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Thoughts on Writing – Developing a Fictional Language – The Immortals’ Language (Choosing the Sounds)

With Wind and Words now complete, I’ve been thinking about the next story in the series (along with a short story set in Reveratch, a completely different region of Cirena).

One thing I’ve determined is that Ancient Cirenan needs to play a role in the story. The problem?

I’ve developed the Cantingen language, and a few odds and end words from Cirenan, but nothing extensive.

Making matters more complicated, Cirenan is supposed to be something like English… a mixture of languages that isn’t entirely consistent. This means that, whereas I can easily create a new Cantingen word when I need one (I even have a list of words that fit the language but don’t yet have meanings, specifically for this purpose), I can’t do that for Cirenan. At least… not on the scale that I’m going to need for the next story. Not until I have an idea of what languages are going to influence it.

As such, I’ve been thinking about the different languages which will influence Cirenan.

There are three that I can think of in particular:

  1. Cantingen – (This is one of the original languages of that world, though it wasn’t as consistent in ancient times as it is at the point where The Wishing Blade series picks up. More prevalent on the southern coasts.)
  2. Immortal – (The language of the humanoid wolves and bears which inhabit the immortal realm. There would be several variations of this dialect depending on the region and what kind of creatures are using it, but the primary one that will influence Cirenan is the variation based on the wolves. More prevalent in the northern and western regions)
  3. Litkanston – (This is the language that developed in the southern regions of Cirena. I haven’t explored this one yet).

Thankfully, I already have a pretty good handle on the Cantingen language, since it’s the basis for word magic (and featured prominently in the Stone and String series).

Now, thanks to developing some of the details regarding Reveratch, which sits on Cirena’s northern border and shares space with the Immortal Realm, I’ve started looking more in depth at the language of the immortals. I haven’t come up with an official name for it, so, for now, I’ll simply call it the immortal language. (Sorry… all my creativity is currently being directed to developing the language, not naming it).

The first thing I did was try to consider what things were important to the immortals, and which immortals would be represented.

The immortal realm is fluid, meaning that different places are not always next to each other at the same time. Oral storytelling to preserve memories (and thus, how to get from one place or another), is important. My focus is primarily on the wolves, who share a similar language with the bears (Bears are important to Reveratch). The wolves’ belief system is also a bit different from that of the Cantingen people, and varies from group to group. In general, though, they do not worship Madia/Madiya (and some may even see her as an affront to Karewalin), and while they see Listhant-Nsasrar as a creator, he is not the only creator of their realm.

That is what I started with, though those details may change as I continue to develop their world.

Ultimately, for creating the sound of the language, I started with the main “immortal” name I already had: Nsasrar. Anything I constructed for this language needed to be able to accommodate his name.

So I moved on to deciding which sounds I wanted to keep, and the representations using the English alphabet for each.

I got a bit of inspiration from looking at one of the Inuit languages, in that (at least according to the article I was reading), you could signify a short vowel by only using one, and a long vowel if there were two of the same vowels. (I could totally be wrong about this, though, and I need to dive back into the realm of internet research to find that article again).

I ended up with this for the immortals’ language:

  • i (sick)
  • ii (eye)
  • a (sack)
  • aa (aid)
  • e (bed)
  • ee (weed)
  • o (soap)
  • uu (moon)

There is also “u” (uh). However, it is only shown before a consonant, or if to represent its occurance after the “uu” sound.

The reason for this is that a single consonant, by itself, will automatically have the “uh” sound added (though it is not emphasized).

For example, Nsasrar sounds like “Nuh-sas-rar.”

(Eventually I need to relearn IPA so I can use a more specific way of designating sounds).

I also determined that an apostrophe will break apart words, indicating when a sound should stop.

For example, “amaa’a” is pronounced “ah-may-ah,” with a bit of a harder stop between “may” and the second “ah.” The second “ah” recieves more emphasis that it would if it had not been seperated. (Also, this way we can see that amaa’a should be pronounced “ah-may-ah” instead of “ah-mah-ay.”

This is different from the Cantingen language, which uses the apostrophe to designate “of” and has a hard “c” sound.

For example:

shodo’charl (stone of passage) is pronounced “show-doh-kuh-charl”

These are differences I’ll have to remember as I swap back and forth between working on the different languages.

Next I decided on the consonants for the immortal language, and I specifically wanted ones that I could picture being growled, barked, or yapped (with a little room for imagination).

This was my resulting list:

  • c
  • ch
  • cr
  • d
  • dr
  • g
  • h
  • l
  • m
  • n
  • r
  • s
  • v
  • vr
  • w
  • y

There is one other consonant: “q” (sounds like: “kwuh”) but it is specifically reserved to mean “I.”

Now, those may change as I develop the language, but that’s my starting guide for developing words.

I’ve already made a few determinations about the organization of sentences, how words change when paired with other words, and a starting point for the indication of tense and interrogatives, but those are still very much in development.

