How to Make a Conlang out of English

Ok.  My experience has been that some conlangers out there do not like it when your conlang is too... Englishey. This generally means your conlang has basically the same syntax and grammar as English, and the same sounds, too.  There might be a few twists in there - an extra case, some extra phonemes, a different alphabet, but overall, pretty close to English.

And really, who can blame them?  For those that take the time to learn and understand linguistics and all the concepts behind it, it looks and feels lazy and uninspired. For the record, I do not encourage conlanging snobbery, I'm just saying that I understand where it comes from.

But... if you DON'T know lots of linguistics, and don't care to study all the principles and so forth, what else can you do?  If you know a second language you can mash up the two languages you know.  But aside from that, how else can you build a language?

Being the conlang contrarian I am, I think you can transform English into an elegant, simple conlang if you understand at least a few linguistic principles, and because you're using English underneath it, you might be able to make it more sophisticated than you would otherwise be able to.

Here's my formula:


Step One: Restrict (and simultaneously simplify) the phonemes.  If you must, throw in some non-English sounds (like zh, a trill, a click, etc.)

Step Two: Figure out how you will substitute sounds as you translate words from English to your conlang.
Example: lets say the phonemes we picked in step one are P, T, K (P, T, & K are in almost every language), L, N, M, H, J, long and short vowels - I, U, O, and Y as a semi-vowel.
So, lets make a rule that any voiced plosive becomes non-voiced (b=p, d=t, g=k).
E's will become I's, A's will become U's.
Other semi-vowels (W, R) will beome Y.
Other fricatives will become H or be dropped.
Long vowel sounds will be shown by repeating the letter.  You know how to say "beet" but e's are now i's in this conlang, so you would have to write it as "biit," but it would sound the same.  There are a lot of issues we could get into here, but I'm just creating a framework to give an example of how this might work.
So, "cinnamon" would become hinnumon.  "Bulletin" would become pullitin.
"Keep this reference near you at all times" would become "Kiip hi yeheyen niu yu ut ul tiim" or something like that...

Step Three: Develop an altered grammar and syntax.
Example: Let's use a Yoda syntax and go for OSV (Object - Subject - Verb).
Lets use -im to make something plural.  Some "times" is now tiimim.
Let make ku- a prefix that shows command form of a verb.

So - according to the grammar rules, "Keep this reference near you at all times" would become "Near you, this reference keep at all times."
Then we apply the rest of the rules and "Near you, this reference keep at all times" would then become:
"Niu yu, hi yeheyen ku-kiip ut ul tiimim"

I don't know about you, but that does not look Englishey to me!  But hopefully you see my point, which is just that if you apply a few linguistic principles, you can make English, or whatever your native tongue is, into your own little conlang, and not have to worry as much about generating vocabulary and so on.  Try this out for yourself and see what you think.

17 comments:

Shinkarom said...

Some off-topic.
I am creating my language KAPMAN.
It's now second version.
You can comment what to improve.
Find my blog at http://lingvofan.blogspot.com/

dweatherly said...

Hi, I am new to conlanging but tried before with little success, but after reading this it seems to help. I have no linguistic knowledge, or very little. This is what I have come up with so far, Ei yalá côna át ûtawa meaning:
"I walked down the street". Would it be so bad to keep the grammer the same as english? I'm not so good at grammar even in english even though I'm a native speaker lol. I like the way this sentence sounds just as it is, not to much changed around. One of my goals it to make the language sound pleasing to the ear like Tolkien's languages. In any case, thanks for this blog, a lot of the other stuff out there is overwhelming to me. I like your motto of keeping it simple.

Matthew Shields said...

Shinkarom, I'll take a look soon.

dweatherly, I like what I'm seeing. That totally does not look like English! It took me about two years to really get to the point where I felt like I understood linguistics. I think Tolkien-level conlanging is probably way beyond my depths, but you don't have to be an expert to enjoy this.

Uzbazur said...

Wow beutiful Idea t create a quick conlang! Pass form by blog if u want!Bye!

Anonymous said...

It's great that you're doing this, but you really have to provide some context for the grammar changes. Something as drastic as forming an entirely new plural doesn't happen overnight, and influence from other languages isn't a likely candidate. Where did the -im plural come from?

Matt Shields said...

Anonynous, does there REALLY need to be any context? Its a conlang! If you want to have the conlang be a "descendant" of English, then create your contexts and history, but otherwise, this is just an exercise to create a conlang for fun.

Unknown said...

Amazing!!!

Sophia said...

I've been trying to make a conlang for years and always got that same criticism, that whatever I do is too much like English, even when it seems nothing like English to me.

