Thursday, 6 October 2011

Idioms and Their Place in Conlangs...

Culture is central to idioms, certainly, but idioms can also be central to culture. Granted, a language's culture creates its idioms, but one can, when conlanging and conworlding, explore ones conculture through the creation of idioms.

What are Idioms?I guess the first thing we need to focus on, is, what exactly an idiom is. An idiom is a phrase or word that is taken to mean something that it literally doesn't within the normal confines of the language. In this way, an idiom is a figurative phrase.

But idioms are more than that. Idioms are colloquial language. They share similar routes to slang, and slang is developed from language creativity. Idioms only exist because someone within the language chose to bend the literal meaning to emphasis the event or phenominon that they are now describing.

As such, this is a very good way for conlangers to give weight to words and to show the importance of some features of their culture.

So, how do I make Idioms?
There are a couple of methods to make idioms, but each requires a different level of planning before hand, yet neither are exclusive of the other. Sorry to confuse you, but you'll shortly understand what I mean.

The First Method: What Do Humans Find Interesting/Annoying?
Most idioms concern things that all humans find interesting and or annoying. Even if some languages take the idiom to new heights, they will, at their core, be about something that all humans must face.

So think about these things. What do you find inherently interesting, as a human? Food. Sleep. Love. Sex. Safety. Wealth. Family. Friends. Those are the main things that almost all humans care about (I say 'almost', because some people might not care about love or wealth etc, but they are still important to the list as someone within the language, at some point, is certain to have cared about it). So that is a good starting point.

Now imagine the extremes of these 'interesting' things:
Food = Hunger, starvation, famine : bloating, fatness, gluttony.
Sleep = Fatigue, being overworked : Apathy, laziness, being well-rested.
Et cetera, et cetera.

These are the extremes that people think about on a somewhat daily basis, and are therefore, quite possibly, the things that are going to be discussed regularly. No one likes repeating themselves, so these are going to be the things that are exaggerated and are going to have new and, sometimes funny, ways of being expressed.

GOOD! You have your idiom topics.

Now just repeat for things we find annoying (note, these sometimes co-incide with the previous lists, which just means there may very well be more of those types of idioms).

The Second Method: What Do Your Conpeople Care About?
Ok, this might sound a lot like the previous method, but it is drastically different. Whilst previously we were talking about universal concerns, here we are talking about VERY SPECIFIC concerns...

What do YOUR PEOPLE care about? Are they philosophers? Farmers? Warriors? Do they focus on a horse dominated society? Is pottery sacred to them? Are some forms of food forbidden? What is there take on gender equality? Are women feared, reveared, or sheltered? Are men just there for procreation, or are they Gods gift to the world to keep order?

These questions will fuel your idioms, but will also come from idioms created through the previous method. Whilst you are thinking of clever ways to express deep hunger, or tiredness, or a lack of sexual happiness, think about the words you are using... Think about the word routes you are using.

For instance, take a look at my conlang, Fengwë:

The Fengwë word for 'hand' (dar) comes from the word 'woman' (da), because it is assumed that women are nurturing and protective and that they 'hold the children'. The word for 'wife' (koda), therefore, comes from the conjuction of ko- (beautiful) and -da (woman). However, the Vendri (the people who speak Fengwë) have made a little joke, and have named the 'hand one uses to masturbate with' as the kodar; which draws parallel with ones wife in an example of Vendri humour. Furthermore, this is made 'funnier' by the fact that the verb 'to fornicate' comes from ko- (beautiful) and -daros (to hold), meaning something along the lines of a beautiful embrace.

As you can see, the Vendri have a very childish sence of humour, but it is a good way of expanding the language and the culture in directions you wouldn't normally think about.

Don't even get me started on the Vendri word for flatulence!

Ok, so, that done, now what?
So you have your lists, and you have your ideas for silly little cultural nuances... Well. Go at it! Think of the most absract ways you can express your topic in your language (hell, make up some new words if you have to) and you'll be surprised with what you come out with!

Here are some Fengwë idioms to get your creative juices flowing:

Izi anëtisë?
"Are you at peace?", similar to English "Are you OK?"
Fezosusëoi dë sayirg.
"He is cleaning the arena.", to be delayed so long that the awaited action is no longer desired
Peyisosë mën Fengrufol!
"I received two winters!", to feel hard done by
Ellwësosesë tesisik yelli!
"I shout your victories!", warrior greeting