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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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They still do speak the Old Tongue among themselves, but the first two who were freed, Aginor and Balthamel, had been held very near to the edge of the sealing, the reason they were so visibly affected and twisted while the rest came out whole and healthy, and they were very much aware of what had gone on in the world outside. You might say they had floated in limbo while watching three thousand plus years roll by, with the ability to zoom in. That is probably the only reason they didn't emerge entirely mad. In truth, those two have a much better understanding of the current world than any of the others because they watched it forming. They don't have a complete knowledge, because they couldn't see and hear everything at once, but they have an overview that is unavailable to any of the others, excepting Ishamael to a lesser extent. But then, he's a special case.
For the rest (aside from Ishamael), who spend those thousands of years in a dreamless sleep, the language spoken "here and now" was derived from the Old Tongue. I've heard the analogy used of a well-educated, highly intelligent citizen of ancient Rome needing to learn modern Italian. It would hardly be a slam-dunk, but he or she would have the roots of the language already. In the case of the Forsaken, the task is actually easier than that of the ancient Roman, since modern Italian is a more complex language than Latin, while the Old Tongue, as I have said time and again, is more complex and nuanced than the language of "today."
Language—It is planned. Based on Russian, Chinese and a bit of Spanish with a lot of Gaelic thrown in.
Cultures of influence—he's real big on Chinese history right now.
Why the swords?—As in Japan, gunpowder is suppressed so martial arts are developed and are based on the sword and on agricultural implements.
Dear Bruce et al.,
Your questions are complex, or at least their answers are, and I'm afraid that the time I put into answering letters is time not put into writing, but I will try to answer you. Though I suspect not as fully as you would like. (I have 60 letters to answer today.)
What language is the Old Tongue based on? Gaelic, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and some additions of my own—bridging material, if you will. Grammar and syntax are a blending of English, German and Chinese, with some influences from a set of African languages, read about long ago and all but the oddities of structure long since forgotten. There are inverted constructions, for example (as in Mordero dagain pas duente cuebiyar!—literally, "Death fear none holds my heart!") and places where the article is omitted, especially where the word is a title or has gained enough importance to now incorporate the article; the absence of article indicates that it is the important or special meaning of the word that is intended. Though even then, it is not a hard and fast rule; the same inconsistencies of English are incorporated here. I am attempting to create a language which has grown, not one which was made.
There are basic rules for drift, based as you say on slurring, etc. Largely it boils down to the fact that after a word is used long enough, it begins to soften and be simplified in actual use, with the written language catching up later if at all. The degree to which this happens varies from word to word. Also, from place to place. For example, Seanchan have to listen closely to understand people from our heroes' side of the ocean because the language sounds too fast, too hard and clipped. Conversely, our heroes often find Seanchan hard to understand because they speak in what seems a soft, slurring manner with an odd rhythmic quality.
The apostrophe was a compounding device, though simple combination is used also. It also signifies a slight pause; a distinct break in the word, but less than the break between two words.
Adding an 'n' is one way to make a plural, with words ending in a vowel, but some words change form in plural and some are identical in plural and singular; including but not limited to most words that end in 'n' in the singular. The word mai means "maiden" or "maidens." One word for "spear" is dareis, but its plural is darei. Another way of making a plural is adding an 'i', as in shar—"blood" and Shari—"Bloods," or an 'in'—"seeker" is mahdi and "seekers" is mahdi'in. This is all of course complicated by the fact that some words change form depending on modifiers as well, and also sometimes to indicate increased importance (a'vron versus Ma'vron for "watchers").
Ye means "I." He is "sin," she is "sar," you is "asa," and it is "aso."
One of the difficulties is context and flexibility: for example, al can mean "the" or "of the." The word cuebiyar can mean simply "heart," or "my heart," or when capitalized, "the heart" as in the heart of a people or nation. The word moridin means "grave" or "tomb," but when capitalized it means "the grave," standing for "death." It is intended to be a language of subtlety, where the meanings of words can change to a great extent according to context. Remember Moiraine's comments on the difficulty of translation.
