Constructed World Resources 8: Miscellania

By Brian Slattery.

A bunch of random, and slightly more humorous links that relate to the above topics.

  • The Compleat Encyclopaedia of Compendious Historical Lexicons of Obscure and Archaic Vernacular and Nomenclature : The best dictionary on the web! So great, it knows definitions of words that don’t even exist!
  • Discover Kymaerica : An article about Kymaerica, a sort of conworld layer above the real world. Weird, gonzo stuff that stretches the boundaries of what it means to invent a world.
  • Encounter 2001 Message : How much can you decipher? Come on, the whole galaxy’s watching!
  • Omnilingual : If you don’t want to suss out the above link, read this instead. Science and math end up being a Rosetta Stone for the Martian language in this short story.
  • Carax’s “Hymn to Merde” : You’ll be singing this in your dreams…whether you like it or not! Think about how the weird conlang contributes to the feel of the video itself. Also, Merdogon (the language) was created by a Frenchman. Maybe it’s clearer if you know French, but the conlang clearly is indebted to that language in a subtle, synesthetic way. Your conlangs are probably “American” (or whatever) in the same way.
  • The Pressures of the Text : Sometimes you build languages up, and sometimes, they come crashing down. Maybe Babel was caused by rampant academese?
  • New English Calligraphy : I couldn’t find any one site that sums this up, so here’s a Google image search of Xu Bing’s New English Calligraphy. English is transformed into a sort of dialect of Chinese simply by changing the letterforms and the way it is written. You might not believe it, but you can read every one of these images.
  • The origins of abc : Where did our alphabet come from, anyhow? You might know the general history, but here it is, step-by-step and illustrated beautifully by large images of ancient hieroglyphs and Greek graffiti.

Constructed World Resources 7: J.R.R. Tolkien

By Brian Slattery

Do I even need to explain this one?

  • Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien : A series of illustrations and designs from Tolkien’s own hand. Of particular interest is #48, a beautiful example of the tengwar in pointed style. The creation of maps, text fragments, and artifacts from a world is key, and this guy arguably did it the best of anyone. If you get a prompt to login, it’s tolkien / tolkien.
  • Ardalambion : Start here if you want to know anything (ANYTHING) about Tolkien’s conlangs and their relationship with LOTR and Middle-Earth.
  • Tengwar Calligraphy : Just one section of a fantastic series of pages about Tolkien’s Elvish tongues. This is on calligraphy, and helps show how variations in writing style seem linked inextricably to mood and cultural status.
  • Tengwar Illuminations : Ok, one more from the same site! ;) A series of beautiful illuminated pages by Per Lindberg.

Constructed World Resources 6: Sounds!

By Brian Slattery

The late Peter Ladefoged of UCLA’s linguistics dep’t created some very helpful recordings of the sounds that can be created by human mouths, as catalogued by the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet). These links let you explore the sounds, which might help if you can’t produce them yourself or aren’t that familiar with the IPA.

Constructed World Resources 5: Linguistic Variation

By Brian Slattery.

How weird can languages get? We sometimes like to think that everything works in similar ways, but in reality both conlangs and natlangs (natural languages) can vary immensely.

  • Tongue twisters: In search of the world’s hardest language : The Economist on which language is the most difficult. It’s mainly useful for the examples of (relative) weirdness that the author provides.
  • Dritok : Maybe one of the weirdest conlangs, Don Boozer’s Dritok is meant to be spoken by enormous alien squirrels. If that weren’t weird enough by premise alone, check out the “Examples of spoken Dritok” (a few .wav files) down the page. The language sounds a bit like a sparkler crossed with the popping of a soda can. If you want more, Boozer gave a presentation at LCC2 (the second Language Creation Conference, hosted by the LCS)
  • Lost in Translation : Without getting too much into Sapir-Whorf, how does what you speak influence how you see the world around you? For the aboriginal Australian speakers of Pormpuraaw, for instance, language causes you to see your spatial surroundings in absolute, not relative, positions (as in, according to cardinal directions, not direction-from-self). The speakers of your conlang might see their world differently depending on some of the features mentioned in this article.
  • Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard : This is a pretty funny article about why Chinese is so hard of a language to learn. Generalizing from it allows you to abstract some of the principles of what makes a language “difficult” relative to others, if that sort of thing is up your alley.

Constructed World Resources 4: The work of Justin B. Rye

By Brian Slattery.

This week isn’t so much a theme or topic as it is a series of pages by one smart dude, Justin B. Rye (JBR). His homepage contains a bunch of relevant information, so here’s a selection.

