A naming language is a very basic conlang: a phonology, an orthography, a small dictionary, and enough grammar to name things: people, places, deities, etc. Naming languages aren’t intended used for full sentences or passages, so there’s no need to create detailed grammars.
Of course, you can always do that. Your conlang just wouldn’t be a strict naming language anymore.
Step 1: Phonology
The first thing I think about when creating a naming language is (aside from the culture that will be speaking it, of course) the phonology. A phonology is the sounds that comprise a language and how those sounds fit together – syllables, morae, stress, tone, etc.
What consonants do I want the language to have? What vowels? Do I want consonant clusters? Diphthongs? Vowel harmony? All those decisions are made in this stage.
Looking at the phonology of a real-world language can be helpful. If I want a language to sound Finnish, or Japanese, or Irish, I look at the sounds of that particular language.
Now, let’s pick out some vowel sounds: /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/
And some consonants: /p/, /t/, /k/, /m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /s/, /ʃ/, /x/, /j/, /ɹ/
I like to organize this information in tables:
Some of these sounds may look unfamiliar to those unfamiliar with linguistics:
- /ŋ/ is the sound in sing
- /ʃ/ is the sound in shoe and ash
- /x/ is sound in Scottish loch and German acht
- /ɹ/ is the non-trilled, non-rolled, non-tapped, r-sound used in English words such as red, right, and wrong
- /j/ is the consonantal sound in yes and you
If you want to familiarize yourself with IPA, here’s an IPA chart with sounds.
For this example conlang, I’ve decided against having diphthongs or vowel harmony. Maybe another time!
Deciding on a syllable structure
Syllables can have relatively simple structures of CV, like in me /mi/ or more ridiculous structures like CCCVCCCC, like in strengths /stɹɛŋkθs/. Yes, that’s three consonants, followed by one vowel, followed by four more consonants, all in the same syllable.
Let’s use a simple CV syllable structure, where C = any consonant and V = any vowel. This produces syllables such as:
- mi, mu, me, mo, ma
- pi, pu, pe, po, pa
- si, su, se, so, sa
This probably isn’t entirely necessary for a naming language, especially if you never actually plan on pronouncing any of the words you create. I like to do it anyway.
Let’s put the stress on the first syllable of a word, because that’s pretty easy to remember:
Step 2: Orthography
What letters are you going to use to represent the sounds of your language? I generally like to stick with something naturalistic. There’s no reason, of course, that you can’t use <c> to represent /t/, or <X> to represent /a/. However, a language that did that would be obnoxious.
I generally arrange my orthography like this, with separate tables for consonants and vowels. I find it’s easier to keep track of things this way.
Step 3: A Dictionary
This is where I start creating the words I need – names & placenames. I generally find creating words to be pretty tedious, so this is my least favorite part of the process.
Usually what I do is create a word and assign an meaning to it. Here are a couple of examples using the words I created earlier:
- momo – noun – bird
- nanaka – noun – king
- kasajani – adjective – red-colored
This continues until I have all the words I think I need. Most of my planning & worldbuilding happens before I start writing, but it’s inevitable that I miss something and end up having to come up with a couple more names later on in the story.
Step 4: Basic Grammar
Sometimes I skip this part if all I need are names. Okay, I usually skip this part for a naming language. But it may be worthwhile to work out how adjectives modify nouns or how the verbs in your language work. This usually requires deciding which cases, genders/classes & numbers a noun/adjective is marked for, and tense (at the very least) for verbs.
Two naming languages I created for The Book of Immortality
Meitsung soré: the main language of the elves and humans in the Meitsung Empire.
- Lisel = bigleaf hydrangea
- Tsensung = heavenly overseer
- Suli = purple
- Showakelu = stone river
- Meitsung =splendid
- soré = language
- Hengshal = north borderland
- Shensi = east homeland
- Kelutshélin = river plateau
- Shihun = great lake
- Ménghun = south lake
- Méngwing Nang = southwestern mountain range
- Wingshal = west borderland
- Tengming = central capital city
Mayu lháni: the language of the tigers. It has the sound /ɬ/ <lh>, which I think is most commonly known as the Welsh <ll> sound.
- Muhánquri = mountain tribe
- Hirúka = shining sun
- Qursin = luck + belief
- mayu = language
- lháni = tiger
- Arquhin = true origin
- Símaqágu = great forest