The Fourth Age titles are not Old Tongue, though influenced by it. Some common names are from the Old Tongue, and some aren't. Sorry I can't go into more detail, but we're talking a treatise.
Well. I am going to have to cut this off, now. Thanks for writing. Keep me posted on your deductions. One of these days, maybe I'll have time to give congratulations on the hits and point out the misses. One clue to some: sometimes when words are combined and the end of the first word is the same as the beginning of the second, they overlap.
With best wishes, I am,
The concept of the unified language he basically explained as there had been a single language in use (the Old Tongue), and the writing and printing of books continued throughout the Breaking, albeit in a very limited extent. The written word introduced a very large conserving factor in the language-change mechanism.
—There is no simple standard way to make plurals, to shift the irregular verb, it's all adapted because of the merging of different languages. (Just like around 900 AD when the Saxons encountered the Danes and began creating a Lingua Franca, so the Old Tongue is also supposed to have been created by mixing different languages, and thus has a lot of the same sort of irregularities as English has.)
—He started with that list of 880 English words with which you should be able to manage in 95% of English conversations, removed what he found unnecessary and added others he needed.
Oh, Rando, I'm really sorry about this, but Jordan overthrew your toh-toes argument.
Pratchett was talking about you having to take care in fantasy not to use words like 'sandwich', unless you had the sandwich guy appear in your story.
Jordan disagreed: the writer is simply translating... And their word for a bit of unidentifiable meat wrapped in between some...two slices of greasy bread would translate as 'sandwich.' But that's not what they call it at all, that's just what you call it in English.
[interrupts: And I set that up deliberately, because, you know, one of the things about a world that believes in a circular nature of time, is that they believe that there is no real possibility of change. It is one of the things that burden India, as you might know. Whatever I do to affect change...the Wheel of Time—which is as Hindu concept (from others as well, but the Hindus believe in that)—whatever I do to affect change, the Wheel will turn and all things will return to being as they are now. Therefore my effort to affect change is essentially useless. The great gift to the world of the ancient Greeks is that they were the FIRST culture to conceive of time as being linear, which allows for change. I can change things, I can change the future, and it will not return to what it is now, because time passes on; it does not double back. So I have a Wheel of Time world, where there is a belief in reincarnation and a belief that things will return to, not exactly the way they are now, but essentially as if there were two tapestries and you look at them from across the room, and they look identical, and it’s only when you get close that you can see the differences.
I began to think also of the periods involved. Do you know why the mountains in this world are so incredibly rugged? Why there’s so few passes? These mountains are only a little over three thousand years old. There are no mountains in the world that are only three thousand years old. There are no mountains in the world that don’t have hundreds of thousands—millions—of years of wind and water erosion to have worn them down. THESE are mountains in their infancy. And in this world, be have had three distinct one thousand year periods, roughly from the Breaking of the World to the Trolloc Wars, from the Trolloc Wars to the War of the Hundred Years, from the War of the Hundred Years to today. Not quite a thousand years in each case, some were perhaps a little more. But in each case, what has happened is, you have had a mixing of the population during the turbulence—the nations breaking apart—a production of a lingua franca for these people to communicate with one another, and not enough time for that lingua degenerate into distinct languages which are no longer intelligible to one another.
And that is enough so that the people of today could not understand the people from before the Trolloc Wars, who were speaking something very close to the Old Tongue, if not the Old Tongue itself. But they can understand the people of the Seanchan, who are speaking the language of Arthur Hawkwing’s time, which had not enough time to break down into separate languages, you see. And any effects of it breaking down into separate languages was modified by their getting together, so what’s happened over the space of just a thousand years is: they think each other have strong accents. It’s like I’m speaking to somebody who speaks English and he’s Jamaican, and I don’t understand him very easily, or he’s Nigerian. I don’t understand him very easily, and he’s a native English speaker—we can understand one another; it’s not easy, but we understand one another.
