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Jo Walton on Linguistic Subcreation

Patrick Nielsen Hayden sends us to Jo Walton. She writes:

papersky: Fast and Dirty Fantasy Names: You don't have to make up languages the way Tolkien did, you have to make up words and names and the illusion of languages. But those names and words have to be right, because names are threads in the tapestry, names need to work with the picture, or at least be neutral....

There is a simple way of getting round this... the random fantasy name generating program.... First vowels -- eliminate one, and decide which of the others is the favourite. Then consonants -- decide between: B-V V-W W-R M-N B-M C-K C-G C-S S-Sh Ch-Sh TT-Th. When you've decided, write down the alphabet without the ones you don't want, with the favourite vowel twice and with "Ch" or "Sh" or "Th" if you want them.... Then randomly (roll dice?) select consonants (no more than two together) and vowels, stopping when you have stuff that feels nice....

[I]f you want to have two fantasy countries that are different from each other, make all the different choices for the other language... their names and words sound different from each other, even if the reader can't tell exactly how.... The Gonovians and the Camavese really will seem like different people....

carandol and I once made an alien language.... The aliens were called Xanfd, and they rocked.... But I defined so many of their words that eventually when I ran the [word-generating] program it was as if I was getting messages from them, full of words I knew, or half-knew, and other words I didn't. The screen would fill up with things like "Human attack /something/ spaceship /something-plural/ size-comparative something-highstatus FTL communications /something/ broken /something/ /something/ light something something-plural survivors".

I could therefore use this for plot generation.

I do not actually recommend this, as my memory of sitting in a darkening room reading yellow text on a blue screen that told me of battles far away and alien secrets is a little too realistic for comfort.

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