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Article - 'Language in games part 2' by Stevester

An item about Game Design posted on Jan 14, 2004

Blurb

The second part to Stevester‘s articles on language.

Body

This article is my attempt to teach the fundamentals of creating language without making it too complicated. Feel free to ask any questions.

Contents:
Part 1 – Advanced runes and letters
Part 2 – Creating your own language
Part 3 – Grammar, syntax, semantics, oh my!

Part 1 – Advanced runes and letters
In my last article dealing with language, I didn’t go into very much detail on how to create your very own written language. I gave you a few examples, but that was about it. I’ll review these examples in greater detail below, so that your memory is refreshed. Or something.

I covered one of the greatest written languages to base runes off of: Anglo-Saxon. The reason for this is because of A, nobody uses Anglo-Saxon anymore, and B, there are so many variations that you are even more likely to have your language be unique. I strongly suggest Anglo-Saxon if you’re going to be making runes or any runic fonts. Here is an example of Anglo-Saxon again: Click.

You don’t necessarily have to base your written language off of others, though; It isn’t impossible to create a written language from the ground up (of course I don’t really mean for you to actually build a written language out of materials, that would just be inane[yes, inane, not insane]). Below, I’ll list the basics of making a written language from scratch.

You must first decide which flavor you want:
  • A) Pictogram – pictures of objects only

  • B) Ideogram – symbols expressing actions, ideas, or things (such as the early Egyptian pair of legs, prefixing any word that dealt with movement)

  • C) Runic (Glyphic) – Individual characters, each making their own sound


  • A) A pictogram, being the most simple of forms of writing, is perfect for uncivilized races. It isn’t very good for communicating, however, since pictograms can only express common nouns.


  • B) For a slightly advanced race or an exotic race, ideograms are ideal. Ideograms don’t use characters which express a sound, which we are so familiar with. Ideograms use root words as symbols. For instance, a word meaning “poetry” would first have the symbol for writing or scripture, followed by whatever symbol there would be that would modify the writing symbol to mean poetry. The down side to this is two fold: Not only is it impossible to spell out things like names, it’s very hard to remember so many symbols. Thus, ideograms are used best when combined with runes. (Chinese and Japanese are good examples of runes combined with ideograms)


  • C) Runes (or glyphs) are best for common languages. Since every character expresses a sound, it is very easy to create a written language that could be written (and spoken) by the masses. There is no down side to runes, except for the fact that they get a bit boring when amassing them, but you won’t need to do that. :)


  • Now, with all of that down, you’re ready to create.

    Part 2 – Creating your own language
    As I said in my last article, the easiest way to make a language is by using the FF10 Al-Bhed method, which merely substitutes some letters for others. The result is something like this: Ym Prat cilgc naymmo pyt. As you can see, this lacks everything but a basic language; it has no culture, no style, nothing.

    Another simple substitution would be to switch only a few consonants per word (along with all of the vowels). You would have to come up a system to figure out which to substitute, such as the first and last. With this, you have a little more control over your language, but not as much as one created dynamically. The result: Cha arg nasilc. It’s a little better, but it still lacks some style and culture.

    The final lazy solution to making a language would be to switch different sections of the word around. For instance, you could switch the middle letter(s) to the front, and the last letter in front of that, like so: eht yazl yaw yalrel sesem dupstid. Once again, it lacks everything but the very basics of a language.

    You can do any of these with other languages, too. That way, your language can still have some style and culture. Here’s one I did of French: De iaje ni lourrasure (J'aime la nourriture). A bit more original, but not the best.

    2.5 Creating real languages
    As I addressed in my last article, it is best either to create a language from scratch or to base it off other languages. In this section, I will go into more depth on how to do so.

    Keep in mind that when basing your language off another, you should make sure it doesn’t sound too much like that language. On the other hand, you shouldn’t modify it so much that your purpose of basing your language off another is lost.

    To be able to grasp the authenticity of your race’s language, you should either write a short excerpt from the history and culture of the people, or at least have it in your mind. Below is a small passage that I created for the Hag’Halar, a race I’m pretending to have in one of my games.

    The Hag’Halar, a mighty pagan race of the High Plains, had once resided in the black hills of Magar Stam. Tough and hardy, this resilient race of warriors endured the harsh, morsel-less knolls of Magar Stam for far longer than any other could. Praying to their god of Workmanship, Psaram, they slowly built the barren hills into a mighty fortress. Due to there determination and craftsmanship, they now rule one of the strongest barbarian kingdoms of Telarun.

    Now, unless you want that information you wrote to go to waste, you must be able to gather data from it to use in your language. Look for things like culture, mind set, and location. From this data, you can start choosing which languages to start to build yours off of.

    Here is what I gathered from the passage above:
    The Hag’Halar are tough, they take a lot of pain and hardship, and are gallant. When I read over this information and the passage above, I cannot help but to think of Scandinavia and the Norse. It reminds me very much of the Vikings and early European tribes. The language best suited for these people, in my opinion, would be old English.

