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    Default What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    I'm talking about whether it sounds like the race that uses it? For example high tones and giggly sounds for elvish and harsh barking sounds for something like orc. Do you think that good fantasy languages have the same characteristics of the race, or do you think that doesn't matter at all?

    On the written portion of the language do you think pictures work like egyptians, long flowing letters like mandarin, or dots and scratches mean anything or associate with different attributes of the race that speaks it? Do you think the written portion makes any difference at all?

    Do you think that the creator should make a full usable language? Should they make it available for the readers, so they could learn it and speak it if they wanted to? What responsibility do you feel like the writer has to their readers to produce a complete language for their settings?

    Lastly what about weird sounds? Clicking, or tapping, or even some conjunction of a spoken that works with something non-verbal like sign language? How receptive would you be to something like that, and how much detail would you feel like the author should go into on how the language works if it's something complex like this?

    Looking for some feedback.
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    I think if you're not a linguist like Tolkien you shouldn't try to make a language. You'll fail miserably and anyone who knows linguistics will point and laugh at you. If you are a linguist, then I think the the language should match the feel of the fantasy race. Klingon sounds like the kind of gruff language Klingons would speak, Sindarin sounds very elf-like. If Klingons were barking at each other in Sindarin, that would feel incongruous.

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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    I dunno, there's some incongruity value in having big beefy guys speaking to each other in high-pitched, delicate voices. Having said that, it's very difficult to determine how a language is actually pronounced from just seeing it written down anyway--I'm sure it would be possible to pronounce Sindarin in a guttural, harsh manner if you chose to do so.

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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    If your fantasy race has some pretty strong features of strength/grace/whatever, then it makes sense that their language reflects that. However, if the race has more neutral, subdued features, then putting their language in contrast with that feature might help give the race some character. Like the "Northern Clans" having a sing-along language that belies their hawkish attitude.

    Creating a full blown language for a setting is extremely overkill. Just focus on the parts that helps your readers/players get into the atmosphere better. For example, from time to time, tell how the language has 50 words just for "that item" (cliche, but I know), or tell of a phrase they have that fits this specific event, and so on.

    Weird sounds or sign language accompanying normal language might be a good idea to make it more "exotic", but again, don't go overboard. Just use it as a cool gimmick.

    Bear in mind that the more time you spend on "deepening" your fantasy language, the more disparity there will be between your and your audience's/players' understanding of it, as they will never see it as "deeply" as you. And another mistake is to respond to that with spending even more time describing the intricacies of the language, because it robs you of space (and attention) of building the other parts of your setting.

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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    For example high tones and giggly sounds for elvish and harsh barking sounds for something like orc. Do you think that good fantasy languages have the same characteristics of the race, or do you think that doesn't matter at all?
    Languages should sound like it is possible for the race in question to speak it. Granted, there is a feeling of 'big crude evil speak harsh guttural barks, refined goodies speak elegantly and smoothly', but a lot of what seems harsh or smooth is cultural perception of other languages more than actual qualities - the idea that German is harsh and guttural and French is smooth and elegant is a perfect example of this.
    Does it matter? not really. It can add to the feeling of a story, but it is hardly a big issue.


    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    On the written portion of the language do you think pictures work like egyptians, long flowing letters like mandarin, or dots and scratches mean anything or associate with different attributes of the race that speaks it? Do you think the written portion makes any difference at all?
    I think anyone creating a writing system should make one that makes sense for the language in question, and this sort of competency is beyond most people. For purposes of writing a story, unless you are making the quirks of the writing system into an important part of the story, it is at best a little flavor.



    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    Do you think that the creator should make a full usable language? Should they make it available for the readers, so they could learn it and speak it if they wanted to? What responsibility do you feel like the writer has to their readers to produce a complete language for their settings?
    Should? No. Unless you know what you're doing it will be, like AES already mentioned, blindingly obvious to people who do know something about languages that you do not. A fantasy language does not add enough to a story that it is something that should be done, barring certain stories that might be built around them. If a writer does create one, s/he is under no obligation to make it available, though I can see why s/he might want to. It's not as though fans of Tolkien, Barker and Star Trek are entirely uninterested in the languages in those works, but people like those languages because they like the stories and settings they come from.
    A writer is under absolutely no obligation to produce a complete language for any setting they may create. Most readers will probably not be interested enough to make it worth it and most writers are not competent enough to make a decent language.


