Back in February I wrote about The Thedas Language Project, an enormous undertaking by a Dragon Age fan and language creator to expand on the languages of Thedas. The aim of the project was to help in deepening our immersion within the world of Dragon Age through its many languages.
It started out with "Project Elvhen", which was the project's creator's way of expanding on the language of the elves in Dragon Age, and it just ballooned from there. Now he wants to take on all of Thedas in what I described as the most epic fan project ever undertaken.
I got a chance to talk with the project's creator today to ask him what in the world would posses him to do something so daunting but also to get to know him a little.
So first of all, tell me a little about yourself and how you got into languages in the first place. What about the subject drew you in?
Well I suppose, there's the obvious answer. I'm Mark, I'm a 30 year old guy, aspiring writer, conlanger, etc. What originally drew me into languages was trying to create languages for a table-top game I was creating at the time. I looked into whether other people had done the same (I had only ever heard of Elvish from LOTR, and Klingon from Star Wars at this point) and it was then that I learned that there was a whole community of people who created languages, specifically the Language Creation Society (which I've officially been a part of for the past year).
From that point onward, my desire to create those languages drove me forward. But when I started researching linguistics and other areas, I found out that I actually rather enjoyed it, both linguistics and conlanging that is. And since then I have been doing it for the joy of it as well as for my personal projects.
That's pretty cool, actually. I honestly didn't know there was a whole community of people dedicated to creating languages. So what inspired you to take on the languages of Dragon Age? Of all the fantasy settings out there, why Thedas?
At first it was just a personal resource. I had a personal roleplaying blog on Tumblr where I played a Dragon Age character, and since that character spoke Elvhen, I decided to simply collate what information was available into a personal resource.
It was at that point that I realized that the language was, in fact, not really a language - but a cipher. I don't mean a cipher in the sense of a code, but rather a simple replacement. For example, instead of having a full grammar system, syntax, etc, it was simply just "This word means this, this word means this," and using it in the same way that you would use English.
At that point I decided that I would work to expand upon it - again only for my own use. When I saw people actually take an interest in it, I decided that it would be neat to expand upon it fully - creating a conlang from the resources we had, so that other fans like myself could enjoy the world more through the language. Since then, it's expanded and now I have the daunting goal of expanding upon all the langauges established in the universe, with the Thedas Language Project.
Not going to lie, that's a pretty ambitious project you've taken on, especially considering just how many different cultures there are in Thedas. Going back to your original project, Project Elvhen, can you walk me through the process of turning a cipher into an actual conlang? What goes into making an actual language and how much time did it take you to get to a place where you felt that it was useable?
Honestly, I don't think it's even in a fully useable state now, even with all the work I've done, but I can tend to be self-deprecating. In terms of how much time, I started "official" work back in December 2014, so I've been working on it just over a full year now.
It certainly takes a lot of work, as I'm not only required to create something that I feel makes sense, but I have to take the canon materials into consideration as well. I can't just ignore all the canon information, even if that would make my job easier (and it would, believe me). I've had to create a grammar system, a syntax system, and a rather large lexicon (1725 words, and counting, including the canon words). All of which, of course, had to fit with the canon materials - or at least the most important canon materials.
I also had to make sure that all the new words and systems meshed with what was created before - both in terms of aesthetics and logic. But I still have a ways to go, and as with any conlang - it will never truly be complete. But I do hope to eventually turn the entire project over to the fans once the Thedas Language Project website is up and running, and once I've gotten to a point where I'm comfortable doing that.
I remember seeing something about the website idea. How would that work? Fans submit words and you alone approve it or will you have people working with you on the site itself?
The idea I have currently, is that it would be a voting system. People would submit words, and if that word got a certain number of votes, it would be included in the lexicon. Words wouldn't be able to be removed, but their definitions could be modified based upon a vote as well which, I think, makes sense both from a fan perspective, and also from the perspective that language changes over time, and so it's natural to assume that many words would have their definitions expanded or changed over time
Obviously there would be moderators and such to deal with problems, but overall the system to create new words would be entirely in the hands of the community.
Do you have a timeline on the thing or is pretty must still in a gestation period?
It's still in gestation, just because I'm such a control freak that I want my fingers in every pie at this point, but I'm also working a lot of hours at my day job, so my free time is rather limited.
I hope to have a basic website up and running by April, so we'll see if I can keep that.
Last but not least, do you think you can give the readers a parting message in Elvhen?
I suppose, but I'll have to resist the temptation to say something incredibly silly.
Not that they'd know anyway. Hah.
Ga ele in manlain, y sulo or em'an ithal su u'vunen. It means "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." It's an Oscar Wilde quote
Well, Mark, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me and I wish you all the luck in the world with the project.
You're welcome :)
Though he's still doing some work with Elvhen, Mark has recently set his sights on Alamarri and has started Project Alamarri so that he can expand on the language of the Avvar and Chasind.
You can check out all of his work both for Elvhen and Alamarri on Archive of Our Own. Links down below. You can also help support his work via Patreon.