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Elfin language

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myriad_of_colors

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So, I don't really know if I've earned the right to post a new topic yet, but I have a general sort of wondering about Elfin languages. Now, I'm not going to go overboard like Tolkien in the whole building-a-language thing, but I would like to have my Elves have some sort of mysticism and detachment about them. (I could always have an Elf walk around saying "Duuude!" but that wouldn't really work, would it? ;) )

Anyways, I was wondering, which languages would one suggest for my Elves? I was leaning towards Celtic/Irish or Welsh, but I'm just me. I'm going to also be adding letters and stirring it up slightly so that it's sort of my own but highly based off of a real language (JK Rowling's spells come to mind.)  Any suggestions?
#1 - November 23, 2010, 07:19 AM

KenH

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Oh, sorry, thought the subject line said "Effing language." I'd be a lot more help there.  :snork

Well, considering the historical basis of elves, the languages you noted come immediately to mind, but to throw a new twist into your story you might try Arabic or Japanese. Of course, these won't mean much to a lot of people (a la Rowling's corruptions of more easily recognizable words). Where is your story based (ie., is it fantasy or high fantasy)? You may just try creating your own.
#2 - November 23, 2010, 07:38 AM

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What Pengwinz said (at  least the second paragraph.) :)  The thing is, when you use a language you're also often borrowing the culture that goes with it, so make sure it's appropriate to your world and your characters.  Yes, settings going to be important...and if your story is set in a fantasy land unconnected to any geographical location on Earth, then you're probably best off making it all up.

Good luck!
#3 - November 23, 2010, 07:58 AM
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pengwinz  :snork  :snork

Myriad, pengwinz is onto something when he says 'Rowling's corruptions of more easily recongizable words'. The fact that she was corrupting Latin, which much of our language comes from, and the fact that we already have some cultural association between Latin and magic made it work.  I'm not sure adding letters to Welsh would. Especially not if they were consonants. I've often wondered what would happen if a train full of the Welsh language left Washington DC at 8:10 and a train full of the Hawaiian language left New York at 8:30, both steaming full speed ahead on the same track -- when they collided, would the languages of all mankind that were confused after the tower of Babel be re-united? Or would all human language be instantly destroyed?

You might make up your own words--just a few, and used sparingly.  Consider the way Joss Whedan used Chinese in Serenity. Oh -- our elfin language should *sound* beautiful.

Have fun!

 :yup eab

#4 - November 23, 2010, 08:18 AM

Darn it...I thought this topic was "effin" language. I was gonna chime in, but now have nothing.  :cry2
#5 - November 23, 2010, 08:25 AM
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myriad_of_colors

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Hm- I hadn't thought about creating a language. My made up words look more bizarre than anything, but maybe a little more practice I'll get better! Thanks guys, I'm really starting to get excited about this!  :snoopy

And thanks for mistakenly thinking I was mock-swearing, too! Helps to know which words I should and shouldn't use to make my point come across clear. :P Many roses and brownies for you, my dears!
#6 - November 23, 2010, 12:40 PM

EricJ

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So, I don't really know if I've earned the right to post a new topic yet, but I have a general sort of wondering about Elfin languages. Now, I'm not going to go overboard like Tolkien in the whole building-a-language thing, but I would like to have my Elves have some sort of mysticism and detachment about them. (I could always have an Elf walk around saying "Duuude!" but that wouldn't really work, would it? ;) )

Tolkien created the language(s) BECAUSE he was an Oxbridge don in ancient Celtic and Icelandic languages, and it was a part-time hobby for him long before he was writing...I take it you're not a professor at Oxford.
And JK Rowling's spells were a funny twist of recognizable Latin, which the reader was supposed to pick up on, and suggested that wizards had always used Latin ever since it was fashionable.  That doesn't count as a made-up language, and most British wizards still seem to speak the queen's English.

It's a peer-pressure thing with hard-fantasy first-timers to think they "have" to make up their own Quenya--But if you're not that good at it, they can still speak the "common" languages with a mystical sense of their own metaphor or culture that the regular characters don't have.  It's as much about what you say as how you say it.
(In one of my own books, where the main character meets Elves on their own turf, I was tempted to use bits of actual Quenya and Sindarin, just to make the reader go "Hmm..." about how much the elves in this story really might've been distantly related, but not sure I could get away with it.)
#7 - November 23, 2010, 01:38 PM

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Hm- I hadn't thought about creating a language. My made up words look more bizarre than anything, but maybe a little more practice I'll get better!

I'm going to be a bit of a crank and also sort of echo EricJ's thoughts to say: Better NO specific language than one that is not meaningful, logically supportable, and contributes to the story.

Having bizarre-looking made-up words and names, with no support in cultural or geographic roots, no easy way for the reader to know how to pronounce them, etc. is one of the key red flags for amateur fantasy writers. Save yourself the grief. If you don't want to actually create enough of that language to support how it will be used in the book, and if there's no particular story REASON for having a language like that in the book anyhow, don't. Use syntax and imagery and metaphor and other language tools instead to set your elves apart.

