On Language

Anne C. Miles > Writing > On Language

I studied Welsh for a few years before I wrote Sorrowfish. I took some online classes and puttered around my house, muttering in it. On Halloween I was practicing while waiting for the kids to come by. I was sitting on my porch with a fog machine, dressed in a witch’s hat. My husband laughed at me and told me it sounded like I was whispering spells. In a way he is right. I’ve always been enchanted by the language.

Dwi’i eisau siarad Cymraeg. (I want to speak Welsh.)

I read Susan Cooper’s books when I was a child and her description of the Welsh language and landscape captivated me. If you haven’t read The Dark is Rising series, I highly recommend it. They are children’s books, but are good for any age, as all good children’s books are. I was also heavily influenced by The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, which contains some Welsh. There was never any doubt in my mind as to what the magical language in my world would be. The language of the majisters is Welsh. You see it in their naming of things.

“Siarad” is a city in Canard, but it means “to speak” in the old language. Brenin, one of the words in the beginning of the book, one Trystan is able to hang onto, means “King.” The word dewin means “wizard” in Welsh. So yes, much of the language in my world is Welsh.

The other language I stole from, quite unashamedly, is Hebrew. Hebrew is found in the aeries of the Chymaera, in their names. M’ra is derived from “Mara” and Chesed and Savlahnut are directly from that language. N’khum is also, though I did change the spelling of Nachum to emphasize the consonant sound. It wasn’t a name I wanted prnounced by clearing your throat. Chesed means love, the love of God, specifically. Zonah means harlot. Savlahnut is patience. (I’m probably spelling it wrong, lol.)

I wanted the words of the Chymaera to be exotic and beautiful, especially the names. Using Hebrew, I accomplished my goal.

I did borrow some Old Norse for one character, Gisle. His name means “A pledge” or a “promise.”

The only other thing I will say about my use of language is that I love literary alchemy and tried to use it throughout the story. You might look for colors and see what you find. The colors will give you deeper insight regarding a character’s role in the story.

On the map, the names of the Weldes are purely directional. Heyewelde is the high lands. Middewelde refers to the central or middle lands, and Lowewelde means low lands. Ferriton is quite literally, the “Ferry town,” while Sahxe is a reference to Saxony.

I can’t talk about the language in my book without discussing the name of my world, Canard. If you have bothered to look it up, you know it means literally “duck.” It’s been repurposed to mean an airplane’s wing. But if you have read at all you know that canard in English has another meaning. It means:

a false or unfounded report or story especiallya fabricated report

The report about a conspiracy proved to be a canard.

b: a groundless rumor or belief

the widespread canard that every lawyer is dishonest

That’s a very strange thing to name an alternate universe. Isn’t it?

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