Happy Poetry Month!

Image result for Magnetic Poetry board + image

I love, love, love my librarian for introducing me to the magnetic poetry board. She sets it out each April in honor of poetry month, and I just can’t resist.

Something about taking from a limited pool of strong words with very specific connotations and stringing them all together into a poem is absolutely electrifying for me. It pushes me to create in a whole new way, but it’s totally therapeutic and stimulating at the same time.

I. Love. It.

So here’s one of my magnetic poem creations [title and all] to honor the month and the poet in all of us:

Poet in a Puddle

by Kristen C. Strocchia

Yesterday I watched you fly away

Yet you are still here

And time meanders through the leaves

Always bound to the matter of knowing

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Go Glossary

Image result for glossary + imageSo you’ve decided that you really want to create a language to set the mood and voice of your story. Ok. Now what? Logistically speaking, the language will need to be used consistently and demonstrate some of grammar mechanics. But that can be a lot to keep straight while already trying to track plot and character development, tension and subplots, objects and timelines.

Best advice? Go glossary.

The Dryad language that I developed for my WIP only has about 35 words total–the most important nouns, workhorse verbs and subject pronouns–the bare essentials to communicate succinctly. And the glossary helped me to ensure that I didn’t make any of the words too close to another word. While homonyms, homophones and minimal pairs exist in every language, there’s no reason to confuse a reader by including these in a 35 word language sampler.

I also included in my glossary, the verb conjugation charts for the three different verb-types in my language. I didn’t need every ending for each type in the end, but if the series continues, at least I’ll be able to keep everything consistent.

The last thing I did, which turned out to be incredibly helpful for revision, was to keep a running list of the actual Dryad sentences/phrases used throughout the manuscript [with chapter and page number reference]. Because the language meant something to the overall character and plot development, so there was an instance or two in which a plot or character revision meant revising a Dryad line as well.

Important Words

Image result for words in snowWhen creating a language of your own, it’s not necessary to translate every word in a dictionary, nor is it helpful. Remember, your character will mostly still converse in English [or at least in English translated text]. With just a small glossary of a few of the words that are the most important to your culture, you can create a lot of voice without losing readers.

For example, many people know that Eskimos have dozens of words related to snow and ice, as do the Sami people of northern Scandinavia and Russia. Would you expect anything less from the people whose whole existence is snow and ice? No doubt Londoners have many terms/expressions for fog, Washingtonians for rain, and Wyomingians [is there a name for them?] for wind. Why? Because in each of these areas, these are the most prominent–and high frequency–weather phenomena.

Conversely, it’s unlikely that native Nigerian or Sudanese people groups have even one word for snow. But I bet they have countless terms pertaining to dust storms!

Besides weather, many other things could be a prominent linguistic focus for a people group, including: food, flora, fauna, religion, astronomy, clothing and accessories, social structure, etc.

Try listing the top ten most important nouns in your created culture, then have fun creating the words/expressions to communicate these.

Avoiding Dictionese

Image result for walking dictionaryNot every word in English can be translated to an equal word in another language. Students often struggle learning new languages for this reason. Because they would like to use a dictionary to substitute French or Spanish [et al] words into an English sentence. The result is, what I term, dictionese.

The English speaker feels that they’ve communicated well because every English word has been turned into a target language word and in the exact same word order that any good English speaker would use. But an actual French or Spanish speaker may have trouble deciphering true meaning.

Consider this phenomena if you decide to create a language for your character. Avoiding a dictionese approach to language creation will authenticate your end result.

The French, for example, have the verb ausculter. The English translation would be something like to listen/examine with a stethoscope…basically the definition because we don’t have a succinct word equivalence. If a French speaker tried to force a dictionary one-to-one, they would end up saying, “The doctor stethoscoped me!” [Sounds gruesome.]

Trick-or-treating, an American cultural activity, also requires a lengthy definition translation to be able to say it in many other languages.

How about the language that you’re creating? Are there phrases that just aren’t said the same way as we would communicate them in English? Words that we don’t have an equivalent for? These could lend a very authentic diversity in voice whether you’re incorporating the actual new language word/phrase, or the English translation thereof.

So start a glossary and grammar primer, and have fun with turning bilingual phrases.

Notable Book Voice: The Goose Girl

Image result for goose girlAuthor Shannon Hale does a masterful job creating languages for her Books of Bayern series. THE GOOSE GIRL introduces both animal tongues and the ability to communicate with inert forces of nature. However, Hale records not the words of the languages themselves in her narratives, but the English translated versions and the overall sense of communicating in these others tongues.

One of my favorite linguistic passages in THE GOOSE GRIL includes owl language. Hale describes Isi’s challenge to try to communicate, because owl is similar in some ways to her knowledge of swan but differing on some key vocabulary. Isi then needs to circumlocute–or talk around an unknown word by using the words she does know to try to get the basic idea across.

On another instance, Isi compares the dialects of swan and goose much like if she were comparing Spanish and Portuguese. The effect is utterly charming and wholly believable.

THE GOOSE GIRL by Shannon Hale is an incredible mentor text for the author who wants to give the sense of other languages without actually creating the new vocabulary and grammar structure to write in that new language.

Workhorse Words

Image result for workhorse + imageVerbs are the workhorses of any language. Without verbs, action as we know it is impossible. So naturally, when creating a language, we want to lay the foundation of active voice by creating verbs.

Most modern languages conjugate verbs by changing the endings. In English, for example, we say:

 

  • I see                 We see
  • You see            You [guys/y’all] see
  • He sees            They see
  • She sees
  • It sees

So, at least in regular verbs, only the third person singular forms [he, she, it] change the ending of the verb.

