy Dutch with a bunch of ñ-ñ-ñ-ñ-ñ-ñ-ñ-ñ thrown in.
     
  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    This is interesting! Did the Germans recognize that their own language sounds kinda harsh? Does your Spanish husband hear how flowing and melodic Spanish can be?
     
  6. Wreybies

    Wreybies Arroz Con Admin Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    No, they do not.

    In a left-handed sort of way, yes. He says that Brits are much easier for him to understand because of their generally crisper, cleaner vowel pronunciations. The Spanish speaker's ear is keenly tuned to vowel sounds and the schwa-ification of American English stymies him sometimes. When we want to practice his English skills, I myself have to adopt an unnaturally precise vowel pronunciation that ends up sounding like bastardized RP.
     
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  7. I.A. By the Barn

    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

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    Okie dokie, I'll try describing the accent then ^^
    Thanks! If you have any other ideas let me know.
     
  8. Lifeline

    Lifeline Going South. Supporter Contributor

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    No, they don't. I'm always surprised when I hear that for speaker of other languages German sounds like that. For German speakers, the more eastern languages, like Polish/Russian/Mongolian sound 'harsh'.

    French/Spanish sounds very melodic and smooth. English sounds abbreviated and efficient. Chinese sounds high-pitched.
     
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  9. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere...

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    You really ought to learn to leave things to your reader's imagination. Why is it so important that the reader imagine exactly what you're thinking in your head? But if you want you could describe lanaguages as "nasaly (French) Throaty (German), etc. Just basically where a lot of the noises are produced.
     
  10. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Euch, such dreadful prejudice, although people do say the East coast or west coast, USA voice can, or might sound a little 'whiny.'

    ...

    The [famous] anecdote, the older generation of Dutch people's appreciation for the tune of 'fuck fuck, fucking fuck this, and fuck that,' the tune of liberation, [paratroopers] Market Garden '44...anecdote.
     
  11. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I wouldn't say the use of the term "recognise" is right here - it's as if you're implying that German sounds harsh is a fact of some sort, and it's just not. If they're aware English speakers perceive their language as harsh, however - yeah, probably not. The truth is, do you know how English sounds to someone who doesn't speak English? I'd say probably not. Because to you, English means something. Each word is information, not just a sound. I've wondered many times how Cantonese sounds to a foreigner and it's only when I try to teach anyone the words that I become aware of how it even sounds from time to time, how low the tones go, how similar two very distinct and different words actually sound to someone who doesn't speak it etc.

    Anyway, all this has reminded me of this video - it's a girl imitating a range of languages, while not actually speaking those languages. She's just babbling gibberish, but imitating the sounds and rhythms of each language to demonstrate how each might sound to foreigners :D it's fascinating and pretty accurate I feel on a lot of languages. The only one I took issue with was Japanese - probably because I've heard it as a foreign language all my life and am pretty familiar with how it should sound.

     
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  12. Ulquiorra9000

    Ulquiorra9000 Member

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    I made up the general "feel" of a language (in a fantasy steampunk novel of mine) called Talwyddian. It playfully blends the general sounds of Scottish Gaelic, Irish, and Welsh words and conventions. I looked up text samples of each language and noted common letters (and which are missing) and what sounds are emphasized. I used this often for place names in the story. I have names like Talwydd (the land itself), Faer Carrig Marshland, Neath an Fuacha, Llewdys Boulevard, and Ryth Gawaid. I can even invent other random words for stuff, such as gwyllod, bleaghan, Nann ap Clioch, firth clyddel, ruath otho tuanedd, and so on. Plus a few surnames like Bryghedd. It's a lot of fun for me to make these up :) Talwyddian lacks X, J, V,Q, and Z, and is consonant-heavy, with most words and names starting and/or ending with them, giving it a somewhat hard and practical feel while still having some melodic and exotic sounds.
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2017
  13. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I just usually listen to people talking in their language, Youtube videos, and jot down my impressions on them. A Russian accent always makes me think that their tongue must be constantly tickling their mouth to hit all those tripping sounds.
     
  14. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    As others have mentioned, how a language sounds depends on the individual, their mother tongue, and the languages they grow up with or hear on a daily basis, I think.

    Of the languages you've mentioned, curiously Danish is something I've heard Finns, Norwegians and Swedes describe as 'weird' and like 'everyone has a potato lodged in their cheek'.

    There are also huge variations within one language, not just vocabulary wise, but in the very way they sound. My Swiss friend said Germany German, Austrian German and Swiss German are vastly different. I don't really hear it myself, but to her it's obvious, and she often jokes Austrians and Germans don't understand her but she understands them. Maybe @Lifeline can give her opinion on this, as she's familiar with Austrian German, afaik. :) German doesn't sound harsh to me at all. I think it's a lovely language. French sounds soothing because of the 'r's, the stress on the final syllable, and the voiced consonants/sibilants (to me anyway).

    My Norwegian friend said to him Finnish sounds harsh and angry because of hard 'k's and rhotic 'r's. He also said it's very monotonous and makes him sleepy because there's virtually no intonation.

    I'm not sure how to describe Russian. Its intonation has the kind of quality that makes me think Russian speakers are musing over something important, or being philosophical, or downplaying something that'd drive anyone else crazy, like they're driving a shitty car but they aren't too bothered by it, shrugging and going 'what can you do?'. It's also quite soothing to me because of their many sibilants.

    You're in a pretty good position with the languages you don't speak, actually. Just go to YouTube, search something like news or a TV show/movie clip in that language and listen to it, focus on what the sounds, intonation, rhythm, and stress make you think. Try to guess what they're talking about. Should be fun. :)
     
  15. Lifeline

    Lifeline Going South. Supporter Contributor

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    I've lived in Switzerland for a time and Schweizer-Deutsch (and now I can't remember how to spell 'Schweizer'/'Schweitzer'—weird!) is surely a different language than either German/Austrian Deutsch (German). Within Germany and Austria there are vastly different regional dialects. i.e. northern Germany speaks 'Hochdeutsch' that means it conforms the most to written German. But even they have an old dialect that sadly in today's world gets out of use.

    But I think it's the same with any language really. If you have a big territory, you have different regional dialects. For me, the folks in western Austria (Vorarlberg) are understandable, but I have to really listen to what they say.
     
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  16. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    Similarly with the UK...regional accents and regional dialects.

    As a bit of a country bumpkin, the accents usually sound harshest/most unpleasant in city-dwellers. In particular I'm thinking of the harshness of Glaswegian vs. the softness of the more highland accent. (Perhaps that's more about delivery...I recently read an article by Dom Joly where he said under no circumstances would he dream of trying to take on a blind geriatric midget if he was speaking in a Glaswegian accent; whereas his own delivery of "Come on, then, if you think you're hard enough" is so RP as to be positively asking for trouble.)
     
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  17. Wreybies

    Wreybies Arroz Con Admin Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yup. This is often lost on non-native speakers, especially when the language is spoken across large areas. Any native speaker of English can clearly hear the difference between the accents and dialects (note the plural) of English as spoken in the U.K. vs. those spoken in the U.S., but is probably unaware that for me, as a native speaker of Spanish, the difference between an Argentinian and a Puerto Rican can be as broad, divergent, and unmistakably clear as between a Geordie and a Southern Belle. Some variants of Spanish are so divergent that I understand Brazilian Portuguese with greater ease than what is being presented to me as "Spanish". o_O
     

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