Yes. Those languages [on the Seanchan continent] were wiped out and the language that remains is essentially the language that was spoken by Arthur Hawkwing. But, because, as I say, of the things that happened after Hawkwing’s death: the shifting around of populations, mixing and blending of populations from different parts of the continent, and a thousand years of growth, and no time for that language to change a great deal. Also the one thing that has survived, which helped, I think: printing presses were one for the first things rediscovered, you might say, after the Breaking. People began printing books very shortly after the Breaking—I mean very shortly—as soon as people were setting up cities, there were people who had book presses going, and it’s an interesting thing: I can read Shakespeare and understand 98, 99 percent of the words and language. If you went back the same length of time between me and Shakespeare to behind him, he could not have understood what those people were saying, he could not have read what they wrote. Because the English language had changed in pronunciation, in the way the spelling was, in the way the letters were written, everything.
What happened simultaneously then: it wasn’t as I’ve heard postulated that Shakespeare was so beautiful and so wonderful that he froze the English language. What happened was: the printing press came into common use and suddenly the language stopped changing as rapidly. It still changed, but you would take me back to Elizabethan times and I would have a hard time understanding the accents, but eventually I would work into understanding what would sound to me like strangely accented English, but pretty recognizably English for most, at least for London and the south of England. So we’ve got printing presses, and so in relatively short periods of time, the language is largely unchanged, not completely but largely, in each thousand year segment. Although over the three thousand year segment it has diverged from the Old Tongue, which you must learn to be an educated man, to what people speak now, and most people do not speak the Old Tongue and can not understand the Old Tongue. A thousand years back, you’ve got Arthur Hawkwing, and that’s the language that the Seanchan speak. And these people can understand it, they only think “You’ve got a funny accent, you speak too fast, and you speak too slow, and it’s all slurred.”
He said that if you can speak the Old Tongue, learning to understand and speak the new "Vulgar" tongue is not that difficult. When the Forsaken are together having their meetings, they speak in the Old Tongue. (RJ: "But I translate it for you guys.")
Another very interesting note: Modern-day Sharans speak a form of the Old Tongue in their everyday speech. The exact analogy he used was a Roman landing in modern day Italy and having to figure out Italian from Latin. For someone extremely bright and well-educated like the Forsaken it wouldn't be that hard. This is also consistent with information in the books. The Old Tongue is more complex, so learning the Vulgar from Old Tongue is much easier than vice versa. It also gibes with Graendal's thought while she is writing a letter that the modern script was so easy to learn and duplicate.
He also went on at length about his thoughts on language drift and the impact of the printing press on continuity.
At some point I will do the two prequel novels that I talked about, the two other prequel novels, besides New Spring. But, primarily I will give Harriet a small hand on a project she has signed a contract for; she's gonna do an encyclopedia of the Wheel of Time which will have all of the characters, all of the terms, all of the invented words, and roughly and a roughly eight hundred fifty to nine hundred vocabulary in the Old Tongue.
What I will be starting with is a trilogy called Infinity of Heaven, which will be a different universe, different world, different set of rules, different cultures. One culture that you meet eventually will be as close to being inside the Seanchan empire as you can come, but this culture is even more stratified both vertically and horizontally than the Seanchan empire, much more like ancient Japan truly was, or really like medieval Japan truly was.
It's funny I talked about a book I'm gonna call Shipwrecked, some of you may have heard of that. Shipwrecked is actually the second volume of the Infinity of Heaven trilogy, because I realized I needed more of the setup and as I did more of the setup I realized I had another novel here. It could not be the first part of the novel to do that, it had to be this was a novel in itself. So in these things I had thought ten or twelve years ago, would be a trilogy, has become two trilogies, but I intend to try and hold it to that very tightly.
For Infested Templar, two women linking have slightly less of saidar available to them than the two women would have individually. But it can be used much, much more precisely, and therefore more effectively, than they could manage working merely as partners. The reduction also occurs for men entering a circle. One man in a circle means that only the amount of saidin that he can handle, less the reduction for being in a circle, is available. Men can be much stronger than women in the pure quantity of the Power that they can channel, but on a practical level, women are much more deft in their weaving and that means the strongest possible woman can do just about anything that the strongest possible man could, and to the same degree.
