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Analysing the Languages of Mystara

by Travis Henry

In this thread, I'm posting ideas about the languages of Mystara. This scheme differs from other some fan-written language schemes* (excellent though they are) in that this one refrains from designating new languages beyond those mentioned in official sourcebooks. Other fans (understandably) have included additional languages to account for the seemingly multiethnic nations, such as Greek Thyatians, Latin Thyatians, German Thyatians, and Italian Thyatians; or Romanian Traladarans and Slavic Traladarans. I suggest another method for reconciling this. The method outlined below aims to stick strictly to the languages listed in the TSR books, such as in the NPC stat blocks.

This method employs three ideas in regard to making sense of Mystara's languages:

2)“Fictive translation” (and a related concept: “language of translation”)
3)“Degree of fantasy”


*Here are some of the fan-made language schemes I reviewed:
Mystaran Languages
Thyatian Language
Glantrian Dialects
Languages of Mystara 2.0
Thoughts on Language
Ethnography by Language

Concept #1: Localisms

“Localisms” include personal names, place names, and peculiar local terminology (such as local cuisine). And also any other flavourful words (such as interjections) or short phrases that a DM wants to include to make an NPC's speech or in-game text more colourful.

The concept of “localisms” enables various ethnicities that are said in official sourcebooks to speak the same M-language – but which are based on different RW-ethnicities – to have the same language. I'm thinking of how Hattians in official products are said to speak Thyatian as their mother tongue even though they are M-Germans; or how there is supposed to be only one Traladaran language, but which seems to include Romanian, Slavic, and Hungarian names. According to this “localisms” scheme, different localities preserve their own naming traditions and some other flavourful words even though they speak the same language as other localities within the same nation. Also, they have their own “accents” (pronunciation) too.

So according to this scheme, the M-Latin, Greek, Italian, and German Thyatians all speak Thyatian Common as their mother tongue, but each has their own "localisms" which they use for their personal and place names. And each has their own accent -- so Hattians of course speak Thyatian with a German accent.

One could wonder how the Thyatian-speaking Heldannic Knights get all their German names for their ships (e.g. Uhuboote, Jagteufel) if they don't have a separate language. Well this is where “fantasy linguistics” comes in. The Hattians and Heldannic Knights simply have a store of "name-forming words" that are passed along from generation to generation. Kind of like how English has a store of words that are used only in personal names (“john”, “thomas”, “steven”) and place names (“-ville”, “-ton”, “-stead”).

Yes, I recognise that may be "stretching it"...but I think Mystaran linguistics may be as different from RW linguistics as Mystaran geology is as different from RW geology (e.g. Worldshield, elemental vortices) or RW-biology vs. M-biology (dragons, etc.). Other “fantasy linguistic” features include:
1) not worrying about how fast or slow Mystaran languages change through time compared to RW language change, and
2) not worrying about how various Mystaran languages descended from languages that are unrelated in the RW. Such as how Makai, as an M-Polynesian language is a sister language to the European-style- Neathar languages.

My goal is to strictly stick to official data in regards to Mystara's languages, while at the same time reconciling and making sense of that data, especially in regard to seeming RW inspirations. I think that forcing Mystara to line up with RW ethnology squeezes some of the charm out of the setting.

Concept #2: Fictive Translation

The idea of “fictive translation” comes from Tolkien. In the appendix of the LotR, he says that the Middle-earth books were translated by him from the antediluvian Westron language (a.k.a. Common Speech) into modern English; including the Westron place-names and personal names. He says he did this so that the names wouldn't appear so alien to a modern reader: so English “Rivendell” (made of English “riven” –- an old word meaning “cleft” -- plus “dell” a valley) instead of actual Westron <Karningul> “cleft-valley”. He says he also translated the languages that are closely related to Westron (in other words, the Middle-earth “Germanic” family) into Germanic languages: the language of Rohan translated as Old English, and the language of Dale as Old Norse. He says he left the other Mannish languages untranslated, along with all the Elven, Dwarven, and other non-Mannish languages. In his letters, he calls this framework “fictive translation”.

I suggest this could be applied to Mystara, in order to make sense of the various English-like names of Mystara. There are English-like names found in Karameikos (e.g. “Threshold”, "Wulfwolde Hills", "Westron Road"), Darokin, the Five Shires, Ierendi, Fenswick, Cimarron, Bellayne, and even sprinkled in countries outside the sphere of Thyatian Common or Slag Common, such as Alphatia (e.g. “Blackheart”) and the Hollow World ("World Spine", "The Lighthouse").

