Friday, 25 March 2011

Sylph Language Used in "Markan Throne"

Relax, I'm not about to dump an entire lexicon on you!

Languages add an extra dimension to stories but, unless the books are set on our world and use our collection of tongues, fantasy languages are obviously going to be constructs.  Called ConLangs, these form an entire subset in the fantasy genre.  Because these languages are unknown to all except the author and perhaps his inner circle, necessity restricts the use of a conlang within a book.

In Markan Throne, it is safe to assume whenever sylphs are talking together - or for that matter sylphs and humans - that they are using the sylph language.  Some words are left in the sylph vernacular and are either translated, or their meaning is fairly obvious.  The exceptions are those that this posting explores.

I've further restricted the posting to those sylph words used in Chapter One, which will be posted here in its entirety for Sample Sunday (#samplesunday on Twitter).

The words I leave untranslated in Chapter One are:

Donenya and enya.  These salutations are similar and have a common ancestry in the conlang, but have quite different meanings. 

Donenya means master or sir, and is generally used as a respectful form of address to humans who are not their owners.  It is sometimes used as a formal address to their own humans, or if owner and owned are not particularly close, such as between farm sylphs and the farmer.

Enya is the more usual form address from a sylph to a (male) owner.  This word also means father, though in the local dialect of sylph used in the book, enya for father ends in a long, rather than a short, "a".  The female equivalents of these words are donanya and anya. 

The ya can be added as a suffix to a human's name and means honoured, or honourable.  It fills a similar function to the Japanese "san".  Don is a general term for adult humans, en indicates masculine and an indicates feminine.

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-y-.  As in Belaika-y-Marcus.  This small, monosyllabic word (pronounced "why" or "aye") is almost as flexible as se bata (see below).  In the example above, Belaika belongs to Marcus, so the y means "belonging to" (it literally translates as "of").  Belaika could also have his name written as -y-Eleka (married to); -y-Heshara (son of, father); -y-Telnara (son of, mother); -y-Vintner (belonging to the family).

It can be used to denote nationality, tribe or social group.  In some dialects, particularly further south on the continent, it is used to show where a sylph was born, or lives.  Like so many of the simple sylph words, the meaning is flexible, depending usually on local custom and need.

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Ebatela literally translates as "self-battle", the root word (batel) a clear borrowing from the human tongue.  To the sylph scouts, its real meaning is "self-defence", a type of martial art where combatants do not touch.  Sylphs are non-violent, so can be prone to bullying.  This technique of fighting uses an attacker's strength and momentum against him and is suitable for sylphs to use, and very effective.  Soldiers in Marcus Vintner's army also learn ebatela.

This word is a compound from two root words.  E is the first person, in this instance meaning "self"; and batel is a borrowing that literally means "battle", but used in this instance for "defence". 
(The "a" at the end of the word identifies it as a noun, or part of a noun group.  This appears when the word is used alone, or when it is the last word in a sentence.  Sylph grammar is not the subject of this posting, however!)

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Se bata.  A book could - and might - be written about the use of this small phrase, probably the most frequent words uttered by sylphs to humans.  These are the most flexible pair of words in the entire sylph lexicon.

From a technical point of view, se bata is nothing more than an acknowledgement.  Se is the first person derogatory, used from an inferior to a superior (in social terms at least) and bat is the root word meaning "obey".  As se bata is a noun group (thanks to the "a" at the end), the nearest translation is "compliance".  Usually, this is exactly what happens.

A muttered se bata is not, however, a guarantee that the instruction will be carried out.  No urgency or imperative is implied, it is only a casual acceptance of the command.  Non-responses occur, but disregarded orders are very rare indeed.  Sylphs almost always strive to please.

As with almost all sylph phrases, se bata can be graded with increasingly formal use.  Se batu converts the noun group to a verb group and implies that the command will be dealt with.  Se batut is stronger still, with its imperative overtones, but neither response is heard very often, and no urgency is necessarily implied.

Se bata can even be mocking.  It is sometimes said with the purpose of putting a sylph of inferior status in his place, a reminder that sometimes one can have ideas above his proper station.  Humans also use it, but to show that they have been insulted.

There is yet another variant, and this can help a sylph overcome almost any obstruction to his obedience.  Se alut batut is the most formal, translating as "I must obey".  Rarely heard, and usually only when a third party is trying to stop a sylph from following his orders.

"You can't come in here" for example, may be countered with se alut batut.  The actual meaning - "I must obey" - is hardly the ultimate in reasoned debate, but the implications are what's important here.  It actually translates under these circumstances as: "Been told to do this, so must do it, or I will get into trouble".  Only the hardest hearts will stand in the way of these three words.

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This concludes the posting on the sylph language... for now.  More about this conlang, including a grammar, will eventually be published as a free ebook.

Markan Throne is available at Amazom.com here and at Amazon.co.uk here.

It is also available at Smashwords.com.  For those who enjoy samples, click on the link and scroll down the page...  35% of Markan Throne is free at Smashwords.

I will be posting a sample chapter here on Sunday.

Until then, be well all.

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