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75

I don't have a reference but some philologists and linguists have speculated that you could survive (explain who you are, ask for employment and food, etc.) in a foreign land with as few as 500 words. Henry C. Fenn, author of several language texts, felt that a vocabulary of 5000 words was sufficient to support learning new words by context, e.g. by ...


63

All Elvish is (probably) open source (in the US) There is a real legal history of battles over open source languages, two threads of which are relevant here. The first is that the US court system has definitively ruled that it is not a violation of a constructed computer programming language's copyright to write a new computer program using the same ...


27

You could also use an extinct language that no one speaks anymore. There are hundreds to choose from. Being a real language removes any legal issues, gives you all kinds of real grammar and everyday words instead of just the ones that are needed for the story. And best of all, if your work becomes popular and people start learning it, you could be helping ...


23

My recommendation would be to conduct a mock conversation in your head between two speakers who are typical of the culture in question. Some things to keep in mind: What will the speakers of the language likely talk about? For example, some topics might be used more in a medieval setting (e.g. "ax") than in an outer space setting. Pick a conversation ...


20

On the internet exists a comprehensive guide to the construction of an entire language, appropriately named; The Language Construction Kit. I was going to copy/paste it but if I did, it would not fit! In the thousands of words it contains, you will find guides to sound choosing, word plotting, word formation, Grammar, writing systems and more.


20

You may find that when you start designing characters for your language, they feel somewhat contrived. In order to avoid creating a writing system that doesn't fit the language, you first need to define some aspects of your language: Is the language meant to be ancient or modern in your universe? Writing systems tend to simplify over time because nobody ...


19

Indo-European languages... have a common origin and common grammatical concepts; but they don't really have much of a common inventory of phonemes. A linguist, or an amateur who knows their basic linguistics, would understand the phrase "not similar to Indo-European languages" as referring to grammar, not phonology. So what are the grammatical commonalities ...


18

A man called Mark Rosenfelder has written three well-regarded books on creating a conlang. The one most relevant to your query is The Conlanger's Lexipedia. Among other things it contains a "Fantasy Frequency Wordlist, a 1500-item list of the most common roots from a 1.1-million-word corpus of fantasy and science fiction". Equally important, there is also ...


16

One example would be aliens that communicate in a parallel fashion. Take an alien that has multiple mouths, and talks with all of them simultaneously (using pitch or some other factor to differentiate). Or possibly it just has a more complex vocal apparatus. They might therefore simultaneously communicate nouns, verbs, and adjectives all at once, grouping ...


12

In addition to the excellent points raised by Alex Clough, remember also that writing systems, just like spoken language, evolve over time. For instance, consider a language that was originally logographic as it began to become a written language. Over time, as the language expands to incorporate more objects and -- much worse for logography -- abstract ...


11

It really depends on how far you want to go Do you want to create a number of believable sounding words, write foreign sounding sentences or construct a language very different from your own with its own vocabulary, grammar and history? All of these require very different levels of effort. At the very lowest level we have: Creating a naming language A ...


11

I started with some principles: writing could go in any direction and glyphs can be written with any orientation or reflection, so they had to be distinct and not differ due to symmetry only. For alien numerals, each glyph is written in a square bounding region. It touches the sides of the bounds. Each digit (0 through 8) is the simplest curve that has n ...


10

The key would be that it needs to resonate with the people who speak it. One challenge I would make is that you will find the term "complex" to be a loaded one. What is complex to one person is simple to another. For a real-life example of the mismosh you talk about, consider English. English is famously difficult to learn as a second language because it'...


9

Natural Semantic Metalanguage The Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) is a mini-language of sorts, for which any other language (at least the ones they have studied, which I understand to be numerous) can be broken down into. For example, a translation of the English word "happy" someone X is happy (at this time) -translates to-> someone X thinks like ...


9

The answer is, we do not know. There are indeed some universal grammar features, Chomsky hypothesised that those are inborn to human brains. Even if that is true, alien brains can differ. On the other hand, we have no idea of knowing if there could be a human language that differs markedly in some aspects from every known language, or indeed if there has ...


