The Language of the Lords
donti se sha madbi
|DATE||November 2021 - August 2023|
I'd been reading a book on how to read Maya glyphs (specifically Reading the Maya Glyphs by Michael D. Coe and Mark Van Stone; incredibly detailed book and super interesting, highly recommended if you're at all interested in Maya culture) and, like almost any fun script, it immediately set my brain churning on how I could do something similar. Spire and I had been working on a worldbuilding project featuring demons and angels and I thought it would be a great backdrop for some funky little lizard heads.
The sprawling city-fortress of Castle is ruled by demonic Lords, divided into ever-bickering Houses. Angels are an enslaved caste who must serve and fight for their lords. If there was a time before the Lords' reign over Castle, no one alive remembers it.
The Language of the Lords has a limited number of syllables and features many homonyms. A single word can belong to as many as 15 categories of nouns, each of which has its own suffix. In written texts, these suffixes are marked with slabs and are not written in full.
These suffixes can be ommitted under certain circumstances:
- The conversation is informal
- The context is clear.
However, the suffix is always included in spoken language when:
- The conversation is formal.
- A written text is being read aloud.
- The nouns is in the people, angel, or court category.
- The listener is an angel.
This means that a sentence like "did you break your ankle?" would be gali ket hag keti? when the listener is a demon and gali ketis hagsi ketish? when the listener is an angel (with the diminutives -is and -sh added to the pronoun and possessive). The words for angel body parts and demon body parts are the same word belonging to different categories but the demon body part does not need to be clarified. However, simply using hag on its own when referring to an angel's ankle would humanise the angel, which is considered crass, and therefore the category must be specified so the listener knows the speaker is talking about an angel ankle.
This is the same reason that the people and court categories are always clarified. It would be absolutely terrible if a speaker referred to an imp (dit, people category) as just a dit and not a ditke. Otherwise it could be confused with ditsi, "cherub", angel category, or ditshi, "sand", materials category. Nouns in the people and court categories are more important than other categories and there must never be any room for confusion.
This elaborate system of homonyms does allow for wordplay and tongue twisters, such as this popular nursery rhyme:
- ditke ditsi dadna ditshi nakna ditni dotkan dagka
- English: An imp and a cherub drank sand from a glass and choked.
- Transliteration: imp.people cherub.angel both sand.material from glass.tool drink.past.then choke.past
- (An informal way of saying the same sentence would be ditke ditsi dit nakna dit dot dagka, dropping any unncessary categories and the word "and", and only conjugating the final verb.)
All demons are "he" and are considered "male", regardless of sex or gender presentation*. This is not a gender neutral pronoun and is very distinctly masculine; the Language does have "she" and "they", but these are reserved for angels. It would be unthinkable for a demon to be be referred to by any pronoun other than "he". It is common for high-ranking Lords to refer to themself in the 3rd person.
Most demons consider angels to be "she" by default, but this assumption comes from demons being unknowledgeable about angel culture rather than from beliefs about gender. A demon will almost always refer to an angel he doesn't know as "she".
When a demon speaks directly to an angel, the 2nd person pronoun ket is given the suffix -is to mark the listener as beneath the speaker. The same is done for the 2nd person possessive and reflexive with the suffix -sh. This would never be done for a demon speaking to another demon, even if the listener is far below the speaker, unless the speaker was looking for a fight to the death. The diminutive suffix does not need to be placed on 3rd person pronouns, though it technically can. Surprisingly, it would never be placed on a 1st person pronoun.
There is no distinction between the subject and object form of the personal pronoun.
|1st person (single)||kon||koni||kona|
|3rd person (single, male)||shen||sheni||shena|
|3rd person (single, female)||desh||deshi||desha|
|3rd person (single, neutral)||nod||nodi||noda|
|1st person (plural)||minsad||mini||mina|
|3rd person (plural)||hashan||hashi||hasha|
Only the root of a pronoun is written in heads; any suffixes are marked with slabs. These means hashi would be written HASHAN(i). See the writing system for more information.
Word order in the Language is Subject Object Verb, so objects are bracketed by the subject and verb. In a question, the verb moves to the beginning of the sentence.
There are generally two ways for verbs to conjugate in the present tense, slimming and fattening. A fat verb has either "a" or "o" in its first syllable and will "slim" as it conjugates, turning that vowel into "i", "e", or "u". A slim verb has "i", "e", or "u" in its first syllable and will "fatten" as it conjugates, turning that vowel into "a" or "o".
