Tho Fan


Was machen Sie?

i didn't know where to put this but i found it interesting, enjoy!

<H5>April 19, 2005
Do You Speak Tho Fan? It's All the Rage in Jade Empire

[size=-1]By STEPHEN TOTILO [/size]
he language Tho Fan sounds ancient and distinctly Asian. Its "sh" sounds come from the back of the throat, as they do in Chinese. Its "r" sounds are made with a tap of the tongue, echoing Mongolian.

But Tho Fan comes from Canada and was invented only last year. Created in four months, for just over $2,000, it is a real language spoken by unreal people in the Xbox game Jade Empire, released this week. Perhaps it is a sign that, these days, languages are not so much discovered as invented.

Early last year, developers at the game maker BioWare were working on a heroic role-playing game set in a mythical Asia and began thinking about language. "We were sort of writing a love song to the history of China," said Jim Bishop, Jade Empire's producer.

Still, they wanted to avoid using Chinese or any other Asian language that might shackle their invented universe to actual historical events. At the same time, they did not want to resort to unintelligible nonsense.

"We wanted to make this world seem as real as possible," Mr. Bishop said.

Ultimately, more than 90 percent of Jade Empire's 15,000 lines of recorded dialogue were in English, but Mr. Bishop's team, based in Edmonton, Alberta, also decided to add the exotic aural flair of an Asian-sounding language, subtitled in English.

The attempt to create a language from scratch is rare in modern fiction. J. R. R. Tolkien, a linguist as well as a writer, created several for the "Lord of the Rings" saga. In 1985, another linguist, Mark Okrand, codified the "Star Trek" language Klingon in a published dictionary, which in turn led to Klingon editions of "Hamlet" and the ancient Babylonian epic "Gilgamesh."

But these were exceptions. The alien languages in science fiction and fantasy books and movies largely consist of nonsense: grunts and chirps arranged to convey the illusion of exotic intelligence. Occasionally, as in the "Star Wars" films, writers will introduce a few alien words to which they have given meanings but that don't constitute a working language. "You could use them to find a bathroom and that's about it," Mr. Bishop said.

Games have even fewer functional tongues. The denizens of the hit computer game The Sims, for example, speak in Simlish, a caffeinated warble that is more mood-appropriate gibberish than real language.

In its quest for a new language, BioWare contacted the linguistics department at the nearby University of Alberta and came across Wolf Wikeley, 32, a Ph.D. candidate with a weakness for Japanese animation and first-person-shooter video games. He seemed like a find.

"Not many people have funny anecdotes about Klingon," Mr. Bishop said. Mr. Wikeley had grown up in a language-rich household. His parents taught German, French and Italian and could speak several other languages. Japanese lessons had played on the family phonograph. And then there was the linguistic influence of Mr. Wikeley's favorite fiction.

"A huge event in my life was seeing 'Star Wars' when I was 4," he said. "Probably a lot of my ear came from that." He said he took to mimicking the film's alien languages, noting that at least one seemed to consist of just three overused words.

If one set of fictional characters had given him his ear, he was eager to answer BioWare's call to give others their voice. He set about asking Mr. Bishop's team questions. He wanted to know the speakers' physiology. If they had no teeth, they wouldn't be able to make a "t" or "th" sound. They had teeth.

He wanted to know the speakers' demeanor. In a willful violation of a fundamental tenet of linguistics, his invented language would reflect its speakers' cultural character.

"If they're a violent race, I'm going to give them a lot of really harsh sounds," he said. "If they're an ethereal race like elves, I'm going to give them a whispering, hushing sound."

According to the initial plan, speakers of Tho Fan (pronounced THOH-fan) would be a servant class. Mr. Wikeley made their speech soft and deferential.

He invented an alphabet and began making words, 50 a day and then 200. "Person" would be "uyu" (pronounced OO-yoo). Blood was "kawisrihr" (caw-wee-SHEER). Some words were inside jokes: Rabbit was "punihrapith" (POO-knee-raw-peeth). Similarly, the word for "director" was "wankaawayi," sounding somewhat like Wong Kar-wai, the Hong Kong film director.

As the words took shape, Mr. Wikeley set about bonding them into sentences. Here he saw a rare opportunity. He could invent grammar and rules that had never been used before. That way Tho Fan wouldn't completely match the rhythm of existing languages, which, he said, is an easy way to spot a fake language. In a twist, Tho Fan would do without the verb "to be"; instead, articles - words like "a" and "the" - would be used to mark tense.

After testing his new language's functionality by translating the first chapter of John's Gospel, he delivered a 2,500-word language to BioWare. Then a plot change recast the speakers of Tho Fan as imperialists. The language's deferential softness would no longer imply servile humility, but rather the elegance of the elite.

Since then, Mr. Wikeley has created four more languages for another BioWare game, Dragon Age. In the interest of a verisimilitude that perhaps only a linguist would notice, he has invented a history that explains how and when each tongue borrowed or modified a word from another, across thousands of fictional years.

Mr. Bishop reflected on whether the effort was worth it for Jade Empire. He said new languages help make the creative process feel more real; it helps the game's makers feel as if they had rich, existing culture resources from which to draw.

But would players notice?

"I can hear the difference," Mr. Bishop said. "But I don't know if anyone can tell the difference between this and gibberish."

i found the article interesting for a several reasons, one of which is how "life-like" gaming is becoming (inventing a new language just for effect? -that's crazy!), also how'd you like to do what he does for a living? and lastly b/c people actually adopt these new languages and forever associate say klingon w/ star wars...insane, but cool.