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The way to truer-than-life worlds

Sci-fi and fantasy names

Carcharras the dragon is attacking the ancient city of Valimenos. Theheroes that take up its defense on the walls are Ellaerys the Elf, Burgozd the Troll, Raymunt the warrior and Djasmila the thief; in the background the wizard Xylandus begins a spell in the Magic Tongue: "Ïdeü­dr fas′sin hröth′gara aec­pharö mogolÿs…"

Soom Kylon, from the planet Ix'or, behind the wheel of the White Cormorant, came at last upon the trail of his nemeses, the Klantorgs. Their chief, general T'zalkor, cannot help but curse at the news: "Spo'rksh!"

Similar nouns can be encountered in a lot of novels, comic books, movies, and video games. They are an easy way for the author to get a standard response from the characters (who's good/evil, primitive/civilised, etc.) and, at the same time, uncomfortably trite. The orthography uses and abuses decorative umlauts and apostrophes, is seldom internally coherent, and does not help one getting the pronounciation, to say nothing of their memorability.

And whenever a sentence or small text is provided in the fictive language, you can bet that the translation follows the author's native language word-for-word or is near-identical to another existing language on Earth.

Why invest in language?

Language is a core component of culture. Equally as much as clothing and food, it can give precious information about, for example:

  • The speakers' physiology. Not often do human tongues have specific words for distinct smells, but it should be the case for a majority of Canine languages, making up for the lack of a lot of terms in the colour vocabulary.
  • Their habitat. When the word for "snow" is transparently ice rain, a guess as regards to the alienness of this weather phenomenon is very likely to be correct.
  • Their social structure. Verbs that conjugate for rank and nouns that can only be used by a subset of the population always stem from a strongly hierarchical society (an interesting backdrop for narrative tension).
  • Their history. Regular correspondances between words of language X and words of language Y (of the type père, pied, pour : father, foot, for) suggest a period of close development and even a common origin.

In a time where more and more successful movie and TV franchises employ constructed languages and fans are anxious to pick them up, there should be no qualms about adding one or more to a work of speculative fiction, if only to achieve a more realistic feel, to say nothing of the storytelling opportunities.

Conlangers

Illustrations are best left to graphic artists, costumes to costume designers, so are constructed languages best left to specialists.

At the beginning, movie and TV producers employed linguists: Mark Okrand, whose academic work touches upon the subject of Amerindian languages, created the Klingon language for Star Trek; Victoria Fromkin, who studied speech errors, created the Pakuni language for Land of the Lost; Paul Frommer, a communications professor, created the Na'vi language in Cameron's Avatar.

Nowadays, the general public is increasingly aware of the existence of people who create languages for fun. They call themselves 'conlangers' in English and idéolinguistes in French. More and more of them get chosen to work on inventing languages: for example, David J. Peter­son who created Dothraki and High Valyrian for Game of Thrones then went on to become Hollywwod's go-to conlanger, and Romain Fil­stroff (Mon­té) in France, creator of Azazilúŝ for Canal +'s Calls.

The US-based Lan­guage Crea­tion Socie­ty pro­vides a job board to connect creators and clients. There is no French counterpart yet.

Ováhtin.fr

This website is the showcase of my small freelance conlanging activity.

On the blog, I will post –regularly I hope– aspects and tidbits of my personal conlangs and write about general conlanging and current events in the community.

Have a good tour.

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