If you’re crazy enough to want to create languages for your fantasy fiction world then this is an inportant question. Where do your languages come from. Could there be a common ancestor for all your languages. If so there will be similarities between them. Many people will have heard of the phrase Indo-European languages, which describes most of the languages of Europe and Asia as having common routes – all except Turkish, Basque and Finnish of course – where these came from who knows. Aliens?
This talk on TED suggests that all languages may have come from a common ancestor. I’m not sure if I can accept this. It suggests that man began to talk before he spread out of his homeland and settled other parts of Europe and Asia. Is this possible? It also suggests that different groups of men would have developed the same language at the same time. Again this sounds unlikely and frankly I’m a bit surprised at this conjecture – there doesn’t seem to be much evidence for it.
Going back to the implications for a fantasy world setting, it really depends on how you see the origin of the world. Being quite pedantic about this, these things actually matter to me. I don’t feel comfortable not knowing roughly why my characters inhabit a world that isn’t like the Earth we know. So therefore there needs to be an origin explanation for me. Alternate reality like Moorcock’s Eternal Champion maybe, an older version of Earth like Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Howard’s Hyboria? It’s seems a shame that often modern fantasy writers often don’t consider these origins. For me this means that the reason for their writing hasn’t really been truly thought through. Rather the aim is to build on a tradition where a standard fantasy setting is acceptable because that’s what readers have come to accept. So in a way a pretty non-fantastic, non-speculative fictional genre has been established where we all know the rules already. This can be OK if the writing is good, but in the end its going to become tired.
Science-fiction can perhaps offer more.
What I’m hoping to do in my writing is to offer a development of this by giving a reason for my fantasy world existing, this means breaking out of some of the traditions of fantasy writing worlds though and starting with a clean slate of a world. But, I must admit its difficult not to rely on what we know of human history or previous fantasy writing. Something like Brian Aldiss’s Helliconia series is a benchmark for what I’m hoping to do.
This piece of research about ADHD genes in Kenyan nomads shows that certain genes that might be less suitable in a settled culture are actually beneficial in a nomadic setting. Apparently the behaviour associated with ADHD can lead to nomads being more effective in fighting off raiders and finding food and water.
My current writing research concentrates on a nomadic civilisation so this was of interest to me!
An excellent discussion of why the printed page is still important by Robert Darnton – I saw this referenced over at Deep Genre.
Apparently according to Survival International there are 100 uncontacted tribes existing still in the world – mostly in the area of Brazil and Peru. I found the story over at TED. It makes you think doesn’t it!? Also I was wondering about the possibilities of this as a story idea? The problem is most people wouldn’t believe it!
But this picture taken from a flyover of one of these tribes is very evocative:
I found this story from The Economist interesting about a new research project into the biological basis of religion. As part of my world-building exercise this is quite a fascinating subject as I come to grips with the cultural background of my world’s peoples, which includes their religions. In fact I have decided that religious differences will play an important part and mostly leading to violence.
Here’s a quote from the research project’s brochure “Leading experimental psychologists and biologists have suggested that man’s universal religious consciousness results from innate characteristics in the evolved cognitive architecture of the brain. In contrast, the differences stem from variable priming of the cognitive mechanisms through creative thinking, memory and acquired expertise.”
So it seems that humans are biologically predisposed to be religious, or at least believe in something I suppose! I’m an athiest, but must admit that I find religions and their attendant cultural systems very interesting.
I am currently working on the creation of a fantasy world for an upcoming fantasy novel. Having surveyed a lot of the literature and websites regarding world creation I found the following most useful:
Creating an Earthlike Planet – this really takes you through most of the process of creating geography, weather and climates. In particular his section on weather is a well explained, simple but invaluable – see his Climate Cookbook.
Also a useful reference for climates are the Koppen classifications, see http://koeppen-geiger.vu-wien.ac.at/
Once you have your climate’s sorted out it’s time to think about how these affect culture. I think this is more difficult, perhaps because there’s no accepted historical interpretation – i.e. it’s quite controversial still – see Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel.
Culture creation is probably where you have to read around a lot and figure stuff out for yourself. I found that I had to create language alongside. There are a number of good websites on language creation. I would recommend the following:
The Language Construction Kit – includes all the aspects of language creation you are likely to need. I found that having a core 500 or so words was necessary to cover major nouns, verbs and adjectives.
Ardalambion is a site dedicated to the constructed languages of J.R.R. Tolkien. This is really inspirational and shows what can be done.
I strongly believe creating your own languages for your fantasy world can really enrich them. In my novel I am looking for my characters and cultures to have strong identities that are not based on slightly altered version of medieval earth. We’ll see if I achieve my aim!