Facts about Conlangs, or What in Hell Am I Doing

Writers get stuck in creative ruts, just like any other artist. The best way to jump-start your brain is to do something new. You can experiment with form or a different point of view. You can try a new genre. Or you can make up a language!

So you know I’ve finished Book 2 in The Trilogy That No One Wants. The first book, Tunerville, is a contemporary fantasy that involves ghosts. I don’t want to spoil (just in case), but I’ve taken my character a little further than his backyard.

I mentioned in the marshmallow post (I need more of those) that I was creating a conlang. Did I confuse you? Do you have questions? I shall answer them.

Yes, please explain. I know nothing.

Image: gameofthrones.fandom.com

What the hell’s a conlang?

Conlang is short for constructed language, one in which phonology, grammar, and vocabulary have been created rather than developing naturally.

Famous examples include auxiliary conlangs (auxlangs) like Esperanto and Lingua Franca Nova. Most people consider artistic languages (artlangs) created for fictional universes, such as Dothraki and Valryian (Game of Thrones), Klingon (Star Trek), and the various languages J. R. R. Tolkien created, around which he wrote The Lord of the Rings, as the typical conlang.

A priori languages aren’t based on any others. Most artistic languages fall under this category, as do auxlangs. A posteriori languages, like mine, are borrowed from or based on existing tongues.

How in hell do you do this?

I started with some typos from my music friends chat room that weirdly resembled Scottish Gaelic (no, really) and based the structure on Welsh. The latter has very little in the way of exceptions to its pronunciation and grammar rules, unlike English. I don’t speak it, but I looked into it before a trip to Wales, and it’s not that difficult.

Despite what you might think.

Image: Wikipedia / Chris McKenna (Thryduulf)

The double-l in Welsh does not have an equivalent sound in English. It’s hissed a little bit — put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and say “L”. Similarly, a conlang that isn’t based on your native language can lack sounds common to yours or contain some yours doesn’t. If you decide that your fictional speakers aren’t human, it definitely will.

My conlang doesn’t have a name currently because I’m still trying to think up place names for its setting. All the phonemes are in place (unless I change them later), and I’ve left out a couple of letters, so it’s not a carbon copy of either Welsh or English. As for syntax, it’s still a bit iffy yet.

Writer Kristin Kieffer points out in this blog post (see Tip #2) that all the things you think about when worldbuilding will apply to your conlang. A future civilization that grows food exclusively via hydroponics probably wouldn’t have a word for plow. A culture who loves elaborate ritual will have long phrases and lots of modifiers.

David J. Peterson has a great book for conlangers called The Art of Language Invention. Another fantastic resource is Mark Rosenfelder’s The Language Construction Kit. I’ve dropped a companion web page below in links. Both are available at Amazon; the Kindle edition of Mark’s book is the full text.

There’s a program called Vulgar that will create a language for you; I’ve held off, but I might end up using it as an assist because making up root words and all their derivations is harrrrrrd.

Why in hell would you do this?

Tons of reasons. Creators of auxlangs generally intend them to be used by real-world speakers. For example, Esperanto was developed to facilitate international communication. Codes are also conlangs; they provide ways of shortening or encrypting language to obscure communication (cryptography), make it faster (shorthand) or make it understandable when speaking isn’t possible (semaphore). They also let people tell machines what to do (computer languages).

Talk BASIC to me, baby.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Artlangs can lend depth to fictional worlds. For the television adaptation of Game of Thrones, David J. Peterson created the Dothraki and Valyrian languages off the basics in George R.R. Martin’s books.

And for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, they wanted the antagonists to have a full-blown language, so Klingon was developed by Marc Okrand from a few words James Doohan (Scotty) improvised during the original series. It’s comprehensive enough for Treknerds to actually speak it.

As with any kind of research or backstory, you’re better off using it judiciously rather than doing huge expository dumps and risking what I sometimes call the Jean Auel effect (bless her!). Her Earth’s Children series, which began with the Clan of the Cave Bear, had page upon page upon page of explanation of the food, clothing, toolmaking, etc. in the daily life of her prehistoric characters. I personally enjoyed it, but it can bog a story down.

If you bore your readers, you’ll probably lose them on a mountain somewhere.

