After my last post (What’s in a Word?), fellow Scriptor Brooke Johnson recommended a book to me. It was The Art of Language Invention by David Peterson. I’ve been working my way through it, creating a language for my faeries as I go.
Peterson’s method begins with deciding which sounds your language shall have. Although I have decided the vocabulary of my language, Saykehee, is going to be very loosely related to Sanskrit, I’ve decided to include fewer sounds than Sanskrit has. So where Sanskrit has thirteen vowel sounds, Saykehee has only eight. These vowels may be combined with sixteen consonant sounds to form a total of one hundred thirty six sounds. This is fewer sounds than either English or Sanskrit, but there are real world languages with even fewer, so I don’t think it’s too simple. (Funnily enough, there is no “f” sound, so some of my faeries will have a hard time with the word “faerie”, pronouncing it with a “v” sound.)
What I’m having trouble figuring out about my sounds is how to write them in English so my readers will know how they’re meant to be pronounced without me including a pronunciation guide. My first rendition of the language has the vowels written “ah”, “ay”, “eh”, “ee”, “i”, “oo”, “uu”, and “uh”. That seemed fine when it was just a list of sounds, but when I started writing words, I found I had a heck of a lot of h’s. I haven’t decided yet if that’s something I can live with.
After sounds, comes words. Peterson starts the words section by delving into the meaning of the word “word” and concluding that what counts as a word really depends on which language you’re talking about. So I needed to decide what counts as a word in Saykehee. My first instinct for that was to use German as a model, but I decided that it would be easier on my readers to just go with English so that “the big, red, shiny ball” didn’t become a word an entire line long.
Having established what a word is, Peterson moves on to affixes, the things we add to words – suffixes, prefixes, etc. Common reasons to add an affix include pluralizing, setting verb tense, and establishing gender. Saykehee isn’t going to bother with conjugating verbs, but there are noun suffixes to determine number, gender, and light/darkness.
This is the point where I rushed away from the book to scribble down random details about my language. For example, there are eight ways to say “the” in Saykehee, depending on number, gender, and alignment. There also more pronouns than in English due to the added light/dark distinction. “I”,”me”,and “we” have both gender and alignment forms, so even if the only thing you know about one of my faeries is how this character says “me” you will know whether the character is a male dark faerie or a female light one.
I’m only about half-way through the book, and have much more to learn and think about. Like, how is this language natively written? (I keep flipping between wanting it to use a syllabary and wanting it to be pictographic. I’m leaning toward pictographic.) I’ll write about the second half of the book next month.