    Part 3 – Grammar, syntax, semantics, oh my! (Oh, why did I have to make that “joke”?)
    I really left out on grammar in my last article, mostly because I stressed using the grammar of another language. I still strongly suggest that you use the grammar system of a language that you’re very familiar with, so that you don’t mess it up. Not that you’re stupid (though perhaps you are, I don’t know), but it becomes very difficult to build and manage your own grammar system. You really should use another language for the grammar of yours, but in case you’re ready to embark on a burdensome journey, I provided all of the rules for you below.

    In my last article, I told you that you must decide as to which part of the mouth your language should be spoken in. I won’t elaborate on that, since I did cover it pretty well in my last article. However, you should look over that section if you haven’t already, so you can grasp the significance of phonetics.

    Here is my new and improved chart about letters and where they are pronounced, for your convenience.
    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 – d as in doogie - any, best for middle or throat
    e – eh sound as in pet -middle
    ę – long e sound, as in pea - middle
    ë – shorter ee sound, as in key - middle
    f – f as in supfoo’ - middle, front
    g – g as in gag - middle or guttural
    h – a regular h as in hello - middle
    i – i as in sit - any, best if middle
    ie – ie as in pie, yum - middle
    j – j as in judge - middle, front
    j – French j as in je - front
    k – k as in koolkat - middle
    l – l as in Allah - middle, front
    m – m as in maen - middle
    n – n as in know - middle, front
    o – o as in pot - throat, middle
    oo – oo as in boot - middle
    p – p as in pod - middle, front
    r – r as in rue - any, best if throat or middle
    s – s as in supermaen - front
    sh – sh as in ship - middle, front
    t – t as in time - middle, front
    u – u as in cut - guttural
    v – a verisimilitude - middle, front
    w – w as in wombooza - middle, front
    y – y as in yahoo (no relation to the search engine) - throat, middle
    z – z as in vision - middle, front

    Next is something that I didn’t even touch up on last time: root words. Root words are essential for having a good language, not only because it would be too hard to come up with thousands of completely different words, but because your language will be more realistic.

    The first thing you must do is to come up with short words for basic expressions. In English, root words come from other languages like Greek and Latin. With your language, however, you don’t need to do that. You can take the root words right from your own language. The other way to create root words is to take them from another language. This is easy, but not very original.

    To describe how to form root words further, lets take a small block from the Hamstaef dictionary. (Click here for stevester's dictionary of Hamstaef)

    Hag – masculine
    Hager – male animal
    Hagam – to eat
    Hagfast – to ride
    Hagfred – to run/flee
    Hagham – to stand

    Notice how all of these words begin in the prefix Hag? Hag in Hamstaef is masculine, so it only makes sense that something that is male would have that prefix. The word Hager, for instance, is a male animal; hag being the root word, and er being the modification that deals with animals.

    Below are a few more examples of root words. To come up with explanations of root words, you can make up little interesting excerpts from the history of the people.

    Word:
    Hagstaft – city
    Root words:
    Staft – a place to stay, sanctuary
    Hag - masculine
    Literally, a place to stay either guarded by men or governed by men.

    Word:
    Hanstam – Thursday
    Root words:
    Stam – hill, mountain
    Han – feminine
    Literally, female mountain day. When Dgarun, the female goddess of war, rose from the peak of Haran mountain and into the sky, it was this day (lame, I know).

    The next step to constructing the grammar of a language deals with verbs. As we all know, verbs can occur in any tense. Every verb must have the following tenses: past, present, and future. Then, if you want to go a bit farther, you must add the following tenses: past participle and future participle. In English, verbs that have a participle look like this: (have) swum (future participle). The participle, of course, is the “have”. Then, if you want to make it even more advanced, you can add progressives and perfects (which have different forms of “have” and the verb “to be” stuck in there).

    Then there is conjugation. Conjugation can actually be very simple, if you allow it to be. All you have to do is come up with a system to modify a verb when it’s used differently. There must be a verb form for each of the following:

  • I (first person singular)

  • You (second person singular)

  • He/she/it (third person singular)

  • We (first person plural)

  • You (second person plural)

  • They (third person plural)


  • I’m not going to go into any more depth, because that would take way too long, and I’m sure you don’t want an English lesson. If you would like a more detailed explanation of verb forms, I suggest you go to school instead of reading my articles. Meh, never mind, just read my articles all day. :)

    Finally, there is word order. I suggest that, if you don’t want to use the word order of another language, to arrange your words in the most logical manner (read: not English). There aren’t really any tips for this part, since it’s all based on opinion.

    With that, I end the article. You should now be able to create your own language with ease. To see the language I created, click here for the Hamstaef dictionary, or click here for the Hamstaef runes.

    Below I provided a few sentences in Hamstaef, just for some “fun”.
    Pseres arhager iam hager. Hager ieg stonere. Amarekan stonere ieg pan.