3 Tips for Creating a Fictional Language
  • 4-minute read
  • 6th March 2021

3 Tips for Creating a Fictional Language

When we refer to a “fictional” language, we mean a language invented by an author for a story. These are especially common in sci-fi and fantasy novels, where inventing new words, cultures, and languages are all key to worldbuilding.

Luckily, you don’t have to invent a complete linguistic system to do this. Nor do you have to retrain as a linguist. To help you get started, we have a few tips:

  1. Think about how you will use a language in your writing – Who will use it? How will they use it? And how much will you need to invent to achieve this?
  2. Research how languages work – If you can replicate the patterns and sounds of real languages, your invented one will feel more real.
  3. Keep a list of invented words as you write – Make sure to document your fictional language and invented words so you can ensure consistency.

For more on all the above, read our detailed advice below.

1. Decide How You Will Use a Fictional Language

Theoretically, you could create a functional language just for a story. And there are examples of fictional languages that you can learn and use (usually developed by fan communities based on the elements included in a work of fiction).

Ultimately, though, you only need to invent as much as you plan to use in your writing. And this will depend on how you plan to use your fictional language.

There are several approaches you could take here, including:

A) Integrate elements of an invented language into English
Rather than invent a new language, you can introduce new terms into English. We see this in Watership Down, where Richard Adams invented words for the rabbits’ Lapine language. Or you could take inspiration from A Clockwork Orange, where Anthony Burgess included over 200 words of Nadsat (based on Russian slang).

B) Restrict the fictional language to particular characters
Another option is to only have certain people use your invented language. For instance, you may want to restrict it to characters from a particular place, as George R. R. Martin did for the Dothraki people in his Game of Thrones novels. This might mean only creating words for things of particular relevance to their culture.

Either (or both) of these can help you introduce a fictional language to your writing without having to hire a professional linguist for help! As such, think about how you will use the language in your story before you make any other decisions.

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2. Study Other Languages

Even if you are only using elements of a fictional language, you will want it to sound real. And the best way to do this is to draw on real-life languages.

J. R. R. Tolkien, for example, was a scholar of languages as well as an author of fantasy fiction. He therefore drew on this in his writing and based aspects of the elvish languages in the Lord of the Rings story world on Welsh and Finnish.

The key here is not lifting actual words or phrases from other languages, though. Instead, pay attention to how languages work, including:

  • The different patterns of sounds used in various languages
  • How languages combine words, or use prefixes and suffixes to modify words
  • How grammar and sentence construction vary between languages
  • Different writing systems and how they relate to languages

You can also look at how other fictional languages use these things. You can then use features from existing languages to make your writing feel more authentic.

3. Keep a List of New Words

By definition, any words you invent won’t be in the dictionary. To make sure you are consistent with your fictional language, then, make sure to document it.

This means noting any invented words you use, along with relevant rules for how the language works, and using this as a point of reference while writing and editing your work. Once you have a word list, you can also use it as the basis for a glossary in your finished novel, giving readers a helping hand with the new terminology.

If you want, you can even add new words to the spellchecker in your word processor. This will help you avoid errors, but it also means you won’t have lots of red error lines under your new words when you type them!

Proofreading Creative Writing

If you are working on a novel, don’t forget to have it proofread by the experts. We can even check words from an invented language if you provide a glossary! Sign up for our free trial service today to see what we can do.

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