It seems crazy to me now, but yeah, when I wrote Born of Water I created a language to go with it.
What can I say? I wrote and edited the novel over three years. Plenty of time to screw around with such lofty goals such as creating worlds and languages! Looking back now, I don’t know if I would have done it. In some ways, it doesn’t make sense. Most of the cultures in the world of Myrrah, the setting for my epic fantasy series the Rise of the Fifth Order, have unique languages. Trade is the common tongue. But the only one with special attention is the twin languages of the Kith and the Ashanti.
Of course, there is a reason for that – both the twin languages and why it is the most important language in the novels. But still, to go ahead and make it up???
I didn’t at first, to be sure. Actually, I think I was several years into the novel and in a major re-edit/re-working when I got to the chapter where Darag and the Ashanti are talking together. I’d felt since the first draft that I wasn’t living up to my abilities as a writer and artist to not create a new language. Seriously, it really bothered me. I’d begun with thinking I could use that fallback mythical language of Welsh, but I knew I was selling myself short. And I happened to be taking introductory Spanish at the time, realizing that Spanish is so wicked easy (took French in high school – why did I do that to myself???).
So, languages don’t have to be amazingly complicated. In fact, a language based on the elements like this language had to be, could be very simple. I gave it a try.
I think it works and it adds something to not only the plot but the scene where it is used. Darag translates, but the Kith dialect is slightly different from the Ashanti. Darag’s phrasing is not exact. A few things he doesn’t actually translate. But, if you happen to know Kay Selfah…well, it all makes sense!
You want some clues, don’t you? The language isn’t in the Companion. So, I thought I’d share it here.
The Language of the Elements
Truly, I mean this is a language of the elements. Words are broken up based on what element they relate to. Each element has a certain sound that it emphasizes. When spoken, a sentence would hold the sounds of fire, water, earth, air, and spirit. This is a condense language, simple in that it has few adjectives such as ‘the’. There are a few gray areas. Like where to put numbers…?
The core sense that I related with water was hearing. Think of the sound of a babbling brook. The main sounds are ‘w’ and ‘b’ for that reason. Water is pure. It is our blood. We need it to live. These are the words of water:
To me fire comes with touch. It burns. It warms. It is also creativity and passion. It can become jealousy and obsession. The main sounds are ‘s’ and ‘r’ for the hissing and roar of flame. These are the words of fire:
In the world of Myrrah, earth is related to minerals, soils and the things that break down to this state. It is not living plants or animals. THAT is something else! Homes are made of earth as are cities. It is stability. It can also be that which destroys: war and death. The sense associated with earth is taste. Are the vegetables living when we bite them? The sounds of earth are heavy and final: ‘k’ and ‘t’. These are the words of earth:
Air is our breath as much as the wind. It is also intellect. Why do we say ‘farsightedness’ to describe someone astute in reason? And since what we see travels through air, it can also carry illusions. Without temperance, too much air can lead to cold calculations. The sense of air is smell, of course. The sounds are ‘z’ and ‘f’. These are the words of air:
If plants are other living things are not earth, that must mean they are spirit. The concept of 5 elements is very old – and very eastern. I can’t say I came up with this one! People, animals, plants, life all fall under words of spirit. The sense is sight and the sounds are ‘l’ and ‘y’. These are the words of spirit:
I wish everything fit neatly into an element. I just never figured out where things like numbers should fall. So yes, there are those words that got left out:
Are you an expert now? Do you know what Kay Selfah means? Look it up and you’ll see the name is really…elemental! 😉
And now, to give you a test…okay, maybe just some fun. Here is part of the conversation between the Ashanti, known as the desert tribe, and Darag, a member of the Kith:
In the coolness of the night, the desert riders had loosened their headscarves to reveal smooth, tanned skin and dark eyes with thin lips below high cheekbones. Darag had grown used to the riders the last few days. But next to Ty and the others, there was an odd smoothness to their faces. It was a similarity that made Darag wonder what others must think the first time they saw the patterned skin of the Kith.
