Thoughts on Writing- Developing a Fictional Language

A while back, I wrote a post about creating a fantasy language. Today, as I’m continuing to plot for The Wishing Blade series, I want to expand on that idea. What things should we consider when developing a fictional language?

I’d say part of that depends on the purpose of the language. If you’re only going to have it show in one or two scenes, a word here or there, you might only need to create those few words and consider how it sounds regarding the culture of the people who use it.

If, on the other hand, you plan to write whole paragraphs in it, have miscommunication issues (or spells that backfire–as with the Cantingen word magic in The Wishing Blade series), or use it explain part of the culture or mythology, you might want to go a little more in detail in regards to how the language functions, even if your reader never sees most of it.

I’ve been skimming through articles, trying to get an idea of things to keep an eye out for, and this article in particular has some great suggestions as to what sort of things to keep in mind when creating a language. Things such as the range of sounds your language has, how words are stressed, and how to change words from present to past tense.

I already know that I’m not going to have a perfect fictional language and there are going to be imperfections. But, having a set of rules that are relatively easy to follow, as well as a dictionary of sorts, should help to alleviate that problem.

Starting out, I took all the phrases I’d already written for the first book and broke them apart, figuring out what each word was and entering that into an Excel file. (As a side note, I just discovered that it will sometimes enter suffixes for you if you have the same word ending row after row in the same column–conjugation got faster!) Then I considered common words that I might run into: colors, directions, verbs, nouns, elements…

Once I had a general list, I started double checking to make sure none of them had the exact same sound (since word magic is based on pronunciation), and that words that have the same sounds have the same spelling, so I could picture it correctly.

For example, I wrote out the cardinal direction and created versions for both Cantingen and Cirenan words:

English || {Cantingen} || Cirenan
North || {Chudé} || Chud
East || {Nuré} || Nur
South || {Sidé} || Sid
West || {Dre} || Dreh
Dimension || {Dribé} ||
Southwest || {Sidé si dre} || Sid-Dreh

(Note: ‘si’ is the equivalent of ‘and’)

Since word magic has a concept of there being different realms and dimensions, I also included that word in the Cantingen language regarding directions (though I’m still working out the details), but did not include it in Cirenan. You can see how the two languages are related, obviously having branched off from one or the other.

I’m still working on grammatical rules, but I’ve figured out thus far that verbs will primarily be regular conjugations (thus making it easier to read because the endings for a verb will always be the same.

Subject {-suffix} || Conjugated Verb (dacin – to destroy)

I {-a} ||  dacina (I destroy)

You (Person) {-at} || dacinat (You destroy)

You (Imperative//Magic) {-an} ||dacinan (Magic destroys) (Note: This is the form often used when a word mage is commanding magic to do something)

He {-on} || dacinon (He destroys)

She {-ol} || dacinol (She destroys)

They {-eht} || dacineht (They destroy)

It {-tra} || dacintra (It destroys)

(Note: Word mages probably wouldn’t use this particular verb in their spells because it’s too vague.)

I’ve been debating adding additional suffixes for goddess and god, essentially a “formal” version of he/she and they. Haven’t yet decided on that, though.

Originally, when I started creating the Cantingen language, I planned on them having a very specific set of words, and no more than those words. The idea was that they would sometimes have to create convoluted phrases to mean something very simple.

Problem is… that’s really convoluted. (And something I may be fixing in the current draft of The Shadow War.

For example, let’s look at this phrase as it currently stands:

Be la niitan musieh shodo li dohlé’jute trorlat si fora lel sarana si tasse lel urell duhan so mitora en eh chi rov’wida so nocho Pellmer chono la be.

Simply put, it’s a portal spell to the grassy plains of Pellmer.

The spell itself isn’t that simple.

Here’s a part of the English translation, with asterisks denoting breaks between words:

(Open)*Create*all and any*transfer-passage*as window-door*12 feet high and six feet wide* direct-front*of my seeing*to*any-safe*grass-field*of*Pellmer*(Close)

That’s… not easy to read at all.

