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zompist bboard • View topic - Phonaesthetic archetypes for fantasy races

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 4:08 pm 
Avisaru
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It's not something I'm interested in that much, but I thought it might be nice if I put out a few of my ideas about fantasy-lang phonologies. By fantasy-lang I mean a language or languages design for a fantasy race to appear in a fantasy setting.

In this post I will be focusing on the three "main" fantasy races, those being elves, dwarves and 'orcs'. Essentially what this will consist of is a short discussion of the main points about each race's language(s) as they are conventionally described in fantasy fiction, followed by my ideas as for how to create phonologically distinctive such languages. The ideas will mostly be phonological and phonaesthetic, though when relevant I will mention grammatical points which are relevant to the archetype. As my general grounding point I will use Tolkein's languages.

I am of course assuming that such fantasy races will have the same vocal apparatus as we do. That is not something I am interested in, but if that is what you fancy, then go ahead. I am also assuming a basic fantasy cultural schema generally associated with each race, but a conlanger is of course free to pick a more unique schema to fit the phonaesthetic archetype, or vice versa.

So first off, Elves

Elves are generally given Celtic-type names and languages, though of course contained strong influences from Finnish and Latin. However, speaking as someone who has visited Wales and heard Welsh spoken, I personally think Celtic languages in this instance to be much over-rated; despite the obvious appeal of verb-initial syntax and initial consonant mutations, to me personally they do not necessarily flow in the sort of way I would like, though this is of course my personal opinion.

One of my ideas for making a nice, smooth-sounding elf-lang is to give a phonology along the lines of, say, Indonesian or Javanese. This stems from the tendency of these languages for open syllables, and from the general balance and lack of unusual segments in their inventories. There may also be grammatical implications: there could be an extensive honorific/register system along the lines of Javanese, so complex that it would be almost impossible for non-elves to learn.

The other main idea I had was for an language along the lines of Cree or Cheyenne. This is partly based on their small but neat sound inventories, as well as the frequent replacement of liquid consonants by glides historically, resulting in a rather smooth feel to the language. In grammatical terms the animate-inanimate distinction could be turn into something more like the rational-irrational system in , whereby elvish and non-elvish referents are rigorously separated into constituent classes.

Dwarves

Dwarves are a little more complicated. Tolkein's was largely inspired by Semitic languages, but a lot of fantasy fiction ends up giving its dwarves names which bare a strong resemblance to Old Norse, and even the dwarves in The Hobbit mirror this to some extent, in particular Thorin. However, there are many other potential archetypes for a dwarf-lang.

First up, a - type affair with plenty of consonant clusters. This is partly based on the fact that many of these languages are spoken in mountainous areas, as befits a typical fantasy dwarf, but also due to the complex of the clusters involved, which would appear forbidding to outsiders. Another salient point is that The Rgyalrong languages have a grammaticalised uphill-downhill contrast in their verb complex. Considering the verticality of the typical dwarf mine, such a distinction might be very useful. (note that there is already a language which follows such a model: , by an author whose name I can't seem to find).

Moving south of the Himalayan plateau, there is an or -style phonology with retroflex consonant. I don't know about you, but I find retroflex phonemes to be dark and earthy, as befits a dwarf, and the voiced aspirates, too, go well with this.

Following on from the Dravidian side of things is the more radicak -type phonology, again for the retroflex consonants, but also for the preponderance of nasals, lack of fricatives, and large numbers of rhotics and laterals which form parts of the inventory. Obligatory onsets are also a factor in this choice. An interesting grammatical avenue could be explored with the taboo systems which are part of Aboriginal culture and language, particularly the , where a seperate, less extensive set of vocabulary items might be used for conversing with, or in the presence of, outsiders.

Moving east from the subcontinent, there is the possibility of a phonology after , or . Khmer is included partly for its large number of consonant clusters, and Burmese primarily for its register distinctions, including creaky voice, inevitable with a low-speaking dwarf. There is again the possibility of complex and impenetrable honorific systems all but incomprehensible to outsiders relating to status, wealth and prowess.

