Learn Old Norse!

Learn Old Norse!

I was just explaining to my mom that you can literally find a tutorial for anything on the YouTubes.  She was skeptical, but I stand firm by my opinion.

As it happens, I’ve been incredibly slammed this past week with work and travel. So in lieu of a blog, I’m going to introduce you to an amazing YouTube channel.

Meet Jackson Crawford. This chap, much like myself is clearly interested in Nordic studies, and linguistics. And he will teach you how to speak Old Norse through the magic of the runes. And also the interwebs.

Here is video lesson 1:

You’re welcome.

Jackson also does great videos on Norse texts, and mythology.  If you dig vikings, but hate reading, this channel is a literal treasure trove, as he will read to you from the Edda.

So go fill you horn with mead, pay his channel a visit, and get your Thor on.  Skál!

Check this space every Wednesday for new updates and musings!

Creating Character and Place Names (Part 2): Drawing from Existing Sources

Creating Character and Place Names (Part 2): Drawing from Existing Sources

This is the second in a set of articles intended for authors and game writers, addressing quick and easy methods to develop character and place names around a linguistic theme.  In Part 1, we examined using existing and historical names and places. In this segment we will examine how to further break down language elements to form new ones, and drawing upon existing literature and media for inspiration.

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In the first of these blogs we focused on the inspiration of medieval Spain and drawing upon Spanish language to flavor our character and place names.  But let’s face it, much of worldbuilding is so much more than historical analogs.  There’s aliens species, demons and wizards, elves, orcs, dwarves and so much more to fill our creative space.  For many of these elements, there is a wealth of existing lore and language in the works of other authors and creators waiting to be drawn on.

Just like the tropes of the races themselves, there are certain linguistic elements which cling to their respective races across novels, films, tabletop and video games. If your goal is to emulate an existing flavor of a fictional race, the following is a simple guide which will give you immediately recognizable phonetic sounds, and set the foundations for building upon them your own personalized modifications.

Let’s take as an example the dwarves of Thorin’s party in The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, now a set of names well familiar to audiences worldwide. With thirteen members, the names of these dwarves represent a perfect pool for our first dip into fantasy naming. Using the phonetics of these names we can build a linguistic map for a dwarven kingdom of our own.

Thorin_and_Company

The thirteen dwarves are:

Thorin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Dori, Nori, Ori, Balin, and Dwalin. Let’s add in Gimli from The Lord of the Rings for good measure.

 

First, break those names down into individual letters.

Consonants – B, D, Dw, F, G, K, L, M, N, R, Th

Vowels – A, I, O, U

11 Consonants and 4 Vowels is not much of an alphabet, but you’ll be surprised at how far we can go, with just these letters.

Let’s also look at the phonetic clusters in the syllables themselves:

Ba, Bi, Bo, Bom, Bur, Do, Dwa, Fi, Fur, Gim, Glo, In, Ki, Li, Lin, O, No, Thor, Ri

 

Now lets pause for a moment to look at how the dwarves’ names are constructed.  You may have noticed that two of my letters – Th & Dw – are actually consonant groupings. These are known as digraphs, which are two characters used together to form a distinct sound. The dwarven names from The Hobbit follow a distinct pattern. Consonant – Vowel – Consonant – Vowel, etc.  Essentially they are made up of phonetic groupings: Thor-in, Bi-Fur, No-Ri.  It is to keep in consistency with this pattern that I have chosen to make Th and Dw proper letters.  G and L I have made separate letters because we have instances of G and L being used both together and independently, but we could easily make the GL grouping a letter as well.

If we look at the phonetic clusters, we can also see a few grammatical rules, just from these names, which we can follow, at least loosely to help create new names within a distinct feel. For example, I and O are the only vowels which are seen to end a syllable. They are also the only vowels to begin one.  M is only seen at the end of a cluster, and along with R and N are the only consonants to end a syllabic phrase.

Are you still with me?

