Realm Rhythm Part 1—Creating Fantasy Languages

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At some point, fiction writers, writing of fantastical lands, magical, futuristic and space realms may ponder having a fantasy language shared between certain characters.

Creating a fantasy language can no doubt be difficult, just as learning a foreign language can be…especially if the writer needs extensive dialogue spoken in said language. Pros and cons: Pro—A challenge to create unique and wonderful languages, gathering a huge fan following for your “realm speak” like Tolkien did with his Elvish. Con—It can intimidate the writer into navigating away from the idea of spicing up the writing that might otherwise give the realm more merit with a fantasy-based language altogether. But making up a new world with the natives speaking in the unknown can also be as simple as creating only a few choice words or phrases to use regularly in dialogue between certain characters.

Currently, I am working on a fantasy language for the sequel to TOO. I mentioned the “language of Argus” in book one and I knew at some point that the series would have to deliver the goods for that language. Can’t wait to see and hear the outcome once it’s finished.

I would’ve loved being a fly on Tolkien’s wall as he went through the great lengths of creating, practicing and speaking his Elvish language. That was one great mind. The Klingon language from the great mind of linguist Marc Okrand, attracts Trekkies all over the globe for gatherings and conventions. I wouldn’t know the language if someone started speaking it to me, nor can I do the uber popular, Vulcan hand-thingy salute…my fingers simply won’t cooperate. I would not be very welcome at a convention. I could never leave out the mastermind behind Serenity and the Firefly series Joss Whedon, who did a mix of English, Chinese and Mandarin languages.

Did you know there are actual groups and organizations devoted to the study and practice of fantasy languages? Now that’s true “language of love.”

The Klingon Language Institute

E.L.F. (The Elvish Linguistic Fellowship)

The Firefly and Serenity Database

Here are some great links on fantasy languages and creating them:

How to Create a Fantasy Language

wikiHow

Fantasy Language Creation for Fiction Writers

Chaotic Shiny Language Mixer

The Language Construction Kit

Have you created fantasy languages for your realms?

If you have not created a fantasy language, it might be fun to explore and challenge yourself, your writing. Not as if writers need to add more challenging tasks to the day to day, but if you decide to create a new language—I would love to hear about it and your process.

Categories: Fiction Tips and The Writing Life.

Comments

  1. Yes, I’ve invented languages, but so far only for science fiction. The only two that I really have a working vocabulary for are Korishak and Trarsani. A few words of Kyattoni, but some of that is really bizarre to English speakers because they don’t put thoughts together the same way. Korishak is syntactically perfect, based on the mathematics of predicate calculus, and is probably beyond the capacity for any human to ever get good at. I’m not. Trarsani is different from English, but fairly easy, and like modern Hebrew uses annotations beneath consonants to represent vowels.

    I generally only create as much as I need, sometimes just an alphabet (or syllabary in some such as Hamon), then add grammar and vocabulary as called for. It’s rather fun, probably because I enjoy languages to begin with.

    I don’t suggest overwhelming your readers with vast passages that they have to work out, and finagle in clues so that they can follow the conversation. Here is an example, understanding that it is still a rough draft. Notice the asterisk; a footnote. “Lesley, help me.”

    “Hoi,” she whined. “Sheekee kree-rasai?”

    “English, Ritee,” he said softly, still holding her and struggling with her pants. “It’s me. Lesley.” Still, he could pick out some words. “The subshuttle crashed.”

    “Less-lee koi-rubrai da-fei.*”

    Crap! She was only half conscious and he wasn’t going to get English out of her, at least not right away. He had only picked out his name and fei.

    “Less-lee,” she said again. “Sheevo Nekalee?”

    Now that much he understood.

    “Nekalee is fine. She’s in the car. She broke her arm, that’s all.” He hoped that was all.

    “Eesh fei dee-zeekai,” she groaned.

    Not I can-walk.

    Having already done all the damage he could do by picking her up the first time, he did so again and carried her in his arms back to where Nekalee was still sitting. …

    • Profile photo of A.M. Day

      Good advice, Duane! An overwhelmed reader means minus a reader. That’s quite a language you’ve got there. I think I’ll be like you and just create what I need…but probably leave room for growth. Thanks for commenting. Sorry it took so long for me to reply. I was on a brief social media hiatus.

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