The final possibility, a bit more random, is a -type phonology, with or without ejectives. This partly stems from the preponderance of stops, particularly the dorsals, while at the same time being balanced against a very strong tendency towards open syllables. These languages are again spoken in mountainous areas, so in some ways they fit the cultural archetype, too.

Finally, Orcs

Orcish is generally meant to sound evil and harsh. What this often means is that Orcish names end up looking a bit like Germanic with an increased number of zs. Interestingly, though it is not necessarily and orcish language, there is an which suggests that it may have been based on Hurro-Urartian or Hittite, and intriguing possibility.

The first possibility for a harsh-sounding phonology is the or Caucasian languages. The large number of consonants, including large numbers of ejective, uvular and pharyngeal (and pharyngealised) consonants gives these languages a particular atmosphere which is, I think, quite suitable. It would also be interesting to see orkish with front-rounded vowels as in Chechen.

The other possibility, in a similar vein, is of a -style inventory with large numbers of vowel-less words, ejectives and glottalised resonants. In both cases the languages would be perceived by outsiders as being perhaps little more than grunts, hisses or growls, adding to the almost animalistic-feel of the language.

Of course these are only my personal idea, and I would love to see what other people come up with.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 5:00 pm 
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I have "elves" in my main project right now, though strictly speaking they have nothing to do with traditional fantasy elves--it comes from a linguistic "coincidence" combined with the fact that elves have pointed ears--but they speak a variety of languages: the largest family is Semitic-inspired, but there are also Yoruba, Indo-Aryan, Sumerian, Egyptian, and Polynesian inspired languages.

In another project I have skin changers (originally I called them werewolves, but some have animal-forms that aren't wolves). For their language I used a lot of rhotic consonants (including alveolar, uvular, and epiglottal trills) and a lot of dorsal consonants, plus a lot of syllabic consonants. Taking a cue from Caucasian languages, it has a huge consonant inventory and a small, highly allophonic vowel inventory.

Regarding fantasy elves, The Elder Scrolls follows the Latino-Celtic inspiration for High Elves (Altmer) and Wood Elves (Bosmer), but for Dark Elves (Dunmer), specifically the Ashlander Dunmer, it uses names from Akkadian, which I've always thought was cool.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 5:23 pm 
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When I say elves I'm generally meaning Tolkeinian high-elves or wood-elves, not generally dark-elves, though some of my points may still apply.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 5:53 pm 
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 6:33 pm 
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- My own ergative "dwarf-lang"

- An expansion of J.R.R. Tolkien's Dwarvish language from The Lord of the Rings


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 7:31 pm 
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it would be possible [and somewhat but not entirely intended] to map the cultures of my conworld to fantasy races, with the caveat that there are no trve dwarves

juche wizard island (hathenai) : high elves : algonquo-hawaiian
catholic gigachina (enze) : elves : fennobasque
great brihon (harue) : sea dwarves : malayo-fantasesian
kavkaz stromq (numerous mountain tribes which presumably would be referred to as a group only with an exonym) : unusually sympathetic orcs : various layers on top of kartvelian
cambodia, basically : forest dwarves : mon-khmer
the Elf Frontier (western enze) : cowboys : fennobasque with a mon-khmer substrate

the general pattern is that, if you go from east to west [and skip over the bits that have not been sketched out yet], things become less elvish and more orcish, and less berangan veiruas ngari hameurang and more xuek bat vich mkwap. and once you get out to the islands, things have moved far beyond orcish and passed mostly through dwarvish back to elvish, and they become less xuek bat vich mkwap and more ethivahua'akarathu'otahe; however, it is also click territory

short language samples, from west to east: [nb: rengni, deghuri, and amqoli are related; deghuri and amqoli are adjacent, but rengni is off to the west]

