Today, we’re talking about world building! Specifically, language creation.
Over on Facebook, I’m part of a very large (89,000 members) writing group called Fiction Writing. (If you’re a writer, regardless of experience level, seeking to learn about writing fiction or just looking for a writing community, go join.) Members can post questions or helpful advice, and basically drink from the knowledge of the group.
Here lately, I’ve seen several posts asking for advice on creating a language.
They get responses ranging anywhere from “study linguistics” to “don’t” to all manner of genuinely helpful tips.
Now, I’ve only created a language for one of my WIPs (sci-fi series), but I do have some tips. If you’re going to tackle this beast, keep these in mind.
1. Identify the sounds you want them to use, and formulate an alphabet based on that.
Not every species is going to use the same convoluted alphabet we do. I think only 4 letters in the English alphabet make one sound, no matter what letters are next to them, or what word they’re in, or whether they want to be silent that day, or whatever.
English is a bit of a monstrosity like that.
Since I got to decide, Regonian is phonetic. Their letters have one sound each. They always make that sound, and they’re never silent.
2. Numbers! How do they count?
Please, for the love of God, don’t have them count like the French. Or do. It’s up to you.
But…that shit’s a mess. (I’ll put a link at the bottom for a video about French numbers.)
3. Come up with grammar rules. (Verb tense, showing possession, plural vs. singular nouns, punctuation, etc.)
Again, English is a fucking monstrosity. Your language doesn’t have to be. Mine isn’t. Because I didn’t want to deal with that shit.
4. Figure out how the words interact with/modify each other.
For instance, in Regonian, the word for smile is literally the words “lips” and “wide” smooshed together with a syllable dropped, because that’s how I decided nouns and adjectives interact.
Maybe your verbs join with the noun to illustrate the action framed by the actor. Who fucking knows? You. You know.
5. Decide the word order sentences will follow.
Do you want the noun to be the beginning of the sentence every time? Okay. That’s how it is. Do you want the adjectives to come after the noun (like in Spanish)? Got it.
For mine, for the sake of simplicity in writing the stuff, I stuck with the sentence structure that I’m most familiar with (English). But you don’t have to do that.
6. Identify key elements in their culture, and shape phrases around them.
For the Regonians, sound is a very important, almost religious aspect of their lives. It ties into their views of the afterlife. They’re a very musical people, using a multitude of instruments, singing, and even aspects of beat boxing in all important aspects of their lives. So sound influenced how they reference emotion and how they show their love.
Thus, I centered a lot of phrases around words pertaining to sound.
Do they have any neighbors? Most civilizations don’t develop in a petri dish. (The one in The Gem of Meruna developed without outside influence, but that’s explained in The Regonia Chronicles. Yes, there’s a tie in, which I’m pretty excited about.) How has that other culture shaped them? Because that’ll affect their language. Maybe they borrowed a few phrases or words.
7. Build a word database.
You never know what word you’re going to need. Believe me. Lol.
This part can kinda be done as you go along, just be sure to reference everything you came up with for numbers 1 through 6, so you don’t accidentally contradict yourself.
It’s not easy or quick. Lol. No advice in the world will make it simple. You’re literally trying to do something that took millennia to evolve naturally, in the course of, what, a few months? A year?
And it has to appear to have evolved naturally, changing over time. Certain phrases have to have been abandoned because they were too antiquated. New slang will erupt. Disdain for said slang may or may not be whispered amongst the older members of the community. Maybe your new race embraces the fluidity of language. If so, you’ve got your work cut out for you, because that means a lot more change is going to happen over time.
To a degree, creating a language an exercise in masochism. In all likelihood, only a few tidbits will actually be written in this new language. A quote here, a thought there…maybe a passage that a character sees written out before them.
So, for the most part, the readers will never know that you built a 2,000 words dictionary. But for the sake of doing it right, for the sake of continuity and feeling like a real language…you almost have to.
So, good luck.
I’m glad to have that part behind me. Lol. I have no intention of ever doing it again.
But I wouldn’t take it back, either. It really enriched The Regonia Chronicles.
Anyway, I’m about a fourth of the way through the edit for The Gem of Meruna, but…it may need another round after that. So, I may do the final edits on Soul Bearer or After (pending the feedback from final beta reads), and release one of those, first.
Man…you’d think all this planning would wear me out. Lol. Jk. I barely plan anything. Until I get one fully edited and ready for formatting, I’m pretty much just flying by the seat of my pants, for which…I apologize.
It makes sense, though. That’s how I write, so why wouldn’t it be how I edit?
Once I get one ready for formatting and ARC readers (thus setting in stone which one will be out next), I’ll set dates. Then, I’ll start posting about it, and telling you guys more about the story and the characters.
Keep reading. Keep writing.