Conlang construction philosophy? :)
Maybe because I speak 18 languages (only English is spoken by any other person on the planet), and maybe because it's come up in a lot of conversations recently, I ended up doing a 16 page rant on conlangs on another forum.
No one there was even vaguely interested in anything about conlangs (it's more of a vocab/etymology/we-love-words type of site, but anyway...) I'm still worked up, and curious, and I figured that I'd share my own thoughts/methods here, and beg everyone to share their own thoughts as well.
And don't worry, it won't be 16 pages... or a rant :P
Anyway... If you look at any "alphabet" ... or whatever basis for written language exists, you will find that there are very few actually *different* shapes/symbols used.
The current "English" or "Roman" alphabet, original the latin alphabet, was and is, in both forms, straight lines, half circles, and circles. They are PRIMARILY straight lines. Those straight lines can be combined in any number of ways. Here's a sample of less than 1/3 of the symbols you can make with *no more than 3 straight lines* (the letters E, M, and W all have 4 lines, btw).
There are 42 symbols - that's more than the number of letters in our current alphabet (though some languages have many more) (26) AND 9 digits, with 7 more to indicate 10s, hundreds, thousands....
Remember, this is just a small sample of the symbols you can make with 1, 2, or 3 straight lines. Yet NINE of our letters are approximated in just that sample. More than 1/4. by curving those sample lines only slightly, you cn make 11 of the letters in an arabic alphabet, and 12 *words* in chinese.
A lot of conlangs are simple reworkings of a current language. Many people will sneer at these languages, because they prefer a language with grammar of its' own.
Many conlangs are based off an existing alphabet (with new grammar rules) without knowing why those alphabets are the way they are. Some people turn their noses up at these, because there are a few gems of conlang that have their own alphabet.
That's fine if the alphabet makes sense in the setting.
If your people came (originally, no matter how far back) from Earth, then yes, their languages/alphabets can be familiar. And you can say those languages developed however you wish.
On another world, however, languages will develop differently.
Our written languages start with straight lines because we, as a world, in many different cultures, all started writing before we had anything to write *on*.
Try writing DANGER! in Elvish. Now carve it in the wall of a cave with a sharp rock. No? How about on a piece of wood with a stone knife? Can't do it? Can you write it with a stick in the dirt?
Okay, okay, elves are more advanced than we are, and their language had developed past ours before we hoomans ever existed. Got it.
At least there's a reason for it.
Where was my point? Oh yeah.
I've always figured that the best way to create a language is to begin at the beginning. When did my people first start communicating with words other people could understand? When/how/why did they start writing that way? Did they begin with berry-stain painted pictures that were later simplified? Did they ALWAYS use letters? Do they still use pictures?
Then I consider (based on when they started communicating) what was most important to them at that time. It's almost always food, water, shelter, and danger. Those are your real root words.
Later I add words for family, for "mine" and "yours". For good, bad, up, down, far, near.... Usually, I let the rest of the language flow from there. Other words develop more naturally this way. Words for my family can grow from words for home - which is basically *my* shelter. That food is dangerous, but this one is just bad. Tastes bad. How do I tell my neighbor not to eat it?
My final inspiration, when struggling to create (or begin) a new language, is to go to a neighbor's house, lay on the floor, and talk to a baby.
What sounds do human beings make most naturally?
Or preschoolers- what sounds are hardest for them to learn?
Why else are there, in 100 different languages only a few ways of saying "Mom" which don't sound similar?
That's one word I always develop from baby sounds.
So I'm curious. How do other (less obsessive/perfectionist/semi-psychotic) people develop their conlangs. What kits do you use, what guides do you follow, or how do you create your own?
(Eh, maybe it was a bit rant-ish, after all... sorry :( )