Friday, March 09, 2007

Smurfish, Mother-Smurfer...Do You Smurf It?

So this week's special topic here at Star-Crossed is Alien Languages. I understand that Tolkien wrote the entire Lord of the Rings body of work just so he could create the languages around it. Umm...yeah. Not so much right here. I'd write the story to write the story. The languages would just have to come as a side thing. Having said that, I did create some small kernels of language for my novel Alien Communion. Not because I wanted to make up a whole "secret code" for my aliens to speak to highlight the fact that yeah, they're aliens, but for the exact opposite reason--to underscore their humanity (for lack of a better term). In their native tongue, a group of Alcaini men make penis jokes, because males joke about sex organs no matter where they come from (and we love them for it, don't we?) :D

The Alcaini use a modifier on the end of a proper name to denote gender--although actually, it's more of a title of respect--the Alcaini call my heroine "Rayne'iri" to afford her the respect similar to calling her "Ms. Rayne," although it's not a one-to-one correlation--there's respect, but the formality one would usually associate with a "Ms." Males are appended with " 'en " and females " 'iri " and the appellation ends up being part of the person's name.

But while I sprinkled a few made-up-language words here and there, I still focused on conveying the sense of difference in their culture through their manner of speech and the cadence of their words. It's a trick I'm not alone in using. Many historical authors do it, too, and as a modern reader, I am grateful that they do. Reading authentic Scots highland brogue isn't nearly as much fun as reading it, and it ends up detracting from the story, rather than enhancing the experience. To have to mentally "sound out" too many words can intrude heavily on the enjoyment of a story.

The language barrier can be a wonderful point of conflict, if only for the fact that the resolution of said conflict is such a profound moment of connection that it lends its own level of gravity to a story.

2 comments:

MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott said...

I wrote a scene in a fantasy novel where the hero and heroine do not speak the same language but use jestures to communicate. When he comes across her mangling his mother tongue by trying to sound out the words in a language primer, he take the book from her and throws it across the room, then sits down and pronounces the words while holding her hand to his throat so she can feel the vibrations of the sound. As a tool for learning it worked well. As a tool for seduction, it worked even better...hehehehhehee...It is possible to make those language barriers work for you. : )

-Kat

Lynda K. Scott said...

Xandra, I did something similar with names in Heartstone. Though I never actually spell it out, there's a 'honorific' for the last names of the Antiari which is used to denote class distinctions. For Eric, being of a so-called new money clan, it's d'Ebrur. For Keriam, from an old and distinguished house, it's I'sadhe.

Basically, new bloods = lower case honorifics, upper case on the last name. Old bloods = upper case honorifics, lower case on the last name.
Then we have a later appearance of a Trader who doesn't have a last name at all because he's illegitimate.