Interestingly, Auel managed to come up with a highly developed sign language for her Neanderthal characters, which authenticated them according to the known research at the time of writing. Novelist Anthony Burgess and anthropologist Desmond Morris collaborated similarly for the largely non-verbal 1981 pre-historic film Quest for Fire.

While this performed splendidly for those works, some writers and critics don’t find a comprehensive conlang necessary for immersion in a fantasy world and claim it can even be distracting. Perhaps, but if you do decide to include it, it should have more consistency than just random gibberish. A smattering of words and phrases can be enough, although that doesn’t count as a true conlang.

Stephen King’s characters in The Dark Tower spoke a dual dialect known as Low Speech, Mid-World’s common tongue, and High Speech, a ritualized and formal language only used by gunslingers. While King didn’t take the trouble to create a whole language, the lexicon enhances the setting quite well. We know we’re not in Keystone Earth (our world) when people are talking both in the ka-tet’s present and Roland’s past.

High Speech also has an alphabet, in a font called Hoefler Text Ornaments Regular, which you can download. If I were to write “Hello my name is Elizabeth” in High Speech, it would look like this:

You don’t have to go this far, although I might because, while complicated, worldbuilding is also FUN.

———-

Will my conlang become a full-blown, usable tongue? Eh, who knows? I’ve never done this before, so it’s a challenge. I’m proud of myself for getting this far. I even invented words for cardinal and ordinal numbers that actually build on themselves and make sense. If nothing else, it forces me to think about setting in a new way, an excellent writing exercise regardless.

If you’re interested in reading more about conlanging, here are a few links.

The Language Creation Society

Web resources for The Language Construction Kit

Conlang: TV Tropes

An Update and Look at These Delicious Candies, Y’all

Hi everyone! I’m sorry for neglecting you. I’ve been busy, people.

Since I seem to have priced myself out of this job market and I’m sick of it here anyway, I put my house up for sale. I’ll be moving soon and staying with family in their city until I either find a job there or elsewhere (preferably elsewhere).

A big backyard is nice, but mowing is a bitch.

Photo: Elizabeth West

In other news, I started working on a conlang for Book 2 (more on that in a future post). I applied for a Hollywood development program with Tunerville. They didn’t select me, sadly. Oh well, there are other opportunities, no doubt. I haven’t given up on this story, although I’m working on new ideas.

Remember the Invasion project I ditched at the beginning of NaNoWriMo last autumn? It’s still kicking, and I’ve decided to see if I can develop it into a screenplay. I’ve got a lot to learn, but that’s okay. Learning new things is good for your brain.

Speaking of new things, my online friends Charles Winthrop and his partner, whom I met through the now-defunct Consumerist website, have created a candy business called Winthrop’s Whimsies. It’s very small and just starting out, but let me tell you, these folks work hard to bring a little sweetness to your day.

This is reflected in the product. They make their candies to order, by hand. As you can see, these are REAL marshmallows, handmade, and don’t conform to the industrial mass-produced shape you’re probably used to. They’re a little irregular, a little special, and tasty as all-get-out.

Disclosure: I did receive a free package of handmade marshmallows in my flavor choice to check out, and I’m happily leaving a review.

My pick, Black Raspberry, arrived in a sturdy cardboard box with “Keep me cool; I contain marshmallows!” written on the shipping label and fortunately delivered late yesterday, before today’s projected excessive heat could roast them. I got distracted by other things and didn’t open the package until this morning.

Inside, I found a plastic-lined paper envelope, which I ripped into eagerly.

Look at that pretty purple color. Just look at it.

Photo: Elizabeth West

I selected a piece and shoved it into my gob. Oh mah gaw.

It plunged me into a cloud of pillowy sweetness and an explosion of fruity, raspberry flavor. These are really, really good, y’all. I had to stop myself from gobbling the whole package.

Other flavors Winthrop’s Whimsies offer include Popcorn, Apple, Coffee, and a nod to their home state of Kentucky, Bourbon flavor (non-alcoholic). I haven’t tried those yet but I’ve heard they’re pretty good. I think the Vanilla marshmallow would be really good melting in a cup of cocoa. I want that one next.

The candies are made with natural extracts, so if you’re allergic to anything, you’ll need to take that into consideration. I am not, which means I can indulge across the board.