And finally, the Old Tongue is written in a script that has more letters than the English alphabet, some representing diphthongs. That script will be in the Encyclopedia that Harriet will do, along with 950 or so words of the Old Tongue derived from what is called Basic English, the 950 words necessary to carry on a understandable conversation. Some words I dropped as essentially unnecessary to the books—electricity, for example—while others—such as sword and names of birds and animals—I had to add. The total might come nearer 1000 words by now.
To: Les Dabel, Ernst Dabel
Sent: Thursday, April 28, 2005 12:52 PM
I'm sending this to both of you to make sure it gets through to one of you. Here are the numerals I came up with. I think they fit well with Elisa's alphabet. I am considering that maybe the zero should be made a mirror image so it doesn't resemble a d so much. What do you think?
For someone—Marigan, I think, but my notes are a little wonky right about here—the Crystal Throne is not the High seat of the Tamyrlin, none of the Forsaken were among the Nine Rods of Dominion, and the "Rods" were symbols of office.
Mil Tesen was really just a peddler who happened to be in the right place to pass on news of Morgase's supposed death to Gawyn. Not everyone is somebody other than who they seem, you know.
And finally, Da'concion means "the Chosen Ones" in the Old Tongue, which is used with more frequency among the Seanchan than among inhabitants of the eastern side of the Aryth Ocean.
RAFO, but I will tell you something about the Horn. People always ask why the inscription on the Horn is in the Old Tongue, if it's so old. It was added in the Age of Legends.
It should also be noted that, when a panel moderator asked the audience if we wanted to see the Heroes of the Horn come back before the end, Maria raised her hand high.
Oh, you're spot on. Spot on.
Jim actually spoke pretty extensively in public about the Old Tongue, and I even pulled up a letter that he had written about it in which he says, "The Old Tongue is based on, for example, the languages: Gaelic, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and some additions of my own—bridging material if you will. Grammar and syntax are a blending of English, German, and Chinese with some influence from a set of African languages read about long ago, and all but the oddities of structure long since forgotten." He has converted constructions…the thing about the Old Tongue, the way that it's constructed…it is a very loose language, like Latin I guess; it can be presented in almost any order and be intelligible to someone who knows it, and there are several conventions involved in it which could be explained for a longer podcast, but those are the basics. He really did pull them from a lot of different areas, and he started by constructing the language—as I recall there is a list of 850 or 880 common words that you need to know to be able to speak in English, and I don't know who created these, but he had that. We have file, and he modified that, kicking out some words like 'electricity' and so forth that wouldn't be useful in this, and adding some others, and putting definitions to them in Old Tongue. I never added it up, but he said we had a file of about a thousand words, and this dictionary will be published at a later time.
That is awesome.
And that will be part of the encyclopedia, actually.
That'll be great.
I can't wait. That sort of leads me into my next question which is something that, two years ago when Brandon was out on the Mistborn tour—the last Mistborn book tour—during an interview, I asked him if he could please come up with some way for us to say phrases having to do with the Light, such as 'Walk in the Light,' or 'May the Light illumine you' in the Old Tongue, and he said he would do his best, and I think he just forgot. But we do have the audio; he kind of sort of promised us. We're hoping that maybe you can bail him out on this one. [laughter]
Well, I think all will be revealed in the encyclopedia.
Aww, I can't wait that long!
Except what isn't revealed.
How far is the encyclopedia coming? People ask me about it occasionally, and I'm like, 'I dunno; they're working on it.'
Well, it's been back-burner recently because we're doing Towers of Midnight, but that's my next project to get back into, doing basically the skeleton for it, and after A Memory of Light we will go full bore on it.
Oh, excellent. I remember Harriet saying that it was due one year after the final book, whenever the final book is out.
And we're working on it in between when we get time, when we're not doing podcasts and so forth. [laughter]
Oh, now you're making us feel guilty. [laughter] But not very.
*stares at me blankly for a long moment* What... um... what has been said on it before?
Just that it’s a sword sticking out of the earth. Cadsuane names it...
