Inventing Language

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Inventing Language

Editado: Fev 18, 2023, 2:03 pm

From single words, to new slang terms and idioms, to entire dictionaries and fictional grammars, one thing that writers do is invent language.

So for the readers:

How do you feel when you are reading a book, and you encounter a new word, a new idiom, or entire sentences written in a language that doesn't exist?

Which authors think do a particularly good job of each type of ivnvention?

For the authors:
Do you ever find yourself inventing language? Why?
Is there an example from your own work you are particularly proud of?

When you realize you need words, names or even phrases that don't actually exist, how do you go about coming up with something to fill the gap?

Editado: Fev 18, 2023, 2:33 pm

J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth is of course the paragon of fiction grounded in conlang. Given that, it's surprising how sparing he is with it in the actual stories.

The vocabulary of The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe has sometimes been indicted for its obscurity, but it never struck me as that alien. I expect a certain amount of opacity in the language of societies far removed from our own, no matter how much "translation" the author has done.

I've recently been doing a bit of private fiction writing that includes a serpent-people conspiracy (loosely inspired by Robert E. Howard's The Shadow Kingdom) where they have their own language. Not being willing to invest in a full conlang project, I've used a matching pair of conventions:

A) phonetically-styled gibberish in italics, that I've invented mostly at the full-sentence level to represent the language as heard but not understood by humans; and

B) English set off by superscript-SS instead of double quotes, to represent the mutually-intelligible communication among the reptile folk. In this latter convention, I've been influenced by Terra Ignota, where Ada Palmer uses a variety of novel punctuation to discriminate among speech in French, Spanish, Chinese, and other languages--all given in English. (She also offers 25th-century "Masonic Latin" verbatim, with translations!)

Editado: Fev 18, 2023, 2:44 pm

YEAH! This is my thread! I write languages for at least half of my ideas. Hell, just yesterday I wrote a bunch of words for Wings of Nialoca just stemming from seeing Ant-Man 3, looking up the definition of "quantum" and organizing the proper root words to combine just so I could finally remember the definition. After that I spent almost a half-hour making words and writing notes for the Nialoca guidebook about language writing and naming conventions.

Nialoca's dominant language, Quilish, stems from "wing" and "angelic" imagery, taking the four letters "q-u-i-l" and connecting them to a bastardized form of "aquila" and using the term to apply to heavenly powers / being: "Aequilo," a word which I find very coloful because it's a beautiful-sounding word using one of each vowel save Y. Thus, the language needs to feel angelic by comman usae of certain letters such as I and L, and of course take light spelling and grammatical influence from Latin, and vibe influence from Sinadrin.

Fev 19, 2023, 2:02 pm

>2 paradoxosalpha: "Ada Palmer uses a variety of novel punctuation to discriminate among speech in French, Spanish, Chinese, and other languages--all given in English. (She also offers 25th-century "Masonic Latin" verbatim, with translations!)"

I don't know where I first ran into this convention but I did almost exactly the same thing when writing a script for a story set in an alternate history. I used different kinds of punctuation for French and Portuguese. But when the characters are speaking latin, I used latin, and then provided a translation.

I did it that way because the people speaking french were french and the people speaking portuguese were portuguese. But nobody was speaking latin as their first language. Mostly they were using latin in a religious context (although my hero used it because he didn't speak portuguese or french.)

Once upon a time you had to know latin to be considered educated. That is no longer the case, and I needed to get help with the latin. But I wanted that feel of being in a different time.

"phonetically-styled gibberish in italics"

It makes sense to me to not create grammar when you only need a few lines of untranslated text.

But did you try to give your gibberish a particular flavor/sound?

In the first (still unpublished) fantasy book I wrote (not including my juvenilia) I used a few brief passages in a language without vowels, that I never bothered to build any structure for. So, gibberish. I used it in the same circumstance you did, something was being heard, but not understood.

