Something Positive

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One of the most important benefits of language is that it fosters the organization of thought.  One of the most interesting things about the study of language in its many forms is what it tells us about transcultural psychology.

For instance, do you know what is perhaps the most widely disseminated term in a given language?

Gracias.  Grazie.  Merci.  Danke.  Arigato.  I’m willing to bet that the majority of you native English speakers could tell me not only what that means, but also the language to which each of those words belongs.  I bet many of you have even used one or two for fun in an otherwise English conversation.  And yet, I imagine most of you couldn’t tell me off the top of your head what the word for ‘I’ is in those same languages.

That says something kind of nice about what we at large have felt is most important to be able to convey to our fellow earthlings, don’t you think?

 

Bene scribete, et gratias vobis ago.

Letter Palettes

A while back, I talked a bit about what you might consider when naming characters, and today I thought I would follow up by expounding specifically on the topic of pulling words out of your—well, making them up.

Letter Palette

Uh…

 

When concocting names for characters, places, or objects, we tend to favor certain sounds.  Where we gravitate is mostly informed by the language(s) we speak, and what we’ve come to associate with pre-established words and names.  Certain phonemes build specific impressions in our minds, and we rely on this context to put together fitting verbal symbols for whatever we’re assigning them to.  Whether or not this is typically done on a conscious level, identifying and mapping out your preferences (both general and circumstantial) can be a useful endeavor.

For instance, my general letter palette would look like this:

 

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A C D E I K L M N R S T J O Q V X Y Z B F G H P U W

 

The first column represents what I feel are the most benign letters, and I use them fairly indiscriminately.  The second contains letters that I like at certain times, but aren’t as ubiquitously usable.  The third holds the letters that I tend to avoid.  When my intent is to give a name a rough or unpleasant edge, however, these preferences easily operate in reverse.  The initial and terminal letters of the word will be particularly prone to these guidelines.

Now, this chart is pretty simplistic, containing only letters from the English Roman alphabet and not taking digraphs into account, but you get the idea.  I’m calling it a letter palette (as opposed to a simply phonetic one) because visual aesthetics are also a consideration – sounds can often be written a number of ways, and their appeal can be tweaked as such.

Making a general purpose palette for yourself can be an enlightening exercise, but they become particularly handy when tailored for specific sets.  If, for your story, you need to create a distinct culture with its associated terminology and members’ names, planning out a letter palette for it can help you quicken the process while maintaining a consistent feel.

 

So, do you find yourself with particular letter preferences?  Could you define your own general palette?

 

Bene scribete.