The more you think about it, the funnier the idea of language becomes.
Somehow humans all collectively agreed to impose meaning on sounds and symbols in order to communicate with one another.
And we didn’t just do that once. We’ve done it countless times over human history. We do it every time language evolves and words are added to the common vernacular or some author invents a whole fictional universe as a vehicle for their obsession--looking at you, Tolkien.
Not only do we use language to communicate, it literally affects our experience of the world around us. For example, people who have more words for colors have been known to be able to perceive more nuance between different shades and hues.
This is demonstrated particularly well in the book, The Giver by Lois Lowry. As a collective society, the people have no words for colors. The protagonist is slowly given the words for the colors and with the language for them, gains the ability to perceive them. That’s not to say that everyone around him experiences the world in black and white--and in fact, couldn’t because they didn’t even know the words black and white--it’s that they simply are not aware enough of the concept of color to perceive the differences between the tones.
Now, it’s unlikely that you’ll be writing a story where your characters are unfamiliar with the concept of color, however, it’s important to consider the nature of language as you’re writing and what effect it will have on your worldbuilding.
Take the common English phrase, “no dice.” The term was coined during the early 1900s when gambling was illegal in many places and frowned upon just about everywhere else. If someone was brought up on charges of gambling, a judge would often require that the dice be presented as proof of guilt. If there were no dice, there was often no conviction. Nowadays, we use the phrase as a way to say that something isn’t going to happen or doesn’t exist.
“Did you ask your professor for an extension?”
“Yeah, no dice. Guess I should get started.”
However, set in a story where dice don’t exist, this phrase would mean nothing. In that case, your character would need to use an expression with less implied meaning such as “no luck” or “nothing doing.” The same would go for terms such as “roll the dice” or “stack the deck.” Both of these are also derived from gambling terms, and inevitably raise the question, is there gambling in this world? And if there’s gambling, does that mean there are casinos? Back alley loan sharks? Enforcers? What kind of legal and economic repercussions does this all have for your society? What does it all mean for your protagonist?
Just remember, loose lips can sink ships and a thoughtless utterance on the part of your character can have many further implications that you might be prepared for.
Until next time, goodbye!*
Derived from the term “Godbwye,” which is a contraction of the phrase “God be with ye,” this common English farewell couldn’t exist without the influence of a dominant monotheistic religion.