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Maps, Names & Langauge concerns

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Xanados, Dec 16, 2011.

  1. Xanados

    Xanados Maester

    I'm in the world-building phase of my narrative, and I'd like to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind.
    How do you, well, world-build, exactly? I am creating a continent in which the main events of the story shall take place, but I only have the mainland plotted out so far. Is this the right way to go?

    Something that I haven't really caught on to is the fact that races should have different languages. As writers, do we just forget about that if we don't know how create our own language, like Tolkien? I'm also wondering why on some maps you have names like the "Brown Lands." Wouldn't that be called something entirely different to another species who speaks their own separate language? Most fantasy maps are in English, of course, but they are a mixture of made up names and proper names like, again, the "Brown Lands."

    I can't really sum up what I'm trying to ask. It's a simple thing, really, and that makes it harder to describe.
    My continent is named "Engwrath." Wouldn't that be called something else entirely by a different race? An empire in my world is called the "Godless Empire", but that is from the perspective of a distant, opressed tribe, which makes things confusing.
    I guess I'm trying to ask you, well, is it the person who creates the map that their language comes into it? Tolkien could’ve written his map from the Elves perspective, couldn’t he? You wouldn't have an Orc create a map writing down "Hobbiton", would you? Is it all about the perspective?[/LEFT]
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2011
  2. Johnny Cosmo

    Johnny Cosmo Inkling

    You're over-thinking it. It makes the most sense to label your map as your POV character would, since they will need to refer to it the most. If you have multiple POV characters, then label the map as the region/country/kingdom that has the most focus in your story would.

    I'm not sure why there is a problem; the English write English names on maps, the French write French names on maps. Whatever country the map is from, name it from that perspective.
  3. Xanados

    Xanados Maester

    Indeed, Johnny, I thought that'd be the case. I was over-thinking it. Thank you.
  4. Janga

    Janga Minstrel

    You don't need to invent a whole language like Tolkien did. If you have characters speaking in another language, just come up with a few words.

    I would suggest that in the vein of not making your story too complicated, you have all of your races use the same name for places... or at least most places.
  5. Another way to think about it is this: In whatever fantasy world you're writing, English does not exist. If you were somehow teleported into that world and looked at a physical map, none of the labels on anything would even use symbols/letters you're familiar with. The people would speak no language you were familiar with at all.

    However, writing an entire novel in a made-up language with made-up symbols is clearly infeasible ;-) So instead we "translate" the entire thing into English for our readers. Proper names that have no direct translation (like "Engwrath") are translated phonetically, and names that use words we have an analogue for ("Brown Lands") are translated into those words.

    It's entirely possible that different cultures name things differently -- e.g. the Americans call it Germany, but the Germans call it Deutschland -- but as Johnny said, you should just label the map in accordance with your most prevalent character/society, for the reader's sake. There's no reason you can't refer to things by other names, e.g. your POV character calls the continent "Engwrath" but it turns out the culture across the eastern sea calls it "The Land of Light" or something. I think in A Song of Ice and Fire, the Westerosi call their continent "Westeros" but the people across the Narrow Sea call it "the Sunset Kingdoms."
  6. Shadoe

    Shadoe Sage

    That's the logic I run with. The only words not in English are those that wouldn't have a direct translation.
  7. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    I've posted some discussions on ways to create "naming languages" that will at least sound consistent–mostly they involve making some choices about the sound system (phonology) at the outset, and sticking to them. (I'll search up my old posts and edit the links into this.) You don't need to create an entire language… and, really, you don't want to. If you're going to go that route, you should have the services of a trained linguist… which Tolkien was. Otherwise, it will both be too much work and will end up not sounding, let alone functioning, as a true language would. But by and large it isn't necessary.

    As mentioned above by others, and elsewhere by me, in reality your characters are unlikely to be speaking English anyway, so in theory at least everything will be "in translation"; logically, names might as well be too. Of course, this can potentially cause a piece to seem a bit flat, especially if your characters have names that aren't part of the standard English set… which is why creating a "naming language" can be useful.

