Immediately you’ll think of Tolkien. Who else, right? What else can match Quenya and Sindarin? What else can look to be as complete as mighty Tengwar?
The answer is nothing.
But that doesn’t stop it being a great way to ground your universe. Intelligent beings read and write, that’s just the way it is. Why not have a language other than English? Why not have an alphabet other than Latin?
Sure it’s not as easy, but it isn’t as fun as creating your own either. If you find great importance and delight in world-building but haven’t tried creating your own languages because it will “never live up to Tolkien” and “I’m not a etymologist”, you’ll never know the fun. So I urge you to try and it and if you want to try but don’t know where to start, I’ll give you a few tips in this very un-serious guide meant to start you off.
Firstly, when creating an alphabet you’ll need to decide which consonants you want in your language – not all languages have the same consonants other times they differ slightly. Some languages add completely new ones. Think of the ñ of Spanish.
After this you can start drawing up the symbols for your consonants – write them out with your usual Latin alphabet first, then draw your own symbol afterwards. Remember to keep your symbols grounded, as if there is thought put behind them. Language is developed over hundreds of thousands of years, if your alphabet looks old is will be old to the mind of your readers. A good way to keep your alphabet grounded is to research different real-world alphabets. Learn about the reason for each symbol being the way it is. What limitations would be placed on these people? A race of disembodied blobs probably wouldn’t write with pens in their hands. Notice some symbols match with either other – this is true with Latin, Greek and even Cyrillic. Incorporate that with your own language. The reader’s mind will think your alphabet more authentic if they can somewhat make out the word in their minds, even if they are wrong. This happens all the time when reading Cyrillic with a Latin-focused mind. “Is that a V? I think it is.”
Ah, now is when you separate the real creator from the impostor. Your mind and hand have developed a set of symbols for your chosen consonants and now you see that they kind of look like something.
The Cindic U in “Sumar” looks a little bit like a sword doesn’t it? That was completely unintentional but welcome – Now Summer is the season infamous for being the most violent where the people are the most war-hungry. These small things complete your world-building and give authenticity to your fictional folk.
You have an alphabet but you can’t simply use it to write English words. Tolkien used Tengwar exclusively for his fictional languages for that all-famed authenticity. You’ll need a fictional language to write with your fictional alphabet. This part might be difficult if you aren’t very well versed in languages and their etymological trees and such, but fear not, Google Translate is your faithful ward in this matter.
Always, always ground your fiction in the real world. To not do so would obliterate your changes to keep your readers in a state of disbelief – as soon as words begin to become hokey or dumb-sounding as if you’re just stringing random sounds together, your readers have already put down your book and started reading something better. Like Lovecraft. But we’ll get to him.
Try to pick a language (or languages) for your fictional people. If they live in the North of your world in a snowy land, then your best bet is to pick languages like Icelandic and other Scandinavian tongues, unless you want to make a rebellious point and have them speak a language closer to Zulu. Remember, languages can and will borrow words from other languages – you can incorporate that too.
On the topic of Lovecraft. His elder god ramblings is a language he intended to not be like anything of the Earth, but he put a lot of thought behind the way humans speak and the differences in languages. The tongue of his Mythos is meant to be unpronounceable by humans. He did his research and his fictional, terrible language remains singular in its uniqueness. Cthulhu phtagn!
Creating a fictional language is a long process but can be done well if you put time and dire thought into it. But that is the same of all thing
“Well, I have my language/s. What now?” you ask? I’ll tell you. You now have a basis for your world. It’s literally all you need to spur your creativity on.
It’s all Tolkien needed, that’s for sure.