My guess is that the TSR authors didn't have a clear or consistent idea of what the various “English-style” names in various countries really represented. Are they all really supposed to be actual English? Or are some of them merely “translations” from the actual Mystaran language into our own RW gaming language?

The latter option seems to be the case for at least some of the names, since “Threshold” is represented as “La Soglia” (meaning "threshold") in Italian D&D products. This suggests that the actual name for the town means “threshold” but isn't actually phonetically <Th-r-e-sh-h-o-l-d> – otherwise the Italian D&D products would leave it as “Threshold”. The RW target language such as English, Italian, Norwegian, or any other language used in a D&D product is called the “language of translation” or LOT.

So I suggest that some (but not all) of the English-like names of Mystara are actually translations from the actual Mystaran languages into RW-English or other LOT.

An aside: Actual Thyatian vs. Englished Thyatian

I'm an active member of the Tolkienian language community, and we have to use terms such as "Actual Westron" versus "Englished Westron" (or "Translated Westron") to distinguish between the Actual Westron language as it (fictively) existed in the world of Middle-earth, and the English language used to represent and translate Westron in modern books. Applying the "fictive translation" concept to Mystara would require a similar distinction for some languages -- namely for Thyatian, Slag, and Neathar.

Actual Thyatian, Actual Slag, and Actual Neathar are the actual languages as they (fictively) exist in the World of Mystara. Translated Thyatian, Translated Slag, and Translated Neathar are those languages as they appear in our TSR-published D&D game books -- in English, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish, and so on. These terms would only be used in an out-of-game perspective.

So what is the “untranslated” actual Thyatian Common language like?

I suggest that the names in the Thyatian Calendar (link to a PDF) are supposed to represent the actual Thyatian language. Though it's reasonable to hypothesise that the month names and week-names are relics from another language, like the Latin month names in English, I think it's also reasonable to hypothesise that they are really the Thyatian language. Though the month-names are foreign borrowings in English, the week-day names in English are made up of native English words (except for "Saturn") -- so the analogy supports both hypotheses equally. As far as the intention of TSR...I don't think it's far-fetched to suggest that the author of the Thyatian Calendar may have intended the names to be the Common tongue.

If the Thyatian Calendar is in the actual Thyatian language, then a short vocabulary of Thyatian can be gleaned. I've juxtaposed some RW words in parentheses (besides English) that are similar:

<dain> "day"
<luna> "moon" (Latin, Italian, Spanish)
<sola> "sun" (Latin and Spanish <sol>, Italian <sole>)
<mont> "month" (German <Monat>)
<nuw> "new"
<flaur> "flower"
<fel> "fell"
<svift> "swift"
<vater> "water" (German <Wasser>, pronounced with a “v”)
<yarth> "earth" (Old Norse <jorth>)
<fyr> "fire" (Old English <fyr>)
<eir> "air"
<thau> "thaw" (German <tau-en>)
<klar> "clear"
<ambyr> "amber"
<kald> "cold" (German <kalt>)

It appears that Thyatian/Common is coincidentally similar to RW-Germanic languages (mostly English-like, but also similar to Old English, German, and Norse), and secondarily to RW-Romance languages.

I suggest that the rest of the language could be invented by “reverse engineering”. For example, based on the analogy of Thyatian <kald> with English “cold” and German “kalt”, the actual Thyatian word for “old” might be <ald> (German “alt”).

One might ask: then what about the Greek and Latin-style Thyatian personal and place-names such as "Karameikos" and "Specularum"? I suggest that these represent two things:

1) Greek and Latin names would be one set of “localisms” of the Thyatian/Common language – specifically, the personal and place names of the “imperial” variety of Thyatian. Other Thyatian-speaking regions such as Hattias have their own “localisms”. But except for those localisms, all Thyatians (whether they are “imperial” or Hattian) speak the same quasi-Germanic/Romance language glimpsed in the Thyatian calendar names.
2) Whatever Latin and Greek words are in the English language may parallel Latinate and Hellenic words in the Thyatian language. For example, the everyday Thyatian word for "look" may be something like <luk> (compare German dialect <luog-en>), but the Thyatian word for "speculation" (an erudite word) might be something like <speculatio> (like the Latin), related to the name <Specularum>.

