Building Your World: Words, Words, Words

I have always loved language. The interplay of words and their music sings in my brain. The development of language reflects the development of culture. Man was created to communicate with God. History is shown in the stories we tell ourselves, each other and our children. And what is mathematics, but the language of science for concepts there are no words for? Newton invented Calculus to explain gravity.

Novel Ninja

Language is one of those things that people tend to be concerned with when writing science fiction and fantasy (mostly in fantasy), and yet how many SF&F authors are linguists? It’s quite possible that this is a natural outgrowth of trying to show a radically different culture from our own; or it might be that the godfather of fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien, the Professor himself, put so much work into his languages.

Not everyone is a philologist, though, much less one of Tolkien’s caliber. How do we use languages in fiction without sounding like we just made it all up? How can we make it up if we’re going to keep the audience from feeling lost? How can we even hope to show a language barrier if the book’s all written in English?

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