Vulgar is an application with two kinds of people in mind.
This first is people who don’t know anything about how to create a language, and just need something created for them to quickly add into a story or Role Playing Game. Simply press Generate New Language — the generator will decide which sounds your language has, assign words to English definitions, and also come up with grammar rules.
You may want to click Custom Phonemes to tell the generator which consonants and vowels you want your language to have.
But we often hear people say “I have a race of dwarves in my story; I want their language to sound something like German, but I can’t figure out how to do it!” Here is a quick hack!
- Click the Phonology settings
- Click Word structure option
- Choose one of the presets of a languages, eg German
- Click Generate New Language
And you should get a language that looks kind of like German!
Maybe this is all you need from Vulgar. But there are other users who want to get their hands a little more dirty with the language creation, and maybe even learn a thing or two about linguistics as they go along.
Vulgar can indeed look quite overwhelming. Turns out the rabbit hole of linguistics runs deep, and it may surprise you that the fictional languages created for some of the best know properties (The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Game of Thrones) are more than just lists of new words. They are carefully crafted languages with complex grammar rules, that have striven feel different to English. In fact, one of mantras for making a good language for a fictional universe is “don’t just copy what English does”.
However, it’s hard to not copy English if English is all you know. Without having studied a range of languages from around the world (and not just those from Europe) you probably don’t know what you don’t know. For instance, do you know that some languages change up the order of words and end up being closer to how Yoda speaks (“strong is he” instead of “he is strong”)? Or that some languages use the same word for “blue” and “green”? Or that some languages say a word twice to indicate the plural (e.g. “cat cat” to mean “cats”)? This, of course, doesn’t even scratch the surface.
This article will briefly explain some of the main things you might want to take control over, such as the overall sounds and spelling, as well as editing individual words. Meanwhile, our guides page drills down into more detail on each topic. We also have a great YouTube channel on various topics.
Sounds and spelling
We’ve already seen two ways to control the consonants and vowels of your language. The easiest option is Custom Phonemes which tells the generator “I at least want these phonemes. You decide which consonants are and aren’t allowed to appear next to each other.”
The Word Structure option forces the user to decide which consonants are and aren’t allowed to appear next to each other, as well as where in words they are allowed to appear. It’s a lot more work and decision making, but sometimes it’s the only way to get the “vibe” of your language right (as is the case when trying to simulate real world languages).
Note that we’re using the word “phoneme” and not “letter”. Phonemes are the individual sounds of a language, which is not the same as the spelling! Phonemes are represented by the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which is used to transcribe the exact pronunciation of words in all languages worldwide, and can even account for regional accents. The IPA is a standardized, objective way to pronounce words. This is something that is not possible to do with the Latin alphabet. For example, the Latin alphabet only has five vowel letters, yet there are more than 30 different vowel sounds found in languages around the world (not to mention the hundreds of variations on how they can be pronounced).
Although it has the advantage of communicating the objective way to pronounce words, writing in IPA isn’t always practical. That’s why Vulgar also creates a spelling convention for your conlang using the Latin alphabet. The spelling is represented as bold blue text, whereas the IPA is written between /forward slashes/.
So, for each randomly generated language, it’s possible that the blue spelling represents a slightly differently pronounced IPA phoneme.
By default, Vulgar always tries to come up with a “sensible” spelling convention, which is usually exactly how you would spell the word in English. In the above example, the iesh /aɪ̯ʃ/, /ʃ/ is the consonant English typically spells as sh, as in “show”. That one is easy to spell. But /aɪ̯/ is a vowel combo found in many English words that has very inconsistent spelling: it is the vowel in “eye“, “lie” and “sky“. Vulgar happens to choose ie for the spelling. (In reality, there are probably no great choices for this one, as y could be confused for the vowel in “happy“, but by the same token ie could be confused for the vowel in “believe”.)
In cases where the word contains non-English phonemes, Vulgar makes a spelling that is close to how it sounds in English. For example, the phoneme /ʈ/ is not found in English but is found in some languages in India (e.g. Hindi). It sounds very similar to English /t/ as in “time”, but perhaps if you imagine it done in an Indian accent. /ʈ/ will be spelled t, so long as the language doens’t have the English phoneme /t/. If it has both /t/ and /ʈ/, the latter will be spelled with some kind of diacritic mark (such as ṭ) to distinguish it from t.
If you don’t like Vulgar’s default spelling choices, you are free to change the spelling rules in spelling options. Let’s change /aɪ̯/ to how it’s spelled in “buy” and “guy“:
Editing the words
Before generating a language, you can add custom words to the Add and remove words. Use the format English word : part-of-speech.
The part-of-speech is whether the word is a noun, verb, adjective, etc., but we use the abbreviated form (n = noun, v = verb, adj = adjective, etc).
Adding words this way lets the generator randomly generate a conlang word the two new entries, using the phonemes you’ve selected. To specify what the conlang word will actually be yourself, add = conlang word (in IPA):
This makes kalisi be the pronunciation of the word, not the spelling! Your spelling rules will determine how the word is spelled (for this particular case, the default spelling will also be kalisi since the word doesn’t have any non-Enlgish phonemes).
If you’ve already generated a language (either by loading a saved language, or by clicking Edit This Language), you can now change the vocabulary in the Add and remove words field. Remember to re-generate the language after making changes!