    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    Lastly what about weird sounds? Clicking, or tapping, or even some conjunction of a spoken that works with something non-verbal like sign language? How receptive would you be to something like that, and how much detail would you feel like the author should go into on how the language works if it's something complex like this?
    What are weird sounds? You ask a Xhosa speaker, clicks aren't weird at all.

    Non-verbal communication is an important part of communication but all RL languages are, to my admittedly limited knowledge, capable of working purely through one medium, be it spoken, visual or written. Having a combined language would in many cases be a weakness. Having more than one requirement for communication means there are more situations where communication is limited or impossible. If you have to make specific hand gestures while talking in order to be understood, think how communication by telegraph/radio/telephone would be hampered.
    An author should usually try to make whatever they put in a story interesting, and while some of us will probably find detailed linguistic work interesting, we read stories to read stories, not learn a new language.
    An author adding more detail and elements into a work should always give some consideration to how this affects things in the setting and story, be it language or some cultural quirk or some piece of magic/technology.

    In short, trying to create a new language for a setting is kind of like trying to write hard SF without knowing much about science - dead obvious and annoying to anyone who does know, and the more detailed and intricate it becomes the less interesting it is to the masses.

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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Thank you, BWR, for pointing out the German/French thing. Our perception of other phonologies is altered both by our stereotypes about the speakers of foreign languages (Americans tend to be exposed to stereotypes depicting the French as sophisticated and elegant and the Germans as violent and unfeeling, so we ignore the fact that the French are gargling with their Rs even when we think other languages with velar and uvular fricatives and approximants are "harsh") and how we relate to particular sounds within our own language. We consider glottal stops to be low-prestige because they're either from low-prestige dialects (like Cockney) or from foreign languages that are not particularly prestigious, yet in those languages, a glottal stop is an important letter, and proper and consistent execution of them is critical to being considered eloquent.

    If you're interested in creating a language, either consider taking linguistics courses if you can, or find some books on the matter. David Peterson, the guy who wrote the languages used in Game of Thrones, has written a good beginner's guide to the topics of linguistics and language creation. I'd consider it worth a look, though I have my issues with David Peterson's interpretations sometimes (like taking the "y" in Valyrian terms literally and making it the IPA [y] for High Valyrian). I warn you, creating a language is a lot of work, and I, though I have tried many times, have never succeeded (my closest, Cahla, could be used to translate a full English paragraph about the right sort of topics, but the vocabulary was woefully incomplete, and a few grammatical questions needed to be answered). That said, if you don't complete it, you can still wind up with a consistent basis for naming conventions, and that's a win in and of itself.

    Just remember that human languages are impossibly diverse. After millennia of imperialism, religious conversion, and colonialism determined to spread a few languages at the expense of others, we still have thousands of languages on this planet, and even the mass die-off we're expecting to see this century is predicted to leave 500. That's a lot of languages. Everything that is true about English is not true for at least one other language. Heck, Coptic makes do without adjectives. Some languages don't count above two, or only have three color words, or have formality registers deeply baked into their grammar systems so that you explicitly insult people if you use them wrong, rather than subtly weirding them out. Some languages tolerate no consonant clusters whatsoever, while others use so many that they look (to English speakers) physically impossible to pronounce and native speakers avoid saying their version of "Hello."

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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    If you want to make your own language, check out these guys. Language Creation Society
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Having the language be alien (admittedly I'm thinking from my English-speaking perspective) would be nice too, e.g. a language where words have tones and some meaning is also imparted by the melody or implied chord; or one in which plurals or articles are more rich, possibly including mathematical or logical concepts.

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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by factotum View Post
    I dunno, there's some incongruity value in having big beefy guys speaking to each other in high-pitched, delicate voices. Having said that, it's very difficult to determine how a language is actually pronounced from just seeing it written down anyway--I'm sure it would be possible to pronounce Sindarin in a guttural, harsh manner if you chose to do so.
    haha, that is a funny, and good point.
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cespenar View Post
    If your fantasy race has some pretty strong features of strength/grace/whatever, then it makes sense that their language reflects that. However, if the race has more neutral, subdued features, then putting their language in contrast with that feature might help give the race some character. Like the "Northern Clans" having a sing-along language that belies their hawkish attitude.

    Creating a full blown language for a setting is extremely overkill. Just focus on the parts that helps your readers/players get into the atmosphere better. For example, from time to time, tell how the language has 50 words just for "that item" (cliche, but I know), or tell of a phrase they have that fits this specific event, and so on.

