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Making Fictional Languages

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Shonen, Jan 6, 2020.

  1. Shonen

    Shonen Dreamer

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    I will admit, in my previous thread, I did admit to having a terrible understanding of the English language and understanding the details of the literature.
    As much as I wanted to create my own languages, I realised when having a chat with users, it wasn't going to be easy. I have tried researching some videos that do go into detail of different words to explain languages that I've never heard of. Explains my Entry Level English certificates...

    But users have given me advice of trying to merge languages together like with Elvish from Tolkien is Welsh and Finnish (I believe)
    In my world or just the story Project BeastMagjek, there were 3 kinds of elves, 2 kinds of dwarves, orcs and goblins and possibly others but for now, I think Dwarves and Elves will do.
    The Dwarves are the Gol'Beards and the Highlanders, but last night I was watching a video of a guy explaining how to write fictional languages. But it seemed more about how it should sound rather than what it the races' personal writing. So I thought, I wanted the Dwarves to be Scottish/Irish and made the Gol'Beards talk in Edinburgh slang, sorry but this might be painful to read, this comes from no material I currently have...

    "Aye, ma chum an ta Dreich don lave anever!!! Laddie Jorl leggedit lika Bampot alldaway ome! Ta Gowk shada slepdin!" I re-arranged things so it wasn't entirely Edinburgh and shows the Dwarf with 'ma' or 'an' 'ta'
    The Translation "Yes, my friend and the bad weather don't love each other! Boy Jorl ran like an idiot all the home! The fool should have slept in!" Still a massive work in progress but I found it better to work with something than nothing.
    For their written language, I was thinking runes.

    The Elves or the Sky Elves/Shaén I thought of my break at work, and what users suggested last night that the elves could speak Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Finnish, German. I feel the Sky Elves fit the Gaelic language but I am very unsure of how I don't make it simply speak the same language from Scotland.

    All this is still a work in progress and don't have any solid ideas before I take this into full force.

    And advice on how you guys would handle Fictional Languages?

    Thanks for reading and hope wherever you are, keep writing and hope the rest of your day goes well!
     
  2. I highly recommend Biblaridion's videos, they're how I learned the basics of conlanging.

     
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  3. Shonen

    Shonen Dreamer

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    Thanks! I'll have a gander
     
  4. My advise would be "don't".

    For me, fantasy languages add very little to stories. In the example you gave above, my eyes just sort of run over the sentence and my mind thinks "here's a random string of letters that probably means something. If it's important the writer will translate it later". It's an annoying break in the story for me most of the time and it only adds something if it's very short and has a clear purpose, like in the scene in Lord of the Rings where they're standing at the gates of Moria and have to come up with the elvish word that lets them enter. That scene gives the world depth because it hints at there being more to the world than just the story and it gives a nice puzzle to the characters.

    The reason Tolkien managed to create believable languages that worked is because ancient languages were literally his job. He was a professor in philology, translated works from medieval english and so on. Also, he used them very sparingly in his stories. A word here or there. A sentence at most.

    If you really feel you must make different languages, pick a couple that look exotic and few people speak (the list you gave of Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Finnish is a good starting point, you can add things like Saami, Hungarian, native American etc), mix them together and see what comes out. If you just want the odd word here and there and use it to name places then this is all you need.

    Another advise is to keep meticulous notes on everything you make up. You don't want the meaning of a word to change halfway through a story or between stories.
     
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  5. Shonen

    Shonen Dreamer

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    Okay, that is very helpful. And I'll be considering how to approach the languages of other races in my world since my thoughts were the Sky Elves would speak their languages to each other commonly but when the main character approached who has no idea what they're saying. They would speak normally.

    But thank you, I'll keep this in mind and will try and focus on the story and characters.
     
  6. Aldarion

    Aldarion Sage

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    I don't. As Shonen stated, they do not really add much to the story. The only thing I can think of is name creation: if you want exotic names, you may want to create some language rules as a starting point. But you do not need to: George Martin created Valyrian names first, and then other people created language from the names and few sentences he left. I thought about doing the same, but names would probably end up waay too similar to Valyrian or else Sindarin names (I really like the sound of those), so I just decided to go for Latin; if I need more names, well, I already have a history of creating nonexistent names in existing languages (including conlangs such as Sindarin), so it will not be a problem.
     
