Diane Duane

A little science. A little magic. A little chicken soup.

Rebloggable-d by request: A little about Rihannsu / Romulan language development

The original question from depechemoses:

How fleshed out is the Romulan language? You always hear about people knowing Klingon and that’s fine and dandy, but Romulan seems like it’d be a way more interesting thing to know.

Strangely, that’s how the Rihannsu books started in the first place. I asked my editor at Trek about the possibility of doing a Romulan dictionary, but was told that the Klingon one wasn’t doing so well (this was a long time ago) and there was no demand. “But you should feel free to do something else,” I was told. 

I did something else. :) It’s never a long step from linguistics to history. And then to culture, and cultural differences. And then to plot. And a woman saying, “I was planning to capture your starship. Do you mind?”  )

(One note here. There will always be people hung up on the Mary Sue concept who are sure that female authors are busy self-inserting into any fictional milieu, especially Trek. Such people don’t get that good writers self-insert into all their characters: they must do so to make them engage correctly with the reader. And to do so in just one gender, role or aspect is unfair to all the others, who expect from you the creator’s common courtesy in bringing everyone equably to life. Those who’re looking for me will find me readily enough, in sickbay usually, snarking gently at one of my favorite Doctors. …But Ael is based physically on my then-Trek editor, Mimi Panitch, a slight dark-haired woman who no one would have been wise to tangle with, and mentally on other friends much smarter and fiercer than I. I much prefer to put my friends in my books. People I don’t like are annoying enough in what passes for real life; I don’t allow them into my creative work.)

…Once I had my plot in place, I started coining words. I used a simple MBASIC program that I wrote to do this. I wanted something that (in sound) was halfway between Latin and Welsh. I gave the program a long series of phonemes and instructed it to start stringing them together. In every long page of printout I would find five or six words that sounded nice. 

Then I started messing with grammar. And then I realized I had little time for that, so I filched some Dracon-language grammar endings from the Middle Kingdoms books, subverted them a bit, and plugged them in where necessary. (All the time, C. J. Cherryh’s work in HUNTER OF WORLDS was on my mind. Carolyn does not stop to discuss grammar with you, but by the time you finish the book, you understand a fair amount of the iduve language, enough to get along with them and keep one of them from killing you, which is the whole point. CJ is a genius with languages.)

And except for assigning meanings to some words and constructed phrases, that’s all the work I did.

…The Rihannsu-language generator has been ported into other languages by sweet and dedicated geeks to whom I am indebted. I’ll find links and add them here later. 

ETA: here’s a link to a Python version at GitHub. Someone apparently also did a Ruby version a couple of years back.

  1. bamboocounting reblogged this from dduane
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  3. cityofshiftinglight reblogged this from dduane and added:
    ohmygosh diane duane likes/remembers my rihannsu language generator *_____* that was easily the most fun i ever had on a...
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  5. starlit-sorceress-jewelry reblogged this from dduane and added:
    Reblogged for fictional language commentary and because Diane Duane’s Rihannsu series is my favorite Star Trek lit ever!...
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  10. tiny-little-dot said: This post made me should “WHAT I LOVE YOU” at my computer screen. Particularly the paragraph about the random phoneme string generator.
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  14. lizawithazed reblogged this from dduane and added:
    Rhiannsu was one of the reasons I fell totally in love with ms Duane’s writing and to this day still reread MY Enemy My...
  15. aventinemintha reblogged this from dduane and added:
    The Rihannsu series: aka some of the best Trek fiction ever. Seriously, my followers, if you haven’t read this yet, and...
  16. needstosortoutpriorities reblogged this from dduane and added:
    Still my favorite Trek novel of all time. Ael is awesome. And so is this. And so are you.
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