    Weird sounds or sign language accompanying normal language might be a good idea to make it more "exotic", but again, don't go overboard. Just use it as a cool gimmick.

    Bear in mind that the more time you spend on "deepening" your fantasy language, the more disparity there will be between your and your audience's/players' understanding of it, as they will never see it as "deeply" as you. And another mistake is to respond to that with spending even more time describing the intricacies of the language, because it robs you of space (and attention) of building the other parts of your setting.
    Ok, but what's your responsibility to your fanbase? Many readers get VERY involved with the stories that writers create.
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by BWR View Post
    Languages should sound like it is possible for the race in question to speak it. Granted, there is a feeling of 'big crude evil speak harsh guttural barks, refined goodies speak elegantly and smoothly', but a lot of what seems harsh or smooth is cultural perception of other languages more than actual qualities - the idea that German is harsh and guttural and French is smooth and elegant is a perfect example of this.
    Does it matter? not really. It can add to the feeling of a story, but it is hardly a big issue.

    I think anyone creating a writing system should make one that makes sense for the language in question, and this sort of competency is beyond most people. For purposes of writing a story, unless you are making the quirks of the writing system into an important part of the story, it is at best a little flavor.

    Should? No. Unless you know what you're doing it will be, like AES already mentioned, blindingly obvious to people who do know something about languages that you do not. A fantasy language does not add enough to a story that it is something that should be done, barring certain stories that might be built around them. If a writer does create one, s/he is under no obligation to make it available, though I can see why s/he might want to. It's not as though fans of Tolkien, Barker and Star Trek are entirely uninterested in the languages in those works, but people like those languages because they like the stories and settings they come from.
    A writer is under absolutely no obligation to produce a complete language for any setting they may create. Most readers will probably not be interested enough to make it worth it and most writers are not competent enough to make a decent language.

    What are weird sounds? You ask a Xhosa speaker, clicks aren't weird at all.

    Non-verbal communication is an important part of communication but all RL languages are, to my admittedly limited knowledge, capable of working purely through one medium, be it spoken, visual or written. Having a combined language would in many cases be a weakness. Having more than one requirement for communication means there are more situations where communication is limited or impossible. If you have to make specific hand gestures while talking in order to be understood, think how communication by telegraph/radio/telephone would be hampered.
    An author should usually try to make whatever they put in a story interesting, and while some of us will probably find detailed linguistic work interesting, we read stories to read stories, not learn a new language.
    An author adding more detail and elements into a work should always give some consideration to how this affects things in the setting and story, be it language or some cultural quirk or some piece of magic/technology.

    In short, trying to create a new language for a setting is kind of like trying to write hard SF without knowing much about science - dead obvious and annoying to anyone who does know, and the more detailed and intricate it becomes the less interesting it is to the masses.
    Thanks for that. I appreciate the time you took to make that reply, and you bring up good points.
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by VoxRationis View Post
    Thank you, BWR, for pointing out the German/French thing. Our perception of other phonologies is altered both by our stereotypes about the speakers of foreign languages (Americans tend to be exposed to stereotypes depicting the French as sophisticated and elegant and the Germans as violent and unfeeling, so we ignore the fact that the French are gargling with their Rs even when we think other languages with velar and uvular fricatives and approximants are "harsh") and how we relate to particular sounds within our own language. We consider glottal stops to be low-prestige because they're either from low-prestige dialects (like Cockney) or from foreign languages that are not particularly prestigious, yet in those languages, a glottal stop is an important letter, and proper and consistent execution of them is critical to being considered eloquent.

    If you're interested in creating a language, either consider taking linguistics courses if you can, or find some books on the matter. David Peterson, the guy who wrote the languages used in Game of Thrones, has written a good beginner's guide to the topics of linguistics and language creation. I'd consider it worth a look, though I have my issues with David Peterson's interpretations sometimes (like taking the "y" in Valyrian terms literally and making it the IPA [y] for High Valyrian). I warn you, creating a language is a lot of work, and I, though I have tried many times, have never succeeded (my closest, Cahla, could be used to translate a full English paragraph about the right sort of topics, but the vocabulary was woefully incomplete, and a few grammatical questions needed to be answered). That said, if you don't complete it, you can still wind up with a consistent basis for naming conventions, and that's a win in and of itself.

