Linguistics

Player-Driven Languages within MMORPGs?

Greetings,

I am currently working on a project called Evosphere in which the player takes control of an animal and evolves it through its life cycle. Yes, I know this sounds similar to Spore and a few other games of its ilk, but mine has a few differences. Namely, that the game is focused on community building and is attempting to be a realistic working model of 'survival of the fittest'.

Anyway, not really important. Basically, within this game, as all players will take the role of animals without language skills, I have come across a unique language building problem.

If the players can't communicate through text nor talk, how will they express their emotions and intentions? How will they socialise? How will they decieve? How will they interact?

Good question. But, I think the premise answers itself. If the players are playing animals, we just need to look at how animals communicate.

Scents, growls, howls, specific movements. All of these things are employed, but as we as humans do not know the exact meaning behind eeach of these 'language' functions, how are we to employ them in a game without giving the players an extensive corpus about the various types of animal interaction?

Colour.

Colour evokes emotion, and some colours are truely universal. Black and yellow means danger. Burnt orange means aggression. Light blue means tranquility. Green means fertility. And so on. Linked with certain colours, certain actions will be given direct meaning to the animals, and therefore to the players.

But there is still no concrete system for communication. Sure, you can emote that you're growling, but are you saying that you're growling about the other creature? Or are you growling about something you want the other creature to help you with? Could this be cleared up by two growls for the first, and a submission and then a growl for the second?

I see language developing!

Do you think this system of player driven language creation is possible? Perhaps, as the game goes on, should 'smarter' animals have access to more elegant communication methods? What are your thoughts? Is there any other way that one could influence this system to enable player driven language creation? Leave a comment below!

Idioms and Their Place in Conlangs...

Culture is central to idioms, certainly, but idioms can also be central to culture. Granted, a language's culture creates its idioms, but one can, when conlanging and conworlding, explore ones conculture through the creation of idioms.

What are Idioms?I guess the first thing we need to focus on, is, what exactly an idiom is. An idiom is a phrase or word that is taken to mean something that it literally doesn't within the normal confines of the language. In this way, an idiom is a figurative phrase.

But idioms are more than that. Idioms are colloquial language. They share similar routes to slang, and slang is developed from language creativity. Idioms only exist because someone within the language chose to bend the literal meaning to emphasis the event or phenominon that they are now describing.

As such, this is a very good way for conlangers to give weight to words and to show the importance of some features of their culture.

So, how do I make Idioms?
There are a couple of methods to make idioms, but each requires a different level of planning before hand, yet neither are exclusive of the other. Sorry to confuse you, but you'll shortly understand what I mean.

The First Method: What Do Humans Find Interesting/Annoying?
Most idioms concern things that all humans find interesting and or annoying. Even if some languages take the idiom to new heights, they will, at their core, be about something that all humans must face.

So think about these things. What do you find inherently interesting, as a human? Food. Sleep. Love. Sex. Safety. Wealth. Family. Friends. Those are the main things that almost all humans care about (I say 'almost', because some people might not care about love or wealth etc, but they are still important to the list as someone within the language, at some point, is certain to have cared about it). So that is a good starting point.

Now imagine the extremes of these 'interesting' things:
Food = Hunger, starvation, famine : bloating, fatness, gluttony.
Sleep = Fatigue, being overworked : Apathy, laziness, being well-rested.
Et cetera, et cetera.

These are the extremes that people think about on a somewhat daily basis, and are therefore, quite possibly, the things that are going to be discussed regularly. No one likes repeating themselves, so these are going to be the things that are exaggerated and are going to have new and, sometimes funny, ways of being expressed.

GOOD! You have your idiom topics.

Now just repeat for things we find annoying (note, these sometimes co-incide with the previous lists, which just means there may very well be more of those types of idioms).

The Second Method: What Do Your Conpeople Care About?
Ok, this might sound a lot like the previous method, but it is drastically different. Whilst previously we were talking about universal concerns, here we are talking about VERY SPECIFIC concerns...

