Subscribe to the Roleplaying Tips Weekly Newsletter - game master tips

Creating Fantasy Names and Scrolls

by Milan MgPnt Cirovic

CONTENTS:

PREFACE NOTE
I: ORTHOGRAPHY or writing sounds
II: SOUNDS
III: WRITING SYSTEM
IV: Some Useful GRAMMAR
V: The primary LEXICON and its evolution
VI: USING DEAD OR FOREIGN LANGUAGES
VII: The other way: SCROLLS
CONCLUSION

PREFACE NOTE:

English Consonants

labial lab-dnt dental alv alv-pal velar glottal
stop p   b     t   d   k   g  
fricative   f   v th   th s   z sh   zh   h
affricate         ch   j    
approximant w     r   l y    
nasal m     n   ng  

legend: lab=labial, dnt=dental, alv=alveolar, pal=palatal

I must consider first the great misinterpretation of the difference between fantasy and artificial languages.

By definition:

"An artificial language is any language whose lexicon and grammar were developed from an individual source for the sake of itself. Individual source refers to either one creator or a select body of creators. Unlike an authentic language, the brunt of it emerges with relative suddenness. A great deal of time might transpire over the course of its development, but when it is released to others the language must be communicatively functional - i.e. the system can be used to convey many ideas."
Robert Isenberg - Artificial Languages

The main point is that an artificial language must be communicatively functional - it is to be used to convey many ideas. It has to have a developed system of grammar and lexicon, and most important it has to be used, in order to be called an artificial language. Tolkien's Elvish: Quenya and Sindarin are artificial, but Orcish Black Speech is not (it is only a fantasy language).

Fantasy languages are functional only in the imaginary world, and they convey only the idea of their creator. They can easily become artificial as soon as at least two people start to communicate in them. When this happens users will evolve the language for the sake of communication.

There are no less or more developed languages, all languages serve the purpose of the culture that uses them, but they do this in different ways.

I: ORTHOGRAPHY or writing sounds

- A set of rules how to combine graphemes and punctuation rules -

Graphemes are graphic signs related to the sounds /phonemes/. Graphemes are represented with one or more letters:

  • Digraph, a grapheme represented by two letters
  • Trigraph, a grapheme represented by three letters: sch /∫/
  • Tetragraph, a grapheme represented by four letters: tsch /t∫/

Examples:

  /phoneme/ = grapheme; (word)
    /k/ = c; (can)
      = ck; (brick)
      = k; (key)
      = ch; (characteristic)
       
  Grapheme = /phoneme/; word
    s = /s/; sun
      = /z/; lose

International Phoentic AlphabetPhonetic transcription is the best way to write down the pronunciation. But it can't solve the problem of new or foreign sounds. Inventing new sounds is (though not necessarily) followed by inventing new signs. Use graphemes of your mother language to represent new or unknown phonemes everywhere you can, and just where this is not possible, create new signs/letters.

Create new signs using those common letters (from the Latin alphabet) most closely related to the new sounds. Add diacritic signs (signs written above or below the original letters to change their quality: å, c, L can be found in the character map of every better font), or apostrophes. In some cases it is easier to combine lower and upper case letters.

Create a table for storing new letters, marks and combinations with explanations and examples for the sounds they represent. Use it as a separate file or paper every time you need to remember how exactly a sign sounds. A special sign should always represent only one sound.

For example:

  /∫/ = sch; (schedule)
    = sh; (shades ): represented as letter Š

Hattusha is the capital of the Hittite kingdom. Read like /hat'u∫a/, could be written as HatUa, or Hat'ua.

II: SOUNDS

The first step is developing sounds, and just for the sake of reality the following has to be considered:

A - physical restrictions:

  1. shape and size of jaw and lips
  2. shape and size of throat (glottis - voice pitch)
  3. shape and size of tongue
  4. shape and size of teeth
  5. shape and size of lungs

Jaw, tongue, throat, teeth and lungs are the organs that any living creature is using for creating sounds.

Let's take four creatures from the ancient mythological bestiary:

Scylla (Greek mythology), spawn of Kratea. A sea nymph transformed into a sea monster who lives in a mountain cave, near the sea, whose top is covered with eternal fog. She has twelve legs, and six very long necks, with unspeakable heads each with three rows of teeth. Half of her body is in the cave. With her heads she hunts everything that moves in and on the sea.

Ortar (Greek mythology), terrible two headed dog, son of Typhon, and brother of Cerberus, father of Sphinx.

