Working Towards Words

So you’ve decided to set out on this wonderful adventure of creating your own language. In the last post I talked about how to select the sounds available in your language. Now we’re going to talk about building up towards words.

Another important consideration for picking sounds is how they interact with one another. There are certain sounds that are just easier to make after each other, so dialects tend to gravitate towards those combinations. Take a moment and say the word ‘tree’ a few times. Really pay attention to how you pronounce it. Did you notice it? In most American dialects of English, the ‘tr’ is not just pronounced as just a ‘t’ followed by an ‘r’; the ‘r’ changes the ‘t’ to a ‘ch’ so that most Americans pronounce the word ‘tree’ as ‘chree’. Consider also the “tt” in “butter”, especially how it’s pronounced as a curious “not a d, not a t” in some parts of the US. Given long enough and enough cultural importance, this sort of dialectical change can become the norm for the language. So try to think of ways sounds can interact in your language. Maybe your ‘a’ is always nasal after an ‘n’ or ‘m’. Maybe succeeding an ‘e’  sound with an ‘r’ sound causes the ‘e’ to become a schwa, as it does (in most instances) in German.

Another thing to consider is where sounds can be placed in syllables and words. In Japanese for instance syllables have a very regular structure. It is so regular in fact that two of the Japanese “alphabets” are made up of syllables rather than sounds. With the exception that vowels can stand alone and n can appear without a vowel (although it’s technically a different “n” than the other five that are paired with a vowel), Japenese syllables are always a consonant followed by a vowel.


Note that some consonant sounds are possible but aren’t listed here (like “p” and “b”), some simply aren’t present at all, and that not all consonants have every possible combination with vowels (w and y).

A sample Japanese word would therefore be “wakarimasu” or “wakarimasen” (I understand/I don’t understand). In speech, the “u” at the end of “-masu” is likely to be whispered so it might sound just like “wakarimas” with a softer “s” due to the whispered “u”. However, it’s still there, and still follows the rule that all (but one) consonants are followed by a vowel. You can immediately know that “përshkruaj” is not a Japanese word since there are four consonant sounds in a row. (For anyone interested, përshkruaj is the Albanian word for “to describe”.) The same thing can be done with words. Looking back over the text suggests that in English it is much more common for a word to end with a consonant sound than a vowel sound, even though consonants are only roughly 60% of the sounds available in English (don’t let the alphabet fool you; we’re talking about sounds, not letters).

You can make these kinds of decisions about your language. Maybe words cannot end with vowels in your conlang. Maybe they have to end with a vowel. Maybe an “s” can only appear after an “f”. Be as creative as you like, remembering that the rules you make will affect how your language sounds. If all words end with a consonant, especially percussive consonants like b, p, and d, then your language will sound more choppy and hard. Conversely, languages that always end with vowels can seem more open and flowing.

With those things decided, we are finally ready to start making words.

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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