gyitha: Ko ǫtę hǫkrerę hǫksaa ʼosga hǫʼxe hǫʼ3ii a 3inaa reya.
hlu: Gœ yḅux̣i ni ndo chi yki ngha puk. Anga yxœmu rex̣œ ḅeng yi yḅu.
rengni: Ezru bauigning qaunmuz huisht kachini. Euvgin ndaz se nggachiya zeurung.
deghuri: Zirim shədha egafire vugolevzhə dəqaga tekhullich. Vugolen omgafri zirmi dəqabamdzi njelich.
amqoli: Dzere khareleli bgulim dqumarzu da tuxorchi. Bguli umkharye dzerem dabqamdze da nja.
enzielu: [a sample of a verb conjugation, since i haven't translated anything since the last revision] iitven / sutennu / keittxven / tvatseuxten / eixtvennu / sutennu / xitennu
insular kett: Vantam cabe atwkeyngenn sairan feneuce ḩacent.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 8:42 pm 
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The conworld is more realistic if you have more than one language family per a species. One of the clichés ‎of fantasy which I hate is that each nonhuman spaient have very little variety in languages and culture compared to Earth.
Although you said it not to your taste, I personally like the idea of a slightly different mouth and throat structure. For example: The dwarves may have shorter throats due to their smaller necks, making them physically unable to pronounce epiglottals (which are rare anyway). However, the section between velars and uvulars may be wider, making new possible sounds.
If elves, dwarves and orcs think similarly to how we do, they probably speak the same languages as humans (unless if constrained by impossible phonologies, of course).
is an interesting idea regarding how climate and elevation affects phonology. There isn't much evidence to support it yet, but it makes a nice conlanging tool.
Although my conworld, kårroť, is not a fantasy world, I think it has relevant ideas:
Octosquids, who are large amphibious creatures with both typical octopus and typical squid features, communicate with colours. The saturation and brightness of colour are the only variables in most chromologies, but a few distinguish between whether something is red, green or blue. A base colour at the beginning of a word indicates "black", and all other colours are assigned to chromemes based on their values relative to this "black". This means that murky water makes communication impossible. Multiple sign languages have sprung where the octosquidsand humans live near each other. These can be signed both by humans and octosquids, and they usually become the dominant language of the region.

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Last edited by mèþru on Mon Feb 29, 2016 8:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 8:53 pm 
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ìtsanso, God In The Mountain, may our names inspire the deepest feelings of fear in urkos and all his ilk, for we have saved another man from his lies! I welcome back to the feast hall kal, who will never gamble again! May the eleven gods bless him!


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 9:52 pm 
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 10:05 pm 
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2016 12:56 am 
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My current project (which granted is going slowly due to inconsistent motivation) takes place in a "small" area, largely confined to an area roughly the size of Japan/Korea/Greece/British Isles. It started out with clear fantasy races and changed over time, but I'll call them by their closest fantasy analogues:
Human: Initially had a lot of Mesoamerican (Mixe, Mixtec) influence. It's got /i e u o a ɨ/, plain and glottalized vowels, plain-aspirate-spirantized /p t k q/, latfrics, and a lot of collapse in the coda (nasals don't contrast, stop-stop clusters form geminates, final stops all aspirate, stop-fricative clusters don't occur in native roots). By far the most complete, hence the most detail. Distilled down, maybe Mayan vowels with Koine Greek consonants (+ uvulars, latfrics) and Korean phonotactics.
Elves: Nivkh minus uvulars (a voiced set of consonants that mostly shows up in mutation), with German vowels (underlying /a i u/, but lots of allophony, such as coronal-/u/-coronal and /ivi/ > [y y:]).
Dwarves: Burmese/Mazatec lose their tone (voiceless sonorants, mostly C(C)V structure)
Orc: Chechen with more clusters, stronger ejectives, and productive i-mutation.
Wild elves: Northern Qiang/rGyalrong
Gnomes: Polysynthetic Polish
Goblins: All over the place because they were originally my diachronics playground before I decided to do it for all of them.

For the most part, they're all head-marking and highly synthetic.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2016 10:04 am 
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Japan is much larger than Greece.

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ìtsanso, God In The Mountain, may our names inspire the deepest feelings of fear in urkos and all his ilk, for we have saved another man from his lies! I welcome back to the feast hall kal, who will never gamble again! May the eleven gods bless him!


