Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Your Language Cycle: a linguistic workshop

This post is part of a series to augment The Worldbuilder's Handbook available for free download.

This and other world workshops are gathered in my Worldbuilding Directory for you to explore.

Find more linguistic content in my Language Directory.

Inventing a language for your novel adds depth and nuance (and it's fun), but is also a big pain. That's because language is not a static thing. Languages, like cultures, grow and change over time. Some languages are young and limited in terms of vocabulary. Some languages are old and steeped in rich history and tradition. But most languages seem to go through the same cycles over and over again:

Stage 1: The writing system develops (or is modified) to match modern speech. Whatever your language, at this stage the written language seems to perfectly represent the oral language. Words are written phonetically, and speakers have no difficulty pronouncing or spelling new words.

Stage 2: Modern speech continues to evolve, while the writing system remains as it was in Stage 1. Spelling becomes complex and archaic, and the writing system as a whole grows more burdensome and difficult to master. Children take longer to learn to read and write, and adult learners have difficulty converting between spoken and written formats.

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Stage 3: The general populace starts to unofficially amend the writing system (provided you have a literate public). Spelling, syntax, and grammar are adjusted to more communicative, phonetic modes. Scholars, however, maintain the original writing system as the "correct" means of written communication, and the unofficial modes of writing are scorned as "ignorant" and "uneducated."

Stage 4: Future generations of scholars begin adding exceptions and adjustments to the writing standard. In an effort to maintain clarity, they adopt some of the most prevalent writing modes from the general population. Dictionaries start listing alternate spellings and slang definitions of words, and schools begin accepting modified syntactical constructions.

Stage 5: Scholars grow frustrated with the complexities of the writing system, and they set out to codify it. New grammar is officialized, simpler spellings are adopted, and exceptions are embraced as new rules. Overall, a new writing standard is established, and the old one is now perceived as "obsolete" or "archaic". (This matches Stage 1, where the writing system is modified to reflect modern speech.)

Generally, as a language evolves, not every cumbersome writing tradition is abandoned, but the language does make progress. In the Language of the Known World, you can see how certain facets of my languages are centuries old, and other facets are newer inventions of each language's native speakers.

Remember that the general public is always more informal and agrammatical than the scholars of your world. With this workshop, you'll be able to add nuance and realism to your world, giving your invented language a stage in its evolution and better cementing your language in its time and place.

That's it for this post! Check out the latest worldbuilding workshops for more.

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