1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Languages, Not sure how to go about this.

Discussion in 'Research' started by SomethingToPonder, Jul 27, 2013.

  1. Hi all, Well im writing my first novel, actually writing is a bit of an overstatement, I am still in the planning stages however I am taking my time with this as I want it to be as good as I can. Anyway il get to the point.
    In my novel im going to have multiple races , Its going to be an adventurous novel, with lots of dungeons,monsters and the like. (old school if you think about it really, based on 70'2 and 80's fantasy)
    Im trying to make it as much "mine" as i can, and i feel that languages are going to come into play, However there is one thing i cant wrap my head around.

    Lets say for instance i have a party of the classic, 1 elf 1 dwarf a wizard and a human.
    How can the elf understand the dwarf, i doubt they would speak english. Now i thought of making the wizard able to cast a spell that makes people able to understand each other, However im not 100% sure of this and it seems to be taking the easy way out.

    I also thought of say there was a meeting, simply the wizard could just translate. However what about when im in the middle of a battle for instance and the elf shouts something, then what? How can i get the reader to understand what he's saying? I surely wouldent want them to be reffering to some dictionary of a language I made up constantly. How could i get around this?It's been driving me crazy.

    Does anyone have a take on this? I recently read a thread where somebody was discussing a few languages he made up and they were very impressive, I have no idea how i would go about making a font but i guess thats for another thread.

    Thanks everyone In advance, All feedback is welcome.
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Language barriers are always fun. In my latest WIP, none of the characters speak English (though it's obviously rendered as such in the text). The MC and his kin speak Gaelic and Welsh, and various other characters speak Norse, or both Norse and Gaelic. At first the MC doesn't know any Norse, and for the few scenes where he interacts with those who speak only Norse, they have a bilingual man act as a translator. Later on, the MC has a spell cast on him by the villain to make him understand Norse (though only with one ear) and speak it somewhat as well. This is solely so the villain can interrogate him properly and understand his answers. He learns more of the Norse language over the story, as he interacts with the Norse speakers more and gets more comfortable with it.
  3. Yes is suppose that could be one way of perhaps managing it, Making the characters learn as the story goes along, Or what about this you just gave me and idea Ireth, :) The characters chosen must all have a basic understandin of "the Humans language" In this case english, So he selects candidates for the quest as such, However i wasnt even sure if anybody was going to be selected, I thought they were more than likely going to bump into each other in some fashion or another, im really thinking out loud here people sorry . :p
    Thanks for your advice Ireth
  4. Rinzei

    Rinzei Troubadour

    As you've mentioned that the chosen characters must know the "Human" language, it might be viable to say there is a "Common tongue" for the continent/realm as a whole, but there is also separate languages or dialects per region/homeland. So, for instance, it would make sense that they are able to communicate in Common/English on a normal basis, but in moments of stress or emotion, their mother tongue might slip. Using your example earlier, if the Elf is caught unaware in a fight, he might yell an Elven expletive out of habit first.

    Another alternative is that there has been a mingling of the languages over time. This would be caused either by interminglings between the different languages, or it could be from the different languages becoming prominent. An example of this would be in Firefly/Serenity, where there is a mixture of English and Chinese (though the Chinese is usually profanity, to get around TV profanity censoring) because in that version of the universe, Chinese became just as prominent as English.

    Using either of the two above methods would allow for English to be used for the story, while having the opportunity to introduce bits of the language in ways that people will understand what their meaning is based on the circumstances.
  5. Kevlar

    Kevlar Troubadour

    I had this same hurdle, though it had nothing to do with race (I only have humans) and everything to do with nationality or even regionality. I'll tell you how I dealt with it and perhaps that will give you some ideas. There are three main languages spoken just in the kingdom most of my story takes place in, though one is the local "common tongue" spoken by most. On a wider scale their neighbour to the north and east speak a different language, their neighbour to the southeast speak a different language, and so do all their neighbours in the south. The languages distribution is very "European" in this way, so I took the European approach of introducing a lingua franca that most members of upper class society speak, which was spread by one of the empires that existed in my world's history anyway. This is very much how Latin was used throughout much of European history.

    Doing it this way allows for me to present it as English whenever a character speaks or when they hear a language they know, but means that when writing from the viewpoint of one uneducated on the language I will write it in that language and either not translate it or rely on another character to translate. When one characters goes to the other side of the continent at first none of the language will be translated for the reader, but as the character learns the language only the words he doesn't know will remain untranslated.
  6. Edankyn

    Edankyn Minstrel

    Think of languages in your world in a similar fashion to how language in the real world has developed. Europe is an especially good example since there have been numerous peoples living in close proximity and their languages have influenced each other. Most of the time some sort of common trade language springs up in a region so that people can trade with each other. Other times there are large wars (think WWI and WWII) where nations need to be able to communicate and come to an unofficial understanding of how they will do so. At the end of large scale wars the language of the winning nation tends to become dominant in the entire region. You could also just fall back on the typical fantasy genre "common tongue" but that sounds like something you are trying to avoid to make it your own.
  7. Interesting , First of all thank you everyone for posting, I apologize if this seems brief I had all this written out and was absolutely sure i had posted it already :)
    Rinzei, I do like the sound of the common tounge idea, I have no idea why the hell i didnt think of it myself qute honestly, But thats wha the forums are for eh? and yes they could revert to their common tounge when they were startled say, And if i mixed it with Kevlar's and Edankyn's ideas, i could come up with something such as, An age or two ago, Humans went on a rampage killing and slaughtering as they travelled accross many kingdoms on a crusade, Then after they were beaten back say 1000 years later it was too late and the language had stuck as the "common tongue."