But the look of my gibberish language was quite distinct, it couldn't be mistaken for any other language. :)

(Within the context of the story it was also intended to be unpronounceable by humans. My human readers when reading aloud tended to find this a little too accurate to be comfortable.) ::rueful::

Fev 19, 2023, 2:09 pm

The biggest problem with inventing a language is making sure the alphabet and pronunciation are consistent. I noticed one inconsistency in Nialoca, specifically that a certain location uses "sh" as opposed to "x" to describe the "sh" sound when the latter is accurate, and on top of that the root for the end used "s" instead. So I devised a quick subplot and I described it here in a guidebook for the series that I'm working on:

The name “Palpoqash” uses an archaic and dead form of Quilish that existed during the development of modern Quilish and before the formation of Ladivar. In modern Quilish, the name would have been “Palopoqas.”

This gives me a new assignment: archaic Quilish, but I don't have to develop it as thickly as modern Quilish.

Fev 19, 2023, 2:13 pm

>3 MythButton:
I find it really interesting that you use "imagery" as an inspiration for the sound of a language. (I remember you saying you often created alphabets to go with them, too?)

I'm more likely to use an existing language as a base when coming up with the sound of a language.

Or when I'm working with non-human languages I try to think about how their sound-making organs might limit them.

If Quilish has a latin-based grammar, what did you base the grammars of your other languages on?

Fev 19, 2023, 2:22 pm

It varies. Quilish grammar is a mix of Latin and English depending on the inflections, and Quilish is an inflection-heavy language. Another language in the book: Bolinish, spoken by the Bolinx race, is largely derived from various Native American languages as the race is inspired both by Native Americans and the mythical phoenix.

Most races of Nialoca are inspired by existing ones. For example: the primate-mouse combination Stelandi was inspired by the mysticism present in pop culture representations of the Romani, notably in the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. However, it is also inspired by the mood and atmosphere set by the race's namesake: Do It Again by Steely Dan. Thus, it should stand to reason that the atmosphere be taken with a seemingly mystic and mysterious approach. As these are two words that accurately describe their culture, we can assume by imagery and psychology that the letters "m" "y" "s" and "t" are fairly heavy in the language. We can also assume that, because "i" makes the "ee" sound, that these roots denote that "y" makes the "ih" sound. Even the name "Stelandi" already makes use of the "s" and "t." However, the race is also a combination of monkeys and mice, and so there are two more sources for related words to serve as inspiration for the alphabet's construction, depending on which words are chosen.

Fev 21, 2023, 10:17 pm

I am interested in researching Native American languages for one of my projects, but the local library has just about nothing on the subject so I could use some book recommendations if you've got any. My particular interest is Eastern Woodlands langages. :)

I was about to ask you which NA language would have Bollinx as a potential phonetic combination, and then I realized you said structure, not phonemes. ::oops!::

I've been studying Korean a little and I think its structure would be ideal for the my Main SF universe's "Galactic Standard" which is an artificial language in-world, created so that there would be no arguing over which language would become the official language of an organization encompassing over a hundred worlds (most of which are already home to many languages.)

I have a question...
Do you ever try to give the readers the sense that the characters are actually speaking another language, even though it is being presented as english?

Editado: Fev 21, 2023, 10:59 pm

>8 LShelby: I'll do you one better. I'll get you a link with two syllabaries.

I remember reading part of one or another book about Western history, and it mentioned one Native American named Sequoya who was moving to Alabama and saw the locals reading newspaper, inspiring him to write a language for the Cherokee. This was done in the early 1800's.

As far as the languages go, I didn't actually "say" structure. Phonemes are the first step to it. Like I said, I check which sounds are common in words that describe the basic theme, and I work off of that. However, because I want to distinct them as a race based on the pheonix as well, then the Native American influence will also include letters which make more than one sound, such as "x = k + s," or Greek's psi, or "ch = t + s." We can even include a "k + sh" variant which can be denoted by an apostrophe at the beginning or end, or an "xh" or "hx" combo, much like how the original "wh" in English was in fact pronounced as a combination of "h" and "w," and is written in some phonetization charts as "hw." So by combining two different influences, the possibilities are infinite. But thanks to Cherokee's syllabary using dual consonant categories such as "ts" and "tl," the realism is stronger. So in these possibilites comes the delicate art of fine-tuning.

