I was asked recently, by an unpublished writer, the seemingly innocent and easy question, “How do I go about creating a fantasy language?” That got me to thinking, which my hubby would say is a very dangerous thing.
When a writer starts from scratch for a language, they have to know a bit about the world they are creating. Okay, they have to have to have the world down pat. Language has to come near or at the end of the world creation. Here’s why.
In English, we have only a few words for frozen precipitation, and a lot of them contain the same words: Sleet, freezing rain, snow, ice, hail, snowflakes, and uh…frozen precipitation, which is where I got started on this. The Inuit’s have many more. Why? Because their survival depends on an exact wording for the different kinds of frozen precipitation. So in creating a language, I have to know about the survival requirements of my world.
If I am creating a desert world, there will different names for the different winds, the rare seasonal rains, the names of clothing for sun protection, wind protection, traveling. The names for predators and the weapons that kill them. There will names for things that grow there, on this alien world, that may not grow here. Foods that can last in the desert heat, grow on little water.
I remember the first time I heard of breadfruit, a fruit that tastes like bread, I suppose, and I wondered why call it breadfruit? The people there have no grains…but the Europeans who “discovered” the land had grain, so they named the fruit what they chose, not what the native peoples called it. Bread was a survival food.
For language, I have to know about the sexual interaction between the sexes. If this is an alien world, then there may be three or four sexes. There may be a totally different manner of procreation.
I have to know the conflict of the plot line too, of course. So for me, the language would come last. And frankly, to keep readers from getting lost, I’d use English in different ways, with different syntax, rather than create a language. Remember the Jedi warrior, the little green guy? “Lost to you, Luke Skywalker, is hope.” English with different organization of phrases and words is more effective offtimes, than starting from scratch.
But then, in my fantasy worlds, I always just used an alternate reality earth, which makes it so much easier. Lazy? Probably. How about you guys? Have you tried the new language thing? How did it work? Faith Hunter