Oh right, umm. I don’t know. *he laughs* You can probably tell something about it from that.
That it’s not important.
How was the Old Tongue created?
Jim had books on almost every language in the world in his study. He drew inspiration from those.
A lot of it comes from those and at the same time a lot was just his own creativity in adapting that into this world which he has created.
It was based on a lot of different languages. He had shelves and shelves of language books—every language, practically, known to man—but it was a lot of creativity on his part to put it all together.
Another fun story here. At one point, when I was visiting Charleston, I was talking about the mythological significance of certain things, and I'm like, "I can't figure out the mythological significance of the ashandarei." I knew pieces of Mat's mythological significance—not based on language, but the mythology—and Harriet said, "Oh, I know where it came from." She ran out to his library, selected a specific volume, came back with it and gave it to me and said, "It's this chapter right here." And showed me a chapter in that book that I could read that talked about the mythological significance of that specific piece of the Wheel of Time world. And so, there are all sorts of things like that that he used.
The name...how do you pronounce it? Is it no-tay, or no-tie?
Oh, it's...you pronounce the K.
Oh, you pronounce the K!
....according to Alan, who is the Old Tongue expert, who corrected me on it even though I named him.
So say it!
k'no-tie. But Alan can correct me, because Alan is the expert.
Does it have any mythological basis that you know of?
No, it does not that I know of, because that one, as most of the names—not all of them, but most of them that I named, because I named him—came from me writing something in English, and saying, "Alan, give me the Old Tongue."
And so, there are times where he'll find something, and I'll be like, "Oh, that sounds like this! Let's use it. Oh, this sounds like this; let's use it." Most of the time, it's...he comes up with the direct translation.
Like, Shaisam, actually...
Yeah, I mean that's easy to figure out for us, right?
Yeah. And there are some where I say, "Let's find something that feels like this..." and then, you know, of course, Perrin's hammer, right?
That's one where you're like, you know, let's find an Old Tongue translation that works for what the mythological symbolism is.
And that works well. It's hard to pronounce though.
Yeah, it is a little hard to pronounce though.
Can you pronounce it?
MAH-HAHL-in-ear? Eh...ask Alan.
Two words that I find very evocative are Dreadbane and Balescream. What's yours?
You can usually guess that if it's not Old Tongue, it's probably me.
I mean what's your favorite word? What's the word you find most evocative from the series?
In the series. Let me see. Hmm. I've always liked the term Heartstone. I would think. That one is very evocative to me.
Why is the Old Tongue always the same Old Tongue? Shouldn't some of Mat's previous lives speak Old Old Tongue? Or Old Old Old Tongue?
I've envisioned it as the Old Tongue being a kind of 'perfect' language, so to speak. An ideal language that goes beyond simple language development. When Mat speaks it, he's tapping into something greater than himself. This is my personal feeling, however, as the notes do not answer this question.
This one is from Terez, about WoT. It says "Does Moridin have anything to do with the Knife of Dreams?"
She thinks that his name "Tedronai" translates into Knife of Dreams in WoT.
(slightly surprised) Oh. If that is the case Terez,which it very well may be, I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s mostly because I don’t do anything with the Old Tongue- I let Alan handle it, because he’s so good at it, I pretty much just refer to him. The only thing I tried to name on my own was Perrin’s hammer. And even that, he had to fix a few little things to make it work right.
So I won’t kill that theory, but I can’t confirm it either.
The Wheel of Time Encyclopedia is dead! Long live The Wheel of Time Companion as it will now officially be called.
The book will be 350,000 words long (comparable to several of the novels in the series; the longest, The Shadow Rising, is 389,000 words).
The book will feature a lot of new artwork, arranged by Irene Gallo at Tor.
Publication date likely to be November 2015.
The book will feature all of the already-published maps and also some new ones, including one of Thakan'dar.
The book will have a large vocabulary of the Old Tongue, with a minimum of 1,000 words.
The book will feature character profiles and sketches for almost every character in the series. Even Bela has her own entry.
The book will be written from a post-AMoL POV. It will have spoilers for the entire series.