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  7. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    I'm not a conlanger, far from it. but I liked the approach I saw in a European film a while ago. In the film the German actors spoke English when speaking to each other, but were heard speaking German when someone else [an American] was listening in. It took me a few minutes to work out that we [as an English speaking audience] were hearing what they were speaking as if they were speaking English to another English speaker [in our common tongue]. But when an outsider [American and non-German speaker] was listening it was heard as the listener understood of it [in this case, not at all]. It worked really well once you had worked that out. It gave a strong sense of difference without slowing down the tale.
    I haven't tried writing it in to a story, but I will.
     
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  8. Aldarion

    Aldarion Sage

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    That is actually a good technique, but you need to avoid overdoing it as most of readers will not understand it either, so it will get tiresome if it goes on for too long. So maybe a few sentences, and then "...they kept talking in gibberish" or something to that effect.
     
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  9. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    That was pretty much what I was thinking of. In the film there was an almost farcical moment when one of the characters shouting "Press that one!" and "Drück das!" depending on the camera angle.
     
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  10. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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  11. elemtilas

    elemtilas Sage

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    My advice would also be don't --- and I do make invented languages! It's a matter of degustibusses whether to use invented languages in your stories or not. They add considerable depth, but they can also be overdone. A couple words in a naming language is perfectly fine and give your Reader the sensation of depth without drowning her in long incomprehensible sections of For'n. You mention Tolkien. Tolkien got away with it because he was a professional philologist. And while he does include several long incomprehensible sections of Elvish, they add more to the story than they take away. They don't do anything to advance the plot (a no-no in some people's books) but they do reveal to us a bit of a higher mindset and we can share in the Hobbits' yearning ignorance of the beauty expressed in the Elvish poems.

    Making a language is indeed an art. It's not an art like sculpture or musical composition. I've often likened language invention to a composer who not only wrote the concerto, but also invented an entirely new concerto form, invented new musical instruments to play the music, built the instruments himself and learned how to play them and, just for fun, likes to talk about the interesting details of tuning and temperament of this new musical system with likeminded individuals. Although widely admired and appreciated in fantasy & science fiction, it's not an art that many ever become serious about. If you don't have the basics and don't have the tools, you might get lucky and pull a rabbit out of your hat. More than likely, however, what you're going to pull out of the hat is just the rabbit poop.

    My Scots is limited (though I did make it through But-n-Ben a-Go-Go) -- unless you are a Scots speaker a/o very well acquainted with the local lect, I'd avoid laying on too thick a brogue. You'll either piss off the people who do know Scots or turn off those as don't. A few choice words or phrases for effect is the most I'd venture along those lines. And for that, you might as well just use a small naming language to do the job!
     
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  12. MrNybble

    MrNybble Sage

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    All depends if the languages are spoken or not. Can get creative in a fantasy environment. We already got sign, written, spoken, and braille languages. You could have a race that is empathic and communicates with feelings. You don't have to spend hours, days, years making a completely functional language just to make something exotic and interesting. Just drop hints at the differences compared to other known languages.

    I only have one consistent fictional language in my stories that is never spoken. The written part would be impossible to use in English writing without resorting to illustrations. Left it vague with enough hints to let readers know its basic complexities. If enough interest is generated I may fill it out more with the help of a trained linguist.
     
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  13. Aldarion

    Aldarion Sage

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    I actually used Welsh in my setting, but only for names and stuff. I mean, names get weird as they evolve, so even if I made grammar mistake in the original basis of a name, it will hardly be noticeable. If I ever include any language other than English, it will be either Croatian (which is my native) or Latin (with which I have some familiarity, though I desperately need to brush up on my grammar).
     
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  14. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    Conlanging is a very demanding and time-consuming hobby and art-form its own right. I agree with everyone saying it shouldn't be done to add flavour to a story. It's too much work for too little reward. Case-in-point: The Art of Language Invention, which someone recced in this thread, was written by the guy HBO hired to build the languages of GoT because GRR Martin had only done minimal work on it. I don't think very many people care that the books have hardly any fictional language and that what is there is haphazardly thrown together and inconsistent.