    Just remember that human languages are impossibly diverse. After millennia of imperialism, religious conversion, and colonialism determined to spread a few languages at the expense of others, we still have thousands of languages on this planet, and even the mass die-off we're expecting to see this century is predicted to leave 500. That's a lot of languages. Everything that is true about English is not true for at least one other language. Heck, Coptic makes do without adjectives. Some languages don't count above two, or only have three color words, or have formality registers deeply baked into their grammar systems so that you explicitly insult people if you use them wrong, rather than subtly weirding them out. Some languages tolerate no consonant clusters whatsoever, while others use so many that they look (to English speakers) physically impossible to pronounce and native speakers avoid saying their version of "Hello."
    I bought it, and yes part of the reason for this post is because of the VAST amount of knowledge required to create a language, and how difficult it is to get help on understanding all the jargon. I'm just now beginning to make sense of all the IPA stuff, and I still don't have a good grasp on the differences between the phonemes, coda, morphing, etc it's like a laundry list of different qualities that are very close to each other in definition. I tried going to a forums on the matter, and they were pretty rude in my opinion so I haven't been back. Would you mind if I PM'd you to ask you some questions and have you look over what I've done so far?
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by shawnhcorey View Post
    If you want to make your own language, check out these guys. Language Creation Society
    I have read a fair amount on the matter, but it's difficult to follow, and even more difficult to research. The OCD in me wants a fully functional language, but as previously stated it's a lot more difficult than it looks from the on-set.
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    I tried going to a forums on the matter, and they were pretty rude in my opinion so I haven't been back. Would you mind if I PM'd you to ask you some questions and have you look over what I've done so far?
    I mean, you could, but I'm probably not the best person, even on this forum, to ask. I can't tell you that much more than the book can. I'm sorry the dedicated linguistics forum was rude, though.

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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    Ok, but what's your responsibility to your fanbase? Many readers get VERY involved with the stories that writers create.
    Your responsibility to your fanbase also means that you owe them balanced and equally developed settings. Every hour that you spend overdeveloping your language is one hour less spent on the other parts of the setting (for example its sociological, geographical, political, historical or even magical issues). In my opinion: have the base idea of the language, throw in some hooks/gimmicks for your players/audience, and move on to other issues. There are lots of stuff to cover in worldbuilding.

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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    I think sometimes an author can do a lot with a little. Don't try to make the entire language, but point out a few features.

    So, you've got Dorks, who speak Dorkish. What do you want to point out about them? If they're really structured, show a few sentences that have the same rigid formal structure. For instance, give them the equivalent of the word "the" and let them apply it systematically, "I want to punch you, and I'm bigger than you" could become "The me big punchll the you puny". (Words not substituted for readability.) If the Dorks have an archaic feel to them, maybe switch out their numbers system for one closer to the imperial measurement system and the way we tell time, build around highly composite numbers. Twendomfordecktalfive (2415) is two times 360, four times 60, one time 12 and 5, our 617.

    Use whatever you feel works for your language, and emphasize it, point stuff out or translate sentences so the reader can notice it for themselves and feel clever. Use one to a handful of cool distinguishing features, and don't bother with the rest of the language. Because if you try to develop a complete language you're probably going to fall back on the languages you know, as you can see in the most often cited constructed language meant for easy international communication, Esperanto. It and all of it's offshoots are very clearly European, because that's what the developers knew. I can't claim to speak for you, but I would have a really hard time coming up with a complete language even just as distinct from my own as say Swahili or Mandarin. And Dorks are supposed to be more alien to my main character than any speaker of those languages. So instead I could spend time trying to get a really small part of the language to feel just right, and hide/ignore the rest.

    Conlangs are incredibly cool, and if you want to make one, don't let me discourage you. But writing a full language for the purpose of having a setting for your fiction book is very similar to researching all of science for an ABC-book on potential future breakthroughs: it's a lot of work to do it right that will see very little payoff. Write a language because you want to write a language.
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by VoxRationis View Post
    I mean, you could, but I'm probably not the best person, even on this forum, to ask. I can't tell you that much more than the book can. I'm sorry the dedicated linguistics forum was rude, though.
    It wasn't this site, it was conworkshop.info.
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Lvl 2 Expert View Post
    I think sometimes an author can do a lot with a little. Don't try to make the entire language, but point out a few features.