    Yes iam very keen to make it "my own" I feel that it would have a certain energy, and if the rest of the book is that way, i dont think it would be right to use something so widely used in one department of the book.
    Thank you for your responses
  8. TheokinsJ

    TheokinsJ Troubadour

    The best languages are ripped off of other languages; Tolkien himself, probably the greatest world builder in Fantasy, used Old Norse and Old English as bases for his elvish and Dwarvish languages. My advice is if you want to go about making languages for your fantasy races, base them off other languages (Not words, but the sounds, there is a lot involved with creating a language, but I won't dwell any more on it). As for your predicament with the elf and the dwarf, why not simply have one of the characters know both elvish and dwarvish? Maybe the Elves' uncle was dwarvish, and so he learned to speak it from him? Maybe as children the dwarf played with human/elf children, and learned to speak it that way? I think you are thinking through things too much, the reader is not going to be like "He's a dwarf, he's an elf, why can they understand each other?", some will, but simply having one or both of them, speak both languages, will be a better solution to the problem. Alternatively, as you've said, using your wizard to translate is another option, anyway, hope this helps!
  9. Tirjasdyn

    Tirjasdyn Scribe

    Frankly I ignore the language question.

    It becomes to much for me. It's the cutoff in world building where it stops my writing. At most it only furthers the plot if the it needs but I never expound on it. Do I need the characters to be more confused by language? If the answer is no then I just move on.
  10. Sam James

    Sam James Dreamer

    It only takes a couple of years to learn a language fluently, if you live in the area it is spoken. (I can speak Korean close to fluently and it took me 3 years.) If your Elves and Dwarves have the traditional longevity prescribed to them, then I am sure they could have learnt the language spoken by the Human. Especially if they are living and working in the area.

    It is a good idea to add some quirks to the dialogue spoken by the Elf and the Dwarf to give the impression that it might be their second language and they are not native.

    For example you could have the elf never say I/You/He/She, but instead in third person (with a name or title).

    "What does the Dwarf (you) require?"

    "Liofel (I) feels weary from travel."

    Little quirks like this can bring the dialogue alive. If you are familiar with Martin, think about the Dothraki and "It is known."
  11. First of all tirjasdyn, Thanks for the input, however, while i dont think i will go as far as tolkien did, I do feel that it adds a certain element of "Customization to the story, which you wouldn’t get by just dismissing it altogether. I am quite a fan of deep world building and making as many fine details as i can,And then moving onto expanding a story into that world, It gives me a feel of "its mine".

    Sam james, Thats a good point i also hadn’t considered. ((congratulations on korean, That is one hell of a language))
    I may well just use a few of those quirks, ;) Thanks mate
  12. Gecks

    Gecks Scribe

    Hello. I skimmed over the other replies briefly so forgive me if I repeat something that's already been said. A 'common tongue' was mentioned, but I'm gonna talk about languages a bit in relation to how they work in our world, and how that can help.

    Firstly, monolingualism is actually very rare. If you live in a country where English is the first official/national language it's a bit more common for first-language English speakers, but in general most people speak a primary and secondary language (at least) or may even be fully bilingual (learning 2 languages from birth).

    In our world currently, English is a very common second language and is used as a Lingua Franca. If a man from China meets a man from Russia and wants to chat, the most likely shared language they're going to have is English. So on a global scale we have English but this exists on a smaller scale as well.

    There are many languages in India, but most speakers of them will also speak (for example) Hindi or Punjabi and will use these to communicate with people who don't otherwise share their preferred language. Swahili is used as a lingua franca across Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi (and a few others I think), though many speakers of it have another preferred first language. While only 5 million people speak Swahili as a first language, the total number of speakers is over 140million. These people will have learned it so they can use it to communicate with people who don't share their first language.

    Any groups of people who have contact with an other will need a way to communicate. If there is one more dominant of your species (say Elves), then their language is most likely to be the one used. It is more advantageous for the dwarves etc to learn Elvish than for the Elves to learn dwarvish.

    From this it comes down to 2 main options:
    One of the languages belongs to a more dominant group and the others have learned it or can use it, even if they prefer their own
    There is a common language that is not the mother tongue of any of them, but is used as a lingua franca.

    There are other options too (such as they don't understand each other or need translation). But assuming these groups regularly contact each other (for trade or anything else), they will generally know a way to communicate.

    Fantasy does also obviously give the options of spells or magical solutions.

    This was a very very general post, there are many more ways language can develop through contact (like pidgin languages, or creoles) and many more solutions, but these seemed the most simple/obvious to me.

    Source: I studied language and linguistics at uni and then forgot it all, then regurgitated a bit of it here.

Share This Page