Spoken vs written language
A question: do your conlangs have in-universe written versions?
If so, is literacy rare or widespread?
Is there one standard written language or many shifting varieties?
How close is the written language to the spoken one? What are people’s relationship to written language in their society?
16 thoughts on “Spoken vs written language”
I haven’t conlanged in aaages but this is a general enough topic that I can weigh in, heh.
I haven’t made written forms for any of my conlangs but I still imagine some of them have one. Orklang probably has the least written language? I think. I imagine they’re a very oral culture but do have some degree of… symbolic language. For like, signs and markers on the road and stuff.
Läsh-enne, I’m not sure about. They do do wide-spread trading so I think at least writing for record-keeping makes sense, though whether it’s wide enough for regular people to learn to read or for writing to be used for narratives, or personal correspondence or other things, I haven’t determined yet.
My Betazed conlang definitely has a written form. No idea what it looks like tho.
And for my Huntress conlangs, I think they all have written forms, and a lot of writing (for business, art, personal letters etc) happens in that society. I think literacy would be pretty wide-spread, but largely a class issue.
Except maybe the Dalem Owi language, that might nothave a written form. I’m not sure. And the most developed of the languages (which hardly means anything in this case, just a phonology, haha) has a syllabry.
I love the variety in your languages! Question re those conlangs with the most advanced writing culture – do you have a feeling for if their writing is phonologically/grammatically close to the spoken language, or if there are substantial differences? (Whether it’s the written language being more conservative, the written standard being different from regional spoking varieties, or something else.)
Gosh, that’s such a good question… I think for the main language in the setting, To’es, the written and spoken language is probably fairly similar (at least for the upper and middle class). I also think that “central/middle To’es” is probably a bit of a standard, whereas southern or coastal variants might differ more from the written.
As for the others, there’s one (Tylnaltet) that I imagine has a very intense written/formal register that the rich and/or fancy nevertheless attempt to copy in their speech, partly because they’ve lost contact with their culture/kingdom of origin and I feel like they’d solve this by just refusing to modernize the written language at all. Whereas the others who have lost touch with their original cultures/communities might take a bit more of a relaxed/practical approach and be more willing to let the language evolve. I’m not sure.
Honestly these are such fun questions to think about and as I don’t really plan to flesh the Huntress conlangs out all that fully in terms of the grammar and vocab (I mostly want them as naming langs etc) these are exactly the sorts of details I want to figure out to make them nevertheless feel alive! Thanks for asking!
Thank you for answering, too! Makes great sense about the different attitudes between the conservative but uprooted elite vs the more practically-minded groups.
Always happy to answer!
I love the way you’ve thought out the details of these, the reasons and the needs of the different language groups!
In a super pragmatic sense, I’ve only actually worked on developing the written language for my very first two conlangs, from when I was kid and had time still.
In a culture-building sense, all the conlangs I do belong to literate people groups, where there is a ton of dialectal variation, just as there is with the spoken language, due to migrations, subcultures, nation splits, etc.
On the most recent front, I’m pretty sure there’s an entire formal high register of thees and thous, so to speak, for Mirishti, and it’s pretty downright obvious that the Courtly language is undergoing some dramatic evolution regarding person-marking, and possibly base genders altogether. I actually suspect it’s moving from feminine/masculine to sarawuul/aarawuul and that it didn’t just start out that way, which tells me from how visible it is, that there’s an old version of the language that everyone’s still really familiar with, though they’re using the innovative one instead. So written language probably still tends toward the older version.
Akachenti vowels have definitely indicated to me that it’s written language has not caught up to its spoken one and that there is some spelling atrocities developing within it.
That makes sense! Very interesting situation.
This intrigues me – would you like to go into more detail as to how Akachenti vowels have indicated this?
So basically, I’ve got a combination of dialectal and free variation on pronunciation of some of them, particularly the old ae sounds, which can be pronounced as a diphthong, a mid-central /a/, a backed version, or an /e/. BUT I also note strong variation on how I romanize it and whether I know that it’s indicated with a different letter in Akachenti or not, and there are times when I can tell that a, e, or ae do not line up between pronunciation, orthography, and origin.
