Do You Want to Build A Language?

Hello, Readers! This is Tyler again. As Rii is still focusing her alternate endeavors, I want to take this opportunity to do some more blog posts on conlanging.

In my posts last week, I mentioned that creating a good conlang is staggeringly difficult. So I want to give you some tips to aide you if you decide to undertake creating a language.

Where do you begin when inventing a language? I like to take a bottom up approach, starting with the sounds of the language and building up words and grammar from there. If you’ve studied any foreign language, you will probably have an idea that not every language has every sound possible for a human to make. For example, English does not have the German ue, whereas German does not have the English w. It’s not too hard to add sounds from languages other than your own, because they’re exciting and new and who doesn’t love that? But sometimes it can be almost torturous to exclude sounds that we are familiar with. How can you exclude something so basic as say an ‘m’? You can’t have the word ‘malevolent’ without an ‘m’, and is that really the kind of language we want to live in?

There is a good reason (beyond making it more natural) to kill your darlings and omit sounds from your language. Take Parseltongue from Harry Potter. It is supposed to be a language used to speak with snakes. If you listen to the examples we have in the movies you’ll notice that there are a lot of s’s and sh’s as well as a lot of vowels which are made without moving your jaw much. It is missing pretty much any sound that requires lips (like p and b). The overall effect is that it sounds like we would imagine a snake speaking because it has a very hiss-like quality to it. That effect is achieved largely through the choice of sounds available to the language. If you’re trying to write a stereotypical orcish language you might decide to use a lot of hard sounds like p, b, d, and g and have relatively few vowels. The IPA reference chart can be a very useful tool in your attempt to choose the sounds which can give your language the right feel.


Although it does take a bit of time to learn what all the symbols mean.

Another thing to consider is what combinations of sound are allowed, and what sounds aren’t. Consider “brick”. I’m sure you know that “brick” is an English word, although “br” is not a sound combination in other languages. Likewise, “blick” which isn’t an English word, could be. It shouldn’t sound so weird to you that you couldn’t imagine it meaning something, regardless of whether or not it does now. “Bnick”, on the other hand, is not an English word, and doesn’t look or sound like it could be. “Bn” is not a valid English combination. So once you’ve chosen the sounds available to your language, choose some combinations that aren’t allowed.

You can begin to see why creating a good conlang is so hard. We’ve had to make a lot of choices so far, and we haven’t even started coming up with words yet!


About Rii the Wordsmith

An aspiring author, artist, avid consumer of storytelling medium, gamer, psychologist (insomuch as one with her bachelor's is a psychologist), wife, mother, DM, Christian, a friend to many, and, most importantly, an evil overlord.
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