How To Create A Fantasy Language

How To Create A Fantasy Language

Do you want to see a real-world, blow-by-blow of hyper fixation in action? Buckle in!

Like oh-so-many (many!) writers, I’d love to create an elvish language as sonorous and mellifluous as Tolkien’s elvish (read: Quenya, though Sindarin will do at a pinch.) But it’s never been a high priority for me. With Tolkien, he created languages first and then a world and history to showcase them. With me, I built an ‘Idea’ story first – ‘What if the universe was hostile, and actively trying to destroy itself? What would that look like? How would that pan out?’

The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or a hostile universe.”

(Attributed to) Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

Although I knew my writing would need a few phrases, sentences, and terms in elvish, dwarvish, etc, I decided to arbitrarily cobble some words and sentences together and tell the readers as much in the Foreword (which I’ve already written.) Yet, being autistic I like things to be ordered properly, and to me, it ‘only makes sense’ to have consistent root words and so on. I already have a 600-word strong Excel spreadsheet for unique in-world terms I’ve come up with over the years, and I based a lot of these terms on Sanskrit, in the hopes that some sense of internal logic to the languages would shine through. That process has served me fine up until this point.

But when drafting I reached the point where I needed to construct sentences in elvish (greetings and so on) and knew that I had no idea how to properly join together these random words I’d created. Still, creating a conlang was not a high priority for me and I shelved the issue.

When I got to mapmaking I realised I couldn’t go on in that fashion. I needed to sit down and figure out root words for the common story elements (mountains, galloping, market squares, swords, etc) otherwise I would (and had) used several different terms on the map to indicate the same thing. That is, in one instance I’d used the suffix -fyldar to indicate forest in elvish and somewhere else I’d used the term -kyliss. The same issue has cropped up with seas, cities, roads, mountains etc.

Sure, I could have explained that way somehow, but in my soul I NEED these things to be done correctly.

Once again I was struck with the fear that I am in denial and do indeed have ‘World Builders Disease’ and ‘Procrastinationitis’ and ‘Fear-Of-Actually-Publishing-Something-itis’ as some people tell me. Yet I couldn’t put the issue aside any longer, but I didn’t want to spend too much time on it. I resolved to do the bare minimum of work required so that I could push on with plotting my novels. I googled and found a list of the 625 most commonly needed/used words when learning a new language and decided to create root words just for them.

Etymology how to create a fantasy language jesse greyson

That took me down yet another rabbit hole into the world of etymology in which I researched the English root word for the term and then decided if it was something I could tweak and use for myself, or see if it inspired a new search for a different term. For example, the modern term ‘tree’ derives from the root word *deru, which means ‘steadfast.’ So then, not liking the euphonics of the word ‘deru’ I would google the word for ‘steadfast’ in other languages to eventually come up with a root word I liked for my own language.

Once I had my list of root words I needed to learn how to expand them out into full words and verbs etc. I had no idea how to do this and had been arbitrarily adding different suffixes to mean doing (-ing in English) or pluralization and so on.

That’s when I hit the point that I was going to actually have to learn how to create a language so I could put my words in the correct places at the correct times.

And oh boy did that open up a can of whoop ass. Welcome, my friends, to the world of linguistics.

linguistics jesse greyson


A conlang is a constructed language, one that didn’t evolve naturally over time like most languages do And now it was my turn to create one. But when it comes to linguistics I am a total No0b – as in, until last week I’d spent my life thinking the word was ‘constantants’ instead of ‘consonants.’ That’s how little I know about linguistics. ( I grew up in a very low socioeconomic area.) Obviously, I learned enough to read and write, but all the finer nuances?? I have no idea.

As I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on it, my initial thought was to reverse engineer Quenya by finding all its language rules, inputting it into Vulgerlang, seeing how it worked, and then pulling out the parts I liked (I don’t like ALL sounds in Tolkien’s elvish.) I have also over the years (like a totally *normal* person would) collected a list of word parts that are pleasing to my ear, and to my eye when written in English, and I thought I could feed them into the language somehow.

I’ve since spent a week learning the IPA chart symbols and sounds, discovered the existence of phonemes, of diphthongs etc, found the Zompist website which is a popular website for conlangers (those who build ‘constructed languages), and have started tinkering on Vulgerlang, which is another conlang building website.


I soon learned the first port of call for any wannabe conlanger is the IPA chart (International Phonetic Alphabet) and to learn what all those crazy squiggles mean and what sounds they represent. You know when you open the dictionary, and you see the word and then the word spelled in all those crazy squiggles? That’s the IPA writing of the word so that everyone around the world can understand how to pronounce it correctly.

IPA fantasy language jesse greyson

In the IPA chart they’ve assigned each language sound a special character, as you can see in the chart below. If you follow this link to the IPA chart you can press each character on the chart and hear what sound it represents. And if you’re juvenile like me you can spend a good 5 minutes giggling to yourself as you press a bunch of the letters in rapid succession making the humorous sounds.

Now, back to the IPA chart. Most conlangers decide how they want their language to sound and then gather up those IPA symbols they want to use and start putting them together in ways that achieve that. So, the first step in creating a language is first learning ANOTHER LANGUAGE (IPA) and how to read and write in that language.

Most Conlang websites also advise that you also ALREADY KNOW TWO OR THREE LANGUAGES so you can understand how non-English languages construct sentences and use grammar because if you simply do the same thing as English does all you will effectively create is a cipher of the English language. So, as I’m googling how to create my fantasy language I’m thinking to myself, ‘Great. So, step one to creating elvish is to first go and learn at least 3 other languages (IPA and two other real-world languages.)

