Worldbuilding 101— Creating Languages for Your World

Creating Languages for Your World

Aseta etu falez?


*everyone blinks at Cyn* Umm, Cyn….what’s that mean?

Welcome to Language building 101. A mini course of creating languages for your world. This is one of my favourite things to do in the Worldbuilding process and it’s something you can do.

No, seriously, Cyn, what does that mean?

It means “Are you happy?” and it’s a language I created, based upon Spanish.

No, you don’t need to be Tolkien to create languages. I’m not a formally trained linguist, though I do have linguist friends who’ve taught me a few things about various languages. So, I’m going to share tips and techniques with you.

Giving races their unique language helps to give a realness of a race and a world. But too much language with no translation is tough. Worse– creating a language can be tough.

  • First-– you never have to create a language from scratch unless you want to. And trust me; you don’t want to most times. It’s not worth it.
  • Second— Making up languages with known languages eases your burden tenfold.
  • Third—if you insist on creating your own languages, be prepared to work long and hard at it. It’s not simple when you realize just how much goes into it—from nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, to dealing with sentence structure and pronunciations.

Let’s show how to create your own Language. Let’s put together some simple rules (which are somewhat flexible and you can adjust accordingly.)

Language Manipulation 201

If you know a foreign language (like German, Dutch, French, Spanish, English, etc.) it’s easier. If you don’t, that’s okay; it’s still possible to use a language you’re interested in as a basis for a new language. There are many translators that will do sentences. Those are the best.

Check out and go to Translators. They do sentence and paragraph translations in various languages. Find the language you want to base your language on. You can use this to get an idea on the basics of certain languages as long as you don’t use complicated words.

Now, choose a phrase you might use in your story. Type it into the box asking for the text to be translated. Mine is “Are you having a good day?” Choose the language you want to use and have it translate. Once you get the answer, keep reading.

Once you have the answer in your foreign tongue, we begin with the basics of twisting a known language into something different.

  • Make all the “a” into “I”, the “e” in “a”, etc (Once you determined which vowels replace which, jot it down on the language portion of the worksheet. This will keep the notes handy as you create a dictionary of words and phrases.)
  • If your word starts with a vowel, you need to decide if you want it to stay that way or add a diacrit (those cool looking symbols like the umlaut, accent symbol, etc.) Or you might decide that only if a word starts with a vowel, you must add a “silent” vowel to those words at the beginning.
  • If you have double letters, you can choose whether or not to separate them with an apostrophe or another symbol if you think it’s necessary. You might even decide that it can only be for anytime there are two vowels together. Ex. Neighbor, apple, feet.
  • Wherever you have the letter “f”, change it to “ph” and make sure you reverse it as well. Decide if you’re going to do this substitution for “x” and “cks” and other endings that might need some twisting. You can even do a completely different letter changing like all words ending in “-ing” will be changed to “-ex” to designate a gerund, etc.
  • If you are using a language that has gender designations (Spanish has feminine and masculine nouns. Feminine nouns end in “a” and male in “o”.
  • Decide how you’re going to designate plurals. Will you use “s” or “-es” at the end, or perhaps a different consonant, like in Dutch that uses “-n”.
  • Decide if your language has articles and if they have gender. (Articles are: the, a, an.) If you choose to have them, then take a minute to create them (I usually create my own article words or adapt the ones from the foreign language I’m using). Make sure you designate the articles for plural nouns as well, if necessary.

These are various safe and easy ways you can create your own language. *grins*  By using the basics of another language, you can create a language that has a lovely rhythm, sounds exotic, yet at the same time, have hints of familiarity—which helps readers to accept the language as they read it.

Creating your own Language from Scratch —or—- I’m feeling ambitious have plenty of time

 Creating a language from scratch isn’t easy. I personally don’t like to, though there are times when I want a totally created word for a special phrase or designation. Then, I’m all for creating a special term, phrase for specific use within context. In one of my fantasy stories, the word for “Chosen One” is El’ahaken. Grab some paper, pencils, and a dictionary and prepare for some long work ahead.  

