Curse Like an Orc, Woo Like an Elf: The Secret to Fantasy Languages

WritersdontcryFantasy languages hold undeniable appeal. They are transportive, offering you a treasured glimpse into the secret minds and daily livesCursefantasy of elves, Klingons, wizards, and dragons. They are evocative, lending elves their otherworldliness, Klingons their intimidating nature, and the Sims their emotiveness. And they create an almost instant kinship between those devoted to these magical languages that cross fantasy worlds.

I remember the thrill of discovery when I picked up Magician: Apprentice and realized that Raymond E. Feist had used one of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Elvish languages as the basis for his Elvish—as did countless other fantasy works. It made the mystery and the magic of the elves somehow that much more tangible. I cherished each decoded word, for by studying the language I felt closer than ever to the mystical elves I had read about. And I’m not alone.

Something about fantasy languages captures the imagination. It can be the final touch that sets your creations apart—that spark that gives them a feeling entirely their own. But regardless as to whether you’re featuring full conversations, or using a couple words here and there for flavor, or even just need a few names of characters and kingdoms that fit together, making up words is a tricky business. Here are a few quick-and-dirty tips to get you started:

A Pretty Language for a Pretty Elf

Most people create fantasy languages to enrich their fantasy worlds. Tolkien created a fantasy world to enrich his fantasy languages. Assuming you’re not a linguist and fantasy languages aren’t the point of your whole creation, it’s important to think about the purpose your fantasy language will serve in your book.

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