The language of magic — part 2 of lots

4 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.

With so few ways to make syllables, leading to a total of 37 possible syllables, many Inamali words look and sound alike. Is this confusing?

Possibly, but think about this: Have you ever heard someone use to, two or too in a conversation? Of course you have. Now, how many times were you confused over whether it was a preposition, a number or a synonym for also? Even once?

Why were you not confused? Context.

So let’s look at a sentence using our Inamali example: the word sili, which can mean playful, redfish, cumulonimbus or walk slowly. If I were to write, Tsikalitar’uluva Karia sili, or actually,

Tsikalitar’uluva Karia sili

you would know, if you spoke and read Inamali, that the first word is a verb, the second is the subject and the third is the object. So just from basic grammar you would know that in this case, sili must be a noun, so it could not mean playful or walk slowly. It has to mean redfish or cumulonimbus.

Now, if you strip away all the modifiers from the verb, you would see tsiva – to fish. We’ll talk about how that works when we talk about “heavily modified verbs” later on. For now, let’s keep our focus on sili. We have “Karia fished sili.” Let’s see now, what makes sense here? Did she go fishing for redfish or clouds? Hmmm. Let me think …

Someone who spoke Inamali would not be puzzled at all by that.

That’s not to say confusion isn’t possible. It happens. But we can usually work out what someone is saying. For instance, if I showed you a photo of a field full of purple flowers, and you heard me say, “Look at all the flocks,” you would probably look for bunches of birds in the photo. But seeing none, you would likely soon figure out I had actually said, “Look at all the phlox.”

This same type of “difficulty” exists in written Chinese, where the same character can mean different things, depending on the context. And it doesn’t seem to be keeping the Chinese from doing just about anything.

Next time we’ll take a look how a syllabary influences the way an Inamali speaker thinks about words and sounds.

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