Ria watched the riders with a wrinkle on her forehead. “How do they intend…?”
Her words were cut off as one rider extended a gloved hand. Fire sprouted from the desert sand. Niri, Ty, Ria and Lavinia jumped. Jeif’taku’s eyes crinkled at the corner and he laughed a few breaths.
“Fire Elementals?” Niri asked. She looked pale and nervous.
“Not of the Church, if that is what you mean. They are Ashanti, the Desert Tribe. I met them in Bakk and they offered to ride with me to find you.” Darag turned toward the tribesman, who were placing pots filled with water from Niri’s spring over the woodless fire.
“Shaarh sylfah?” Darag asked.
Jeif’taku and Behk’sah exchanged a glance. Kiefa’shoo laughed. “Kha,” he answered. “Khat ba selfah, sahl.” The words hissed, rising and falling in a staccato rhythm.
Darag raised his eyebrows. “He says not just one Elemental, but all.”
Niri’s hand fell to the sand as she stared at the tribesman. “I’ve never heard of such a thing,” she whispered.
“You can speak their language?” Lavinia asked.
“It is similar to Kith.”
“Beitah,” Kiefa’shoo said, the sound dying away to the same hiss as the sand moving in the wind.
“Of the same source,” Darag said, brow furrowed. His eyes stayed on the tribesman for a moment. It was more information than they had given him as they rode to find his friends. But then, he had not been too concerned at the time with other worries as to wonder why he and the Ashanti could understand each other.
“How did you find us?” Ria asked, pulling Darag’s attention back to the group.
“Ti fesh selfah efti whaf shaar tek?”
“Jeif’taku wants to know how Niri summoned the ocean into the desert?”
Niri blushed softly. “Story for story then, you first.”
“Dih,” Kiefa’shoo agreed, accepting a bowl from Leifa’den of rice covered in gravy made out of the dried fruit and meat. She and Khefa’bey passed out the food to everyone and then sat behind the other Ashanti, remaining close enough to hear what was said. Khefa’bey’s eyes followed Jeif’taku with attentive envy. Leifa’den watched the strangers amid the Ashanti. When things were settled, Darag began.
“After you left Drufforth, I could not stay. I headed up the River of Turcot to the Temple of Ice.”
Niri and the tribesman sat up straighter. “You were there?” Niri whispered, voice wistful.
Darag nodded, a forgotten unease stirring with the memory. “I’ve never seen anything like it. The ground, the water, everything is frozen as if it were the deepest winter. The destruction outside…,” Darag shook his head. “But inside there was hardly anything. A room,” Darag thought of the dark room that hovered with a presence. “Maybe two that showed signs of something amiss, otherwise it was like the Priests and Priestesses had left…or knew they would not be needing their rooms any longer. They left them clean and empty as if waiting for new residents.”
Niri’s brow wrinkled. “It doesn’t make any sense. The Temple of Dust, what we saw of it, showed obvious signs of a battle. The library was partially destroyed.”
“We didn’t go into the rooms though. There wasn’t destruction on the steps down,” Ria pointed out.
“Why did you go?” Lavinia whispered, her fingers trailing on Darag’s arm.
“Because of what you told me and what Laith Lus asked Niri. I wanted to know why he asked if you were going to go to the Temple of Ice,” Darag said to Niri. “And I wanted to know what had caused the war: magic users or the Order of Fire.” He glanced apologetically over at Ria.
“It was the Order of Fire,” Niri said flatly.
“Dih, shaar selfah.”
“How do you know?” Ria asked, turning toward Kiefa’shoo.
“Ashanti oohket tohnwa.”
“Their history speaks of it.”
“It would have been useful to have met them about a week ago,” Ty said dryly. Kiefa’shoo chuckled.
“Did you find anything?” Lavinia asked.
“A journal, it said the Temple of Stone had already fallen. They knew the Order of Fire was coming to the Temple of Mist next because Water Elementals had been at the Temple of Stone during the fighting and helped the Order of Earth. They were asking for help from the Temple of Winds and another name I had not seen before. That is where it ended.
