The Beauty of Languages
World building is an art and a craft unto itself. And as any author or aspiring author in the fantasy/sci-fi genre may tell you, it can be a daunting task. Before you even start to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to write your first draft, you have to have a solid vision of what your world looks like, feels like, smells like, how it works, what races and peoples and cultures are present, how the landmasses and climatology works, everything. It’s huge. It’s bigger than huge.
As David Eddings pointed out in a book that inspired me greatly, The Rivan Codex, it basically calls you to become the de facto god of your world, and create it from nothing with your own bare hands. It’s a humbling experience, but one you as the author have some discretion with. You get to decide how much world building you want to shine through in your work. You can toss in a sprinkle here or there, or hardly mention it at all. On the other extreme, you can write the Silmarillion first, deciding down to the flowers and what they smell like, and the birds and what their songs are before you write the stories that take place in Middle Earth. Most lie somewhere in between, based on each author finding that delicate balance between what adds color to a story but doesn’t take away from the readability.
Not many, though, get into the crafting of languages, and that element of world-building is (in my humble estimation) the mark of someone who has taken world-building to über-nerd level. I suppose I should add that title to my Facebook profile, now that I think of it.
Languages have never been all that easy for me. I lived in Germany for four years during high school, and did learn the language fairly well while I was there. The similarities between the German and English languages aren’t that hard to suss out, the sentence structure is odd but pretty formulaic, and the sound and feel of it is just awesome. Plus I love the way you can cram a whole bunch of words together in German to make a single word. Like, on the fly. It’s cool.
Kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung. It’s a word with like six or seven sub-words in it. Look it up.
I also dabbled in learning Spanish, but found the overlap between the two romance languages to be confusing, and so I abandoned that for mastery of English (still working on that part), and some solid knowledge of German. When I really began to delve into some of J. R. R. Tolkien’s works and learned that he, too, had some fundamental objections to certain languages, and actually crafted the languages of Middle Earth based on how he thought our languages ought to have been…I was blown away. Then when I heard some other über-nerd had created the Klingon language, all the way down to its roots, completely speakable, learnable and livable, with trekkies worldwide speaking it, I began to realize it was within reach to do the same.
The elder races of Cyrradon aren’t that complex. We have elves, who all speak differing dialects of the Shindalieth, their word for the language of their people. The dwarves, segmented into two races of Gøtlander and Heønite, each have their own which, I admit, are based on German out of my love for that language. Humans of course speak the language common to men. The Jeborrhadim giants have languages as widespread and undisciplined as their tortured existences are, so that’s been a rabbit hole I have avoided diving down thus far. And then there are the Tarkuurians, but I’ll talk more on them later.
Elves play a huge role in our story, so it quickly became apparent we needed to let their language, their culture and beliefs, shine through, as well as to storycraft some of the barriers that might be presented by language in their interplay with humans and other races. Keeping track of the language, the words used, was at first simple, just a list: this means that. Simple, right?
After a while, though, we began using longer phrases and sentences, and needed to make it authentic and consistent. So for quite some time I dug into what it takes to invent a language, and learned quite a bit about the different parts of speech, varying approaches to sentence structure and word composition, how to use compound parts of speech, and so much more. I combed back through everything we had written, pulled out every single instance of an elven word or phrase we’d used, compiled a list, and began sorting through it for errors, flaws, overlaps (dear God, had I used the same word to mean two things?) that sort of thing. But the result was a matrix, a simple one, but a good starting place.
I’m proud to say that from those humble beginnings we now have a steadily growing spreadsheet, with tabs at the bottom for nouns, verbs (including all their forms and tenses), adverbs, adjectives, pronouns, prepositions, everything. And any time we write anything in the Shindalieth, we consult this spreadsheet first, look for anything we’ve already used, and add where appropriate. It’s a huge resource now, and with it comes the confidence that everything we write in the future will carry the same feel and be consistent with previous writings. Yes, I’m nerding. Sorry.
