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Creating a Language for use in fantasy fiction

I am currently writing a piece of fantasy fiction based around the invented city of
Qujàra. I decided for my Extended Project to create a language for the country in
which this is set Sunad. There are over 700 planned or created languages
worldwide.12 My own language was eventually named Sunadųn.

Sunad is a land whose terrain is mostly desert, broken up by lines of low


mountains. There is a strict social heirachy split into four classes: the Noble,
the Successful, the Working and the Underclass. Most towns and villages do
not accommodate for the Noble or Underclass.
Sunad does not have a universal religion, however the main religion, the
Cult of Qyodà, has a part in governing the country. In this way, religious
artefacts of the Cult are given the status of ‘lifeforce’. As well as having
their own separate gender tense, objects with a ‘lifeforce’ are state-
protected (and this includes most plants). Grocers must have a special
government license to pick and sell fruit and vegetables.
Sunad - and Qujarà, especially - has a strict set of social rules, some of
which are described in the essay following and are reflected in the
language.

The first step I took was finding a loose guide to creating a language, which
came from Pablo David Flores.3 I decided that before creating the grammar and
dictionary, I had to decide the sound and alphabet of the language. The sounds
of the letters are represented by literal translations of the sound, rather than
phones and phonemes.

Vowels

ā (day) à (dar)

a (da) (e.g. had) e (de) (e.g. head)

ē (dee) ë (der) (e.g. hair, French sound)

i (die) o (doe)

u (doo) ų (duh)

y (dee) short ē

1
War of Words – Andy Ridgway, BBC Focus Magazine, June 2010
2
See List of constructed languages within project work
3
How to create a language – Pablo David Flores

Nadya Bengougam – Creating a Language for Fantasy Fiction


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Consona
nts

b q (k)

c (sh) r

d s

f t

h ŧ (ts) as in Japanese (tsukuru) written as


[X] in notes

j (y) v

ç (ch) w

l z (zj) as in a soft ‘j’ sound

m λ (Arabic q sound, fricative, uvular)

n ^(glottal stop, English example 'uh-oh')

ñ (ny) as in ,
Spanish

Example:
mañana

Some characters of the standard Roman alphabet were omitted from the sound
of the language, and other characters were imported to form new sounds.

Two characters also were added to only be used in certain situations:

only used in introducing a


p name

g only used in denoting tense

These characters came about only when it became clear that they needed to be
distinguished from the rest of the clause word
that they were involved in.

Before starting to create my language I had


heard of African languages who used ejectives
and clicks as characters, such as K’ekchi in
Nigeria and Nama from Namibia. It was my initial
intention to incorporate ejectives (created by
producing a ‘k’ sound from the glottis at the back
of the mouth) and clicks (made by the suction of
the tongue before a sharp release) into my
language, however it soon became obvious that
the harsh nature of these sounds did not belong in the softer sound of Sunadųn.

Nadya Bengougam – Creating a Language for Fantasy Fiction


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When starting to evaluate the initial alphabet I X-Ray of a conventional click.


allocated n to be the ñ (an n with a diacritical
tilby) as in Spanish, and only added the typical English ‘n’ sound later,
represented by ň. It soon became apparent that this was an unnecessary hassle,
leading to a great deal of confusion. This lead to a decision to revert both sounds
to their typical character, thus ň became n and n became ñ.

This left me with the final alphabet as seen above.

I found that I also had to create some alphabet rules. The first draft of these
rules had to be discarded as they were too detailed and complicated. As words
are already restricted by the structure of having only one vowel and one
consonant per syllable, the mass of rules which included rules like:

• Words cannot end in λ, ç, ^, ŧ, e, y


• h and λ may only occur at the beginnings of words
• ŧ can only occur before y, u, ų

only unsettled the flow of the language. I made a decision not to restrict the
position of letters within a word, as if the word didn’t flow as well with, for
example, an λ at the end, that word would be omitted from the dictionary and
edited.

Instead the rules ended up as follows:

• Syllables consist of one vowel and one consonant, or one vowel


• Words may not begin or end in ‘d’ or ‘y’ as these are conjunctive
characters [citation to later page]
• The characters ‘g’ and ‘p’ may only be used in explicit circumstances, as
stated in the alphabet previous.

