Trope-a-Day: Language Drift

Language Drift: Sort-of averted for Eldraeic, due in equal parts to its origins as a designed language intended to communicate precisionist-grade thought and to its ongoing tending by the logotects, et. al., of the Conclave of Linguistics and Ontology, who are prescriptivists nonpareil. Only sort of, however, since their department of Worthy Innovations routinely combs the language as it is spoken for, well, worthy innovations to be taken up into the canonical version.

Since they’ve been doing this for a long time, and since almost nothing can ever be thrown out due to the obvious need for backwards compatibility in language design, the result tends to be — well, if it were English, they’d be like this (courtesy of xkcd):

Played rather straighter by most other languages of the Worlds, although both the influence of Eldraeic via Trade and that of the pervasive communication networks of starfaring cultures do tend to slow it down a bit.

A Note: On the Flames of Purification

This is a note providing some background on one of the traditional Imperial methods of execution, namely, the flames of purification (as described here) for an ongoing comment thread here (relevant part quoted below):

Let’s also not forget that the eldrae themselves have had a historical penchant for burning certain heinous offenders alive in a manner which was not itself a quick, easy, or painless death. This seems to imply that the concept isn’t quite as foreign to the eldraeic standards of sanity as it would appear at first blush — and thus that, in a sense, Imperial history itself was driven by the actions of certain creepy-ass psychotic motherfuckers, since they seemed to have no problems inflicting that on other people.

The relevant point here, though, is that the agony is not the point. And since every crime – and every wrong action – involves mens rea as well as actus reus, what the point is is very much the point.

It is, to use a comparable example, the intent that makes the difference between using flamethrowers to clear bunkers, destroy nanofog, and deny areas (acceptable under the Conventions of Civilized Warfare) and, say, using them to extract information or just to roast prisoners alive for the vengeance-lulz (very much not).

And what you’re looking at there was a theological error. As mentioned in its description, fire is a force that transforms (hence its use in cremation) and purifies. The purpose of the flames, like the name says, is to purify, as roasting ore burns away the dross and leaves the shining metal. That it happens to also hurt like hell is merely a side-effect, and not even a desirable side-effect.

(This isn’t, some sort of “suffering is good for the soul” notion; it’s merely applying cleansing force for desired effect. While unlikely that anyone particularly cared about the feelings of the certain heinous offenders in question, it should nevertheless be fairly easy to imagine various chymists and ktenologists of the early era in question attempting to compound non-euphoric analgesics of sufficient potency as to make it possible to immolate them without them actually feeling the pain of it – both because all that screaming has undesirable psychological effects on the euthanatrists who must carry the job out, and because it makes executions so dreadfully inelegant.)

Now, what might be a better example are certain early cases of judges indulging their taste for irony, say the flaying in Inisvaen in -43, or the documented practice of responding to say, cases of child or animal neglect with a crow’s cage for the sake of balance; to which they might well respond that few worldbound, uncontacted civilizations are fortunate enough to come into existence in a state of ethical perfection, and must learn by progress over time along a path paved with errors.

(Of course, if you have met other civilizations which do have their shit together, this excuse obviously no longer applies.)

As a side note, for those curious, the standard form of the death penalty for the non-especially heinous was a single sword thrust through the heart (delivered by a professional ktenologist), which was replaced with the firing squad when sufficiently reliable firearms had been invented. (These methods being selected as suitably quick and surgical, while also allowing the condemned the courtesy of meeting their death on their feet and with whatever dignity they could muster, rather than being put to sleep like an ailing pet.)

If repentance is noted, or clemency due (and yet insufficient), the condemned may receive the opportunity to volunteer for “chains and pyres” – i.e., the chance to earn their honor back by volunteering for any of a range of adequately suicidal tasks, which can mean anything from joining the Legion of the Dead1 to becoming a sophont test subject – rather than a conventional execution, or at the least being offered a pistol with one shot and the chance to choose to do the right thing.

  1. Note: this isn’t one of those “succeed at your mission and receive a pardon” deals. If you are in the Legion of the Dead, it’s because you owe the Empire a life – you’re in the Legion to die, and the Legion will send you somewhere where you can die usefully and with honor. That’s what you’re getting: and if you qualify, that should suffice for you.

Circumlocution: A Way Of Talking Around Something

Among the things I am kicking around today are future possibilities for the Word-of-the-Day feature. I’ve got some interesting ones in the form of words which have distinct values implied – say, “greed” – which necessarily require multiple translations – “ambition”, for example, or “compromise” – or whose closest equivalent have very different nuances and whose literal meaning can only be expressed by rather awkward circumlocution – such as our “professional”.

And then I thought of one real fun job to translate into their language. How, exactly, would one translate “social justice” into Eldraeic?

(Bearing in mind that the literal gloss, tramoníë saráv, lit. “a society-kind-of-justice”, would actually mean “international arbitration”.)

So let’s have a little informal competition, here. The best circumlocution, using only the sorts of concept which are native to the language, is an awkward phrase that comes out as, roughly, “the coercive enforcement of a sophont-owner’s preferred group-level outcomes upon the involuntarily coadunated”.

Think you can do better? Offer your best circumlocution in the comments, and we’ll see if it passes the Conclave of Linguistics and Ontology.

(But remember, and this is important now: the aim here is to provide the translation that a charitable translator working around the constraints of a language that doesn’t have a background tradition of compressed euphemisms would come up with. We’re not going for “the Worlds’ snarkiest value judgement”, nor are we going all-out to offend people in the real world, here, especially any who might find squeezing the concept into an unhelpful vocabulary an interesting game; it’s supposed to be a fun little conlanging exercise. Don’t let me down here, folks.)

Eldraeic Word of the Day: Ulquordaëälathdar

ulquordaëälathdar: (lit. “impossible-knowledge-person”, derog.) Agnostic; (Flamic) an adherent to the Agnostic Heresy; one who holds that certain or all knowledge cannot be known, i.e., is intrinsically unknowable, rather than simply unknown, or circumstantially unknowable due to lack of necessary epistemic tools or cognitive capacity.

from ulquordaëlin (“impossible”, itself from ulquor, the degree quantifier of absolute absence, and daëlin “probability, chance”), alath (“knowledge”) and dar (“person”).


Trope-a-Day: Killed to Uphold the Masquerade

Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: Again, a tactic used primarily by lower-tech and lower-ethics organizations, ones which can’t manage or don’t bother with amnesic drugs, memory redaction, a geas, simple memetic discrediting, or if all else fails, a trip to a perfectly nice, perfectly comfortable luxury space resort that no-one ever leaves.

Weighed in the Balance Sheet

“There is one thing that comes before the Fundamental Contract. That thing is the Fundamental Ledger. Before your first breath, before your first thought – even as your mind coalesces out of chaos, long before you can know your own nature as a sophont, its bindings are sewn and its pages cut, their pages empty, snow-white and pristine.

“As it must be, for without choice, there can be no obligation, and without existence, there can be no choice. New-made and yet unchoosing, free of all ties that bind, you owe the world nothing, as it owes nothing to you.

“But all through your life, your every action fills it. Black, and red. Credit, and debit. Profit, and loss. Every deed is recorded in full measure: no trick of manipulation, nor guised externality, nor immaterial value, escapes the view of the Hidden Cog or His Market’s Eyes.

“And at the end of infinite time, when all books are tallied and the accounts finally closed out, this is how you will be judged:

“Have you created value, or merely consumed it?

“In the universal accounting, were you an asset… or a liability?”

the Book of Covalan, Commentaries & Sermons