Though Winthrop’s Whimsies is not officially open yet, you can get the marshmallows online. This is a small business, just getting off the ground, and it’s just two people at the moment, so the website may seem a little sparse. They’re working on gummies and other kinds of candies. Expect more deliciousness in future.

If you have questions, see their FAQ here.

I’ll be back soon to talk about my conlang. I’ve never done anything like this before. Thank goodness I saved my college linguistics and grammar texts. A lot goes into constructing a language; I have new respect for the folks who worked on Game of Thrones and Star Trek, and of course, the granddaddy of conlangs, J. R. R.Tolkien.

I made it look easy.

It’s not. It’s really not.

Bye-bye Tumblr

I’m sure you all know about the no more adult content rule at Tumblr by now, so I won’t reiterate it in all its problematic and misogynistic glory (no female-presenting nipples, folks).

If no one is reading my Tumblr feed, I think I might delete it. Let me know either here or on this *last* Tumblr post. It’ll be up for a bit and if I get no response, there’s no point in keeping it. Or I might leave it just to keep control of my name, but I won’t be posting there. 

Despite my vow not to get political here, I might now and then, if it’s warranted. 


Book 2 is almost done. It’s up to 70K + words. I’m a little stuck, mostly because of physics crap I have no idea what I’m talking about — cue fillers like CHECKTHIS and LOOKITUP. But I’m trying to finish before Christmas so I don’t have to write while traveling (ugh). 

In the meantime, I’ve gone to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (GO SEE IT OMG). I wrote some notes during the film but read some excellent reviews already, including the one I’ve linked (MILD SPOILERS), so I decided not to add to them. Instead, just listen to my words and go see it. 

And please join me in obsessively re-watching this highly anticipated trailer for Avengers: Endgame (OMG OMG OMG OMG OMGGGGGG), in theaters April 26. 

NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 30: TARGET ACHIEVED

“acheived” *cringe*

I would have written more words tonight but NOOOOOOOOOOOOO WINDOWS UPDATE DECIDED I SHOULD NOT DO ANYTHING FOR AN HOUR AND A HALF. 

That’s how long it took for this blasted computer to update and get to the login screen. And of course, it shut down right in the middle of a scene. So I bitched on Facebook from my phone, cried a little, and put on an episode of Peaky Blinders

And now we’re back! Too late to do anything!  (This is because I spent most of the day at the salon and now my hair looks insanely good. So I got that going for me.)

Fortunately for me, Atomic Scribbler saves constantly, so I didn’t lose anything. It also creates a backup anywhere you choose. I picked my flash drive, but it also lets me export my book as a Word document, which I then upload periodically (should be every day, tbh) to Google Drive. I really, REALLY need a new computer.

We’re under a tornado watch until 5:00 a.m. (yes, in November. Welcome to the Ozarks.) And I have to get up early in the morning for my Buddhist group. I’ll update my word counter on the home page tomorrow.

Lovely readers, I appreciate you being with me for this month of NaNoWriMo. 

NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 29: Nearly There

I don’t know why my screenshots have gotten so fuzzy all of a sudden. Probably because I desperately need a new computer. This little nugget has been with me for a while, but now he’s so slow that I can’t do several things at once like I used to. I need to replace him so he can be the backup while he’s still working well enough to be a backup. Because his backup is practically dead. And while he can still play a few games I need to finish. 

Maybe I should crowdsource it, since I can’t seem to find a job in this hellhole to save my fricking life.

I asked my wallet about it and this is what it said.

NaNoWriMo is almost over. I’m nearly 5,000 words ahead. I have a hair appointment tomorrow (have to stay spiffy for interviews and such), and it’s probably going to take a while. I may have a bit less writing time. I need it, though. 

I would not have gone blonde if I’d known I was going to lose my job, since it’s not cheap to keep it up. But I love my stylist; she’s very nice and cool. I always feel like a million bucks when I walk out of there, so it’s worth it. Plus I can keep a good blowout going for at least four days. 

Werrrrrrrth it.

A little pampering will do me good. It’s like a treat for making the word count. I’m going to enjoy it. 

The Writing Music playlist I posted yesterday.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 28: Two More Days

You might notice the graphic no longer displays a daily word count. I don’t need one anymore since I broke the NaNo count. It feels like I’m almost done, but when I look at that total, the end of the book (likely 80-90K) seems miles away. 

