Friday, March 25, 2011

What Tongue are You?

We have recently added 4 more authors to our wagon--welcome! You can visit them to see how they apply languages to their work: 
Anastasia V. Pergakis,  J. D. Brown, Alex J. Cavanaugh, Deirdra Eden-Coppel, M. Pax,  Jeffrey Beesler, Charlene A. Wilson, and Andrew J. Cooper! 

I love to invent words. I have a list of made-up words in my writerly sketch book. My first novel is a high fantasy read using invented words for native creatures. The goblins have their own language, which I didn't translate. Oops.


Nowadays, I keep a dictionary in a separate file and refer to it as I write the novel.

I keep my words simple, pronouncable. I don't always directly translate what a character says:

"Fermer la porte." Collette shivered.
"Do you mean close the door?"
Collete nodded.


"Fermer la porte," Collete pointed to the door with a shiver.
"You get cold too easy, I swear." John kicked it shut. "You're welcome," he taunted.


Like in the second example, I drop clues so you won't catch a headache. I do the same with real languages such as my Viking novel and Eros.


How do show your character language?


  1. Hmm...this is interesting. I haven't really written a character who needed his/her own language. Ooh, but I do have a teeny gargoyle who grunts and covets Rollos. LOL

  2. Love the examples here. I do the same, sort of. I don't do whole sentences, but I insert a word or two in my character's tongue and let them figure it out using the context of the rest of the sentence. ;)

  3. Great post! I use a word or two sprinkled in to just give the readers a taste but I rarely go full sentences, only to stave off confusion or long phrases in a foreign text. It's fun to make up your own and done day I hope to go full out and make up a brand new one!

  4. Great way to translate. By showing what it means instead of telling them. Thanks! :)

  5. Hmmm..Elizabeth..very interesting. I would love to learn the language of the goblins from you. :)

  6. Oh wow!!! I'd love to see your dictionary of made up words - that sounds so amazing!!!!!

    Having absolutely no skills linguistically, I never dared to go that way - so I'm full of admiration for y'all able to invent a language! Wow! Take care

  7. That's an excellent example, Elizabeth!

  8. I've not used a language for characters, but in a flash I wrote for class I did mix up grammar to give a character an accent and used his grandson to drop clues and banter back if it was hard to understand.

  9. I love inventing words, too.

    Your examples are great. I do the same if I use a language other than English.

  10. I make up stuff like your words make my eye-brains cross.

  11. I am in the process of editing a book that uses a little Romanian, but it is from the PoV of 2 people who don't understand it, so there are a couple short phrases they catch, and a word that becomes important (a letter signed with the word for 'father' that she only learns the meaning of late in the book). I haven't don't any inventing though, and am terribly impressed by anyone who does (though I recognize the latin behind your door--which I think is smart... people recognize it, even when it isn't exactly some language)

  12. Salarsen, how cute! That sounds like a character I'd like to read about! :D

    Jenn, that's a great way to lead the reader into learning and not as imposing as the first example! :D

    Ana, I like that, too, it gives the reader a reminder that they aren't speaking English. Great job!

    Charlene, thank you!

    Rachna, it would be so much fun to go back and read that story, it's been YEARS! I wonder if I'd remember what the goblins were meant to say! Oops....

    Jennifer, thank you! But you do have great writerly skills, for sure! <3

    Alex, thank you!

    Chris, wow, that's a great idea. I would love if you wrote a post on that! :D

    Mary, really? How fun is that! I read your post and enjoyed it!

    Shelly--LOL! You made me laugh, but I KNOW exactly what you mean! You're so cute. ;)

    Hart, wow, yes, that's a great way of doing it. I'd be interested in seeing a short clip of your passage! :D

  13. I love the example! Perfect illustration of "show, don't tell" too.

    I don't have actual sentences in other languages but I do have many made-up words, mainly place names, so translation isn't really the objective.

    I do have one place where my MC ponders the meaning of a phrase. She knows the literal meaning but has to fathom out the real intent when it gets used as an insult against her.

  14. Botanist, thank you SO much for the wonderful compliment! Showing versus telling has been one of my weaknesses because I was always "tell" kinda gal until the writerly world turned on its axis and changed into this direction. :D

    Your example would be fun to read out on a blog post! ;)

  15. Being a book translator, you can imagine how I just "loooove" when authors invent languages :) At such occasions sedatives are my best friends :))

  16. Loved this post, and the showing instead of explaining is brilliant!


  17. Dez, that's wonderful! It makes me smile that there are people out there that appreciate wild imagination <3

    Chaos, thank you! ;)

  18. Hey, Elizabeth, that sounded sooo much like a challenge. Consider it done ... here.

    BTW I know what you mean about the world turning around. I pick up so many successful books off the shelf that would have today's critiquers frothing at the mouth yelling "telling, telling, telling..." :D

  19. I remember thinking about inhospitable elements with fallible characters mixed up in a whirlwind of mystery and science when I wrote my first story. Adding clues to compliment your own language is a really nice touch.


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