As a writer, I used to write short stories and poems. As a reader, fantasy is my favorite genre.

I created some what of a language for my (first ) novel. It's phoneme, pronunciation, rules and a set of words. The outline / first draft of my novel is also completed. It is an extra terrestrial fantasy story.

I am decided to participate in this Nanowrimo, and sets everything according to that.

But when I start writing, the problem arises. How to implement my new language in my novel? I am planning to write the novel in my mother tongue. But the invented language is the mother tongue of all my characters. Also none of them know my mother tongue.

The problem is about dialogues, if I write them completely in my new language, it will really difficult to readers. If I use only some words from my new language ( like words for hi, god, king, queen, land ) and write everything else in normal language will it feel wired? How to do it in correct way? Please Help.

  • 1
    Are you targeting the broad audience (which might like an easy read) or linguistic enthusiasts (who would appreciate learning new fictional language)?
    – Alexander
    Nov 1, 2019 at 17:02

4 Answers 4


Whatever language your readers speak, they expect your book to be "translated" into that language.

I write in English for English speakers, I have written stories set in the ancient past where the characters, at best, would be speaking in Old English, but that might as well be a different language. I was careful to not use "modern" words and stick with concepts and comparisons they would plausibly understand, but still, their dialogue was in English understandable to the modern reader.

You pretty much have to do that, trying to teach readers a made up language will destroy their reading immersion, and they won't read your book. On TV, subtitles may suffice, or on Star Trek, told from the "human" POV, they build in translations, or use the universal translator, or rephrase so the person understands (Star Wars does this for everything R2D2 says in beeps). An example:

Alien (scowling): Trukof tolay vis cunato?
Human: Of course it comes with whipped cream! We're not barbarians!

Star Wars is a good example of what I am talking about: "Long Long Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away," there is zero chance people were speaking modern Earth English! Heck, WE weren't speaking it a three hundred years ago. Whatever language Luke and Hans and Leia were speaking, George Lucas translated 95% of it into modern American English for us, and the audience didn't care about that for one second.

We do the same thing here on Earth. Vikings has everybody speaking English, nobody would watch it if they spoke their natural Old Norse, we couldn't understand it. Shows set in medieval times have everybody speaking modern English, because Old English is mostly unintelligible when spoken.

Use your made up language like "alien" languages are used in Star Wars; in places where the context is clear, or it can be translated by another character, or the response of the other character gives the reader the gist of what was said.

In particular, you can use it where English will not do, your alien language can have concepts covered in a word that demand a sentence in English. Or it can have words used for romance or intimacy that just don't translate, but readers can get the sense of what is meant through the context.

It is like a spice: A little of it helps complete the fantasy, too much of it starts to get in the way of reading immersion. And by "little" I mean little, like 1% of dialogue.

  • 2
    Elmore Leonard said, "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip." Readers tend to skip the parts they can't understand. Nov 1, 2019 at 20:08

So, there are several ways to do this: First, translate into English everything except proper nouns (specific names of people, places, or things) or culturally unique concepts, and insulting words or expressive comments (Mein Gott! for a German who is fluent in English) and anything with counting or math that does not need to be done in communications (even if you're a foreign student, most people mentally read numbers and do math in native languages. Even SETI messages are done by making use of numbers to communicate because Math is a more universal language. A common tactic is for the broadcast of a sequence of on prime numbers (Whole numbers that can only be divided by themselves and one 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11..) as the concept is very basic in mathmatics, but too random to occur in nature.)

Additionally, slip words of the conlag into dialog in places where the context can give the meaning without explaining it directly. Consider the "Scruffy Haired Nerf Herder" line from Star Wars or the Use of the Klingon word "peta'Q". In both cases, they are not properly defined in their first use, but the times where they are used contextually imply what they are. Starr Wars later confirmed what a "Nerf" is, specifically stating their a disgusting livestock animal, but the audience already knew it was something that was really demeaning to herd because Han responds to the insult by taking offense to the mildly insulting use of "Scruffy" and ignores the implication of being a Nerf Herder. We instantly see this as along the line of someone calling a woman "a cheap whore" to which the woman responds "How dare you call me 'cheap'?". The joke is that they are only insulted when the insult is untrue... if you're gonna be a whore, at least be a high end one, amiright?

