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. :)