That would be the explanation for why Germanic, Latin/Romance, and Greek are all found in the invented Thyatian language.

Concept #3: Degree of Fantasy

“Degree of fantasy” (or “degree of invention”) is a term I've coined to designate where a Mystaran language lies in this continuum:

a) “RW Mystaran language”. These languages are essentially the same as a RW language. For example, the Antalian language is apparently identical to the Old Norse language (except for having Mystara-specific terminology – such as Old Norse words and names for the fantastic monsters, races, spells, nations of Mystara). This term also includes languages which arrived from Laterre, such as Sylaire.
b) “quasi-RW Mystaran language”. This language is an invented language, but is clearly based on, or a mix of, one or more RW languages. The quasi-Germanic/Romance language of the Thyatian Calendar is an example.
c) “fantastic Mystaran language”. This language is a full-blown fantastic invented language. The Alphatian language fits into this category.

I mention this concept only to clarify that some languages of Mystara are exactly like a particular Real World language, some are wholly invented, and some are in-between. All the languages of Mystara will fall somewhere along that continuum.

Now I'll show examples of how I'd apply those three concepts to other Mystaran languages.

I've left out a lot of languages, and I haven't done a thorough study of the all linguistic titbits found in the official materials. There's room for improvement by others, especially in regard to making it fit snugly with official data. But hopefully I've included enough to make the general principles clear.

The Languages

First a recap and further description of the Thyatian language:

Thyatian/Common is a "quasi-RW language" -- it's the invented Germanic/Romance language as seen in the Thyatian Calendar. Thyatian is often (though not always) fictively translated as English (or other LOT).

Many of the Thyatian names are completely translated into English:

(examples from Karameikos):

(examples from Thyatis):

(examples from elsewhere in the Known World):

(examples from further afield in the Outer World):

Other Thyatian names are only partially translated into English:

Some names are wholly untranslated actual Thyatian:

As shown above, Thyatian Common names may be found scattered throughout the Outer World. I suggest that nearly all of the maps of the Known World are English “translations” of Thyatian Common-language maps. Where foreign names such as “Theranderol” appear, this is a foreign name which has been adopted by Thyatian (like the name "Zimbabwe" in English) -- but in the case of foreign names such as “Blackheart”, the Thyatian name is a translation of the foreign name by sense (like “Ivory Coast” instead of <Côte d'Ivoire> or "White Russia" instead of <Belarus>). And then, the TSR designers further “translated” the actual Thyatian name into English.

Unlike names, connected text in Common is always translated into the LOT -- for example, the NPC speeches within boxed text, and the Common-language player handouts. Likewise, the word puzzle in Castle Caldwell is not in its Thyatian form as it “actually” looks in Mystara -- it's “fictively translated” by TSR into English.

Thyatian Localisms
Lastly, here's a list (not exhaustive) of "localisms" or varieties of Thyatian Common, with their RW flavour:

Darokinian, Glantrian, and Ierendian:

In TSR's CD&D reality of Mystara (according to the Gazetteers), Darokinian, Glantrian, and Ierendian are separate languages from Thyatian.

In that CD&D reality, Darokinian appears to be either:
A) the RW-English language (with some "eclectic Celtic fantasy" localisms) or
B) an invented quasi-RW language -- an eclectic mix of English, Celtic, and other languages seen in existing canonical Darokinian names. This language would likely related to the quasi-Germanic/Romance language of the Thyatian calendar.
The Glantrian language and Ierendian language (and Five Shires speech) would be similar to Darokinian, but with different ingredients mixed in with the English or quasi-English flavour.

In TSR's AD&D 2e reality of Mystara (according to K:KoA and G:KoM), Darokinian, Glantrian, and Ierendian, are all dialects of Thyatian.

In that 2e reality, Darokinian, Glantrian, and Ierendian (and Five Shire speech) would each be a "localism" of the Thyatian language. They'd be the same quasi-Germanic/Romance language seen in the Thyatian Calendar vocabulary, with the addition of their own "local flavour" (place-names, personal names, local culture terms):

Slag is the Common language of the Savage Coast.

The Savage Coast Campaign Setting states that “the common language of the Savage Coast is a trade tongue similar to Thyatian, the common tongue of the lands east of the Serpent Peninsula. Known as "Slag" in other parts of the world because of the association with Slagovich Savage Coast common also contains words derived from the languages of the various non-human races of the region. However, the common tongue of the Savage Coast is sufficiently similar to the common language used in the rest of the world that characters who speak one should be able to rapidly pick up the nuances of the other, though they may have an accent for quite some time.”

