Climate change and language change: That’s the issue I’m pondering as I embark on my fourth novel. Having written two books with contemporary settings and one set in 1973, I’m launching myself into the future with a dystopian story. Without revealing too much, my new book (working title The Twilight Principality) is set in Australia and England, and has a climate change theme.
One of the challenges is dealing with the language spoken in my dystopian world in 2065. Well, it’s only fifty years from now – my grandchildren are more than sixty years younger than me and they understand me perfectly. So why is there a language issue?
The reason is that part of my story is set in an isolated enclave around a town in Australia inhabited by descendants of local townsfolk and climate refugees from Vietnam and the South Pacific. I have engineered this micro-world so that a generation of children have grown up speaking a creole language based on English, Fijian, Fijian Hindi, and Vietnamese.
There is a long tradition of constructed languages in literature and film: The Game of Thrones’ Valyrian and Dothraki are widely known contemporary examples. Tolkien’s Elvish languages were created over a century ago.
I chose to create a creole language to suit the special circumstances of my imagined micro-world. I’ll resist the urge to give a lecture on creoles, other than to say that linguists find them especially fascinating because they seem to develop similar grammar systems even when they develop in different parts of the world. Readers who want to follow this up should have a look at Derek Bickerton’s bioprogram hypothesis.
My micro-world has a growing vocabulary, including zazzy (stomach), doublegranny (two-roomed house), and larka (boy). And I’ve written the basic grammar rules so that I can make sentences in past, present and future time.
But the other challenge is not to bore my readers stiff! You’ll only get glimpses of my creole language in the novel, but you can be assured that like Elvish, Klingon and Valyrian, there’s a linguistics expert toiling in the background to make sure that it is plausible. The real point of the exercise is to add authenticity to an imagined world in which global warming has passed the tipping point.
As I write this, I note that every mention of Australia has been deleted from a recent UNESCO report on climate change: Another reason to write this book.
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Read about Stuart Campbell’s novels here.