How I craft a language Part 2: Phonetics and Phonology

You can read the first part of this series here. This is a continuation of that first post.

I’ve made some concept drawings of my Dragios species, but as I’m not the best at drawing, this is mostly sketches with only the head done in any sort of detailed fashion. Here’s one of the design sketches:Image02172014154740 I’m still not fully satisfied with it — the mouth needs to be a bit more triangular and smoothed out, but it’s close enough for my purposes.

In order to start creating their language, I need to consider the details of how this alien species evolved and their biology. The Dragios species evolved on a light gravity planet around a low mass star (spectral class of K5, which means it’s surface temperature is only 4,400K and it is 0.64 the size of our sun. This means the planet has a closer orbit in order to be in the habitable zone.), where the gravity is 3/4ths that of Earth. They are mostly a bird/reptilian type species and can glide short distances on their planet. They have the ability to alter their outer appearance to some degree, the two outer layer of cells fairly flexible, allowing for them to camouflage themselves extremely well. It takes some time for them to learn how to look like other similar sized animals, but once they master the skill, they can easily blend and walk amongst their prey without being noticed. This makes hunting fairly easy, and fairly easy for them to hide if they’re being hunted. They are bipedal with strong legs and strong wing bones, allowing them to run fairly fast and glide great distances. Their hands have a thumb and three fingers, which gives them the dexterity to grasp objects and undoubtedly proved essential in their development of technology over time.

Their mouth is shaped a bit like a bat’s snout, very compact, but with a large nasal area. Their ears are large and can easily move nearly 270 degrees. This gives them a wide range of movement, and allows for greater breadth in the range of their hearing. They also have no lips, and thus would have no consonants corresponding to those types of sounds. Within their throat, they have a four thin vocal chords, layered upon each other, which allows them to sing four pitches at the same time. This gives them versatility with their music and speech, and also makes it hard for a human to ever truly learn to speak their language. Because of this, their language is heavily based around music. When devising the phonology of their language, I had to take all of this into account.

Now I could examine the phonetics of their language, which is the production, transmission, and perception of the sounds of language. This is different then phonology , which concerns itself with the examination of the systematic organization of sounds (such as into words) and how this organizing of sounds constructs meaning. To examine how the sounds are organized, I first have to create the sounds. Here are the two phonetic maps I created:

Consonants: Dragios consonants

Vowels: Dragios vowels

As you can see, I left some space for improvement as this is a work in progress. Although I did base the categories loosely upon human linguistics, I took out a few categories that they wouldn’t have due to a difference in mouth construction. With these sounds and the characters I use to represent them, I can start to construct words, which is where I start to examine the phonology of their language. To do this, I created some simplistic word construction rules, where C stands for consonant and V for vowel:


Although this is somewhat simplistic at the moment, it’s enough for me to start constructing words based on these sounds. I decided to focus first on the musical terminology because of their ability to sing more than one sound at a time and how crucial music will be in their culture. I then expanded the vocabulary to include words for their environment and their society. From there, I could start to work on how they actually construct their sentences. In order to construct sentences, I needed to create a set of rules, also known as syntax. These rules would help speakers form sentences in which to communicate larger and more complicated ideas. Another way to view syntax is to think of grammar rules — all languages have them. Those grammar rules are the syntax of that language.

I started with a simple rule for basic sentences that focused on the word order within the sentence itself: Subject — object — verb

From there I decided that the clicks within the language would serve a bit like punctuation and articles. They’d signify when a sentence is a command, statement, or interrogative. They’d also serve as connectors of one phrase to another within the sentence. With this idea in mind, I began to construct a few basic sentences. Now this is all very simplistic currently, and I do have further plans on how to add depth to the syntax of this language, but as of this moment in time, this is where I currently stand with my alien language.

So that’s the basics of how I created my first alien language. Having a linguistics resource nearby aided me tremendously during this project, but more importantly, I had to examine how various species’ mouths were constructed. This gave me a wider range of ideas on how an alien mouth may evolve, and what it may resemble, and in turn, allowed for more versatility with the sounds they could make. Will I use this language within my stories? Possibly but even if I don’t, the act of building this language has allowed me to examine my alien species in depth. To visualize it more fully and to give me a chance to examine their society and views of the world and how that may differ from humanity. This has, in turn, given me ideas on possible conflicts that can give rise to even more stories. So the act of building their language has inspired me in a great number of ways and further enriches the world-building of my Elivera universe.

It can be a challenge to create a language, but it’s definitely rewarding in the long run.

Categories: Aliens, Biology, Elivera, Linguistics, World Building, WritingTags: , , , , , , ,


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