Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Created Languages

I've been fascinated with created languages ever since I was a kid reading sci-fi and fantasy, and took note that some authors made a point of actually having their characters speak a string of words that apparently were another tongue, but as far as I knew they had no relation to any living or dead language. Later, I learned that Tolkien had created several tongues for The Lord of the Rings and other Middle-Earth stories, and that really amazed me. I always figured that most authors, Tolkien included, just made up a few words that sounded interesting, or maybe looked interesting when written down, with various diacritic marks and other affectations of "creativity". And I suppose that this is still true for many authors. I have also noticed a few authors who borrowed from actual languages out of our own history, such as classical Greek or Latin, which certainly grounds them in reality, although when I suddenly realized I could actually read those words, and make some sense of them, it rather lost the magic for me.

So when it came time for me to consider creating one or more languages, for Elves and Dwarves, I took a long time to think about what I wanted to do. Would I go all the way and actually create a small vocabulary, complete with grammar and syntax? Would I borrow a real language, living or dead, and just use it as if it were an alien tongue (which it would still likely be, for most readers)? Or would I just make up a few interesting words, use a very basic grammar similar to English, and call it good enough? Ultimately I compromised a bit, and decided to create a true language, but I would limit the vocabulary to the 2000 most common words in the English language; I would create a grammar that was relatively simple, and thus easy for me to figure out; and I would write a program to randomly generate the 2000 words I needed in my lexicon.

That last part, the program, was actually really fun - but then I'm a geek at heart. So, I whipped up a quick and dirty Perl script to read from a text file of 2000 words, and generate a random combination of mixed syllables (based on a separate text file) following a simple set of rules. It was so easy, in fact, that I was rather disappointed when it was done. So, after that, I took my list of words, and got to work. I tried to find related words in the English list, and then played around a bit with the random words so that they would appear to be etymologically related in the new language. This was actually quite fun (me still being a geek), and it helped me bring a little sanity to the random nature of the initial raw list of words.

In the end, I had a rough language that you will eventually get to read on this blog. But it's my bed-time now, so that will have to wait for another post.