    So, you've got Dorks, who speak Dorkish. What do you want to point out about them? If they're really structured, show a few sentences that have the same rigid formal structure. For instance, give them the equivalent of the word "the" and let them apply it systematically, "I want to punch you, and I'm bigger than you" could become "The me big punchll the you puny". (Words not substituted for readability.) If the Dorks have an archaic feel to them, maybe switch out their numbers system for one closer to the imperial measurement system and the way we tell time, build around highly composite numbers. Twendomfordecktalfive (2415) is two times 360, four times 60, one time 12 and 5, our 617.

    Use whatever you feel works for your language, and emphasize it, point stuff out or translate sentences so the reader can notice it for themselves and feel clever. Use one to a handful of cool distinguishing features, and don't bother with the rest of the language. Because if you try to develop a complete language you're probably going to fall back on the languages you know, as you can see in the most often cited constructed language meant for easy international communication, Esperanto. It and all of it's offshoots are very clearly European, because that's what the developers knew. I can't claim to speak for you, but I would have a really hard time coming up with a complete language even just as distinct from my own as say Swahili or Mandarin. And Dorks are supposed to be more alien to my main character than any speaker of those languages. So instead I could spend time trying to get a really small part of the language to feel just right, and hide/ignore the rest.

    Conlangs are incredibly cool, and if you want to make one, don't let me discourage you. But writing a full language for the purpose of having a setting for your fiction book is very similar to researching all of science for an ABC-book on potential future breakthroughs: it's a lot of work to do it right that will see very little payoff. Write a language because you want to write a language.
    Good points. Thanks.
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    i made language-creation programs in C++ to help me with my game. one program creates a list of random syllables, and then another combines a random amount of the syllables into words. as with other procedural generation tools, human oversight is important. you create a bunch of sets of syllables and settle on one that seems to work for your purpose. i.e. this set of syllables looks good for orc for whatever reasons, and this one for a spellcasting language. i'm a big fan of procedural generation, though my game is not a roguelike. i just used procedural generation as a kind of "computer collaborator" to help me with design decisions.
    Last edited by Goodkill; 2017-12-02 at 08:34 PM.
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Goodkill View Post
    i made language-creation programs in C++ to help me with my game. one program creates a list of random syllables, and then another combines a random amount of the syllables into words. as with other procedural generation tools, human oversight is important. you create a bunch of sets of syllables and settle on one that seems to work for your purpose. i.e. this set of syllables looks good for orc for whatever reasons, and this one for a spellcasting language. i'm a big fan of procedural generation, though my game is not a roguelike. i just used procedural generation as a kind of "computer collaborator" to help me with design decisions.
    Does the program allow you to set rules up like?
    Only three consonants in a row
    Only a single vowel in a row
    Words must start with a consonant
    Letters can't repeat
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  21. - Top - End - #21
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    On the written portion of the language do you think pictures work like egyptians, long flowing letters like mandarin, or dots and scratches mean anything or associate with different attributes of the race that speaks it? Do you think the written portion makes any difference at all?
    I didn't see this part. I'll address it here.
    Because writing is less natural than spoken language and is inextricably technological, a writing system tends to be much more directly involved with the language's environmental context. Little detailed pictures are slow to make by hand, so Egyptian hieroglyphs as a system either implies that the writers can afford to take their time or that they've somehow mechanized their writing system (coming up with block printing or computer graphics) before simplifying it into an easier-to-use fashion. Historically, of course, it was the first explanation, and when Egyptian scribes had to take time into consideration, they used abbreviated forms that resembled, depending on the era, Chinese characters or Arabic ones. The full-form hieroglyphs were mostly restricted to official inscriptions and religious decorations.

    Technology very much affects the sorts of writing a civilization develops. Runes and straight lines come from writing in hard surfaces. Soft curves come from writing with ink applied to a surface. If a culture changes how it writes, the forms it writes in will change as well.

    Of course, the structure of a language informs its writing as well. The Chinese, who have a language which is practically the textbook example of an isolating language (it doesn't inflect its verbs and nouns by putting suffixes on them), developed a system of writing where semantic meaning is intensely tied to the character, and you generally get a low character-word ratio. This works well when there's no difference between catch and caught in your verb system. However, it's clumsy in other languages where there is such a difference, so Korean and Japanese, which are both inflectional languages, adapted the writing system to allow for their verb endings and the like. Had they come up with writing on their own, they would not have stabilized with Chinese characters or anything like them. Similarly, in certain Afro-Asiatic and Semitic languages, you can usually get away with not writing vowels, and the writing systems in the Middle East now and historically reflect this. But when the Greeks got the alphabet from the Phoenicians, they recognized that Greek, as well as most other Indo-European languages, is too ambiguous if one omits vowels, so they took a few characters for consonants that weren't in Greek and they turned them into symbols for vowels the Phoenicians would have left out.