How we come up with the words themselves is a different story. There are many ideas out there, just Google it if you’re interested. I prefer to just invent a word on the spot that has the appropriate “feel” of the word I’m translating. Then—as it’s become apparent I should always do—I run a search of our texts, a search of our spreadsheet, and a search of the internet, for that new word. Sometimes these searches reveal problems within our language, possible confusion, etc. Other times I become aware of things I wouldn’t want to end up in print, and I have the blessed opportunity to avoid that embarrassment! If you, too, choose to go down this path to nerd enlightenment, I recommend you do the same.
So that was pretty straightforward, yes? Ok, then, on to the Tarkuurian language. What are Tarkuurians, you ask? Tarkuurians (aka: ‘Tarks’) are one of the five elder races, descended from the Mayhara, and adopted by the god Morab. They are humanoid, beautiful of form and very strong-bodied, but prefer simple isolated lives in tropical climes. They have some physical characteristics that make them quite unique (which I’ll not go into here, not wanting to spoil anyone’s reading experience). The Tarks are a much mystified, greatly feared, and widely misunderstood race of peoples. Much of this comes from their very non-linear way of thinking. Understanding them comes largely from reading the works of their scribes, and here’s where we get back to languages.
The language of the Tarkuurians is probably the most difficult language to learn of any on Cyrradon. What makes it so challenging? The written language of the Tarkuurians is symbolic of the way their minds work. It is not composed of individual characters or letters, and does not follow a prescribed flow across a page (e.g., left to right, top to bottom, etc.). Their language is much like their thoughts, ever flowing and changing, intersecting with other thoughts in specific ways organically. Thus their written language may begin anywhere on a page (or whatever the writing surface), and continue in any direction. Each thought is a single uninterrupted line, and may be thought of as a sentence or even a paragraph. But that line may weave and circle and intersect itself (and other lines) numerous times before its termination. The start point, end point, intersections and overlaps, curves within each line, and even how near one line approaches to another and at what point, all contribute to its meaning. Thus with Tarkuurians, language is all about context.
Can you imagine it? Travelling the world of Cyrradon, coming across some ancient scroll and unrolling it to reveal what looks like nothing more than a child’s scribble? Interestingly, the first written scribbles of children in the world of Cyrradon, often disregarded as the random drawings of infant minds, have turned out to be prophetic in nature. Sadly, many of these were discarded by parents, and never brought to light. But I digress.
To answer your question, no, I have not crafted out the Tarkuurian language in any real sense. Though there is much translation from their texts in our stories (they are the premier source of valid prophetic writings in Cyrradon), I have not delved into the elemental structure that would bring the above theory to practical use. First, I don’t think I have the mind for it, and second, I don’t think it would add much to the story if I did. So in this regard, I lean much more toward the “sprinkle here and there” application of world building, with a fervent hope that someday our books will gain the attention of some über-nerd fan out there who will be inspired to create it for us. I honestly can’t wait to see it!
One more example that deserves mention came to light (literally) in the third book of our series, The Tome of Wyrms. In writing this book, we had to decide what would happen to a population of people who used to speak the language of men if they were cut off from all others for, say, several hundred years? How would the language have changed? What would it feel like now? Would their words be similar to the common language after that time? And if it did change, would it have become simpler, more crude, since their world had become so much smaller? These were some of the questions we asked when creating the sub-race called the “white hands.” We don’t want to spoil it for you, but the result of our work on this begins to be exposed in the Tome of Wyrms, and truly comes out in our recent release, Eye of the Witch. So much so, in fact, that we’ve included a primer on the language of the white hands! Yes, yes, I’m nerding again. Sorry.
Whether languages are a part of your writing or not is a choice entirely up to you. I personally believe a fantasy novel is as incomplete without languages as without a map, a cast of characters, and a pronunciation guide. Again, that’s up to each author and each reader to decide. We have all of them, just sayin’.
If you do love languages and decide to use them in your works, or just dig world building in general, we would love to hear from you! Please feel free to comment on the blog post directly, or visit us on any of our social media sites below! And be sure to check out our other blog post on world building, entitled “Unearthing Cyrradon.”
Happy adventures, travelers!
Jason and Rose - Legends of Cyrradon
Website: www.cyrradon.com Facebook: @cyrradon Instagram: legendsofcyrradon Twitter: @cyrradon Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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