I was recently asked by the lovely @penningfate on Instagram about how to develop a foreign language into your novel. The famous examples are Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. I thought I would do a post on this because I have been doing this for years in my own novels. Here is my guide to developing your own language!
However, before I start I want to get some misconceptions out of the way first because I know that this may seem like a daunting and complex task. Hopefully, this will quell those fears.
You will not need to learn a new language! Of course, the more languages you know the easier creating your own language will be. You can pick and choose words from your mental bank. However, this is not necessary at all because there are plenty of methods (which I will show you below) to use in order to learn what you need quickly.
You will not need to develop the whole entire language. It doesn't have to be it's own science, you can get away with a few phrases. Who would know? You should have the hellos, goodbyes, place names and specific phrases. I will give you a bigger list below.
How to Create a Language
1. Pick Two Languages
What I do is compare the country I created to countries in the real world. Whatever country it reminds you of pick that one and then choose a random language that you think will go well with it.
Another way to do it is to use the two languages you already know (if you know two). For instance, I know Serbian and some Afghan. I use those two languages as the base for my Solian language. Whereas, I do not know Thai, but I know a little French and I use those for Jocran. The reason I chose those two is because the country of Jocorom is like Thailand and I mashed French in there because I thought it sounded cool.
2. Do Your Research
As I mentioned above, you do not need to know the language to use it. I suggest getting a phrase book from any book store, or you could look online for websites that teach that language or a phrase website. You could also look on Youtube for videos on how to speak a certain language. Believe me you will find everything on there!
The things you should pay attention to while doing your research on those languages are:
- The diction: How do they articulate their words? Is the pronunciation harsh or soft?
- The flow of the words: Do they speak quickly or slowly?
- The method of presentation: Do they speak loudly or softly?
When you start learning a language, you can hear the elements which make the language its own. For instance, when I hear Hindi, I know it's Hindi and when I hear Farsi, I know it's Farsi.
You can also model your country's written language on the countries you are using. For instance, Indian and Thai have wonderfully intricate letters which I think are so cool. Or, you could choose ancient Egyptian or Mayan glyphs!
3. Make A List Of Phrases
You won't need to know everything but you will need to get the basics written down before you start. You will need to know the following (this list is not limited to those shown below):
- thank you
- miscellaneous swear words
- place names
- the words for certain beverages
- the word for 'ruler' or 'monarch'
- creature names
- names for certain rituals
- any derogatory names for people of other countries
- words for certain occupations. i.e. Doctor, warrior, teacher.
This is a very simple list and you can add to it or subtract from it depending on your own needs. As a side note, please keep these all in one document and keep it handy when you are writing your novel. If you want to see my way of keeping this right where you need them as you write click here.
4. The Fun Part
Now that you know the basics of the languages you are using, you can mash them together. By that I mean, take half of one word and put it at the front or back of a word from another language. Or, when making a sentence use one word from one language and another from the second language you've chosen.
You don't need to use words that have the same meaning as what you are trying to say or what you characters are trying to say. They can be whatever words or combination of words you think sound nice. For instance, in my novel I use a words like 'fork' and numerous Afghan and Serbian swear words in the Solian language. However, despite me telling you or you knowing the languages yourself you'd never know.
In this part you should just relax and have fun with it. Don't stress yourself out to much by trying to make a special meaning behind each word otherwise it will take you forever to get your language figured out. It only takes me seconds, to a minute to come up with a word or phrase. I don't suggest taking more time than that. Just go with the flow and write whatever comes to your head. Try a few words and see how they sound by saying it out loud and whichever flows nicely off the tongue choose that (alternatively, whatever doesn't sound nice if that is what you are going for).