The Language of Science Fiction

English allows a science fiction writer to create words to express his needs, words which don’t now technically exist in the language but still make perfect sense to the reader. If one is writing about a technology which springs from the author’s imagination, the vocabulary may not exist.

When I wrote a blog on world building, I looked up a number of spellings to find which was most common. Some wrote it as one word. Some hyphenated it. I chose to split the words at my editor’s suggestion, but I can see the concept might standardize as one word. Apparently it is a more popular topic than I thought, and authors think of it as one term.

For the science fiction writer, compounding is a great way to invent new words. Spaceship has long become a standard because it is so self-explanatory. We even forget that it has lovely metaphorical overtones. The same with spacesuit. My spell checker does not like me to talk about ‘dropping downplanet,’ but like the familiar word ‘downtown’, I think it’s perfectly clear what I mean.

Think of our movie favorites Star Trek or Star Wars. These characters travel at lightspeed or warpspeed and fight with lightsabers.

Inventing words can be great fun, particularly in naming characters or places. When I needed to name the world where my Ysabet character would go, I wanted a short word, beginning with an s or sh sound because I preconceived the language as sibilant. That would allow me an easy transition to an adjective form—Ser, Serian. Perhaps I was a little blatant when I named a bad character Seamus Esterat. Even though the first letter is different, capturing the sound of a baby’s first word in Serian led me to choose sama instead of mama for mother. Home becomes dolm, father, kai’fa, and son kai-su. There are elements of the English equivalents in there while performing as a separate language.

Here is an interesting link to J. R. R. Tolkien reading elvish:


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