Saturday, August 6, 2016

Fantasy Constructed Languages Part 1: Sounds

Other fantasy language posts
Creating a fantasy languageElfin and Orcish amount of words so far
Fantasy Constructed Languages Part 1: Sounds
Fantasy Constructed Languages Part 2: Parts of speech - nouns
Fantasy Constructed Languages Part 3: Parts of speech - adjectives
Fantasy Constructed Languages Part 4: Parts of speech - articles, quantifiers, prepositions, questions
Fantasy Constructed Languages Part 5: Parts of speech - why, pronouns, conjunctions,

I mentioned elsewhere that I had plans to write more about fantasy constructed languages. This post might help begin that series beyond the few notes that I have made in other posts.

I wanted to do a foundation post for fantasy constructed languages.

A good place to start is to look over range of the basic sounds that will make up a language. I begin with basic English sounds which are vowels and consonants which make up syllables. I then list other sounds from other languages to compare with English.

I'm not looking to explaining the linguistic terms and concepts, so I'll try to present the basic information using as few of terms as I can - without going into phonology that much.

vowel - a basic speech sound formed by an open flow of air and vocalized vibration of the vocal chords without friction

consonant - a basic speech sound formed by an obstruction of air flow, when combined with a vowel form a syllable

syllable - a basic speech unit that forms part of a word or an entire word having at least one vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants.

English sounds are described by how they are spoken using one's mouth. The spoken English language isn't the only form of the language. It is also written and even signed using hands for those impaired. But I'll focus on the spoken form sounds of English.

Vowels are described by either being vocalized from the front, middle, or back of the mouth near the throat. Also they are described by how high the tongue is to the rough of the mouth, or how the tongue moves - by opening or closing.













Consonants are obstructions of the air flow. They can be described by the main postitions and location of the sound origin. Some are vocalized with vibration and some are silent sounded by the forced air alone.

b, m, p, w

Lips & teeth
v, f

Tongue + teeth
th, thz, t, d

Between tongue & teeth
s, z

Between tongue & teeth, more space
sh, zh

Tongue + front roof

Tongue + roof

Tongue + back roof
k, g, ng, q, x


Close & plosive
b, p, t, d, k, g

f, sh, zh, kh

Stop + hiss
j, ts, ch, dj

Slight obstruction
l, r, h, w, y

What about other sounds such as the tapping of teeth together, the farting sound, or a grunt. They might also be able to be consonants and vowels. In English, they already have meaning in conversation anyway.

Comparing to other languages
One way to learn different sounds is by looking at foreign languages. I'm just an amateur language person, but I have studied Spanish, French, and Japanese in school. I also learned Tagalog fairly fluently while living in the Philippines for several years. Even with my limited knowledge, I've tried to look at Hebrew and Chinese for some knowledge as well. Spending a little time with Native American languages is also worthwhile.

Tagalog - one official Filipino language - uses different consonants and more limited vowels than English. It uses just five vowels, six combination vowels, and twenty consonants. Being a newer language, words are spelled as they sound. Vowels a, i, u, e, o ay, oy, uy, iw, aw, ey, Consonants b, k, d, f, g, h, l, ly, m, n, ny, ng, p, r, s, t, ts, w, y, z

Japanese - uses the five main vowels like Tagalog. It however uses much fewer consonants. Vowels a, i, u, e, o. Consonants k, s/sh, t/ch/ts, n, h/f, m, y, r, w, -n

Hebrew - uses six main vowels. Vowels a, ee, ay, e, o, oo. Consonants b, v, g, d, h, v, z, ch, l, m, n, s, p, f, ts, k, r, sh, s, t

Inuktitut - uses three main vowels. Vowels i, u, a. Consonants h, p, t, k, g, m, n, l, s, j, r, v, q, ng, lh, nng

Cherokee - uses six main vowels. Vowels a, e, i, o, u, v. Consonants g/k, h, l, m, n/nh/nah, q, s, t/d, dl, tl, ts, w, y

Nahuatl (Aztec) - has four main short vowels with long form. Vowels a, e, i, o, aa, ee, ii, oo. Consonants ch, h, k, kw, l, m, n, p, t, tl, ts(z), x, y, s, w

Chinese - uses four tones in addition to seventeen vowel & combinations. Vowels a, o, e, i, ai, ei, ou, ao. iao, ia, iu, ua, uo, uai, ui, ua, ue. Consonants b, p, m, f, d, t, n, l, g, k, h, s, c, r, sh, zh, ch, x, j, q, w, y, -ng, -n

Hindi - uses thirteen vowels. Vowels aa, aa(a), ei, ee, ou, oo, ae, aey, ou, auo, aum, aha, aum. Consonants k, kh, g, gh, n, ch, chh, j, jh, tr, t, th, d, dh, ph, b, bh, m, y, r, l, v, sh, shh, s, h, ksh, gy, shr

Interesting to fantasy languages would be other sounds caused by different species of creatures.

So most language constructing people begin by choosing what sounds will be in the language. They may try to create their own, or adopt portions from existing languages.

Heavy & harsh
Languages are all relative to other languages. In English, back-of-the-throat heavy languages sounds - especially coughing type sounds - sometimes more harsh. These are k, g, q, x, ng, ch (spoken as K), and nk dominant sound languages. Sometimes d and v sounds heavier. For vowels, O and A are harsher than I and E. They speak louder and stronger.

Melodic & light
Front of the mouth languages sound more melodic and lighter to many English speakers. Front of the mouth sounds such as l, r, s, f, n, ts, y, and vowels i, and e dominant sound languages may sound more melodic.

Hissing Languages
These types of languages use many s, z, sh, zh, th, j, v, and f sounds using the teeth as the dominant sound tool. They may sound more snake-like.

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