Conlang Creation

This entry is part 11 of 14 in the series World Building

The language of Ellendrí – an exercise in the creation of a constructed language (conlang).

One of the wonderful things about writing fiction, especially science fiction or speculative fiction, is that I can make my world as unique and different from the here and now of reality as I like.  However, as my fictitional universe diverged from realism as we know it, I began to understand that consistency in design equates to the reader’s believability in my story.  So back to the whole world building process …

As I began writing, my characters evolved.  They told me things about themselves, about they way they lived on their planet, Ellendrïa, and traveled through their local region of space, the Ll’Ellendrÿn.  I learned that they are hermaphrodites, that their social, cultural, political, and ethical norms differ from ours, sometimes only by a little, and sometimes by a great deal.  Not surprisingly, they speak a different language, one which reflects their world views.

At first, I tried to express some of these differences using English words, but this often led to awkwardness and obstructed flow in my story telling.  After a while, I started creating words, giving them clear English definitions, and then continuing forward in my writing with this new “Ellendrïan” vocabulary.  I began building a glossary at the end of the novel, to help readers with this new language.  However, as my number of “created” words increased, I realized that I needed to develop a consistent “feel” to Ellendrí, as well as some basic grammar rules for when I was stringing more than one of these new words together.

I already had some information regarding the nature of Ellendrí, based on my long view story perspective:

Ellendrí is an extant form of Old Ellendorí.  Ellendrí has been used as the trade language of the Ll’Ellendrÿn for over 8000 Terran years, and as a result, has been introduced to a number of the colonized worlds in the Ll’Ellendrÿn.  The last contact between colonists on Terra and people who spoke Ellendrí was approximately 3000 Terran years ago, or roughly 1000 BC in Terran chronology.  It shares commonalities with many of Terran’s ancient Indo-European languages, particularly proto-celtic, with some word similarities to proto-germanic.

As a result, I had been more or less consistently creating my Ellendrí words using an Irish Gaelic/Welsh flavor, with a little bit of Old Norse thrown in.  What I now needed to do was construct many more words, with the same sort of “dialect”, and with a grammar that would seem reflective of the Indo-European flavor that I was establishing.  Welcome to the art and science of constructed languages!

I have to say that while I can write reasonably well in English, I am no linguist.  Luckily, a good many science fiction and fantasy writers, as well as a number of movie script writers, have had much the same problem – the need for a well-developed new language for a fictitional universe.  There is help!  After some fumbling around on the internet, I came across Vulgar (strange name for a language generator!).  I played around with their free version online for a little while, then happily paid them their $14.95 US for their pro version and went to work.

Firstly, I took about 50 of my already existing words, entered them into Vulgar, and clicked “analyze word structure of your own language”.  This effectively gave me a set of phonemes (e.g., word sounds) as a starting point.  Then I ran a statistical analysis of the phoneme frequencies in my 50 words using The Frequentizer.  This gave me the “feel” of the language – how often, and in what word position, certain sounds occurred.

Now it was time for a little more research.  I read up on Irish phonology, Welsh phonology, and Sindarin, a conlang created by Tolkien which was based largely on Welsh, with influences by Old English and Old Norse.  From these, I selected a few more phonemes (since my originally sample of 50 words was pretty small), and then fed the whole lot back into Vulgar, set the stress pattern to initial, the word order to VSO (verb-subject-object) based on Celtic languages, and pressed the “Generate new language” button.  In a few moments, Vulgar happily spit out 4000 words and a basic vocabulary.  Wow!

Of course, this wasn’t yet the final product.  I made some adjustments to the grammar to suit my character’s universe, changed the pronunciation of a couple of the phonemes, and found that even with 4000 words (generated from a list of English’s 4000 most common words), I was still missing lots of words and needed to make more.  These were created by running Vulgar’s 4000 words through The Frequentizer, then using another word generating program called GenWord (which creates words based on phoneme frequency, but does not assign English meanings or create grammar) to produce new words as required.

For anyone who is curious, I posted the Ellendrí grammar and an Ellendrí glossary (very much a work in progress; please note that the parts of speech for some of the words that were generated by Vulgar are incorrect – I’m correcting them as I work through the glossary).

Lastly, I needed to figure out how to write the language of Ellendrí.  For use in the text of the novel, I chose a Romanized alphabet with 33 characters and 6 consonant digraphs (two character combinations; e.g., ch, dh, lh, rh, th, wh) which accurately reflected the phonemes of Ellendrí.  The 6 diphthongs (vowel digraphs) in the language were represented as they are in English (e.g., ae, au, ai, ei, oe, ui).

However, in reality, their written language would not have resembled our Roman alphabet in any way.  So, for more accurate presentations, I developed a modified form of Tengwar, the alphabet created by Tolkien, with 39 characters.  The Tengwar characters were edited and assigned to specific Ellendrí phonemes using the open source program Fontforge.  Ultimately, this generated a set of font files which I could use in word documents and on the internet.

Okay … so what does this all look like???

Here is a little bit of preview material from my novel, the ancient oath of the sïathcára ceremony:

As the Sun rises each day, I shall think of you.
As the stars shine each night, so shall you be constantly in my thoughts.
As night follows day, so closely shall we share our separate thoughts.
I shall know you as completely as you shall know me.
You shall be my anÿncára and best friend, my sïathcára and companion, my beloved.
This I swear to you.

