The Art of Conlanging

Chapter 2: I don't even see the code any more! (Ciphers)

Before getting into serious conlanging, here's an option for people who just need a quick language for a couple of sentences in their story. It's called a cipher.

A cipher is a code created from an existing language and its alphabet. This option is also good for sending secret messages (as long as the other person has a decoding key).

There are only two published ciphers that I know of: Al Bhed from Final Fantasy X and Dinosaur Language from Star Fox Adventures.

Basically, you take a letter of the alphabet (say, "t" in English) and replace all t's in that language with, say, "h". So now hhings look like hhis, hoo bad for hhose who don'h know abouh ciphers! Then, you repeat for as many letters as desired in the alphabet, making sure that only 1 English letter corresponds with one of the Cipher's letters. So, in Al Bhed you have rammu for hello. (h to r; e to a; l to m; o to u).

Ciphers also typically have things called "keywords". These are words that don't get "translated" into the cipher, typically names of people or places. Keywords can also be words that you want the reader to understand instantly or words that have no "translation" in your cipher.

Ciphers are great in writing, but speaking them is another thing altogether. If you want a cipher to be spoken, you must take great care in exchanging letters whose sounds work well together. For instance, Al Bhed switched the vowels only with other vowels. Good idea. Otherwise you could have words with no vowels!

The only problem with this kind of "language" is that you have no flexibility in changing the mechanics of the language. Like I said, it's for the quick and dirty small-usage languages. It really only gives the illusion of a new language. One more warning: don't copy someone else's cipher without permission and use it in the same fantasy world as it was intended. Using Al Bhed is okay in FFX contexts, but simply ripping off someone else's hard work for your own stories is not okay.

The Bottom line: Ciphers are great for a few sentences sprinkled in for flavor but not for a large scale focus on your language. They are also not good for conversing.

Next Chapter: What's in a name? (Naming languages)