Kere (Greek mythology), demons, black as the night, with staring eyes, and protruded tongues, with teeth as in wild beasts. From their shoulders hang mantles red with human blood. They stick long and curved nails into the flesh of the wounded and the dead, and drink their blood. They affect: impurity, poisonous steams, fever, blindness and death.

Nav, Navi (Slavic mythology), demons, created from souls of still-born children. The personification of Death, the Empire of the Dead, and the Master of the Underworld. They look like birds, with heads of children and beaks instead of lips. In dark nights, with terrible screams they fly around houses and attack pregnant women and children. They take milk from cows, sheep and goats.

EXAMPLES of PRONUNCIATIONS, CONSIDERING PHYSICAL RESTRICTIONS:

[Note: I don't know if anyone is examined or invented languages of those creatures. Examples are reposed on English transcription, because I thought it is easier way to explain.]

Scylla has six very long necks -- path of the air from lungs through glottis till mouth affect resonance of voice, and sounds she creates are like the ship horn (path is too long). She has to have very strong lungs (six necks and heads), in order to produce loud voices. In her mouth there are three rows of teeth, so she can produce two more different dental consonants:

Ordinary dental consonant is "th" in definite article: the/ð/.

Special:

Air from lungs passes jaw longer than usual, which makes next sounds like whistling or wind blowing. Short pause is made after pronouncing next consonants:

I - fricative: alveo-dental (second line of teeth. Put your tongue like you want to say /s/ in sepulchre or /z/ in lose, but say definite article the/ð/.) Names are mostly ended with this sound in pronunciation.

For this I will use next grapheme: +.

II - palato-dental (last line - closest to the root of tongue. Put your tongue like you want to say /t∫/ in chocolate or /d-+ / in jackal, but say the/ð/). Those consonants are mostly used, because they are the easiest for Scylla to pronounce (She does not need to put her tongue between rows of teeth.). In definite article "the", and in words that are used more often palato-dental replaces ordinary dental consonant "th" /ð/.

Digraph "s" is related to those (the -- se).

  • Kratea (Crateis); could be pronounced as: KrasEa or KrasEiz
  • Charybdis -- like Harybdiz
  • Ulysses, Roman misspelled Odysseus; UlysIz, OdysEz

Ortar Since he is a two-headed dog, he has to have a wide throat (glottis). Short passage of air from lungs to mouth affects deep and hard sounds. He cannot howl like a wolf, because his neck is too short, but he produces barking and roaring sounds just like any other dog (A, U, uvular (deep in the back of his jaw) G, glottal H, glottal R, K, V and E). But he is an intelligent monster, and he has own language. He cannot produce as many consonants and vowels as humans, but he combines height and length of sounds.

He speaks the words in other languages less or more changed. Even if Ortar speaks the language of the person to whom he speaks, only educated people can understand him.

The Ortarian orthographical table consists of ten to fifteen (at most) graphemes. Sounds are actually different roars or bark, represented as digraphs, trigraphs, tetragraphs and rarely as one letter graphemes.

He says Cerberus as KhrGr (/h/ and /r/ are glottal)

The words "Gatekeeper, ho, open thy gate!"[Note 1] should look like:

    GhrKeer, ae, uvng gau GgThe!

  • GhrKeer: like roaring
  • ae: original "ho" is for calling (to pay attention) is replaced with this sound like howl, but shorter uvng: /∂v/ + /ng/ as in speaking
  • gau: glottal /g'u/
  • GgThe: /g ð/

Kere: they have protruded tongues, and teeth as in wild beasts. The top of the tongue is almost never in the mouth, so they do not produce alveolar /t/, /d/, and /s/, /z/, /r/, /l/, /n/, labial /p/, /b/, /w/, /m/, /f/, /v/ are deformed (if they are using all of them at all). According to this they should call themselves Kee.

"Open thy gate that I may enter!"[Note 1] should look like:

    Of'ng thy gei tha I n'ay en'the!

  • Of'ng: /o/ + f' = /++/ as in thought (put tongue to pronounce /ð/ as in the, but try to say /f/) + /ng/ as in playing
  • Thy: /ð/ + I
  • Gei: /g/ + /e/ + /i/
  • Tha: /ð/ + /a/
  • N'ay: n' = /n/ said with tongue out of mouth (top of tongue touches upper lip from outside) + /ey/ as in day
  • En'the: /e/ + n' as above + /ð/ + /i/ as in sleep

Nav, Navi They have small lungs. There is almost no throat, and it is narrow, they have a small tongue, and no lips. Their voices are high, short, without labial sounds /p/, /b/, /w/, /m/, but there is characteristic sound of clap (which is the sound when the upper and the lower part of the beak come together).

