The world's success hinges on the successful use of language to communicate. Without communication human's wouldn't be here today. So, it stands to reason that some of the most influential works of fiction ever created have featured one or more fictional languages to build the world that those stories take place in. These languages are called "Conlangs" or "Constructed Language(s)". But what is a Conlang? And how is it relevant to film and television and therefore will not take down my grade for this blog assessment?
Well to answer the second question (for the purposes of allowing the lecturer marking this assessment to see my logic and relax), conlangs-as a fictional element-have just as much a place in film and television as in novels, comics etc. In fact, the film Avatar gave rise to the Conlang Na'vi. Yes, Na'vi is actually a full language, with multiple thousand words, a grammar system, and thousands of speakers around the world.
Now answering the first question, a Conlang is not just an alternative system or coding of your native language. For example, if my sister and I decided to develop a Conlang, but merely switched what letters in our current language made what sounds (e.g we decided "th" was spelled with a "d"), and utilised the same grammar, word order etc, this is just a code. A Conlang differs in that it is a full system, with different sounds, word order, word meanings/suggestions, grammatical systems, accents, marks, particles, glyphs, numerical system etc. It is literally a full language.
So why am I writing about this? As a dark fantasy/sci fi writer conlangs are an interesting study for me, and having written a successful (albeit basic) conlang of my own, Yurakian (yoo-rah-kee-en), I thought it'd be an interesting post to teach you guys how to write one!
Step 1-Gibberish to Sentences:
The first step in a conlang is to think of a common sentence in your native language, and as you think of it, just say sounds. Basic greetings serve as a good starter for this. So for English, a good starting sentence would be:
Hello, how are you?
Now as I look at/think of that sentence I'm going to say some random sounds and transliterate them as best I can here.
So, now that I have some gibberish to work with, I think about what the sounds might indicate about the people speaking it. Being quite harsh sounding, I think that the language this greeting belongs to fits some kind of warrior race, obsessed with hunting and brutish strength. Now having that, I take those sounds and separate them into words/grammar with glyphs in english's alphabet that I feel give a good romanization of my language:
Now, knowing that I'm writing for a warrior race, I decide what those words may mean in that culture, and how those words fit together to form the greeting "Hello, how are you?":
Kooky = Blades
Ran = Well
Ah = A particle denoting a question inquiring as to the wellness of something.
So, as a warrior race I decided to let the language denote that these people think of each other in terms of their weaponry, so I made the first word mean "blade". From there I chose "Ran" to mean well, and "Ah" to be a verbal indicator to the listener that tells them the speaker is inquiring as to the wellness of something. Therefore:
Kooky Ran'ah = Are your blades sharp? = Hello, how are you?
(Note: Already in step 1, you have created words, some grammar rules, an accent, various sounds, a culture that determines what else your language can do and the beginnings of a slight romanization system. That's a lot of the hard work, done! And it took less than 10 minutes!)
Step 2-An Alphabet:
After Step 1, you should have a decent familiarity with the sounds of your language. Now is the time to go a little crazy. You worked out the basics of what you want your language to sound like, so, make more sounds. Make as many sounds as you can, and then in those sounds pick out the ones you like most. Write them down in your native language as best you can, and then draw a symbol (called a "glyph) that represents that sound. This is the method that the real-world language of Mandarin used, where they took into account how many sounds can be made (taking into account tonality and context) and drew different symbols for each of those sounds. Alternatively, you can go with a more western-based system of alphabet, where there are a limited amount of glyphs, and those glyphs have sounds assigned to them.
Step 3-Basic Sentences and Grammar:
After you've given yourself and alphabet to play around with, you can start to form more words to translate into your conlang. Speak some more gibberish, use the sounds and glyphs you created in your alphabet, and write out some basic conversational phrases in your native language and translate them into your conlang. Such sentences could be:
I am well, how are you?
How is the weather?
What hobbies to you enjoy?
I don't like...
My name is...
What is your name?
Etcetera. As you write these out, you will discover things with your romanization and conlang alphabet that give way to new words, new sounds as a result of certain combinations (such as the "th" sound in english when the letters "T" and "H" are together). You will also discover that you think certain sounds should have accents or have a certain grammar mark with them (like I did in step 1 with "ran'ah"). Think of what these grammar marks mean, why you placed them there, and what that says about the people, and the language they're speaking.
This is one of the easier steps in writing a conlang, simply because you've done most of the hard work. When writing numerals numbers 1 through 9 are quite simple, because they are singular in both appearance and sound. After 10, there are several ways things can go.
You can either go with the same route as english, and establish prefixes/suffixes to denote a number's place in the numerical system. For example to denote any number after "20", english has developed the prefix "twenty", which is places that the beginning of a number within the "twenties". The same can be said for the "teens", which is any number after ten but before twenty.
The other way you can go is something more like Japanese and Chinese, where you say the the number in the "tens" and then the number after it. So for example in Chinese they would say twenty five by literally saying the words for "two", "ten" and "five" all at once.
Or, make a rule of your own! When I wrote Yurakian, my numeral system was based on possessives. So to say 25, the word literally translated in Yurakian was "five, belonging to ten, belonging to two." The "ten belonging to two" meant "twenty", so "five belonging to ten belonging to two" made twenty five. Complicated right!? But that's okay! The Yurakian people were dicks anyway!
This is where I leave you, really there's not much more to say. After this, it's up to you. You've developed the basic form, structure and grammar of your language, and as you write more and more sentences and phrases in it, you'll soon have a plethora of words and a whole set of grammatical rules denoting what word goes where, what kind of connotations words have, etiquette and more! It all begins with a single phrase: "Hello, how are you." And from there, your language will practically write itself. The more you use and create it, the more it will grow.
Hope you found this post interesting and informative! Good luck with writing your languages!