    Writing is also kind of hard to invent—though it's relatively easy to copy. It's only been invented a few times in history, as far as we can tell: once in Mesoamerica, once in Mesopotamia, once in China, and possibly once in India. I've forgotten off the top of my head. Most cultures with writing copied it from somebody else. You therefore tend to get spheres where a particular writing system takes hold, and then is adapted to a series of other languages. Everyone in Europe writes with some local variant of either the Greek or Roman alphabets. East Asia looks to China for its writing, as it does in everything else (with the exception of Vietnam, which mostly uses the Latin alphabet as a product of French colonialism).

    In short, most of your written languages will be using variants of the same writing system, your stone-carving dwarves aren't going to be writing in cursive, and the writing system will have to include most if not all of the distinctions that are important in the spoken language.

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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    I'm sorry but why try to make something so complex? It'll probrably end up soudning fake and silly.

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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    Does the program allow you to set rules up like?
    Only three consonants in a row
    Only a single vowel in a row
    Words must start with a consonant
    Letters can't repeat
    no, there were some rules for generating syllables but i don't remember them ... i have the program on another computer. this is why i say "human oversight is important". you generate a large amount of data and basically prune it until you get something usable. when i used Dwarf Fortress's map creator (procedural generation again) to make the world map for my game, i probably ran it over a hundred times before i settled on something that i liked.
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by VoxRationis View Post
    I didn't see this part. I'll address it here.
    Because writing is less natural than spoken language and is inextricably technological, a writing system tends to be much more directly involved with the language's environmental context. Little detailed pictures are slow to make by hand, so Egyptian hieroglyphs as a system either implies that the writers can afford to take their time or that they've somehow mechanized their writing system (coming up with block printing or computer graphics) before simplifying it into an easier-to-use fashion. Historically, of course, it was the first explanation, and when Egyptian scribes had to take time into consideration, they used abbreviated forms that resembled, depending on the era, Chinese characters or Arabic ones. The full-form hieroglyphs were mostly restricted to official inscriptions and religious decorations.

    Technology very much affects the sorts of writing a civilization develops. Runes and straight lines come from writing in hard surfaces. Soft curves come from writing with ink applied to a surface. If a culture changes how it writes, the forms it writes in will change as well.

    Of course, the structure of a language informs its writing as well. The Chinese, who have a language which is practically the textbook example of an isolating language (it doesn't inflect its verbs and nouns by putting suffixes on them), developed a system of writing where semantic meaning is intensely tied to the character, and you generally get a low character-word ratio. This works well when there's no difference between catch and caught in your verb system. However, it's clumsy in other languages where there is such a difference, so Korean and Japanese, which are both inflectional languages, adapted the writing system to allow for their verb endings and the like. Had they come up with writing on their own, they would not have stabilized with Chinese characters or anything like them. Similarly, in certain Afro-Asiatic and Semitic languages, you can usually get away with not writing vowels, and the writing systems in the Middle East now and historically reflect this. But when the Greeks got the alphabet from the Phoenicians, they recognized that Greek, as well as most other Indo-European languages, is too ambiguous if one omits vowels, so they took a few characters for consonants that weren't in Greek and they turned them into symbols for vowels the Phoenicians would have left out.

    Writing is also kind of hard to invent—though it's relatively easy to copy. It's only been invented a few times in history, as far as we can tell: once in Mesoamerica, once in Mesopotamia, once in China, and possibly once in India. I've forgotten off the top of my head. Most cultures with writing copied it from somebody else. You therefore tend to get spheres where a particular writing system takes hold, and then is adapted to a series of other languages. Everyone in Europe writes with some local variant of either the Greek or Roman alphabets. East Asia looks to China for its writing, as it does in everything else (with the exception of Vietnam, which mostly uses the Latin alphabet as a product of French colonialism).