- kon fen dib or kon fende dib, "I eat fruit
- hap hap dabo or hapme hapde dabo, "a mouse eats a grape
The infinitive is indicated with the preposition sa; eg. shen mabdi sa dibtu genmu, "I (high-ranking) want to eat a meal".
Only the root of a verb is written in heads, even if the conjugation has different sounds. Any verb endings are written in slabs. This means that the sentence shen gut detu would be written as SHEN GUT(de) DOT(u). See the writing system for more information.
To conjugate verbs in any tense other than the present tense, simply take the root and add the appropriate suffix. For example, even though sa dotdu, "to drink", conjugates to shen detu, "he drinks", in the past tense the root does not slim and simply becomes shen dotka.
sa tentu, "to glow"
sa shokna, "to be"
|none||present||kon ten, "I glow"||kon shaknu, "I am"|
|-san||future||kon tensan, "I will glow"||kon shoksan, "I will be"|
|-ka||past||kon tenka, "I glowed"||kon shogka**, "I was"|
|-nat||conditional||kon tegnat**, "I would glow"||kon shoknat, "I would be"|
|-shap||progressive||kon tenshap, "I am glowing"||kon shokshap, "I am being"||none||imperative||tentu, "glow!"||shokna, "be!"|
** The same letter cannot appear side by side.
Writing System (under construction)
The Language of the Lords reflects everything the ruling class holds dear: triumph, treasure, and the elite status of the demonic race. The use of certain glyphs can make the subject see more important and Lords will often encourage their scribes to use words that contain more impressive-looking symbols. The majority of glyphs feature imagery important to demons; angel imagery is usually reserved for phonetic symbols or less important elements.
The script of the Language of the Lords is made up of several different types of glyphs: heads, pillars, slabs, and ornamentation. Each serves a different phonetic and grammatical purpose.
Heads & Ornamentation
Heads are used to indicate important words like nouns and verb roots. A single head represents one syllable; words comprised of more than one syllable are made up of multiple heads in a row biting each other. The head is made up of four parts: the eye (initial consonant), nose (vowel), mouth (final consonant) and the ornamentation.
The Language of the Lords has a limited number of syllables and features many homonyms. To avoid confusion, context is given through a head's ornamentation, indicating to the reader which category that word belongs to. For example, fa could mean "hawk", "spruce", or "nail"; by using the animal, plant or tool ornamentation respectively, the intended meaning is clear. Ornamentation is usually only spoken aloud in formal situations. If a word is made up of multiple heads, the ornamentation is placed on the final head.
Slabs are used to spell less important words, like adjectives or adverbs, or append nouns and verbs with suffixes. Slabs are half as tall as heads and can form stacks of two. A new word written in slabs would not begin in the middle of a stack but would move to the next spot to form a new stack.
Pillars are used to represent whole words. These are usually common words like "the" or "and", or important titles like "Prince" and the names of the many Houses. A Pillar is usually one slab wide and two slabs tall.
A flag pillar will always introduce a subject. One subject may have many, many introductory pillars depending on how well-off and important they are, or depending on how much they're trying to seem impressive.
The initial concept was:
- Main words are comprised of demon heads.
- Prepositions, pronouns etc indicated with smaller glyphs.
- Heads can be one or two syllables.
- Words made up of more than two syllables are written with multiple heads connected by some following decorative element, like bone, strands of hair, fire etc.
The first pass at a general direction for the script was too chaotic; the eye would have to go all over a single head to work out what it was meant to say. I needed to simplify things. We decided to focus on four elements: the eyes, nose, mouth, and headpiece. Since there would likely be fewer cohesive nose shapes, I chose that part of the head to represent the vowel. The eye would be the initial consonant and the mouth would be the final consonant. Each head would now be a single syllable. We started to draw up some ideas.
I put some of these new elements together to check out things were looking so far. The faces were looking great but the top and back of each head felt very empty without any decoration. I briefly played with the idea of some different scalps but they felt too cartoony. We definitely also needed to add something back into the cheeks like in our first versions. I decided these little decorative squares would be used as context clues for a language with limited words.
I still only wanted the most important words to be written as full heads and decided the rest of the script would be made up of a combination of phonetic glyphs and logograms. We set about drawing up some smaller glyph ideas.