What do YOUR PEOPLE care about? Are they philosophers? Farmers? Warriors? Do they focus on a horse dominated society? Is pottery sacred to them? Are some forms of food forbidden? What is there take on gender equality? Are women feared, reveared, or sheltered? Are men just there for procreation, or are they Gods gift to the world to keep order?

These questions will fuel your idioms, but will also come from idioms created through the previous method. Whilst you are thinking of clever ways to express deep hunger, or tiredness, or a lack of sexual happiness, think about the words you are using... Think about the word routes you are using.

For instance, take a look at my conlang, Fengwë:

The Fengwë word for 'hand' (dar) comes from the word 'woman' (da), because it is assumed that women are nurturing and protective and that they 'hold the children'. The word for 'wife' (koda), therefore, comes from the conjuction of ko- (beautiful) and -da (woman). However, the Vendri (the people who speak Fengwë) have made a little joke, and have named the 'hand one uses to masturbate with' as the kodar; which draws parallel with ones wife in an example of Vendri humour. Furthermore, this is made 'funnier' by the fact that the verb 'to fornicate' comes from ko- (beautiful) and -daros (to hold), meaning something along the lines of a beautiful embrace.

As you can see, the Vendri have a very childish sence of humour, but it is a good way of expanding the language and the culture in directions you wouldn't normally think about.

Don't even get me started on the Vendri word for flatulence!

Ok, so, that done, now what?
So you have your lists, and you have your ideas for silly little cultural nuances... Well. Go at it! Think of the most absract ways you can express your topic in your language (hell, make up some new words if you have to) and you'll be surprised with what you come out with!

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Here are some Fengwë idioms to get your creative juices flowing:

Izi anëtisë?
"Are you at peace?", similar to English "Are you OK?"
Fezosusëoi dë sayirg.
"He is cleaning the arena.", to be delayed so long that the awaited action is no longer desired
Peyisosë mën Fengrufol!
"I received two winters!", to feel hard done by
Ellwësosesë tesisik yelli!
"I shout your victories!", warrior greeting

Why Conlang?


The subject of Conlanging is an important one to me; it got me originally interested in my main field of study – Linguistics, it got me further entrenched in fantasy world design – ever a good thing, and it attached me to some of the greatest authors of all time – thus flourishing and inspiring my writing. In many ways, my life as it is today is because of Conlanging (for I would not have the same connections with the people in my life without my love of language which stemmed from this hobby).

As such, when I was thinking on what to write to you all about today, I came upon the topic “Why Conlang?” – or to put it more thoroughly, “What is Conlanging, and why is it worthwhile?”

What is Conlanging?
Conlanging is the art of making a Conlang, and a Conlang is at its most basic a Constructed Language. What this means is that it is a full language invented from the ordinary set of rules that govern and exist in all of the worlds languages. In this way, you make a unique brainchild, a language that possibly only you will ever see, read, speak or hear that you can use for no other purpose than to exercise your brain and to explore fun and fiddly functions of language not native in your own language.

Have a nominative-accusative native language? Try making a ergative-absolutive language. Have an isolating language? Try polysynthetic. This experimentation is in my opinion the best way to learn about other languages and Linguistics as a whole.

For a more in depth look of what a Conlang is and how to go about beginning the long and rewarding journey to make one, go here.

So why should I do it?
Well why not? At its most basic, there is nothing stopping you from making a Conlang. Anyone can do it, given enough time. And it doesn’t even need to be an exhaustive amount of time. Most Conlangs are created by people who spend maybe an hour a week on it. Maybe less. That language moves forward at the pace you want it to until it reaches the level you want it to reach. A language is never complete until you say it is.

Freedom is not the only reason behind the “why” of making a Conlang. Conlangs can give you a plethora of material to work from when it comes to writing fiction (as nothing speaks more to the emotions, motivations and mindsets of character more than their native tongue, not to mention conflict when other languages are encountered). Consider this: a language without gender in their nouns, and therefore likely gender equality, coming across a highly categorical language which has a noun gender which encompasses both “female” and “dishonourable” traits. Imagine the conflict that will cause when the female diplomat of the group attempts to speak with the foreigners!