As the blood of our hearts mingles, so shall our souls be one.
As our hearts beat together, so shall our spirits be united.
My loyalty shall be yours.
My courage shall be yours.
The strength of my heart shall flow through your veins.
When there is need, I shall be strong for us both.
My sword shall be at your service, to fight at your side.
The skills of my mind and body shall be yours to summon in need.
My strength shall be the defense at your back.
My power shall be the shelter for your soul.
I shall be a shield for your heart and your hopes.
This I swear to you.

There shall be no end of my love for you, for you and I shall dwell within one another forever.
And when our time comes, we shall go to the beyond together.
And if we be reborn, we shall meet and know and love again, and remember.
This I swear to you.

Shown below is the translation into Romanized Ellendrí.  Click the media player to hear each verse spoken.  The text-to-speech (tts) conversion was done using a free online text-to-speech program with the “Welsh English/Geraint” voice.

Llása rílicae re Aw derairön aeaitÿ, röngaw a ó a ö.
Llása refÿenn ÿ resérïen d’aere aeaitÿ, edhá nÿred státh ö no öförön ïr a.
Llása awtecae re aere ed derairön, edhá ermai rÿcar e öförön relle ïr e.
Dadaw a ö la rÿraÿdrÿl llása dadad ö av.
Larad ö sn’anÿncára ïr a nílor snari áwp ïr a, snasïathcára ïr a nílor snagennü ïr a, snangtara ïr a.
Röthír a erc a ö.

Llása achecae re eni ó öejav ïr e, edhá lare öanÿn ïr e deden.
Llása ructann aihá öejav ïr e, edhá thre örÿnga ïr e.
Larïre snawheder ïr a ïr ö.
Larïre sn’engendá ïr a ïr ö.
Eichehare re whïdrurïan ó sn’ejav ïr a mé öoc ïr ö.
Rar nÿrecae dra d’are, laraw a rev or noenfïloann ó erv.
Larïre snalhÿthÿth ïr a de snaförid ïr ö, eppei de snangé ïr ö.
Lare ÿ r’öt ó sn’ürï ïr a nílor snaflaenÿ ïr a ïr ö ruitÿ no ad are.
Larïre snawhïdrurïan ïr a ed dengennai de snaweno ïr ö.
Larïre sn’ïtgïr ïr a ed d’úse or sn’anÿn ïr ö.
Laraw a ed desïath or sn’ejav ïr ö nílor ödochasïa ïr ö.
Röthír a erc a ö.

Oúare dra ó sn’ïtgaÿl ïr a or ö, or thogai ágÿ ö nílor a ïn ralh.
Nílor rar rÿphïcae snanuda ïr e, íllai aihá e nÿth ad ÿdevír.
Nílor naingon larai e nada, edhangai naröv e nílor dadai naröv e nílor fílai naröv e, nílor naiveingai e.
Röthír a erc a ö.

Finally, in Ellendrí script, this looks like:

Ƚása rílicae re Aw derairön aeaitÿ, röŋaw a ó a ö.
Ƚása refÿeɲ ÿ resérïeŋ d’aere aeaitÿ, eðá ŋÿred stáθ ö ŋo öföröŋ ïr a.
Ƚása awtecae re aere ed derairön, eðá ermai rÿcar e öföröŋ reƚe ïr e.
Dadaw a ö la rÿraÿdrÿl ƚása dadad ö av.
Larad ö sn’anÿncára ïr a ɲílor snari áwp ïr a, snasïaθcára ïr a ɲílor snageɲü ïr a, snaŋtara ïr a.
Röθír a erc a ö.

Ƚása axecae re eni ó öejav ïr e, eðá lare öanÿŋ ïr e deden.
Ƚása ructaɲ aihá öejav ïr e, eðá θre örÿŋa ïr e.
Larïre snaʍeder ïr a ïr ö.
Larïre sn’eŋendá ïr a ïr ö.
Eixehare re ʍïdrurïaŋ ó sn’ejav ïr a ɱé öoc ïr ö.
Rar ŋÿrecae dra d’are, laraw a rev or nœnfïloaɲ ó erv.
Larïre snaɬÿθÿθ ïr a de snaförid ïr ö, eppei de snaŋé ïr ö.
Lare ÿ r’öt ó sn’ürï ïr a ɲílor snaflaenÿ ïr a ïr ö ɍυtÿ ŋo ad are.
Larïre snaʍïdrurïaŋ ïr a ed deŋeɲai de snaweno ïr ö.
Larïre sn’ïtgïr ïr a ed d’úse or sn’anÿŋ ïr ö.
Laraw a ed desïaθ or sn’ejav ïr ö ɲílor ödoxasïa ïr ö.
Röθír a erc a ö.

Oúare dra ó sn’ïtgaÿl ïr a or ö, or θogai ágÿ ö ɲílor a ïn raɬ.
Ɲílor rar rÿφïcae snanuda ïr e, íƚai aihá e ŋÿθ ad ÿdevír.
Ɲílor ŋaiŋon larai e ɲada, eðaŋai naröv e ɲílor dadai naröv e ɲílor fílai naröv e, ɲílor ŋaiveiŋai e.
Röθír a erc a ö.

My brush with linguistics has certainly made me more aware of my usage of the English language!

D’eŋé rä a ö.

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