The sound of the language was very important. It had to reflect the lifestyle of
the people it was designed for. The Na’vi language started with a base of 30
words and linguist Paul Frommer was charged to create a language from that. He
declared the sound to be almost Polynesian and constructed the language
around that concept.4

My own language grew from a number of place names, characters and small
sentences or greetings. I started by creating a starting block of 50 or so words,
to be used in examples. I quickly decided that in a word, each syllable would
consist of only one vowel and one consonant, or one vowel if the syllable occurs
at the beginning or end of a word.

The first step in developing the grammar of Sunadųn was to decide on the
morphological typology: inflection, agglutination, isolation.

Inflection would involve adding affixes to conjugate verbs, decline nouns and
other tasks. English is a specimen of this, an example being –s for pluralising
nouns and –ed for the past tense of regular verbs. Inflection also involves
changing the root form of words, for example sing, song, sung.
4
War of Words – Andy Ridgeway, BBC Focus Magazine, June 2010

Nadya Bengougam – Creating a Language for Fantasy Fiction


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Agglutinating languages consist of suffixes and prefixes added to the original


words, whose meaning is unique and which are written without overlap. An
example of this is Quechua, from South America, where the translation of “in the
houses” (as in ‘the people are in the houses’) is wasikunapi:

wasi - kuna - pi
original noun
plural locative
(houses)
In an isolating language there are no affixes or root modifications. Each word is
set and unchangeable, and the meanings can only be altered by adding
additional words. This would require thousands of tiny particle words, just in the
first dictionary. Most East Asian languages follow thus structure, such as
Mandarin and Vietnamese. The idiographic writing system plays a slarge role in
dictating linguistic continuity in the form of isolating, or analytical, typology. In
the time frame I was given, an isolating language would be too heavy.

I decided first on an agglutinating system with words based on the following


model:

Subject: noun - (adjective) - number

Object: verb - (adverb) - tense - conjunction - noun -


(adjective) - number

with no affixes to show gender or person, but with suffixes to denote status after
a name and a system of number as follows: single/many/few, i.e. vague
suggestion of number.

This soon became inconvenient as a system because of the connected verb and
object. Instead I changed the system to one of SOV (subject-object-verb) where
the object and verb were now separate word clauses. In this new system the
words were organised as follows:

Noun: (possessive) - noun/noun clause - plural - (gender ) -


(distance [locative])

Verb: verb - comparative/superlative - person - tense -


(adverb)

Example: The father rewarded the son

wāfà vyçiz lowēwutygavē

This system proved much easier to manipulate and organise, and allowed for
conjunctions and particles to be used more readily.

Nadya Bengougam – Creating a Language for Fantasy Fiction


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In Japanese they have a system of particles whereby a particle is placed at the


end of a sentence to denote the function of that sentence. I decided to take this
concept and move the particle denoting function to the beginning of the
sentence. Sentences that were ‘neutral’, i.e. not one of the functions listed,
would begin simply with the object.

Command: ho

Question: ŧà

The function particle for a question, ‘ŧà’ would take the place of
what/where/who/how/etc… So that ‘Who are you?’ would be literally translated
as ‘You are?’

Example: Shall we go to bed?

ŧà A av-bot dëfylųtygovē

In formal conversation, I decided, there would be a particle at the end of a


sentence indicating a change of subject. By the social conventions of the Sunad
people, if one member of the conversation wished to change topic, then all else
present must adhere to that person’s wishes, although the same topic may be
resumed at a later time.5 This change of subject would be signified by the
particle ‘zà’ at the end of a sentence.

It was my original intention to have a language without pronouns, where subjects


and objects were simply denoted by the noun, therefore eradicating
I/you/he/she/it/we/you(pl)/they, and the verb would not require a suffix signifying
person.

