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May 21, 2013
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Language Creation Pt. 1: Cultural Emphasis

Disclaimer:

All information given in this tutorial is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge but I do not claim to be the “be all, end all” in language creation. Everything I know about language creation was taught to me by my anthropological linguistics professor.

Before we begin I would like to point out that I will not be teaching you how to create your writing system until the very end of the tutorial, if at all. This tutorial will be mostly comprised of the speaking part of a language which always comes before the writing system.

Part 1 Section 1: Introduction

So here you are. You’re a budding author trying to create your own language for the very first time or maybe you already have something in the works and are basing your language around English or whatever your native language happens to be with a few words here and there and a pretty writing system. Well, I’m here to tell you that everything you’ve done thus far is probably WRONG.

Yup, you heard me. Wrong. You’re probably thinking “What? But I thought all I needed was just a different writing system and I’d be good…” Nope, creating a language is much more complex than that. Well, if you’re only going to be using 5 words in your whole story then that’s fine, but if you’re going to be using complete sentences more than once then you will need to create a basic language and have a small lexicon. Which leads me to the beginnings of creating a language…

Part 1 Section 2: Cultural Emphasis (Topics)

Every language starts somewhere and people needed ways to convey specific ideas that gestures and sounds just couldn’t do, so humans created spoken language. Every language is different and emphasizes different things. "But why do language emphasize certain things Wyn?" you ask. Because language is a reflection of one's culture, so the things that are emphasized in culture are also emphasized in language.

In Japanese, a lot of honorifics and special forms of words are used to convey one’s relationship to another person through varying degrees of formality, but in American English we really only have a couple of forms of formality that are rarely used unless you're in academia or are some sort of CEO or V.I.P. because Americans tend to be far less formal with their peers.

The same goes for a lexicon (your language's word bank). You wouldn’t see elves talking about cars, would you? Unless the story was about some kind of fantasy/sci-fi mix, probably not, it’s highly unlikely elves would even have the word in their lexicon. This is where having a cultural emphasis comes into play.

Take your race, be it human, elf, alien, or otherwise and pick the general topics they would talk about within the story, but not too general and not too specific. If you already know what they’ll talk about good, you already know most of what you need, if not, like I said, just pick a general idea.

Example:

Let’s take for example my own race of mermaids and list the possible topics.
• Fishing
• Clothing
• Body Parts: both human anatomy and their own anatomy
• Their Homes
• Taboo
• Metamorphosis
• Magic
• Etc.

Hmm…that’s kind of a big list. Let’s think about this. Are your speakers really going to talk about all that you’ve listed? No? Then get rid of some stuff.

Fishing? It’s a big part of their life, but nope they won’t be talking about that in their language in my story. Clothing? Maybe, if they have their own special fabrics and styles that English speakers don’t have (*Remember* If it looks like a spoon, just call it a spoon). Body Parts? Also possible, but unlikely. That’s out. Their homes? Well, it’s certainly different than what humans are used to but not so much that they would be using a whole slew of different words. Taboo? Nope. Metamorphosis? Ding Ding Ding! We have a winner. The metamorphosis is so different from what humans know that my mermaid race would absolutely need to use their own language to explain it to others. Magic? Ding Ding Ding! Yes, this race does use a language other than English for their magic but the language is different than the one they normally use, so nope, I won’t be using “magic” as a cultural emphasis, for this language anyway.

Let’s look at what we have now:

• *Metamorphosis*
• ~Clothing (might need some words)
• ~Body Parts (also might need a few words)

That’s quite a bit smaller than what we had before :) and now, we don’t need so many words for everything that could be said, but just enough for what will be said.

Part 1 Section 2: Cultural Emphasis (Extras)

This is the section in which you ask yourself, “Do I want to add anything more to my language?” Below is a list of things you can add for extra emphasis in your language, but don’t just pick things willy-nilly, try to see if it fits.

• Masculine/Feminine/Neuter words (Ask yourself, “Does this race/species/group separate males and females or do gender roles not come into play?”
• Formality (“Does this race/species/group care about formality? Does it need honorifics or different pronouns/nouns/verbs? (think French “tu” and “vous” or Japanese “-san”, “-chan”, “-sama”, etc.))
• *More* you can do more than what I’ve listed :) and if you need ideas look at other languages and think about how your speakers interact with each other

Part 1 Summary

• Languages emphasize certain aspects of their culture
• You don’t need to have a full blown lexicon for every possibility in your language, just what your characters will say
• What else do your speakers emphasize?

Homework

• Pick a cultural emphasis. That’s it, but be sure to really go in depth with what you think you’ll need and how the people speaking your language interact
This is the first part in a several part tutorial. Everything I know comes from an anthropological linguistics class. I suggest every writer in or will be in college to take this class or a class similar because my own professor has taught me some invaluable information, but if you are unable then I hope I can give you as much information as possible on creating your own language.

If you have any question feel free to ask :) Comments and critiques are welcome and appreciated.
Add a Comment:
 
:iconzahnradfee:
Ohhh, cool! :D

This comes in very handy. Thank you!
Reply
:iconwynterphoenyx:
WynterPhoenyx Jul 12, 2013  Student Digital Artist
You're welcome~ Glad it helps :)
Reply
:iconabbymeyer:
AbbyMeyer Jun 5, 2013
Thanks, this is really useful! I don't think I'm going to create a whole new language for the story I'm working on, but I do think that I'm going to need to create new words for specific things, after looking at this. :)
Reply
:iconwynterphoenyx:
WynterPhoenyx Jun 5, 2013  Student Digital Artist
I'm glad it is!

Most people probably won't need to create a whole language, but it's always useful to see how a language is structured and what it emphasizes in order to see some of the quirks that might occur from the language.

For example, if a character is learning said language he/she might comment on the things that are different from his/her language or a character who is a native speaker of the language created might put adjectives and verbs in different places than English speakers, or they might even have an accent depending on what phones he/she uses in his/her native language.
Reply
:iconcrazy-aika:
crazy-aika May 27, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This tutorial seems to become really cool, I was thinking in my story and the possibility to create a language.
Thank you so much for sharing it!
Reply
:iconwynterphoenyx:
WynterPhoenyx May 27, 2013  Student Digital Artist
I'm happy you enjoyed it~ :heart:
Reply
:iconluxloupelune:
LuxLoupeLune May 25, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
Part 1 Section 2: Cultural Emphasis (Extras)
Another point of consideration could be whether they have past, present and future tenses.

Very helpful information, thanks.
Reply
:iconwynterphoenyx:
WynterPhoenyx May 27, 2013  Student Digital Artist
I'm glad my tutorial helped~ Be sure to keep your eye out for the other parts ;)

Tenses (and other similar things) will be covered later~
Reply
:iconluxloupelune:
LuxLoupeLune May 28, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
Will do :)
Reply
:iconbluewyrm:
Most fully developed languages are probably going to have them; one of the primary uses for language is to plan future events and talk about the past, so there's going to have at least a simple way of indicating time. It might not be indicated by changing 'verbs' around though; you might, for example, add a time-signifier word when you transition between tenses.
Reply
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