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For my latest worldbuilding project, I'm trying to create a naturalistic language for a fictional empire I've been creating. This empire was born at the end of the Bronze Age when various kingdoms and city-states voluntarily united to defend against the growing power of a thalassocracy.

Though the story of the people who speak this language is more or less ironed out, I can't figure out how to proceed when devising a language for this multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and not very centralised empire.

Though the languages spoken within the empire would all be related sister-languages derived from the same Proto-Lang, I don't know how to determine whether one of these languages becomes more "prestigious" while the others remain as just dialects.

Do I just pick the language with the most speakers? Do I just pick the language that the Emperor speaks, even if the rest of the (very powerful) nobility might speak another language entirely? Do I unite the languages in a single koinè? If so, how?

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In fact, there are a lot of possibilities, and many of them are attested in the history of natural languages.

  1. Majority language wins. This happened in China at least twice, it was conquered and ruled by foreign people (Mongolians, Manchu), but the ruling class became sinicized. It also happened in medieval France and Spain - they were conquered and ruled be Germanic tribes (Franks and Burgundians for France, Vandals and Goths for Spain), but the majority language of the residents won out.

  2. Most prestigious language wins. This happened in antiquity in the Roman empire, and we see it in many post-colonial states in Africa. There are some prerequisites for that, such as a working educational system helping that.

  3. Pidgins and Creoles emerge, and a Creole wins. This can be watched in Papua New Guinea, where Creole languages like Police Motu and Tok Pisin are becoming the de facto standard of communication.

  4. Something else happens. The case of English is not as clear as my points 1 through 3 suggest: While the majority language finally won, it was heavily impacted and changed by the languages of the conquerors (Normans and Danes).

  5. Stable multi-linguality. Quite rare in the wild, but Switzerland with a coexistence of Swiss German, French, and Italian is an example. The fourth language of Switzerland, Romansh, is under pressure, despite attempts of language preservation.

  6. Mixed language. This is very rare in the wild, but there are a few mixed languages out there, like Michif - in this language the verb phrases come from Cree and the noun phrases come from French, forming a stable mixed language.

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    One you could add tho the list is equilibrial code switching: a situation where two (or more) languages are used simultaneously and consistently. This is often heard in the Philippines, for example, where Tagalog & English teeter-totter back and forth. Sometimes whole phrases or sentences in one language become whole sentences in the other; and in between you get a kind of random mix of the two (Tagalog particles on English nouns or verbs; Tagalog nouns or verbs with English particles.
    – elemtilas
    Dec 22, 2019 at 21:44
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    This also happens in the Canadian north with Inuktitut and English, usually limited to word/phrase/sentence switching. Jan 2, 2020 at 17:31
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because, i try to learn chinese, which is for me, cantonese dialect i have difference between, learning words and learning language, i can say that details can be, really important

like, in vietnamese you have, xin loi, or you have specific, anh / chi, for saying mr or, mrs, and therefore you have, whole expression 'excuse me mister', xin loi anh

which, in cantonese sounds, very much alike tsing man, or qing wan, in chinese simplified, but its formal

because, i read about Angkor in cambodia and you see, that names of cities in cambodia was, completely random, so you have Chena, or other and it means not more than typical , situation which was calling some hill, 'hill number 232', and this is quite alot names in cambodia, so you cant put any importance to names when, learning asian language, and best suggestion is to make list of words from dictionary, to later try to abreviate to them, because to learn to say something is completely something else

for example, story from classical CW Ceran book, when scientist had list of 1051 words, from some old african ancient empire, and even emperor of france promised to him to, publish this words and allow people in morocco and tunisia learn, when actually this words from stone of rosetta, was maybe his own invention

so, you see that examples teach about, what is proficiency and unless , you want to be example of free interpretation, you should work in points, not in line because words have separate meaning, but phrases which mean something are, mostly very small things, like comments, or thoughts that only in small amount can describe something

books can, be example of really big , problems that somebody described in hope to, find some answers, but very often the truth is otherwise than assumed by author, and reading about cleopatra egypt, and some person name achilles can, bring to thought some conclusion that, this is just unreal and, you cant belive that this country existed , without war which doesnt really appear , and this is one of points, that you must consider opposite story , and the story can be really silly

for, example who will guarantee, that hannibal didnt, burn egipt 3 times, and exactly where did he, take elephants from ? or, exactly if there was empire in Angkor, from east to india and even bigger, you have 2 theories already, first that if there was food distribution, if synaj, named Myanmar, was cut off from food transport, then myanmar would die as, country and this question about, empire and economy

or, that where today is, pakistan previously was Bengal, and otherwise then where exactly was india back then ? or, how this happened that this countries changed in places ? because, this is political issue about, past that something was located somewhere else, and only today you think that all was the same

but, unless this is historical question , you see that language doesnt explain what happened, and people expect to learn everything in one, because they think this is obvious , but usually everything in life seems to be, some joke and unless you dont want to become, object of laughter as legendary hero who , found the truth but didnt noticed that, this truth is a bit useless , you should plan your learning, and this is only time, that can help to find way, because its like jungle of problems and, even ancients didnt thought somebody can answer all questions

you have, example of Jingwu the school that transformed kung fu, at first you think that this is some, frog school of asking this book, because word seems very much alike, qingwa , and because title say transformation you begin to ask what, transformations author suggests, to change stupid questions to something more logical, which is very rare idea, and this is reflection

so, mostly you find reflections and, there is no special revelations, but where appears such difference, like notation, between vietnamese and chinese language, you start worry, who is right here

so, it is better to stick to your, principle that something is more important , and have some direction because it works much better and gives some results which doesnt seem strange, or even uncomprehensible

best wishes, and good luck

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  • Thank you for these examples, but I'm not really sure how they help us understand how to create a conlang with super- and sub-strate langauges.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 3 at 3:16

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