runa27 (runa27) wrote in linguaphiles,

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How would YOU do this? (Conlanging)

Okay, I'm having fun with a fantasy story of mine. So much fun I started getting ahead of myself and had to stop to think about this. XD This isn't a terribly urgent question or set of questions rather, but it's been bugging me for a while and I'm kind of overwhelmed by the possibilities now that it finally hit me what a massive undertaking I was really trying to do, and it occurred to me I should maybe ask around in places where there really knowledgeable language geeks (I use this term with huge affection, by the way!) about what THEY would think. It all relates to ancient languages, to a hypothetical "lost" ancient language of a hidden culture that has been evolving for thousands of years, and where the hell it might have originated from...

In this story, there is a fantasy race. The idea of this race is they descended from the same h. sapiens stock as the rest of us (though they have much longer lifespans and a slightly differing reproductive/maturation process because of it, they're still mostly human), but that the ice age of approximately 70-some-odd thousand years ago (which caused our own population bottleneck), and a war amongst themselves that preceded it, caused them to literally bury themselves out of paranoia. They have kept themselves hidden in bunkers for most of the last few tens of thousands of years, partly out of superstition, and partly out of xenophobic and isolationist tendencies.

So far I have had a ton of fun with this - examining the kind of culture they would develop from things like living underground for so long with limited resources, coming up with mythology and youth countercultures and funerary rites, oh such fun! - but I also kind of want a sense of a culture and language that is ancient and preceded ours but nonetheless, really does have a common origin with the rest of humanity. But how to achieve this?

I wanted the sense of a language - granted, only usually seen in snippets or heard in garbled bits by outsiders, but still enough to provide what feels like a solid cultural background for one of the main characters - that either originated, or borrowed from, countless other cultures from seemingly disparate parts of the globe... including languages that no longer exist or have morphed considerably since then. Aaaaand here's where I started getting ahead of myself.

I wanted to come up with a language with phonemes that sounded like they came from all over, particularly Eurasia, including East-Asian languages and some of the Eastern-European ones (because I like the sound of things like Romanian, I'll confess! But also, because it seemed logical at the time at least, since they population-bottlenecked themselves in Eurasia, not in Africa, though it only later occurred to me that perhaps I'm not giving the movement or evolution of languages much credit!).

But... I kind of wanted to give it vocabulary that sounds suspiciously Latin-like in parts (one of the ongoing teases being whether they may have had contact with ancient Rome) while being weirdly Asiatic-sounding in others (one of the few bits of vocab that's stuck is "Shai-shai", which is "yes/yeah/sure/alright already", etc. depending on context); a complex and flexible grammar, and oh yes, a full orthography that included "stonewriting" (lettering that would be easy to carve into stone or clay - because see, they had limited paper and cloth supplies); a cursive form (because there's always a cursive form!); their own basic mathematical orthography (the one main character that came from this culture IS NOT a mathematician, by any stroke, but I wanted to at least be able to write out basic arithmetic and numbers); even a variant of simplified "raised letters" for the blind (similar in concept to Braille, but not completely dot-based) and their own sign language for the deaf (because between mining and excavation being a major profession, and limited population, um, variety, they're prone to both accidents and recessive traits that cause each of those). And yes, the idea is that ALL of them know these, because they take about a century to grow up, which is plenty of time for an education in the eyes of their elders.

Their culture is very big both on conserving its cultural identity, and also on collectivism and consideration for others in the culture - so it's considered polite to know how to speak in sign language for the sake of those who are hearing-impaired, and it's considered a must to learn the older orthographies and poetry, etc. to be a "cultured", well-rounded individual. Knowing how to interpret "raised lettering" is also a practical thing though, in case the hall lighting of the bunkers goes out :P

I really... I have so many ideas about the "feel" or "sound" or what should be at least mentioned in the vocabulary (lots and lots and LOTS of very specific terminology for stone, clay and metal, for one, since most of them deal with them on a daily basis and they form a large part of the raw materials for their people as well as their economy), etc....  but I'm not sure what I should actually use for the specific origins of all this, nor am I completely sure of what I should consider in the orthographies - I mean, the cursive thing is relatively easy; just keep writing it over and over faster and faster was the advice I got, until you start to see consistent ways they morph, and that seems to work fairly well - but I actually came up with a complete, phonetic orthography once, really cool-looking, something that looked ancient but plausible to me, something that could be easily carved, a bit like katakana crossed with Stargate symbols, heh... and then I could remember all of maybe two characters without looking at my chart! So I wonder if perhaps I didn't consider something in its design that would be obvious to a more lingusitically-savvy person... 

Basically... I'm not 100% sure what I'm asking (argh, always frustrating for everyone involved!), but what I'm looking for is I guess the things I haven't considered or didn't know to consider because I'm new to linguistics (you can probably tell that the way I'm approaching it has thus far not been linguistic so much as anthropological!). How orthographies form in the first place, what the earliest languages might have sounded like and then later morphed into, etc.

By proxy, this means I'm looking for resources that are accessible to newbies, on everything from orthography origins to theoretical early languages, and I'm looking for thoughts on what languages would be good to mine for it, and opinions on what I'm doing wrong (other than "getting ahead of myself" in general, which I already know I have XD).

Apologies for being really wordy; part of it is excitement about the story, and most of it is that it's hard to talk through a problem when you're not entirely sure what your problem is! :P 

And of course, thanks in advance to anyone who has the patience to read through all that and can think of anything to say or suggest! 

Tags: accents, advice, conlangs, etymology, language history, language origins, language planning, linguistics, morphology, phonology, recommendations, sign languages, sociolinguistics, writing systems
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