Saturday, March 14, 2015

Building a Language Part 4: Words

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Yes, we've reached that part. The planning is finished. You have decided what sounds you will use for the words, the symbols that will represent them, and even how they will be arranged in a sentence. All that is left is creating the words themselves. So, is there any way more interesting than just going through the dictionary?
     Well, an automatic response might be "Try translating something!" But the problem with that, is that languages are never directly translatable. The Spanish phrase "Me encanta" may literally translate to "It enchants me", but the meaning is far closer to "I love it". Ironically, the people of Pompeii had no word for "volcano". Your language much have the same sort of things. It is not an extension of your language, it is an extension of the people who speak it.

     My advice would be to start with the things that are necessary for speech, such as pronouns, articles (the, a, an), conjunctions, etc. Once you are done with that, you can move on to the more interesting parts.
     A good place to go from there is the subjects that would commonly be discussed by these people. There are bound to be farmers, right? Start with some of those things. Is religion common? If so, explore the words that would commonly be used in that area. What terms do they use relating to war? What are things that merchants would commonly talk about? Hunters? Royalty? Children? What are common, every-day items and activities that everyone would know? Foods? Pet animals? Whatever they use for transportation? Keep searching for areas like these, and try considering them apart from your own world. Look purely at what these people see and live in, and what they think of those things.
     Another thing to consider, is descriptive words. Nouns and verbs are obviously important, but adverbs and adjectives, as well as how they are used, help define, or show, a culture. Like English, do they have many words that basically mean "great"? Or "very"? Do they have a lot of ones referring to color? Do they have very few? What words would they use to describe someone they were in love with? Someone they hated? Their home?

     After going through all of these several times, you will have both the basic framework, as well as plenty of verbs, nouns, and descriptive words. What do you do now? Obviously you won't have gotten everything. Well, I'd say now is the time to crack open a dictionary and see what words you have "missed". Keep track of which words the dictionary had that you didn't, and which ones you had that the dictionary didn't, and be proud of every word you have already made that they don't have.
     You now have a working language. It isn't done, you will probably never stop adding to it, but it works,  it is full, and you can now you can teach others it to others. Once you have reached this point, writing a novel must seem positively easy, right?

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.

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