Which is something I also can’t easily pin down for someone else, since my methods of documenting the language, uh… well, it’s got notes everywhere but I apparently suck at consolidating them into a single coherent reference, particularly because I’m basically excavating and I’ve changed how I romanize it several times, whether that’s to indicate overlong vowels or to try to also capture the Akachenti orthography, which differs from the romanization, which is supposed to be based on pronunciation.
Ooh, now I get you!
This makes me think back to the many ways my own conlang orthography can be inconsistent, I’ve usually blamed it on me having a hard time making up my mind, but perhaps I should think more about the language itself changing!
Definitely both! Some things are me deciding what makes the most sense given the factors and choosing what to lose in translation or actually just changing my mind, and some is what are those factors anyway? Especially since I honestly adore diachronic processes, even when I don’t 100% understand them.
I completely forgot to reply to this one myself!
The difference between spoken and written language is not one I considered in my early years of conlanging, like with the Indo-European language I now call “Avardian”. It’s the majority language of a fictional European nation-state, and it just didn’t occur to me at the time that spoken and written language might differ quite a bit. Even though it’s the only one of my conlangs which would in-universe have been written in the Latin alphabet.
With Beldreeni. Nahul and Naqlikar, all spoken in the same world, it’s more complicated. As I’ve said before, the winters in this world are spent in multiethnic, multilingual citystates, which are all literary and even have printing industries. Even in rural areas ethnicities often mix in winter: in the cities, where books and other documents are produced, people usually know at least three languages and very often four and five. Citystates aren’t really considered in terms of dominant ethniceties, or at least not primarily so. In the summer, people do live divided up into ethnolinguistic groups, but they also live very rural lives then, with much fewer books being written, let alone printed. So languages are always stronger in the period where people don’t write and read much.
Beldreeni still has a strong position as a written language – it’s not only the biggest language on the continent, but it’s the biggest language in the city of Morristo, the largest city in the world. The written version of Beldreeni does have many influences from West Beldreeni, but it’s still considerably more influenced by East Beldreeni, which has more speakers. Morristo is in the east. I’m saying the written version here but I imagine that in fact there are at least small differences in the variety spoken in each citystate.
Nahul also has a strong position. It’s the primary language in the citystate of Nahilekh, as well as being decently strong in most of the other cities on the South-West Continent. It’s not the biggest of the languages there, but it’s healthy enough and that would include its written versions. Naturally the variety spoken in Nahilekh itself has become the most influential and normative in the development of written Nahul. In fact, in winter Nahul tends to get more homogenous; in summer it diverges again back into the underlying disparate varieties Highlands Nahul, Lowlands Nahul and Coast Nahul.
Finally, Naqlikar which I’ve only really begun to nibble at is a smaller language on the North-East Continent, about midsized compared to other languages. It’s largest in the citystate of Thenathina on the south-east coast. But it might not be the biggest language even in that city. It’s Naqlikar which made me ponder this question again as spoken Naqlikar (in most varieties) has begun to shed some of its case suffixes while written Naqlikar still retains them. Consequently, spoken Naqlikar has gotten a more fixed word order than written Naqlikar. Naqlikar is smaller as a written language than as a spoken one, when compared to other languages on the North-East Continent.
Ooooh, I like this! Especially the idea of dialectical innovation in summer and them exercising their code-switching / mutual intelligibility in winter. Sounds like a recipe for a lot of interesting diachronic developments! (I have begun to realize this is actually my favorite bit of language-making.)
I like how the written register of Naqlikar is more conservative with suffixes, though I suspect the word order thing is going to creep in before the suffix-dropping does. Are they also retained in formal speaking situations?
I think at this point usage is wobbling between retaining the accusative suffix in formal speech versus letting it go and marking formality in other ways. I’m sure it would still be kept in ritualized speech at least, and probably important pre-written speeches. But maybe not other types of formal speech anymore, not for all speakers.
That makes sense!