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Article - 'Languages in games' by Stevester

An item about Game Design posted on Jan 14, 2004

Blurb

This article will teach you how to make complex languages without having to rip off FF10!

Body

Few can make a language that looks and sounds good, and isn’t a cheesy modification of current language. This article will not only teach you how to create your own eccentric languages, but also give you plenty of examples that you can even use for yourself.



Contents:

Part 1 – Runes and letters

Part 2 – Basics of creating your own language

Part 3 – How to fine-tune your language



Part 1 – Intro and such

J.R.R Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, based most of his languages on Anglo-Saxon runes. Tolkien’s runes, which he called Cirth and Angerthas, were reversals, inversions, and other variations of Anglo-Saxon runes. Tolkein created various versions of Angerthas, including Old Angerthas, Angerthas Moria (used by dwarves), and other versions for elves, men, and dwarves. Each of them were based on the Anglo-Saxon runes, yet were different enough to be separated.



Here is an example:

Clickety



See how some of the letters look the same? You can also build your language off others, such as Anglo-Saxon. Notice that Tolkein only copied them when it made sense to, such as with the AS “U” and his “A”.



Now, you’re probably wondering what Anglo-Saxon is. Old English and Germanic scribes used Anglo-Saxon runes to write. There are many variations in Anglo-Saxon that depend on location, so there are different letters for different areas. This and the fact that no one uses Anglo-Saxon runes anymore makes them a perfect language to base yours off of. I’m not saying that you can just go and rip off Tolkien, I’m saying that you have to think and use your creativity when making your own language, when you base it off another.



Part 2 – Creating your own language

Creating your own language isn’t just making up runes. Your language must also be unique and dynamic for players to be captured by it.



The easiest way to make a language is by using the FF10 Al-bhed (or whatever it was called) method. To do this just, replace certain letters with others, and you will get your own language. The result is a clumsy and awkward language that wouldn’t ever actually be spoken. I wouldn’t recommend doing this, unless this is your only way of creating a language.



Another way to create your own language is to base it off others. Greek and Latin are the best languages to base yours on, if you want it to sound like the languages of today. Other languages you can base yours off of if you want a modern-sounding language include French, English, and Spanish, which are “popular” languages today.



If you want to have a language that seems unique, I wouldn’t recommend using the above languages to base yours off of. Instead, you should find a language that isn’t used very much in these parts of the world (meaning North America and Europe). Some of these include Arabic, Japanese or Chinese, and other Asian and Middle-East languages. You could also base your language on old languages that people don’t use today, such as Old English and other languages that have died down over the years (Not Latin, though [Even though it’s dead, it’s what most of our current languages are based off of]).



The hardest, but most effective way to create a language is to make your own from scratch. This is very, very hard, mostly because of the magnitude of words you must create to make the language sound realistic. You must also relate the words to each other, so it doesn’t sound too far apart. For instance, whilst speaking French, it would sound very awkward to throw in a German “Fellshlag”.



Part 3 – How to fine-tune your language

J.R.R Tolkien based his languages off of Celtic, Finnish, and of course, Old English. He did this masterfully, giving each race a characteristic language, which symbolized them as a whole. When you make your own languages, you should try to match them to the race that will be using them. This might seem difficult, so I will give you some tips on how to do this.



Consider the following:



  • The general mood and attitude of the race


  • How old the race is


  • Where the race is generally located


  • The culture, religion, and tradition of the race






  • Once you have looked over the above, you must figure out what you can do with the information. In case you don’t want to figure it out for yourself (which isn’t recommended) I created the following example.



    “The Zetzune race is dark and secretive, hiding deep in the dark boughs that the Häntschermoore trees of Silithe forest supply. Rich with romance, religion, and passion, these violet-skinned humanoids sacrifice almost all of the available food to their goddess of love and intimacy, Silay’fe.” (Zetzune, Silithe, and Silay’fe are Zetzune words, while Häntschermoore would be from some other language)



    By using the above information, you can create an entire language. Here’s what I came up with:





  • The race is romantic and religious. The language that automatically pops in my head is French.


  • This race is supposed to be related to elves. This tells me that the language should be free flowing and breathy.


  • The Zetzune live in a dark forest. This tells me that language should sound dark, too, as long as it follows the above.






  • I can almost hear you screaming “what the hell?” at all of this. Yes, I do make it seem like it’s all very easy and you should have already known the above. It’s not easy, though, unless you have the right information. In case you don’t know and you’re not reading this article just for jollies, I’ll tell you.



    First, I’ll explain how to choose which language to base yours off of. Think of the general stereotype of the people who speak that language. For instance, the general stereotype of a French person is a romantic tea-drinker with a long moustache, who happens to be a complete coward. This, of course, is not true for all or even most French people, but it easily resembles the French language (well, except for that coward part :]). The general stereotype for a German is a jovial fat guy with a Bavarian vest, a tuba, a rather large flagon of beer, and a lot of sausages. Couldn’t you just see a hearty round man speaking German and playing some polka? Sure, it’s not nice to stereotype people, but it works when making a language. You merely compare the stereotype of a speaker of a real language to your race.



    Next, you need to know what part of the mouth the language will be spoken in. This is important because it gives your language some character, as well as parses out which letters you will use and where. If your language is to be spoken by a large and/or uncivilized race, it sounds the best if it’s throaty or guttural. A humanoid race might speak with the entire mouth. Races that are elfish or small and faerie-like should have a language that is breathy or spoken in the very front of the mouth.



    Here is a chart to make your lives easier. This is chart only suggests which letters are used best with which languages.

    a – regular a, as in fat throat

    â – long a, second a in aha throat

    ä – an “Ah” sound throat, middle

    ć – an ae sound, as in the word late middle

    b – a normal be as in bee and baby middle, front

    ch – ch sound as in church middle, front

    d – yeah, a d any, best for middle or throat

    e – eh sound, pet middle

    ę – long e sound, as in pea middle

    ë – shorter ee sound, as in key middle

    f – omq an f!1 middle, front

    g – g as in gag middle or guttural

    h – a regular h as in hello middle

    i – normal i as in sit any, best if middle

    ie – pie, yum middle

    j – j as in judge middle, front

    k – k middle

    l – tehellzorz middle, front

    m middle

    n – n middle, front

    o – o as in pot throat, middle

    oo – ooh as in boot middle

    p – p (what, you were expecting a joke?) middle, front

    r – rrrrrr any, best if throat or middle

    s – sssss front

    sh – sh as in ship middle, front

    t – t as in time middle, front

    u – u as in cut guttural

    v – a vee middle, front

    w – w as in wowzorx middle, front

    y – y as in yes throat, middle

    z – z as in vision middle, front



    The last thing you have to do is construct the grammar. You don’t have to create a confusing and difficult syntax system, you just need to come up with a code that will organize your sentences. This keeps you from putting a word in one location one time, and another some other time. The easiest way to do this is to base it on the language you speak daily, or the language you based yours on.



    Here’s an example sentence I’ve constructed for the Zetzune race:

    Scel A’ert videl siz’ah!

    This sentence means “Friends, to your weapons!” in my language, but is constructed like this: “friends your weapons to’them.” All of my sentences will now follow this syntax. If you’re not very good with grammar in the first place, just construct the sentences as you see fit. Your language will seem more creative if you do construct your on grammar system, but I wouldn’t suggest doing so if you haven’t mastered the grammar of the language you speak daily.



    Now that this article is written, I hope I don’t see to many more Al-bhed style languages in games. Remember: Geba rud kemodh qedhuehaw! Eq-Vgan wuzmw! (hint: r = f; g = h; a = e; d = n)