Any writer out there should be salivating with the potential for conflict that language evokes, and if you’re not, then you just might need to watch a bit more Star Trek.

I hope to talk to you again soon,

Ben Scerri

Conlanging for Fiction – Part 2 – In Creative Writing

Making constructed languages for your fictional settings is a great way to add depth to the world. Today I am going to talk about their use in Creative Writing.

 

A novel (or piece of creative writing), unlike a Roleplaying game, is completely controlled in context by the author, but still needs to be received. This is the major problem with Conlangs in creative writing. Often those who read your books will be unfamiliar with the concept of Conlangs, or will be viewing your story from their native languages standpoint. This crossing of wires can cause problems.

 

Firstly, there is the problem of comprehension. Many people will simply not understand what is happening, and you will find that confusion will bloom in your readers. This could be because you are too liberal with words from your Conlangs, or you do not introduce them in an approachable manner. My advice on this point would be that you should have the main characters’ speech only ever written in English (or equivalent) but this is merely translation from what is really being spoken. The only time you should pepper your text with words from your Conlang is in nouns and phrases that don’t exist in your language (e.g. ‘gaitru’ – meaning ‘forest watchtower’ from my novel/creative writing/story/thing, Vengr). These additions add enough fluff as to inspire your readers, but do not bog them down in lines of foreign text. (It is also advisable to add a short lexicon or glossary of the words you use from your Conlangs at the back of your book.)

 

(Please note that if you have several cultures in your world, it can be interesting to put a few phrases in from a non-central language – especially if the main characters do not know this language. But do this sparingly).

 

The next problem faced is one of misinformation. Native languages will always corrupt our thoughts when approaching a new language. Consider J.R.R. Tolkein’s Quenya, with its hard <c> (forming /k/). Who hasn’t heard someone say “Seleborn” when “Keleborn” is correct? You must make sure you use simplistic orthography. No outlandish symbols or outlandish rules… As a general rule, you should keep non-plumonics out of your main Conlang/s, but they can feature in the more alien ones (see note above). Just make sure you represent them well!

 

The last problem is one of effort. Let’s face it, not everyone who sits down to read a fantasy novel wants a lecture on language – especially not a fictional language. I advise adding in the aforementioned glossary, but making sure that it is unnecessary to read the book. Everything should be explained in enough detail during the story to make sense, without readers having to flip back and forth. It is advisable to have someone read over your work and then see if they come across concepts they didn’t understand. If they did, explain it better in the text.

 

I hope to talk to you again soon,

 

Ben Scerri

Conlanging for Fiction – Part 1 – In RPGs

Making constructed languages for your fictional settings is a great way to add depth to the world. Today I am going to talk about their use in RPGs.

 

 RPGs, whilst being a narrative experience, are collaborative. This means, everything you (as a GM) put in, your players must choose to face it. Even in a highly railroaded campaign, a GM cannot force his players to experience the fluff text. As such, your players will need to be on board, or you will need to be conservative (otherwise you’ll waste a lot of time).

 

 However, despite this, there is still something those of you with a Linguistic bent can do to satisfy both urges simultaneously. Create a Naming Language.

 

 Naming Languages are perfect for RPGs and stories alike, as they enable a uniform approach to naming (of towns/places and of peoples) which can actually alleviate some of the stress for a GM (I.e. write up a list of traits and adjectives in your Naming Language, and when your players come across an NPC you haven’t named, glue a few together, and you have a name that is original, insightful (to their character), and fluffy to the game world; same goes with place names!).

 

 Of course, another method to use is language puzzles. Make a very basic grammar for your language, maybe a few roots, a word order, etc. Make it basically a complicated cipher of your players’ native tongue, and then make a prop which is a “Field Guide to X” where X is the name of the ‘Ancient Language’ you’ve just created. Then, when your players stumble into the ancient ruins, they have this field guide that they can use to decipher the inscriptions. But don’t make it too easy on them! If you have a ‘modern’ Naming Language, attempt to add in some sound changes, which aren’t included in the Field Guide, so that the players have to think hard on what those missing syllables mean. Just a thought.

 

 I hope to talk to you again soon,

 

 Ben Scerri