Monday, May 18, 2015

The Tree Language: Writing System


Creating a writing system for the Tree Language was probably my favourite part about working on this language, but it was also riddled with challenges. And in order to explain my challenges and opportunities, I'll have to get into some of the myth, legend and apocrypha of my fantasy world of Omorbia.

The first thing that you have to know is that Omorbia is a world with an ancient past, and a defined creation story that I've yet to tell, that is simple -- akin to a fable. Due to the nature of Omorbia's creation, the first intelligent beings to populate the world were Trees.

I conceived my Trees as keepers of all Omorbia's wisdom. They are philosophers. They are quiet, but will give the secrets of Omorbia wisdom, including Omorbian magic, to those with the patience to listen.

Theirs is an oral rather than a written language, for obvious reasons. However, when the language was first written down (by Dragons, not Humans. But that's another story for another day), it was difficult to break their ideas down into symbols. The language is complex and confusing, a set of sounds that are combined to convey complex ideas rather than words.

We use ideograms throughout our modern world. You see them every time you pick up a contain of hazardous materials. They are everywhere when you drive. And if you're texting or tweeting and you use emojis, those are also ideograms. Any symbol that conveys a complex idea or emotion rather than a single word is an ideogram.

However, the occurrence of ideographic writing systems in natural human language is very rare. That's because it's nearly impossible to convey all the ideas that you can using also ideograms. But some natural languages that use this method of writing also have phonetic elements. And so we come to another sloppy workaround.

The Tree 'Alphabet'

Each symbol in the Tree language corresponds to an idea or set of ideas, as well as to a sound present in the language. This would never happen with a natural language, unless it has a similar history to the Tree Language; that is, that an outside group hears an oral-only language and imposes a written form onto it (i.e. this happened throughout the history of many North and South American languages). So that accounts for the clumsiness. Yes, it's that the Dragons did the best they could writing down the language of another species rather than a wannabe linguist made up her first conlang without a modicum of grace. :P

Here is the set of ideograms that make up the Tree language writing system:

Working it out in the early days

Now, I didn't just pull the above out of my ass. As you can see from that top note, I was looking for models of writing systems that were either ideographic or had anything to do with Trees specifically or the natural world more generally. I first studied Ogham, an old Irish writing system that is said to have each of its letters named after different trees. But after using it a little while, I realized that the writing system looked very much like Tolkien's dwarvish runes. And ripping off a master of my genre is not how I want to be remembered.

The final product is more a mix of some symbols I made up myself based on important Omorbian places or concepts (the gate, chaos, the tree families), and a reworking of the Hopi world symbol. I also threw in the Deep Forest symbol, which is in the public domain, since the name of it is appropriate and I was inspired by the works of that electronic music group. Although now that I know just how terrible they've been in stealing and appropriating other peoples' musical works, that's a questionable decision on my part.

Concepts and Sounds

The picture above represents the ideograms of the written Tree Language and the concepts that they represent. But what about the sounds? Here I'll offer my compendium, but in picture form. I have yet to find the time or fine muscle coordination to design a workable font for the Tree Language. I'm no artist, and this has been the biggest challenge of working with a conlang for me.

So how can I use this writing system to communicate in the Tree Language? Well, tomorrow we'll get into the nitty gritty of all the grammatical rules. Should be fun!

The Tree Language So Far