The language of magic, part 6 of lots

29 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.

Quick, how many tenses does English have?

A lot of people would reply, “Three.” Past, present and future, right? That’s all most of normally think of, and that seems to cover it all.

Now, grammatically speaking, English has twelve tenses, from past all the way through future perfect progressive, but we don’t need to go there in order to discuss tenses in Inamali.

Karia thinks of Teneka as having three tenses, and at one point feels she has identified seven tenses in Inamali. Seven tenses? How’s that work?


Some languages – and Inamali is among them – have multiple past and future tenses, depending on how far in the past or future an event is. In Inamali, it breaks down like this:

  • Legendary past – for something that is said to have taken place in the distant past.
  • Past – a general past tense.
  • Recent past – for something that took place recently.
  • Present – as in English.
  • Near future – for something that is imminent.
  • Future – a general future tense.
  • Prophetic future – for something that is said to be taking place in the distant future.

You might at first think this would be confusing. But think about this. If I say, “I will be going to the store,” you don’t know if I mean I’m leaving in five minutes, or if I mean that eventually, someday, I will be going to the store. Or maybe it’s prophetic – I’m prophesying that I will be going to the store. You can’t tell.

There is no such confusion in Inamali; from the tense itself, you can tell which is which.

This is why, when I was talking in our last installment about the verb infixes lina and lita, I wrote that they are sort of past and future.

Actually, those are general past and general future, and can be used in Inamali as you would use them in English. And that’s another important key distinction of Inamali. Where there is an uncertaintly about whether an event is near future, future or prophetic future, or where an event spans one or more of those, the general future is acceptable.

So in Tsilinakaya, the hope that is being referred to is near future, future and prophetic future.

But in Talitakaya, the event that is being remembered is simply past – it certainly was not recent, but neither was it in the legendary past.

One other thing to understand is that “recent past” and “near future” have more to do with the concepts than with calendars.

What I mean is, if Karia were to declare in Inamali, “I will end Magic,” she would use near future tense. In her mind, this is imminent, whether it actually takes days or years.

Or consider sleeping and eating. She normally sleeps once a day and eats three times a day. So she would likely use recent past tense for sleeping for six or eight hours. But she would be unlikely to use recent past for eating for more than three hours or so.

These tenses are another way Inamali constructs verbs – puts meaning into the actual words – instead of adding words as English does. “I just ate” – three words in English – becomes one word in Inamali, as does, “He will be eating soon.”

So this precision in tenses is another way Inamali eliminates words and loads more meaning into verbs.

Want to see how much Inamali you can pick up? Get your copy of The House in the Old Wood and Karia’s Path.

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