Building a Fantasy Language

I’m working through a (2nd-ish) draft of my WIP and I am thinking of expanding the world building through a more robust language system. At the moment, there isn’t much to be honest. The names are selected intentionally, and I use symbols for houses and common concepts in paintings and books (such as sunrise, death, etc.)

However, I am contemplating developing more complex terms for commons themes and concepts such as the seasons. Why would my fantasy people call the hottest season “summer”? Why not “solstice” or even “laire” (summer in Quenya by Tolkien) or even use another Earth language, directly or adapted?

Will this enhance or bog down my work? Will it be worth the effort to develop a new language? Or will it frustrate the reader? Of course it would have to be consistent and meaningful. But how far would I have to go? Would a river need to be a “kawa” or “afon” (Japanese and Welsh for “river”)? What nouns will need to be in Belan?

What if I use an Earth language, say Japanese, that fits with the style of my fantasy race and adapt it, modify it? Will that offend people from that culture? Races in fantasy novels are often modeled off of Earth groups, whether intentionally or not. But that becomes more obvious if the language is adapted.

One of my groups was taken from Welsh. Another was lightly modeled on the Japanese, mostly the names, but I think I want to do a little more and adapt language, symbols and some mannerisms on the Japanese, but with a lot of adjustments. Still, clever readers would probably notice the similarities (say if I used “natsu” for summer, that would be an obvious one!) Would this be acceptable since it is a fantasy?

What if I just took Japanese and Welsh symbols and modified them for written and symbolic language? Would that be acceptable and sufficient to world build without changing the spoken language. Trying to tell a story to English speakers about a completely foreign, not to mention, completely fantasy world is difficult enough, without trying to create/add in another language no one else knows. To be completely realistic the entire book should be written in the fantasy language, but then try to sell it! Unless you are Tolkien, I doubt that will work.

ButterflyQ But seriously, I would love to hear your thoughts! Do you think a fantasy language adds to or detracts from a novel? Have you written anything with a fantasy language or system you created? Did you base it on an Earth language? How much did you adapt? How did you use it in your work?  Please comment!



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