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The Transliterator

5 July 2013

From A.J. Abbiati via Joe Konrath’s blog:

For those who don’t know me, I have a background in science. Twice now I’ve used that background to solve particularly gnawing artistic problems. The first time came at the start of my MFA program when I found out that, apparently, no university, no workshop, and no how-to book teaches writers how to actually write. Really? Yup. Sad but true. No one teaches a logical, step-by-step process for learning how to construct professional quality prose. As such, I had to figure it out for myself (using a scientific approach), and I wrote The NORTAV Method for Writers: The Secret to Constructing Prose Like the Pros so I could teach the process to others (using a non-scientific approach). In fact, some very well-known, well-respected authors, authors who frequent this site, offered me their prose for use as examples in The NORTAV Method, and I want to thank them again for their generosity!

Anyway, the second time science bailed me out of an artistic problem, and the point of this post, came during the writing of my episodic novel Fell’s HollowFell’s is a dark fantasy, and I needed to come up with three new languages to support certain aspects of the story. I didn’t want to make up fictitious words on the fly. That’s a rather hack way to go about it, in my view, and experienced readers will pick up on a shortcut in an instant. I also didn’t want to pull a Tolkien: I didn’t have ten years to build three new languages from the ground up. So I decided to do a little research into linguistics, and I ended up creating a tool that, in a matter of minutes, can define a “new language” from scratch. I call the tool “The Transliterator.”

You can download the Excel or PDF version of The Transliterator here. My gift to you.

. . . .

Basically, The Transliterator will help you transpose the phonetic sounds of an English word or sentence into a non-English representation, using a different set of consonants and vowels, thus recreating the English word in a “new language.” (This is not a letter-for-letter transposition from English to something else. That approach introduces WAY too many technical problems, which I won’t get into here.) For example, you could set up The Transliterator to map the English vowel sound “as in fine, line, behind” to a new vowel representation aa. Thus, whenever you encounter the long vowel sound “i” in an English word, you represent it physically and phonetically as aa in the new language. The rest of the transliteration process simply involves tailoring the new language to taste.

Link to the rest at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and thanks to Colleen for the tip.

Fantasy/SciFi, Writing Tools

12 Comments to “The Transliterator”

  1. This is awesome! How generous of him to offer this for free!

  2. Suburbanbanshee

    That’s not so much a “transliterator” as a “phoneme encipherment machine.”

    But yes, it should create some sort of visual consistency, so there’s that. It would probably be more plausible for English-speakers if you start with words from a language that isn’t English (unless you’re trying to show future development of English into new dialects).

    • My thought exactly; I’ll have to play with it a bit but I suspect using one of the romance languages as an input ought to produce a pleasing set of cadences. (Wouldn’t want a throat-killer like Klingon. ;) )

  3. When I needed a bizarre language no one was familiar with, I just used Lithuanian.

    • I use Hebrew. :-)

    • Kathlena Contreras

      I used a combination of Czech, Slovak and Lithuanian. I put in my English sentence, picked out the coolest sounding words and changed them a little. Made great alternative-reality-world dialog. Thanks, Google Translate!

      • My background is Greek so I use Greek as a default and when I have time I mix it with Gaelic. It throws them off unless they are Greek speaking Celts (or Gaelic speaking Greeks)!

  4. NORTAV looks incredibly similar to Dwight Swain’s system in Techniques of the Selling Writer, a book I highly recommend. Only the terms are different. I hope NORTAV holds more than that.

    • Dwight Swain’s system in Techniques of the Selling Writer spoke about beats also? I don’t recall, it’s been awhile. Nortav seems to focus almost entirely on that unless Im mistaken.

  5. I’m a heathen. I make up fictitious words on the fly.

    Then I agglomerate more words around them, start making a dictionary, and develop a rudimentary grammar. >_<

    • I’m a traditionalist. My characters just use a combination of arcane Latin and bastard French if I need them to speak in a furrin tongue.

      Yes, I am a lawyer. Why do… never mind.

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