Hello to everyone at Mythcreants,

My question is about how to deal with semi-representative cultures – namely, those that deal with language. There are several countries in the world of my story whose people speak languages that are equivalent to real-life languages (The examples I shall use are Gorrik, which speaks an equivalent to German, and Mooren, which speaks an equivalent to Croatian) but have no other ties to the real-life cultures whose languages they speak.

My worry is that German, Croatian, etc. readers may end up offended that these cultures use their language. In the example of Gorrik, it is a militaristic nation with a slave system and a generally apathetic outlook among its citizens – for lack of a better term, the people of Gorrik lack true emotion. As for Mooren, it is located in secluded frozen lands and is what you would get if you combined Viking, Inuit, and Native American cultures.

Obviously, neither of these fictional countries are representative of Germany or Croatia, but is there something I can do to prevent them being perceived as such and then offending my readers?

– Caide

Hi Caide,

The best advice I can give: Take any cultures you have that are semi-representative of groups you are not part of, and change them until they are not representative. Partial representation is usually alienating to people of that culture. That means either the fictional culture needs to be completely fictional and not use specific characteristics of any real group, or it needs to be a very authentic and well-researched stand-in for the culture. The latter requires an enormous amount of work for anyone who isn’t already a participant in the culture at some level.

I’m sure you have your reasons for choosing real languages, but I think we can find another solution for you that won’t come off as bad German-speakers and Croatian-speakers. Even if someone isn’t German or Croatian, if they recognize the language it will probably feel weird to them.

If your languages are conlangs inspired by German or Croatian, the best solution is just to change the language enough that its roots aren’t recognizable anymore.

If you are using real language to avoid creating a conlang, you don’t actually need a fictional language in a written work. Instead of writing dialogue for the people that speak the language, just summarize how that they are speaking something the viewpoint character can’t understand (or if they do understand, put it in English and then describe that they are actually speaking in this other language). This approach creates a much better experience for readers.

You described one of your cultures as a combination of Viking, Inuit, and Native American cultures. If you are combining real cultures to create a fictional one, you want to make sure the fictional culture doesn’t actually come off as a mash-up of those cultures, but something different. So for this culture, you’ll want to go through and get rid of stuff that obviously was taken from any of those cultures, for instance, dream catchers. Sometimes, all it takes is changing the name. Many cultures have sacred visions induced by substances, but if you call it a “spirit quest,” that will feel like it was taken from a Native American tribe.

I’m sorry if that wasn’t the news you were hoping for, but it’s better to make edits while you still can.

Best wishes,

Chris

Keep the answer engine fueled by becoming a patron today. Want to ask something? Submit your question here.