How to create a Fictional Language

Creating Your Own Language

Elvish

Authors use languages to help them tell the stories of the fictional worlds they are creating, from Tolkien’s Elvish, to Dothraki in Game of thrones, Klingon from Star trek and Na’vi from Avatar. Sometimes, it can be as simple as creating a word to name something that doesn’t exist in our current language- other times, the author can create an entirely new language. A constructed language is called a conlang and is created by a person or a small group as opposed to being formed naturally as a part of a culture. Today, we can use online language generators or books to help with language creation but keep in mind our ancestors made it up as they went along meaning there can be parts of language that isn’t as logical or organized as we might like; we also tend to borrow words from other neighboring languages. Having a strong sense of a language can help in making it feel more real.

Questions to ask beforehand… These questions shape the types of sounds you should use and the length of words and sentences.

  • Who are the people who speak this language?
  • What do they do?
  • What do they look like? Will this affect the sounds they can/do make?
  • Where do they live?
  • What is the history of the world they live in? Has there been a lot of travel or years of total isolation?
  • How do you want these people perceived? Are they positive, evil, intelligent or simple?
  • How do you want their language to appear in your writing? Is it a language with its own written form? What do their letters or symbols look like? Do you want to include phonetic spellings so that your reader can speak the words as well?
  • Remember there are two types of language…Spoken and written. Is the language you’re creating both or perhaps just written or just spoken? Do your people have writing?

Once you have answered these questions and have a basic idea of what you’re trying to achieve you must do 5 things to build a basic language.

  • Decide on the sounds of the language
  • Design an alphabet
  • Create the lexicon
  • Create the grammar
  • Translate the desired text

Step 1) Decide on the sounds.

Hard sounds like C, K V F and R always sound more aggressive and angry. Soft sounds like the vowels are more peaceful or pleasant sounding. You might even want to mention the volume your people speak at as louder languages are perceived as more warlike. Write down some sounds you like for your language. 20 sounds seems to be a good range to start with. Some languages have many more but 20 seems to be the average.

Think of sounds as any vocalization. They don’t have to be the traditional A B C…they can include whistles, hums, burps, mouth fart noises…whatever sounds best represent your people.

Step 2) Design an alphabet

Language is just like building a code. Use the sounds you decided on and assign each a symbol. You can use our own alphabet as a basis. The more “letters” (symbols) and sounds the more complete and complex your language will feel but the harder it will be to work with. You can add variations too. Using the same symbol to represent two or more similar sounds- depending on where the symbol appears in the word.

Step 3) Create a lexicon

A lexicon is the vocabulary of a person or language. These are your words. You don’t need a whole dictionary but thinking of a few common words will help you establish your language. Using the alphabet you created what do these common words look like? Think of the parts of speech. You’ll need words to represent specific people, places and things (names/ nouns). You might need words to represent time, space, and place. Will your language uses modifiers like pretty, hot, red, big or blobby

Step 4) Create a grammar

Languages have rules. A simple language should still have at least 5 rules. Though, like English, the more rules the more complex the language and the older it will feel. Your grammar is simply the rules and instructions on how your words work together to make sentences that convey ideas. What is the order that the parts of speech are delivered to the listener?

  • All nouns are spoken first followed by verbs.
  • No sentence is more than 5 words long.
  • All sentences must contain 1 noun, 1 verb and 1 modifier
  • Multiple nouns must be joined by a joiner like “and”.
  • Words must consist of 1-5 sounds and no more than 6 sounds can be used.

Step 5) Translate desired text.

Write what you want your character to say in English first- using your symbols, words, and grammar translate that phrase into the language.

This is not always a short process but can really enhance your stories.

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