Use of conlangs

Question: In the interest of being the best writer I can be... and a burning drive to not be outdone by Tolkien... I'm making constructed languages for my fictions. I'm going for complete and speakable languages, not just some code words or nonsense sounds. It's proving really challenging, but I saw that coming. My question is, once I have them ready, how much use is too much use in my story? Authors obviously work hard on their stories, and conlangers work hard on their languages. I'm a person that enjoys showing off my hard work. But can I have too much of a good thing? And how much translation should I provide? I mean, for example, there are a few scenes where a certain pair of characters are conversing in their native tongue simply for the pleasure of excluding the third character (a foreigner) from the conversation, but should the reader know what they're saying? I guess in short, I'm asking this: Once I have fictional languages ready for my fictional world, how would you suggest I use them? Much appreciated!

Answer: I would suggest you use other languages sparingly (as Tolkein did). A few words and phrases may be enough to establish the language's existence, but you don't want to make too much work for the reader. Readers don't want to have to learn a new language to enjoy the story.

The same applies for having characters converse in their native language. What's the point of including a long dialogue the reader won't understand? Even if it's not essential to the plot, after a line or two it becomes boring. You just want a little bit of the language to create an authentic feel. Switch back to English as quickly as possible or simply say that the characters spoke in their own language which the main character does not understand.

Translate words unless their meaning is obvious or you're trying to create a mystery (as in a puzzle that requires translation to solve). That's another reason to use the languages sparingly. Too much translating also makes the plot drag.

Comments for Use of conlangs

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Jun 26, 2015
Translated conlang
by: Anonymous

In the story I'm writing, the dialogues are in my conlang, with the translations next to it.

Jun 26, 2015
re: translations
by: Glen

Again, I would say there's no need for the conlang dialogue beyond a few words for colour.

It takes a pretty diehard fan to want to learn a conlang, and with a first book you won't have any of those. It may be of interest to you, but that's because you already are a fan of your story world.

You need to hook the readers on your main character and story before they will be interested in your world. Passages written in a conlang are a needless distraction from the characters and story.

What does work sometimes is to give your main character an unusual but compelling voice. Books like "A Clockwork Orange," or "Riddley Walker," do this by incorporating unique slang or spelling. But even then, the extra effort it demands on the part of the reader has turned some readers off.

May 26, 2017
Magic language use
by: IndigoTohshi

So I am working on a world where there is true name magic and I feel like I should make up a conlang for that true name magic. I have no intent on anyone having conversations in that language just want to have non-gibberish for my mages to scream at eachother while flinging fireballs. That and have some consistency. Do you think this will be too much exposure to a non-english language in the book?

Oh also I totally cast thread necromancy here.

May 27, 2017
Re: Magic Language
by: Glen

I don't see a problem here. (It's similar to what Ursula K. Le Guin does in the Earthsea series.)

Even if the readers don't know what the magic words mean, they will likely understand their intent from your description of the scene, as well as the effect of the spells.

This is quite different from using a language in a way that makes it hard for the reader to follow the story.

Consistency in your made up language may also help create a sense of authenticity.

Best of luck.

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