Fev 22, 2023, 7:56 am

Tolkien got us thinking invented language is a necessary part of fantasy world building, but it just arose from the intersection of his knowledge/interests. If he'd been a hippie instead or was obsessed with cats, etc., we'd have a whole other template. If you're into languages yourself I think that's great, but Tolkien's shadow is looming over you. You'll have to really sell your knowledge so you don't have someone assuming you're just walking in his footsteps (without it dragging down the story; tough line to walk.)

Fev 22, 2023, 8:53 am

As a reader I hate it. Huge turn off.

Think very carefully about the POV you're presenting. Does the character know/understand what's being said. If YES then write it in english (or whatever language your book is in). If NO then all you need is unintelligible words. Very rare to have slightly understood, again have the character ask for clarity.

Omnisecent viewpoint is slightly harder, but again the characters either understand it, or they don't. The Single worst way to do it (per several thrillers) is to drop in the odd word of 'foreign' and have the rest in english.

Slightly harder still is the concepts that english doesn't have as a single word, but here we're getting into alien mindset territory and you really need to step with care, as above mostly it will be understood, or just not known. I can accept that you may need to design an alien grammer to worldbuild your characters and motivations (CJ CHerryh does this wonderfully in foreigner) but you don't need to present it to the reader. Liek all background research it's presence needs to be deduced from what is shown, rather than told. (yes it's hard).

Editado: Fev 23, 2023, 2:22 am

The Martian language was central to Stranger in a Strange Land, yet Heinlein gave only one veridical (phonetic/transliterated) Martian word in the whole book.

Editado: Fev 23, 2023, 12:00 am

>10 Cecrow: I acknowledge Tolkien and Paolini's influence on my writing in the language department. I even credit them positively when I can. But at the same time, I will incorporate this in cyberpunk as well as sword and sorcery. I'll even do so for gory supernatural horror if I feel like it. Of course, the mild subversion of Wings of Nialoca is that the whole story is technically told in Quilish, as opposed to being a featured side-language like Sindarin, Dwarvish, Vulcan or Inheritance's Ancient Language.

Fev 23, 2023, 9:58 am

>8 LShelby: I have a question...
Do you ever try to give the readers the sense that the characters are actually speaking another language, even though it is being presented as english?

It's been decades, but at the time of reading I was very struck by Piers Anthony's use of various symbols / punctuation to designate various species in his Cluster series. Perhaps not quite on point with your question, but I recall the overall effect as powerfully communicating the variety (and constant presence of) alien species in mutual communication.

There's a lot to question in Anthony's writing, and I'm no longer even remotely interested in his Xanth write-by-number novels, but the Cluster books and perhaps a couple other series are possibly worth a re-read (Tarot, Battle Circle).

Editado: Fev 23, 2023, 10:54 am

>14 elenchus: I will also answer this.

YES! Yes I do! In fact, the prologue's "title" is written as this:

Solohorda nu vutatrona. Zohav al zicda hogit.
“Drowned in the blood of the earth. That's where I found him.”

This is to show that the language that is being spoken is being translated as you enter this world. I even had one of my "Gusto Gummi" moments when I rewrote the whole prologue to feature the reader as a character exploring a central character's domain before that character explains the mythology and the reason foer the contemporary apocalypse in less than two pages.

And anything shown as written down in the novel will either be introduced in the language and then translated, or it will specifically use terminology that the Quilish speakers would use. For example, a "coin" will often be stated as a "tanio," because that is their word for a unit of currency. The worth of the tanio, like on Earth, is measured by the metal. And so, only metals that appear on Nialoca weill be addressed. For example, the most valuable coin in Ladivarian currency is the "raelon," which is similar to but not quite gold. There's even a whole rant I wrote on Nialoca's closest equivalent to chocolate.

