Whether you’re new to writing or a veteran, creating a language is a daunting task. It’s a world all unto itself.
Language is usually a fluid thing that adapts and changes over centuries, even more so now that the internet has forced nearly every aspect of life into hyper-evolution.
But when creating a language from scratch for our books, we don’t exactly get centuries to perfect it. (Not unless you’re secretly a vampire.)
So, to help break this herculean task down into smaller pieces, I’ve put together some tips and things to keep in mind while creating your language.
Admittedly, I’ve only made one language for my series, The Regonia Chronicles, (and I’m still filling out the dictionary now that I have the things below ironed out) so this is not a comprehensive guide to language creation.
More like… a jumping off point.
Your language does not have to have the same alphabet as ours. Much like English vs. Chinese vs. Arabic, there can be some major differences.
So, your language will likely have its own alphabet, especially if it’s on a different world. And those unique letters can represent any sound.
Maybe they have a letter that’s a combination of v and k. That combination may not happen much in English, but their language is different. Maybe they have a letter that represents a “tick” sound.
Just keep in mind how you’re going to write these things for people who don’t speak that language to understand. In the book, it’ll likely have to be spelled out in the language you plan to publish in, unless there’s meant to be a language barrier.
When creating mine, I sidestepped the language barrier with technology (that particular story is a distant future sci-fi epic). The tech fits into the plot and world and helped me avoid having my characters make awkward attempts to mime their meanings.
And since the characters understood things with the help of their tech, I could just type everything in English.
But you might need to consider a means of communication if there is a language barrier.
Every language has specific sounds/letters that get a lot of use and others that are rarely used.
In English, A, E, L, M, N, and S are incredibly common. But Q, V, W, X, and Z aren’t.
That’s inevitable and should be considered when making a language.
Though honestly, it’ll probably happen by accident. When creating my language, I learned quickly that there are certain sounds/groupings of sounds that I gravitate toward.
Should it be Phonetic?
Do the letters always make the same sound? Are there ever silent letters?
English and French are particularly bad about both of those things, but Spanish and Japanese seem to be very phonetic.
English is so bad that I think only four letters are 100% true to themselves at all times.
And I hate that.
My language turned out very phonetic, partly because I hate how changeable the English alphabet is, and partly because the race that formed the language is a very logical race. They would never stand for something as varied as English.
But if your characters live somewhere that has blended cultures and languages, there will be inconsistencies.
Not all languages put the words in the same order. Some put the adjective after the noun (Spanish), some before (English).
And with your language, you can mix your word order even more. So long as it follows a pattern, you can put the verb first and the person doing the action at the very end of the sentence, strange as that would be to do if you tried it in English.
You need grammar rules. They don’t have to be the same as ours, but you need to have them.
Do your people use conjunctions? Do they use commas or some similar punctuation? Do they put ‘e’ before ‘i’ instead of the other way around?
Do they have their own special grammar rules that we don’t have?
How do you show past or future tense? In English, we add -ing or -ed (though as with everything in English, there are exceptions), but that doesn’t have to be the case for yours language.
And Spanish verb conjugations get even more complicated than that, conjugating for the noun they relate to as well as the tense.
For mine, keeping with the logical society that formed the language, I kept it straightforward. A prefix for past tense, a suffix for future tense.
Is this as simple as adding a punctuation? Or does this require an additional word?
(For mine, I decided to cut this completely. The society that formed the language didn’t have personal belongings, being something more of a hive mind society, and the society that adapted the language just goes by context when placing the person with the object.)
Showing plural can be a complicated thing. Some languages pluralize only the noun, while others pluralize the adjectives too.
You could do either, neither, or make the entire sentence plural.
But you need to decide how to show pluralization. It doesn’t have to be adding an ‘-s’ or ‘-es.’
Specific phrases for culture
The culture will likely be woven throughout the language. Idioms (24/7), curses (bloody hell), and pleas for help (please, god) that are common place in our world likely won’t apply in your language.
They’ll have different religions to influence their speech patterns, as well as different views on time and life, in general. Their language will reflect that.
For my formative culture, they didn’t have turns of phrase, couldn’t be bothered with them. But the culture that adapted the language is more emotional and individual. They value sound and music, so they have many expression relating to that.
This kinda goes hand in hand with the above section, but it’s more than just one culture adapting someone else’s language.
Older people will likely speak differently than young people. Words in ancient texts might make no sense to someone reading it a thousand years after it was written due to changes in the meaning, usage, or connotations.
Now, go forth and make up words. Be patient with yourself. It’s a lengthy process.
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