Stopping by for the first time for the A-Z Challenge? Read a short intro to the A-Zs of Worldbuilding here!
Communication is the basis of human relationship and interaction. Societies and cultures are built around this interaction, and language develops from there. Language is so much more than just the words that you speak – it is context, and slang, and implications, metaphor and simile, and hyperbole.
Languages will form in common areas, but as people spread out, dialects will spring from them, and eventually if a group is isolated enough from the ‘mother’ language, a dialect will turn into its own language.
Look at your people groups.
How many are there?
How close, or far apart, are they located to each other?
Are they related to each other? If so, how long has it been since they were one people group?
How long has their language been developing?
Start creating words.
I usually start with words first, rather than creating an alphabet. An alphabet for a spoken language never really comes into play until a written language is put down.
If a language is a derivative of another one, you’ll need to have at least root words for the base language so you can make words that are obviously descended from the other language.
Use similar sounds from word to word, and keep your root words simple. Most root words don’t have more than 3 syllables.
Create words from other root words. The word for ‘rain’ might come from the initial word for ‘water’, for example. ‘Light’ and ‘fire’ might be related to each other. ‘Speak’ and ‘sing’, etc.
When you have a good 10-15 words down (and just use whatever alphabet is your normal one for conveying sounds – don’t even worry about creating a fictional written alphabet yet), look at what sounds (and types of sounds – hard sounds like ‘k’, soft sounds like ‘ah’, guttural sounds, etc.) you’ve used the most, and use those as a way to make your language sound unique. If you’re going to be actually speaking this language at all (or hoping, you know, for a movie deal one day) keep things so that the human mouth and throat are capable of pronouncing them.
Start writing it down.
Creating an alphabet is really a lot like creating a written code.
Look at your words, and the types of sounds you have, and decide a few things:
Does your language have vowels, or simply vowel markers on consonants?
How many letters are there total?
How do people interact with each other?
What are phrases or sayings that are considered rude?
What type of slang exists?
What are traditional greetings? Traditional farewells?
Language Construction Kit
I am not, by any means, a linguistic expert. I enjoy creating languages, but there is so much of it that is over my head that I can’t sufficiently cover it on my own.
There is an excellent resource for creating fictional languages, though:
The Language Construction Kit.
I found the Language Construction Kit nearly a decade ago, and it has proved to be an invaluable resource to me time and time again. All of their information is available free on their website, or you can choose to order it in book form, though you obviously have to pay for that ;).
One final note…
Don’t get so caught up in creating a language, especially for a single phrase or sentence of words, that you get frustrated or distracted from the true purpose of your worldbuilding – your story.
There is so much potential with a fictional language, but it is not mandatory for a speculative fiction writer to create languages. Tolkien did so, yes, but Tolkien did so because he was fascinated with linguistics long before he sat down to write his stories. He taught linguistics.
You just need to write your story, whether it requires a fictional language or not.
Original image used in header is by njyo, with a CC BY 2.0 license.
My intention is to turn the A-Zs of Worldbuilding into a workbook after the Challenge is finished. If you’d like to stay notified about that, you can subscribe to my newsletter here. Please make sure and select the A-Zs of Worldbuilding option!
Sophie DuncanApril 14, 2014 - 2:13 am ·
I’ve only created a language for magical use, not for communication, I’ll have to check out that language construction kit – thanks,
Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles – A to Z Ghosts
Fantasy Boys XXX – A to Z Drabblerotic
Rebekah LoperApril 15, 2014 - 9:14 pm ·
Magical use is what I mostly focused on for what little language construction I’ve done for Catalyst. Using a fictional language for communication is daunting! I’ve tried, and… yeah.
Patricia Lynne (@plynne_writes)April 14, 2014 - 9:08 pm ·
A long time ago, JJR Tolkin had me wanting to create a language. I even made up letters, but never got farther than that.
Rebekah LoperApril 15, 2014 - 9:15 pm ·
Tolkien definitely inspired my first ventures into language creation! And then I learned I was definitely not a linguist, and light dabbling is definitely all I should do!
MichelleApril 14, 2014 - 9:12 pm ·
Please visit my blog, http://www.thatgirlybookworm.blogspot.ca
I’m also participating in the A-Z Challenge and my theme focuses on books and a title of one that starts with the letter of the day!
Entrepreneurial GoddessApril 14, 2014 - 11:27 pm ·
Hello there. Thanks for sharing. Just stopping by to wish you all the best with the challenge.
MAJKApril 17, 2014 - 2:15 am ·
Another one for my checklist. I really think you should compile these into a book for writers called “the A to Z’s of World Building” (yes, I’m super creative with titles) because this really is some great information.
A-to-Z Challenge 2014
Mighty Minion of Co-Host Nicole Ayers
@Safireblade on Twitter
Rebekah LoperApril 17, 2014 - 10:08 am ·
*cough* There’s a link at the bottom of every post for a newsletter sign-up about a potential workbook to be assembled after April is over.
valerierlawsonApril 22, 2014 - 3:31 pm ·
that is a fascinating idea, to just start with a few words – and much less overwhelming.
Rebekah LoperApril 23, 2014 - 8:21 am ·
It really is much less daunting when you do it that way – and honestly, most of the time you don’t need to develop an entire language unless you actually have the desire to do so.