Saturday, February 21, 2015

Building a Language Part 1: Sounds

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Recently I've begun making a language for one of my worlds, and I can say, it's a pretty interesting process. I started by deciding on the sounds, so that's what I'll be talking about today. If you're going to make a completely new language starting from scratch, it's important to figure out which sounds your language will and will not use. One of the most helpful things for this is the IPA, or International Phonetic Alphabet. It has all of the sounds used in any language. I had some trouble finding something that actually showed me how to pronounce the IPA symbols, but I did eventually find this, which showed how to pronounce all of the ones used in English.
     You can choose to use sounds that don't exist in English, like how New Orcish (my language) uses the Spanish rolled R, or you can cut out sounds that are actually used in English, just like how New Orcish doesn't use the W sound. One of the cool effects of this, is that you begin to automatically create an accent, which you can continue to develop later. Another example from my language, would be that an orc wouldn't be able to tell the difference between "was" and "oo-uh-z".
     New is also a nice time to decide how different sounds are pronounced, exactly, and also which sounds are more common. Does your language have the curled-tongue vowels used in India? Is it tonal? Which vowels are most common? Do they use more burst-like sounds, (B, P, D, T) or more continuing sounds (M, L, S, R)? Do they tend for sharp sounds, (S, T, H, K) or warm sounds (M, N, R)? Are there any dialects? Which sounds would be dropped in sloppy speech? These all work to make your language unique and give it the depth of a real language, and you haven't even translated anything yet! Many of these things will help to make the accent more pronounced (pun unintended) so that even if the people who speak this language could speak English, it would be very obvious that they are not native speakers. Cool right?
     Though this may seem like one of the more boring parts of making a language (If you think this is boring, though, just wait until you're paging through the dictionary trying to find new words to translate.) it is the most basic and fundamental part. This allows you to make your language, at its foundation, unique from your own, or any other one on the planet. Also, even in the process itself is not all that exciting (really, no part of making a language is) the results certainly are. Starting to hear the accent, creating a particular sound to the language through use of more common sounds, and other similar mini-epiphany moments make it a really cool process. Just like writing a novel, it takes time and dedication.
     Once you have decided on which sounds to use for your language, you can make your own alphabet, or go straight to translating if you want.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have a poetry contest open, which you can find here.

For the next post in this series, click here.

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