  • Pleistocenese : How might language have developed in the first place? JBR gives a detailed account of a possible way that alinguogenesis (yeah I just coined that, DWI) could have occurred among our ancient, ancient ancestors.
  • Futurese : The flipside to Pleistocenese— where might English be going in the next hundred or thousand years? Here, JBR traces out how English might warp and change as it approaches the year 3000 AD.
  • A Primer in SF Xenolinguistics : How do you go about making a good, believable alien language? (no, the answer is not “more apostrophes”!) The writing is tongue-in-cheek but all of the points raised are valid— if you want to go alien, there are a lot of “givens” that can be challenged, and often it’s easy to overlook many of them.

Constructed World Resources 3: Conlang Guides

By Brian Slattery.

I include these more for completeness’ sake than anything else; they are probably the two best starting places for a total newb (we were all one once) who wants to create a conlang. This moves beyond names for cities and mountains into creating fully-fledged communication systems.

  • The Language Construction Kit : Mark Rosenfelder’s site zompist.com is a fantastic resource for conlangers. The LCK (as it’s known) walks you through every step of the language creation process until you emerge with something awesome. There’s also an even-more-useful (how??) dead-trees version which might deserve a place on every conlanger’s bookshelf.
  • How to create a language : Pablo David Flores drew from the LCK and, by expanding some places and contracting others, created a slightly different but equally useful guide for the linguistically perplexed. It’s hard to say exactly how they differ, but I’d suggest reading both. Personally, I find Flores’ a little bit smoother to read, but that’s no reason not to check out the LCK too.

Constructed World Resources 2: Generators

By Brian Slattery.

This week’s post mainly includes word generators, which are very helpful if you hate making lexicons and would like a little help from your plastic pal who’s fun to be with. If you’ve ever needed a name for a city in a pinch, look here.

  • Awkwords : Maybe the best online word generator? Or at least, the simplest. Click “Generate” when you arrive on the page if you’re confused— it creates a series of words based on the letters and rules you give it. “V” stands for vowel, “C” stands for consonant (these are standard, you’ll see them a lot in linguistics), and you have two other fields to play with too (“N” is for nasal, a kind of consonant, which is included by default). The pattern governs the production of the word itself— put in a series of Cs, Vs, and whatever other letters you defined, and mark optional portions with parentheses. When you’re done salivating, check out the bottom right side…you can save and open the prefs you’ve set! I know, right!
  • Chris Pound’s Language Machines : This has both silly online phrase-generators (kung-fu moves! hi-ya!) as well as downloadable Perl scripts that let you remix existing languages’ words into crazy new Frankensteinian creations. The data sets (word lists) themselves are also included, and Pound covers a lot of real languages and some invented ones too.
  • Timeline Generator : What happened during the reign of King Wergram III, 473 years before your PCs had the gall to question their DM’s planning? Get an answer in a pinch using this timeline generator, which spits out a bunch of stock “events” organized by year. It’s probably useful mostly as an imagination jumpstarter and a hole-filler than it is as a sophisticated piece of worldbuilding.
  • Slices : It’s not strictly a generator, but if you want to experiment with creating a conscript (constructed script), this might be a helpful start. A fine member of Conlang-L, the LCS’s listserv, chopped up the letters of the Roman alphabet, letting you remix their atoms into familiar but alien shapes. I put it here since you can treat it as a “generator” by opening a new Word doc, flailing on the keyboard, and seeing what you make!
  • LangMaker : I haven’t used it myself but I hear it’s a very good piece of software for doing locally what some of the above links do online. Windows only :(

Constructed World Resources 1: Introduction, Worldbuilding and conlanging prompts

By Brian Slattery.

One of the best things about the internet is that it is an endless, labyrinthine cesspool that nonetheless manages to contain a few unspeakably beautiful gems. This post is meant to give you a nice, organized list of just a few of those gems. I’ve selected a number of links that cover a range of topics related to constructed worlds, although the focus is mostly on constructed languages (or conlangs), which is the topic I have the most familiarity with.

My hope for this weekly linkdump is that it will serve as a starting-point for any aspiring world-builders, or for those who have some idea of what they’re doing but would like extra inspiration. I originally encountered these links during my own past spurts of worldbuilding, and I saved them all on my delicious page, tagged under “conlang” or “conworld”. If you’re curious about what else I may find in the future (after these posts are old and forgotten), keep an eye on those tags.

Without further ado:

Worldbuilding and conlanging prompts: These are meant to help you flesh out your conworld— by prompting you to reflect on areas you might not have thought about already— and to flesh out your conlang— by providing translation fodder as you expand your vocabulary and syntax.