Similarly, the word "peta'Q" is frequently used as a fighting word insult in Klingon, with it's frequent use by them and the mild reactions of non-Klingons so insulted to the near murderous rage of Klingons so insulted. It was later confirmed that the word means "dishonored" and the implication is that it's a rather crass way to say it which is why it always comes through the Universal Translator even when the Klingons are speaking English. The best word to describe the contextual meaning of "peta'Q" doesn't translate into anything in English. It would be like a human calling an alien "You Mother f--ker!" and the alien gets the translation of "you father!". The F-Word's practical translation is not carrying the implied meaning of the word.

Prayers and other ritual recitations may also remain intact even if the translation is pretty standard if the religion requires use of a certain language. This is fairly common as Judism, Catholics (until to Vatican II), and Islam all require readings be done in specific language (Hebrew, Latin, and Arabic respectively) and this was common among the religious on Star Trek and one of the few ways the Vulcan and Bajoran languages were used.

Another trick is to not invent new words but a new alphabet and keep the English spelling. You can uses more than 26 characters (I'm fond of paring "Sh", "Ch", "Th", and "Qu" separate symbols than their constituent letters). One thing that commonly comes up that is interesting is that if a cypher-text is spoken, it's commonly held to sound nothing like the words spelled (D.C. comics has two of these languages, in Kryptonian and Interlac. Both use English words and convert each letter to a symbol with a one to one translation, but spoken Kryptonian sounds vaguely Nordic and Interlac sounds equally different.). This does occasionally occur in real langues, for example, Mandarin and Japanese do not sound a like and it's fairly easy to tell the difference upon sound. However, the written Mandarin and Japanese are fairly so similar that a person who can speak and read only one language can still read the other with minimal information loss. Even languages with the same alphabet use different sounds for different letters. For example, English pronounces the letters "U" "V" "W" as "You", "Vee", and "Double-You" respectively, but German pronounces the letters "Oooh", "Vay", and "Double-Vey". Even dialects will change the pronunciation as the letters "H" and "Z" depending on what nation you're from with British English using "Hayche" and "Zed" while American pronunciation being "Ayche" and "Zee" (one British Commedain performing in America drew attention to common British English things Americans get confused by quipped that he pronounces "H" the way he does because "There's a feakin' H in it." He then conceded that the Americans do have a better building floor numbering system where the ground floor is the first floor as opposed to the British, where the Ground Floor was the floor on the ground and the next level up is the first floor, because "That's how Numbers work").

If you're doing a play, one of the best "speaking a different language" gags can be seen in the British Comedy "'Allo 'Allo'" where the actors are all British, but are playing characters centered around French Resistance in a small provincial village during Nazi occupation. All characters speak in a ridiculous accent of their nationality. When necessary for humor, a characters accent will represent the language they are speaking in, so if a French character starts speaking in a German accent English, the other French-accented English speakers will hear him speaking German. Typically these changes will be given a quick acknowledgement by non-speakers as scenes where two different accented characters talk, it's usually assumed both are speaking the same language but the non-native speaker has a notable accent of his/her native language. Typically, the character changing his accent denotes an attempt to sound like a native speaker. Additionally, a running gag was that all English speakers (who use very exagerated English accents peppered with frequent use of "Britishisms" and idioms) were portrayed as fluent French Speakers, but terrible at pronunciations, and depicted this by giving their dialog in French accents, but the dialog was always littered with malapropism (the recurring English Intelligence officer, who was undercover as the towns police officer, would enter every seen with a greeting of "Good Moaning" when he meant to use good morning) and only the French were aware of the poor speaking skills (the Germans always believed he was speaking proper French). The English were always unable to understand any other language while speaking with British accents, so the malapropisms were always their "French Accent" and the show gave different explinations as to why it was consistently mispronounced (the British believed that they were using thick Parisian accents, which the main characters couldn't understand due to their provincial French accents. The French characters just thought it was because the British were idiots. Both are plausible as the British could be using a different dialect, but were still idiots for not realizing most of France is not Paris).

