13

Obviously, generating a lexicon is very time-consuming, and there's so much that needs to be done, I often find myself suffering with analysis paralysis, because I just can't decide where to begin.

Word frequency lists don't help all that much, because there's an inverse relationship between how useful a word is and how common it is. The most commonly used word in English is 'the', for instance. If you just made words for the 100 most commonly used words, you wouldn't really be able to make that many sentences, which would make it difficult to work on the grammar.

I've seen some people use the Swadesh list, but I fail to see how that is useful in any way since the list was arbitarily chosen rather than thought through. And besides, it would require you make words for things that are highly unlikely to ever be mentioned, such as a word for 'louse'.

The Conlanger's Lexicon suggests you work by categories, so that that way you can at least form complete sentences, even if this does limit you to writing about one topic. Of course, there's still the problem of which list to begin with. He just lists the categories in the book alphabetically.

Are there other methods to use? And yes, I know about word-generating programs, but those spit out stuff that's much lower quality than stuff generated by hand. And besides, my conlang will have a highly productive word-derivation system, so I don't need that many roots (when I'm writing down lists of words, often times I just write what I want the compound word to literally translate as, though I rarely go back to fill it in because I never get to the words that would comprise the compound).

I've mostly been looking at frequency lists and the Conlanger's Lexipedia, but I would like to know if there was a better way.

12

If you're new to conlanging and want to start an entire language from scratch: I would recommend reading The Language Construction Kit by Mark Rosenfelder. It's a fun read and is very helpful to a new conlanger, and helps you know what to create for your purposes, how to do this, and gives you a good understanding of basic linguistics.

For creating vocabularies from scratch: A common practice is to begin with a list of roots and expand outwards, usually using some kind of derivational morphology. The words you're going to want to begin with, besides words that come up in your grammar, which I think should be close to done by the time you start building a lexicon, are the basic concepts. Things like man, tree, water, eat, do, green. One famous example of such a list is the Swadesh list. The way I made my vocab for my first language, Simean, was by coming up with roots for the concepts on this list and using morphological rules to expand that list.

Another alternative, though one I don't personally use, is to simply translate things and make up the necessary words as you go along. Even so, I'd start with the Swadesh list to get a good grounding in terms of what your language feels, looks, and sounds like.

6

It depends very much on the purpose of your language.

The generic advice is: Create the words and sentences you need for your purpose.

When you want to draw a map of a fictional world, create a system for naming geographical features. When you want to name fictional people, create a system of given names. When you want to have some dialogues, mottoes, or set phrases: Create just them.

When you are aiming at an international auxilliary language, create a system of derivational morphology first, then fill in stems and roots and function words. At some time, you will go through some dictionary and think of a word or expression for every dictionary entry. The risk of doing it too early is ending with a relex of the starting language.

BTW, the comment by @The Mattbat999 also has good advice: before creating words, think of the sounds of your language (phonology) and of allowed combinations of the sounds (phonotactics).

5

Honestly, what order you build your vocabulary in doesn't much matter, as long as it remains internally consistent when it comes to your conlang's semantic and morphosyntactic rules (and frankly, even those can be retconned).

Thus, different conlangers will build their vocabulary in different orders, and it really doesn't much matter which words you choose to coin first. I personally most often coin new words as I need them for translations (similarly, I flesh out my grammar as I encounter grammatical concepts I can't translate well in translations). I'll either find quotes to translate on my own, participate in conlanging challenges on /r/conlangs, or work on something like the Conlanging Syntax Test or, yes, perhaps a Swadesh List (or one of the improved alternatives, such as the Leipzig-Jakarta list -- there are a great number of such "concept lists" collected at CLLD-Concepticon).

Yes, these choices are incredibly arbitrary, but frankly, there isn't any way of choosing what words to coin first that isn't arbitrary. So just pick something arbitrarily and get started!

4

When I started creating my language I started with whatever words I thought would come up regularly (a, the, as...etc) then I would take a book, flick to a random page and translate what was there, creating the words as I went.
The advantage of this method is that if you are creating a language for a specific genre then you can use books from that genre to get a more useful vocabulary for what you are looking for.

4

In the language learning area there's a list of the essential 625 words that are required to speak a language reasonably fluent; those might be a good starting point.

You will probably want to look at the list and decide which words should have a similar form (eg the colours), but if the main issue is what lexical items to cover, then that should get you started.

3

If the speakers of the language are not your average humans of Earth, first make/find some texts that are suitable for the speakers: narratives, what happens during a regular, boring day, what happens in the market, at a restaurant, when traveling, making food, at the doctor's etc. Have a look at travel dictionaries for ideas.

Start with very short texts, no more than a paragraph. (The following paragraph would work for many an ordinary human in the West in the current era:) "I get up in the morning. I have breakfast then leave for work. At midday I have lunch. I go home in the early evening. I have dinner with my family. Finally, I go to bed."

Then figure out how to do the most frequent words (you might have 'em all covered already. But which set you need will vary. If for instance, you don't want articles, make a DO NOT-wordlist: the word you don't want (like "the") followed by what you do instead. This is very handy for future translations.)

After the most frequent words, do the remaining nouns and verbs. Whether there are adjectives and adverbs and many other word classes will depend on the language, so wait a while with those.

Later, pick one sentence and expand it to a paragraph: "I sleep alone in a bedroom. The bedroom has a floor, a ceiling, several walls, a bed, a window, a door, a light, and an alarm clock. The dog sometimes gets in during the night and also sleeps in my bed." Expand the other sentences in the first paragraph before you expand anything in the second paragraph. This will give you the words needed for daily life quite quickly.

Be wary of translating things that are the wrong tone and age at an early stage, like medieval tales or older if your speakers are of the modern era, or specific religious texts if your speakers don't do that religion.

For instance, if you translate the Babel-text early you risk having a word for an outdated technique for joining bricks (and a word for non-fired bricks) before you have a term for "to eat", "to speak", "to go"...

3

Write a text/narrative, small or big, in your starting language. Then as you go through it create each element that may arise which does not exist in your language.

In the beginning it will be a painstaking process, but as you continue it will provide useful insight on exactly which words you need to add.

a general rule to remember

Anything you create or use out of dire need, will be more difficult to lose track of.

2

As mentioned by @Sparksbet the Leipzig-Jakarta list comes in very useful (especially if you use conworkshop as there's a lexibuild list for it). If you want something more comprehensive that has the basics that is actually useful I would try using this google sheet for the universal language dictionary. It already has words listed in categories to make things easier! Atlernatively the Globish list is a decent starting point, though it was not designed for this purpose.

protected by curiousdannii Apr 23 '18 at 15:53

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