In the last post I talked about conlang cons. Let me now tell you some of the benefits of conlanging.
First off, creating a conlang can be loads of fun. You can get really creative and do some really interesting things when creating a language. Is there some part of your native language that you hate? You can fix that problem in your conlang. Want to sneak in little inside jokes into the language? Go ahead. Make the name of your most hated high school teacher a swear word. Maybe it’s just because I’m a huge nerd, but conlanging is one of my favorite hobbies.
Not only can it be fun for you, but there are segments of the readership that will have loads of fun learning your language if it is well made and fleshed out. I knew someone who was fluent in Quenya and they would take their notes for class in the elven language. As I mentioned before, people have translated Hamlet into Klingon. Beyond just giving them ways to continue to love your story when they are done reading, you can also hide little gems in your story for the readers dedicated enough to learn the language. Maybe your villain reveals part of their plot in their native language because they know the heroes can’t speak their language and it gives them joy to mock them. Maybe a character’s name has symbolic meaning that is only clear if you understand the language. These little rewards for dedicated readers really helps the readers feel like you care about them, which helps build your following.
Okay, okay, we’ll more on to more practical reasons now.
Conlanging does wonders for worldbuilding. Have you ever watched a movie and thought “Wow, it sure is convenient that everyone here speaks the same language”? I know I have. Some books get around this by having universal translators but this seems like a bit of a cop out to me. I mean, showing that there are different languages on your world (and even more importantly in your galaxy if you’re doing sci-fi) makes it feel leaps and bounds more real. I might be off by one or two, but there are about a majillion languages on Earth. It always breaks my suspension of disbelief when a whole planet somehow just has one. It might be a small break, but it can separate a good story from a great story.
Another way conlanging’s benefit to worldbuilding can be astronomical is in making you really think about the history and cultures behind your story. English is a frankenstein’s monster of a language because of the history of England. The differences between Gheg and Tosk Albanian are mainly due to the fact that the Romans deported a large portion of the population to Tuscany for several centuries and when their descendants returned their Albanian had been influenced much more by Latin than those who remained behind. Have you ever thought about how “village” and “villain” look so similar? That is not by accident. Villain was originally a term for the bumpkins in the country. Since the people in the cities presumed them backwards and violent it had a negative connotation. And now that the original prejudice has at least diminished the two words are mostly disconnected in our societal consciousness, but villain has retained its negative meaning. Thinking about nuances like that forces you to examine your cultures and histories and ask why do they speak the way they do. Maybe they have no concept (and hence no word) for sarcasm, but ten different words for traitor because they’ve had a lot of political intrigue in their past. Maybe their geography means they have many different words for different types of rocks and sand, but very few words for water. You can learn a lot about a people from their language. And even if no one notices those linguistic quirks, you still benefit from critically examining the culture and history of your story.
So should you have a conlang in your story? That is, of course, up to you. Weigh the pros and cons and see if it’s worth the immense effort for your story.