Cultural Tells of Language

This came up on the conlang/conculture mailing lists:

Ursula K. LeGuin writes some really gorgeous stub-languages into her fiction.  In a lovely short story called “Dancing to Ganam” in her collection A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, I paused to earmark this:

“Tezyeme,” he said, which meant something on the order of “it is happening the way it is supposed to happen.”

These little philosophical bells in a language always make conlangs more believable and immersive to me – telling the philosophy and culture of a people through the use of language.

What are some examples of words like this in your conlang(s)?

And I thought my answer might just be worth repeating here:

Eldraeic has a few of these.  Probably the most notable are the seven or eight words which they use to describe the innate and/or desirable characteristics of their mindset: coválír, estxíjir, mélith, talcoríëf, teir, valëssef, and valxíjir, none of which map precisely onto English/human concepts, even if some of them can get pretty close:

coválír might be translated as propertarianism, but really has the meaning “property as an extension of the self”; mélith, I gloss as “balance and obligation”; talcoríëf is literally “cold-mindedness”, but depending on context, it could reasonably be glossed as “rationality”, “self-mastery”, or “self-knowledge”; teir could be approximately glossed as “honor” or “self-integrity”; valëssef as “divided selfness” or “polymorphic identity” – the multiple social identities one has, and the need to keep them separate both mentally and in dealings with other people,even when you have two different relationships with one person; estxíjir as “wyrd”, “destiny” or “devotion to ideals”; and valxíjir as “uniqueness”, “excellence”, “will to power”, or “forcible impression of self onto the universe”.

(Most of these are covered in rather more detail on one of my trope-a-day pages, here, so I’ll link rather than repeat myself at great length.)

Oh, and estxíjir and valxíjir combine to create qalasír, which one might approximate as “will”, more adequately translate as “driving energies of the individual”, or casually gloss as “a soph’s got to do what a soph’s got to do”.  They also give rise to the slang term jír – approx. strength of will, courage, boldness, chutzpah, etc., and to jírileth, liberty – a “life of will/volition-use”.

Which brings me onto another one of those cultural tells: daráv, meaning literally “sophont” – which I gloss as “soph” in informal speech, for the right feel – and used in Eldraeic as the generic word for “person” – without any reference to species, gender, sex, race, etc., etc. unless explicitly added.  Also found in compounds like daryteir, “person of honor”, “gentleman” — er, gentlesoph.

Hm, other examples.  There’s the term for an Imperial citizen-shareholder, or at least the short term that’s a lot quicker to say than “Imperial citizen-shareholder”; valmiríän, which ambiguously means both “ordered self” and “self who sets in order”, and probably reveals a decent amount about their self-concept in so doing, and its opposite, ulvaledar, “unbound-person”, which means “foreigner” but defines that as “not signatory to the Contract and Charter”.

I’d add the classic series of insults – “Defaulter”, “slaver”, “parasite”, “dullist”, “cacophile”, or “entropic”, but I have not yet translated most of those, except for “dullist”, which is ulsúnadaráv– one who finds lack of the Nine Excellences and their concomitants laudable, or at least non-condemnable; so not technically “one who does not strive to shine”, rather, someone who thinks that there’s nothing wrong with that.  And there’s zakhrehs (“barbarian”), which while it doesn’t actually say that the thus called are guilty of specific and enumerated acts of coercionism, infiduciarity, theft, mooching, wilful culture-lack, destructionism, disharmony and chaos, implies that they like that sort of thing really hard.

Oh, and if I wax political for a moment, their taxonomy of polities.  The principle top-level division of móníë (polities), after all, is that between telelefmóníë (oath-consent states, Societies of Consent – by which they mean anywhere where the social contract is explicit and voluntary) and korasmóníë (force-states, where it isn’t), the latter being in turn primarily divided into talkorasmóníë (autocracies, “true-force states”) and sémódarmóníë (democracies, which charming word means “mutual-slave states”).

I’ve got some fairly telling metaphors, too, but they came up in my English-writing forms and I haven’t translated most of them yet.  Except for these different kinds of dilemmas, I think.

And if noodle words count, this.

3 thoughts on “Cultural Tells of Language

  1. Pingback: FUCATOKK – repost of an old attempt of mine at an easy conlang (unfinished) « Huliganov TV

  2. Pingback: On Thanks, And The Meanings Of Thanks | The Eldraeverse

  3. Pingback: Author’s Note: Bad, Bad Word | The Eldraeverse

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