Worldbuilding: The Eldraeic Imperative

(Seeing as I’ve been getting a lot of enjoyment out of fyeahconlangs recently, here’s a little piece I wrote some time ago, back in ‘09, about how imperatives work in Eldraeic, for the conlangophiles among my readership.)

The Eldraeic language possess two forms of the imperative mood, expressing commands and requests, respectively – referred to natively as the imperative and the requestive; the latter being glossed most appropriately as an “If it pleases you, ~”, or “~, …if you please?”, although in the original language they are of approximately the same length in most cases.

The imperative, in standard Eldraeic usage, is restricted almost without exception to situations in which one party may issue the other orders by virtue of some authority held as of right; in other words, in which the other party has some defect of will and autonomy, or has ceded it voluntarily for the duration.  Thus, its applications are quite limited:

  • The imperative is used (while in duty situations) superior-to-inferior in the Imperial Military Service, other branches of the Imperial Service which maintain military discipline (such as the Watch Constabulary), and in certain private organizations which likewise maintain military discipline in limited areas (such as a ship’s crew on duty).  Such uses of the imperative often additionally contain the “honorable” infix.
  • The imperative is used by the government in the exercise of its sovereign power to coerce compliance (although that’s really a special case of the general use of them in rights-affecting situations, as below).  i.e., officers of the Watch Constabulary use the imperative when requiring you to step out of your car, court orders requiring you to take some action are phrased in the imperative, etc.  The governing philosophical paradigm prefers that such things not be sugar-coated; such uses of the imperative may contain the “honorable” infix where they are notifying someone of a requirement to perform a civic obligation, but not where, for example, the person being addressed is subject to the police power.
  • The imperative may also be used parent-to-child (or in loco parentis to child) for emphasis. although it should be noted that the acceptability of this usage is limited strictly to minor children.
  • The imperative is also used to address sub-sophont domestic animals and non-sophont and non-sapient (i.e., non-autonomous) machines, although custom tends to limit this usage also to emphasis.
  • The imperative may also be used by anyone when requiring someone to take or eschew action to prevent violating one’s – or another’s – fundamental sophont rights.  This means not only may imperatives be used freely when speaking to murderers, slavers, thieves and defaulters, but additionally that it can be used in other circumstances concerned with the preservation of life, property, or contract.  For example, should circumstances require one to shout, for example, “Stop the bus!”:
    • One may use the imperative should the reason be to prevent said bus from running over another person; but
    • One may not use the imperative and should use the requestive if one is merely attempting to catch a bus which is in the process of moving off.
If you are in the unfortunate and embarrassing position of selling your time (rather than your services)1, then you may also be unlucky enough to hear a flat imperative.  While, technically, one does have the grammatical right to use imperatives to wage-servants, the custom is for one to phrase orders in the requestive form out of courtesy.  Hearing such an imperative is, then, a clear sign that the speaker considers one either incompetent (and thus incapable of handling less granular requests), or lazy (and thus unwilling to) – either way, an imperative in such a situation has a strong subtext of “shape up or ship out!”
Outside these circumstances, use of an imperative will be taken as an unwarranted intrusion upon the listener’s personal autonomy, and will at the very least be considered most rude and impertinent, and may even constitute “fighting words”; as will any use of the imperative with the “dishonorable” infix.  It should be considered a matter of course that any request outside these circumstances should be made in the requestive.

As a matter of courtesy, it should also be noted that a simple requestive, outside business, workplace, or other contractual situations, and especially in “polite society”, will be considered very blunt.  Courtesy and caution require that the polite Eldraeic speaker dress up requestive phrases with a degree of circumlocution2 to demonstrate an adequate respect for the autonomy of the person of whom the request is made, and this will almost always garner a better response.

This applies particularly to requests to perform some matter that is already a matter of obligation to the person addressed; it is usually considered sufficient to point out the circumstances that apply and let the person addressed note their obligation in that matter.  To request that someone perform an obligation of theirs too bluntly may well be taken as an implication or even accusation of undutifulness, which while occasionally necessary, is sufficiently unpleasant as to be worth avoiding making unintentionally.

1. “Employment”, from a Tellurian perspective.

2. Said circumlocution, however, must still be a requestive phrase; such indirections as “Would you like to <whatever>?” are likely to be parsed literally and answered that way, too.