The Language Instinct, Part 2.

Today, we continue with my worldbuilding series and the topic of the moment, language. Last post I talked about research. Today’s post will cover structure and variation.

Structure (or syntax, if you want to get fancy) can vary from language to language. It is easy to fall into the Subject-Verb-Object trap when creating a language because this is the syntax, we, as anglophiles, are most familiar with. And while there is no problem with this structure, it is important to remember that we have other options. For example, Object-Subject-Verb (Apples I ate). While no languages still existent on earth are known to use this word order outside of certain situations, it is still viable for a created language. Or you could go for the Verb-Subject-Obejct (Ate I apples), used in Irish or Hebrew. The main thing is to make sure you do not get stuck in the rut of the familiar. If your goal is to create a fictional language of any magnitude, you need to make it stand out.  If its sounds like English to English readers or Swedish to Swedish readers, the aura of the fantastical you have strived so hard to craft is shattered. Whatever you do, do not write English backwards and call it unique. Or to put it another way, revetahw uoy od, od ton etirw hsilgne sdrawkcab dna llac ti euqinu. This was my idea of language creation when I was five. In all languages, grammar is as important as the vocabulary in the overall meaning (or semantics, if you like your words fancy). Sometimes, even more so in languages where the word order is so confused it begins to get difficult to tell who is doing what to whom. In my own language, Farilien, the first thing I did after setting out some vocabulary, was to create structure for my language. I set out rules for verb conjugation and decided what word order I wanted. Then I decided what parts of the language are the most important in terms over conveying meaning. For example, in English we would say “I eat an apple” whereas in Farilien you would say “trunai ghel” which translates literally to “eat apple”. Unlike English, the subject “I” is unnecessary because the verb ending “ai” shows that I am the one speaking. Of course, in formal settings or in written language, the phrase would be “fi trunai ghel” which does correspond to the English. This brings me to my third point; variation.

In all languages there is a difference between how we write in a formal setting, how we speak in a formal setting, how we write in an informal setting and how we speak in an informal setting. These changes in attitude are reflected directly in our language. For example, when you are talking to a professor about an assignment due, you are unlikely to greet him with the phrase “Sup, dude?” nor are you likely to present your argument when you write your essay as “an awesome idea that got given to us by the old dudes that came before us. It is like, totally awesome.” At least, I hope not. But when you are talking to friends or sending texts and Facebook messages, such informal language patterns are acceptable. Take this into account with your created languages. Is there a difference between written and spoken language? Is there a difference between the language used in a formal setting as opposed to an informal setting? The answer to these questions should be yes but if you only need enough of a language to make it seem authentic in its setting then you probably don’t need to worry as much about the finer details outlined above. Which brings me to my fourth and final point; only create as much as you want.

I understand that there is a spectrum of language creationists. There are those who only want to dribble in a few phrases here and there perhaps to distinguish between cultures or point out some other difference and that is perfectly fine. And probably sane. Then there are those, amongst whom I count myself, who create language for languages sake and even though sometimes they wish they could escape the maddening whirlwind that is language, they will not and cannot stop extrapolating the finer details. And to you, I wish you luck.


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