A Look Behind the Languages of Isfalinis

The world of Isfalinis, much like our own world, has many languages.  In “Tears from Iron” the most readily obvious language is that of the “Words of Power” used in sorcery.  However, both Aestari and Human languages can be seen in the names given to people and places.

In my early drafts of “Tears from Iron”, I had intended to flavor the interactions of human and Aestari with a language barrier.  The humans spoke only their own language, a tongue shared by all the northern peoples though with some variation in dialect.  Most Syraestari spoke both Aestarin and the human language.  Thus, when they addressed the t’Okaedrin, Pi’aernoth, and Kalilaer, it was always in the human tongue.  For humans to speak Aestarin was considered a degradation… a philosophy that fits very well within the pretensions of the Kayrstaran Empire.

Yet I removed this distinction when it became evident that the language barrier was adding excessive prose with insufficient benefit.  For purposes of practicality, it is easiest to consider the Syraestari to be speaking the human language at all times when they are around humans and their own language when they are on their own.  This clarification isn’t included in “Tears from Iron” because it would only serve as a distraction to most readers.

In the upcoming sequel, “A Whisper in the Sands”, the Syraestari will encounter a human civilization that speaks a tongue few of them know.  In that story, the language barrier enhances the story rather than crippling it.

You may ask where I come up with my words.  I follow three fairly basic processes for names with this article focusing on the first.  A historian at heart, I frequently draw from our own world for inspiration.  The Kayrstaran Empire is inspired, in part by the Roman Empire, while the wildmen are rooted in some ways by the Celtic and Germanic tribes north of the Mediterranean.  Certainly, the wildmen are less technologically advanced compared with the Celts and the Germans, yet their societies were simpler than Rome though I’m loath to push that stereotype too far.  For a greater discussion on Roman chauvinism that persists to some degree even today, see my article “Behind the Pages:  Yrpel.”

In addition to these sources, I also wanted to give the Syraestari an exotic feel, so I occasionally opened a historical atlas to the ancient world for inspiration or I looked at the genealogies found in the Bible’s Old Testament.  Once I had my root names, I began jumbling letters and syllables to make them different and generally unrecognizable while sustaining a pleasing sound.  I find, however, that having a starting point usually helps me maintain a degree of consistency.  Yet, I’ll be honest.  While the demarcation noted above may have been my starting point, once I began mixing up names they could take all sorts of forms.  For that reason, I happily plugged them in wherever made the most sense. 

Writing this article was fun for me because I rediscovered where many of these names came from.  Once I drew them, I promptly forgot.  Here are a handful of examples:

    • Vistus – Our protagonist’s name has perhaps the simplest roots.  It comes from Ariovistus, a leader of the Suebi, a Germanic tribe that fought against Julius Caesar (and lost).  The Suebi gave their name to Swabia, a region of southern Germany.
    • Chostir – Her name comes from Chauki (or Chauci), a Germanic tribe in the coastal area of northern Saxony, not far from the historic Grand Duchy of Oldenburg.  I knew there was a reason I liked Chostir!
    • Arcomin – Vistus’ rival is derived from Marcomanni, a Germanic tribe that lived roughly in the region of the modern day Czech Republic.
    • Bridionis – Vistus’ best friend comes from Bergundiones, another spelling of Burgundians.  The Burgundians gave their name to Burgundy which is now part of France.
    • Yrpel – The big Iengian’s name comes from Irpeel, an Israelite city mentioned in the Book of Joshua.
    • Idysha – Her name is drawn from one of King David’s officers and “Mighty Men” named Abishai.
    • Medreuneth – The Sorceress of the Flesh of Isfalinis also draws her name from one of David’s “Mighty Men” named Mebunnal.

Drawing from historical people and places isn’t the only technique I use.  Sometimes, I just grab a baby book that I keep handy by my computer.  I usually pick a starting letter (often trying to find one that hasn’t been used as much) to find a root name.  I think Kayrstana may have come about in this way, derived from either Christina or Katherine or some combination of the two.  Or, occasionally, I’ll just begin jumbling up a pleasing combination of sounds from scratch.  I want to say that Ninanna was created using this technique, but don’t remember for sure.

What about other such greats as Belarrin, Zoltha, Reigliff, and Sravika?  The answer is, I don’t know.  I’m not in the habit of recording such things.  I only have the list above because I’d grabbed a bunch of names before starting the novel so I could quickly snag a new one when needed without losing my stride as I worked.

In my next article, I’ll continue our investigation of languages by taking a deeper look at the alphabet that was originally used for Words of Power, but also came to be adopted by the Aestari for their language as well.