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Posted by on Oct 23, 2009 | 1 comment

Language Design Techniques for Sound Designers


Language Design for Sound Designers, an amazing article created by Darren Blondin. I read it last year, but found it again while reviewing my bookmarks. I got the idea of sharing it on Twitter and I noticed that various people didn’t know about that (and they really liked it!), so for those who don’t use Twitter or don’t follow Designing Sound @ Twitter, I decided to make this post and let them know this articlethis article (if you have not yet known). It’s very interesting!

Language sound design is a weird audio craft that few sound designers have gotten the chance to explore. Trying to find documentation on it is rather like figuring out how to win a game of cheese-rolling, the hugely disregarded suicidal sport of Goucestershire. You can pick up a few facts here and there, but as it has not really been acknowledged as a skill you will find few books that illuminate how to do it. Nonetheless, some of the most interesting sound design works have incorporated the use of constructed languages (commonly referred to as conlangs). In this article, I would like to present information on how to invent your own languages from the angle of character sound design. Linguistics is a relatively deep subject but as you will find, you need not get buried far in the principles of language construction to bestow its powers in your sound design work.

Conlangs are languages that are invented by creative linguists most often for use in fictional stories. The Klingon language, designed especially for the Star Trek universe, would be an example of a conlang. Language sound design is a term that I am using to represent sound design work that utilizes a conlang. The most famous examples of language sound design encompass the seemingly endless assortment of non-English speaking alien characters in Star Wars. There is also a grey area in-between. For example, English dialog that is manipulated to the point of sounding non-human, like the voices of the Black Lodge in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Audio specialists may or may not have involvement in creating a conlang as these tasks are normally handled by linguists and writers. Be that as it may, a sound designer will approach language invention from a very different angle than a linguist, using microphones, signal processors and high tech audio mixing techniques. Language design by sound designers is a whole different ballpark that deserves serious creative investigation. Having knowledge about conlang design will undoubtedly help you to create outlandish character voices for your projects.

When approaching a sound project, I make sure that my technique is not driven solely by the best examples in entertainment. So, for instance, if I am going to create the sound of a diving airplane, the last place I would begin my research is by listening to plane crashes in blockbuster films. This would not give me a clear understanding of the physical sounds I am aiming to emulate and it certainly would not inspire me to design something original. Therefore, in the case of language sound design, a good place to look for ideas might be plain old linguistics.

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