Creating a Fictional Language Step-by-Step

ajgerald:

The first step in creating a language for a fictional universe is deciding the feel. How do the words flow? How do they sound? Is it a goblin language that’s spat out in short, rough bursts? A soft, melodious language of elves? Is it ancient or new? Once you’ve figured out how you want your language to feel, you can move onto step 2.

Research other languages. These can be fictional languages or actual languages that are similar to yours. When deciding on my language for my finished novel, I took a lot of inspiration from Hawaiian, Italian and Latin. If you’re not sure where to start, go to Google Translate, dump a sentence into the translator, and filter through a bunch of languages to see which ones you like. 

Once you’ve conceptualized and done the research, it’s time to actually start building. Make sure you establish grammar rules. These don’t have to be super complex. Figure out how you’d make something plural, (like English ‘s’ and ‘es’) or what an action verb looks like. (English ‘ing’) If you aren’t sure where to start I recommend looking up English grammar worksheets for kids and basically remaking them to fit your language instead. 

NEXT! Create a separate document where you’ll keep all the new words you create. Keep a guide, not a dictionary. What I mean by that is instead of just listing words and describing what they mean, keep words in categories like “Times of Day”, “Numbers” and “Greeting, Goodbyes, and Responses”. Chart them out so you have the word in your language, the pronunciation and the English equivalent.    

The fifth step is developing common phrases. For example, if you figure out how to say “A good morning to you” in your language, then you’ve figured out five full words and you’ve constructed a useful sentence for future use all at the same time. You don’t need 300 pages of words, just enough to fake like you might have actually done that much work!

Lastly, think about dialect, accents and slang. If this isn’t an ancient ceremonial language and it’s something your characters use in their day-to-day lives then there’s a good chance that they’re using short forms of words, contractions and slang terms. Additionally, if two characters speak the same language but come from different parts of the world, their versions of the language will probably differ. These things might not even be evident to the reader but they should be to you. 

And that’s it, really. I could honestly write a whole other post on how to USE a fictional language in a story. So if you guys are interested in the formatting and general use then let me know. Oh, and I also recommend @worldanvil to help build your language. I didn’t know it existed when I wrote up mine or I totally would have used it.

About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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