Apr 13, 2012

Language - How to Trick Your Readers into Thinking You Created One

I love world-building. Love love love. I've drawn maps, created cultures, world histories, local animals, religions, non-verbal body language, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Sometimes, I like it more than actually writing, or at least the story that I put down.

Two NaNo's ago, I went and created a language. I borrowed books on linguistics from the library, read about all the different structures of sentences, all the different sounds, and my brain exploded. It was all way to much information, and the remnants of my brain wouldn't heal all day, despite all my hot chocolates (and looks from fellow Wrimos).

I have no idea how Tolkien did it. Gah. I bow many times in his direction.

But, I discovered, it's really simple to fake a language. We use a lot of smoke and mirrors in writing, to make people think we know what we're talking about (really, what do I know about collecting souls? or living in the time of the Black Plague? Not a thing) and it's not different with languages.

So.

  • Keep the sounds consistent. German has a lot of guttural sounds, Bushmen have clicks. Maybe your made up language revolves around A and lots of apostrophes. Just makes sure all the words you make up sound like they come from the same place.
  • Use words in your writing. Refer to a type of tree by the language, use a word as an insult, an idea.
  • Have language be tied to culture. Have a suffix to a name indicate gender, a have common phrase be tied to a way of thinking (aka 'I see you' from Avatar), show there's purpose to the language, other than to name things.

You might also want to keep a dictionary of words you make up. I find it's helpful for consistency of sounds, and to make sure I don't call something by two different names.

Today's bit of Twisting Tongue:

Lolly Linguine laments lying.


(Just realized it's Friday the 13th! Ahh!)

7 comments:

  1. Good tips! And this is an interesting topic, I saw Avatar for the first time the other day and that language was also interesting. Aside from creating whole worlds and languages I find it very fascinating that people actually learn those fictional languages, well, I guess they're not fictional anymore then! Ohh, so maybe languages are the door between reality and fiction....

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  2. I've always wanted to write a story where the characters have their own language the way Tolkin did with the elves. But so far, haven't had any ideas that have blossomed into a story. *sigh*

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  3. I haven never tried to create a language but I think it would be fun. Great advice.

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  4. Don't forget George Martin. He created an extensive language for his series. They even speak it on the HBO series, Game of Thrones. This is something I could NEVER do. Hats to those who can.

    I'm a new follower via the A to Z.

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  5. I just love world building, but I don't think I'd ever be brave enough to attempt a whole language! I do, however, make names from the same areas have the same kind of make-up to them (without them sounding similar to each other of course!)

    If you haven't popped over to my blog yet, you might be interested as I'm doing the A-Z of World Building.

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  6. Cool idea! I'm not super good at world building, its actually on my list of things to work on. So I'm in no way going to attempt to create a language, although I might use dialect.

    But just remember, before you go worrying about Tolkin and his language, remember he was a professor of Linguistics before he became a writer.

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  7. Oh gosh, I can barely write in my own language. I bow to everyone who can do this. :)

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