PDA

View Full Version : Hen Talrod, Fan-sheck din shel (Making new languges)


SFFWorld.com
Home - Discussion Forums - News - Reviews - Interviews

New reviews, interviews and news

New in the Discussion Forum


Pages : [1] 2

michaelS0620
August 27th, 2004, 06:03 PM
First try at this was a really long post, with my browser crashing right before I submitted (:(). Perhaps God's way of telling me I had droned on too much?

I am in the beginning stages of writing a novel and one of the things I have wanted to have from the start was an invented language. I am going to model it after Latin as it was used in the Middle Ages. There would be a "common tongue" and this highly ritualized language. Some features I was thinking of:

1) This language would only be used by "Special" classes of people. Mere commoners using caught speaking or writing the languge would face severe consequences (even death).

2) The language would be missing many common words intentionally. This is because such a ritualized language could not be sullied by talking about common things. So words for vices, curses, even common labour would not be there.

3) Each letter would have its own meaning as well. Thusly, prognosticators would look at the spellings of people's names and the meanings associated with each of the letters in order to devine their destiny, etc.

4) Nearly every word would have many meanings.

5) The language may heavily rely on symbolism and/or metaphor. This would render direct translations between this language and "common" unintelligeable.


I have not yet to put together the mechanics of the language (grammar, alphabet, words, etc), but hope to soon. I do not want it to take over my story and turn it into a language lesson, but I do hope to sprinkle enough words and structure through the story so that someone who was interested could do a decent job at reconstructing it. (I think that would be one of the highest compliments someone could pay an author).

Now, I am obviously not the first person to try this(ahem, Tolkein, cough, cough). I was wondering if others on the board here have tried it, or are trying it and what their experiences are.

Enjoyed it? Hated it? Find it too distracting?

Michael

Drew
August 27th, 2004, 10:38 PM
Here is my two cents...

The language could be done horribly. If you have people talking in this tongue to form complete sentences or paragraphs, then it will get really old really quick.

I find that you should do it similar to Stephen King's Dark Tower series. Give them a few popular phrases and a few neat words, but don't drone on and on by having people converse in this language. That would add a little flair and not bog down the story.

The reader, me for one, doesn't want to have to refer to a glossary or learn a language just to read a few hundred pages.

michaelS0620
August 27th, 2004, 11:38 PM
Iagree with you here. I am not into long appendicies, and would not have them speaking paragraphs at a time necesarily. I do like how King uses the High Speech. I guess I was thinking something a bit more fleshed out than that, but not at the level of detail as Tolkein.

theredpen
August 27th, 2004, 11:41 PM
People admire Tolkien partly for the vast complexity of elven society, but seriously how many people are as interested as he was in his rather depressing dry version of it? ( -the books I mean, not the movie, the movies juiced-up and perhaps cheesed up, the elves a bit in my opinion) That level of detail seems to be a deeply personal thing, others might not be as interested to read it as the author was to invent and write it out-in that much detail anyway. I thought the language of Tolkien's elves was a neat idea but really glazed over when he overdid it. Frankly, I loved and was annoyed by the books, in the exact opposite way I loved and was annoyed by the movies. The elf talk written was mostly annoying, but spoken in the movie it was beautiful (and there was so little of it thankfully...)
A painting teacher I had once described how to paint the leaves on a tree as just indicating little smatterings and half shapes here and there across the shape of the tree with undetailed areas in-between. That's how I would do it.

KatG
August 28th, 2004, 01:33 PM
Well it sounds like more of a spy code language than a high society language. The upper levels of medieval countries did often use other languages or dialects that were particular to them. The British nobles at certain time periods, for instance, spoke French as the language of the court, and noble men, depending on the country, were often expected to have a working knowledge and education in Latin. But such languages were not entirely unknown to commoners, even though the commoners couldn't read or write and might not be familiar with specific upper class dialects or syntax. A language is usually chiefly designed for communication -- it needs to be flexible and easily usable for daily affairs and so you'd be faced with various issues, like, do they use it all the time, and if so, how do they communicate with the servants and keep the servants from understanding the upper class language? Do women learn and speak it? Is it taught to children who might use it indiscriminantly or only to adults?

