Creating a Language for Your Book

With so many awesome fictional languages that have achieved what Esperanto could only hope to do, like Elvish, Khuzdul, Dothraki, High Valyrian, Klingon, and Old Tongue, it is very tempting to create a new language to make your world seem more real. How do we do it and is it necessary?

Tolkien’s Approach

You may already know this, but Tolkien didn’t start making his world and then found languages for it – it was the other way around. J.R.R.Tolkien was a polyglot, a philologist, and an academic. He created the languages first and then created the people that spoke them. He made Quenya and Sindarin, basing them on real-world languages, like Welsh and Greek.

Obviously, this is not a prerequisite to creating a language for a setting. However, by comparing Tolkien to some of the other writers, he had a lot more resources, experience, and enthusiasm to make Middle Earth as substantial as possible.

Don’t Do Gibberish

The most tempting thing to do with creating a new language is to just wing it. This is a bad idea for several reasons. First of all, it is relatively easy to come up with the vocabulary of the new language, but the problem lies in the grammar. We are talking about the language that has real properties like morphology, syntax, phonetics, and so on. Just coming up with gobbledygook is not enough for it to be a legitimate and believable tool for communication.

It is best to base your fictional language on several real ones. It will not be easy and you will have to revise the language in question several times before you can fully integrate it into your world. Remember, a language reflects the mentality of the people who speak it, so make sure to take that into consideration.

To make a language, you must do extensive research, prepare from problems along the way, consult a linguist, and hope for the best. Alternatively, you can bypass this problem.

Getting Rid of Languages

Some authors dispense with a fictional language entirely, finding new ways to justify understandable words and phrases. One approach is to rely on translators, both living and constructed, to deliver the messages between the characters. There is the famous Babel fish in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that, when inserted into a person’s ear, automatically translates every sound into the person’s brain.

Another way to get rid of fictional languages is to justify that with the setting of the story itself. One such example can be found in the TV series Firefly, as well as its spawn, where the characters speak either in English or Mandarin because these two civilizations completely took over the world, and very few of the other old languages remained.

Author: Davey