In the Romance languages–French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian & Spanish–the last two letters of regular verbs are dropped and replaced with a new ending. In Spanish, each of these endings is vocalized, whereas in French many either sound the same or are silent.

  • Spanish                                                                    French
  • Veo                    Vemos                                           Je vois                  Nous voyons
  • Ves                    Veis                                                 Tu vois                Vous voyez
  • Ve                      Ven                                                  Il voit                  Ils voient
  •                                                                                     Elle voit              Elles voient
  •                                                                                     On voit

Norwegian is the only language that I’m familiar with that all my students wish they could study because the endings change by tense rather than subject.

  • Jeg ser              Vi ser
  • Du ser               Dere ser
  • Han ser             De ser
  • Hun ser

Overall, modern verb ending changes can be taken as a reliable pattern for language creation to ensure that you’re not just typing babble on the page, but that your new language will be cohesive and even comprehensible to its non-speaking reader.

For example: Let’s say that you want to choose the word occulus to mean to see. Following an English pattern, you would need two forms–occulus and a third-person singular form occulun. For a Romance language type you would need 6 distinct endings:

  • occulus
  • occulio                 occulsom
  • occulito               occulsechay
  • occulun               occulairon

And for a Norwegian type verb, you would simply need a form for each tense:

  • present: occulus
  • past: occulato
  • future: occularia

A few other considerations–the Romance languages are each made up of three main verb types. Each type has a different letter combination ending on the infinitive form and uses a unique set of endings for each infinitive type in each tense. Consider this as a way to lend both variety and authenticity to your created language.

Also, verbs don’t stand alone, so you will need to create a set of subject pronouns for your language as well [I, you, he/she/it, we, you all and they].

And using familiar roots in a new way will help a reader to connect intended meaning to an otherwise nonexistent language.

Other than that, have fun and enjoy what you create!

Create-a-Language Primer

Image result for languagesAs a general rule, you’re going to write your picture books and novels in English [or the target language of your home country] and occasionally you will need/want to throw in some foreign language to root character development in multiculturalism. However, there are also times where it is not only fitting, but necessary to create a new language for your character.

So how do you start creating a brand new language? There are many possibilities, but here a few suggestions distilled from modern world languages:

  1. Parts of speech: All languages have them, because all languages identify nouns, take action in verbs, describe nouns with adjectives and verbs with adverbs, and give position with prepositions. We all need to express the same things, so it is no wonder that every language contains these basic parts of speech. Your created language probably should too.
  2. Root words: Again, all languages have families of words–some that span noun, verb, adjective and adverb forms–that are related through the root of the word. This is a simple way to create many words from one easily recognizable root of your choosing.
  3. Affixes: By adding beginnings and endings to root words, languages create variation on meaning. Again, choose a few easily recognizable affixes to repeatedly reuse in your created-language so that readers don’t actually have to learn a whole new language to be able to read and understand [and enjoy] the voice you have created.
  4. Syntax: Language distinctions–if all of them were translated word for word into the same language–would become most obvious at the word order level. Romance languages flip adjective-noun word order on English speakers, while other languages always put their verbs as the last thing in the sentence. Some Native American languages don’t even create sentences, just really long strings of affixed word segments in a grammatically ordered word.

Keep reading this month for more insights into languages and examples on how to use them to create-a-language for your character.

Notable Book Voice: The Lightning Queen

Image result for the lightning queenThe love of friendship is a powerful motivator in children’s literature, and no friendship has resounded so strongly with me as that of Teo and Esma on the Hill of Dust.

Here two marginalized cultures collide in a chin-jutting, yell-healing, grandparent-abetting unlikely friendship that spans a lifetime and two continents. A friendship that mends broken hearts, despite the family members who refuse to heal. A friendship that defies cultural boundaries and societal exclusions. A friendship that roots itself deep in the heart of both characters and readers, wanting to become more, but remaining steadfast out of genuine love.

Laura Resau’s The Lightning Queen is an amazing mentor text for so many things…language, dialect, multiculturalism, physical diversity, friendship, love, loss…It possesses, in every way, a beautifully wonderful voice.

Mon Petit Chou

Image result for cabbage personified(Title translation: My little cabbage!) French terms of endearment feature one of the notable loves of France–food!

However France does not love food the way that Americans do [i.e. sweetie pie or honeybun]. They are gourmand, which  means that they enjoy eating food worth eating–in quantities that won’t last forever on the hips after their moment on the lips.

Perhaps that is why they can lavish food love on those nearest and dearest to them, ma petite carotte.

It’s a simple thought, but when creating voice, why not think French? Use food names as terms of endearment to express a character’s love. Or, exploit the object of the character’s affection [i.e. videogames, or horseback riding] and mine these activities for terms that could be used to tell someone how they really feel.

Notable Book Voice: One Came Home

Image result for one came home + imageAmy Timberlake’s One Came Home is one of my all time favorite book voices. Boldly darling Georgie’s story captures a spectrum of loves appropriate for middle grade readers. From the quest to find the truth of her sister’s demise, to the palpable bond with her grandfather and the strength of her mother’s hug in the end, family love runs deep. But Timberlake sets all this against Georgie’s developing observation and understanding of the possibility of romantic love around her–first her sister’s and then maybe even her own precious heart beginning to fall for the first time.

Georgie’s voice and character strength is full of heart, her story a sampler in love. One Came Home serves as an excellent mentor text to challenge any writer considering the multi-dimensional truth of love in their character’s lives.