Creatures with beaks have changed vowels. If you pronounce the vowels /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/ you will notice that the lips are moving (this is called lip-rounding, but is not very important). A beak cannot change its shape (except with birds like for example the pelican), so all vowels are pronounced in the same position (notice that opening the beak more or less will not affect the pronunciation). Lets say that the vowel /o/ is pronounced without change, /i/ and /u/ are not so much changed to be in the need of a new sign, but /a/ and /e/ I would write as: a° and e°; explained as: the lips are in the position for pronouncing /o/ (open), but say /a/ or /e/.

Example:

"I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living."[Note 1]

I ÷ill ÷ing u÷ the de°d to eat the living
e°nd the de°d ÷ill outnu÷r the living

Sound of clap is represented with the grapheme "÷". Races that do not have a beak cannot pronounce this sound.

For all this you don't have to have any special knowledge, only imagination. Imagine a monster, his body, and organs for creating sounds. Pronounce alphabet or word that you need one or more times trying to feel where sounds are actually created. Create a list of modified and restricted sounds; modify word(s) according to list, and that is it.

B - Lands of their origin.

All species are trying to imitate sounds from the land of their origin. These sounds remain in the language in some form. Less developed civilizations usually have those sounds more involved in native speech, but THIS IS NOT A RULE.

(Northern European languages have the glottal /h/ (like the first sound in "hospital", but glottal). According to some theories it is the sound of dry snow, or tiny ice when trodden.)

[Note 1: taken from DESCENT OF THE GODDESS ISHTAR INTO THE LOWER WORLD, The Civilization of Babylonia and Assyria, M. Jastrow, 1915]

III: WRITING SYSTEM

-A system of graphic signs used to note down speech-

The reason to invent writing is the need to preserve certain facts for a longer period of time (brain capacity is limited, memory is usually short-lived). Writing systems are useful because they are lasting (they have durability) and they can be transferred (moved).

The development of a writing system is reposed to the NEED, intelligence, and physical attributes.

Example:

If an invented race has claws, then cuneiform writing is what is used. Tablets made of clay or wood, animal skin prepared for writing could be a material for writing on. I doubt that such a race could discover a way of making any sort of paper, simply because dexterity is reduced with claws.

The first writings (as drawings) are on materials that are the most common in the environment. Rock (cave walls), bake tablets of clay (ostracons), wood tablets, animal skin prepared for writing (parchment), paper made from the plants by cutting it in strips and pressing it flat (papyrus), or paper as we know it today.

As already said, writings need to last. Some materials are long lasting in one and short lasting in other climates. Tablets made of clay (Assyria, Babylonia), papyrus scrolls (Egypt, Palestine) remained until the present because they were in dry climates (desert, steppe). If ostracon is exposed to moisture, first it becomes softer so thar the marks on it can be lost, it further decomposes to smaller parts until it becomes simply a mass of clay. If it is seared after this and if this procedure is repeated, what remains of ostracon is only dust. If papyrus is wetted it can rot and become unreadable, not to mention the diffusing of colors.

I don't recommend the invention of a completely new alphabet. For the game purposes radical changes of your mother-alphabet are useless, they will only complicate the guiding of the game. But in some cases inventing pictographic or logographic signs the monsters are using can be useful.

Example:

The race of Barugs is belongs to the class of Razorback. Before migration they lived only in Durmland (Durmuk). Members of this race are carnivores (cannibals if needed). This race has the divine ability of mixing with any other species. (Their anatomy, social life, intelligence, weapons and armor will not be examined here.) They have trotters, so they cannot hold ordinary tools for writing. They write with their trotters plunged in colour. The markings are at least ten centimeters high. Their writing system is logographic; one sign is equal to one word. The Barugian language is examined at the University of Homn, since the great wars with Durmian tribes.

The Fall of the Terwelian Empire, the creation of new kingdoms upon its ruins, caused the loss of at least one third of the former population, the rise of numerous dominions of Barugs (which make that political map look like a leopard's skin), variable peace (followed by the constant fear of everyday life), are the consequences of the Durmian migration.

