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I’m writing a fantasy book, and I would like to create a language for one of the races in the story. It doesn’t have to be something huge or very elaborated, but I need at leas some words. The thing is that I don’t know how to create new words and make them sound good. Any advice?
Hello there! I hope you’re having a great day/night!
I use Google translate and combine two obscure languages
Rather than making up a language from scratch, you might pick one that fits your race and sounds good to you, then shuffle the sounds a bit.
Write up a simple glossary you can use for reference. Provide context for phrases in the language that make the meaning fairly clear without having to put definitions or translations in the text.
I would take scrabble letters and pull out a minimum of 3 to a maximum of 8 (you can adjust your range if you would like) and arrange them until you have something that you can say out loud. Then mess around with the sounds of the letters if you like to make it more your own. Then assign an English translation.
Creating a language gets difficult when you have to create your own grammar. So I would recommend picking a language you already like, like Mandarin, Spanish, ASL, etc. and use that language’s grammar system. It’s a lot easier to research grammar than it is to create one from scratch.
Are you comfortable with a second language at all? I think that Tolkien pulled from Finnish and Welsh to develop his elvish languages. Even if you only know a basic amount of a second language, just working off of one could help with the grammar and the way you want words to sound.
Hello. Crimson mystery cake here. I’ve bought and mostly read a book on conlangs so I think I’m just the help you’re looking for. Making a new language doesn’t have to be so complex, especially if it’s just a background element.
A good starting point is that you’ll want to look at phonetics. If you want your language to sound authentic then knowing why certain languages sound the way they do can be a great start. It’ll probably be a bit intimidating at first, but if you look at the phonetical makeup of other languages then that should help springboard you into being able to have a general ruleset of what your language is going to look like. An important thing to keep in mind is that you’ll want your language to be consistent, above all else. Even if they are really basic, having a few rules set up can help your language feel real. Think along the lines of “what can’t you do with this language,” or how is this language different/similar to other languages. While your language is just going to be a background element and doesn’t need to be so complex, it would also be handy to keep in mind to not just make your language a literal translation of your native languange. Ideas and words that can be expressed in English shouldn’t just be directly translatable to your fantasy language. For example, in English we have pronouns, but your language may not have the concept of pronouns. Or your language may have pronouns that vary not only in gender, but during specific locations or events. There may be pronouns to express more than just two different genders. In English we have multiple words that can mean the same thing (ex. jump, leap). Most of the time these redundancies in our language comes from the fact that our language is secretly a hobmash of multiple different languages. There are English words with latin roots, French roots, saxon, playwrights, movies, and of course slang. Most languages are like this, and you should think about what might the certain origins of your language are. What other languages helped build this language? Keeping all this stuff in mind should help you get your language off the ground. If you need any more help just feel free to ask! Wattpad has a pretty active conlang community, it would probably help to look in the fantasy threads.
I wouldn’t overthink it. Tolkien was a scholar of languages, but the main thing about his various languages is how they sound.
The Hobbits have names such as Baggins, Brandybuck, and Took. The place names have a nostalgic English country feel.
The Elves have names such as Elrond, Galadriel, and Elendil (musical, liquid, labial sounds).
The Orcs? Shagrat, Gorbag, Snagga.
You don’t need a scorecard to suss out the bad guys.
Another important aspect is how words look on the page. Here are a few sentences in Diné (Navajo), which I studied in grad school:
Dąągo ’áłchíní da’ółta’. Ndi shį́įgo doo da’ółta’ da. Shį́įgo kintahdi ayóo deesdoi łeh. Ndi dziłbigháa’di honeezk’ází yee’. Abínígo áadi łį́į́’ nihił naaldlosh łeh dóó yaa’adeiz’ą́ągo náda’iilkǫ́ǫ́h łeh áádóó hiłiijį́į’go ndeii’né łeh.
Regardless of any glossary or translation, the unfamiliar look of it puts off most English speakers. My rule is that the words in your made-up language should be intelligible as sounds to your readers. If they can’t hear it in their inner ear, they won’t remember it. That’s a problem with quite a few languages, such as Irish Gaelic:
Saolaítear na daoine uile saor agus comhionann ina ndínit agus ina gcearta. Tá bua an réasúin agus an choinsiasa acu agus dlíd iad féin d’iompar de mheon bráithreachais i leith a chéile.