What you're talking about sounds more like a ritual or secret language such as priests might have, used infrequently in private for personal occasions and ceremonies, a mark of status taught only when the person achieved the necessary age and qualifications. Sort of like we keep thinking the masons are up to. If the language had a small, specific purpose, was not used everyday, and taught only to select nobles who were sworn to secrecy, then the structure you're proposing would probably have a better chance of working and appearing credible.

And as such, using it as a story element would likely be less of a problem. It would be part of the plotting, literally, and if messages were sent in the language, decoding them by opposing forces would be important and so on. If someone not accepted learned parts of the language, they'd try to squash that person. I think you could probably have some fun with that and not bore or confuse the reader. But a full-blown language that is used regularly, yet restricted? That, I think, might cause you to have to subvert the whole story to explaining how such a social structure could have been created, which may not be what you want for the story.

I have fallen into a language well myself on a project and I have no idea how it might be received, but it has become an integral part of the story. It is not always a case of a writer having fun with language or showing off, but quite often part of the thematic and narrative fabric of a story. You'll have to judge whether any language invention you do is working for you, if you are getting use out of it as well as words, and that may include looking at what you want to have happen in the story and then using the languages to reflect that.

michaelS0620
August 29th, 2004, 08:55 AM
What you're talking about sounds more like a ritual or secret language such as priests might have, used infrequently in private for personal occasions and ceremonies, a mark of status taught only when the person achieved the necessary age and qualifications. Sort of like we keep thinking the masons are up to. If the language had a small, specific purpose, was not used everyday, and taught only to select nobles who were sworn to secrecy, then the structure you're proposing would probably have a better chance of working and appearing credible.


This is what I am going for. It is an intentionally "crippled" language and would not be used in every day speech even by those allowed to speak it. It is intended to be a language used during rituals, when discussing religion (but only among the religious elite), and also discussing philosophy.

I wouldn't see secrecy as a huge part, as much as a Caste system. Commoners would hear the speech from time to time. Servants of Royals and the high minded may even understand some of it has they would hear it on a (more or less) regular basis. However, due to their stations in life, they would be punished for reading, writing, or speaking it. Of course, this would not stop many who shouldn't from learning the language, whether as a form of protest, to further their learning, to work as a spy, or even shock art.



I have fallen into a language well myself on a project and I have no idea how it might be received, but it has become an integral part of the story. It is not always a case of a writer having fun with language or showing off, but quite often part of the thematic and narrative fabric of a story.


Cool. How well developed is the language? Did you find it particularly difficult to do?

Michael

Holbrook
August 29th, 2004, 09:15 AM
Language...

Hmmmm.....Well this is something I played with in my monster. I have three races/countries, all human, history/culture intertwined in many respects but each has their own strong cultural identity. So.... I drew on English words/names for the main land at the centre. Welsh, which I did speak as a young child, but now sadly most forgotten, for "the Clan" but the words in Welsh I have chosen, when translated make sense in the context of the story. Llafn Meistr, is Blade Master, Chwaer is "sister" ideal for a religious order and so on. The flow and feel of the Welsh words add to the text. As to the third race as they share a common root with the clan, but separated by time and distance some words are Welsh some made up.....

As to when characters are speaking, one character in their native tongue is fluent, in another the speech is broken and fumbling it adds to her character a great deal.

World Builder
August 29th, 2004, 09:43 AM
in major fantasy world-creation project, i've been trying to come up with the basics of a lot of different languages, though there use in the various stories that take place in the world is limited. Mostly it's just to get names for places and ideas for accents. I have managed to create a few sentences, only one of which was used in a story because it was written down on something that the character could read but not understand. Other sentences were just for fun.

