These Are Not The Words You Are Looking For: Language, Creation, and Fiction

A recent article by the Encyclopædia Britannica identified 6 fictional languages. As a nerd, my reaction was How cool! But why learn an additional language, fictional or not? And for that matter, what does it take for masters like Tolkien to create languages? While I don’t have a linguistics background like Tolkien, I did do some research.

According to the Telegraph , several different psychological studies have investigated and identified the benefits of learning an additional language. These included not only the obvious social perks, but also improvements in thought processing and memory, intelligence levels, and observational and decision making skills. As well, by learning another language’s mechanics -tense, grammar, punctuation, phrasing, slang, pronunciations- individuals improve their first or initial language skills. After all, language learners can compare structures and gain a better understanding of mechanics between new and older languages. The article also claims that additional language learning improves multitasking development and can add an average of 4 years before a person’s onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia related disease.

I would guess that benefits aren’t exclusive to fictional, pictorial, and alphabet based languages. Numerical languages, like computer programming languages and mathematics offer the ability to communicate with machines, manipulate, and understand our world in alternative manners, for example.

Languages have been created or altered for as long as humans have existed  for many reasons such as alleviate isolation,  oppression, or communicate secretly like cryptic languages and codes or Nushu the women’s writing developed in China. Another unique linguistic development is sign languages and other non-verbal languages like body language.

Fictionally, creating a language adds a sense of reality or quality to the work. A language can solidify a new culture or race – like Gene Roddenberry did with Star Trek or Tolkien did in his Middle Earth.

If you’re curious as to the how part, we live in a world now where there is a wiki how for that.

In case you were wondering, I have created a language. It was done as an exercise for education not for an actual piece of fiction I have worked on or published yet. Here is the process I followed.

  1. Create a character or two.
  2. Consider: culture, origin, location, birth, family, setting (modern, ancient, fictional), sound, values of the culture and character(s), what does the character or culture communicate about? Maybe the character is an animal – consider how animals communicate now – body language, noises, chemically, psychically?
  3. Decide if your language is pictorial, alphabetical, or numerical.
  4. Create an alphabet.
  5. If you are using phonetics, grammar, special phrasing, tense, suffixes, pluralization, and conjugation – decide on some of the rules. If you want/have to – create a dictionary.
  6. Write a journal from the character’s point of view, in the new language for a few days, weeks, or even years.
  7. Further develop.

Additional steps could include grabbing friends who are nerdy and teach them the language, talk in the language, then work things out further. Store it in a special folder, book, or document. Season to taste.

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