L is for Language (Making your own!)

Author: Anastasia V. Pergakis // Category: ,

Okay, I know I've posted about this a few times but today I'm going to tell you what I've learned about making up your own brand new language! (This post might be longer than my other A to Z challenge posts, but I still have had to leave out a lot of info. In the future, I'll put together a more details post or series of posts about it.)

Yes! It can be done. The first thing to decide is if you are going to make up a few words to sprinkle through your MS or create an entire, fully functional language. The following steps can help you do both...just repeat them as often as you need to depending on what you choose to do.

First thing, no matter what, that I recommend as a fantasy writer is to have your world built first. I know many other authors who write the language first, but for me it just works easier to have the world (culture, religion, etc) established first. This way I can make the language fit the culture, rather than the culture fit the language. That's me. You can do it however you like of course, but for this post, we're going with the idea that the rest of the world is already there.

Step One: The Alphabet and Sounds

On a sheet of paper, list all the letters of the alphabet. Now, look at it and decide if there are any letters you can take out (or even add). Think about sounds here too. Like how T and H together make it's own unique sound. Or how certain vowels repeat or join to change the way a word it said. (Realistically, this is more like 2 or 3 steps, but for this blog post, I'm putting it all together here). Take out and add what is needed.

Germanic runes (which is actually only a written language) has specific symbols for the "th" "ng" and "ei" sounds but it doesn't have the letters Q or X in the alphabet at all. So, consider what sounds and letters/symbols to add or take out.

Step Two: Making Words

Okay, again, in a real lesson this step would really be about another 3 steps, but I'm trying to keep this brief for the blog post here! I promise to make more detailed posts about this in the coming months.

So, now that you have a working alphabet and a few sounds figured out, it's time to make a couple of words. Keep them all in present tense and singular for now. We'll figure out plural and past tense verbs in the next step.

Begin creating a few words. I usually begin with very common things like hello, yes, no, thank you, please, etc. I can say "yes" in like 8 languages so keep in mind those common words that people just know in any language. Now, depending on what you did with your alphabet and sounds will depend on how you put this together. You can create a brand new word entirely - as in putting random letters together that could make a coherent word...or if you changed your alphabet enough, you can simple rewrite "y-e-s" with your new letters. I prefer the first way as it just makes sense to me to do so.

The hard part (or the fun part depending on how you look at it) for this step is deciding how compact your going to make the language. In English we have a ton of different words to say basically the same thing. Beautiful, pretty, gorgeous, hot, fine, bodacious, etc. When you create your own language you can simply have one word (and only one) to mean all of those things together. This really helps in the long run, as you don't have to create a HUGE vocabulary for your characters to use.

Also keep in mind ideas - like love, honor, etc. Again we have many different words to say the same thing and it is up to you how you want to convey those ideas and emotions in your language.

Step Three: Adding to your Words

Remember I said to keep your new words at present tense (for verbs) and sinuglar (for nouns)? In this step we'll figure out how you get the words to be past or future tense or plural.

In English to make a noun be "more than one" we add an "s" or "es" at the end of the word. (Yes there are twenty exceptions to this rule..but just go with me on this one.) What about in your language? What suffix or word ending will you tack on to the end of the word to mean more than one? OR You can make up a brand new word to add to a sentence that literally means "more than one".

With past tense verbs, we add "ed" to the end. Same thing with your new language - how will you show this? A new suffix like "ed" or a brand new word that in literal translation would mean "in the past"? Future tense verbs, the same thing.

Don't forget those adverbs and adjectives too!

Step Four: Syntax and Sentence Structure

Okay, going to give you a short English lesson here. Syntax in English (or sentence structure) is subject - verb- object. In German (if my memory serves) it goes subject-object-verb. So how does your language work?

For this step, I'll just give an example.

English: I walked to the store.

Made Up Language: E al tora ort-em mea.

Literall Translation: To the store walked I.

So the made up langauge line I made up on the spot, but hey, it still shows you what I'm talking about here.

Step Five: The Script

Now, what fun would it be if you made a language and had no idea what it looked like if your characters happen to write it down?

This is a pretty fun part of the language building process (at least to me). Sit down with a scratch paper and make some lines and curves. See what pops out at you. Also think about how your language sounds. Soft (curvy text) or more harsh (angles and points). Decide how each letter would look when written by them selves. Then decide how it would look in a sentence. Puncuation marks? Spacing? To they write it left to right or right to left? Top to bottom even?

So there it is. A general (very general) post about creating your own languages. I promise to expand and give lots of more detail about this later (remind me if I forget!).

Do you think you could create your own langauge?

8 Responses to "L is for Language (Making your own!)"

Jeffrey Beesler Says :
April 14, 2011 at 8:11 AM

I'm not sure I could make up my own language. But it is fun to build up new worlds regardless!

Greetings from the A-Z Challenge!

Claudie A. Says :
April 14, 2011 at 10:11 AM

I rarely create my own langage, but I've gone through Step One in length often. More than once for each novel.

I do it because it gives me a better idea of how to name the characters consistently, and how the naming will differ from one region/kingdom to another.

I love the header by the way. Fell in immediate love!

Bluestocking Mum Says :
April 14, 2011 at 2:02 PM

Garbeldy Gook is what I sometimes talk!

Good to make your acquaintance Anastasia. Look forward to following your posts and writing.

warm wishes

Dawn Embers Says :
April 14, 2011 at 2:23 PM

Great post. I will have to keep it in mind if I ever brave the idea of making up a language.

Anastasia V. Pergakis Says :
April 14, 2011 at 7:51 PM

Jeffrey: Oh yes it is! I love building new worlds. I haven't gone the full length to create an entire language/dictionary of words...but I use these steps to make up the few words I sprinkle into the MS.

Claudie: Yes, step one is a great way to make names sound similar enough to seem like they are from the same language. I'm so glad you like the header! But my favorite is on my website. :)

Bluestocking: Thanks so much for stopping by and following! Garbeldy Gook is technically a language so go for it! :)

Dawn: Oh yea, it can be scary, but I have too much fun really making up new words. One day I might make a full dictionary/langauge - not just a few words. We'll see.

damyantiwrites Says :
April 14, 2011 at 8:34 PM

I do have a language of my own, some of which only my closest friends can decipher :)

thelmaz Says :
April 15, 2011 at 2:59 PM

My favorite book with its own language: A Clockwork Orange

Anastasia V. Pergakis Says :
April 17, 2011 at 10:22 AM

Damyanti: LOL I have that too. It's fun to make the character have that same type of connection too.

TheLMaz: Never read that book but I'm sure the language is interesting. Thanks for commenting!

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