I realized the danger you were in going to the Temple of Dust at the urging of a Fire Elemental, so I went back to Drufforth and hired one of the ships to take me to the Archipelago. From there I went to Rah Hahsessah. I had just found news in the market that you had been there and gone to Tabook when word came that the sea had left its banks and flooded Karakastad. I knew that had to be Niri.” Niri blushed, glancing away.
“That doesn’t explain how you knew where to find us in the desert,” Lavinia said from where she sat against him.
“I was rather desperate once I heard that the Temple of Dust was flooded. I knew something had happened and you were ahead of me. I . . . I spoke to the earth, to the sand. Or maybe listened.” Darag shook his head, gaze unfocused.
“I felt you or at least the footsteps of the camels leading away from Karakastad toward Bakk. I knew it had to be you, so I went to Bakk and waited a day, then two. I could barely sense where you were in the desert, and then you stopped walking. I met the Ashanti when I tried to find a horse or camel to go and search for you. I was so afraid I would be too late.”
Darag’s gaze was only for Lavinia, imagined grief filling his heart. She touched his face tenderly. “You were not.”
“No, I must learn to not underestimate naiads.”
Ty snorted. “If you haven’t learned that yet, I’m surprised.” Darag’s lips twitched. He glanced sidelong at Ty, but said nothing in reply. “You were in Rah Hahsessah? You only heard we were there . . . nothing about what happened?” Ty asked.
Lavinia stiffened against him. Darag looked down at her and then across to Ria’s pale face. She did not meet his eyes, nor did Niri. Darag’s gaze narrowed. He looked at Ty.
“No, what happened?”
Lavinia compressed her lips and let a long breath out through her nose. She glanced quickly at her brother before saying, “I killed a Priest.”
Darag was only vaguely aware of the stir that caused in the Ashanti. He looked down into Lavinia’s sky blue eyes, forgetting to breathe. “Why?”
“I ran into him. He realized what I was . . . am,” Ria said eyes fearful. “I couldn’t get away. He was holding on so tight. He kept throwing fire at Lavinia, but then Ty pulled me so that he stopped . . . and Lavinia killed him.”
“You killed a Fire Elemental?” Darag asked, his hands cupped on either side of of Lavinia’s face. She nodded, swallowing hard. Darag wrapped his arms around her, his cheek resting against her forehead. His heart was beating so forcefully he wondered if she did not feel it where she pressed into his chest.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner,” he whispered hoarsely.
Lavinia shook her head, pulling back. “It is why you taught me to use a sword. So I could fight when I needed to.”
Darag’s wanted to argue. He had never envisioned her fighting a Fire Priest. But what she said was true. He nodded, loving Lavinia all the more. As he let her go, Tef’han approached with a canteen in hand. He held it out to Lavinia, looking at Darag.
“Teyl rhy’lef kahba shaar selfah kil beykeh?”
“Dyh,” Darag replied with a tinge of pride, drawing out the sound almost the same as the Ashanti. One arm stayed around Lavinia’s waist.
Tef’han grinned. “Sah’zoh, whitey!”
Lavinia took the open canteen uncertainly. “What is in it?”
“Yelfesh ak’shaar tek.”
Darag raised both his eyebrows, his eyes sliding to Lavinia’s. “It is potent.”
Lavinia hesitated, taking a deep breath. She managed a swallow, but coughed after. Tef’han grinned, swallowing a gulp as he walked to the other side of the flickering fire.
“I hope they don’t feel that way about all Priests or Elementals,” Ria said cautiously.
“Kha, bata shaar Priests,” Jeif’taku answered, his voice strange on the word foreign to his language.
Niri leaned forward. “Why only the Order of Fire?”
A frowned pulled at Keifa’shoo’s mouth. “Shaar Priests fetyi nohl bwahka Ak’Ashanti.”
“They think they rule this desert.” Jeif’taku snorted at Darag’s translation. Darag looked from Lavinia, to Ria, Ty and then Niri. “What else happened since you left Drufforth?”