The story I'm writing has characters that speak a different language from the protagonists.

I'm thinking about building them a conlang (constructed language) but I don't know the best way to go about.

The world they inhabit is culturally and technologically and geographically similar to our own. That said I've struggled with naming and languages.

Should I create a conlang completely from scratch OR should I modify an existing language?

By modify and existing language I mean is their language how for example French would have evolved on this planet and in this culture in this time period?


how, for example, Vulgar Latin would have evolved in their region/culture/time into a brother/sister language to French/Spanish/Portuguese/Italian/Romanian etc?

  • $\begingroup$ If you start completely from scratch, you're probably still modifying an existing language, just less deliberately. $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ I don't agree. Yes I would be using concepts found across many language, like tone, register, dialect, conjugation, emphasis, etc. but I wouldn't be taking from a current language's vocabulary, syntax, or sound. $\endgroup$
    – WeekzGod
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 18:51
  • $\begingroup$ I see a potential flaw (which you may be okay with) that exists in your plan. Languages evolve and splinter to form new languages over time. To create something completely isolated would make them unrelated at all...and that seems off. Check out this chart to see what I mean. i.sstatic.net/8ocRx.gif $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ Yea I know about this. I suppose I should have said in the OP that these people are migrants and thus their language is not related to any in the place they migrated to. $\endgroup$
    – WeekzGod
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ It might help to know how central language is in your story, and how much of the "foreign" language we'll encounter. Presumably it's somewhere between "just a few phrases in passing" (this'd be too much work for that) to "plot revolves around it" (a la Darmok), but that's a pretty wide spectrum. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 21:00

2 Answers 2


Modifying a Language

Some perks:

  1. The grammatical structures used already exist, whether you are aware of them or not.
  2. People who speak that language may get tickled if they can understand the modified one.
  3. You can quickly get a different language by applying some vowel or consonant shift to one language (but be careful not to reverse some previous sound shift. You may start with Dutch and end up with German!)

Some Downsides:

  1. People who speak that language could get seriously insulted.
  2. You need to learn a language to modify it. Otherwise, you run the risk of breaking rules in the unmodified language, which can then ruin the modified language's authenticity.

Building Your Own

Some Perks:

  1. It will be foreign to everyone! You'd need a linguist or a dedicated fan to figure out the language. Even so, your sample size may be small enough that NO ONE WILL GET IT! They'd need a "rosetta stone" to translate it.
  2. You will be able to define your own grammars, words, and ideas in this language
  3. You can use whatever sounds the human voice can produce. This is also a downside.
  4. Conlangs can be super sweet. After all, J. R. R. Tolkein had a deep linguistic background. They can also serve to build your world.

Some Downsides:

  1. It can be too mechanical. Irregular verbs, for instance, are a common hallmark of actual, spoken languages. Real languages tend to have such quirks and exceptions. (English is a prime example: English has exceptions which have exceptions!)
  2. It can be too irregular. If a language is totally irregular, it becomes very unusable. Many Indo-European Languages have a mixture of both.
  3. Languages do not exist in a vacuum. They arrive in families, bump into each other, swap words, and morph over time. If a conlang exists in world, what do the other people speak?
  4. You can use whatever sounds the human voice can produce. Good luck trying to use the roman alphabet to approximate those sounds! If you use IPA, you can get the sounds down, but only a select group of people can read it. Editors may not like you very much.
  5. You likely need a good grounding in linguistics to have a complete enough conlang. Does it follow the SVO grammar structure? What tenses and cases does it have?
  • $\begingroup$ I've built conlangs before but they were always problematic in one form or another. That's why I'm asking advice this time around. But thanks a lot. The modify language option is looking more promising especially since I want my world to be relate-able to the real world. $\endgroup$
    – WeekzGod
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ @WeekzGod It's good to know you've tried before. I only know the pitfalls because of linguistic study and some futile attempts at a con-lang. I think the modify an existing one is better, too. You should see who else answers in the coming days. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 19:14

I've usually been far more entertained by the idioms and turns of phrase that writers create for another race/culture than simply a cool new language.

Best example is from the new Mass Effect game, Andromeda. The game takes place in the Andromeda galaxy, and it rather goes without saying that the alien races there are speaking different languages. But they bypass them entirely by having universal translators. So instead of learning how to say "laser gun" in Angaran, we learn a few of their proverbs.

Example - "Ocean of fish, one will have gems in its mouth." That's perfect example of a proverb about optimism.

I'd rather hear what an alien race's analogue is to "let's flip a coin" than to know simply what their term for "coin" is.


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