Example: He [Rudē] wants a meal

piRudē vytyc noñy

I was trying to simplify the language, however it ended up jarring the natural
flow I was aiming for. If one particular object or person was being mentioned
repeatedly, the repetition of the whole noun or name so much disrupted the
sound. I decided instead to put in place a system whereby the subject can be
replaced by a ‘pronoun system’. In this system the subject is replaced by a
particle ‘A’ (read as a capital in English translation), and the person of the noun
is denoted by the verb. This meant that all verbs now had a ‘person’ suffix
within the verb clause, regardless of whether the subject was represented by ‘A’
or a name/noun.

Example: Saju likes children. She wants a daughter.

5
See Sunad people: Character reference

Nadya Bengougam – Creating a Language for Fantasy Fiction


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piSaju rumāv liwusygāvē. A vyfuz noñywus.

When creating examples that included names, I saw that without introduction
names seemed to blend in with the rest of the sentence. If the sentences were
spoken rather than written down, the names were undistinguishable from the
rest of the sentence.

Example: Ret seeks Fāla

Ret Fāla vuwutygāvē

Could easily be misread as:

the net [ret] seeks peace [fāla]

I decided then to create a prefix to the name that would be distinguishable from
the rest of the language. I therefore decided to create a special character which
would only be used in this situation. I determined that the modern ‘p’ sound
would stand out from the rest of the alphabet without intruding too much on the
sound of the language.

Example: Lara enters the place

piLara tu^an fojiwus

Another way I established a contrast between names and regular nouns was to
create a rule that decreed that all names must have either one or two syllables,
unless the person named is of high society/nobility. In this way, when connecting
names to affixes and possessivesm the name can easily be distinguished from
the rest of the noun clause.

Example names: Zen Lynyq


Hana Moqa
Nēja Vi

Many languages have affixes to denote status in society. As Qujàra is a society


which lays heavy significance on social status – in particular important jobs – this
seemed a logical step. Not all names would have status terms, especially in
lower levels of society.

Examples: father Ryjuq piRyjuq-fà


teacher Vana piVana-zu
elder Misa piMisa-ro

The next step in the creation of Sunadųn was to create the rules for the
individual affixes within the word clauses.
Nadya Bengougam – Creating a Language for Fantasy Fiction
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I started on the noun rules, having previously that a noun must follow the
structure:

(possessive) - noun/noun clause - plural - (gender) - (distance [locative]) - (number) -


adjective - comparative/superlative

Plurals are denoted by a –v or –av. I wanted to keep the plural system simple as a
system of numbers is quite complicated. If a noun clause has an exact number,
the number is attached to the end of the noun and before the adjective,
separated from the two parts by ‘-‘.

Example: one thousand and thirty-five coins

çynav-unabafàvāqē

Gender in Sunadųn refers to the animation of the object. Animate objects are
those with a natural movement, i.e. animals and humans. Inanimate objects are
those with a ‘lifeforce’6 but which do not move naturally. Everything else retains
a neutral gender.

Examples: human rosutacųb


flower loràjēq
harbour civaàlynys

In formal conversation, when speaking of an object which is material but cannot


be seen by the speaker, then a suffix of distance is required. Distance in Sunadųn
is very vague and not exact measurement of situation.

Example: daughter in this town vyfuzēju

lake in this country fënudadēqu

The possessive prefix, at the beginning of the project, started as the following
sentence structure. The sentence follows the original syntax, with the verb
attached to the object.

ox-belong-to old-man attacked-the-noble

However this arrangement did not compliment the modified SOV syntax. It also
seemed far too elaborate for the language, and disruptive of the overall melody
of speech. If the subject or object belongs to me/you/him/her/etc. a prefix is
added to the noun, denoting possession of the object.

Examples: my sword ylzynàr


her tower usosyñē
6
See Sunad people: Character reference

Nadya Bengougam – Creating a Language for Fantasy Fiction


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our island ylųtyl

When it came to the possession of a specific person, the task became more
difficult. At first I did not want to connect the name directly to the object and
decided to place the possessor at the front of the sentence, prefaced by a prefix
çoça~:

Çoça~Hana, Vyz took her knife

In other words, Vyz took the knife belonging to Hana. However, this new method
did not comply with the SOV syntax the rest of the grammar observes. I decided
next to simply attach the noun to the name by a simple ~ or ^.