Fev 23, 2023, 4:19 pm

Most readers will not realize that your invented language actually 'works'. They'll see what looks to them like nonsense syllables creatively transliterated. Fortunately from a literary perspective the effect will be practically the same, but unfortunately your work may go unappreciated. Perhaps you could go with an appendix to demonstrate it.

Editado: Fev 23, 2023, 5:15 pm

>16 Cecrow: Each time it's used, I literally say, "In English, it would be translate as _____." There are also plenty of times that I explain the specific roots for proper names, and I even invented a specific abbreviated variant of "mt." and explained its relevance as a different version in Quilish as opposed to the "closest English translation" there is. This was all done in a single paragraph, as well as to add a little realism to the language by mentioning that languages are not always translated 100% correctly due to specific words with meanings that only exist in that language. Another example is how I detail that "Nialoca" is often confused by non-Quilim speakers to mean "The center of the universe," when it really means "the focal point of quintessence," which more elaborately means that the creator of that galaxy chose that specific planet as his focal point for detailing the science that rules that galaxy.

Fev 24, 2023, 4:53 pm

>9 MythButton:
This is very cool, but the project in question is set in an alternate earth, so alas what I really need is dictionaries.

The writing system I invented for the protagonist of Across a Jade Sea is a syllabary, though. :)

And then for historical reasons they started using that writing system with a different language, that had totally different phonemes and the result was rather painful.

(I got the idea for that from a description in a history book of a similar situation in... India? I'm pretty sure it was Near East somewhere.)

Fev 24, 2023, 5:24 pm

>11 reading_fox: "As a reader I hate it. Huge turn off."

Heh. One of my editing goals for Cantata back when was to winnow out as many "weird words" as I could.

I think maybe I didn't do too badly, but perhaps readers upon learning this will be horrified to realize that there used to be even more weird words. :)

But I am finding this statement interesting.
"The Single worst way to do it (per several thrillers) is to drop in the odd word of 'foreign' and have the rest in english."

Your preference is, for everything to be in English?

I am frequently disappointed when a foreign culture sounds too English to me.

But I suppose there are techniques that can be used other than sticking in foreign words here and there?

I find I tend to use the foreign words more when writing Fantasy than when writing Science Fiction. Is that just me, or is it a more general thing, I wonder?
i also wonder why I do that. Could it be Tolkien's influence? Because in science fiction the new strange concepts are often more recent ones in that culture also, so it seems more likely that they would make use of some combination of existing words when coming up with a term for them?

Fev 24, 2023, 5:33 pm

>14 elenchus: "It's been decades, but at the time of reading I was very struck by Piers Anthony's use of various symbols / punctuation to designate various species in his Cluster series."

I think it's a valid example of a way the existance of multiple languages can be handled.
The take-away is that we don't have know what their language sounds like, we just have to know when someone is speaking in language x and when they are speaking in language y.

I'm afraid to me the "much struck" language moment was when my sister was reading my Retief stories at bed. Every alien species seemed to have a different way of butchering English for comedic effect.

Fev 24, 2023, 5:50 pm

>15 MythButton:
Writing out the language and then translating it seems fine for the first sentence.

I would be afraid that's a technique that gets tedious if you did it too often though.

What about the way in which you use English (which is a marvelously flexible language) does that change depending on which language it is representing?

"For example, the most valuable coin in Ladivarian currency is the "raelon," which is similar to but not quite gold."

The periodic table of elements need not apply?

I don't have a problem with a tanio any more than I a problem with yen or rubles or eros. It's much stranger when people who clearly have no connection to us are using dollars and cents. Interestingly, though, "penny" as a unit of small coinage works for me generically. All the older brittish units just feel to me more generic than the modern equivalents. I'm from Canada and I grew up with metric, I am still quite likely to write character dialog that goes "I walked for miles", where it would never occur to me to write "I walked for kilometers."

