Blog Special Part 1: Building Your Fantasy World: Languages
Do you really have to create a new, working language like the master Mr. Tolkien himself did?
No you don’t.
The use of language can range from mere interchange here and there, to an actual working language college students can major in (like Klingon, for example!). But what if you’re not interested in creating a fully-working language? What if you only want to add a language for the sake of enhancing the culture you’re creating? That’s absolutely fine.
No matter what you decide, you must keep a log book recording language pattern. No matter the extent of your new language, there are principles you must abide by. I’ll break these principles down, but for now, let’s discuss why language is considered a fundamental building block to world building.
Earth itself has over 6,500 spoken languages in use today. The most popular language in the world is Mandarin Chinese. There’s roughly 1,213,000,000 people in the world that speak it. Each language found on this planet is a unique and extraordinary representation of its people’s history. And there inlays the point: language represents history. Language is the only form of ancient history that is still very much alive.
English, for instance, adopts and combines the speech pattern, grammar, meaning, and pronunciation of almost ten different languages! Those languages being Old English, Danish, Norse, French, Latin, Greek, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, and Spanish. The first speakers of the English language were tribes that lived in present-day Denmark. Both the Angles and the Normans contributed to the development of the English language because they invaded England. Imagine that? War influenced the evolution of a language. English is the number one language spoken in America because the British colonized it. See how the history of a people effects the evolution of their language?
Consider the history of your fantasy race, their foundation. Ask yourself these questions when forming their language:
- Did they battle in any significant wars? Did they lose?
- Was their colony attacked, invaded, or taken over by outside forces at any point in time?
- Were the people ever internally divided?
- Were the people ever taken as slaves? If so, what language did their owners force them to adopt?
- Did the people ever take over another clan, tribe, or nation? Did they allow the natives to keep their language?
- Were the people ever forced to become refugees, causing a separation from other tribe members?
- Did a dictator ever come to power, changing or altering the native language in any way?
- Did the marriage of two tribes change the common language? Did an allied tribe or nation cause a flux in the way the language was spoken?
It’s absolutely okay if you don’t have all the answers or are unsure of your answers to these questions. But this is why it is important to consider every aspect of language before it is utilized in your story. Language is history, it represents a great deal about a culture.
Language is a vital identifying factor for every culture. Really, language is a living, breathing work of art. The tones, the volume, the mannerisms that are attached to the speech pattern, the variety of sounds- all of it acts as a unified color palette accenting a brilliant masterpiece. So if you do decide to include a believable language in the society you’re inventing, be responsible with it.
Tolkien took great care of the languages he invented for the cultures of Middle Earth. Tolkien was a renown philologist, outside of his works of fiction, but long before attaining his degree, Tolkien had a great interest in language. From the meager age of thirteen, Tolkien was inventing and crafting new languages. Over the course of his life he invented several languages, such as Elvish (including Quenya and Sindarin), Dwarvish (Khuzdul), Entish, and Black Speech. Language invention had always been closely connected to the mythology that Tolkien developed, as he found that a language could not be complete without the history of the people who spoke it, just as these people could never be fully realistic if imagined only through the English language and as speaking English.
That belief is something all writers should think about. For those debating whether or not to add a language to their created races, consider if the reader will view the race as more realistic, more believable, if they spoke a unique language. Would it further cement their unique identity? As we have seen, language is a powerful tool in the creation of new cultures, so why not implement it?
Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been absolutely fascinated with language. I’ve studied about six different languages both modern and ancient, and am conversational in about four languages. As a result, I’ve invented a set of language creation principles that have worked extremely well for me in my world building process. These principles can help anyone create a working language in their world too.
For instance, in my fantasy series Treefell: Legend of the Wood, I’ve created a working language for the Treefell tribe. The language, Trefec, is influenced by language laws found in Chinese, English, Anglo Saxon English, Spanish, and Arabic. But the definitions of words revolve around the society’s history and what their nation has been built from.
Because I know the Treefell people’s history, I know what they revere most, and I know what their ultimate goals are, their spoken language reflects these three vital influencing factors.
The Treefell people are an elite tribe of woodland dwellers taught by a magical forest they hold sacred. The people live exclusively under the laws given by their teachers, their protectors, their providers, the trees. The trees provide the people with a secret way to peace long kept from industrial mankind for centuries. Thus, the root tones of the Trefec language revolve solely around the earth and the trees’ reverence for all things earth-grown.
Have a look at the picture featured. It’s a set of root tones which guide the Trefec language:
As you can see in the picture, there are multiple meanings for one root tone alone. That is because one new sound and symbol emits an identity, not just a word. That is how words are born: from the necessity of identification.
These six fundamental root tones will inspire every word after it. For instance, the Trefec word for “sword”, met, comes from the root word mal, because a sword is a weapon, an object of power. Likewise, the Trefec word for “book”, oreth, comes from the root word ore, because books are seen as objects of wisdom by the Treefell people, whether fictional or educational.
With this in view, think about six factors that strongly represent your fictional race. Write down those six key identifying factors of your people. Again, those factors should be inspired by the people’s history, their goals, and what they most revere. Take your time to think it over, there’s no need to rush to have an answer immediately.
Have those six identifying factors? Fantastic. Those factors will become the root sounds. The root sounds are the foundation needed to create your first new, working fictional language.
What are the next steps needed to form your fictional working language? How do you create a language that builds a strong identity for your people?
Those questions and more will be answered my new book coming out soon!:
This book dives into the language crafting process and reveals the basic principles you can learn to create a working language in your ficitonal world. This book will also discuss topics such as:
- Government and rulership
- Races and cultures
- The importance of working from a live Map
- Creatures and Beasts
And more, all dedicated to helping you learn all you need to know about crafting your fantasy world.
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Originally published at barelyharebooks.com.