Other works, normally when dubbing into a different language from the work, may depict sterotypes traditionally associated with accents in their native even if characters wouldn't use that accent if they learned the second language fluently. For example, in Japan, most American characters will use an Osakan Accent, even though the Americans who learn Japanese will speak with a Tokyo accent like the Japanese nationals in the work. The reason for this is that the Japanese Sterotype of Americans has a lot in common with that of Osakans (and Japanese media is usually made in Tokyo, so the creative staff will see it as familar). Similarly, when Japanese Media hits the United States, Osakan characters will usually be given Brooklyn or Southern American accents, as their much more hot headed and boisterous characteristics fit with American associations with those accents. Additionally, an overly polite character in Japanese usually gets a Queen's English Accent as the Japanese character is overly using honorifics which to Japanese sounds overly proper. The English language doesn't have honorifics to the extent of the Japanese language, and Americans rarely use the ones they do have. But Americans do see Queen's English accents as being overly proper.

Another example is German accents where the Americans do have an ear for a few different accents, ranging from a Prussian/Norhtern German (Typically these characters are the Nazis who yell "Macht Schnell" or are brutal and efficient and almost mechanical), the southern/Bavarian accent (much more polite and friendly, even when being honest. Typically the Nazi Scientists or the Nazi that insists that they are not barbarians and exude culture. Or Swiss). The other two are more Austrian though rarely called that and are more based on two different individuals speaking styles. The first is "Clearly this is Hitler" and is often loud, grandios, and speaking to orderly mass columns of followers who have already organized into a military formation and with no concept of an indoor voice. The second is "The Arnold" after Arnold Schwarzenegger which range from "Defiantly a killer robot pretending to sound human," to "the one good guy with a German accent" to "clearly Action Movie Hero Arnold in a film that was not written for him to be the lead role" (both Characters were Austrians, though the Austrians are happy to not be associated with the former and the latter is more of an American-Immigrant dream come from a not very remarkable Europe, and become famous, rich, and become the hot guy all the women want to be with and all the guys want to be.). Arnold's accent is also kind of goofy nievity, and it's clearly exaggerated in his later films (Arnold does not talk nearly like that in Real Life these days)... clearly he can act... but he can't get rid of the accent (and it's half the fun of seeing his films).

Interestingly, Germans do see similar accents, but not always in the same light. Where American sees Bavarian Germans as scientists who are more cultured and jovial in than their more barbaric northern/Prussian brothers, Germans see Bavarian accents not to dissimilar to the way English speakers see the American Southern accent (Drunken backwards hicks) and when they dubbed "Hogan's heroes" all German characters in the series (of which only the two regulars were not Nazis) were given ridiculous over the top Bavarian accents... not only pointing out that the Nazi Party formed in the region, but also pointing out that everyone who joined was stupid or drunk or both, and usually very much the first).


Yes, writing a new language for you story is quite challenging. In working on fictional languages in the past, I started by determining what sounds the nationality uses (there are hundreds of basics sounds used in English, but most people stick with the Phoenician alphabet for simplicity's sake), then deciding on a subject phrase syntax (subject-adjective-affinitive is a good one - "Car red drives" = the reader know what the subject is before it is described), conjunctions, articles, pronouns, affixes and suffixes (if your language uses that system), and finally a list of nouns and a list of pronouns. A randomly-generated list of nouns, verbs, and adjectives should work well enough to toy with. After that, try writing in your language and see what kinds of shortfalls it has, and fix them as you go along. This process is similar to how languages are born in the first place.

BUT (and I can't stress this enough) I wouldn't mess with this during NaNoWriMo. If the words absolutely need to be there and you can't just say, 'The alien gurgled and smacked angrily, like a half-full water balloon falling down stairs' (which is usually the MUCH better answer).

If you must have your own language, then just type nonsense words that are phoenetically acceptable for now. If you come up with rules or words on the fly, write them down in a notebook sitting by your computer (or typewriter or whatever) and figured out the pieces later. If you are determined to do this, then more power to you, but be forewarned that writing a simple and functional language is a similar amount of work to writing a full novel. So you are doubling your work.

