The language of magic, part 1 of lots

2 Oct

Inamali is the language of magic – the language of the Inamali people and their writings, including their spell books. It is the language Karia must master if she is to understand how to destroy magic.

And I thought you may enjoy the books a lot more if you understand a few things about the Inamali language.

Spoiler alert: If you have not read The House in the Old Wood, you will not want to read the rest of this post.

A syllabary

In The House in the Old Wood, Karia discovers that Inamali is not written letter by letter, but syllable by syllable. I’ve mentioned before that systems of writing syllable by syllable are called syllabaries.

English could not be efficiently written with a syllabary because there are so many possible syllables in English. Put together just about any two or three letters – or even four or five or more – and it’s likely to be a syllable you can find in at least one of our English words. We have a lot of words. The Oxford English Dictionary puts the number around 250,000, while some say it’s passed 1 million.

That’s a lot more than virtually any other language.

Far fewer syllables

But it’s not just the number of words that makes a difference. It’s the types of syllables. English has open syllables (syllables that end in vowels) and closed syllables (those that end in consonants). Many languages – such as Inamali – have only open syllables. This means there are far fewer possible syllables, and therefore Inamali can be written with a syllabary.

The possible number of Inamali syllables is further limited by the small number of consonants and vowels. Twenty consonants and three vowels, actually, arranged in 37 syllables.

Leads to some words being the same

With fewer syllables to work with, a lot different Inamali words look and sound like the same word. So, sili means playful and redfish and cumulonimbus and walk slowly – four completely different concepts, expressed with the same two symbols and sounding exactly alike:


So how would you tell them apart? How could you ever make sense out of what someone was saying?

Easily, actually.

We’ll take a look at that next time …

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