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2016 10:36 am 
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2016 1:08 pm 
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2016 2:25 pm 
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In my conworld, I have for the Elves and for the Dwarves. I freely admit influences from Tolkien's languages. These Elves and Dwarves aren't separate races, however, just human beings with Elf-like and Dwarf-like culture, and a slight physical resemblance to the fantasy races.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2016 4:15 pm 
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Thanks all for the feedback. It was just something I thought I might like to put out and see what people thought about it.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2016 6:51 pm 
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 02, 2016 1:14 pm 
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2016 6:04 pm 
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Lizard people use a lot of coronal consonants.

An avian race would have no lips and long mouths, like the , so no labials but a lot of places of articulation. In a phonemic chart I drew for fun a few weeks ago I settled on six places, which to human ears sound linguolabial, alveolar, retroflex, palatal, velar, and uvular.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2016 5:04 pm 
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The protolang for my elves is Latin-like, but allowing all kinds of clusters. It later evolves into one group the keeps on being Latin, but with many front rounded vowels, one group with a Celtic flavor and one group with a Nahuatl flavor.

My dwarves speak Germanic languages. Although one group has their languages evolve into a Caucasian direction.

The gnomes speak languages where there they have a tendency to have exactly one consonant for ever POA, and one for every MOA. The grammar is quite non-human. Affixes work in a completely different way than in human languages. They don't assign different affixes to different grammatical meanings, instead they "link together" words with the help of affixes, where two words that belong together somehow, e.g. a verb and its arguments, bear the same affix. And there are no set affixes to choose from either, instead everyone can basically make up their own affixes.

I haven't worked with other races than humans and the above mentioned ones yet, but I'm planning the orcish languages to be "guttural". They might have a slightly different speech apparatus than humans, but I have no idea what it would be like. It would be nice to make velopharyngeals phonemic.

There was someone here on ZBB who was creating a troll language with a lot of /o/'s and several length contrasts. I thought that was a very nice and trolly idea. I'd like to create something along those lines as well. My troll languages would also be very simple grammatically, because they aren't very smart. I want to set them apart from human languages somehow. Maybe they don't have recursion for example.

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 06, 2016 9:04 pm 
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ìtsanso, God In The Mountain, may our names inspire the deepest feelings of fear in urkos and all his ilk, for we have saved another man from his lies! I welcome back to the feast hall kal, who will never gamble again! May the eleven gods bless him!


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2016 8:16 am 
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2016 10:59 am 
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 07, 2016 9:40 pm 
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I was thinking about gnolls as introduced by Dungeon and Dragon universe... and in fact they are not so well defined...

Anthropomorphic hyenas living in tribes and generally brutal scavengers educated like more or less like spartan soldiers with rare exceptions of less brutal clans prone to "civilised" social interactions with other races (described in some "official" stories and many fanfics). They are crude and often evils but not stupids and well socially organized with strong tribes cultures. But we don't know much more.


***

My lerowukta specie is far more complex, they are kind of hyenas-like too, but the civilisation and culture is like an huge mixing of a lot of thing that we can found on earth (temples and shinto gates like in japaneese culture, even presence of kitsunes figures, architectural style similar to aztec cities, and like mexicas, believe in the presence of an magic energy in blood but * absolutely never * make any kind of sacrifices (other than few drops of their own blood), they have a martial society but more of less anarchists and pacifists ~ non-agression principles. Elements similar to khemites and hebrews culture, black african culture, a few concepts matching american indian concepts...) and things not found on earth, "gahana domazu" is the concept of being all connected to each other and sharing suffering collectively... but it's their case, technically speaking : theyr are biologically connected to each other by a set of organs forming a complete radio transceiver circuitry. They are telepaths by desing.

So yes, this is absolutly not the same thing here.

(and by now, their language sounds like that : http://vocaroo.com/i/s07vu9IZ0m4Z , but I still don't manage to pronounce xerossu exactly like I think the phonology should be, when on one record I shout perfectly one word, it's another well pronounced sound in the previous attempt that is no longer right, i.e. here I have another time mismatched some r (more like a l than a r, like Japanese r) and ŕ (more like european r). phonetics is really not something simple for me, alongside with the fact that I have some kind of mild auditory processing disorder)

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 09, 2016 12:20 pm 
Smeric
Smeric
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