Friday, May 11, 2012

Creating a Language: Start at the beginning

Lesson 1
(Creating a fantasy language: (Lesson 1, Rationale, Lesson 2Lesson 3Lesson 4Choosing words, Creating an Alphabet)

Tolkien created Elvish.

Star Trek has Klingon.

Robert Jordan had the Old Tongue.

So creating a language isn't impossible. Admittedly, in most cases the language makes only smattering appearances in the novel itself, but as a way to further develop a world, sometimes it's nice to create a language.

First choose your phonemes: Will you use all the sounds of the English language? Most? Some? Will you throw in both a rolling r and a soft r? Make an alphabet. For simplicity, I'm going to say we're using the English alphabet, with English letter assortments and sounds.

Once you have your alphabet, it's time to start writing the language.

Where do you start?

At the root, of course. The root words, that is.

Choose a verb, preferably a verb that is made past tense by adding -ed, and create a root for it.

"to drop," let's say, is "san."

Now let's think of things that could be related to dropping:

"to fall" - sanko

What's the difference between dropping and falling? Well, falling is dropping yourself. So "ko" must be a root for "self."

How about "to put down"? Let's say, nansan. Here, "down" is a preposition, nan. And I've decided (quite arbitrarily) that compound preposition verbs should have the preposition in front of the root. Write the rule down on a list of grammar rules and stick to it; consistency is important!

Logically, nansanko would be to lie down, so that's four words. And ko, the root for self, is a powerful root that can lead to lots of new words: koma, self-aware; uzko, to be under oneself (which I think means to be sick, thus birthing an idiomatic phrase!); kopalli, to self-reprimand.

All of these new words, of course, produce more roots. And each root produces more words. Once you have a basic vocabulary, you can move on to stage two: the basic blocks of grammar, such as conjugating verbs and making phrases.

Keep in mind that the most important concepts will probably be short words, and strong verbs and nouns may break the original rules you set down.

Have you ever wanted to create a fictional language? What for?


  1. Cool idea. :) I've had languages before in my stories, but I haven't tackled them for a while, since my focus stories either have the character understanding the language, or everyone speaks English (or another existing language, like Japanese).

    1. I find them mostly useful myself when working with fantasy worlds. Even though I rarely include them, I like the way they help me build the world - so much of how we think is built upon the words we use. Lately, the worlds I've worked in have been majority English-speaking, but for the occasions I've made up a language, it helps me get into my characters' heads and really flesh out the culture of their society.

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