Which translates thus: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
One problem with a fictional language that’s too intricately developed is that readers are simply not as interested in it as the writer, and you can lose them pretty quickly. They just want to get on with the story.
This is rather simple, but my personal go-to tactic is to first come up with character names (usually via smashing real-world names together till they sound fitting enough) and then coming up with a name meaning for each. And snap, there’s a small list of words and world elements already. I then go from there to build other words or names, come up with more word elements, and so forth. Keeping a list of the different elements and their meanings is useful! Also, if you ran out of ideas, fantasy name generators of all kinds can help you find more words (feel free to chop up the generated names at will). I hope this helps a bit!
One trick I use is to take a real name in an obscure tongue, say Aoife in Irish, and render it phonetically in English: Eefa.
Saoirse = Sairsha.
Mehrangiz (Farsi) = Mayran-Ghees.
First thing to consider is what your other races look like. A snake isn’t going to be able to make a glottal stop, for example. Look at videos of dogs “talking”, vowels are basically whines. A dog can’t say Go, partially because a hard G isn’t part of the sounds it can make. The other reason is a dog can’t make an O with its mouth, it just can’t move that way. So, consider what everyone actually looks like, and what sounds they can make. Listen to sounds from animal to get ideas on limitations.
Second. Body language. When I did my aliens for We Are People, one has tendrils that sway, displaying their emotional state. One has translucent skin and gives off electrical shocks (think jelly fish on two legs). Think Italians that talk with their hands, Irish who dance holding their upper body still. Adding specific body motions to coincide with their verbal language to help set them apart.
Third. Decide on what drives their language. It could be perspective, sentence structure, descriptions. My one alien species always said things from their own perspective; it wouldn’t be “you are going,” it would be “I see you leave.” Make notes of what you use so you can be consistent.
I’ve used Tolkien for language examples before. As for how complicated fictional languages can get, ask people who speak Klingon
Oh, almost forgot the flip-side. How they speak English is as important as their own language.
Think about some of the basics of languages that you can use. The right balance between minimal analysis to maximum gain. How do you want the speakers of this language to be perceived? Are they a gruff people? Add more cacophonic sounds. A lot of k sounds and r, hard discordant constants go a long way. And, conversely, if you want them to come across as gentler, aim for made up words with more euphony. Rhyme is a nice word with no hard sounds in it. Lots of L s and f s as well. Sounds that are generally pleasing to the ear. This will give your language more character, so it plays double duty. It serves the purpose of being foreign to the MC and also gives the reader a sense of the people who speak it.
The other basic thing to consider, that will cross many words, is thinking of pre- and suffixes. If you base your language of English structure, you can think up replacements for -ing, -ed, -ly and pre-, post-, im- and your readers can even sort of get an idea of the language with prefixes especially. If you develop a replacement for im- a reader might catch on that anything with that prefix basically means, not-[whatever the word is] just like the relationship between impatiently and patiently.
So those are my basic suggestions for beginning to build a language if you aren’t planning on going full Tolkein.
I’d recommend avoiding apostrophes. Don’t know about other people, but I get put off by made up languages that’s use like twenty of them for one word.
Regarding the part where you’re worried that it won’t ‘sound’ good, sometimes it’s really inevitable. People have different preferences when it comes to sound and languages, there are reasons that the Philippine and Mongolian languages are not the most popular to learn.
First off you’d need to decide on the alphabet and sounds of your language. Is the alphabet latinised? Is it in symbols like Chinese or Cyrillic? Does it have sounds that your native language doesn’t? (for example the glottal stop as an official part of the language instead of just slang)
Second, look at real life languages and I’d give you the tip to find some isolated and relatively unknown languages as well as their origins, such as the Romani language, Hungarian, Sorbian (not Serbian) and Kurdish as well as their dialects.
There’s a great youtube channel called Langfocus that’s a really great resource too.
Hope that helps.
There are several Elvish translators online and I use them in my fantasy books. It’s pretty basic, all forms of it, and does the trick. Plus many fantasy readers know it and they always like when someone uses it. You usually have to simplify your English down to spare basics because that’s how Elvish is.