When I started out, I knew I wanted to make a language for my immortals, but I had no idea how to go about it. All I was really sure of was that I didn’t want to use human terms for everything – vampire, shapeshifter, elemental, djinn/genie. If they cuss or call someone by an endearment, I didn’t want it to be a recognizable human word. I figured my immortals would feel more real if they had a history that included their own unique language.
Naming was tough for me too. In the beginning, all of my characters had recognizable human names – even my non-humans. With the way I was trying to set the history up, it didn’t work at all. I’ve changed my naming rules a lot because of that. Now it’s just the humans that get human names. I look for names that I think are unique/pretty/hopefully both, but that’s subjective.
For my non-humans, I tried to do something similar to what Tolkien did – but much, *MUCH* simpler. The language I created is an easy language (a linguist, I am most certainly not), I think probably because it operates under a much shorter list of rules than Tolkien’s. He actually was a linguist, I think?
And a genius of fantasy in general.
But I digress.
I bought a book about language creation, and that’s what saved me. I *love* this book – The Language Construction Kit, by Mark Rosenfelder.
Seriously – genius. He goes into great detail on creating full-scale languages, but also mentions that you don’t always need a fully created language. I think he called it a ‘naming language?’
He talks about all kinds of fascinating things in this book – even getting into the different ways the tongue moves to create sounds. Stopping the airflow for a ‘hard’ sound, or making a ‘soft’ sound by letting the airflow move through your mouth different ways without a ‘stop.’ Very, very cool stuff. He even talks about clicks, and noises from the throat.
Did I mention that I think he’s a genius? Because I do.
Going on what the author said, using this method, even if one of your made up words turns out to be an actual word in another language (which is likely, no matter how careful you are, because there are only so many sounds the human mouth can make that can be easily pronounced together), you’ll have something to back it up with for your own story. If your other words and names are spelled using the same conventions, I think readers can still accept it as part of your world-building because it’s consistent and based on a set of rules you’ve created.
Here’s what I did for my language, shimaka:
1) Choose what letters to leave out or include:
~ My alphabet: a, b, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, v, w, y (leaving out: c, q, x, z)
2) Decide on consonant sounds to leave out or include:
~ My consonant sounds: sh, th, ts (leaving out: ch, ng) ~ *Optional* I chose not to include double consonants such as: ll, mm, nn, dd, gg, tt, ss, rr, etc
3) Decide on vowel sounds:
~ My vowel sounds: a (ah), e (eh), i (ee), o (oh), u (oooo, as in clue, blue, true), ai (as in eye, pie, lie), ey (as in play, way, sway)
4) *Optional* If you want a meaning behind your names, choose a few words to create (this can get complicated if you want your people to name based on virtues or nature or specific conventions like that), and splice as you like:
~ Some of my chosen words: strength, light, dark, pure, flower, sun, moon, abyss, path, teacher, truth, star, dawn, dusk, love, melody
~ Examples: Isaro (spliced with the words “istuk” [begin/first/origin/original/starting point] and “aro” [of/from] – his first name means: “from the beginning”), Rina (spliced from the words “rine” [quiet] and “aruv” [energy/force/magic/power] – her first name means: “quiet power”)
5) Decide if you want to include apostrophes, and how long you want your words and names to get:
~ I don’t go above seven letters usually, and never below two letters for words or three letters for names. After that, they aren’t easily pronounceable.
~ I don’t use apostrophes because I don’t want a “pause” in my names.
6) Decide on things like prefixes, suffixes, plural, possessive, or if you’re going to include these at all:
~ I have suffixes, but no prefixes, and I include both plural and possessive.
~ Example: ‘You’ translates as “eri.” I attach a suffix (-tse) to make it possessive – ‘your’ translates to “eritse.” Lol, I’m praying I did that right.
For the most part, my language translates word for word. My only exceptions are repetitions (such as “istuk,” which translates to begin/first/origin/original/starting point), titles/professions, cuss words, and endearments.
With cuss words and endearments some have a longer meaning (like a phrase, I guess?), and some are the shima equivalent.
~ Word for word equivalent examples: The equivalent of ‘darling/sweetheart’ is “navoj.” The equivalent of the f-bomb is “nako.” The equivalent of ‘damn’ is “hinot.”
~ Longer meaning examples: These are usually more poetic and sensory. In Chapter One of The Dreamer, Isaro calls Rina the endearment “naori,” which roughly translates as a longer sentiment – “star of my night” or “star that guides me through the night.” It’s spliced from ‘holy/divine’ [nahin] and ‘star’ [orisho]. Another example would be the endearment “yema,” which roughly translates as – “voice that calls to me through the stillness” or “the only voice I hear.”
Here’s a full sentence in shimaka:
“Kiar um Kaitsa aro Tairi isa soirun eri eyn eritse taler.”
Which translates into:
“May the Light of God shine upon you and your family.”
In this instance, it translates word for word.
If you’re interested in more on language building, here’s Mark Rosenfeld’s website: http://www.zompist.com/default.html
Until next time, Happy Writing!