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 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.
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.
First known on here as Karero