9

The UCLA Phonetics Lab has a public database of how sounds are used in different languages. There is also a nice website UI for the database, hosted by the University of Frankfurt. This contains a browser that can look up which sounds are used in which classes of languages. For example, you can see that languages classified as Indo-European are: ALBANIAN,...


9

Most conlangs are the work of one person. Whatever the legalities, it would be odd to borrow them for a new work. However, there are ongoing efforts in many conlanging communities (such as Reddit’s /r/conlangs), to construct conlangs within the community, with no one owner, open for use by anyone. There are a couple of active projects on Reddit, and no doubt ...


8

Apparently not I have been searching and the only answers I have found are already mentioned in this reddit-thread. Quenya, Sindarin, and all other languages by J. R. R. Tolkien are copyrighted until January 1st, 2074. Everything appears to be "copyrighted". Just a few might not be. I have not checked all the details of Láadan and Divinian yet, but I ...


8

Taking the legal problems aside, another problem is to find a conlang that really satisfies your needs in terms of vocabulary and grammar available. Answers to this question on conlang.se suggest that the account of Tolkien's Elvish languages is too sparse to be really useful. Even for the Lord of the Rings films and the Hobbit films, new Elvish words were ...


7

If all words in the language match 1-to-1 to English words, it's basically simply a code for English. Pitjantjatjara for example doesn't have a word that means what the English word brother means. Even European languages differ in the contexts the have. If I want to translate the German word Wahrscheinlichkeit Polish offers me one choice with ...


7

I think the answer is actually "clearly, yes, you can have a truly alien grammar". The reason I think this is that to be truly alien the language must have none of the elements we think of. These are (simplistically) nouns, verbs, adjective and adverbs. So - candidate alien grammar: every word means a sentence. foo: how are you today bar: I'm well, ...


7

There aren't any commonly accepted sets of phonemes for constructed languages. The cool thing about creating your own language is that the only rules you need to follow are your own. Often times people creating conlangs will take hints from existing language if they want to make a language that fits a particular purpose or mood. If you're wanting a ...


6

If you're just starting out, I would recommend selecting a number of phonemes (sounds) for each language to have, as well as rules for what sounds can be arranged in what ways (this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0h-gbeI0AFQ can help with that). As far as making them sound authentic, one suggestion is: don't make all the languages have Indo-European ...


6

There are several ways to examine your question. In one sense, what you're really asking is "How Did English Arise?" English has a large phoneme inventory, an extreme almost unwieldy system of tense-aspect in verbs, a suprisingly large system of nominal & verbal adpositions, and excessively large lexicon, etc. On the other hand, what you're really ...


5

Syntactic components of spoken languages (which most of the times are not context-free but context-aware) are defined by human interaction. There are a lot of problems: Semantic elements like pronouns are defined in a per-language basis. We could say that in English we have a pronoun "nosotros" which can be translated as "we" in english. It is the same in ...


5

Alphabetic symbols (as opposed to syllablies or ideographs) should be simple and maximally distinct from each other. I've thought of this before, and it’s actually quite challenging to come up with something that’s not an actual letter in some writing system already! Look through the Unicode tables. Look at what can be done in a small box with a few ...


5

Don't do a general purpose word list, if you are creating your own language, you are probably creating that for some purpose (I am assuming for some book, game or some fictional work). So first create words for sentences that are actually used in your work (that's it, make your work worth, do not spend time inventing stuff that probably you will not use). ...


5

My favourite method: (Works best if you have very non-neat handwriting, go to school, and have a teacher who dictates a lot.) Get someon to dictate a long text quickly. Don't try to write neatly, as that ruins the point of the excersise. After you have a page of ugly text, you can finish, as you probably have a lot of random letters that look fine in the ...


5

Lots of great answers here! Let me throw in a few thoughts... Don't stress the alphabet. It can be jarring for if you start inserting deep-unicode symbols. Most readers can handle umlauts, accents, and possibly cedillas. ;D Look at patterns of sounds. Here's a decent description of English phonology (sound inventory): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...


5

The question of copyright on synthetic languages is an interesting one, on one hand concepts and names aren't generally subject to copyright but on the other hand there is a reasonable argument that a constructed language as a whole is an original creative work and would seem to fall at least within the intent of copyright law. One possibility is to choose ...


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