Old Dvalin:
Zhng dvldhx ang Dvergar kmmedhmx.
"His hammer-with, the man* hit-me."

Old Alfrish:
Dym ymch m anachyno.
"Let no blood be spilled."

Of course, i haven't done anything more with the languages in over a year. I'm in a linguistic class now so who knows what might develop out of that.

* 'Dvergar' is usually a term used for the ancient Dwarves, but in their native language it simple means 'man.'

Jamza1986
August 29th, 2004, 11:15 AM
I'll only ever use the odd word of an invented language in my work. Personally, I think the fact Tolkien created languages has meant it is a flashy think to do with fantasy. The thing is, you could go any direction with the detail within the culture. Why not invent detailed architecture for your cultures? Why not detailed art, or music? I generally take very little time in thinking about the languages of peoples I invent. I tend to work on the latter things I've mentioned.

KatG
August 29th, 2004, 03:33 PM
This is what I am going for. It is an intentionally "crippled" language and would not be used in every day speech even by those allowed to speak it. It is intended to be a language used during rituals, when discussing religion (but only among the religious elite), and also discussing philosophy.

I wouldn't see secrecy as a huge part, as much as a Caste system. Commoners would hear the speech from time to time. Servants of Royals and the high minded may even understand some of it has they would hear it on a (more or less) regular basis. However, due to their stations in life, they would be punished for reading, writing, or speaking it. Of course, this would not stop many who shouldn't from learning the language, whether as a form of protest, to further their learning, to work as a spy, or even shock art.

Well that's what it sounded like. :) That seems to me to be effective. It could be sort of like protected Latin, except that instead of it being an ancient language that remained in use for church and scholarship, it would
be a deliberately created ritual language. You wouldn't have to use much at a time; it would be pretty easy to do.

There are a lot of different ways to handle language in a fantasy or sf story and it can be a very important aspect because language has an enormous effect on culture, law, trade, etc., and is also an ever-changing dynamic. One way to handle it is to have everyone speak the same language, with or without dialect pronounciations or lots of slang. Another is to have a common tongue for trade or politics, such as the world tends to use English at the moment. Another is to have multiple languages but to have most aspects of those languages "translated" into their English components, as Holbrook is doing (love the differences in speech thing Holbrook.)

And yet another way is what I'm doing on the one project which is to have a free for all with a fair amount of the languages presented. I don't have large blocks of the languages -- it's more sentences and translations are provided, but there are several languages and characters who are fluent in some but not others. This wasn't actually a deliberate choice for me; I had a main character who is wandering in lands that are not his own and it just sort of developed. But it's become a rather important part of the story -- not the be-all of the story and not just a fancy device, but a way of grounding the characters and plot into their world setting in a way that I hope will be effective. I imagine that some readers may not like it and will have to hope enough of them do, I suppose.

Of course I'm not a linguist. I'm essentially borrowing from existing or past languages, changing what I like, and making a couple of languages up out of whole cloth but only for those bits and pieces that I need. It is at times fun, but also fairly difficult. Had to buy at least one language dictionary. And I have to keep glossaries, not for the readers, though I imagine if I ever get it off the ground, I'd throw those in there for them, but for me to keep straight what terms I've made up. And this does slow things down a bit in the writing department, because you have to work it out, figure out the presentation and then document it. This is not at all how I plan to handle language in other stories, just how it worked out for this one.

I do think use of language, and also the music, art, poetry, architecture and such that James mentioned, can be extremely useful in an other world or historical story, and may be very important in some sf stories and some fantasy stories, especially epic fantasy. Tolkein built languages because part of his training was in linguistics and it was in the bardic tradition that he was employing. He also used architecture and music. David Brin did some interesting things in his sf Uplift Wars series. He had gentically engineered dolphins and their own personal language was in the form of sonic haiku poems. While that might seem kind of flashy, it also helped to turn the dolphins from a device into real characters, I think.