Conlanger for hire

Some time ago I casually mentioned doing some paid conlanging work, and a collective eyebrow seemed to be raised: you did what?  So I thought I’d talk a little about that.  I’m working on my fourth paid conlang now, and I may be starting #5 soon.  Though this is no way to get rich, it is fun to consider that I’m one of probably a handful of people in the world to make conlangs for money.

This adventure started in 2003, when a fantasy writer, Eric, contacted me to create a language for him.  His reasoning was simple: he’d tried conlanging himself but was dissatisfied with the results; why not go for the best?  So we worked out the details and I created a language called Thesolas.

The process went like this.  I gave Eric a little questionnaire on what kind of languages he liked, to get an idea of the sounds and style he was after.  I made some short (meaningless) sample texts to help refine the process.  And I asked him to tell me as much as possible about the people who’d be speaking the language.

Eric wanted a pretty accessible language, so I kept the morphology simple and didn’t introduce any difficult sounds.  To give it a distinct feeling, rather, I removed common English sounds: of the common stops p t k b d g, Thesolas has just one, t.

I think it turned out rather pretty.  Here’s a sample sentence:

Tis tiriel nisienin ren ai rus u nioth rus seniel.

The way that can be told is not the eternal Way.

As Eric described the speakers, they had a philosophical bent.  Evidentiality seemed like a good fit for that.  I also created a grammaticalized mind/body distinction– e.g. metis is ‘this (physical) thing’, metio is ‘this (non-physical) thing’.  This affected the derivational mophology too; e.g. Thesolas speakers distinguish mumon ‘the physical sensation of fear’ from mumo ‘the emotion of fear’.  A warrior could thus be advised to avoid mumo but ignore mumon.

Eric was happy with the results, and in fact this year he came back to ask for three descendants of Thesolas– that’s my current project, in fact.

Earlier this year I worked on a language for a future video game, for a developer named Guilherme.  The speakers are dragons, so naturally it’s named Draconic.  Here’s a sample:

Ajekiño Xantolo< eɴqχana.
I sought the elixir alongside Sunfire.

The transliteration is much less English-like, because Guilherme liked the looks of my sample.

I had a lot of fun trying to make Draconic fit a non-human species.  Starting with the phonology: as dragons have no lips, they can’t pronounce labials (I don’t know how Skyrim’s dragons pronounce fus!), and as they have a long snout they distinguish four places of articulation (thus the basic stops are t c k q).  There’s a word-final phoneme made by snapping the beak shut.

Flame is phonemic: vowels can be produced with or without combustion.  In addition a word can be ended with a large burst of flame, transliterated <.

Creating the lexicon, I tried to think about how dragons would look at the world.  E.g. they’re enormous by human standards; as a result they don’t have separate words for many small plant and animal species… under a certain size it’s all weeds and vermin to them.  They’re armored, so though they often keep humans as pets or slaves, they have only one word for clothing, irtenîr ‘false skin’.  The natural stance of a dragon is to be on all four feet, which means that what we strange bipedal beings call the back is really the top of a dragon.

Flight also colors their whole way of thinking.  To fly (xi) is to go; to fly alongside (dranxi) is to be a friend or companion; to fly above (serxi) is a threat. There are basic words for the basic movements of flight (pitch, roll, yaw), and changes in direction must be assigned to the correct movement— e.g. you turn right by rolling right (tiŋke) like an airplane, not by rotating about your axis.

They don’t need words for the surface details that are important to creatures confined to a two-dimensional surface– words like bridge, island, path, wall.  To confine a dragon you need a three-dimensional enclosure.  Structures with roofs are thus deeply ambivalent for dragons: they represent both safety (you can’t be attacked from above) and threat (you can’t escape by flight).

If you’re wondering about business details, these projects are work for hire, which is fine with me as I have my own conworld for personal expression.  I asked Eric’s and Guilherme’s permission, in fact, to mention some details about these languages in this post.

(So when can you read more about these conlangs?  Well, that’s up to my clients.  Probably when their projects are further along.)

Is it difficult to work with someone else’s conworld?  Not at all, for me at least.  It adds some constraints, but artistically working within constraints can foster rather than inhibit creativity.  I’ve had fun working on all these projects.

If you’re wondering how you get this kind of work, well, I don’t know!  My clients are all people who have contacted me.

Does this make you want a Zompist Conlang for yourself?  If it does, contact me (markrose at zompist dot com) and we’ll talk.