Now that my website is almost completed, I think it’s finally time to start giving updates on the book I’m writing, “Light in the Barrenlands” (which I often call “Light” in short). And what’s a good topic to start with? How about… inventing languages? 😮
I know what you’re thinking… As Scooby Doo’s friend Shaggy would say: “Zoinks!” How do she do it? Or, how did I get the crazy idea in the first place? But, if you look back into some well-known high fantasy stories, you’ll find this is the first time a writer has attempted to do this.
Probably the best example of this is none other than J.R.R. Tolkien, the writer of, among many storires, “The Hobbit,” the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Elvish tales in “The Silmarillion.” Tolkien invented his own languages for the various peoples of Middle Earth, and then even dialects for the different groups of the same peoples. For example, he created three Elvish languages: Telerin, Doriathrin/Ilkorin, and Nandorin. Some of his languages were more developed than others; we see only a few words of some of the Elvish and Dwarfish tongues in Tolkien’s books, not nearly enough to get a clear idea of how the languages (and maybe the characters’ voices) sounded.
There is plenty to learn about Tolkien’s languages, so much that I don’t want to get too off-target from my experience with my own story. So, here are a couple links for your interest:
Now, why am I taking this crazy step and inventing a language for “Light”? Well, partly because I want the challenge, and partly because the way that this story is unfolding is calling for the creation of a language. Or, maybe more…
The language I’m currently focusing on is that of the Maahekai, one of the peoples of the Great Continent. This particular group is a special one: They are the only people on the Great Continent who are born with magical powers. Since magic and sorcery are two important elements of the “Sorcerer Queen” series, the Maahekai’s spells and incantations will appear throughout the books. And when their words were spoken, the effect they should have on the reader should be different than those of normal English. Therefore, it’s necessary to create a language for the Maahekai.
Just as Tolkein based some of his original languages on existing tongues, I’ve decided to use the Finnish language as a
base for the Maahekai language. My familiarity with Finnish is limited; I’ve heard some spoken and read it in various places. In fact, my first real exposure to the Finnish language was actually through listening to the Finnish symphonic power metal band Nightwish. A couple of their songs are in their native language. Just from these experiences, I like the elegant and exotic combination of letters and sounds in Finnish that you don’t quite get from other foreign languages. (Kunnioitusta herättävä! Awesome!)
Of course, I’m not copying exact words over from the Finns and saying they’re Maahekai words. That wouldn’t be right. So here’s how my process goes for creating Maahekai words:
When I’m curious about how an English word translates, I go to an online English/Finnish dictionary that allows both English-to-Finnish and Finnish-to-English translations. I type in the word and find its Finnish equivalent, then I do the same for some synonyms. Then, I try to simplify the words – taking out a couple syllables, making it not so… complex or elaborate. (Did you see the translation for ‘awesome’ two paragraphs ago? Yikes!) So, in the end, the Maahekai words aren’t a copy of Finnish. They’re coming out more as a mix of Finnish and African sounds.
Pretty cool what happens when you have an inspiration but no clear direction? Sometimes it results in something even more interesting that you first imagined.
OK, enough nerdiness for one night. More updates to come as I make progress with the third draft!