 

Now it is as simple as making new syllabic clusters based on our existing rules:

Bali, Thorri, Bofin, Dofur, Bomri

Expand upon this by swapping letters from our alphabet to make new phonetic groupings:

Dwolo, Thimri, Nolin.

For place names, which are not represented here in our limited source pool, try stringing together three or more syllables to sound more grand:

Glorindol, Dwali Noinbo, Kilibo, Tholobur

 

And there you have it!  Dwarven names in close keeping to their source of influence. To expand upon this, bring in phonetic influence from other dwarven sources, from real world language, or simply add and subtract letters and syllable phrasings as you see fit. You can always return to this baseline if you stray too far.

This same application holds true to any collection of words, names or other sound sources you might wish to draw on and is the true beginning stages of any conlang.

 

Check this space every Wednesday for new updates and musings!

 

Multilingualism in Fictional Worldbuilding

Multilingualism in Fictional Worldbuilding

About a week ago, I stumbled across this article, The Unsteady Future of the Multilingual City, by linguistics writer Michael Erard, on my twitter feed.  An interesting read in and of itself, the article has remained stuck in the back of my mind as a new consideration for fictional worldbuilding.

Briefly summarized, the article examines the results of a 3 year study of language presence in a collection of multicultural cities around the world. The results found that while many diverse cities boast of the number of languages spoken by its denizens, the reality is that very few of these languages are truly represented  in day to day life outside of small pockets or neighborhoods.  They found that even in cities where certain language presence is protected, such as enforced representation on signage, that the common trend was to favor some languages and repress others. This trend is apparently so common, that it threatens the existence of multilingualism, even in cities who embrace the concept as a plus.

In some ways this makes sense, dominant culture – dominant language.  Being an American, the idea that the speakers of the dominate language expect to be able to read the signs and understand those around them is common.  Those of the non-dominant language are expected to learn to function in English.  Even in Los Angeles, which is almost a bi-lingual city given it’s Hispanic population, the signs are dominantly in English, and while foreigners are common, hearing their language is not.

What surprised me is that this study found this to be the case in most places as well.  I expect America to be mono-lingual, we seem to be stuck in that mindset (speak American dammit!), but I would have expected that cities abroad, where many of the population are multilingual, to be more fluid in their linguistic usage.

So how does this apply to worldbuilding?

The Underworld, by Josh Huchinson - http://joshhutchinson.deviantart.com/art/The-Underworld-555271331
The Underworld – Josh Hutchinson

There is a common, almost trope-worthy, depiction in science fiction and fantasy of the use of many languages as part of setting the scene for almost any urban setting.  Unless the culture is specifically set-up as repressive, the sounds of a dozen languages filling the air is used to impart to the reader/player/viewer how diverse of a location the characters have come to.  It’s basically the Star Wars cantina intro over and over and over again.

What I find myself now heavily mulling is that this is not actually an accurate depiction at all.  Outside of their neighborhood pockets, nearly all people default to a common language, or maybe two.  Everyone in that cantina should be speaking Galactic Basic, except for at most one or two small conversations.

Rather than limiting fictional creativity, however, I find that this is sparking lots of new ideas for me in terms of urban fantasy worldbuilding!  What are the dominant languages in my settings?  What other languages make themselves know, and how does the dominant culture react, embrace or oppress them and those who speak them.

At The Morning Bazaar, by Isdira - http://isdira.deviantart.com/art/At-the-Morning-Bazaar-418843287
At The Morning Bazaar, by Isdira

If we consider the cliche fantasy kingdom, the grand capitol of the realm – who speaks the common language, and who doesn’t?  Perhaps the Elves haughtily refuse to do business in anything but Elven, and the rest of the city kind of despise them for it. Perhaps knowing enough Dwarven to address the smith in his native tongue will get you on his good side, even if the rest of the conversation continues in Common.  Do conquerors of one language repress the speaking of the tongue of the conquered?  Is uttering the Orcish tongue a grave insult, or perhaps even enough to be arrested?

