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FF Sparks (Techy), Geek

[Random/Geekage] Im gelia Sindarin...

Look, it's not political! By the end of the post, you may be nostalgic for my political rants, though... ;)

As many of you know, I fancy myself something of a fantasy author. (Which may, in and of itself, be a fantasy; whether my views and those of reality coincide have yet to be determined.) Right now, I'm working with shadowfey on a novel called The Last Page, but there's a story which has been bubbling up in my mind for some time now which I plan to work on afterwards.

However, for part of that story, I really need a language. I don't want to simply co-opt a real language for several reasons, which means creating one. As my hapless Othernight players know, I've created languages before for tabletop games, but generally those are just sort of basic rules to allow me to create names for myths or ancient places. An example would be the ancient base tongue from Othernight.

The ancient base tongue, the language the N'thari still spoke, was more a set of basic word compounding rules, and a a set of root concepts. For example:

thari - people
rel - safety
in - place
ith - protector
ik - weapon
leri - fortune
an - wind
kel - bird
ei - center
tok - physical world
ter - spiritual world

These were stuck together with a brief glottal stop to form words; rel'in would be 'place of safety,' rel'ith would be 'protectors of safety,' Leri'an would be 'fortune's wind,' and suchnot. You'll notice that these are all sort of 'base concepts,' building blocks.

There were also appended and prepended modifers. 'N' as a prepended modifier meant 'true,' 'h' meant hidden/concealed, 'ren' meant lost or displaced. Prepended modifiers, for instance, were 'i' for friendly and similar things. When adding a prepended or appended modifier, the glottal pause in the base went away, and the pause was used to separate modifiers from word. For instance, "N'thari" meaning 'true people,' "H'relith" meaning 'protectors of safety,' "H'relik'i" meaning 'friendly weapons of safety.' (There was a logic to the names.)

This was fine for coming up with place names on the fly as needed, but it's not really a particularly useful /language/, since there were no real grammar rules, no verbs, etc. For the story I'd like to write later, I need to go a bit further. Now, the master of constructed languages is, of course, the esteemed J.R.R. Tolkien. As such, I've decided to sit down and start studying Sindarin, a bit.

Sindarin is the language of the Grey Elves from Lord of the Rings; it's the language we hear spoken (or sung) in the films which sounds vaguely Gaelic. Like several other languages of Tolkien's (including Quenya, or High Elven), Sindarin uses 'Tengwar,' the elven alphabet, for the written form. It's a fairly impressive language, and a complex one, as references like Sindarin - the Noble Tongue or essays at the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship can adequately demonstrate.

As of yet, my Sindarin grammar sucks; I'm not certain I conjugated 'gelia-' (to learn/to study) properly above in my subject line as 'I am learning Sindarin...'

And typing in Tengwar is a headache and a half; it took me easily twenty minutes to figure out how to write 'Rochand' ('Land of Horses,' which bastardized into 'Rohan' over the ages) in Sindarin-mode Tengwar. I did eventually figure it out, and had fun with Tengwar fonts, however. :)

Despite the headaches, I'm getting an increasingly awed sense of respect for exactly what Tolkien managed. Sindarin has a lovely flowing sound to it, for instance the Sindarin form of Galadriel's opening voiceover from Fellowship of the Ring:

I amar prestar aen, han mathon ne nen, han mathon ne chae a han noston ned 'wilith.
(The world is changed; I can feel it in the water, I can feel it in the earth, I can smell it in the air.)

What impresses me the most is that for all that it is a constructed language, Sindarin feels like a real language. It has a depth and richness to it which seems to speak of a language evolved from an older one, and sure enough, there are a number of Sindarin words which are modified or inherited from Quenya (High Elvish), another of Tolkien's languages.

So, random rambling aside, I wonder what other writer-sorts (or world-builder sorts) on my list have done before when they want a language for their worlds. Do they just usurp an existing one and reuse it? Muddle through? Consider this random curiosity on my part. :)


One of my old, half-abandoned projects is Elturia, my conlang/conculture--I focused more on the conculture part, especially the mythology, but I had to have a decent base in the language to do so, so I messed about with that a bit. If you want links to conlanging sites, I can dig some up.
Oh, I am the veritable mistress of Google; I can make Google advanced searches dance and sing for me. It's not links I'm interested in. ;)

As a bit more background, my father was born in Germany to American diplomat parents. Raised mostly by his German-speaking nanny for the first four years or so of his life, he didn't actually know English when they moved back to the States. After learning English, they moved to Italy on another posting, so he learned Italian. He got interested in languages, so learned Greek, Russian and some Chinese, as well as devising a constructed language of his own. I've talked to him about the ideas of language and all, but I know that if I were to sit down with him to come up with a language we'd spend easily two years doing it. Between my father's tendency to create the root languages and derive descendent languages from them, and my tendency to believe any fictional world needs about four centuries of socio-political and economic trends recorded to be properly fleshed out... we'd never get anywhere. ;)

So I'm curious mostly what specific, personal approaches others have taken.

