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THE LANGUAGES OF YOUR WORLD

February 27, 2019

I’ve alluded to languages in several other articles here at Fred Central, so I wanted to get that out right up front. In this one, since we’re specifically on a roll with world building, languages is an important part of that effort and should be addressed on its own. Recently, fellow blogger Richie Billing brought it up as well. Lately, we’ve been following similar paths with world building, and he specializes in fantasy, where my usual output is more in general terms. I’ve been concentrating on world building, with an emphasis on fantasy because of several Facebook threads I’m a member of. You can check out his wonderful articles at https://richiebilling.com/

Whenever you create a world, whether real life or made up, people speak to each other. They communicate in some fashion or tuther.

How they do that is important.

REAL WORLD FICTION

With real world fiction, it’s pretty simple. If your story takes place in Spain, some of your characters are going to speak Spanish. Therefore, you need to sprinkle certain phrases and idioms specific to the regions in your story to give it authenticity. If the story takes place in Russia, same thing.

If you have characters from such and such a place, they may say an occasional word or phrase in their native tongue.

SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY

This is a case where we can mix both genres together. Since they take place in alien/fantasy worlds, whatever languages exist are purely up to you, the author’s imagination. You can use any words, phrases, names for said languages you want. The alphabets, symbols, context, virtually anything is entirely up to you.

The only caveat is that, like with any other form of world building, you have to follow your own rules!

RESEARCH

When it comes to languages, research only applies to real-world languages. For instance, if you’re going to use a Castilian Spanish speaker from central Spain, they might pronounce the word for the number five “cinco” as “thinko” if they’re of the older generation. This is something the younger generation of Spaniards doesn’t necessarily adhere to anymore. THAT is what you need to think about when you utilize a non-native tongue, especially when you’re site-specific in your story. Otherwise, you have to keep your choices vague.

That’s only one example, but illustrates my point. When you cite a foreign language in your story, you have to keep in mind regional dialects versus Berlitz, Rosetta Stone, or just looking it up on the net in a generic translation dictionary.

You may never be called on it, but…

In completely made up languages, this is, of course, never a problem. However, you have to establish your own rules and make sure to follow them. There are some readers out there who actually keep track! I’m not kidding. If you pronounce “lool,” or use it one way in chapter 1, then a different way in chapter 10, they’re going to call you on it.

USING ALL THESE “FURRIN” TONGUES

Now, the critical part.

It’s one thing to create and utilize these furrin’ tongues.

It’s quite another to make them palatable to the reader.

There’s nothing more annoying that to try to slog through sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, page after page of Cho’’trak’ga’ga’bleadet’ta’quoi’ga’a’a’agdta’aaaa’fa’da’.

Get it?

It’s okay to throw in the occasional foreign word or phrase, an off-kilter pronunciation, an accented phrase.

On the other hand…

            NOBODY LIKES TO READ IT ENDLESSLY!

It’s annoying to try and read not only a slew of unpronounceable words and phrases, but using that tired and true trick of putting them in italics.

Sorry folks, but that italic trick doesn’t work. It’s annoying.

The point is, you need to create the impression of the language, not actually write it!

There can be many languages in your world. There can be many words and unique rules and pronunciations.

DON’T BEAT THE READER OVER THE HEAD WITH THEM!

Sprinkle them in very small doses. Create the illusion that they’re there, don’t actually saturate the text with them.

The text should be English (or whatever native language you’re writing in), not foreign gobblety-gook (and English might be that foreign gobblety-gook).

You get my point, right?

Whatever main language the book is written in, THAT should be the dominant language, NOT the foreign languages, whether made up or real-world.

SUMMARY

Languages are an important part of world building. They align with culture, races and regions. They should be represented, but should not dominate and get in the way of the writing or the story. They should not jar the reader out of the story.

Happy writing!

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