One of the things I have on my dependency list for BAM is to finish up a chunk of Miwāfu, a naming conlang I used in both BAM and in FOTS. Conlangs (constructed languages) are one of my (many) interests, so I thought I would write a bit of why I created Miwāfu, its influences, and some of the things that have come up while using it.

What is Miwāfu?

When I was working on FOTS, one of the themes I wanted to work with was racism. Kanéko's father is from Kormar, white, and in the majority. Her mother, Mioráshi, on the other hand, is from the desert and not only is a stranger to the culture, she also chooses not to adapt to the world she lived in for the last sixteen years. Kanéko is also a racist, but that is mostly influence from her parents.

To make the racism a bit easier to identify, I wanted a language that looked different than the language of the land (Lorban, notationally in English). Fortunately, I had a number of rules for the Lorban, including that all proper names start and end in constants. This made it easy to find a way of making it different, by having names end in vowels.

Influences of Miwāfu

I'm a hack, let's start there. Most of my ideas are remixes of different things put together. In this case, Miwāfu is actually based on Japanese, a language I still want to learn, coupled with some ideas from other languages I know.

The syllables comes from Japanese, except that I took out a few and added in the rest of the "f" pairs (fa, fi, fe, fo).

I wanted a language that was obviously gendered, but I didn't want to use the "la" and "le" of French. Instead, I went with an accent over the penultimate syllable. Later, I changed it so only the penultimate syllable of the phrase is accented, so instead of Waryōni, pagáni, and héru, we have this:

Waryoni pagani héru
Waryōni pretty mare
Waryōni's pretty mare

I went with three genders: male, female, and neuter/child. They are represented by the acute, grave, and macron respectively. I bounced back and forth between using circumflex and macrons, but after an in-depth opinion poll (I asked Fluffy), I went with macrons.

Going with the macron is somewhat of a mistake. Japanese allows "n" as a syllable itself. So does Miwāfu, but very few fonts can handle the "n" with a macron. I'm planning on creating a glyph to represent it, but for the time being I'm not allowing "n" to be the accented character.

Another difficulty I had with readers is not accenting proper names that are adjectives or "of" relationships. For example, Waryōni is the name of a clan. Garèo is a man in that clan. So, instead of saying Waryōni Garèo, they use Waryoni Garèo.

A third one is that it is hard to touch-type accents. I ended up having a rather large auto-correct list while writing it.

Names

The entire reason I first created Miwāfu was to figure out Kanéko's name. It went through quite a few iterations before I found a name I liked. I also didn't think I needed it to much, mainly because it was just for her name. And maybe her mother's and the other desert guy. But, then as I was building up the world, I needed clan names and then horses and, from there, it just blossomed into this whole little ecosystem of names.

I went with relatively long names for characters. Minimum three characters with 3-5 being common for someone's first name and 3-6 for a clan name. This is obviously influenced by my Indian co-workers but also because I'm comfortable with longer names like Rutejìmo (main character of BAM) or Mioráshi (Kanéko's mother).

Names became a very big thing in the world. The people of the desert name everything: their mounts, their weapons, their vehicles. Each one is a "member of the clan" as it were and may have a gender associated with it.

The longer names did cause problems for some of the readers, most so when there are scenes with a large number of characters. I tried to reduce it in BAM, mainly by adding a few chapters to slowly wind up the characters, but everyone in that novel speaks Miwāfu. I found that around chapter 5-6, the writing group was getting somewhat comfortable talking about them.

Politeness Levels

But, there was an unexpected benefit of the longer name. It started because I wanted to go with different levels of politeness in Miwāfu, but mostly subtle. With the names, I could use the penultimate and ultimate syllables as the informal name.

  • Polite: Garèo
  • Formal: Waryoni Garèo
  • Familiar: Rèo
  • Inferior (to Superior): Great Waryoni Garèo
  • Superior (to Inferior): Boy, thief, idiot, etc.

Making it Fun

I love conlangs, so this was actually just a way of having a bit of fun with the world while giving some structure to how I name people. I honestly wasn't expecting it to expand out, but I'm getting so the names feel right when I read them.

I think what Tolkien did with Elvish was an inspiration, but I also like that you didn't have to know the language to read the book. It was just a little bonus feature if you took the effort to know it.

2012-10-25