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Worldbuilding: Communication

I have always been fascinated by language. Its origins. The way it spread and changed. That we have the capacity to not only make our thoughts known but to use language as a pallet and canvas to create masterpieces.

Whether targeting a specific decade or creating a new world,  how do people communicate in your story world?

Sign language/hand gestures probably came first, then spoken language.

This developed into written symbols and hieroglyphs. I found it humorous that some researchers have decided the earliest languages revolved around counting and claiming things. What does every toddler learn early? Mine!

There are thousands of written languages. What languages existed in the time and place of your setting? Language gets tricky when writing fiction because you have to write it in a way your audience understands. In the USA, that means you write the story in English and have to creatively indicate how people from other locales communicated without dipping too far into foreign languages or abusive phonetic spelling tangents.

There is a greater push in American television shows and movies to incorporate foreign languages, especially Spanish. Unfortunately most people are not fluent in more than one language here. So I advise you to still stick with English, which tends to be the "universal" language at the moment, or whatever your native tongue may be.

Programs such as Google Translate cannot be relied upon for accuracy. If you wish to utilize a foreign language you are not fluent in, especially if you want a foreign translation of your work, hire a professional.

Thanks to the world wide web, you should be able to connect with someone who can help you with a specific language. You can also research books, magazine, and articles written in foreign languages. You can watch movies and You Tube videos to get a feel for how the language sounds and perhaps their slang, exclamations, and expletives. You can incorporate the rhythm of the way others speak English without resorting to stereotypes.

Did they have different dialects, accents, or pidgin versions? You can convey different speaking patterns without resorting to phonetic spelling abuse by altering sentence construction and rhythm.

What were some of their slang words or jargon? Readers find it hard to wade through paragraphs of unfamiliar names and words, but a few carefully chosen slang words, terms for objects, place names, etc. enrich any story world. Scatter them like delicate spices.

What were some of their curse words? One of the biggest challenges for me writing Mythikas Island was to avoid any modern words. That included expletives and exclamations. I had to develop a list of things characters would say when angry, surprised, etc. When you create a Fantasy or Science Fiction world, this is a fun exercise.

When writing about a specific historical era, you'll have to research what people were saying to each other. Using modern words in that setting rings false. Writers throw in the F-bomb into any setting these days. It's frankly annoying. Caesar did not say F-U Brute!

What were their terms of endearment or expressions of love?

Were there cyborgs, mind readers, or telepaths?

Did they have runes or hieroglyphs?

Dialogue is such a large part of writing fiction. Making it effective deserves time and attention. No dull dialogue!

Suggested references:

1. Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler
2. The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter
3. The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention by Guy Deutscher
4. Linear B and Related Scripts by John Chadwick
5. A Companion to Linear B: Mycenaean Greek Texts and their World by Y. Duhoux & Anna Murpurgo Davies
6. The Rosetta Stone and the Rebirth of Ancient Egypt by John Ray
7. The Rosetta Stone by E.A. Wallis Budge
8. Egyptian Hieroglyphs for Complete Beginners by Bill Manley
9. Hieroglyphic Dictionary: A Vocabulary of the Middle Egyptian Language by Bill Petty PhD
10. Learn American Sign Language All-in-One Beginners Course by James W. Guido

Next week, we will consider how your cast transmits information.

For advanced world-building, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.

Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary
(Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at  

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