Language Meanders

My name is Alma and I’m a word nerd. You see, I grew up with bits of pieces of languages tossed around the house, in addition to English. I started learning Spanish in grade school, moved, and restarted Spanish and Latin in high school. But I’d already learned some liturgical Latin, and Yiddish, and bits of this and that, and started wondering where words came from, and how languages developed. And as I got older, I discovered that you are not supposed to do that any more. Because linguistics is no longer about etymology and other fascinating stuff.Etymology and historical linguistics have intrigued me for as long as I can remember. How did that word come about? What did it used to mean? One reason this catches my fancy stems from how I learn languages. I have a knack for it, probably related to lots of ear training as a child that developed into an ability to memorize sounds easily. I also learn poetry easily.

Languages are a bit like a series of spider webs, with words and concepts interconnected, so knowing the history of a word in English and High German, thence middle German, and on back to Indo-European, ties into historical geography, foodways, and other things. Or that’s how it works between my ears, once I’m past the rote memorization phase. And the more connections I can make, the tighter things lock and the easier it is for me to remember what I want to say or type. At least it is with Romance and Germanic languages. My brushes with Slavic languages and Magyar were fascinating but not much stuck. On the up side, Magyar is like Italian – it is see say, so there are no mysterious letters to puzzle over.

Although it doesn’t show up in the books, I’ve worked out some of the rules for Azdhagi, based on what I’ve learned about Earth languages. Azdhagi has more gutterals than does English, because without flexible lips, sounds like p,b, and d run together. Instead the Azdhagi use lots of bright vowel sounds, like ee, ae, ai, sibilants, and “puffed” sounds made through the upper resonator (a grunt-like sound through the nose) or in the rear of the mouth. The language is partially inflected, but not as much as Chinese, say. Rada Ni Drako speaks Azdhagi about as well as anyone with her mouth shape can, and even she still gets tangled and misunderstood.

Azdhag grammar is based on word order. The basic pattern is: subject (modifiers) verb (modifiers) object (modifiers, including indirect object), time signifier. So you would say “Mammal Lord Ni Drako go to manor Singing Pines with Zabet concubine tomorrow.” Rada’s war fan, from which she gets her court name of Lord Reh-dakh, is a reh-dakh schleerah a “fan iron weapon/war.” Not too hard, is it? We’ll skip what happens when you start getting adverbial phrases and descriptive clauses. There’s a reason Rada is grateful for the conditioning she endured to be able to adapt to multiple languages. Although she thinks English (and its descendent Republic Standard) is a hot mess of contradictions and chaos.  She’s right. If you read John McWhorter, he’s got a very strong argument about English being a pidgin, with Germanic and Norman words on a Celtic/Briton grammar base. OK, back to Azdhag.

The time signifier came about because originally Azdhag had no separation between simple past and other past tenses, ditto future tense. At some point prior to the Great Relocation, the time signifier developed in order to show how far in the past or future the action did/will take place.

You can see why I don’t try to write stories using Azdhag as it is spoken. It’s one thing to do a book entirely in dialect, like the Uncle Remus stories, or Clockwork Orange. It’s another to try to switch between standard English and a literal translated foreign language, with all the concepts involved in it. Just translating “Lord Mammal” would entail concepts about nobility, duty, the place of mammals on Drakon IV, and Rada’s status in court. The word for the honorific “lord” in this case includes her status as head of House Ni Drako, further complicating matters.


Further Reading: David Anthony, The Wheel, the Horse, and Language about theory, archaeology, and the origins of Indo-European.

John McWhorter, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue More about the history of grammar than you ever wanted to know, in a well written small book.

Bill Bryson, The Mother Tongue An entertaining popular history of English.