Proofreading Tips - Constructed Languages

Feeling a bit Elvish?

Ever been tempted to construct a language? 

To con lang? 

The following blog post ‘Inventing Language - Some Inspiration and Guidance’ appeared in ‘SCBWI: The Blog’ in January, and thank you to Lee Wind for his permission to repost. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016 

Inventing Language - Some Inspiration and Guidance by Lee Wind 

David J. Peterson won a competition to design the Dothraki language for Games of Thrones. And then he created two more languages for the show. He also invented Shiväisith for the Marvel blockbuster Thor: The Dark World, and four languages for the SyFy show Defiance.

This interview with him from Popular Science is bite-sized, but fascinating. In How to Invent Sci-Fi Languages, David explains how he starts to invent a language:

I separate the process into three distinct branches: sounds, word meanings, and grammar. I usually start with the sound system, which affects grammar, and also with nouns. 

And in this NPR interview for his book, The Art of Language Invention, David says:

There's a very kind of technical part to it, which is creating the grammar, making sure that it works and making sure you've got all your bases covered. It's very much like programming, puzzle-making or problem-solving. 

But then there's a very artistic component, which is the creation of the lexicon: deciding exactly how this language you're creating is going to encode the vastness of the world. All languages can say everything. The way that they differ is how they say what they say, and that's what makes language so fascinating. 

Pair these with Christina Dalcher, Ph.D.'s Linguistics in Fiction post, especially her 4 Tips for Writing Languages. I particularly liked the one on "Universal Grammar," where she says,

Grammatically speaking, every language has syntactic categories – go ahead, find me a language with no verbs, I dare you! All languages have rules governing the formation of words and sentences, negation, question-making, imperatives, and verb tenses. 

...When it comes to spoken languages, each and every one on our big blue planet uses a subset of possible speech sounds; in that subset, you’ll find both vowels and consonants. 

The take-home message here? Human languages are a lot more similar than they are different. 

There's even a section on Alien Languages.


Go forth and invent, but to paraphrase Tim Gunn on Project Runway, "use your power to invent words thoughtfully."

Or, as this author/illustrator put it so well (and somewhat snarkily), in their "Fiction Rule of Thumb"

Thanks again for the re-post, Lee!

In addition to exploring the links above, here are three challenging reads for you: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban and The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – with an argot devised for a violent gang in a dystopian future. Not a bedtime story, this flawed novella features ‘nadsat’, a semi-Russian slang Anthony Burgess invented to avoid the narrator’s voice becoming outdated. Powerful stuff.

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban – described by Salman Rushdie as ”This unjustly forgotten 1980 novel is unlike anything else: Its portrait of a world after a nuclear holocaust ... is written in language that's brilliantly fractured, as if a bomb has exploded there as well.” Riddley’s vocabulary contributes an extraordinary layer of otherworldliness to this post apocalyptic classic.

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth – thank you KMLockwood (aka Philippa Francis) for this suggestion during the Proofreading Tips session at the SCBWI Conference. Paul Kingsnorth describes his novel as “written in a tongue which no one has ever spoken, but which is intended to project a ghost image of the speech patterns of a long-dead land: a place at once alien and familiar. Another world, the foundation of our own.” Set after the Norman invasion in 1066 Paul Kingsnorth uses only words which originated in Old English, and only letters which existed in Old English. So no j, k, q or v.

Good luck with your new language. 


Catriona Tippin has been a member of SCBWI since 2006 and helps organise venues for SCBWI North East. Details of her writing and illustrating here. She proofreads study guides, house magazines and publicity material for national educational organisations, in addition to working on a variety of proofreads and copyedits for the growing self-published world. Her monthly column is intended to give you food for thought, remembering “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling or typographical error” (McKean’s Law, named after its inventor Erin McKean, editor of the Oxford American Dictionary).

Header Image for Proofreading Tips Courtesy of


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I also mange and cover my mistakes when i write new phrase thanks for share it how to paraphrase an article .


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.