So close, and yet so far.

Image: Mount Everest from Kalapatthar by Pavel Novak / Wikimedia Commons

I feel much better than I did yesterday, although I’m still tired. I slept forever yesterday and this morning, and I should be wide awake, but nope. The only thing I did today besides write was return a movie. Now I’m yawning. 

Here’s a playlist I made and listened to while writing today: Writing Music.
It’s missing some tracks, since Spotify doesn’t have all the same albums I have. 

It’s a little dark, but things are murky in the book right now. A lot’s happened to my characters in the space of their timeline. Will they make it through? I don’t even know yet. I still have another book to work that out. Mwahaha.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 27: Please Send Soup

Blergh. I’m feverish. I only managed about 314 words. I didn’t watch Beetlejuice last night, either; I was too sleepy. 

Fever, if not high enough to cook your brain, is one of the body’s best defenses against infection. I didn’t take anything for mine. I’m gonna let it BURN THESE MOTHERS DOWN. 

I love how easy it is to embed media in this WordPress Gutenberg editor; it’s not so great for text, however. 

Today, I got a cool LED twinkly skirt I ordered from ThinkGeek. It took me an hour to wire it up and I’m exhausted. But it looks SO DAMN COOL. I don’t care if I’m old—I’m wearing it to my fan group Christmas party anyway. 

Image: ThinkGeek.com  

Hell no, I didn’t pay that much. It was on sale for $10. What, you think I’m crazy?

Now, off to rest. 

NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 26: The Traveler Has Come

This is a coronavirus. It is well known for causing a mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illness, such as a cold.

 Image: 1975 CDC/Dr. Fred Murphy / Wikipedia

I’m lying on the sofa feeling feverish, and I do believe this unwelcome little fart has made my acquaintance. 

Last night I coughed about a thousand times while going to sleep. I thought it was just reflux, but maybe not. My nose has been drippy all day. There’s a scritch in my throat.
I had a doctor appointment today for unrelated reasons, and I started feeling gross and sneezy afterward. So I went to the grocery store and then came home and made some Lipton noodle soup (that shit has magical properties. Don’t argue with me; it’s true). 

I get a cold every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it seems. If my Wolverine-like healing powers are still intact, the bug will only last a day or so. If not, I’ll be sick but with definite advantages over last year:

  1. I’ve already passed the NaNoWriMo word count. 
  2. More energy in the morning means I can wake up, write until I feel like shit again, and then go back to sleep with a clear conscience. 
  3. I know exactly what to write next and can just get right to it.

 Earlier this week, I acquired a gently used Blu-ray of Ant-Man and the Wasp and tonight, I watched that after my soup. Now my MCU collection is completely caught up until Captain Marvel and Avengers 4 come out on disc.

Tee hee!

I read that Lee’s cameo for Avengers 4 (when are we going to get a title?) is already in the can. I hope that’s true for Captain Marvel also. It’ll be a little sad to see, but at least Phase 3 won’t close out without him. 

I purchased Beetlejuice also. I like to buy used discs because they’re cheaper. Now I’m going to watch that one and then probably go to bed early. I’ve got soup, tea, blankets, and time. I’ll be fine. 

NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 25: ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!

1,720 tonight!
50,967 total!

A little late tonight; I had to clean the house today so I could put up Christmas decorations. The tree’s up now, and my back is out. 

Of course every crooked ornament is completely obvious now that I posted it on the internet for all to see. 

There’s a widget on the home page where I’d put my word count long ago. As soon as NaNoWriMo is finished, I will update the widget with the ending word count and add to it until the book is done. I’m hoping this first draft will be complete before Christmas. 

I have to say, I’ve gained new respect for J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King (especially The Dark Tower) and other fantasy authors. Building a complete world — food, clothing, customs, architecture, weapons (this one, ugh), LANGUAGE — is harrrrrrrd. 

Victory dance and then soon it’s bedtime for this writer. Catch you tomorrow! 

Angels and Demons: Hans Zimmer and Joshua Bell – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (I listened to this a lot while writing Tunerville)

We Don’t Live Here Anymore: Michael Convertino – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack