Saturday, February 28, 2015

Building a Language Part 2: Symbols

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley

     Last time we talked about selecting the sounds for your language, and this time I'll be showing you how to make letters for them. I've divided it into three steps: choosing a style, designing the letters, and assigning the letters.

     1. Style:

     First is choosing the style of your alphabet. For example, do you want letters with the level of complexity of a Chinese word? A Latin (what's used in English and Spanish) character? Greek? This would obviously affect the time it would take to write, so keep in mind the practicality of the nation, as well as who uses the written language. If only the rich, who have time anyway, can read, then it could be very complex. If everyone uses it, it will probably be simpler for convenience.
     Of course, just like English, there could be different versions, some more complex, some more simplified. A wonderful example would be the Forerunner language found in Halo. Though it wasn't actually invented, the books give fairly good descriptions. Cortana explains that they tend to embellish on their base symbols, making it look like they have way more letters than they really have. It is also show that the Forerunners had a 3-D version of their letters. Wouldn't that be cool, letter sculptures? But I can imagine that only aliens with the ability to construct worlds would have the leisure time to make such a complex writing system.
     Another part of style is the type of shapes and lines used. Would it be flowing, like Arabic? Geometric like Russian? A mix of simple shapes like Latin? This can change the feel of your language quite a lot, and helps to define the culture that uses it. For example, my language, New Orcish, is similar in style to English, but a bit more complicated, and with more flowing shapes.
     Another question to ask yourself is, how is the punctuation (if it exists) differ from the letters? Punctuation tends to be smaller, and in English it's mostly just small dots, and dots with tails. Is yours similar? Is it a part of the letter? Does it go directly under the letters? Etc. Also, do they have number symbols, or are their numbers always written out?

     2. Design:

     These last two can actually be switched around in a way, as you can make a letter specifically for a sound, or you can make all of the letters, and then assign them. Obviously these steps are a lot more straight-forward, as well. Basically, for this step, all that you do is implement the design elements you decided on in the last step. This maybe be harder than you expected, so don't worry if it takes a long time. Also, make lots of different letters. Don't erase the ones you make, just make more next to them. Take on base letter and make different versions, make lots of completely different ones too. This will help you to explore what you want better, as well as give you lots of options to chose from. Once you have enough, proceed to the next step.

     3. Assign:

     Now you just decide which symbol applies to which letter, and which punctuation mark, and which number. This is basically just personal preference, so I can't really instruct you here.

     One extra tip I have for you is a website called FontStruct. It allows you to build your own font, so you can just input your letters instead of the English letters, and then you'll be able to type in your language. And other people will be able to type in your language too! A wonderful thing to have when your books become bestsellers, huh?

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.