Languages of the Gnome Archipelago

Language in the Gnome Archipelago
As a South African and Linguistics student I feel it is important to include various languages in my story. What better way to emphasise diversity than with different languages? However, unlike Tolkien, I have yet to create a language (or rather conlang) of my own (though I’m working on it!). So, I have shamelessly used languages from our world that work as placeholders for the languages in my story. The lingua franca or most commonly spoken language in the Gnome Archipelago is ‘Gnomenclaturan‘ or as it is more commonly known ‘Gnormal‘. I have used English to represent this lingua franca as it is the language in which I am the most proficient. The second distinct language that appears in my story is Dragonish or Dragon Tongue, the language of the dragons (if that wasn’t clear). I have used Afrikaans to represent this language. Any relations between Afrikaans speakers and Dragons is purely coincidental. The third language, Xofam, which is spoken by the Jojoji is not so much a distinct language as a different phonetic realisation of English. It works like a substitution cipher. I got the idea from playing Final Fantasy X, where the fictional ‘language’ Al Bhed uses the same system. But, more on that later.

Why no translation?
Although some characters tend to interpret dialogue (thanks Jack) there remains a large amount of untranslated dialogue in my story. I have done this because I want the reader to feel like they are in the same shoes as the characters. In the interactions with the Jojoji no one speaks Xofam and I want the reader to feel as out of place and confused as the characters do. Translating would kill it. Which brings me to my next point. Translation is mistranslation. It involves brute forcing one language into another, often at the cost of unique descriptions, humour and other language specific nuances. I very much did not want my story to be entirely in English. How boring. For the cats who don’t speak Afrikaans I suggest learning the language. For those unable or unwilling to learn Afrikaans I will tentatively suggest Google translate (note: loss of nuance and hilarious mistranslation likely). Or, you could just read it as gibberish, like so many of us do with languages we don’t know. Understanding requires us to learn. But, now I’m getting deep.

Deciphering Xofam
Xofam works like a substitution cipher. In other words, it uses other letter(s)/character(s) in place of the usual English alphabet. So, a word like welcome in English will be oinqybi in Xofam. Look at it like this: Each letter is substituted for another/others.
w(o) e(i) l(n) c(q) o(y) m(b) e(i)
Make sense? Sweet. Then here are the English-Xofam alphabets side-by-side. Enjoy deciphering.



Note: u is substituted by ‘ (an apostrophe)