For all you writers out there who want to create a language for your story.
When creating a new language, it’s important to think of these four things:
- Is it a spoken language?
- Is it a written language?
- Is it a sign language?
- Is it a combination of the above?
Once you’ve decided how your language exists, you can move on to the next steps:
- What culture does it belong to? Try reflecting the culture within the language. The Dothraki in A Song of Ice and Fire center their language around horses as spoken of in this article. Think of the sound and what emotions it could be compared to.
- How old is it? Decide how old your language is and its history. Language changes over time and borrows from other languages as it grows.
- Is it a dead language? A dead language is a language that is no longer used in ever day life. If there is a dead language (like Latin) in your culture, what records exist of it? Several cultures use the Latin name for species all over the world and English speakers use Latin phrases all the time. Does anyone study this language? Does anyone know how to pronounce it? Are there any missing pieces?
- Who uses it? Decide who uses this language. If it is spoken and there is more than one language used in the area, is there only a certain group of people who speak this language? If it is written, what is the literacy rate?
Once you’ve established the above, you’ll have down the basics of your language. Now we’ll move on to specific types of language:
- Alphabet: Again, really think of how you want it to sound. Create a phonetic alphabet for the spoken language and build the vocabulary off that.
- Vocab: If the language is used sparingly in your story, start with the phrases you use first. Create words for these. See how they sound together. Keep track of these words and their various forms (past, present, plural, singular, etc.).
- Grammar: Play with the sentence structure. In Latin, a verb is often at the end of the sentence. In Spanish, the adjective comes after the noun most of the time. Keep these structures consistent and don’t make it too confusing if you have trouble with this.
- Translate: Translate everything you have into the language you write in, even if you don’t use it. Write as much detail as you can about your languages to make it as authentic as possible.
- Style: What would be considered the “formal” style? If there is a written language, is the formal style used more often in writing than in speaking?
- Accents: Does the pronunciation of words differ from place to place? It most likely will if the language is widespread. Accents are influenced by other cultures and languages. The accents of the southwestern US came from English accents while other southern accents came from the influence of France and Jamaica.
- Stress: Know what syllables to stress. This will affect the pronunciation and overall sound of your language.
- Alphabet: Create the written alphabet. There are a few ways you can do this. One is making new letters for each letter you have in the alphabet you write in and another is creating letters that stand for phonetic sounds. The shapes of the letters should be consistent throughout the whole alphabet for a better aesthetic appeal for for easier writing.
- Direction: Which way is this language written? From left to right? Right to left? Top to bottom?
- Translation: If this language is separate from a spoken language, can it be pronounced? Or only translated to read in another language?
- Accents: If you’re writing with the Latin alphabet, use accents sparingly. Make sure you know how they affect pronunciation before using them and don’t drench your language with them.
- Forms: How many forms of writing are there? Is there a lowercase and an uppercase?
- Gestures: Think of what gestures may exist in your culture. Are there any friendly gestures? Any offensive ones? How often are they used?
- Full Language: Is there a fully developed sign language? Was it created for those who are hearing impaired or for another reason? When writing this, don’t describe all the signs made unless what is being said might be important or meaningful to the story. Keep the description short.
- Name the Language: Calling the language the “common tongue” is overdone, boring, and just plain lazy writing. Give the language a name.
- Borrow: If you want, you can borrow root words from another language to base yours off of. You can also borrow grammar rules from other languages if you wish. Borrowing can often make this process easier for you and it may help readers familiar with the base language see the similarities in your new language.
- History: What is the history of the language? Was it once dead and then brought back? Are there any negative connotations with certain words? What are the histories behind these words?
Create Your Own Language
How to Create a Language in One Day
Language Construction Kit
Using Invented Languages in Your Novel