Language Building: Who Speaks Your Language?

Who speaks your language? This is the second part of the Language Building series, where I’ll discuss elements of linguistics that aid in language building. This post deals with the differences between alien language and human language. Long story short: the nature of the characters speaking your language should have an effect of how it’s constructed.

Are your characters human?

If so, you’re in luck! You can start from scratch, but you have a wealth of language rules and guidelines to direct you as you create a language. If you’re using a real culture as a guide, you can even take the elements of that language for inspiration.

For example, in one of my projects, my inspiration is Korea. In the story, I use Korean words and names, inserting only a few of my own constructed words as place names or other things I find I need. Because this fictional country is based on Korea, I feel like it’s realistic to use actual Korean words where fitting.

We do the same thing in stories that use nothing but English.

Are your characters alien?

If your culture is an alien one, you’ve decided to tackle what I like to call “the alien language conundrum”— otherwise known as “How on earth do you create a language for non-humans using only human sounds?” (Pun completely intended.)

Or must you use only human sounds?

Constructed alien languages rarely stray from the conventions of spoken human language, generally because these languages are created for actors to speak.

But if you want to be truly alien, you can break out of those molds. I had a linguistics professor who often said that a truly alien language would break every rule of human language.

If you can create a language like that, I’d really like to meet you. But more importantly, you’d have a language that, while potentially the most authentic alien language ever created, would be nearly impossible for readers to grasp, impossible for people to speak, and probably pretty difficult to look at.

But it would be pretty awesome.

Thus the conundrum.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how alien your language needs to be. If you feel like you want to break every rule in the book, go for it!

But if something more traditional and easy to use is more your speed, then create something completely speakable.

It’s your culture and your language, however you want to make it.

Image courtesy of NASA

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