For some the opportunity to study languages is pure joy and for others pure frustration. And yet to not be able to communicate at all is an emotional prison.
Not many novelists today have the time, or the desire, to create entire languages as did Tolkien, but if you do—start with a beginning layer and build as you go. Keep a vocabulary list for the words you create. Decide on verb tenses. Are they singular or will they conjugate into past, present and future?
Perhaps an entire vocabulary is not needed, but just a sprinkle of words throughout to give the language a unique flavor. Farscape knew that their warriors would not be real if they said ‘oh darn’ when really furious, but they also wanted their series to attract family viewers, so they invented the swear words.
The Firefly series incorporates real Mandarin Chinese within their Western genre atmosphere creating an entirely new and unique setting.
Some of you may use horses in your novels. Consider the possibility of making up your own distinct vocabulary just for them. Or make a list of all the everyday descriptions of horse care, riding, food, and gear and then choose another language. Put them all in French or Arabic, Spanish or Portuguese.
Another are common to most worlds are the social or government hierarchy. Keep the familiar roles in the one you choose, but substitute a different vocabulary when possible.
Exercise: Choose a scene with one aspect of your world either in transportation, government, social conversation, a family ritual, or music. Make up some words to substitute, either in a ‘new’ language or by incorporating a translation.
Share: Would a visitor be able to understand what is being communicated or be totally bewildered? Which do you want to happen plot wise?