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Are Con Langs Necessary for Fantasy:

So I've been working on a series that's a high fantasy type thing, it takes place in a completely different world with different cultures and races and such. Obviously, they're not all going to speak the same language. But I've looked up resources online for language creation and I lack the time and skill to do it efficiently (seriously, how they hell is one to top Tolkien's Con Lang -s?) I've thought up a few solutions to this
  • Inform the reader of different languages by the narrative only
    • Most of the POV characters don't understand most of the various languages they come across. It could also be used as Painting the Medium, because honestly, when one hears someone speaking a language they don't understand in the slightest, you don't pick out any of the individual words, you only can pick up mostly "Ajfhgfgnasbbcbcaerraddfnbbbhaggd, "-type stuff.
      • Example: The young boy was speaking excitedly in Trollish. "He says that it will rain soon, " explained their translator.
Or I can:
  • Just make up a few words or phrases, but only for things that actually come up in the narrative

How do they both sound?

No.
I'd say I'm being refined

Into the web I descend

Killing those I've left behind

I have been Endarkened
Are you referring to the question posed in the title of the thread?

Yes.
I'd say I'm being refined

Into the web I descend

Killing those I've left behind

I have been Endarkened
There's lots of ways to get out of actually making a conlang. The benefit they give to a story is usually not worth the effort if you don't find conlanging fun. If your culture isn't heavily based on existing ones, though, it may be useful to make up a naming language, however rudimentary, so that you can give names to things that don't sound distinctly [whatever Earth culture], ranging from "well this is their alphabet/syllabary" to "these are possible parts of names and these are their meanings". You could also make references to how the language looks, sounds, or works without having to make up any words or grammar rules, like a language is better for shouting angrily in vs a language used in a lot of beautiful sad songs, or if they write right-to-left or don't use an alphabet, or whatever.
You will not go to space today.
patience, young padawan
There are some fantasy works that use place and personal names derived directly from real-world languages despite the places and peoples themselves having zero connection to that particular language.

Overall conlangs seem more plausible for most fantasy works that take place in a world unconnected to ours, but to be honest, nobody will care as long as you stay consistent. When you're making stuff up, your readers will, as a general rule thanks to the Suspension of Disbelief go along with you as long as you keep that stuff consistent. If your story's Standard Farmhand Protagonist is named John and lives in a Standard Small Fantasy Village called Whetshire, don't name his Dead Little Sister Sakura and his Unlucky Childhood Friend Paco unless you have a good reason, such as immigration from regions that speak Japanese and Spanish.
 7 Wolf 1066, Wed, 13th Mar '13 1:48:04 PM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
My approach is come up with a number of ways the language differs from the other languages - genders, sentence structure, pronouns, prepositions, formal/informal modes, sounds etc - and then note it in passing.

"Like others from his culture, he had difficulty with the genders of our words, often using the wrong pronoun or adjective." or "Like most of his kind, he couldn't pronounce 'B' properly and it sounded more like a 'P'." or similar.

Perhaps occasionally I might have unusual phrasing that is a "signature" of the speaker but not to the point of Yoda-Speech.

I've got a German friend who invariably says, "we've got to get together over a few beers and tell us gossip."

And a Chinese friend who always states figures like "it cost me a hundred over dollars".

Another Chinese friend had extreme difficulty with our pronouns and would say things like "I'm going to my friend's house, he is going to loan me her computer".

All of these things are due to core differences in the languages - Chinese does not have sex-differentiated third-person pronouns, German word order differs from English.

A native French speaker would find German's extra gender problematic as (s)he would have his/her own ideas on what gender an object should have and it's highly likely that the same object would have a completely different gender in German. An English speaker has to learn what gender a word has in German, a French speaker has to "forget" their own gender assignments.

There's tons of scope for coming up with differences between languages which you can then render in English and note the difficulties in the text.

"He spoke very slowly, struggling to get the word order and tenses correct. Why did Fribknull have to be such an accursedly complex language?"

Or even: "He loved Gadath, it was so much simpler than his own language."

If you want to play, you could always interject unusual words in place:

"'Please pass me the elephant', he said. The others at the table laughed loudly and, knowing what he'd meant to say, K'pull passed him the salt-shaker."
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 8 Night, Wed, 13th Mar '13 1:55:01 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
No.
"Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."
 9 Wolf 1066, Wed, 13th Mar '13 2:28:51 PM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
Oh, and please, bear in mind the number of different human languages and at least hint that the other races have more than one language apiece and with glaringly different grammatic rules.

I've got enough working knowledge of English, French, German, Cantonese and Maori to see how languages can differ from one another just within our own species and "the other wiki" has very good write-ups on Old English and other languages that show how they work and how "alien" they can be to one another.

There's no reason, short of having a species extremely limited to one small geographical area (and you'd need to have a reason in your head as to why they hadn't spread out like we have), that all of a given race should speak the one language.

At the very least they'd have dialects or accented versions that may be mutually comprehensible.

You could have your Northern dwarfs speaking a completely different language from the Western Highland dwarfs (whose language is similar to Western Lowland but with some distinct differences) and have those show in the aspects of various languages that the characters have difficulties with.