For me, I wrestled with the garment worn on people's bottom half in Cantata for a long time, because neither pants nor skirts seemed to be a good match. I looked up other cultures that used something similar, but the names they used were not commonly heard in english. So I finally decided that if I was going to have to use a foreign word it might as well be foreign specific to the culture they were reading about and not from some irrelevant culture on earth.

Fev 24, 2023, 6:02 pm

>17 MythButton: "Each time it's used, I literally say, "In English, it would be translate as _____."

So the book is written in an omniscient viewpoint?

I haven't read it, so this might work well in context, but in general I advise changing up one's phraseology unless you are attempting a ritualistic or poetic effect, or are trying to establish a personal or linguistic quirk.

Our language is diverse, and our ears are used to variety. :)

Editado: Fev 24, 2023, 6:46 pm

>21 LShelby: I've considered it. For the next two books, I'm working on some other languages and some mistranslations between alien languages concerning very important words, which may or may not kickstart some subplots. And now that I was able to rewrite one little linguistics oversight in the first book as an "archaic form of Quilish-"

-I can use that as a potential subplot. However, one of the important books on magic mentioned in the first book is a few hundred years old, so I need to be careful about that before I decide when to date this archaic form.

>22 LShelby: I found the omniscient viewpoint to be the one I write the most well. Having said that, I'm looking forward to experimenting with the diary format of Catherine Called Birdy.

Fev 25, 2023, 4:11 pm

>23 MythButton: "I found the omniscient viewpoint to be the one I write the most well."

I was once told at a writer's workshop that tight-third is the only true and living viewpoint (and the fact that many excellent books had been written in other viewpoints just meant that those authors were experts and I was not.)

I ignore this advice whenever I feel like it, and have written a lot (maybe most?) of my works in first person. My Pavane in Pearl and Emerald is a diary novel.

I find omniscient harder, but I want to learn how to do it well.
Any tips?

Fev 25, 2023, 4:15 pm

>24 LShelby: Keep ignoring that. You don't have to be a professional to know that "only true anything" is a joke. It takes basic logic to realize that entertainment comes in too many variables through genre and delivery. Satantango can't be compared to the Godfather by being the same just because they're both considered two of the greatest movies ever made. If we stuck with that attitude since the dawn of time, then the positive advancements of our world could be held back by hundreds if not thousands of years, whether they be as seemingly meaningless as genre or as important as politics.

Fev 26, 2023, 3:17 pm

>25 MythButton:
I grows out of the very natural human inclination to say "it works for me so it must be right."

But yes, it's a trap.

This is a question that might not make sense to you, but lets give it a try: when you write in omniscient, where are your eyes?

Also, your story is, within its own world, written in another language. Is it also written by a particular person?

When I'm creating the "voice" of a character who natively speaks another language, using English the way I use it feels wrong, so I make changes in the english sometimes to reflect the language it is representing.

An infamous example of this is yoda-speak.
But I think it can be done more subtly to good effect.

Whether people will agree with me when they realize I've written 260K words of script in which one of the twenty most commonly used words in english does not appear...?

But when one is living in an arm-chair one has to do something to amuse oneself.

Fev 26, 2023, 5:42 pm

WoN isn't written by one of the characters. But I envision everything like a movie is playing in my head. When I get into the heavy dialogue, however, that's when I stop envisioning and start lecturing. However, the prologue and epilogue are spoken to the reader.

Fev 27, 2023, 5:03 am

>19 LShelby: "But I am finding this statement interesting.
"The Single worst way to do it (per several thrillers) is to drop in the odd word of 'foreign' and have the rest in english."

Your preference is, for everything to be in English?

I am frequently disappointed when a foreign culture sounds too English to me.

Yes. From the character's point of view, they would never hear just one word as 'foreign' it would all sound natural to them. There are slight differences when they're a visitor to a foreign country and don't fully understand the language, you do then end up auto-translating the words you know and adding in foreign ones for the other. Walking down a french highstreet you might go: "that's the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer, that other shop that's a special baker.." you wouldn't suddenly introduce 'boucherie" in there, even though that's' what the shop would be called. The character knows it is a butcher's shop.

