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Using Constructed Languages in Literature - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Using Constructed Languages in Literature
This article talks about how to use conlangs without getting in the way of a story.  This is fine for one cluster of stories that contain conlangs: the ones that use them as local color.  There, you want a small amount, much as you would if you used dabs of French or Russian or whatever in a story aimed at an English-speaking audience.  So the article makes a decent amount of sense, for as far as it goes.

However, there's another cluster of stories that use conlangs: linguistic speculative fiction.  These stories are ABOUT the conlang.  There are lots of variations, but in all of them, your audience is there to watch you trot that thing around the stage and make it do tricks.  If they can't see enough of it, they will be annoyed.  The audience for these stories is smaller but extremely passionate.  These are people who buttonhole linguists and ask about OVS languages.  You're not going to throw them unless you botch the mechanics of linguistic construction and/or basic storytelling skills.  A closely related subcluster is stories that are primarily about something else, but require a lot of conlang support, such as one about alien genders with unique pronouns or one about time travel with unique tenses.  Effectively, these require guidelines more akin to the linguistic speculative fiction set than the local color set.

What this really means: before you start writing a story with a conlang in it, decide which of those types you want to write.  The guidelines for doing it well are almost entirely opposite.  Walk in the middle of the road, get squished like grape.

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4 comments or Leave a comment
From: rhodielady_47 Date: January 22nd, 2018 02:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Definitely something writers of fan fiction need to know particularly before they start writing in whatever constructed language has caught their fancy.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 22nd, 2018 08:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well ...

Writing IN a constructed language is hardcore for writer and reader alike; e.g. Hamlet in the original Klingon. People do it, this is totally a thing, but it's a tiny community.

I've done it, but only short pieces. You can see an example in Polychrome Heroics where I hacked Proto-Indo-European, and I did a futuristic version for the Blueshift Troupers too. I may have done something in Torn Tongue.

Another hardcore threshold: those of us who write dictionary/grammar sized models instead of glossary sized models. :D

Again, the rules are totally different. Flub a declension in local color, no one will notice or even care. Do that in linguistic science fiction, people will catch it and complain. In hardcore, they'll not only catch it but write a diatribe on how and why you made that mistake and what you should've written instead. Unless it's a pattern problem, in which case someone is bound to present you with the rule you didn't know you were following, and someone else will do the diatribe on why it's still a mistake.

<3 xenolinguistics.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 22nd, 2018 10:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Something for me to look at later tonight. I was just building a vocabulary for a piece and wondering "Is this too much? Am I going Tolkein? HOW am I going to use this?!" so, timely post, thank you! -kellyc
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: January 22nd, 2018 10:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Okay ...

Those answers really depend on why you are writing a story and building a conlang.

Do you just need a few words and phrases for local color in a story that is primarily about something else? Use sparingly and don't do more work than you need to.

Is the story about communication in some way? Then you will need to understand a significant amount about your conlang and the people who speak it. Use it to support the story.

Is it just plain fun for you to make languages? Then go for it. Some other folks love reading that stuff. It's like standing around someone's model ship admiring it. In this case, you should have at least the writing system, the Swadesh List of common words, and the core grammar concepts. Use as much as you want.

Also, consider the Six Layers. Conlangs are really better built from the core out. However, if you only want a handful of terms for local color, you can get away with surface-in.
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