Language is a product of culture, so what cultural things have shaped the language? Are they so obsessed with heirarchy that they have clearly delineated modes of speech depending on the relative social status of the speakers? Are they so family obsessed that they have four different words for "Aunt" depiciting whether she's your mother's sister, father's sister, mother's brother's wife or father's brother's wife? When speaking another language, do they feel it's "limited" and utter phrases like "I was visiting my father's father" to make up for the perceived "deficiencies" in the language? Do they feel uncomfortable using a language with just one second-person pronoun because their culture dictates that they acknowledge the other person's sex and/or social status?

You don't have to go to the extreme of creating the language itself and dreaming up new words like Tolkien, but you could at least think of how their culture and language work and contrast it with those around them. It could at least cause confusion for the speaker of a foreign language (like "he is loaning me her computer")

edited 13th Mar '13 2:32:17 PM by Wolf1066

Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 10 Last Hussar, Wed, 13th Mar '13 6:04:18 PM from the place is here.
The time is now,
You probably do not have the education to do it.

That isn't me being bitchy, it's a statement of fact. JRR was a professor of Anglo-Saxon. He had a grounding in language. Middle Earth started as a exercise making up a language. Write 'not English' in italics, and lampshade it.
Do the job in front of you.
...can still bite
No.

 12 Ars Thaumaturgis, Wed, 13th Mar '13 7:14:24 PM Relationship Status: I've been dreaming of True Love's Kiss
Conlangs are not necessary, but they can be fun to devise. I don't know of any writer who puts as much into their writing as Tolkien did, and I'm humble enough to admit I'm not that good, but I still like to be creative. Just because I can't do as much as Tolkien doesn't mean I shouldn't try my darndest.

Naming conventions are the only reason I have for trying to formulate a conlang. I like my elves to have different names from humans, but I hate all the "el" this and "el" that, so I'm working on creating a language with a more West African flavor. Running Wolf is a perfectly respectable name for a human, but not for my fair folk.
Winter is coming.
 14 Alma, Wed, 13th Mar '13 7:20:56 PM from Coruscant Relationship Status: You cannot grasp the true form
The Harbinger of Strange
I assume Translation Convention for the most part, and draw attention to the differences in language or dialect where necessary. For each alien race in my 'verse there are multiple races, cultures and languages, which I try to draw attention to by having unique naming conventions for each, or at least a noticeable pattern to the names. The Cel are somewhat exempt due to being enslaved and reduced to a single homogenous "culture" by another alien race and given names from that race's languages, but they are still racially diverse, if not culturally. I would LIKE to invent a conlang, but realistically I would have to make one for each culture of each race of each species (as well as multiple dialects relative to time or geography, as described [up]) and ain't nobody got time fo dat.

Although... Almea did it. But then again, that's just one planet and its peoples are all humanoids.

Also, due to issues with unpronouncable starfish languages and names, it's common for aliens of the starfishy sort to be given nicknames or aliases. Communication in general is a complicated issue in my 'verse and cross-species diplomacy is enabled by a mix of translator technology, use of a specialized translator species and the invention of shared/"common" languages.

In general, I try to avoid Punctuation Shaker unless there's an actual reason for it. In the Na'vi language, an apostrophe equals a glottal stop (as in "uh-oh"), and for a nonfictional example, the languages of the Kalahari tribespeople have exclamation marks, which are tongue clicks.

The only real problem I've had is to do with naming animals. I've had to settle for naming them things like "catspiders" and "wheelsnakes", after their closest Earth equivalents, to provide context for human readers. The reason for this is the names of animals being dropped in conversation (e.g. "The alien creature was similar to the asdffghsfth on my home planet") without any explanation of what that animal is. While it's natural and realistic for the aliens to talk that way (they wouldn't explain what the asdffghsfth is when it's assumed that their company is already familiar with the creature), it's not helpful to the reader and leaves them confused.
You need an adult.
 15 Wolf 1066, Wed, 13th Mar '13 10:46:16 PM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
You probably do not have the education to do it.

That isn't me being bitchy, it's a statement of fact. JRR was a professor of Anglo-Saxon. He had a grounding in language. Middle Earth started as a exercise making up a language. Write 'not English' in italics, and lampshade it.
That's why I suggested just coming up with ideas for differences that get a passing mention rather than creating actual words and the full conjugations thereof.

A simple table based on aspects of language that can be easily gleaned by reading articles about other languages and asking yourself a few questions -

Does it have formal and informal forms of address? (like French, German and others) Does it have gender? How many? Grammatical or natural? What ideals do the words convey? Heirarchy, family, ownership etc?

Then mention them briefly whilst applying Translation Convention and rendering everything in the language in which you wrote the rest of the story.

It'd be a lot simpler but still convey the idea that the languages spoken are not just clones of English (or whatever language you normally write in).

That's all I'm doing for my fantasy WIP - though I'm tempted to render the spoken languages that have a formal form in terms of thee/thou/thy/thine for 2nd person informal and ye/you/your for 2nd person formal and 2nd person plural whilst the languages that have no such distinction get rendered as you/you/your for all addressing of 2nd person.