But yes you then need to take care in describing the differences, where appropriate/notable, to show (not tell) how the culture is different. Especially in alien settings.

Fev 27, 2023, 5:55 pm

>27 MythButton: "WoN isn't written by one of the characters."

I know, if it was it would be written in first person.
But is the person who is speaking to the reader you?

"But I envision everything like a movie is playing in my head."
Okay, if it's a movie, then we have a camera instead of eyes.

So does the camera in your head just instinctively change position for different "shots" or is it something you have to think about?

When I work on a comic, I write a script, divide it up into bits, and figure out the images for the bits.

I'm not used to splitting up a written story up into bits in order to figure out where I need to be to see the action most effectively. In first and in tight third, the pov controls the place I'm describing from, whether its the most effective spot or not. Omniscient is different.

Fev 27, 2023, 6:28 pm

>28 reading_fox: "Yes. From the character's point of view, they would never hear just one word as 'foreign' it would all sound natural to them."

This is my default presumption.


If I were to visit somewhere foreign, and then come back and describe my experiences to my children, I might insert the foreign name for a kind of shop into my discourse if there wasn't a word for that kind of shop in English. I definitely would if I thought I would be talking about that kind of shop often. I would then have to explain to them what the word meant, but I would use the foriegn word.

The foreign language has that word for a reason, it is missing in English then as a writer setting a story in a foreign land, I've got a problem.

So, as a counter example, if in the story the dialog was: "I went to the butcher, the baker, and a shop that sells a bunch of different items that were made by the shopkeepers relatives in the country for monthly craft festivals", that depiction of dialogue doesn't accurately depict what's going on either. The character would know the name of that kind of shop, and would just say it, he wouldn't be going on about relatives in the country or monthly festivals.

Fev 28, 2023, 4:25 am

>30 LShelby: - yes, and there are probably a few other exceptions that work ok too, 'bonjour' even if the characters doesn't know any other french... (perhaps to make the point, used at the wrong time of day). But mostly when I've seen this 'drop a foreign word in' concept it hasn't had that excuse.

Fev 28, 2023, 4:15 pm

>29 LShelby:

It all depends on what I want. But I've done it so much throughout my life that I usually don't need time to layout where things are happening, almost as if I pull out the kind of architecture I know I need for the scene on instinct. You'd be amazed at the level designs for Metroid games that I've had dreams of.

Mar 2, 2023, 11:32 am

>31 reading_fox:

It doesn't feel right, when the only reason for it to be there is to remind you that a character is actually thinking/speaking in another language?

That makes total sense to me. It's a quick and easy way to accomplish that, but as you say, it doesn't make sense. Lazy writing.

...Now to go check and see if I've been doing this anywhere. ::rueful::

Mar 2, 2023, 11:53 am

>32 MythButton: "You'd be amazed at the level designs for Metroid games that I've had dreams of."

Actually I probably wouldn't. I have a son and a daughter who do game development as a hobby, although the son focuses on table-top. :)

Saying you do something by instinct is a totally fair answer. (Not a helpful one, but fair.) It's what I often have to answer when my daughters ask me about plotting. ::rueful:: I've gotten better. They say they can watch me mentally sorting through all the things that I've heard of other people doing, trying to find something that sounds like it might work for them.


So lets try get this back on topic. I've been trying to think of who else gets into language heavily besides Tolkein. But as always when these kinds of questions are asked, my mind goes blank.

Wasn't Suzette Haden Elgin a linguist of some kind?

Harry Harrison liked to insert Esperanto into his books, but that seems kind of cheating to me since he didn't invent it himself. Also, Esperanto seemed to me to be totally based on the "romantic" (aka latin) tradition, which makes me uncomfortable about making it into a "universal" language. There are way more Asians and Africans in the world, why does a European-centric language, even if it is artificial, win as the universal default?

