A New Language

For those wondering at the title, I’ve been making a new language this afternoon. More on that in a moment, but first the why.

Ever since the early iterations of this project I’ve had one thing firmly in mind when it comes to the presentation of these books – I want to have some sort of image to end each chapter or at least to indicate changing scenes. For the first draft of Wildwood, I used clipart of a tribal tattoo style rose, a Frasier opening style town and a dagger to indicate swapping between the main character groups. It was quite a nice effect to have that extra break between sections, but did seem a little cheap with the clipart. I considered using runes, but felt that by having something from the past of this world I would be coming away from any mystery I was building in my writing. Still, the idea of communicating with readers, and giving them something to translate should they care to, stayed with me.

So today I set out to come up with a language that would be accessible as well as interesting. I’d thought about this as a teenager (I was that kind of kid) and came up with the idea that straight lines and dots could be combined in enough ways that all letters could be accounted for. A further iteration of this saw a wordline created and another line going above, below or through that. The direction and position of that line indicated a starting letter and then dots added to that letter to push us along the alphabet a bit. It was complex and open to confusion on both ends.

This afternoon I kept the idea of the wordline and came up with a way to utilise it in a simpler way. Now, each word can be written as a circle and the top symbol in each circle is the start of the word, with the rest of the word read clockwise. I came up with a quick system for vowels that was easy to write as a number of dots in a column within the circle, then went to work on the consonants in the cipher. Consonant letters are written as lines that are either inside, outside or through the word circle. These are supplemented in some cases by a single dot either inside or outside the word circle, or two dots (one inside and one outside). In total there are seventeen letters, not counting vowels.

If you can do the maths you’ll see that some letters have to be missing. I’ve changed the QU so it is written as KW, removing the need for a Q. The letter C has been combined with two other symbols. I count S as a soft C, and K as a hard C. Finally the letter X is a combined KS. Other additions include the letter F pulling triple duty for the combined GH and PH sounds sometimes used in English words.

And this is what a word in this language looks like, written with that simple substitution cypher in place.

If you’re wondering, it says Wildwood. So you can figure out the W, I, L, D and O of my language from there and possibly the entire system of vowels.

I feel that the use of dots and lines fits with the idea of an ancient language that evolved by scraping chisels or chalks on soft stone. I also feel that the circular formation of words is suitably alien enough to feel less like our own word formations. It seems more hieroglyphical in that way.

I’m going to be looking at writing things in this language between sections, to both act as section breaks as well as a bit of flavour and a mystery for those looking to read more into the world. Now, I know what you’re thinking. I need to write the books and finish editing them before I think of this. Unfortunately I know that the idea would nag at me until I did something about it, so had to get it sorted out first.

In other news. I’ve now written three of the five short stories for the first book, and am editing like crazy on the first two. I’ve just started the fourth story and was having a bit of a hard time finding the character. After swapping the format over a bit to have him writing letters to a lover far away I think I’ve found his voice finally as well as a way to play off other characters For those that know me, this new story is currently called Apple, so you know it won’t end well.


6 thoughts on “A New Language

  1. I guess you were pretty good with math when you were young, eh? This kind of thinking – that you showed in making letters – is very logic and remind me on making mathematical combinations. But I guess you need to make some kind of sense when making a new language 😀

    “We are going to build a clock house” – in Greenlandic 😀 I bet there is some kind of logic in this one too, but I can’t fathom it 😛

    • I was always awful at geography and languages in school, which has been great for writing a fantasy book set in a realistic world as I’m sure you can imagine. However I did have a keen interest in history so that sort of makes up for it in this context.

      I was top of my school for maths. It helped that I was a working boy in high school, with one of those old fashioned tills where you had to add things up in your head then enter that price and figure out the change yourself. I’ve always been a logical thinker, able to take things apart and just sort of know how they work. It’s what gave me my interest in psychology and I find that my instinct tends to be correct more often in that field than the generalities in textbooks.

      As for the Greenlandian (is that how it’s said?), I wouldn’t have a clue how to dissect that. Again, awful at languages (oddly bot so bad with Dead or computer languages) so I just can’t grasp the rules that govern them. It doesn’t help that the rules for the English language (“I before E, except after C” for example) tend to be wrong more often than they’re right. It was always fun in school to follow English lessons where we were taught that with Science lessons, as I’m sure you can imagine.

  2. Looking at the example here and the language cipher I created, I think it might seem more artistic to replace dots with circles. It should flow better that way, and fit with the idea of words being written in circles for formal purposes.

    I’ll have to experiment on one of my off-writing days. Anything that makes it a little more artistic is always a good thing as writing should flow, even when not in your language.

    I had the idea originally of making each symbol represent a syllable, but couldn’t narrow them down enough to be workable. This way is just simpler to use unless I have an epiphany.

  3. Okay, I spent the time recently to redo this. As mentioned, I swapped all dots for circles so that “typos” are harder to make. Joining the circles to the lines makes for letters that flow better too. Combined with the word circles, this allows for some pretty hieroglyphic looking words. It even works better as informal writing along a straight line. I also came up with a way to add extra meaning to words, defining if they are names or titles with one new symbol and locations with another, both built naturally into the system. Also, a new vowel system was put together that builds on the idea that this culture does everything functionally but with a flourish.

    All in all this part of the project is pretty much complete and ready to be used.

    • Not at all, and I’m not sure I get the reference to be honest.

      There is a language mentioned in the books (at the start it was for a cheap joke but the culture of the old kingdom shaped the way the language exists and is formed) and this is about allowing that to be seen by readers. The thing about language ciphers is that people try to figure them out and sometimes they manage it brilliantly. This becomes part of the fun for those people and allows them to feel more connected to the world. This is a simple substitution cipher so it shouldn’t be too hard for people to get and will allow that deeper connection.

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