We've looked at lots of existing languages from all around the world, but if we really want to have fun with languages then we have to do more than just look; we have to play as well. Imagine if you could talk to your friends in your own private language that no one else knew. Or imagine speaking a language where everything you said sounded silly, or grumpy, or smart. Or imagine making up your own special words for all the things you see around you. In this chapter we'll find out how to do all these things and more.
Languages are like the recipes for cakes. You start off with a whole bunch of different ingredients and then the recipe tells you how to mix them all together. In a cake you might use some flour and some eggs, a little bit of milk and butter and then maybe some chocolate. In a language you use sounds and words and when you mix them all together you end up with a sentence. And just like in a cake it is important how you combine the ingredients. If you put too much water in your cake you will end up with a slimy sludge instead of a cake. In a language if you don't put your words in the right order, if you don't follow the language's recipe, then you end up with a slimy sludge too. Let's try it with a simple sentence:
If we didn't follow the recipe we might get:
The moon is made of bright green cheese.
Cheese is made of the bright green moon.
Green made of the moon is cheese bright.
And these are just two of the silly sentences you can make by not following the recipe for the language correctly. Try some more by yourself, for example you could try saying it in reverse order—starting with the last word and going to the first. No matter how you rearrange the words, there is only one correct recipe that says that the moon is made of bright green cheese. Some of the other recipes make sentences that make sense but don't say what we want them to say, but most recipes just end up being silly. The "recipe" of a language that determine which words go where, and what they mean is the syntax.
Without even realizing it, you already know the recipe to one language—English. You know that putting words in some orders makes sense but in others it doesn't. But imagine if you only ever had one kind of cake. It would get boring. It's the same in languages: the more different language recipes you know, the more fun it is.
If you wanted to make a language recipe there are two different ways you could do it. The first is to get an existing language recipe (for example, English) and use it to make a language cake, putting lots of icing on it so that nobody other than you and your friends know that underneath the icing it is really the same old cake. The other is to make a whole new recipe from scratch. Because it is easier to add icing to a cake that already exists rather than bake a whole new one, we'll start with that.
Putting the icing on our language cakeEdit
Nac uoy daer siht ecnetnes? eno siht tuoba woH?
If you can read English then you can read these sentences – but you might need a hint. When we write a normal word, we start at the left side of a word and keep writing until we reach the right side. But what if we started on the right side and wrote to the left—what if we wrote words backwards? Try reading the sentences above again, but this time read all the words backwards. You might find it easier if you try writing them down.
So what did that say? Did it make sense? Try reading the second sentence again but this time instead of reading each word backwards read the whole sentence backwards. Now try saying it out loud. What does it sound like? Is it difficult to say? Why are some of the words hard to say but some of them are easy? We'll find out in a later section .
You can use talking or writing backwards as a secret language for you and your friends.
Making a language recipe from scratchEdit
Remember the chapter on Quenya? Well, it was a language recipe that J.R.R. Tolkien made up. He spent a large part of his life making Quenya and never really finished it, but don't worry: while the language recipes we make here will not be complete like real languages, they will still be usable, so you will be able to say simple things to your friends with them, without anybody else knowing what you are saying.