Well, I only know English, and I don’t have time to go and learn other languages, so I’m going to have to muddle through. I then started googling ‘How did Tolkien create Quenya’ and discovered the many websites dedicated to the analysis and discussion of his languages, and its many complex rules. I was amazed to discover that many people have also done their theses on Tolkien’s longest passage of written Quenya, the poem, Namerie.

Namarie Tolkien Jesse Greyson

After reading several people’s thesis and reading numerous websites I collated all the rules for Quenya. They look something like this:

*These are the Quenya ‘rules’ as I have found from various thesis papers/Wikipedia et al. If they are wrong please don’t shoot the messenger! I just copied and pasted them from the internet.

Consonants: c f h l m n p q r s t v w qu tʤ lʤ nʤ nw tʃ

Vowels: /a/ /i/ /e/ /u/ /o/ /ai/ /oi/ /au/ /ui/

Allowable Initial Word Consonants: c f h l m n p q r s t v w qu tʤ lʤ nʤ nw tʃ

Allowable Initial Word Consonant Clusters: qu ty ly ny nw

Allowable Mid-Word Consonants: cc ht htʤ lc ld lf ll lm lp lqu lt lv lw lʤ mb mm mp mʤ nc nd ng ngw nn nt ntʤ nw nʤ ps pt qu rc rd rm rn rp rqu rr rs rt rtʤ rw rj sc squ ss ts tt tw tʤ x cc ll mm nn pp rr ss tt

Most Common Mid Word Consonant Clusters:

ld mb mp nc nd ng ngw nqu nt nw qu ps ts ks ll ss lv lqu ny lw rqu”

Allowable Final Word Consonants:

l n r s t nt

Germinated Consonants (Whatever that means): cc, ll, mm, nn, pp, rr, ss, tt

Frequency of consonants high to low (in the poem ‘Namárië’):

/n/ /r/ /l/ /m/ /t/ /v/ /s/ /j/ /d/ /k/ /h/ /rj/ /p/ /f/ /b/ /kw/

/n/, /r/, and /l/ are used 50% of the time

Quenya Vowel Frequency (in the poem ‘Namárië’):

/a/ /i/ /e/ /u/ /o/ /ai/ /oi/ /au/ /ui/

58 44 39 17 16 5 2 1 1

These three sounds (/a/, /i/, and /e/) are either front or central vowels, and together make up 141 of the 183 vowels in the entire text, which is approximately 77% (in the poem ‘Namárië’)

/o/ and /u/ were used 16 and 17 times each (a mere 18% of total vowels), showing a clear preference for front and central vowels (in the poem ‘Namárië’)

Prohibited: D & B are never found on their own – ONLY as ld, mb, nd, dh

Most basic pluralization (for the sake of my sanity):

For plural 1, the suffix is -i or -r

or plural 2, the suffix is -li

Sentence Structure: CVC

Most common structure: CV (57% of the time)

Syntax: SVO

IPA to English Spelling Conversions:

θ > th ð > dh ɬ > lh k > c ŋk > nc ŋg > ng ŋ > ng χ > ch r̥ > rh f$ > ph v$ > f ʍ > hw j > i

aː > á ɑː > á ɑ > a ɛː > é iː > í ii > í ɔː > ó uː > ú ɛ > e ɔ > o


• use of only three fricatives, “soft /f/ and /v/… [and] non-sounded /s/”

• even spacing of consonants and vowels within syllables

• strong preference towards “high-sounding front vowels”

• strong dispreference for words longer than three syllables

The above is a simple overview of the rules for Quenya. The more in-depth ones look like this:

quenya Jesse Greyson Tolkien

Like a chimp at a typewriter, I have hammered away all week, trying to google for answers when I don’t even know what terms to use or what I’m really trying to ask. I now have a vague knowledge of (or at least of the existence of) terms such as phonemes, allophones, morphemes, articles, fricatives, plosives, diphthongs, phonology, derivative morphology, diacritics, tone numbers, and so on.

Impatient to actually CREATE SOMETHING I started putting data into Vulgerlang without really knowing what I was doing. (I tried reading their guides, but seeing as the IPA and other linguistic terms and scripts were (are) gobbledegook to me it is literally like trying to read an alien language.

How Many Hours I Spent In One Week Working On My Conlang

I ‘wasted’* countless hours inputting Quenya data and trying to get Quenya-like results out, to no avail. Eventually, as I learned more of the IPA, and linguistic terms and their meanings I started getting better with the data I was inputting, which brought me to the realization that I needed to learn YET ANOTHER LANGUGE (OR TWO!)

What language could you possibly need to learn now Jesse to create your own fantasy language? I need to learn to CODE in Vulgerlang terms so that I can tell Vulgerlang how to understand and interpret my fantasy language! Oh yes indeed.

To get us to this point where I can create my own fantasy elvish language, this week I have had to:

Discover IPA > learn to read and write IPA > learn the language rules of Quenya > start learning the language rules of Latin, Finnish, & Italian > learn all about linguistics > learn to code grammar into Vulgarlang.

Coding in Vulgerlang looks like this:

fantasy language vulgerlang

Which meant I also had to do a quick dive into what the hell is a declension, an accusative noun, or a diminutive noun? And then while googling I saw how Italian uses grammar and was very drawn to it, so I think I will take some of their grammatical rules and apply it to my fantasy language (which is yet to be named.)

Having ADHD and autism means once I get an idea in my head (e.g. that I need to create a fantasy language in order to proceed with my novels) I CAN’T CHANGE MY OWN MIND.

And, I can’t stop until it’s done. I become like a glacier, slow, yet implacable.

Happy creating,

Jesse x

*The time you enjoy wasting is not time wasted