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Worldbuilding 7 – Language August 16, 2009

Posted by Yarnspnr in Worldbuilding.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Many different languages are spoken in Erde.  The ‘official’ language of the Empire is Court Anglich.  There is a court version and common versions.  The common versions are replete with words specific to the olde languages of each Rejoinder and may or may not be recognized in other  Rejoinders.  Of course the various native tribes all speak their own languages which makes things difficult for the author but the reader needn’t be concerned with translation.  Since the Vigroth tribe is the focus of the story, their language is more the center of attention than the others.

It’s not so much the languages that I want to discuss but how the languages are used in my novels.  What would life be like without poetry, music and the sounds of different languages?  Can you even imagine?  Yet, how many novels (especially fantasy) have you read where these elements of language were excluded?

One of the reasons books such as Lord of the Rings or The Once and Future King are so popular is because they contain these three elements of language.  (To me, music is indeed an element of language.)  Including poetry, song, and language immediately brings the reader into an environment that the reader can relate to.  Music and poetry fill our waking lives.  Why shouldn’t they also fill the lives of our characters?  As for language differences, walk down a street in any New York City neighborhood and listen to the people speaking.  Now try to imagine what the experience would be like if they all spoke one tongue and all with the same accent.  Not nearly as colorful, eh? Yet we do this to our readers all the time.

Tolkien was a linguist so creating new languages both written and spoken wasn’t as difficult for him as it might be for you and I.  But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it should be excluded from our work.  Allow me to give an example.  Here is a poem written by my protagonist.  I’ll give it to you first in her native Vigroth tongue:


Now here it is in the Common Anglich spoken in the village of Selga:


I can translate any English writing into Vigroth.  It is spelled phonetically, the way it is spoken or sung.  Again, it’s just something that adds a bit of color to a story and, perhaps, a bit more enjoyment for the reader.

Music in books presents its own problems.  Face it – books don’t have a soundtrack.  Blend music with poetry and you have a song.  People sing.  They sing when they’re happy, sad, bored – for many reasons.  They sing in concerts, at sporting games, in pubs, or even just in their own shower or car.  People enjoy singing and so should your characters.  It makes for a more life-like work.

The same goes for poetry.  Some form of poetry invades almost every language spoken or written.  This is especially true if you are writing about a time before our age of technology.  Who has never attempted to write so much as one poem in their life?  Few, I should think.  Again, you want your characters to be realistic?  Slip in a bit of poetry or song here or there.



1. sputnitsa - August 16, 2009

I agree wholeheartedly that language is musical. I’ve studied a few (not as a linguist but as a speaker), and I know when I can find the music I can figure the steps (grammar) more fluidly.

Also, the less technology a place has, the more people rely on music and song to entertain themselves and others. A cold winter huddled around a fire with nothing else to do, leads to song in no time.

Tolkien certainly was a master in creating different moods, shorthands, and tunes for different peoples in a whole other world.

2. Yarnspnr - August 16, 2009

Very true. Then there are those who put their history into songs memorized by the people and sung on special occasions. Thank you for stopping by. Your comments are always appreciated.

On Tolkien, he was indeed a master at weaving song and language into his writing. Even the Orcs had marching songs. How many writers give the bad guys such a nod?

sputnitsa - August 16, 2009

So true, and thanks.

He was a master of detail. I can’t believe it took me so long to pick up his work.

And a total aside: Have you ever seen Georgian, the language? I’ve often thought it visually reminds me of Elvish. 🙂

3. Yarnspnr - August 16, 2009

Indeed. Tolkien plays by the rule, never lose the story for detail. Yet his detail is so lush, it’s hard not to lay down and roll around in it. A true master of words.

I haven’t seen Georgian but I’m sure I’ve heard it over the years. It wouldn’t surprise me if Tolkien borrowed from it a bit – even if it’s just the cadence. One has to start somewhere.

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