Constructing Languages: Word Orders (2a/4)


Now it’s time to start thinking about basic syntax, or word order. Because we’re only making a naming language, sentence level word order isn’t all that necessary unless you have a few phrases or bits of text from your culture, such as a spell, prayer, or greeting.

Word Order

There are six main types of word order for languages, based on the placement of Subjects, Verbs, and Objects. Some orders are more common than others, while some are so rare that only one or two real languages use them. The following is a list of the major word orders, from most common to least, coupled with some languages that use that order, as well as an example sentence:

SOV (Turkish, Japanese) “John dogs sees.”

SVO (English, Mandarin) “John sees dogs.”

VSO (Irish, Hebrew) “Sees John dogs.”

VOS (Malagasy) “Sees dogs John.”

OVS (Hixkaryana) “Dogs sees John.”

OSV (Warao) “Dogs John sees.”

However, just because a certain word order is less common than others doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose it. All of them are perfectly valid. Furthermore, you can use word order to give a certain spice to your language. For instance Marc Okrand, the creator of Klingon chose the word order OVS to make the language seem more alien. For the naming language we’re making here, I’m going to choose the word order VSO. My first reason for picking this is because it’s my favorite word order. My second reason is because this order while not very common, but isn’t super rare either. It will give the language a way of doing things that most speakers of English aren’t too familiar with, which I feel will make my world a bit more interesting.

Something more important to think about for a naming language is the placement of adjectives and determiners (words like “the” “a” “this” “that” –  numbers can often be lumped into this category, which is what I’ll be doing here for simplicity, but you can tinker with their placement as well if you’d like). This will be much more important when you start naming the various locations around your world. For each of these two types of words there are two spots to put them in; either in front of their noun, or after it. Here we end up with four possible combinations:

The Red Hills

The Hills Red

Red Hills The

Hills Red The

All of them are perfectly valid, and whichever one you choose is up to you. There are some issues that can come into play with the determiners based on what verbal word order you have, but that’s a topic for a later discussion. For a naming language you don’t need to worry too much about it. For my demo language, I’m going to have determiners come before their noun, and adjectives come after. Making up some words for the above example I get: E Kuran Aste which has a rather nice ring to it.

Naming Geographical Features

        The next step, if you haven’t already done so, will be to make start making some words for various geographical features. You should also create some adjectives that will pair well with them. After that, start playing around with some word orders. See which ones fit best, which ones sound just right to you. Maybe you’ll find that while a certain word order seems to fit, it causes the words to sound a bit off, or vice versa. It’s completely ok to refine your language whenever you see fit. You could even completely overhaul it. It might take a few iterations but eventually you’ll have the perfect naming language for your world.

        Now comes the first step in applying your naming language, naming your places. Place names can come from all sorts of paradigms:

  •         The simplest solution is to just name your geographical features or cities after their surroundings – The Red Hills, East Lake, High Peak(s), Ocean Grove, The Straight, Atlantic City.
  •         You could name it after an existing place –  New York, New Hampshire, New England, New France, New Spain, New Mexico, Paris (Texas), London (Ontario)
  •         You’d be surprised at how many places just get called New Town – Neustadt, Naples (Napoli), Yenişehir, Xincheng, Villanova, Novgorod, Nyborg, Neuveville
  •         Expressions of gratitude, thanksgiving, or hope – (New) Haven, (New) Hope.  
  •         Positive nouns and adjectives are common as well – Perfection, La Paz, Concord, Pleasantville, Safe Harbor.
  •         Of course any adjective + noun combo will work for a quick town name, though you may have to create any words you don’t already have.
  •         How far you are from some point of interest – Half Day Point
  •         It could be named after the people that were there originally. Paris is named for the Parisii tribe.
  •         It could be a name from some other culture, most likely one that was there first. This is very common across the United States with names of Native American origins – Massachusetts, Mississippi, Miami. Others such as Detroit (The Straights), Vermont,  Colorado, Florida, California, and many others come to us from the French and Spanish who once occupied large portions of North America. So a key here is that older settlements may have these sorts of names.

·         Cities and locations may also get their name from the person who founded, discovered, or conquered them – Alexandria, Jacksonville, Charleston. A name may also come from a mythological hero or god/spirit. This would be a good place to think about how your language marks possession such that you could have John’s Cove, or The Port of Gerax.


A List of Words (2b/4): This links to a list of words which will be very useful in naming places and figuring out your language and is a supplement to this part.


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