Creating a Language

In my upcoming novel, the dominant race in that section of the galaxy is not human, and as such, does not speak any human languages.  They are, however, similar to humans in many ways.

Their language can be spoken by humans, though not all human languages can be spoken by this species.   Thus, in developing their alphabet, I started with the sounds in the English language (as it is the only language I can speak with anything approaching fluency).  Then I decided to remove all velar and glottal sounds.  The dominant race simply doesn’t pronounce sounds that far back in their throat.  Thus, no k, g, h, or ng.   That leaves us with – p, b, t, d, f, v, s, z, sh, zh, ch, j, w, r, l, y, m, and n.

However, as some of you know, I’ve been struggling to learn French.  French is a very vowel-heavy language, to the point I am fairly confident they only use consonants for decorative purposes.  And trying to pronounce it or even understand it in its spoken form is proving to be very difficult for this native English speaker.  So, vowels.  And wow, there are a lot more of them than you might think.

Now, here, we have an issue.  See, English uses most of these sounds, but represents them with only five symbols.  Sometimes diacritic or tonal marks are added to help you figure out how it is pronounced, but sometimes you have to figure it out from what letter it is next to.  And sometimes, English just says fuck you, and you’ve got to figure it out from the context of the sentence.  Examples – read and read.  English sucks that way.  You’ve also got rode and road, and other such wonderful bits of nonsense.

IPA, I love you, but this is my first time, so let’s be gentle.  I’m going with the standard AEIOU then combining them to make other sounds.  And I’m kicking out O.  Sorry, O.  It’s nothing personal, it’s just for flavor purposes I feel like I should get rid of at least one section of that vowel nightmare.  Alright, our sound chart looks like:

Consonants
Labial Labio-dental Alveolar Aveolar-palatal Velar Glottal
Stops p,b t,d k, g
Fricatives f, v s, z sh, zh h
Affricates ch, j
Approximants w r, l y
Nasals m n ng
Vowels A E I O U

I will also, just for shits and giggles, add a dental click.  The dental click will not, however, be used as a typical letter.  Rather, it will be used to make distinctions.  Add a dental click to a phrase, and the phrase becomes inquisitive.  Basically, this species pronounces its question marks.

Now, I have my sounds.  My building blocks.  Now the question is, how do I put them together?  How do I build my syllables?  English offers a lot of options.  (s)+(C)+(r,l,w,y)+(V)+V+(C)+(C)+(C).  That’s because English likes to kidnap words from other languages, and then mistreat them horribly.

Our dominant species, however, is much more ‘civilized’.  They’ve been monolingual for centuries, and have eliminated many of those mutated and redundant words from their mainstream vocabulary.  I’m not going to restrict it as far as Japanese does, as Japanese only allows (C)(y)V(V)(n).  Which is why Japanese words end on vowels or ‘n’s.  I’ll start with (C)(C)V(V)(C)(C), and add a note that VV by itself is not allowed.  Then I’ll toss in a rare occasional word that doesn’t fit that restriction.  That leaves me still close enough to English that I’m not going to create a language I can’t speak.  It does, however, eliminate words like beaux and bureau, which incidentally are words English stole from French.  Sorry, France.  I’ll draw more inspiration from you next time.

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