I'm considering that as the formal/informal thing is central to the plot (while the genders of objects are not).

And, my, aren't there a lot of people merely pasting "No" - I guess that passes for wit where they come from. However, while brevity may be the soul of wit, there's a lot to be said for originality as well.
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 16 nrjxll, Wed, 13th Mar '13 10:51:26 PM Relationship Status: Not war
And, my, aren't there a lot of people merely pasting "No" - I guess that passes for wit where they come from. However, while brevity may be the soul of wit, there's a lot to be said for originality as well.

Well, with a thread title like this, it's hard to blame them. The actual post has a little more to respond to, but the idea that almost anything is "necessary" in fantasy - or any other genre - is pretty much self-evidently untrue.

 17 Alma, Thu, 14th Mar '13 12:42:56 AM from Coruscant Relationship Status: You cannot grasp the true form
The Harbinger of Strange
You should take into account the "hardness" of the fantasy culture, or the effort that's gone into making the culture "realistic" and detailed. A detailed culture like Tolkien's elves should have multiple languages and dialects (barring some justification for this not being the case), and a writer would be remiss not to bring that up in some form. A whole conlang is never necessary (least of all because nobody is going to actually learn it—it's wasted effort unless you find conlanging fun in itself), but you should try to give the impression that the culture HAS its own languages.

On the other hand, Fantasy Counterpart Cultures and Planet of Hats probably don't need even that.

So the question does merit more than a flat no, even without reading the full post. I can't stand it when people give one-word or unhelpful responses.

I also don't think creating a conlang requires a background in linguistics AT ALL, though probably necessary or at the very least extremely helpful if you want to avoid Indo-European Alien Language and Fictionary.

edited 14th Mar '13 12:44:32 AM by Alma

You need an adult.
 18 nrjxll, Thu, 14th Mar '13 1:27:07 AM Relationship Status: Not war
[up]This is the question without reading the full post (bolding mine)

Are Con Langs Necessary for Fantasy

The answer to that - like nearly any other question about whether something is necessary for a particular genre - is indeed pretty much a flat no.

 19 Alma, Thu, 14th Mar '13 1:34:56 AM from Coruscant Relationship Status: You cannot grasp the true form
The Harbinger of Strange
I can read, thank you.

The answer to the question is ultimately no, but don't you think it'd be more helpful to the poster to give a reason? Otherwise, it's very easy to skip over the topic; there's no reason to give a one-word reply other than to be a smartass.
You need an adult.
 20 Wolf 1066, Thu, 14th Mar '13 1:53:18 AM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
And while the answer to the titular question may ultimately be "no", further clarification is needed to point out that there should be at least some thought given to what other languages are spoken - if only "how many?" and "where are they spoken?".

Because, quite frankly, having globally-distributed races that only speak one language apiece or, worse, having everyone speak "Common" are fantasy tropes that need to be taken into a dark alley and bludgeoned to death.

At the very least, knowing which characters are going to need the aid of a translator would be handy.
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 21 Alma, Thu, 14th Mar '13 6:02:37 AM from Coruscant Relationship Status: You cannot grasp the true form
The Harbinger of Strange
[up] Common languages can be justified, IMO, if there has been a conscious effort to create and implement one—though realistically, it might not catch on, as was the case with Esperanto. The "universal translator" grates on me more, though it's more of a scifi trope.

edited 14th Mar '13 6:03:09 AM by Alma

You need an adult.
 22 Ars Thaumaturgis, Thu, 14th Mar '13 8:57:44 AM Relationship Status: I've been dreaming of True Love's Kiss
Regarding the "no"s (and speaking only for myself):

I do agree that the topic — answered seriously — likely calls for more than a simple "yes" or "no". That said, I count only three "no" posts after the first person who so posted, in an otherwise active thread receiving what seem to me to be good responses, and my own post (and I'm inclined to guess, based on the pothole, at least the one before mine) was a joke — perhaps not the best of jokes, but it seems largely innocuous to me.

Nevertheless, if I have offended in some way, then I apologise. I fear that I have little to add on the actual topic of the thread, so for the moment I'll leave the rest of you to it. ^_^

edited 14th Mar '13 8:58:55 AM by ArsThaumaturgis

 23 Night, Thu, 14th Mar '13 4:07:12 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
It's not a joke. And it should hardly need to be explained beyond "no"; there are dozens of works out there that prove the point, and the fact that the OP has not stumbled into any of them is actually kind of hard to credit. Fantasy is most definitely not my thing and even I've seen a good dozen or so.
"Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."
As the 'Original Poster, ' I'd like to clarify, by the title being 'Are Con Lang -s necessary..?' I didn't mean just a Con Lang. The post itself made it clear that I meant: 'Are fully fleshed-out Conlangs needed?'

edited 14th Mar '13 4:49:51 PM by TheMuse

 25 nrjxll, Thu, 14th Mar '13 4:50:49 PM Relationship Status: Not war
That would be even more of a simple 'no', really.

Total posts: 37
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