As many others, Krumag is left behind his tribe to establish his own kingdom in Likimnia. He relinquished to the rule of the lord Dagormed. (448 square kilometers, 9 villages, residence: Keep Oktarig (previously Oktarim) carved in mountains which tore the dominion in two: northeast (3 villages), southwest (6 villages)). No master of bordering dominions attacks him due to peace resolution. Taxes in his dominion are paid in living beings, for his food (or in order to create an army of his mongrel spawns -- according to rumor).

The following is not known to PCs: his spawn beasts are kept in dungeons. Every dungeon has its own tunnel to a small spherical arena on a lower level. Krumag likes to watch his children fighting. At each dungeon door he named a tenant according to abilities.

If the players visit the University of Homn then the GM should give them a paper with the translation of the marks on the doors, so that they can improve XP as they fight with weaker; else they will see only cards with marks on each door.

IV: Some Useful GRAMMAR

I will not bother you with grammar and other linguistics stuff. For fantasy names, the creator needn't know all that.

Affixes - A linguistic element added to a word. They are derived as:

  • Prefix - An affix that is added in front of the word (sometimes prepositions are used for this purpose)
  • Infix - An affix that is inserted inside the word
  • Suffix - An affix that is added at the end of the word (in names usually indicates sex distinction)
  • Affixes do not need to have meanings familiar to all people.

For example: the names Alexander and Peter have one thing in common: the same suffix -ER.

Roots of words - they hold the meaning of words. For example: the name Peter has the suffix -ER, if you leave the suffix out, Pet stays as the root: Peter is a Greek translation of a Hebrew name and "pet" in Greek means stone or rock, so Peter is the one who is hard/strong as a rock.

I do not create affixes and roots at first. They appear almost by themselves.

V: The primary LEXICON and its evolution

Usually, nouns are my first need. I create nouns for trivial stuff on the map: dungeon, hill, swamp, mud, town, cave, river, forest....

This little dictionary is my starting point. I create new words by mixing the basic ones and add some changes of vocals (if something sounds better, but always in the same way -- words should look and sound as if they are from the same language), so the dictionary evolves.

If names are the starting point, I separate them in parts, give them meaning and use those parts as affixes and roots, as it is said above (IV).

For example:

In a particular moment of its creation the name H'del sounded ok to me. Later I thought that it would be a good idea to create a character that belongs to this nation, and to name one map area after this name. There are towns, rivers and hills in this area, so I created a dictionary of words I needed.

It looks like this:

  • tod G city, fortress, can be used as suffix
  • lod G land
  • bod G mud
  • réé G river (éé, read as i, first sound of English word "in")
  • séé G sea
  • sréé G lake
  • réélod - river island
  • séélod G sea island
  • sréélod G lake island
  • ctu G road
  • gü G live
  • vlad G ruler (root "vl")
  • do G hill ("d" as in done, "o" as in obey)
  • n G on
  • ...

Derivates from H'del:

  • H' as uppercase prefix means domain
  • de, archaic word, same as do=hill
  • l, suffix used for lands

The people of the H'del nation are vagabonds, since they left their homelands (long story, maybe somewhere else). In the H'delish language "cru" means road, "gü" means live, "N" means on. A synonym they use for themselves is N'crugür with the meaning: the ones who live on the roads. Other nations started to call them the N'crugür people.

If you break this name into pieces:

  • "N" is the prefix,
  • "crugü" became a new noun with the meaning vagrant, drifter or even exile,
  • "r" I added at the end , because it sounds better for me, and it became the suffix (for plural)

Other variations can appear (etymology example):

A name can became a noun, like in the following example.

From the N'crugür people, comes a well-known name in history:

Cruglad or Kruglad

Legendary proclaimed king of road thieves.

Since H'del is doomed, and its people become wandering souls, Kruglad starts with his great need for revenge. His basic idea is to unite roamers and road bandits from all lands, and create an enormous army.

The plan spreads in whispers among road thieves and vagrants. At one moment it becomes an ideology.

In every wanderer's camp, in every ambush his name comes to stand for 'hope'.

Every plan to discover the source of these dangerous ideas ends with failure.

The N'crugür people and road bandits spontaneously merge into one army.

They can easily pass as usual travelers or an armed caravan before any guards, to change their positions and to communicate.

The smaller units of Kruglad's army are faster and can easily run and hide in the nearest hills, swamps, or woods.

No baron or king can destroy them with an army.

The Plan works.

Traveling becomes too risky, armed caravans too expensive.... Towns and domains become isolated....