Example: Weq’s son loses Miso’s diamond

piWeq~vyçiz Miso~hà^ëtē wodut

However this only really worked when the possessor was an actual name. When
the possessive was, for example, the leader’s palace (unàja~tu^an), whilst being
clear written down, was confusing when spoken aloud. I decided instead to use
the special character ‘g’ to create an affix denoting possession which would go
between the possessor and the asset.

Example: Qac’s candle piQac’gēharymà

Adjectives act as a separate word clause with their own rules, even though they
are part of the larger noun clause. This was pretty simple, as the noun and
adjective would clearly be broken up by the particles in between.

Example: my beautiful daughter ylvyfuzyvanima

Adjectives can be altered with a comparative or superlative particle, as well as a


simile particle. These particles are very important in Sunad society, as there is a
custom of conversation where those of high society compare wealth. These
particles would follow directly after the adjective.

Example: happier warmest


ŧuqētezà mēdotelozà

The grammar for verbs would follow the structure;

verb - person - tense - (adverb)

To create the opposite to a verb, for example obey/disobey, a prefix of ‘dy-‘ or


‘dyn-‘ would be added straight before the verb.

Nadya Bengougam – Creating a Language for Fantasy Fiction


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There are many different tense systems scross the world and the only universal
tense is present. Many languages don’t have a real future tense and employ a
past/non-past distinction that conflates present and future. English doesn’t have
a real future tense, since the futurity is modelled by an auxiliary, will, and not by
inflecting the verb.7 As in Spanish, I decided to have two different types of
past/present/future tense, known universally as perfect (i.e. a tense used in
describing action that has been completed; finite) and imperfect (i.e. a tense
used in describing an action that is on-going; infinite). I made the decision that
tenses would be indicated by the special character ‘g’. This cannot be confused
with the use of g in possession, as the different uses are clear. The past, present
and future tenses each have similar, yet different, root forms, followed by an
ending to denote whether the verb is being used in the perfect or imperfect
tense.

Examples: I ate the meal. A vytyc vytagāvē

He is following Juqē A piJuqē fetutygovo

The day will be windy ru ijum mēcusyguvē

In English words such as ‘could’ or ‘shall’ are used to denote a conditional tense
in a verb. These are called modal verbs. Having a separate conditional tense like
French would not follow the pattern I wanted in Sunadųn. Instead I would attach
particles with the same meanings of these modal verbs to the end of word
clauses.

Example: I should eat my meal

A ylēvytyc vytawyl-ab

When creating a conditional tense, I decided to simply use a particle as a


separate word to act as the Sunadųn equivalent to ‘if’, ys, and both clauses
would take the conditional tense ending gajo:

Example: I will walk if you carry the baby

A vē vobylygajo-an ys A bajē robāwutygajo

When it came to adverbs, I decided that appropriate adjectives could be added


onto a verb clause to act in place of an adverb, following the same rules as
adjectives in noun clauses. Therefore to weakly attack something would translate

7
How to create a language – Pablo David Flores

Nadya Bengougam – Creating a Language for Fantasy Fiction


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as vaλurumyna^ubų, where the verb is vaλurum and the adverb is in the form of
the adjective ‘weak’, na^ubų.

Some verbs have their own set of rules, however this group is small compared to
that of, for example, French, which has an entire list of irregular verbs.

The first of these is the verb ‘to be…’ (and also ‘to become…’) which in a
sentence sometimes creates a situation whereby there is no object in syntax, for
example “I am tired.” In this situation, the adjective is the object therefore taking
on all of the properties of an object. As ‘tired’ is not being implemented as an
adverb it cannot be attached to the verb, therefore takes the place of the object
to fulfil the SOV syntax.

Example: I am tired A vāfē mëçyl

Another circumstance where a sentence appears to have no object has a


different set of rules, for example, “He speaks true.” In this instance the adjective
(‘truthfully’) is part of the verb, i.e. an adverb. In this case, the adverb must
remain attached to the verb, therefore there is an absence of an object, thus I
decided to fill that gap with the particle vē.