Some tips to help you work with character who are speaking in a foreign tongue:

  • Assume your story is translated into English from whatever language the Point-Of-View character speaks ("Vikings" on the History Channel is a great example of this). Usually, it is more helpful to describe what the language sounds like than it is to throw a scramble of letters onto the page; to the reader, after all, that's exactly what your language looks like.
  • Proper nouns should be maintained in their native language unless they are constructed from common nouns, in which case you have the option of translating those basic nouns into English. In my story, for instance, dragons are named stuff like 'Blight' and 'Calamity' and 'Ravage' and 'Fellwind' so I translate their names for the reader's convenience. Other less meaningful names like 'Kebra' and 'Toumi' remain as-is because there is no special meaning that is important to the reader.
  • Avoid anachronisms. pick an Earth time-range that fits the technological setting your story takes place in, and stick to words and references that are normal for that era. In futuristic Earth-based tales, you can use classic references like Bach and Batman, but should avoid off-classics like 'How I Met Your Mother' and 'Glee.'
  • Objects that exist only in your world, for which there is no English word, can have a special name, but it should be short and memorable.
  • Words spoken in your fictional language should be rare, and should be italicized. "Yabeed?"
  • Don't spew gobbledygook if you can avoid it. No matter how cool it is, if the reader doesn't understand it, then it shouldn't be there. There are rare cases where a specific word is actually a plot clue stuffed into the gobbledygook, in which case you can have at it.
  • Make it easy to pronounce. If it is being represent in English, the characters should follow English rules.
  • Keep the basics of your languag into consideration. Watching foreign films is great awareness for this. Apple, acorn, and avid all start with 'a' in English, but suddenly potato, toad, and doll all begin with 'yavat' in your made-up language. You MUST keep this in mind.
  • Your langue may not be letter=sound. My current story features two languages, one of which is a glyph language (similar to traditional Chinese), and one of which is syllable-based, where they still have a sound-and-letter alphabet, but children quickly learn to use the advanced symbols that represent whole syllables at a time. I have to keep that in mind, as there are several scene when character are learning to read or write.

Finally, don't get 'World-Building Disease,' where you develop your world so much and so often that it gets in the way of your writing time and prevents you from getting published. I promise you that if writing is your big dream, writing is what you should be doing. Writing a new language is tertiary, at best. I can't tell you how many hours I wasted on a similar envdevor, once. No matter how excited I was, I couldn't make it work, and had to scrap it in a fit of frustration, having wasted 3 years of writing time on something the reader was never even going to see.


Here is how I dealt with Lissien, the language in my dragon book.

  1. Pick a few root words and use them a lot. This gives readers an idea of what you mean, through repetition and similarity. Thus the dragons are Lissai, their language Lissien, an adolescent dragon is a glissond, an adult female an olissair, a clan leader is a hlissak, the king is hlissosak, leaders of other animal species are called hlisskans, the unit of distance is a lisstal (one dragon wingspan), etc.

  2. Most of the foreign words I used were for titles, alien flora and fauna, measurements of distance and time, and coinage (unicoins, carved from unicorn horns).

  3. I tried to use names that are suggestive. So instead of Maple trees, I call them Spin-nut trees (because that is what Maple seeds are). I called oil "liosh", tar "osh" and tar pit became oshpit. A sea serpent I called a lebyatan, suggesting Leviathan, the Biblical sea serpent. Triceratops I called "dryzerdops". Tigers I called "taggers".

  4. Try to reserve the alien words for important plot points or to increase versimilitude. I created a dragon sport, a board game, and a legal system.

  5. Names are tricky. I tried to capture appearance or character. A hot-tempered Red Dragon was Anspark. A sweet-talking political leader I named Tongaroi (from Tongue and a word meaning Royal). A dragon leader prone to fury I called Lofty K'fuur. A maroon colored dragon I named K'Maron. A rouge colored one I named Rougelek.

Good luck!

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