Nobles of all areas of his rule realize that it is cheaper to pay him tribute, than to situate traveling of people and goods on their own.

His name rules almost all roads for three years, until his head reaches a price high enough.

Kruglad is assassinated by his own men.

Since then the name Kruglad becomes a title with which every road band chief would like to be crowned. (for example: Eldrich, kruglad of Wohlers lands)

So, his whole name becomes a new word "kruglad", synonym for:

  • Bandit chief - to common people
  • Title, with the meaning "king of roads" - to bandits.

His name consists of:

  • "cru" - road
  • "g" - is infix
  • "vlad" - ruler (sign "v" is lost due to some grammatical rules of the h'delish language)

VI: USING DEAD OR FOREIGN LANGUAGES

For this you need any dictionary, or book with an index of words with explanations. It is easier than creating a completely new lexicon. First find a word with the meaning you need and which sounds good. Then if you think that it will improve your final result, change some sounds. Some writers including Tolkien used this method.

Example I:

"GǪsome of Tolkien's invented languages were definitely influenced by pre-existing tongues; it is well known that Quenya and Sindarin were originally inspired by Finnish and Welsh, respectively." Helge Kåre Fauskanger

According to the historian Alexander Nemirovsky, Hittitian and Hurrian may have inspired Tolkien in creating Black Speech.

Sauron (Quenya) = Sauran (Hurrian); with the meaning: He Who is Armed with Weapons.
[hur: Sau "The Weapons" + ra + n "He" or -on, onne.]

Ugl++k (Black Speech) = ugilok (Hurrian);meaning: affright everyone.
[hur: ugil "to provoke fear" + ok "completely".]

B+rz (Black Speech) = wurz (Hurrian); its meaning in Black Speech is dark - Hurrian: Where the Look is at its Limits
[hur: wur "to see", but the root is in wurikk "to be blind" + z "at the end of"]

Example II:

I once drew a gray area on a map, and wrote the following:

Epythimbria is an unexplored area covered with something that is called "Agur". It is like gray sand or ash. If you take a look from hills the everlasting Epythimbrian gray fogs will prevent your seeing the terrain in depth. Even though this area is surrounded by hills from the south and west, and by deserts from the north and east, the temperature on its borders during daylight (according to the words of the one who dared to go there and returned), is low as in the iciest winter. The eyes of mortals never again saw anyone who spent the night even on the roads near this area.

For this story, I made names using the following books:

The Greek Myths, written by Robert Graves for: Epythimbria: derived from Epitymbridia, one of many names for Aphrodite, translated like "of graves"

The Egyptian Book of the Dead [The Papyrus of Ani], translated by E. A. Wallis Budge for: Agur: derived from Aqert, a common name for the abode of the dead.

VII: The other way: SCROLLS

I doubt that anyone is creating fantasy languages to really speak during the game. If so, then the whole grammar should be considered. There are some artificial language construction kits on the web that could help. This is a much more complicated task, and I will not examine it here.

I rarely use more complex sentences and only in strange scrolls, and material that needs translation.

Example:

The starting and ending point is a needed piece of writing (in this case Blake's verses). I use random chosen letters, and put them in lines to have a more or less similar form of (my) translation.

goNmoaUxsiLToizYRmE
exuCiSAdIZuNecaBLlds
ZKaLNiDxaNWUFkYl
GelyveJUmIZAqAJu

Then come slight changes:

" go N'moa Uxil toir Y irme
  E xui sa dulR NecaB leds
  S'kal nid xai N'wur ferrey...
  ge Lyveun U mul Z'araq a Du"

Translation:

"...To the four winds hopeless of future. All futurity
  Seems teeming with Endless Destruction never to be repelled
  Desperate remorse swallows the present in a quenchless rage...
  For without a Created body the Spectre is Eternal Death",
  [William Blake: Vala or The Four Zoas]

For this purpose the random password generator is a helpful tool. It produces lines of randomly chosen lower and upper case letters and other symbols. There are many on the web, and they are usually freeware.

CONCLUSION

At the end, the most important thing to have in mind is: a fantasy language is spoken by fantasy people, if anyone thinks that it is not logical or else, this is not my problem. I (which means YOU also) only know things that are left in libraries in form of trader and travelers' notes, books of history and geography, documents of foreign affairs...

For those who are interested in H'delish, there is one good book of geography, written by Nestor "Through mud and hills of southern lands". Unfortunately, only four of nineteen chapters are left due to the great fire in the Brechlens library four centuries ago...