I admit I've thought about it before, but I have that perfectionist edge too. So I end up researching root languages and the basics of constructed languages, then I get into wishful thinking about how I should have studied etymology and linguistics in school, and then I decide I don't have the TIME to create a language because I want to do it right...

So I just muddle and guess. Really, I just try to avoid creating a language because, well, I don't want to screw it up.

Someday, when I'm feeling suitably masochistic, though...

Tengwar is indeed beautiful.

I'm lazy: based Maquaa on the grammitic structure of Russian, to a large extent, with heavy modifications, character logic that covers phonemes (and their names) and unique characters (like ideographs), and mathematics (base-60).

It's not truly alien, but it's fiction. I can't imagine the truly alien, anyway. Besides. Russian is such a beautiful language. I'd have stolen the words, their suffixes, and Cyrillic if I felt it made any sense to do so.

I'd say more, but it seems sort of pointless until I can finish reconstructing everything the postal service lost. Every page of notes and calligraphy I worked on from a five year-period is gone. My chest still tightens uncomfortably when I think of it.

I may put it up in my lj as I go along. I'm pretty proud of the designs of the characters and how they link together (and because the grammar is dependent on the linkages, no computer font is possible).

Off-topic: I wonder what it would take to produce a Tengwar keyset for a manual typewriter. I think that would blow my mind.

Re: Tengwar is indeed beautiful.

I wonder what it would take to produce a Tengwar keyset for a manual typewriter. I think that would blow my mind.

It'd be difficult; the idea of a fixed-width Tengwar makes my brain hurt. Add to that the fact that you have a lot of overmark characters which are necessary, such as to turn 'd' into 'nd' (and I just realized I mis-spelled Rochand above, dammit, and will have to fix that later), so the typewriter would need to do a lot of backspacing.

The tale of what happened to your language et al makes me cringe as well. :(

Re: Tengwar is indeed beautiful.

It'd be difficult; the idea of a fixed-width Tengwar makes my brain hurt. Add to that the fact that you have a lot of overmark characters which are necessary, such as to turn 'd' into 'nd' (and I just realized I mis-spelled Rochand above, dammit, and will have to fix that later), so the typewriter would need to do a lot of backspacing.

Well, perhaps. But manuals have been made for other (real) languages which make use of umlauts and other diacritical marks which don't need backspacing (it's called deadkeying; after kitting the key, the space actuator is not engaged). European languages have them.

Then, of course, there's Arabic manuals, which wouldn't work in this case (R to L like Hebrew dontchyaknow), but the Arabic manuals weren't fixed-width font, either... in fact, if it weren't for the imprint on the page itself, it'd be indistinguishable from print. (Don't think they've been made since the 1920s, however.)

The tale of what happened to your language et al makes me cringe as well. :(

Most of the vocab may be gone forever, but I remember lots. Need to rework how I handled logical vowels. Once I recover that, the rest should be just a matter of time.

In any case, at least the numbers survived. Thanks to lj.

Re: Tengwar is indeed beautiful.

I actually type up all my notes fairly regularly, and they are all saved on my .Mac iDisk. So even if my computer died, and my backups all died, as long as mac.com is still online I have all my notes and drafts.
Unquestionably wise. And it now appears I wasn't totally foolish: I have the consonants, at least, found in on a SCSI disk I was about to wipe clean.

Good thing I looked first.

Re: Tengwar is indeed beautiful.

There; fixed the spelling of Rochand. As an example of what I meant by Tengwar typing being a headache, the letters I used to produce that were...


...which is like trying to enter raw Unicode, and bears no rational relation to the five Tengwar letters 'r-o-ch-a-nd' in any manner. It's horrible. Someone really needs to write a Tengwar locale and input method extension for MacOS X, and maybe Windows XP. :)
IBM Selectric typewriters encode their typefaces on small steel balls. Some other models use daisy wheels. Either thing could possibly be machined in small lots by someone sufficiently loco. It's also possible that some models were capable of variable-width typefaces, too... ebay, anyone?
I don't know much about the electrics; but competent typecasters still exist, albeit greatly reduced. Generally, the only type they can produce is for metal (plastic is apparently much more complicated and expensive).

(Most of the charm and feel for me is with the manual typewriters anyway.)
I made one. With verbs, nouns, conjugations, a dictionary. The whole nine yards. I even wrote an epic historic poem and translated it into the language. The rules were decidedly Latin-y, as that was the primary language that I'd studied at the time.

When I get home I should be able to find some of the stuff I wrote in it, but I think that I left a bunch of it back in the States when I left. Fool that I am. :(