1. VTitus

    VTitus New Member

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    Using a real ancient language vs making your own

    Discussion in 'Research' started by VTitus, Apr 20, 2018.

    To keep things brief I have been working on a project since I was 10 (naturally it's been rewritten countless times and vastly altered since then) and have finally come up against one of the last walls before writing a final draft.

    At some point over the years I opted to have a lot of the locations and character names be written in a Latin style language that was completely made up and just sounded good at the time, but now I'm debating whether I should just simply convert everything to actual Latin.

    I wanted to know what the opinions of other writers might be on this subject. The main detractor of using my own language is that I'm not Tolkien and didn't spend 30 years crafting a fully functional language and I know that I'm not going to fully commit to something like that anytime soon. However, the idea of having a language that is basically meaningless nonsense floating around the background is starting to bother me.

    Will converting to Latin possibly muddy the water a little and distract from the overall mood?

    It's a dark fantasy which loosely reflects ancient historical cultures so yes I was going for a Roman flavor, but I'm worried using actual Latin might be a bit heavy handed and possibly dull.
     
  2. Sundowner

    Sundowner Active Member

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    Do you have to spend years crafting a language? Tolkien didn't make those languages because he was dedicated to his story, he made them because he just wanted to, he was a linguist, that was his hobby.
    I'm a bit of a linguist who's made a language or two myself, I've seen countless pieces of entertainment that make up languages, and I never give them a second thought. Yeah Tolkien's work is impressive, but it's not any different from, say, being an architect who's drawn out blueprints for every building in your story. It's just something that's ultimately inconsequential to most of your readers and probably won't really matter to the story.
    That said, if you're just more comfortable with using Latin, go for it. But there's nothing wrong at all with a made-up language and some of my favorite things have made-up languages in them that aren't explained.
     
  3. Dragon Turtle

    Dragon Turtle Deadlier Jerry

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    There is something called a naming language, which is where you conlang just enough to be able to create consistent names for things in a fantasy world. Sometimes they go a little further than that, but they are certainly a far cry from fully functional conlangs. And for the vast majority of fantasy novels, they are sufficient. (Or more than sufficient, considering how many authors succeed with even less.) There's no reason to think you need to be another Tolkien.

    This is a matter of personal taste, but in my case it'd kind of bug me to see actual Latin. I've run into that kind of thing in fantasy novels before, though it's not common, and it always makes me go "Eh??"
     
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  4. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I don't feel tardy.... Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, using a language that nobody speaks will make comprehension difficult.
     
  5. DeusXMachina

    DeusXMachina Member

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    Honestly? It bothers me generally if an author thinks they have to incorporate a language I don't understand, and I give a damn if it's real or made up (I do speak Latin, but anyway). In 9 of 10 cases, there's no reason for it. Tolkien developed his languages for the overall worldbuilding of his oeuvre and because he was a linguistic nerd, but only very rarely do you actually encounter them in his prose. For which I'm eternally grateful.
     
  6. Dragon Turtle

    Dragon Turtle Deadlier Jerry

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    I don't think this is what the OP was asking about, though. They mentioned naming people and locations, not including prose or poetry or whatever written in the made-up language.
     
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  7. VTitus

    VTitus New Member

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    Thanks for the replies everyone.

    Dragon Turtle, I appreciate the information about a naming language and actually had never heard of that concept, although I guess I never thought to look it up. That pretty much answers my question and will probably be the route I take.

    Sundowner, very good point. When you compare it to actually designing every building I can see how ultimately it wouldn't have mattered to most readers, and would basically be a thought and time trap.

    DeusXMachina , another interesting point I overlooked. For all the work Tolkien put into his languages, he did spare the reader having to actually learn them to understand the narrative. I hadn't really thought of that either.

    Homer Potvin point taken I wouldn't enjoy reading extended dialogue in a foreign language.
     
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  8. TheRealStegblob

    TheRealStegblob Kill All Mages Contributor

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    Yeah, others have summed it up just about as well as the matter can be summed up.

    I personally don't mind when a story generically uses Latin or something to serve as "the ancient language spoken by the ancient elves" or whatever. It's fun to construct your own little words and stuff, though. A project I'm working on (a fantasy canon) has an invented language in it that I'm writing a dictionary for. I mean, it's not a good made up language or anything, just simple word swaps with English words, but it's fun and something future fans will probably enjoy. Look at how many people like learning languages like Quenya or Klingon or Dothraki, or all the Final Fantasy nerds who try memorizing Al Bhed.

