Creating a Language

How do you describe something that hasn’t occurred yet? What words do you use for something that arrives without precedence? In creating a sustainable system of living we encounter this challenge by adopting practices that have yet to be integrated into common paths. One of the ways that [ open myth source ] seeks to surmount this challenge is by examining the role that mythology can play in rethinking and shaping our relationships with the world. By reexamining archaic forms our contemporary issues can be assessed through the allegories, memories, myths and stories of our past.

Another tool that has a more personal developmental potential is the manipulation of language itself. Artists have long used this technique to realign their senses, ritual chants often contain syllables with no grammatical meaning, and in our everyday lives slang terms emerge to describe personal relationships unique to our situations.

Daniel Anderson, in an article originally published on his site Wandering Heathen, describes how he is using this process to experiment with and develop his creative senses. It’s interesting to think what might be possible for rethinking sustainability using unique methods like language creation to open up alternative paths.- D. Metcalfe

Creating a Language, by Daniel Anderson

Over time, I’ve studied the value of language—not academically, but as an amateur reader in things like semiotics and deconstruction. I like to think that I understand how language forms our worldview, our culture, and our biases. And, of course, when you understand how something shapes you, you can start shaping it.

One of my early ideas when I embarked on this new spiritual journey was to create my own language for mystical and expressive purposes. This came to me partially because I’m a writer, and I’ve created fictional languages before. The ideas of incantations, prayers, even simple poems, attracted me as a kind of spiritual expression. While being in tune with things like plants (I garden constantly), or a track of earth, or even a concept or a time of day, my first impulse was to speak to it. This is not an uncommon thing in this kind of spirituality—there is very little difference between a poem and a spell. In some cases they might as well be the same thing.

But I found that I was uncomfortable doing it in English. English is a rough language, confusing and confused with lots of idiosyncrasies that can be exploited by poets, but also can be frustrating in the limitations they impose. For instance, I dearly wish English had a gender-neutral personal pronoun. This is why it always feels wrong to call God “It”, as opposed to “He” or “She”. “It” doesn’t convey the personable qualities that the other pronouns do, but you can’t use those without imposing a gendered God (a point of contention for Feminists).

So I decided to start from the ground up, and create my own.

Maybe it’s overkill, but from a traditional mystical sense it’s perfectly reasonable. “Magical” tools are often separated from common every-day tools due to a concept of “charge” or other specialness that makes them unique and useful to mysterious purposes. The Wiccan athame, or any ritual dagger, is an easy example. But for a way to express one’s self that is set completely to their own, reflective of their own beliefs and notions of the world—I found that really compelling.

Like I’ve said, this isn’t my first time creating a language. I created one for my sci-fi novel, Children of Falin, a good two to four years ago (a very Tolkien thing to do, I guess). I based it on Latin, since Latin is the language of the Church and the novel was all about critiquing the history of the Church. It’s an entirely speakable language, complete with grammar, genders (something you’d get in Spanish or Italian), and a unique set of language biases that’s reflective of the story itself. The language reflects the rigid caste system that the race in the novel is bound to.

For this language though, I wanted to start in a vacuum as much as possible. I say “as much as possible” because it’s really impossible to completely escape language bias. The fact that I was born as an English speak will subtly influence any language I create, no matter how wild it is. But I wanted to regress as much as possible and create something that was not just structurally different, but conceptually different. Think of it as creating a tool. The more finely tuned the tool is, the more finely tuned the results can be—in theory.

I started this back in April. So far, the language hasn’t progressed very far beyond a few words, much less the alphabet. I kept rewriting the structure when I thought of a new concept that I wanted to integrate. I thought first about how I wanted it to sound, and drawing from my own ancestral heritage, I thought it should have some influences of Gaelic and German, but have a kind of smoothness of the tongue you find in something like French, or even a fictional language like Elvish. Its structure or words would have no Indo-European roots. It wouldn’t be based on another language, like the language in Children of Falin was based on Latin. I would not just be making words, but the roots of words.

What eventually arrived at—I think—is a final draft of the alphabet and basic roots, or “Elements” that will make up much larger and more complex words. The alphabet alone is a project because of the interrelatedness of the consonants. Every consonant is assigned to one of six elements, and based on their position within the element, they may have a relationship to another element. Usually based around their sound, this creates almost a grid of relationships around the letters. Think of what “F” connotes to you compared to its close sister, “V”, or “SH” as opposed to its French brother, “J”. If you had to assign Platonic elements to these letters, what would they be? Even better—if you had a chance to create new elements, completely outside of the Platonic model (Earth, Wind, Fire, Water), what would they be? I picked two more because we live in a transient world that retains information. Life is not simply inert “stuff”—stuff transitions, is saved and is lost. If I could work that concept into the alphabet—the very bedrock of the language—then it could filter up into complex words.

Of course, I’m not going to go into all the details of language or its words. After all, this is supposed to be a mystical language. Blurting it to the world would defeat the point! But you get an idea of how it works, or how it could work. So far, there are nine genders (or “Realms”) which function like the genders in a Romance language. These correlate to certain primal bodies that couch the language and its words in a cosmic stage. When the words are spoken or written, the words change meaning depending on the position of these bodies (think night and day) and, thus, are recognized as being in a different place altogether—perhaps even having a different nature. And that’s what I found really surprising when I started to work out the structure of the language and piece together the first words. It wasn’t just a language that was forming, but a whole worldview—even a mythology.

If language influences our worldview, creating a language, to me, is like starting with a new worldview from scratch. With a blank slate like this I’ve been able to impose or suggest certain paradigms which simply don’t exist in another language. In some cases it can become dizzyingly complex—a simple word like “tree” can have—no joke—24 variations, or even more (we have many words for the same thing too though: tree, plant, seedling, sprout—what makes these things different?). It’s not that I’m aiming for complexity… I’m aiming for richness in meaning.

I’ll update with progress on the language as it grows. I’ve toyed with the idea of maybe making it available to others once its finished… but for now I’ll keep the most of it closely guarded. Though the picture above is a hint to the structure (think about what they mean as archetypes).

Also, I haven’t thought up a name for it yet. At least, not one that I want to share. ;)


About David

The Word and little else.
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