Monday, April 9, 2018

The Language of Fantasy

The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-BuildingThe Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building by David J. Peterson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"This is just a toe dip." That line is in the concluding chapter of David J. Peterson's The Art of Language Invention and I couldn't agree more.

The topic and practice of language creation feels EXHAUSTING after having read this. And yet, once you've read it, you're quite aware that you've merely glimpsed the tip of the iceberg.

I wanted to learn how to create a new language, which I could incorporate into my fantasy world. As I finish up book two and begin fleshing out number three, all while developing four and five, it has become more and more apparent that I will be creating new races and vocal creatures that should not be speaking English, if my readers are going to have any chance at suspending disbelief. I know it has been done that way and is readily accepted in mainstream productions, but to me, that is the cheese. It is the cheesiest of cheese, by which I mean it stinks. Why would any kind of "alien" race naturally speak English? Obviously advanced civilizations could have translation devices or could be intelligent and advanced enough to cope with learning ESL, but I'm writing old timey fantasy with monsters beating each other over the head with clubs. I doubt they'd have time to enroll in adult ed night courses. So, I wanted to add some realism to my humanoid races. Enter The Art of Language Invention.

Very quickly I realized I was in over my head. This, my friend, is complicated stuff. As an example for your benefit and for my own recollection down the line, here is a list of contents:

Chapter One: Sounds
- Phonetics
- Oral Physiology
- Consonants
- Vowels
- Phonology
- Sounds Systems
- Phonotactics
- Allophony
- Intonation
- Pragmatic Intonation
- Stress
- Tone
- Contour Tone Languages
- Register Ton Languages
- Sign Language Articulation
- Alien Sound Systems
Case Study: The Sound of Dothraki

Chapter Two: Words
- Key Concepts
- Allomorphy
- Nominal Inflection
- Nominal Number
- Grammatical Gender
- Noun Case
- Nominal Inflection Exponence
- Verbal Inflection
- Agreement
- Tense, Modality, Aspect
- Valency
- Word Order
- Derivation
Case Study: Irathient Nouns

Chapter Three: Evolution
- Phonological Evolution
- Lexical Evolution
- Grammatical Evolution
Case Study: High Valyrian Verbs

Chapter Four: The Written Word
- Orthography
- Types of Orthographies
- Alphabet
- Abjad
- Abugida
- Syllabary
- Complex Systems
- Using a System
- Drafting a Proto-System
- Evolving a Modern System
- Typography
Case Study: The Evolution of the Castithan Writing System

There's also a short phrase book at the back that includes approximately one page each of Dothraki, High Valyrian, Shivaisith, Castithan, Irathient, Indojisnen, Kamakawi, Vaeyne and Zaanics.

Some of you GoT fans are probably getting all giddy in your pants at the idea of learning Dothraki. And well you should! This isn't the book to teach you the Horse Lords' language, but it's a start!

That and High Valyrian are Peterson's two most famous creations. They made him semi-famous. Famous enough to be mentioned by the lovable Emilia Clarke on late night tv:

He does a great job in this book of explaining the basics. You could, if you had plenty of time, construct your own brand new and very real language just from reading this book. It probably would be rather basic itself, but it would function. There aren't exactly step-by-step instructions, but Peterson does lay out this book, feeding you the info you need when you need it, in a way that naturally walks you through a language building education. One way to look at it is that instead of taking the full semester's course, you're reading over the syllabus.

Even if you're not interested in creating a new language, The Art of Language Invention is informative to those who are interested in words and language in general. Peterson relays a good amount of language history to the reader in order to explain his theories and practices. I found that quite educational. Also, this is written in a very casual tone. I think the man knew he needed to sugar-coat this stuff for the vast majority of his audience to get it down. If you're into GoT to the point of reading blogs for background information, you'll definitely get something out of this.

View all my reviews

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