    Most people will find made up languages fun, if not overly important to the actual story.
     
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  9. zoupskim

    zoupskim Contributor Contributor

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    How hard can it be?

    A=E
    B=Ch
    C=D
    D=D
    E=A
    G=K
    H=K
    I=O
    J=J
    K=K
    L=G
    M=T
    N=V
    O=I
    P=Z
    Q=X
    R=P
    S=S
    T=Te
    U=Y
    V=V
    W=B
    X=Q
    Y=U
    Z=R

    Hello. My name is Bob= Kaggi. Tu veta os Chich.
     
  10. Sundowner

    Sundowner Active Member

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    @zoupskim it gets more interesting when you use a syllabary and a character set of dozens/hundreds of characters that can mean specific things. Creating a language actually opens the doors for a whole dimension of creativity and expression.
     
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  11. zoupskim

    zoupskim Contributor Contributor

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    I wrote that 'shuffling' of English characters in about five minutes. I can imagine if someone spent a few weeks coming up with grammar rules, choosing a specific sound to the language(vowel heavy vs throaty), I bet they could come up with something. So, I still think it can be simple.
     
  12. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Simple but pointless - EOTD the reader doesn't care, so why waste time on it . Personally I'd go with very few words in a made up language carefully introduced during the book ... as with Watership Down when bigwig confronts woundwort "Silflay Hrakra Embleer Rah" which is the only full line in Lapine in the book, but is perfectly understandable to the reader because the terms have been individually introduced .. silflay = to browse or graze, Hrakra = the hard pellets of poo rabbits eject after their second digestion, Embleer = the smell a fox makes, the worst term in Lapine roughly translates as 'stinking' , Rah = an honorific like king used to denote a chief rabbit.

    Silflay Hraka Embleer Rah - 'Eat shit stinking chief'
     
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  13. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I barely use the made up languages for 2 species but the context is inferred
    as to what was said.
    And I have two character's that are close in a familial way that share tidbits
    of Russian between them, to show that they are close. Again only in tiny
    tiny amounts.

    So you can use tiny bits to kinda be a reminder, but it is not so much needed
    if you are just writing about historical stuff. And if you find it to burdensome
    to work it in (even if it is a dead language), then just omit it entirely. We can
    kinda understand that they are meant to be speaking their native language
    from context. :)
     
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  14. Dragon Turtle

    Dragon Turtle Deadlier Jerry

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    What reader are you talking about here, man? I care a ton about this kind of thing.

    Granted, my preference is for a conlang to be as invisible as possible. I subscribe to the translation theory of fantasy fiction, which says that the characters were talking and narrating in whatever language they speak, but the author "translated" it to English. When that's the case, there are very few reasons to leave any words untranslated. (I have such strong feelings about this I could even provide a list of those few reasons, but I'll spare everyone. For now. ;))

    But yeah, I bristle at it being called a waste of time. Many writers find it fun and worthwhile. To each their own.
     
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  15. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Worthwhile because its fun is a different thing from worthwhile because it makes the book better for the reader ... I'm not convinced that most readers care whether an ancient language is made up or how, and they certainly don't want to see a load of exposition about it ... there's a reason Tolkein put that stuff in foot notes.

    This is a common issue with world building generally - that authors go off on a massive tangent creating languages, worlds, cultures etc which have little or nothing to do with the story at hand. If its a hobby and you are just writing for yourself then fair enough, but if you(generic you) are writing to get published then more time spent on the story and less time spent on ancillary stuff might not be a bad idea
     
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  16. Dragon Turtle

    Dragon Turtle Deadlier Jerry

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    I hear this sort of thing a lot, about authors putting too much of their time and energy into worldbuilding relative to telling a good story, and I'm curious if you mean published authors, or if it's something you see newbies doing? I completely agree that it's a mistake to have the story play second fiddle, but I feel like I never actually run into this supposedly common problem. Maybe I'm just managing to avoid those particular fantasy novels. I do abandon books lightning fast if they're boring me.
     
