Can You Understand Me Now?

There are many different instances where a fictional world involves a fictional language. Klingon, Elfish, Dothraki, and Ewokese are all examples of languages created by/for a fictional world. In some cases, like Klingon, the language was created after the fact (and pieced together from fragments originally chosen to just sound right with no real meaning attached). Others, like Elfish, were created first, only to have the narrative wrapped around as an explanation and exploration of the language(s).

So how exactly does one go about creating a fictional language?

Well, obviously that depends on why you need a fictional language…

Is it just a one-off reference to an ancient and forgotten language? Or is it the main language of a secondary character or race?

In the first instance, you probably just need to make up something that sounds vaguely appropriate. You can do more, obviously, but you don’t need to.

In the second case, you are going to want to create a language. The level of detail is going to depend on your preference and patience, but hopefully this will be able to help you get started.

Now, there are some pretty good resources out there for people interested in creating a conlang (constructed language). You might want to check out the Language Creation Society, the Language Construction Kit, the Conlang Wikia, or How to Create Your Own Language. Each has its pros and cons, and your usage of them is going to depend on your needs.

But, for now you’re here. So let’s see if I can’t help you get started. And just like creating a map, there are a variety of places to start.

  • Sounds -what are the phonetic sounds within the language? What is the overall sound supposed to be (“guttural” or consonant heavy, “s” heavy, or contains no “hard” sounds)
  • Alphabet -what are/how many letters in the language? What do they look like? Can they be modified (like by an accent or other symbol to create a different sound)
  • Grammar -how are sentences constructed? How are the different parts of a sentence determined? How are nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, etc. differentiated?
  • Dictionary -a list of words in the new language and what they mean in your starting language (so for me that’s English).

There is some crossover between the above, but each is somewhere to start. Depending on what sort of idea you already have about your conlang (constructed language), you may want to start at different points, or might even already have parts from multiples of those four developed.

Myself, I wanted to start with the sounds. I knew I wanted a language for a nature-revering society. I wanted it to sound like wind and waves and have many words that have metaphorical meanings. Which means that I wanted lots of “ss” and “wh” noises in the language, and few/no hard sounds like “k” or “t”.

So to start, I came up with the following sounds, and the Latin letter I will use as the transliteration letter when writing out words (as the alphabet will be specific symbols).

Sound

Transliterated Letter

Name

wh

W

West

sh

C

Waves

ss

S

South

ou

O

Leaf

ah

A

Air

eh

E

East

wu

V

Wind

th

T

Earth

ff

F

Fire

hu

H

Cloud

uh

U

Breeze

mm

M

North

mh

N

Dirt

ye

Y

Smoke

So you can see that I have the sound, how it’s written using the Latin alphabet, and what the letter is called (as in, S is sigma in the Greek alphabet). Obviously, the letter would be called by that word in the language I’m developing -but I don’t know what those words are yet, so I’ll use English words.

My next step is to start figuring out some rules.

Are there certain letters that cannot go side-by-side? Can some letters not start or end a word? Can letters be doubled, or not? Are there rules based on the type of word (e.g., a noun versus a verb)? Do words have a root that is modified based on gender and/or number? What about case (e.g., nominative, genitive, dative)?

There are a hundred questions to ask about the rules of the language, but that’s all I’m going to share today. I’ll continue the discussion on June 22nd, so keep an eye out for that.

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One thought on “Can You Understand Me Now?

  1. Pingback: I Before E, Except After C | Scribbles in the Margins

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