If you write fictional settings or run RPG games, I would love to hear how you treat multilingualism in your setting.  Hit me up here or on social media.

Check this space every Wednesday for new updates and musings!

 

Creating Character and Place Names – A Conlang-ish Primer (part 1)

I frequent a good number of tabletop gaming sites, as well as writer and scifi/fantasy storytelling and worldbuilding forums, and one common trend I see popping up repeatedly is new, or even veteran GMs and writers asking “How do I come up with good place / character names?”

If pulling fake words out of your head does not come naturally, building a living world can become quite daunting.  But the reality is there a several simple “hacks” which make simple naming a breeze.  I’m going to lay out some good starting places here.

To be clear, none of these tips are true conlang, by which I mean we are not concerned with complex language rules, grammar, or even consistency.  Today we are simply going to focus on quickly creating names and phrases around a theme.

 

Method 1: Real World Names

The simplest way to deal with having to make up names and place-names, is not to make them up at all.  Most of us draw a good deal of cultural influence from real world history and places when we develop our stories, and you can do the same with names. Has Game of Thrones’ Dorne got you interested in medieval Spain?  Good. Let’s draw on that:

  1. Google Maps is your best friend.  Virtually the entire world is mapped and at your fingertips. Zoom in on any rural location and swipe the names of small towns your players/readers wont recognize.  Zoom in on a major city and swipe the names of streets and plazas.  Rivers, mountains, and more, if you name it, it’s likely on a map.
  2. The Medieval Names Archive by the Academy of Saint Gabriel is a literal treasure trove of naming examples from historical record. It’s broken up by location, time period, sex and often even surnames vs. given names and others.   All of the names in this resource are from actual texts, birth and death records, etc. of the time and culture you wish to draw on.

This is also a great method for when you find yourself GM-ing on the fly. We are seldom far from a tablet or laptop, so bookmark these pages and wing-it!

 

Method 2: Adapting Existing Language

Is taking real places names verbatim to literal for you?  Maybe you want to draw on a combination of influences. If you’re a writer, you may worry about existing names being recognized. Or perhaps you simply live in southern California and Spanish names are too familiar.  This next concept takes a little more work, but it will give you more unique results.

  1. Google Translate, while know to be less that perfect at it’s actual job, is a fantastic starting place for examining the fundamental sounds of a language. Paste in a line of text and it will spit you out a rendition in the language you desire.
  2. If you want to adapt specific phrases, try different versions of them until you have something that sounds good.  Don’t be afraid to try synonyms, or to break phrases down into something similar sounding, but not an actual translation.  Lets suppose your characters are on their way to meet Edward, who rules from a mighty fortress atop a fiery mountain:
    Edward the Rojo.
    It took a few phrasings to find one that I liked.
    Rey de las Tierras del Volcan” can be a mouthful at the game table, and players tend to forget complex names. To solve this, I like to use a mix of English (or your native tongue) and foreign languages.  This combines the ease of familiarity with the excitement of the exotic.   Edward -> Eduardo is easy enough.  King -> Rey on the other hand is unnecessary. Let’s keep his title in the realm of the familiar, so, King Eduardo.  For the name of his mountain fortress, lets simplify the phrase by simply removing a few syllables and letters:  Tier el Volcan.  The Spanish vibe remains, but the name is now your own.
  3. If you want to take this one step further, grab a notebook, and take a good look at a translated paragraph.  This is especially useful if you want to create a few language snippets, but without the knowledge or time requirements of an actual conlang:Span-ishWhat is important here is not the words themselves, but the letters and sound groupings.  Jot down the letters sounds you see, and make note of the ones you do not.  From this example you can see that many words end in vowels, and that there are many combinations of long words connected by one or two short words.  Then it is just a matter of grabbing snippets of words to create your new names:

“Timon de Stramed”     “Hedar va tode Morgento”     “Temensa”      Mumedad i du Presor” 

Is this nonsense? Absolutely, but it’s nonsense of the quick and easy variety.  If you wish to blend more than one real-world influence, simply repeat the process with the second language and take elements from both.

