Language Creation Pt. 1: Cultural EmphasisDisclaimer:
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.
• Body Parts: both human anatomy and their own anatomy
• Their Homes
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:
• ~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 otherPart 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
• 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