On the other hand, English is currently winning the language stakes, and it's origin is also European.

Maybe using Esperanto bothers me because it is artificial? History isn't fair, but if you are going to create a language, you can be fair about it. Something like that. Does this make sense to anyone?

If you were going to create a "universal" language for a world
(or a bunch of worlds) how would you all choose which language to use?

Mar 3, 2023, 6:56 pm

>34 LShelby: Well I already made Quilish that for Nialoca as the Quilim are the most populous species on the planet.

Mar 7, 2023, 1:21 pm

>35 MythButton:
If Quilish is the dominant language, has it ever pushed another language out of existence?

Mar 9, 2023, 5:05 pm

>36 LShelby: Like Latin? Like I said, there was an archaic form of Quilish I added as a minor subplot for the franchise due to a mistake I made in the rules of phonetization. So yes, there is one.

Mar 11, 2023, 9:39 am

>37 MythButton:
I don't know that I would count latin as being pushed out of existence. It evolved into a bunch of new languages, as part of natural processes.

I was thinking more like what has happened to a lot of Native American languages. Where populations end up adopting the language of a conquering or otherwise dominant group to such a degree that the lose their own. I had a foster brother and sister who were Blackfoot by ancestry but didn't speak a word of the language. That particular language is considered "alive" but only barely, the closely related Gros Ventre language is considered extinct.

Anyway, that was what I was trying to ask about.

(I have an "old version" of the local language existing in the Coral Palace stories as an excuse for courtiers at the palace to show off how educated they are. Courtiers always need opportunities to show off.)

Editado: Mar 11, 2023, 8:48 pm

>38 LShelby: Where populations end up adopting the language of a conquering or otherwise dominant group to such a degree that the lose their own.

That's a charitable characterization considering the general efforts at genocide to which the US subjected native cultures. ("Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.") Many subjugated cultures have been (and are today) forcibly deprived of their languages.

And Latin isn't even "dead." Leaving aside the extent to which it persists in its Romance language progeny, capable speakers of Latin as a (now unofficial) lingua franca at the Vatican and the (official) documentary language of the Holy See almost certainly outnumber speakers of other actually endangered languages.

Mar 14, 2023, 2:05 pm

>39 paradoxosalpha:
I'm not trying to cover for the white invaders, even if I'm probably descended from some of them. I'm just intending to talk about languages, and to be inclusive of situations where language loss wasn't a deliberate directive on the part of the dominant culture.

I think it's probably happened without deliberate malice somewhere in history. Do you disagree?

Anyway, when I had the goblin language disappear completely off of the face of Racciman's World, it wasn't because the other species deliberately eliminated it.

I used native american languages as an example of lost languages because I thought that people would be more likely to recognize the situation, if not the actual languages, than if I tried talk about extinct languages in say, India.

Latin has been called a "dead" language (by people other than me), even though it has current-day speakers, because it is no-longer anyone's native language. I agree that the terminology is a little inappropriate. But I'm not sure what alternative term exists. :(

Mar 14, 2023, 8:31 pm

>40 LShelby: probably happened without deliberate malice somewhere in history

I'm willing to allow for the possibility, although I don't know offhand of any instances. Certainly, it's not well demonstrated in modern North America.

Mar 16, 2023, 11:13 am

>38 LShelby: By that def, I haven't thought that hard about it. Though considering one idea I have for a prequel, it's likely.

Mar 17, 2023, 4:40 pm

>41 paradoxosalpha:
It is a very sad irony that once they were forced to go to school in English, and now people are practically begging them to go to schools that teach their native languages. My foster siblings went to "Indian school" (their term for it, not the official designation) for a short time but from what I remember they were more interested in the traditional crafts and dances taught there than in the language lessons.

As adults they might be interested in preserving their cultural heritage, but as children, being sent to a special school on the weekends so they could learn a language that had no practical use to them was considered an unfair burden.

