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Author Topic: How to create a conlang?  (Read 769 times)

flame99

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How to create a conlang?
« on: September 16, 2014, 07:28:41 pm »

Like the title says, I'd like to ask for help on creating a conlang for a D&D world I've been making, named Gueryth. The language, Khalic, already has a few rules for grammar and spelling, based off of English, and an alphabet based off of geometric shapes. However, I've since hit a bit of a snag; creating the actual words. How would you recommend going about this?

For a bit of background on the actual language, the nation it comes from, the Ialni Tribes, is fairly primitive, and hasn't changed much since the destruction of the Tribes. The world is largely ocean, so words relating to water, boats, fishing, etc. will be particularly prevalent. Though they remained nomadic themselves, the Tribes were located next to the Tsulian Kingdom, which had a tendency to build large, dense cities, due to their lack of land. Finally, the Ialni were very religious, so words pertaining to deities and worship would also be common. Despite it having been adapted by another nation for some time (About 200 years), Khalic is virtually identical to Ialni. The only real difference is the existence of a writing system, and an attempt to make the syntax clearer.

Also, my apologies if this belongs in General Discussion or Other Games; I wasn't able to decide which to go for, but I figured this would be the most likely.
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Loam

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Re: How to create a conlang?
« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2014, 08:43:39 pm »

Ooooooh... language! I love language!

If you're going for a "dictionary" for the language, forget it. That'll take you decades to produce. Dictionaries are based on the linguistic corpus, not the other way round. So don't worry about what kinds of words would be "common" in this language; just use what you need to.
You probably want, first and foremost, a program that can create wordlists. There are a few for DF (I use DFLang). Come up with a sample of words, the more the better, and the program should figure out some new combinations. These wordlists are good as a base, but refine them as you need to (for instance, if the word it comes up with for "to be" is five syllables long, cut off four syllables and use the one you like best).
Another thing I like to do: find a sample of English text and "translate" it into your language, coming up with new words as you need to. This will also let you play around with grammar rules.
Then you can branch out into actually writing things in the language, again coming up with words as you need them.
Remember: you want your language to have a specific flavor. Figure out which sounds and combinations of sounds best provide the flavor you want. I always advise looking at the IPA Wikipedia page, especially if you want some more exotic sounds (although you'll probably stick closer to English).

It really helps to know a bit about language in general, and it especially helps to know other languages: you get more of an appreciation for the "flavor" of language and how varied it can be.

Also be aware that language shapes culture as much as culture shapes language. The way you communicate has everything to do with the way you see the world and your place in it.

I'd be glad to offer any more assistance if you'd like. As I said, I love language.
How exactly is this language going to be used in-game?

EDIT: found this. I didn't read all of it, but it looks like a good intro to linguistics/conlangs. Probably better than I could give you.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2014, 09:03:26 pm by Loam »
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flame99

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Re: How to create a conlang?
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2014, 09:08:06 pm »

Thanks for the help! I wasn't planning on making a dictionary, though looking back it really does seem that way. I was really just looking to create a functional system for the fun of it. In game, the language won't really see a ton of use; perhaps as an alternative to "He says something in a language you don't understand" should I run a campaign in Gueryth where a PC doesn't know Khalic (Though I probably wouldn't do that; while I like the flavor of the other nations, they aren't exactly ideal for the group I play with, which would prefer hacking and slashing through Ialni tombs over navigating the Tsulian courts or uncovering the Illithid puppet government of Aetherium). I simply like to flesh my worlds out as fully as possible, and figured I'd try my hand at a simplistic conlang.

As far as the flavor of the language, I'm not entirely sure how to describe it, but Hawaiian would be a good real-life comparison. It's supposed to sound vaguely "tropical", if that makes sense. Another thing that I was considering is having the tone of the language shift dramatically depending on the tone of the speech. For example, while Khalic would sound smooth and flowing in common conversation, an insult would sound very rough, almost like something in German. Though it'd mean more work for me, I was considering actually having several words with two forms; one for common usage, and one for situations in which the speaker is tense or angry. Aside from simply being a cool concept, this would be very much in line with the general philosophy of the people of Khale.
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Squeegy

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Re: How to create a conlang?
« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2014, 03:06:44 am »

Quote
If you're going for a "dictionary" for the language, forget it. That'll take you decades to produce
I made more than a thousand words for my language in a few months. Just use Ogden's basic English words.
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Loam

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Re: How to create a conlang?
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2014, 08:47:57 am »

I made more than a thousand words for my language in a few months. Just use Ogden's basic English words.
Well, I was exaggerating. I prefer to come up with words on the fly: it gives me a better feel for how they fit together. But it's up to you.

Hawaiian would be a good real-life comparison. It's supposed to sound vaguely "tropical", if that makes sense. Another thing that I was considering is having the tone of the language shift dramatically depending on the tone of the speech. For example, while Khalic would sound smooth and flowing in common conversation, an insult would sound very rough, almost like something in German. Though it'd mean more work for me, I was considering actually having several words with two forms; one for common usage, and one for situations in which the speaker is tense or angry. Aside from simply being a cool concept, this would be very much in line with the general philosophy of the people of Khale.

For something like Hawaiian, you'll want to use mostly open-syllables (syllables which end in vowels). Also use lots of sonorant consonants - that's your nasals (m, n, ng), laterals (l) and rhotics (r), and approximants (y, w). Fricatives should probably next most common (f, v, s, z, sh, zh), and stops should be least common (p, b, t, d, k, g). Stay away from consonant clusters, especially with stops or stops and fricatives.
"Bad" or just generally negative words can be more stoppy, but just make sure it doesn't sound too different from the rest of the language. Insults take their weight more from culture than linguistics: most English swears were just regular Anglo-Saxon words until the French screwed with us. So I wouldn't bother making them sound utterly alien.
I don't know of any real languages with registers for calm/angry; but, you know, it's a fantasy world. Do what you want.
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