    If you decide you do want to conlang, The Art of Language Invention is a great book. Other resources I'd recommend are the Art of Language Invention Youtube series (also by David J. Peterson), Artifexian's conlanging videos, and the Conlangery Podcast.
     
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  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I see two reasons to invent a language. One is just for fun. To see if you can do it, to noodle. Some folks are like Mole; they are never so happy as when messing about with words. And that's fine.

    The other reason is that the story needs the invented language--needed in plot terms or needed to add depth. More specifically, that the reader needs it.

    Trouble comes with the author confuses these two.
     
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  16. Shonen

    Shonen Dreamer

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    Thanks. I think I'm convinced by what you all have said, I have no skill in languages and me trying to do it would make it a death sentence to the story.
    Im going to write it definitely in the perspective of the main character not understanding and a lack of knowledge, only hearing theories like 'William remembers hearing people debate the Sky Elves language, resembles Scottish Gaelic and something else, he never bothered or understands it all'
     
  17. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

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    In many Commonwealth of Nations countries where English is widely spoken or it's an official language it's not unusual for words from local languages to be incorporated into it. An example of this is New Zealand English where Maori words are incorporated into everyday speech.

    An example of this is: "Kia Ora, bro! I'm heading down to the Warewhare to get some kai for the whanau because they're having a hangi tomorrow." For me, this is everyday speech but it would leave most non-New Zealanders scratching their heads wondering just what the heck I'm talking about. However, there is enough English in the sentence to get a general idea of what I'm saying. Even if a person doesn't understand Maori they get the idea that I've greeted them and I'm going somewhere to pick up something for someone for an event of some sort. If the sentence is used in a context that clarifies what the Maori words mean it makes life easier for the reader.

    The translation of the sentence is: "Greetings, bro! I'm heading down to The Warehouse to get some food for the family because they're having a meal steam cooked in the ground tomorrow."

    For those people who are not very good with linguistics I think the approach used in the example above would be a better option than trying to construct whole sentences in a fictional language. Skyrim (from the Elder Scroll video game franchise) does something similar with the language of the dragons and it works very well.
     
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  18. Malik

    Malik Archmage

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    I built an entire, functional Elvish conlang for my series, which I can speak and write.

    I don't have any of the characters speak it, as it made an unreadable mess of my manuscript. However, when the elves speak the regional language of humans--which I write in English, of course--they carry pieces of the conlang over. Specifically, they use an Elvish syntax glitch: their language doesn't have the verb to be, so they don't use it. The Faerie conlang has a metrical device at its core that I also assimilated; incorporating it into English gives them a lilting accent that sounds alien without having to rely on italicization or intentional misspelling.

    What's cool, though, is that by removing to be, I'm able to capture a possible way that a (relatively) immortal being might see the world. Nothing ever "is" when you live that long; everything appears provisional or transitory. An elf doesn't say, "How many are there?" He asks, "How many do you see?" "How many did you buy?" "How many did you bring?" and so on. Even when I threw out the conlang, by keeping the Elvish lack of to be I found that I could put an elf and a human in the same situation and have them talk about it completely differently, which makes it seem like the elf has a totally alien take on everything. Which, to be fair, they would.

    I built regional dialects and accents for the various human kingdoms, as well, but mainly for naming conventions. I also played with metrical devices and idioms a bit to differentiate the speakers, but to a much lesser extent.
     
  19. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I started into conlang and just had to pull back or I would've been dead before getting my books written. It could easily become obsession. And as Malik said, it can turn your MS into a MesS, but it's still useful. I pretty much do a naming convention language scheme and some basic grammar and whatnot, and develop further on a need to know basis. I really shoot for good phrases and how the cultural philosophy might be explored through their use of phrases, plus, styles of profanity/cursing, and whatnot, outside of the naming.
     
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  20. Malik

    Malik Archmage

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    Idioms are my favorite part of writing fantasy societies. Profanity is a close second.
     
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