For now, I’ll leave you with a few of the words and a sentence I’ve translated thus far.

I – q – (kwuh)

drink – dramer – (drahm-air)

cold – uuanuu – (oo-ahn-oo)

milk – novo (no-voh)

quickly – vree – (vree)

I drink cold milk quickly.

translates to:

Dramvreeq novauuanuu.

* * *

If this interests you, let me know, and I may go into more detail about how I’m actually trying to put the sentences together later. For now, I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂


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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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Thoughts on Writing – Creating Fantasy Languages

One of the topics I’ve been thinking about recently is creating fantasy languages. Reason being, I’m creating a language for use in my YA fantasy manuscript, The Wishing Blade. Now, in the original draft (and even across several drafts for different books in that world), I only had a handful of made-up words sprinkled into the story to give it flavor. This time, however, the use of the language system suddenly had a reason to shine– I actually intended to show ‘word magic,’ one of the magic systems in my Cirena stories coming from the Cantingen Islands. Suffice it to say, creating a language has been fun, if not a bit difficult.

When I attended ConQuest, one of the panels I attended was about creating alien languages. Some of the topics in the panel included: deciding how in-depth you wanted the language to be– do you want to have a word here and there, or will there be full sentences in this language? How does it look? How does it sound to the ear? Might it have odd sounds (like clicks) that you might not normally read? Do you base your new language off of a current language, and if so, how do you change the language to fit the needs of your story? For example, does a word or phrase mean something now that it doesn’t mean in the future where your story takes place?

All of this is food for thought and can be applied to a fantasy language of your creation. For example, I like the idea that language changes over time. We can portray this in our stories. An example of this in The Wishing Blade is the name of a town, Shuhritan Fritarando. Which no one says because it’s ridiculously long. Most characters, unless they happen to be upper class or a particular linguist (I’m debating on my word mage correcting my main characters about the city’s name), are simply going to call the town Shu Frit. It gets even more fun, because the full name isn’t entirely exact. Shuhritan is an ancient Cantingen word for ‘male royalty’ or ‘king.’ Fritarando translates to ‘small male kin.’ Which could mean nephew, cousin, son, etc., but in this instance refers to ‘son.’ Shu Frit becomes ‘Little King’ in the terms of cultural history, even though neither word actually means that. It’s a colloquialism, informal and a pain to translate, but a natural part of how languages evolve.

Of course, this whole explanation may never show up in the story itself (and probably shouldn’t), but it shows how you can play with language to create cultural history in your novel. It’s a way to add flavor.

However, not everyone in my story is going to use such colloquialisms. In the example I gave, the characters are referring to a language that’s outdated. Outside of naming conventions, the language is only used by word mages. Due to the nature of word magic, these mages need to make sure that what they say is exact– or risk the consequences of having a fireball light them on fire instead of their opponent. Pronounciation is key. Which is why, when I went to place all the words and phrases I had thus far into an Excel spreadsheet, I realized that I needed to change one of my words. I had qui meaning ‘as,’ quis meaning ‘good health,’ and ki being an emphasized word that connects an unusual modifying word to what it is modifying. And they were all pronounced like the English ‘key.’

That could get dangerous for a word mage who is trying to say something about ‘good health’ and instead has his word translated to ‘as.’ (As what? Something deadly?)

So I changed qui to li and did a word search in my manuscript to make the changes. Small details, but hopefully fun for anyone who pays attention to the language in the novel. Eventually I want to make symbols that represent each phonetic pronunciation. (Oh, IPA (international phonetic alphabet)… so fun in high school theater).

If you decide to create a language for your story, I highly recommend writing down the words in a spreadsheet and keeping track of your rules. I recently updated my word document of notes into an Excel Spreadsheet. When I did, I saw several potential problems that I went ahead and fixed. Primarily verb conjugations. (Spanish… French… these classes are starting to be rather helpful, even if I never did become a proficient reader of either language). The Cantingen language is supposed to be precise. Repetitive, even. And I really didn’t want to mess with irregular verbs. So I adjusted each verb that I ran across. As long as you know the ending for “I did something” versus “you did something” or “he did something,” you’ll be able to tell who or what the verb refers to. None of this irregular verb mess we commonly deal with in English. In addition, a single add-on to the word will signify if something is past or future.

Is this a simplification?

Oh yeah. Definitely. But I’m not trying to be Tolkien (though I did try to learn Sindarin Elvish several years ago. Didn’t get far, but I got a few words of Enya’s “May It Be” translated into Sindarin beyond what was already translated). My goal is to add flavor to the story, and keep the language consistent.

And maybe try writing a song in pure ancient Cantingen. That would be fun, though that’ll be after I get more words and verbs ironed out. There’s plenty more that can be said about creating languages, but I’ll leave that for a later post. Let me know what you think, and I hope you enjoyed my ramblings. 🙂


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