    In short, most of your written languages will be using variants of the same writing system, your stone-carving dwarves aren't going to be writing in cursive, and the writing system will have to include most if not all of the distinctions that are important in the spoken language.
    Thanks for that. Very interesting points.
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Goodkill View Post
    no, there were some rules for generating syllables but i don't remember them ... i have the program on another computer. this is why i say "human oversight is important". you generate a large amount of data and basically prune it until you get something usable. when i used Dwarf Fortress's map creator (procedural generation again) to make the world map for my game, i probably ran it over a hundred times before i settled on something that i liked.
    Fair enough. Figured I'd ask.
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    I'll answer from the reader perspective more than an author/linguist perspective.

    When I read a book, a fictional language is usually detrimental unless it is done really well. While it can be useful to emphasize a rare concept or item, or to make it clear that the main character does not understand another character, usually it is distracting.

    If it is two parties talking to one another, I'd rather know what both parties are saying to one another. Being either ignorant of the conversation (since I, in real life, don't speak the language) or having to read footnotes that translate it is distracting from trying to follow the story.
    Now, it can work well to show the protagonist is ignorant of the tongue as well, but it seems overkill to make a fully developed language for that.

    For rare item/concept, this can be done well, but it can also be done really poorly. I sorta gather that's not so much what you are looking for, but I'll point to XKCD's advice/evaluation.
    EDIT: make sure to read the mouse-over text for that comic.
    Last edited by JeenLeen; 2017-12-04 at 11:21 AM.

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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    Does the program allow you to set rules up like?
    Only three consonants in a row
    Only a single vowel in a row
    Words must start with a consonant
    Letters can't repeat
    Quote Originally Posted by Goodkill View Post
    no, there were some rules for generating syllables but i don't remember them ... i have the program on another computer. this is why i say "human oversight is important". you generate a large amount of data and basically prune it until you get something usable. when i used Dwarf Fortress's map creator (procedural generation again) to make the world map for my game, i probably ran it over a hundred times before i settled on something that i liked.
    Does your program use the English alphabet or IPA?
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    Default Re: What are the best qualities of a fantasy language?

    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    I'm talking about whether it sounds like the race that uses it? For example high tones and giggly sounds for elvish and harsh barking sounds for something like orc. Do you think that good fantasy languages have the same characteristics of the race, or do you think that doesn't matter at all?
    Language doesn't make people; people make language. What is "fitting the peoples in question" is actually an outsider's point of view; so it shouldn't really matter. Basically, it's not so much that French sounds sophisticated because French regard themselves as such (every nation ever thought themselves as the civilized and the rest as savages); it's because foreigners regard them as such. And obviously, different nations would have different ideas about how a language sounds like and why.

    IMHO, there are way better options to reflect the quirks of a nation/peoples; because more often than not, it's custom and usage what shapes language, not the other way around. Language tends to be a consequence of culture and as such, it's a secondary symptom of how the nation in question is regarded. Players/readers would have a way better picture of the culture in question if they know about their customs and history than they would ever get from language alone. Even as an extra, language has very little impact. For instance, all the Elvish languages from Tolkien don't have inherent qualities that make readers saw them as sophisticated or whatever (or that makes orcs rude); it's because we as readers learn that they are sophisticated that, whenever we read about a race of immortal magical beings we assume they should sound elvish. But it's an association, and as such, it's pretty much inconsequential unless you want to sound Tolkienian, or Klingonian.

    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    On the written portion of the language do you think pictures work like egyptians, long flowing letters like mandarin, or dots and scratches mean anything or associate with different attributes of the race that speaks it? Do you think the written portion makes any difference at all?
    VoxRationis got it right. But first I would recommend you to thoroughly consider why should you care about detailing a written language in the first place. Would they work better than pure scribble? Why?

    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    Do you think that the creator should make a full usable language? Should they make it available for the readers, so they could learn it and speak it if they wanted to? What responsibility do you feel like the writer has to their readers to produce a complete language for their settings?
    This is probably very biased from me; but a creator has zero "responsibilities" towards anyone but himself. An honest artist doesn't create something to have a million of friends (surely there is one, but he is being dishonest about doing it "for the art"). An artist produces whatever he wants to and expects to be read/watched/listened if anything. Whatever fans "demand" from him, it should be the least of his concerns. If you want to take the utterly obsessive task to create a language from scratch; then do so. But you should never do it because you feel "you owe it" to anyone. Please, it will only cause you despair and worse: it will drag your creative process.

