Fictional Language – Part 1 – Grammatical Structure

I, by no means, identify as a programmer.  I am not smart enough to consider myself a programmer.  Yes, I do the programming for our games, but aside from making things work and feel good, I have virtually no interest in programming.  That being said, what am I?  I am a logical thinker, I love mathematics and physics, and at the same time, I have a creative and abstract understanding of beauty.  The romantics would say, “That it is beautiful is its reason to be,” while the mathematicians may say, “The reason that it is beautiful is that it is.”  I am somewhere else.  I say that the reason something is beautiful is that it operates by a set of rules that we to which we can relate, yet is so profound in having been so simple.

Why the preface on beauty to an article titled “Fictional Language”?  Because language is beautiful.  Communication operates by a series of rules that, at their core, are nearly universal across languages.  When you attempt to communicate with someone who does not speak your language–and you do not speak theirs–there is somewhat of an understanding of what they mean to say.  Usually, this is accented by means of body language and gestures, plus simplified speech.  The simpler the rules, the easier it is to communicate.

Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to be outlining the process of creating an entirely new spoken language for use in video game fiction.  Tolkien created Elvish, as I will be creating Galaga, a language to be used across our joined video game fiction, starting with ChargeShot.

First on the agenda, is defining our grammatical structure.

Why grammar first?  Because grammar is the most valuable part of language.  It is the rules by which the language operates.  By knowing which order words will be said in a sentence, all that is left is to plug in meanings for those words.  The first pitfall of learning a new language is assuming that the grammatical structure is the same as your own.  In English, the basic grammatical structure is subject-verb-object, meaning first you declare who or what is doing the action, then what action they are doing, followed by to whom or what they are doing the action.  This isn’t necessarily the case in all languages, which means an English speaker will usually interpret the first word in a sentence as the subject.

For Galaga, I am going to be using object-subject-verb.   “But Cullen!  That is really jumbled around!”  Maybe for English speakers, but this is actually the passive voice structure of American Sign Language.  What that means is that the object in a sentence has the most value, making the conversation objective.  When you ask somebody to bring you a glass of water, the important thing to get across is the glass of water.  Why, in English, we beat around the bush, by saying all of the unimportant things first, is lost to me.

Can you bring me a glass of water?” VS. “A glass of water, to me you bring“.

The object of the conversation is to obtain a glass of water, therefore, by simply saying “A glass of water”, through context, it is understood that you may need that.  So in a passive-voice conversation, it makes sense to put it first.

However, this rule could and should be broken if an active-voice is needed.  If the conversation is about an action itself, action should be the most easily understood.  For instance, you want to tell someone to fight the monster.  The subject is “you”, the verb is “fight”, and the object is “the monster”.  If we were to use object-subject-verb, it would come out “A monster, you fight,” which beats around the bush a bit.  Instead, we’ll use verb-object-subject.

“You, fight the monster!” VS. “Fight the monster, you!”

So why bother change the grammatical structure from something you already understand, to something you don’t?  It’s about conveyance.  When making a language, you want to convey the message of the conversation even if the listener doesn’t understand a word of it.  It is no coincidence that I chose the passive-voice of ASL to be my grammatical structure.  Sign language is essentially body language.  Most of the signs, in some way, represent the message that needs to be conveyed.  It is the easiest language to follow if you don’t know it.  Even when talking to my Brazilian grandmother, we both exchange signs and gestures in order to further convey what we mean to say.

In gobbledegook:

“Marselga euh noh gottah.”
“Message I didn’t get.”

I didn’t get the message”.

 

-C

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