Think about why your conlang is used. The context in which your language is used can make the meaning it communicates different from the meaning encoded in its words and grammar. For example, in English, if your friend tells you "Bob has lost his marbles", depending on the situation your friend probably doesn't mean that Bob has misplaced a number of small glass spheres — though if you had just suggested that the three of you play a game of marbles, it's possible your friend is after all talking about the equipment needed for the game. The ways that meaning depends on context are partly cultural; so by thinking about these things, you can avoid accidentally imposing your own culture on the language you create.
Some things to consider[edit | edit source]
There are lots of complex ways context can affect the meaning of language; but some fairly simple techniques can get you well started. Some ideas:
- What do people say to each other when they meet or when they part company? Some languages, of course, use the same thing for both, like Hawaiian aloha or Italian ciao. J.R.R. Tolkien said he created The Lord of the Rings to set up a situation where people would greet each other with Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo! (A star shines on the hour of our meeting).
- What other social phrases do people say to each other in various situations? Often there is something you say to people when they sneeze (such as "Bless you"). In Cameroon, there's a word to say to someone to acknowledge/sympathize that they're working hard.
- How are people named? This varies enormously between cultures. Gaius Julius Caesar had personal name Gaius, and belonged to the Caesar family within clan Julia.
- What subjects are not polite to discuss openly in which situations, and is there a way to politely talk around them? Sometimes, bringing up a subject can be a form of insult.
- Are there idioms, that is, phrases whose meaning cannot be deduced from the parts of the phrase? (Lose one's marbles is an idiom.)
- Are there formal and informal modes of the language — and when should they be used? In Spanish, one might speak to one's parents using a formal pronoun, but to God using an informal pronoun.