The Craft, World Building
Comments 3

To Conlang or not to Conlang?

©2013 Kalen Chock

I am a fan of world-building, as anyone who knows me can attest. This stems largely from my first novel (still in the process of being re-written,) called Game of Empire, which was based (as so many fantasy novels of my generation are) on our weekly D&D games. Now, said games were undeniably epic, and the primary DM (my ex-husband, as it happens) was truly a genius at crafting suspense, pacing and riveting, edge of seat excitement. He could reduce grown adults to tears. We thanked him for it.

A campaign world for a D&D game doesn’t need need to be fresh and original. In fact, I think you could make the argument that it’s better if it’s not. If a player can hit the ground running with an elevator treatment like ‘My character is an elf from the forests who has left her home to find the magical artifact stolen by a band of orcs in the raid that killed her parents‘ it’s really all to the better. Thanks to Peter Jackson, everyone knows what that means. It’s universal.  Not everyone has the patience to research a DM’s campaign world with custom races and highly detailed political systems like they’re back in school doing a geography report. (I do, but even among gamers, I’m a huge nerd.)

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that when I re-approached Game of Empire for a re-edit, years after the divorce where I’d been awarded rights to the book, I discovered that we hadn’t paid any attention to the language at all. The book was very much set in a D&D game, completely recognizable as such — and worse, it was set in a D&D game populated by people immigrated from Europe, by way of Tolkien and The Princess Bride. The elven capital was called Elendel. One of the duchies was called York, and Gildor was the sworn enemy of Florin. The nobility all had names that sounded French, a number of towns were inexplicably German, and the good guys were, mostly, Anglo-Saxon. The world was an awesome place to game, but the political system was best described as untenable and a number of concepts, like the Capital City, existed because they were challenging to players rather than because they made any real sense. I was forced to conclude that if I wanted the book to work, I was going to need to rebuild its story from the world up — which meant creating a language.

So conlangs, or constructed languages, are exactly what they sound like, artificial languages. Klingon and Tolkien’s Quenya and Sindarin are famous examples, but not all conlangs are created in support of fiction: Esperanto is technically a conlang as well.

For people who love conlangs, the journey is the point. The process of crafting the language is a labor of love sometimes taken to the point of obsession. Tolkien famously described his own love of conlangs (and the small, very select group of people who shared his passion) with language that one might normally take for someone in the closet about their sexuality. He also is quoted as saying that his books were written to provide an excuse for his languages, and not the other way around.


So…I’m not a Conlanger. I admit it: I find it to be a huge chore. Vorem (the base language I created for GOE) took me a distressingly long time to build, and even then I didn’t create the full language or a detailed system of grammar. I just wanted some good names for things. However, it seems I had an advantage, one that doesn’t seem to be around anymore. Once upon a time, someone (I think it was Mark Okrand, but don’t quote me) had made an excel spreadsheet available cutely called duplexcompoundinterest. The spreadsheet lists 400 or so base sets of words, including examples from a provided conlang. You enter your own version of the base sets and the excel spreadsheet helpfully multiplies everything together to give you 5,000 or so new words. (I typically copy those words into a new spreadsheet where I can then pick through them and morph the results into something I like.) Cool, right?

I was going to post the link, but I can’t find it anywhere.

I’m reluctant to upload my copy, because the original should still be out there. The conglang site where I found my copy still exists. So I’m thinking perhaps author’s permission has been rescinded.

In any event, the idea is sound enough. Take a list of base words that you consider important to your world, then mix and match them until you have something you like: a naming language, rather than something complete enough to be used for conversation at a gaming convention.  Zompist has a nice basic break-down of conglangs (as well as a good introduction to phonology and linguistics) and the Language Creation Society provides a pdf which is definitely worth the read. I personally just used excel for my language, but this free program looks like an interesting tool that I’m going to take a look at if I start expanding Vorem.

Personally? I think it’s worth doing, even if I don’t find the joy in conlang creation that others might.

That said, it does make setting novels in this reality seem that much easier.


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  2. amicgood says

    That’s really interesting! I’d never thought of using programs or tools to help creating languages! 🙂

    • It’s been a godsend to me. I don’t think I could have finished The Culling Fields (which is what the Game of Empire turned into for publication) without them.

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