Posted: Posted August 20th, 2019Edited August 20th, 2019 by Cruinn-Annuin
For a long time, I've wanted a usable Orcish language for personal reasons. Some exist (notably Zhaburi, a fan-made conlang based on the Dark Speech inscription on the One Ring from Lord of the Rings), but none with the qualities that I desire. With World of Warcraft Classic coming out soon, I have been reminded of this desire. There's some interesting language elements going on in that game, and it has spurred me to actually work on a conlang.
In World of Warcraft, there are two playable factions: the Alliance and the Horde. Each faction is made up of multiple races. Each race has their own racial language that all members of that race can speak. In addition, there is a language for each faction that everyone in that faction can speak. A member of one race cannot speak the language of another race. A member of one faction cannot speak the language of another faction.
The designers allow you to actively choose which language you character speaks in by selecting a language option in your chat settings. In effect, you can choose to speak specifically to members of your race or to anyone allied with you. When you speak in a language that a nearby character does not speak, they see an asemic relex of your input. In other words, they see a "nonsense translation".
This mechanism is based on word length. Each language has a word list featuring several fictitious and phonotactically appropriate words for each character length from 1 to 12. When you use a word that has five characters, the chat infrastructure automatically replaces it with a selected five-character word from the word list of your chosen language. Because the word list is relatively limited, the "foreign" words can pop up somewhat regularly, lending an illusion of consistency to an otherwise random language. (It has been said that the chat infrastructure will remember which replacement word it chose the first time and will use that word again upon subsequent uses of the plaintext word, but I have not confirmed that yet.)
The simple genius of the idea in terms of game design is stunning. The designers needed to:
promote division between the factions
promote specificity and community within races
maintain unity within the factions
maintain the style and flavor of the game world while doing so
Racial & faction languages and the chat "translation" based on word length does all of this wonderfully. It prevents Horde and Alliance from communicating with anything but body language (and violence); it gives your race a unique thing to preserve their identity very strongly among their allies; it brings together the different races into a greater society with a wider community and mission; it does all this with lore-friendly style instead of filling the chat with either truly random gibberish or a cypher (which would allow for cross-faction communication with a cypher-breaking addon, defeating the entire purpose).
The method in which they did this also happens to give me fodder for phonotactic analysis without burdening me with special grammar or established definitions.
So, what about Orcish? Orcish is the racial language of the Orcs. Due to their prominence in the Horde, Orcish is also the primary language of that faction. All Horde characters speak Orcish either out of cultural history or out of political and tactical necessity. It is a strong element of the lore, which makes the idea of having an actual functional version of it attractive to me. I also just appreciate harsh, angular, brutal languages and the general style of the strong and violent Orcs. As such, I have begun working on a conlang which I hope to present as being strongly based on Warcraft Orcish. The elements of the design that I am working toward include:
As this is partially a casual personal conlang and I am an ENL speaker, this is important. In addition, everyone that I will be playing World of Warcraft with will be English speakers and I aim to have this language appear as a natural extension of the automatic chat "translation" for Orcish, so it must naturally follow English grammar.
Related to the previous point, but more about general accessibility instead of just ENL accessibility. I would like for other people to be able to use this language if they wish, and I understand that learning a second language is a huge effort. I want to mitigate the amount of effort required by taking some lessons from the Toki Pona conlang, mainly an extremely limited and polysemous lexicon. This should also make the creation of a translation application much easier.
I will also be abolishing the use of apostrophe and hyphen in my version of Orcish in order to facilitate simple typing.
I want it to sound like a nasty, brutal language. Maybe not as dark as the Orkish of Tolkien's work, because the Orcs of Warcraft are not evil at their core, but the language must give the sense of a primitive warrior society. It also should sound accurate and pleasing enough to interest other Horde players.
It has to work for the context that it's mainly going to be used in, which is in the World of Warcraft game. So, while the lexicon needs to be small and simple, it also needs to account for the elements and events presented in World of Warcraft. I will likely spend a lot of time playing WoW with a notebook open (besides the character journal that I'll be using anyway), writing down elements that require Orcish words.
That's all I have right now, besides some preliminary phonotactic analysis. I'll probably just post in this thread whenever I take another significant step in this project.
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