Conlangs for Non-linguists

Evan Hoffman
Sep 18, 2015 · 5 min read
har-rav-am gan vehar-am-kir
  • About three dozen words of survival Japanese
  • That’s it.

Your First Steps

The first thing I did was decide on an alphabet, more specifically, phonemes. These are the sounds your letters make. Which letters you use will decide how your language sounds, and more importantly, how it feels to speak it. Want something aggressive? Use lots of k’s, g’s, and that phlegmy, back-of-the-throat “ach” thing like the Klingons. Just making that noise will make you want to rip William Shatner’s arm off. On the opposite end of the spectrum, use plenty of vowels to make your language flowing and songlike. “M”, “n”, “l”, “b”, and a few others are more neutral and suitable for any language. Don’t restrict yourself to just English, either; the Greek theta “θ” is pronounced like “th”, and makes a whole lot more sense as a single letter than a combination of two. Feel free to fiddle with the pronunciation, especially for vowels. There’s a big difference between “a” in “abstract”, “about”, and “aim”. Alphabets can be long or short, complex or simple. You may also consider a syllabary, like the Japanese kana: each symbol represents a combination of a consonant and a vowel. Since you’ll probably be writing your language out in Latin characters regardless, this doesn’t make a lot of difference, but it will affect the structure of your words.

  • Adjectives are hyphenated onto the ends of the nouns.
  • Any word can be used as any part of speech.
  • Verb tenses are hyphenated onto the ends of the verbs. There may be several. Will be going to have been, while a little awkward, is correct English. It gets translated to a single long word with suffixes for the future (will), immediate future (be going to), and perfect past (have been) tenses. This is where even vague knowledge of another language may be useful: An English speaker might use the past (did) and perfect past (have done) correctly every day, but not ever realize they are separate tenses. Learning another language forces you to learn some of your own grammar as well.
  • No predicative adjectives. These are phrases like the ball is red or the world is round. I really have no reason for leaving these out, I just picked them at random.
  • Some weird stuff with prepositions.

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Evan Hoffman

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Computer guy. Worldbuilder. Armchair: economist, linguist, politician, philosopher. I draw sometimes.

Universe Factory

Worldbuilding Stack Exchange's community-run blog