What’s in a Name? The Music of Language

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Welcome to Day 2 of our series on creating a naming language."I love you" in several languages

Every language has its own particular sound. Japanese sounds different from Spanish and few people would mistake guttural German for tonal Chinese. Frequently, with just a little education, we can tell which language is being spoken, even if we don’t we don’t know a word of it. To me, each language has its own particular music and once I figure out the music, it’s easier for me to learn or create a new language.

Step to Your Music

Our naming language should also have it’s own music. What do you want your language to sound like, overall? Is it lilting and musical, straight-forward and down to earth, or harsh and demanding? What kind of people live in this area? Are they extremely poetic, which could lead to a fluid-sounding language. Or are they “salt of the Earth” farmers, who are more likely to create names that are practical and straight-forward?

The Beginning of Language

Your next step is to find out what letters give you that sound when spoken together. For example, Tolkein’s Elvish has a lot of l’s and vowel sounds, making it sound fluid and musical, while his Orcish is harsh and gutteral. Think about the languages you speak and find the phonemes1 that will give you the sounds you’re looking for.  If you’re still needing inspiration, check out some language learning sites on-line that have examples of spoken languages. I’d actually recommend listening to languages you don’t understand, so you can focus on the music of a language and not get bogged own in the words. What sounds do you hear that you’d like to use? Write them down phonetically in a way that makes sense to you.

The Sounds Take Care of Themselves

Every language has some phonemes or sounds (letters) that are more common than others. This is a large part of what gives each language its own sound. For English e, t, r, and a are among the most common letters used. In a language I’m currently creating, the most common sounds in the language are hard k, ts (like the Russian ‘tsar’), short a, long e, and m. Take your phonetic list and rank the phonemes in order of frequency. I usually go most frequent to least frequent, but you can use any method that works for you. Separate out the vowels and consonants into their own lists and rank them individually.

That’s it for today. Next time we’ll cover the importance of stress.

1pho.neme (n). any of the abstract units of the phonetic system of a language that correspond to a set of similar speech sounds (as the velar \k\ of cool and the palatal \k\ of keel) which are perceived to be a single distinctive sound in the language.
Meirram-Webster Online Dictionary

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