Mar 17, 2023, 4:40 pm

>42 MythButton:
If I make someone else think, or if someone else makes me think, then the conversation was worth it. :)

What about figurative language and idioms?

Do you all think about how your characters would phrase things differently because of their cultural and class background?

Mar 18, 2023, 11:43 am

>44 LShelby:

Those kinds of things just happen as the story progresses. In the end they're more like elements to include for realism's sake as opposed to subplots. In some cases, I would explain the similarities between a Quilish idiom and an English idiom. That may happen more often in books two and three.

Mar 22, 2023, 12:34 pm

>45 MythButton: "In some cases, I would explain the similarities between a Quilish idiom and an English idiom."

That's a very omniscient thing to be doing. :)

Since I'm generally working in first or third, there's no opportunity to explain any of the idioms I use. I just have to trust my readers to pick them up from context.

But I do love the flavour that unique idiom and slang gives to the dialog.

There's one spot in Serendipity's Tide where my heroine is in the hands of gangsters, who address her or refer to her within the space of 2 pages as a pumpkin, a radish, and a brussels-sprout -- the last of which has her asking plaintively if they could go back to calling her a radish.

"In the end they're more like elements to include for realism's sake as opposed to subplots."

I'm not sure I followed this, how would people speaking differently because of class and background be a subplot?

Isn't it an aspect of characterization?

Mar 31, 2023, 8:42 am

>46 LShelby: It wouldn't be a "subplot" because there's adding to the story, and then there's adding to the plot. Adding to the story / realism doesn't always have to have a form of resolution.

Abr 17, 2023, 10:45 am

>47 MythButton:
Sorry, I'm following you now.

Yes I agree. Most of the time linguistic matters are an issue of creating realism rather than plot. I think they are important as an aspect of character, and they can also be used to create mood.

I don't think this makes them unimportant... a plot by itself without the atmosphere and characters tends not to be as enthralling. This is actually one of the things that made me fall in love with writing back in 8th grade. I could always do plot, but if I wrote things down the richness of detail became much higher, the characters and the world became more 'real'.


I watched something on youtube about word order, and the relative frequency of the verb going before the object, and so forth. Do you work out sentence structure for your imaginary languages, or does it not seem worth the bother?

Ago 27, 2023, 2:32 pm

>48 LShelby: I tend to. In fact, the main language of Nialoca, Quilish, is largely inflection-based, like Latin. I'm very careful about adding roots and adding or subtracting specific letters to keep up with consistency.

Jul 3, 9:26 pm

>1 LShelby:

We're talking about conlanging? I love conlanging!

My biggest conlang has been for my longest running work, which i think makes sense because the longer my works tend to be, the more intense my world building for them usually gets. I kind of always consider my books as being "translated" into English, but I don't really make an effort to make that obvious to readers because, well... generally, a good translation shouldn't "feel" like a translation, ha ha! (Which can get into the weeds about how people feel over localization, but that's a different conversation.)

Whenever I run into a word for something that doesn't exist in English - or doesn't exist as one word - I just use the conlang word for it. So in my main work, I have the advantage of having this ancient magic that facilitates language understanding called the Mutual Understanding Wish, but it has limitations. The way it works is that if someone travels from one realm (dimension) to another, they can understand everyone living in that realm and be understood by them. (There are lore reasons for why the various deities did this, but I won't digress unless asked lol.) But, if their language doesn't have an equivalent, they just hear the untranslated version of a word.

For example, in my world, there are four culturally recognized forms of marriage, and specific spousal terms for each kind. But there isn't a specific English word to mean "queerplatonic spouse", so "English" speakers just hear the Demonae (conlang) term - comaes. Meanwhile, "romantic spouse" would just be translated as "spouse", since it's divine magic and takes contextual meanings into account. I have the advantage of having non-native speakers in my cast that get explained all this through dialog, so I have an excuse to explain it to the audience even though the POV character is a native speaker, ha ha.

Also, if anyone is looking for a conlang organizational tool, the Lexicanter app is pretty fantastic!