How language shapes a country
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Last week, I talked about culture, and if you made it through that monster of a post, I commend you. This week, I’ll give both of us a bit of a break with a shorter post on language and how it reflects on your people.
Number of languages
How many languages you have in your world will depend on how many places your characters are going to visit. You could have a universal language that everyone uses—it’s quite common in fantasy novels to see a “common tongue” or characters “speaking common.” Or if you’re wanting to have other languages, it could be as easy as using a few words in another already established language because your cultures are based on places on our Earth, or you could just say that the other character is speaking another language and give the translation. Now, you don’t necessarily have to display the different languages, because they’re hard...or are they?
Creating a language
We are going to unashamedly plug a site that we’ve recently discovered called Vulgarlang. If you want to create your own custom language, and you don’t have the wildly amazing skills of Tolkien for creating language, then this is the place for you.
Directly from their website, this is how Vulgar works:
Vulgar is capable of generating over 100 quadrillion unique and usable conlangs using pseudo-randomness. However the languages it produces are far from random strings of letters; a great deal of research has gone into ensuring the languages are as naturalistic as possible. Fantasy languages may be created for worlds where anything is possible, but naturalism is often a goal for language creators. If you want your characters’ culture to feel real, their language should feel real too.
Language by race
Depending on what kind of story you’re wanting to tell, you might have some alien races, or you might have fantasy races in your world. In the event that you do, you’ll need to figure out what kind of language they will be speaking. You might be thinking, “Well...they’re going to be speaking Dwavish,” or, “They’re going to be speaking Elvish.” Be that as it may, what kind of Dwarvish or Elvish? Is it going to be a formal language, a regional language, or will you be using a tool like Vulgarlang to create your own unique version of the language instead of just telling the reader that's what they’re speaking?
Now you’re speakin’ my language
Just like the real world, there are people who can speak more than one language. Will your people naturally be bilingual, or even trilingual? There are countries in our own world that are naturally bilingual countries, like Canda, which has two national languages.
I’ve got a secret
In this section, I want to talk a little bit about the secret language that people can use within a society of some sort, whether it’s wizards or an order of knights.
First of all, you’re going to want to determine if you want a secret society or a group of people to have code words for each other and how they came about. Is it illegal to be a mage in your world, and practicing magic users can let people know who they are without revealing to the rest of the world their secret? Or will you have an order of knights who essentially operate in the same manner of Freemasons, where everything is done ceremoniously, and it’s frowned upon to tell anyone what happens within their walls?
Och, ye dinnae hear it from me, lad!
Lastly, I want to talk about dialects. There are more dialects in this world than anyone can rightly count. So, are you going to include dialects that you already know, like a Scots dialect or a Cajun dialect, or are you going to make your own? Or even keep everyone speaking the same.
No matter what you decide to do with your languages, you have to remember, it’s how people communicate with each other, and it can be very easy to ruffle character feathers if something doesn’t go quite right.
Next week, we’ll be having an author interview with A4A author Lisa Borne Graves about her novel, Celestial Spheres: Fyr, and in two weeks, we’ll resume our world building series when I talk about religion.
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