On Conlangs: Creating a “Constructed Language” for the Mendaihu Universe

The Anjshé language I created for the Bridgetown Trilogy didn’t come about well until about 2002 or so, when I was rewriting Book I, A Division of Souls and also working on Book II, The Persistence of Memories. As the revised plot moved further into alien relations and advanced spirituality, I’d decided to make the move of giving the Meraladhza a native tongue.

Creating an invented language is always a detailed undertaking, and one that has to be taken somewhat seriously. You can’t merely select sounds at random without giving them some semblance of order. And most of all, they need to be pronounceable, or at least pronounceable to the characters who will use them as a first language.

Then there’s the basic ground rules. I’ve heard it suggested that the best way to try out your new words is to pronounce them yourself; if you can’t get your mouth around it, chances are neither can the reader.

Some, like I did, will go a few steps further and decide what will be the most common sounds and letters. In English, “e” is the most common letter and the mid-central vowel “ə” is the most common sound.

In Anjshé, I’d decided that the most common letters/sounds are A/”ah” and M/”mmm” (note: not “emm” but a humming sound); I chose these as the most relaxed sounds in Meraladhza history, given their spiritual background. Thus there are a lot of Meraladian names and Anjshé words with these two letters and sounds.

The other ground rule was the way words were built. Anjshé was inspired partly by the process in which many real languages have words primarily created out of smaller mono- or duosyllabic words.

My starting point, I’d decided, would be the Anjshé equivalent of “I think, therefore I am.” I wanted the first alien words spoken to us humans to be along the lines of “we exist as well.”  In a notebook I wrote the following words:

dehndarra Né hra nyhndah

[Mind you, I didn’t have specific words in mind, I just wanted something where the sounds hinted at perceived meaning, and sounded mystical without being too derivative. More on this momentarily.]

Next, I broke it down to mono- or duosyllabic words:

dehn – darra – Né – hra – nyhn – dah

Let’s start with the second word. Né [/nay/] was the one I’d chosen as the pronoun. And since only this word is capitalized, it was an important pronoun…but it wasn’t going to be “I” or “me”. It was going to refer to the One of All Sacred, the deity these aliens revered. This is the reason why only that word is capitalized–only names and spiritual nouns should be such, to denote their importance.

Now to the next few words. hra [/hrah/] (the initial ‘h’ is more exhalation than a laryngeal sound) I felt was a “small but mighty” type of word, so I chose that to be the all-important verb “to be”.

dehndarra [/denn-DARR-ah/] I chose to use as the verb “to believe”. I then split it into two syllables and created two more words. “dehn-“ was a shortening of dayen [/DAY-en/] meaning the verb “to know”, and “-darra” being a shortening/mutation of the next word up there, “nyhndah”. nyhndah [/n’YIN-dah/] is an extremely important word in this universe–it means heart, or spirit. [Thus, dehndarra = dayen + nyhndah = “to know in one’s heart” = to believe.]

So literally, it translates “to believe One to be in spirit”.

From the other end, I deliberately chose dehndarra Né hra nyhndah to mean “To know oneself is to be One in Spirit” in its intent. It’s an extremely loose literal half-translation, so that left an opening for the other half–the unspoken intent.

This is where I came up with the idea that it wasn’t just the words that were spoken, but the emotional/spiritual intent behind the words that gave Anjshé the rest of its meaning. This fit in quite nicely with my aliens having heightened extrasensory awareness–they were able to not just voice their thoughts, but to transmit them voicelessly as well. This is why Anjshé sentences don’t start with a capital letter, as capitalization there is considered superfluous.

And that’s how I created Anjshé.

(Note: The word “Anjshé” is also part of this created language–it comes from “anjh” [/ahng/] meaning ‘word’ and “Shé” [/shay/], the feminine form of Né. So thus: “Anjshé” [/ahng-SHAY/] literally means “word of the One of All Sacred”.  The spiritual capitalization was merely moved to the start of the word.)

*   *   *

More to Come:
–On Conlangs: An Anjshé Primer
–On Language in the Mendaihu Universe: Speaking and Innerspeak

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