Just my 2 cents! :moose
#8 - November 23, 2010, 03:50 PM
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I've often wondered what would happen if a train full of the Welsh language left Washington DC at 8:10 and a train full of the Hawaiian language left New York at 8:30, both steaming full speed ahead on the same track -- when they collided, would the languages of all mankind that were confused after the tower of Babel be re-united? Or would all human language be instantly destroyed?
:hijacked
This cracked me up! Way back when the Internet was a mere toddler, I got an email joke news report that the nations of Africa were contributing to an emergency airlift of vowels to Bosnia! :dr
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And I have to agree with the other posters. It's probably best if you just completely make up your words from scratch, because basing them even a little bit on real-life languages (if your world is not related to Earth) only seems to confuse readers. The proper names (particularly place names) in my new book have been criticized by some readers as confusing (or "inaccurate," whatever that's supposed to mean in a fantasy setting!), even though they ARE firmly based in my background in anthropology and linguistics. Horn Book liked the cosmopolitan feel of the world (which was my goal), but it's something several bloggers have commented negatively on. (I seem to manage to do one thing in every book that everyone agrees they don't like! LOL!)
#9 - November 23, 2010, 04:28 PM

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Use syntax and imagery and metaphor and other language tools instead to set your elves apart.

Yes--Heaven helps those who help their elves.    :dr
#10 - November 24, 2010, 12:40 AM

myriad_of_colors

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Thank you so very much for your kind and wonderful advice. Thanks again!  :hearts
#11 - November 24, 2010, 04:24 AM

Yes--Heaven helps those who help their elves.    :dr

 :snork You're killing me, EricJ!  :dr :dr
#12 - December 02, 2010, 07:23 AM

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Is it possible to have no specific language at all?   Why can't you have a crew of elves from all over the world speaking a language you make up? The fun could come in the interpretation of that made-up language by the different nationalities of elves.
#13 - December 02, 2010, 07:39 AM
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I definitely agree with Joni on this:

Quote
Having bizarre-looking made-up words and names, with no support in cultural or geographic roots, no easy way for the reader to know how to pronounce them, etc. is one of the key red flags for amateur fantasy writers. Save yourself the grief. If you don't want to actually create enough of that language to support how it will be used in the book, and if there's no particular story REASON for having a language like that in the book anyhow, don't. Use syntax and imagery and metaphor and other language tools instead to set your elves apart.

Language can be a cool touch, but finding other ways to set their culture apart can be, too. If memory serves, when David Eddings used wolves' speech, he gave them no use of "I/he/she" only "one." (ie, "This one will catch up later," or "that one is always angry.") It was an interesting way to show that the wolves think differently than people, without having to make up bits and pieces of another language at all.
#14 - December 14, 2010, 08:42 PM
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okay...so everyone has given you really great information. I'm good with NOT having a new language b/c I think everyone does it. I really get tired of reading words witih no vowels that I have no idea how to pronounce.

I have nothing left to contribute other than to tell my new Elf joke. :)

what do you call an Elf who likes to hang out in the pantry?
Wait for it...

A shelf. :)
#15 - December 15, 2010, 07:22 AM
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Just off onto the tangent of Elf jokes:  

In one of my MG fantasy stories, the main boy character is invited to Faerie by a fairy he met in an earlier book, and meets (rather distinctly Tolkeinian styled) Elves along the way without realizing--Asking who it was,
Quote
"I'd have guessed a...young prince, or something."
"You'd not be far off," (the fairy) replied--"His is the line of the great kings of the Western Shores:  His kinfolk of the Grey arrived in the ships of the White Sails at the dawning of the Fourth Age of the World, and a scion he is of the Elder house and line."
"Wow, I guess so," (the mc) said, impressed.  "Um, one thing, though...Can you give me a clue what any of that's supposed to mean?"
"Well, it means a lot around these parts," (the fairy) said, after a moment's recovery of dignity.  "Our friendship with the high Elves have ever stood the test of ages."
"Elv--" (the mc's) eyes shot wide.  "You mean I just...No--But I thought those were, y'know, the happy little...jingly..." He put his hand out waist-high for lack of any other words.  "And carving wooden toys up at the North Pole, and loading up the sleigh on Christmas Eve, and 'tee-hee', and 'ho, ho', and 'Hermie wants to be a dentist', and like that?"
The fairy cocked her head and looked at him strangely.  "Say that again," she said, "and you'll be finding your own way home from here."

Later on, the main character gets help from a high-ranking Elven girl who has also dreamed of seeing other lands:
Quote
"The first plaything I ever owned  was a ship--The grandmother of one of my maids carved it out of wood, and on such days would I sail it in the streams, as in the old songs...She often made many such things, her hands were skilled at making things for the young--"
(The mc) stifled a sudden giggle that burst out, putting a fist up to his mouth and waving it away, and pretending to have a coughing fit when she wondered at his curious reaction.  He wanted to win bets with (the fairy) when he saw her again.

 :giggle :dr  :)
#16 - December 16, 2010, 02:02 AM
« Last Edit: December 17, 2010, 12:33 AM by EricJ »

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Eric...  :snork
#17 - December 16, 2010, 07:23 AM
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