Okay, let’s break that down even further.

The open (Be la) and close (la be) statements signify the start and end of a spell. Required for word magic to work properly.

niit is the word for “to create,” with niitan being the imperative telling magic to create something.

musieh – all and any (mu si eh) – English equivalent to “everything”

shodo – passage

li – in the form of (as a)

dohlé’jute –  dohlé (window),  the apostrophe symbolizes “of” or possession, jute (door) –

trorlat si fora  – ten and two (12)

lel sarana– (lel) measurement akin to feet, sarana (referring to height)

si – and

tasse – six

lel urell – (lel) measurement akin to feet, urell (referring to width)

…And so forth. I think I may want to break it down just a bit more and make it easier to work with. I mean, those poor word mages have it bad enough just trying to pronounce it right.

Eventually, I’d like to go through the language sometime with IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) and mark all the sounds to keep it consistent, plus design a script that the Cantingen word mages use based on the common sounds.

For now, I’ve got various conjugations created, and I’m trying to work from there. To fully flesh out the language, I’m considering trying to translate English phrases so that I can create words I might not otherwise consider.

For example, I spent about an hour or so taking a passage from The Shadow War, translating that intro a structure the Cantingen language would use, and then translating that into the Cantingen language (after double-checking my glossary and coming up with new words.

This is what I came up with:

Original Passage (English):

Siklana kept reading. “Listhant gave Diandae permission to open a portal into ‘the Old Realm,’ where Ruetravahn retrieved his words of power.” She paused. “This could mean that word magic isn’t really a split from Old Cirenan, but something altogether different.”

Passage rewritten to match style of Cantingen language (Still in English):

Siklana continued to read. “Listhant permitted Diandae to create a portal to the Old Realm. In the Old Realm, Ruetravahn retrieved the Words-of-Power.” Siklana stopped reading. “This scroll I am reading uncertainly explains that the Words-of-Power are something inherently different from the Old Cirenan language.

Passage in Cantingen language:

Siklana ahaolsho shi. “Listhant mocon Diandae niitol Dribékre. Da Dribékre, Ruetravahn glaton Shadi.” Siklana shiylagsho. Keh mishia uuhtrafo Shadilakosha clisé Quisrena’Casikre.

Now, the fun part of this was trying to read the passage aloud, based on the rules of pronunciation I’ve come up with. Each vowel is pronounced separately, with the exception of two vowels which are the same. For example, ‘aa’ is held longer than ‘a’ by itself or next to another vowel (or maybe it’s inflected more… I need to do more studying of phrases regarding language construction). Many of the consonants sound “harder.”

Needless to say, my reading didn’t go smoothly. Could be because I haven’t practiced it, or could be due to my current pronunciation rules. I’m considering adding in more letters and vowels that are smoother when I add additional words, as I originally pictured it being a much more flowing language, which would have made it easier for word mages to perform spells. Right now, there are a lot more stops and starts and broken sounds.

Once I work out a bit more of the language, I’ll probably go back through the second book and make sure that the phrases there still make sense. I’ve already been going back and correcting a few of the mistakes I’ve seen.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂 Have you ever tried creating your own language for a story you wrote?

 

Related Reading :

http://www.councilofelrond.com/subject/how-to-create-your-own-language/ – An article with a lot of useful things to consider when creating a language

https://www.facebook.com/groups/Linguistics.and.conlangs/ – Facebook group that discusses conlangs

http://www.wired.com/2015/09/conlang-book/ – Article talking about the creation of Game of Throne’s “Dothraki” language

http://www.stormthecastle.com/mainpages/for_writers/using-invented-language-in-your-novel.htm – Ideas to make it easier on your readers if you use a conlang

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One response to “Thoughts on Writing- Developing a Fictional Language

  1. Pingback: Thoughts on Writing – How A Deleted Scene Turned into A Short Story Idea | Stephanie Flint - Author and Artist

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