Creating a fictional human language – a beginner’s experience



Most people are familiar with the idea of constructed languages like Esperanto, Tolkien’s Elvish languages, and Dothraki from Game of Thrones. As a novel-writing linguist, I was keen to get it right when I invented two languages for a novel Patria Nullius I’ve just finished writing after a six-year slog.

Constructed languages or conlangs is a serious business. The Language Creation Society brings together experts like co-founder David J. Peterson, language consultant to Game of Thrones. Oh, by the way, people who invent languages are called conlangers, and I guess I’m now one.

I took the easy road in my twenty-second century world – inventing a Creole for a mostly depopulated Australia, and an English ‘underground’ dialect in a dystopian England. I anchored my creations in existing languages, and used linguistic theory to make them plausible.

My languages are mere fragments, nothing like Jasper Charlet’s extensively constructed Carite which even has its own opera Heyra. I have a skeleton vocabulary and basic grammatical rules, but no phonetics or phonology.

Orange Creole is named for the Australian town of Orange, where I located a climate refugee camp of speakers of Fijian, Fijian Hindi, Tongan and Vietnamese whose progeny created an English-based pidgin. This developed into a full Creole in the second generation.

Using Derek Bickerton’s Bioprogram Hypothesis, I was able to invent plausible basic grammatical features for a Creole. Vocabulary was adapted from the base languages and English, e.g. nowrotu ‘> an hour of two, meaning ‘in the near future’; the word for stomach – zazzy > Vietnamese.  Dạ dày.

Here’s an Orange Creole fragment: miyanim spisi yu ‘we are your fruit’, where miyanim (we excluding you) contrasts with miyanyu, (we including you), and spisi is derived from SPC, a brand of Australian canned fruit.

And here’s a bit of Arg, my English dialect spoken by a criminal underclass, which has developed progressivemodifiers ‘msorta, ‘mlike and ‘mkinda, as in we’msorta wait ‘we’re waiting’. My professional future gazing suggests that this is a plausible development.

Patria Nullius is starting its search for an agent right now, so Orange Creole and Arg are under wraps for a while (maybe a long while!). Meanwhile I’d be glad to hear from other linguist-novelists about how you deal with literary challenges. I promise a thread soon on how I incorporated an Arabic ‘feel’ into my Siranoush Trilogy.