    On the other hand, I've seen this taken to the opposite extreme: in the first few books of Glen Cook's "Black Company" series, which all take place in the same region, nearly all the names are common English words: cities have names like Roses, Beryl, or Charm; most of his characters don't go by their real names anyway–everyone in the Company has a nickname (the narrator is their surgeon, predictably named Croaker), and the remainder are wizards who want to hide their "true" names (and sound more impressive: Soulcatcher, Moonbiter, etc.). He doesn't start using "real" names until fairly late, when other characters start entering into the story that don't fall into one of these two categories. (In later books, the Company leaves this region; at that point we begin seeing proper names that are based on other languages: Persian, Hindi, Vietnamese, Chinese, Russian, and some African language I'm unsure about.)

    By and large, the name that appears on a map will be what the natives of that place call it, possibly reanalyzed by the phonotactics of the language of the mapmaker. (Example of phonotactics: Chinese names were until recently transliterated the way Englishmen first heard them, so Beijing became "Peking," Xinjiang became "Sinkiang.") So, yes, an orc map would call Hobbiton "Hobbiton," or something close to it: otherwise, they wouldn't be able to ask for directions to it. (Not that anybody would answer.) More to the point, Bree would be called "Bree," since that isn't an obvious derivation, unlike "Hobbit Town"; Gondor would be "Gondor," et cetera.

    Names in the primary setting (where the language is being "translated" to English) could be common English words; they could also be relics of older times–look at a map of England and see how many of the names you can work backward to their originals. You might be able to figure out that Latin "Londinium" became "London" easily enough, but probably wouldn't make the jump the opposite direction if you'd never seen the name "Londinium" in the first place. And that's an easy one, compared to York (Eboracum), Colchester (Camulodunum plus "castrum"), or Carlisle (Luguvalium, which later became Caer Luguvalium… at which point you can begin to see where it ended up). Cornwall, on the other hand, is completely deceptive: it has nothing to do with either corn or walls. Devon and the Thames originated in Celtic rather than Latin names. Glastonbury… the "bury" part is unproblematic: it's what Anglo-Saxon "burg" became–the town's earliest mention is as "Glestingaburg"; the first part…? Try getting there from "Ynys Witrin." (Even that derivation is unconfirmed.) So I'd say that overall it's okay to mix "plain" names with invented ones.

    As for the scope of your map: while some people ( :D ) tend to map out not only the immediate setting of the action but every place around it that might plausibly affect the action at some point, it isn't necessary. It isn't even necessary to have a map, though I think most people find it extremely helpful, for their own guidance even if it never sees publication (and let's face it: most books don't include maps). So if your action is going to be limited to one part of one continent, having the whole continent is more than enough. You can always expand it later if it seems appropriate or necessary.


    Here's where I give my basic guidelines for creating something that will at least sound consistently as though it's all one language (posts #10 and #11):


    A complete discussion of even the basics of linguistics and of building a "complete" language would be far longer… though I keep threatening every so often to do one. May have to try to find the time some day soon. :cool:
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  8. OrionDarkwood

    OrionDarkwood Scribe

    Here is my thought process (simplified) for a world I created called Ter'Wasser (Tear Was Sir)

    Hmm I need a world for a D&D campaign what concept should I use.. Hmm a post-Apocalypse waterworld would be interesting..

    What would cause it.. global warming, magical destruction .. Ah alien races.. (this also was a key piece in creating plenty of plot hooks.. nothing yells adventure like sunken treasure and mystery)

    Okay what would surivie.. dragons would be rare considering lack of land mass most large land based creatures would be too.. elves and drawves would be rare unless they adapted.. sea elves would fare well.. hmm evil sea elves and aquatic liches riding Kraken.. sea faring drawves who shave their beards until they can find a mountain home in the new land...

    Hmm a couple of good "starting islands" maybe a floating drawven fortress and a wild card of some of the aliens surive and work in the shadows..
  9. Shpob

    Shpob Dreamer

    Another thing you mentioned in your post is if all you need is the mainland plotted. I would think that it all you need. Just plotting out what you specifically plan to use in the story is a good way to go. It gives the world some mystery and leaves you some flexibility if sometime later you'd like to add in a continent or an island chain or what have you. Some recent examples I've seen of this are books by Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson.

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