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  17. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I strongly suspect its mostly newbies - established authors probably know better (the exception being if they've created a universe and written a whole bunch of books about different facets of it) Tolkien was edging into it with LOTR, a the fact that the map has way more detail than is relevant to the series, and GRRM has with ASOIAF (which is why by book 4 he seems to have lost his way a bit because its so big and complex). Haldeman did it a bit with the Forever War as well, but that was more excusable because it was supposed to be an allegory to the vietnam conflict, so things appearing different to returning troops even if they have no other purpose was aceptable in that context

    You do see some classic examples in our workshop though - i'm not going to call anyone out because that isn't fair, but they are their if you look (sci fi as well as fantasy)
     
  18. obi-sem kenobi

    obi-sem kenobi Senior Member

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    I'm not even going to pretend to be an expert on this, but I do believe a language can be very important when trying to create the feel of a certain fictional species or people. You don't have to hear them speak it, but a language greatly influences a person's life.
    Take names for sample. If you have an idea of what your language sounds like, it'll be a lot easier to name the characters using it consistantly, which in term adds to the feeling that they are in fact of the same unique species.
    Same goes for food, placenames, curses/exclamations, everything. Not to mention the fact that one language or one word in one language never perfectly translates to a different one, so there's for example going to be misunderstandings or awkward situations when one people speaks to another.

    For me it adds greatly to a story if a writer thought of these things. Not to say you should pour infinite amounts of time in, but a little attention to detail in these matters can greatly improve the feel of the story you are trying to tell.
     
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  19. Masterful Misanthrope

    Masterful Misanthrope New Member

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    Latin could muddy translation. You have bear in mind two things: One, while words may translate over to another language, they can have slightly different conantations. Take "Damn". This means "Damn you to Hell". In spanish, "Maldito" means "Curse you". A much weaker word. You can't curse someone to Hell. You could condemn one to Hell though.
    So while Maldito is translated over to English as Damn, it doesn't carry the same connotation. What this means is that you can't just take the translation at face value. Also, keep in mind, that while classical Latin is a dead language, almost anyone who has been to Seminary school may be able to provide with a realistic Latin connotation behind a word should you be in doubt.

    Two, English is not completely a romance language. It is a Germanic-Romantic Hybrid, with most of our gramatical structure being Germanic in origin, and almost half of our words being Latin in origin.

    If you create your own, you can make the structure as simplistic as you desire. Conversely, you don't even actually need to make the language, just the sentence or two that you use it for. The easiest way would to look at Latin or Proto-Indo-European words for what you want, then make changes to them to derive them into their "own language". And remember, culture influence definition.
     
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  20. OB1

    OB1 Active Member

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    In my fantasy WIP I have been and intend to continually give the reader the impression that this story is set in another world by throwing in words now and again for example. In my opening scene my MC's are fishing on a lake. Rather than use the word lake I have changed it to the word Lach. It is similar enough for the reader to understand what I am referring to yet gives the impression that they are of a different world with a different language other than English.

    In my opinion, I think any language change should be subtle. Also the language that the MC uses should be the language that the reader will understand. E.g English if the book is published in English speaking countries and French in French speaking countries etc. The only time that a language needs to be foreign to the reader is if the POV character is talking to someone foreign to them. For example if my Main Character was to sail to another country and then go to a market stall I may make the stall holder talk in his native tongue/dialect at least at the start and then for convenience sake I may get him to talk the same language as the reader like what usually happens when I go to another country and try and speak the local language. They can tell I am English from a mile a way!
     
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  21. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

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    English is also significantly celtic given the Britons before Roman occupation where largely Celtic tribes and petty kingdoms.
     
  22. OB1

    OB1 Active Member

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    Actually English is probably closer to Germanic than celtic (Saxony) hence Anglo Saxon, Celts were said to be originally from France area (PRE ROMAN ERA), but came over to British Isles some time BC.
     
  23. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah but celtic languages are still a meaningful part of english's makeup and modern variants (Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh) are still spoken in the area attesting to the cultural endurance and relevance.
     
  24. Dragon Turtle

    Dragon Turtle Deadlier Jerry

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    There are very few English words of Celtic origin. The reason Celtic languages are still alive and spoken on the British Isles is due largely to concerted efforts by those ethnic and cultural groups to keep the languages alive. English has tried its best (sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally) to wipe them out.

    In any case, languages aren't classified according to their vocabulary. They are traced genetically to where they originated. English is a Germanic language, and that's it. The massive amount of Latin and French vocabulary is due to borrowing from the Romans and the Normans; it doesn't change the classification.
     
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  25. Privateer

    Privateer Senior Member

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    Yeah...there's pretty much no overlap between English and the Celtic languages beyond a few loan words.

    English is most emphatically a Germanic language, not Romance or Celtic.

    On topic, though...assuming OP's world does not actually speak English and their language is 'translated' for our convenience, Latin can be a good stand-in for whatever their ancient language is. Of course, coming up with a whole new one would be better, but that can be a lot of work if you want it to hold up in anything more than fragments.
     

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