Where do you start-– pronouns. You need to make designations for the following words:

I, she, he, it, they, we, you

Once you’ve set these in stone, then you need to figure out verbs being conjugated with those pronouns. You must not only figure out the root verb, but also how you will conjugate the verb to fit with the above pronouns. The most common verbs needed to translate:

to be, to do, to have, to know, to say, to come, to see, to love

So what does conjugation mean? When you use certain verbs, known as regular or irregular verbs, you have a specific way that you use them. You don’t say “We be here.” The correct use of the verb is “We are here.”  Regular verbs still need to be noted with the main use and the plural version. Here is an example of how you conjugate in English with the verb, be:

  • I (to be)      I amwe (to be)    we are
  • you (to be)        you areyou plural (to be)  you are, you (all) are
  • he/she/it (to be)     he is, she is, it isthey (to be)    they are

Now let’s do a regular verb, so you can see what’s necessary for it. Let’s use the verb- watch.

  • I watch                                     we watch
  • You watch                               you all watch
  • He watches, she watches, it watches  they watch

You need to do this for all your verbs you plan on using. Further, this is only the first part of creating verbs. You also have to designate tense: present, past, future.  Will you add “-ed” to the end of the verb for past? Or “-ing” for future? Make note of what you decide for each verb.

You mean I’ve got to create all those for just a few measly words I want to create for this one book?

Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Why? One book turns into more than one, plus if you don’t get this language and its rules down as you write, then the readers will catch irregularities in your story. Plus, if you don’t use the correct language rules consistently, then you won’t be able to recognize certain words when you go back to read over your story.

Beginning to see why I recommend cheating by using a known Earth language then changing things around to create your own language? Tolkien was no fool– all his languages are based on known languages such as Finnish, in which he, as a trained linguist, then shifted to another path it could’ve taken depending on outside influences in ancient times.

Language rules—important things to have established so that your created tongue is reliable, easy to learn phrases, and seem somewhat familiar to your readers. If you’re wondering what language rules are, let’s look at some basic things I normally contemplate as I create a new tongue.

  • What happens when you create questions? What is the sentence structure–subject-verb-object? Verb-subject-preposition-object? Whenever you create a question, does it have to follow this specific sentence structure and not vary?
  • Do you have to use a pronoun subject with a verb every time? Or can you imply the subject depending on the type of sentence? (Declarative, query, narrative) ex.—“Go to your room!”  (“You” is implied, though not stated. In Dutch, you have to say the pronoun every time.)
  • Are there any glottal stops or any other modified vowel combinations that are designated with symbols over the vowels, apostrophes, etc?  á â ã ä å æ ç è é ~ ` ^ (Use these consistently by creating a dictionary and pronunciation guide for you and the readers.) What do they sound like when spoken?
  • Do you have any irregular verbs used often?
  • Do you have pet phrases and designations? Make sure you do them and keep a running tab.
  • Do you have your adjectives come before or after the noun? What about adverb placement?

Now that you’ve begun creating your new language on your own or manipulating a language on Earth, there are some things to be aware of when using it in your story.

  1. Less is more. You want to pepper it in, not drop it in massive amounts that overwhelm the reader.
  2. Use a phrase here and there. Don’t always put the meaning immediately afterward—it’s okay to occasionally show its meaning through another character’s reactions. But if it’s a term you’ll be using regularly throughout the book, you do want to establish its meaning right away to set it in the reader’s mind. Ex.–“Are you going to bag yourself a cailín, lovely girl?”
  3. When you use phrases and sentences—remember to sprinkle in definitions within the sentence and by reactions of other characters. Try not to overuse foreign phrases heavily as it overwhelms the reader by trying to get the foreign tongue’s rhythm and also to understand the translation in context to the moment.
  4. Keep it simple. Don’t do anything so complicated you lose the readers as they struggle to understand the sentence, etc. Basic sentence structure is best.
  5. Provide a dictionary/phrasebook at the end of your book.
  6. The simpler the phrases and words you use throughout the book, the better the otherworldly feel you give without going overboard.

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