Whether you are creating names, local jargon, or even the words of a spell, simple language creation can be fun and easy.  By following these simple ideas I hope you will find yourself not only relieved of the stress of making up fitting names for your setting, but beyond that, perhaps taking your first steps into discovering the fun of words, sounds and language.   I myself use these techniques routinely at for gaming, writing, and even my early stages of a conlang start out very similar to Method 2 as I establish my vocal sounds and patterns.

Questions, comments?  Hit me up below, or on my various social media – and happy worldbuilding!

Check this space every Wednesday for new updates and musings!

Project Zero

Project Zero

Iyr Vasti, Crenoshyeyda,

Project Zero is the name I will be using for the current production until I am given the go ahead to share the name and actual details of the film.  I’m calling it that because it is the starting point for all of this, and ‘zero’ sounds cooler than ‘one’.   How much of created language is based on what the creator thinks sound cool?  Probably more than most conlangers want to admit!  >_<

Before I sat down with Anthony at Manifest Film, I was sent a script treatment (in English) and two pieces of concept art for the character whose language I would be creating.  I have kindly been granted permission to share that artwork here.

Without giving away too many details, you can see that the character has a somewhat menacing appearance, and wears an imposing mask.  The other key details were that this is the antagonist character in the film, and that is totally blind, relying on it’s other senses like a bat to give it prowess.

I knew that we wanted the speech of this character then to be somewhat sinister, but not over the top. This is not a villain of brute force, like an Orc, but one who relies upon subterfuge and stealth.  I wanted the language to reflect that.  Therefor I decided to shy away from too many hard consonants (D, K, T, hard G, hard C) in favor of a softer, oozier sound (j, s, m, etc).  I will go into greater depth on the hardcore linguistics in another blog.

The discussion of bats and the look of the concept art also made me think a little bit about vampires, so I started looking into the phonetics and vocal sounds of Romanian.  We had discussed Latin influences in my initial interview. Romanian is evolved from Latin, but with many Slavic influences. This gives is an interesting combination of familiar and foreign sounds to an English listener.

The result, I will be clear, is not Romanian. It simply is inspired by that languages letter groupings and feel. I also anglicized the pronunciation of letters because ultimately this tongue will have to be spoken and recorded by an American actor.

Many of you have asked for me to speak Project Zero for you.  As it happens, I needed to record a vocal treatment for the film’s director to review.  Here is brief clip of me recording a few lines from the script:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief overview of what I am working on.  Please follow The Harmonious Wordsmith blog to keep up to date on this project, and future work.  And feel free to ask me any questions in the comments or on any of my social media.

Check this space every Wednesday for new updates!

 

 

 

An Introduction

On April 5th, 2016, I was formally asked to create a language for an upcoming science-fiction short by Manifest Film.  They desired something more than beautiful gibberish, but an internally consistent construction with its own grammar rules and structure, and I knew I was up for the task.  This was to be my first professional foray into the world of “conlang” ie – CONstructed LANGuage.

Subsequently, two important things happened to me:

The first was I realized just how important to me, and how unique this ability is.  I have long enjoyed playing with words and language, and creating fantasy tongues was nothing new to my pen and mind.  It was made apparent to me in several conversations that the ability to conjure new linguistics from my imagination and conform them to actual language-rules  and grammar is a special skill I needed to put more consideration into.

Secondly I was barraged with intrigue and interest from friends, colleagues and acquaintances for details, updates and more information not only about this project specifically, but also to my processes and approach to the task.

To this end, I am creating this blog, The Harmonious Wordsmith, in which I will chronicle my own adventures in language but also the greater world of conlang as I explore it with new eyes.

Join me on this adventure!

Check this space every Wednesday for new updates!