    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    Lastly what about weird sounds? Clicking, or tapping, or even some conjunction of a spoken that works with something non-verbal like sign language? How receptive would you be to something like that, and how much detail would you feel like the author should go into on how the language works if it's something complex like this?
    Whatever you can do with your mouth, it's in a language for sure. Consider that what we humans do with our vocal cords is pretty much "weird" by definition; and if you add the very important and completely random factor that are "intonation", "rhythm", "modulation" and the likes; the very act of speaking is absolutely ridiculous. Go as crazy and random as you like. And if anyone asks, it's merely "a regional inflection"

    Quote Originally Posted by An Enemy Spy View Post
    If Klingons were barking at each other in Sindarin, that would feel incongruous.
    I completely disagree. Klingon sound like nothing, because they aren't real. If you show Klingon and Sindarin to anyone who hasn't read Tolkien or watched Star Trek; they would both sound the same gibberish. No fictional language had any distinguishable characteristic that isn't extracted merely from association and fan bias.

    Quote Originally Posted by factotum View Post
    I'm sure it would be possible to pronounce Sindarin in a guttural, harsh manner if you chose to do so.
    Just like it's very possible to sound harsh and guttural in French; or soft in Spanish or flamboyant in English. Each language has it's own codification, yet most are very close in a sense. Most humans get angry the same way despite their culture after all

    Quote Originally Posted by BWR View Post
    Languages should sound like it is possible for the race in question to speak it. Granted, there is a feeling of 'big crude evil speak harsh guttural barks, refined goodies speak elegantly and smoothly', but a lot of what seems harsh or smooth is cultural perception of other languages more than actual qualities - the idea that German is harsh and guttural and French is smooth and elegant is a perfect example of this.
    Does it matter? not really. It can add to the feeling of a story, but it is hardly a big issue.
    Quoted for truth. Also, the whole "beauty=good" fallacy is so medieval/romantic that it's very dissonant to modern fantasy IMHO. And I am a big fan of Romanticism.

    Quote Originally Posted by BWR View Post
    Non-verbal communication is an important part of communication but all RL languages are, to my admittedly limited knowledge, capable of working purely through one medium, be it spoken, visual or written. Having a combined language would in many cases be a weakness. Having more than one requirement for communication means there are more situations where communication is limited or impossible. If you have to make specific hand gestures while talking in order to be understood, think how communication by telegraph/radio/telephone would be hampered.
    Actually, that's just because humans have a strong sense of sight and hearing. Our brain is naturally hardwired towards those types of stimulation; hence why most of our languagues are primarily sound based (wider variation and ease of codification) and sight based (allows for more complexity at the expense of expedition).

    But if OP is looking for something to be truly alien, he should look for the senses where humans aren't naturally focused at all. See Jawas, for example, who are said to communicate through pheromones, hence why their language seems basic and very rudimentary. Descriptions like that help better to shape the background of a setting than any treatise on the phonetics of the Noldor will ever do.

    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    I'm just now beginning to make sense of all the IPA stuff, and I still don't have a good grasp on the differences between the phonemes, coda, morphing, etc it's like a laundry list of different qualities that are very close to each other in definition. I tried going to a forums on the matter, and they were pretty rude in my opinion so I haven't been back. Would you mind if I PM'd you to ask you some questions and have you look over what I've done so far?
    I recommend you to study phonetics (and linguistics in general) with an actual person who can guide you through it. Learning solely by text or by hearing records would be very very hard and you might be lead into misconceptions. Even with the perfect teacher, it takes years of practice at best.

    Quote Originally Posted by Coveny View Post
    The OCD in me wants a fully functional language, but as previously stated it's a lot more difficult than it looks from the on-set.
    ProTip: You will never reach a "functional" language. Language is culture based; hence why "Esperanto" didn't get the trick when it was released (there were not natives at the time). At best, you will get a workable language that suits your needs (like Sindarin or Klingon); something your fans will use like modern people Victorian writers used Latin (ie: a dead tongue with a lot of unanswered questions that are assumed out of ignorance). But it's no shame either. After all, no single people in the universe ever invented a real language in the first place. Language is a social construct, not individual.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lvl 2 Expert View Post
    Use whatever you feel works for your language, and emphasize it, point stuff out or translate sentences so the reader can notice it for themselves and feel clever.
    This is probably the wisest path, and one I support very much. Do note that I have little regard for the kind of author that bother creating a whole language in the first place; so I admit bias from my side.
    Last edited by joeltion; 2017-12-04 at 12:01 PM.
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