Tuesday, November 19, 2013

NerdOut: A Very Brief History of the Andarian Language

Okay, it's not necessarily the complete fictional etymology, and no I am not going to delve into any sort of fantasy cultural presentation. This is a NerdOut post, just to provide you with a surefire example of how inexhaustibly nerdy I am.

It started with Tolkien, as (I believe) most great fantasy epic adventures (any more) do.
Upon reading that wonderful work, I immediately became obsessed with Elvish. Not necessarily the language (though I'll admit, I am dying to learn conversational Elvish, not just the formal lines they have printed in the books), the look of the script was enough for me. I learned from a friend which book contained a guide for writing Elvish (I will tell you what book that is if you want to know), and I immediately set about practicing and memorizing it.
A friend of mine (who writes some kind of "reality quilting" blog...) noticed my Elvish prowess, and while she was not interested in reading Lord of The Rings (I'll wait and let the horror die down)... She did however admire the fact that I could write in what amounted (to her) in a code that was supposedly a language.

My friend set about writing her own cipher-like "code", using generic, open shapes and straight lines. We both enjoyed the idea of writing notes back and forth in a mutual code that no one else knew about... Yet that never happened. (Maybe it was because I memorized the code and she forgot it...)
Instead, I started writing LoTR fanfiction. This was about 2003, and I had just seen my first installment of the film trilogy, The Two Towers, in theaters. I got this one particular idea for introducing an original character into the story, and I wanted an Elvish-like script to use, so that my race of Elves could be distinct from Tolkien's, so that when the main body of the latter left at the end of Return of the King, my characters could stay behind and continue to have adventures in Middle Earth.
What better than the near-runic script my friend and I developed? Not that I ever actually used the script; just the idea of it was blissful enough for me.
At any rate, from that moment, Andarian was born. The entire vocabulary consisted of roughly three or four words and only a vague sense of grammar. Writing in Tolkien's Elvish, though, inspired me, and there ended up being quite a lot of that in my two novels.

Fast-forward a few years, and I've stepped up my novel-writing game well into developing original ideas and characters. I revisited that old LoTR fanfiction piece. I decided I wanted to take out the copyrighted elements and turn the book into my own work—only one problem: I used plenty of Elvish. If I wanted to avoid copyright issues, I would need to either eliminate the existance of another language besides the few words that I had made up, or...

Why not expand the language to match Tolkien's Elvish?

See? Told you I was nerdier than most. Who else do you know that did not just invent a code, but invented a language that has little resemblance to English to go with it?

The Look
Once I decided to expand Andarian, however, there was the issue of the look of the script. The geometric code I had been considering was more of a Dwarvish kind of script, not graceful enough for Elves. I wanted to be able to keep the lettering, though... I thought the fact that the Elvish script was based in part on Arabic was brilliant. I started looking up different Asian and Southeastern European scripts—

Cambodian has a nice, exotic look to it, wouldn't you say?
So Cambodian became my basis for tweaking the original script. I softened corners, made lines rounder and softer, made things more "schwoopy." I implemented a system of capitalization (something I never quite understood in Tolkien's Elvish) and small "diacritics", extra little marks to denote vowels. For the fun of it, I wrote out a whole list of "spelling rules" dictating where these marks could and could not be used. (Taking fiction linguistics to a whole new level... At least for me!)

The Sound
That done, my next challenge would be to develop the vocabulary. They would have to be words that looked cool and were easy to write using the script. I based the "conjugation" off of what little Latin I had observed (lots of emphasizing subject and direct object with affixes on a verb root), and the sound of the language was very much intended to sound similar to Welsh (that being my favorite language in the whole wide world). From there it was just throwing together cool letter combinations and random syllables (like "bunde" [boon-DEH] for "sea", "even" [eh-VENN] for "tree" and "jyrn" [JERN] for "when"), and from there, crafting new words with two existing words, compunding the meaning; for example, "orven" ("wait") and "ness" ("here") combine to make the word for "faithful": "orvenness."

My goal became to develop a vocabulary of at least 300 words, to compare with the 350-word Elvish vocabulary. It happened relatively quickly, with such complicated words as "woddathandove" for "to write" (literally "to make speech pieces") or "fusbinorrande", the word for "against" (implying "one who is near but not with"); and some words with attached cultural significance, such as the difference between "chepakorrath" (literally, "to stand up with", describing a male elf escorting a maiden at a public event as an observance of etiquette than any romantic significance; the way I see it, people would be more apt to gossip if a maiden appeared alone than if she were accompanied by an unattached gentleman) and "cheporrath" ("to stand with" the person as a couple in formal ceremony before the community; implies a wedding as the next social event).

Can I get any nerdier about something so geeky?

Crafting a language, once the basic grammatical structure is established, is really not as difficult as one might think. Words like "ove" for "piece" and "listren" for "sometimes" were entirely off-the-cuff. Sometimes I would take an associated word and make it sound more exotic to use as an Andarian word, such as "pleje" for "love" (kind of sounds like "pledge") and "feste" for "glad." (That one's obvious) In the style of the only foreign language I know, Spanish, Andarian grammar and vocabulary are sufficiently limited so as to lack the specific same words as English (I'm working on that), but at the same time, using words in various combinations will get the point across.

For example, I give you John 3:16, in step-by-step photos.

Just to review, in English:

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."

At the time, only about half of the words in this verse had actually been translated to Andarian. I had not thought of how to do past tense, I didn't have words like "everlasting" and "begotten"... I wasn't even sure how I would translate "For God so loved the world"!
I decided that, in the context of John 3, this verse might be focusing on God's love, so I quickly threw some terms together and developed a system of expressing past tense.
But I wasn't done yet. The next thing I had to do was plan out the way I would phrase things, because for Andarian, I devised a grammatical system that sort of combined Latin(-ish) and Spanish grammar... plus, as stated before, the vocabulary was quite limited, so in order to truly "translate" it I had to rephrase it in a way that would work for the size of the vocabulary I had:

Then plugging in Andarian terms and making up words as necessary:

Step final, rewrite the whole thing in Andarian script:

Booyah. And for good measure, here's a recording of me, reading the verse:

Pretty legit, huh? :)
So there you have it, certifiable proof that I am a brainy nerd—who has a system for inventing a language that is simple and effective, if anyone has the urge to ever try!
(In case you were wondering, yes, this is the brief version; I made it much shorter than it could have been, trust me!)