At the moment I am doing VSO (same as last time) but not following lots of VSO "rules" (like the order of parts in a compound word).

I am also deliberately using English words as roots (or German or if I like another language word aesthetically that specific word stolen) but I am trying to make this one different by HEAVILY restricting the number of base verbs and nouns to build on. Most words are adjectives and all other words are built out of one or more base nouns and adjectives stuck in front of the basic noun or verb.

So the word for a human is a Savi (I am Sophie, it is vainly based on my name lol) which at the end of a long word can be shortened to sa.

Then the word for a father is lififosa which is effectively "male lifegiver"

theonlineburklandi said...

I am a president of a micronation and we would like a conlang. However, I don't understand most of the terms in linguistics. I created a Pig Latin-like language called Late Proto-Burklandi however that is complete snobbery. I started working on Burklandi yesterday but today I tried to make a page in the ConLang Wiki.

I had no idea what most of terms meant (as said before), so I felt like I had a conflict with myself. However, this will help me. Of course, we will replace the English-based (but altered) vocubality with ones that have roots in many languages that the roots are undetectable.

The Burklandi government thanks you for this help!

Matt Shields said...

Please email me or post in comments some translated phrases when you are able! I would love to see what you come up with!

Anonymous said...

Hi i've worked on a few conlangs, then i sort of lose interest. Where do you get inspiration to finiish?

Matthew Shields said...

Most conlangers will tell you that a conlang is NEVER truly "finished;" there's always something else you want to tweak.

Maki said...

Alright,

I would love to create a language for the sake of creating something for my novels.

My problem with colang is that I understand pronunciation by sound, not by written symbol stroke. The tables on how sounds are made drive me nuts, because I can make the sounds with audio, but I don't understand the whole "To do this type you use the roof of your mouth or click your tongue on your teeth". To me that is over-complicating it because my mind focuses on the appearance and sound I make, not how I make them.
I'm trying to create a language of words and alphabet using inspiration from both traditional Chinese words (English appearing spelling) and Thai (also the English appearing spelling). My original way of going about it was taking a word like "Gold" for instance, seeing that in traditional Chinese it was "Jin" and in Thia it was "Thxng" From there I created "Ginth" Taking the g, and th from "Thxng" and the "in" from "Jin" then I wrote out how it sounded like this: Jar-ee-soo G sounds like "Jar", I sounds like "ee", and th sounds like "soo".

I don't know how it would look if I wrote it with the little accent marks. I also don't know how you add those when typing in word. :[

I also found that a lot of the words I though I was creating are actually real words used for people, places, and whatnot. I had no idea about that, and felt like maybe I should give up all together.

Anonymous said...

I am King of a micronation. In late October 2015, I began to make the Hodish language on my 13-hour trip to Alabama. I based it off a previous language called Hodinian (that I recently separated into Old and New Hodinian). Hodish is in the Modern Hodish stage currently, with one descendant language.

Dë Hødixh glheþ vë né tvtåg es dairif't frm Åltu Hødixh...
The Hodish language we know today is derived from Old Hodish...

I made lots of suffixes (infinitive, past, present, future...)

Txtåg - tomorrow
'tx - future tense suffix
Tåg - Day
Txtåg literally means future day.
Tvtåg - today
'tv - present tense suffix
Tutåg

This was a problem. 't is the suffix for past tense. I also had some words that ended with t, so I made the past tense suffix a t that ended like (tuh), whereas in the other words without the past tense suffix with the t ending end like /t/.

Ik héf måkå't dås glheþ viþ vüet lëdr'led...

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of creating a conlang this way but it couldn't be a full-fledged language because there would be a ton of conflicts.
For example:

"hi" could be "the", "he", "she", or "this". You would have to guess which word it was by context which in some cases, like he or she would be impossible.

"W" & "R" both being replaced by "Y" would be a problem. For example, how would you say "why"? "when" would be "yin" with no way to distinguish it from the actual word yin (/yang).

The same thing goes with fricatives being replaced by h or dropped.
"hid" could be "shed" or "hid", him=him/them, hut=hut/that/shut/hat/had.

There's nothing wrong with this system specifically. The conflicts would change depending on the rules you set up, but I doubt there would be any way to do it that wouldn't cause some conflicts. Some words could be replaced with words from other languages, but you'd have to remember them so you could avoid applying these rules to them.

Anonymous said...

Creating my language Alkiren.
Kalna, de’rin zakli akor! - Stars, shine ever brighter!

Anonymous said...

Kiyaa yap yuyo shyaukonlangch..
Umimut ene yuyo Konleength.
I have 2 conlangs now.

Yonyepraise Uyap!
Tuhux Ene Emta!
Thank you!