World Building - Creating a Language

Updated: Jul 31, 2019

When I started this project, I knew I wanted it to have an ancient Greek feel, but I didn't want it to be "the same as all the rest". There are other Greek settings out there, and they all tend to use the usual Greek names and titles. That's when I reached out to Michael Plautz. As a student of international languages, I knew he was the guy to create my Kagari language.

Here's how he did it in his words.

"Kagari piskari and their language

Developing a language from scratch can go about as many ways as cooking a meal – from utter chaos to professionally meticulous execution. I like to imagine I've gotten closer to the latter than the former with the Zagora project. Starting with some regional references, I've taken a methodical approach to given the language a Mediterranean feel without simply picking a language to mimic per se.

Step one: The Noises People Make

Every language is built first around the vocal range of people. This is probably the main reason bird chirps and snake hisses don't feature much in real world languages. The phonemes, or basic sounds, of Katoran are built primarily on sounds shared by Greek and standard Spanish. As I wanted each sound to be fairly clear to the English speaking audience without just regurgitating the sound of a language thousands of miles from the intended regional influences of the setting, I included certain details like the 'gh' in some names (like Aeghi) to signal an English speaker that there is a hard G there, rather than a more j like sound. With an eye for the international, I also omitted the English 'j' sound entirely, as it isn't present in Greek, Egyptian, and several other languages in the region at all. For extra language nerd points, I invite anyone interested in deep diving into Greek to listen to how the modern gamma sound is pronounced around different vowels if you'd like to make 'g' and 'gh' stand out from one another.

Step two: Giving Meaning to Squiggles

The script was invented from scratch, but with attention to how many (likely most) real world writing systems developed – pictographs. By thinking of each consonant as a simplified picture, it's easier to come up with a set of distinct, separate, simple shapes that make the construction of vocabulary easier; If the letter for the 'd' sound resembles a plant, it follows naturally that words for trees and orchards would begin with this sound, and that would have been the reason within the culture for making that sound out of that picture. Thinking of the alphabet as a side effect of speech gives a subtle but natural flow to developing the language, which helps with long term development as the project grows. As vowels are often the last part to develop in real languages, only the first vowel follows this pattern – an oval to represent the first sound of the word for the sun, Aelo. The other vowels simply add marks to distinguish one vowel from another, serving to distinguish the language from others, and provide an Easter egg for serious linguistics aficionados familiar with the historical tidbit that Greek was the first Mediterranean language to add vowels to their writing system, which could have gone many different ways.

Step three: Words, Words, Words

Fleshing out the vocabulary of real languages tends to follow predictable patterns of human nature: Light and dark before red and yellow, food and shelter before tools and weapons, and so on. But the needs of the project precluded spending hundreds of hours growing a real language out of the aether, so using the framework established with deciding on phonetics and script, I set to work creating words in the order they were needed. While I occasionally reviewed linguistics of earth to stay grounded and consulted Croatian and Coptic and Ameya for ideas, the overwhelming majority of vocabulary is built on a foundation of giving meaning to the pictographs for base words, and then building on top of those words with short beginning and ending sounds. As vocabulary becomes more complex, more and more compounds come into play. For instance, the letter B resembles the arched back of a large animal, and B words in Kagari include a variety of strength-related concepts, including the obvious Bofan, for strong or muscular, and metaphysical Biska, for divine or godly. This provided not only the initial and subsequent vocabulary for the language, but opens up a smoother route to continuing to develop it for future projects if our public so demands.

By Michael Plautz

Download the 4 page Kagari Language PDF

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