Example: He speaks true (i.e. He speaks truthfully)

A vē ràrodējan

The last special verb is ‘to name…’, whereby the name of the person/object being
named is attached to the end of the word as an adverb, and the object is the
object pronoun for I/you/him/etc…:

Example: I name him Quru A wu vųwawyl-piQuru

Adpositions fit in nicely with SOV syntax, as they simply slotted onto the front of
the object noun clause. I started to base the adposition on that of Na’vi, whereby
the adposition may occur either as a preposition, or as an anclitic (closely
connected in pronunciation with the preceding word and not having an
independent accent or phonological status) after the noun,8 however this did not
follow the strict grammar that had emerged during the creation of my language.
There are currently a limited number of adpositions in Sunadųn, however the list
can easily be added to. Adpositions are added to the beginning of the object in
the sentence, i.e. in you go to the palace, would be written literally as you to the
palace, go.

I wanted to keep the system of conjunctions relatively simple, considering the


complexity of the grammar and the length of individual words. I realised that the
conjunctions could take two forms: connecting two sentence clauses or
connecting two noun clauses. When conntecting two phrases, the conjunction
would sit between two whole sentences.

Example: I gain money because I work hard


8
learnnavi.org – Na’vi grammar

Nadya Bengougam – Creating a Language for Fantasy Fiction


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A rosųbàda odųwyl vo A vē ràdubų

When connecting two noun phrases, the conjunction would connect the two
clauses directly, thus creating a single word clause in-keeping with the SOV
syntax.

Example: Uqys and the police officer tell stories

pi'Uqys-ràvatuç iqowudavyjēq çomutus

As the subject phrase is ‘Uqys and the police officer’, these will have to be
connected by the conjunction rà (and) to create a single noun clause.

As Sunad is not part of our world, it would not be written in the Roman alphabet
we use, or any other alphabet used in the world today. Therefore I had to create
my own alphabet. I tried to come up with an alphabet from simple imaginative
process however the results from these trials were not fluid enough. I produced
trials with an idiographic writing system, however, as demonstrated in Asia, most
idiographic languages follow and isolated typology, as opposed to the
agglutinating system used in Sunadųn. An alphabet of ideograms also required
an extensive archive of symbols, which would not have been possible in the time
allotted to the language. Looking at other creatively sources alphabets I saw that
the shape and style of the writing reflected the sound of the lanuage. Klingon for
example, has a harsh and sharp alphabet9, to reflect the rough nature of the
language; Tolkein’s Quenya (elvish) on the contrary had a soft fluid typeface,
mirroring the delicate sound of the spoken language.10 I wanted the aesthetic to
be similar to the Arabic (an alphabet used in Arabic and Urdu, and after Latin (i.e.
the Roman alphabet) is the most widely used alphabet in the world) or
Devanagari (used in standard Hindi and, since the 19th century, Sanskirit) so I
studied the shape of these two languages and wrote down some sentence-
shaped scribbles in similar shapes. The Arabic-style typeface resembled the flow
of the language I desired in Sunadųn, and so from the rushed characters I picked
the clearest and most flowing and extracted them to form my own alphabet.

An example of the Sunad alphabet can be seen in the transliteration of my


translation.

The result of my project is a beginner’s guide to Sunadųn, complete with full


grammar and its own alphabet, plus a translation and a transliteration of an
extract from Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein, chosen due to its links with
fantasy fiction and flowing, beautiful language.

9
kli.org – Writing Klingon
10
elvish.org – The Elvish Linguistic Fellowship

Nadya Bengougam – Creating a Language for Fantasy Fiction


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Bibliography
How to create a language – Pablo David Flores

War of Words – Andy Ridgway, BBC Focus Magazine June 2010

learnnavi.org

Rediscover Grammar – David Crystal

elvish.org

The Evolution of Primitive Elvish to Quenya – Helhe Kăre Fauskanger

kli.org – Learn Klingon

List of constructed languages

Fremen

The Black Speech – A.Appleyard, Materials Science, UMIST, Manchester 1

Atlantean Metahistory

Nadya Bengougam – Creating a Language for Fantasy Fiction