Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Science Fiction and Fantasy Mix Familiar and New to Create Language

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Dec• 23•19

Science fiction and fantasy writers are often burdened with inventing a vocabulary for their story world that deepens and explains an alternate reality. Because a crucial part of any culture is its language. They’re called constructed languages.  The best methods of using language to authenticate your fiction often lies in blending the familiar and new, including fresh word combinations.

This short piece by the folks at Miriam-Webster have examples examples of how this is done in the Star Wars universe. It’s easy to identify terms that have entered everyday usage —stormtrooper, droid, the dark side, the Force, and Jedi.

JK Rowling author of the Harry Potter series is known for creating spells from Latin terms (Avada Kadavera) and coining fresh word combinations like parseltongue for the language of snakes and serpentine creatures.  Humans who can speak this language are called parselmouths. She also brought us dementors, muggles, and death eaters. Here’s an updated Harry Potter vocabulary guide that proves the richness of Rowling’s language that anchors the Potter world.

George R.R. Martin also boldly mixes old and new in his Game of Throne series set amid the continent of Westeros. The rich and extensive vocabulary includes the Unsullied, eunuch warriors who were former slaves,  greyscale, an incurable, disfiguring skin disease,  sellsword, a mercenary for hire, turncloak for traitor, wildlings, a derogatory term for people who live in the far north, and wargs, people who can enter and control the minds of animals.

However, Martin went a step further and invented 11 new languages such as Dothraki and Valyrian. (The Star Wars series has 68.) These important languages in the HBO series were expanded by hired consultants who matched words with the culture and history. And wouldn’t you know it, people around the world are learning these invented languages. There’s also the Common Tongue spoken by most citizens of the kingdom, the Old Tongue mostly spoken north of the Wall, and the True Tongue spoken by the mysterious children of the forest.

And just for fun, here’s a link to a glossary list of sci-fi terms from   Writers Write.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

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