I think it's clear that Slag is supposed to be “English”, since the SCCS describes Renardois as "similar to the Glantrian tongue Sylaire, but related to Common, Espa, and Verdan”, which I suggest means: “M-French is related to M-English, M-Spanish, and M-Portuguese”.

I conceive of Slag as an “American English” version of the quasi-Germanic/Romance Thyatian language. In other words, Slag is only as different from Thyatian as American English is from British English. In support of this view is the fact that the Slag month and weekday names from the "Calendar of the Savage Coast” are spelled exactly the same as the Thyatian month and weekday names. This would be expected if Thyatian and Slag are as similar as British and American English, but not if they were as different as even Spanish and Portuguese. British and American English spell the month and day names the same, but pronounce them somewhat differently (e.g. American “TOOZ-day” vs. British “TYOOZ-dy”).

Besides having a different accent, Slag likely has incorporated “New World” words from the Tortles, Espans, and Verdans equivalent to the many American Indian and Mexican Spanish and South American words that entered American English (e.g. “raccoon”, “tomato”, “avocado”, “mustang”, "cashew"). Slag would be “New World” Common with Thyatian as “Old World” Common.

Cimarron (along with the colonies of Dunwick and Richland) is the only country where Slag Common is the official language. The SCCS says Cimarron's state language is common, and while people in most other baronies speak common and either Espa or Verdan, only about one-third of Cimarrons speak a language other than common (usually Espa). All Cimarron place names are now rendered in common.” So the English place names of Cimarron are supposed to be Common. While the whole Savage Coast uses Slag as a trade tongue (and thus speak it with their own accent), Cimarron is the only country where it's the mother language and thus has its own local variety. So the Slag speech of Cimarron would have American Old West localisms.

Fictive Translation
The significance of these conclusions is that the English-looking Common names seen in Cimarron and in other places in and near the Savage Coast (e.g. even the names "Orc's Head Peninsula" and "Grass Coast") are fictive translations of Actual Slag into English. (One exception would be the M-English names of the Rakastan language of Bellayne.) For example, the actual name of “Claw Peninsula” located in Cimarron may be something like <Klau Peninsula>, with <klau> modelled on <thau> “thaw”, and <peninsula> like Latin, just as the Thyatian word <specularum> is like Latin.

Traladaran and Slagich

I suggest that the Traladaran language is M-Old Church Slavonic (a.k.a. Old Bulgarian).

The Bulgarian Empire was the Slavic counterpart to the Byzantine Empire and was conquered by Byzantium. I suggest that the Church of Traladara is M-Bulgarian Orthodox (the first Slavic national church). I look at the Traladarans who worship Stefan Karameikos as something like M-Bogomils.

Localisms of the Traladaran language:

Slagich = M-Croatian since Bruce said he based Slagovich on Croatia (reference: "Goatmen of the Kavaja, some explanation"). Since Croatian and Old Bulgarian are closely related, this fits with how the SCCS says Slagich "is almost the same as the Traladaran tongue". The Caprines of Kavaja speak this variety of Slagich too.

Localisms of the Slagich language
The other City-States and the Goatmen of the Black Mountains all speak Slagich too, so that means there are several localisms of the Slagich language in order to account for those multiple RW-ethnicities:

Other languages

Here's my rough notes for many of the other languages. I don't have the Mystara books on hand, so I'm not able to verify some of the details. I welcome any suggestions for improvement -- especially where my notes (such as language names) don't match up with official data.

Alasiyan = Classical Arabic. Central Asian Turkic localisms in the Emirate of Makistan. Greek localisms in Nicostenia and Dythestenia. Ancient Egyptian localisms in the Emirate of Nithia.
Alphatian = An invented fantastic language. Sometimes (though inconsistently) represented by fictive translation as English, such as “Blackheart” and “Greenspur”. Though these could be direct translations by TSR from Alphatian into English, I suggest that they are also Englished Thyatian Common names, since the Thyatian-speaking authors of PWA and Joshuan's Almanac use those names too. Alphatian Localisms: Dutch localisms for Flaems. In other words the Flaemish variety of Alphatian is simply the Alphatian language with Dutch personal and place names, Dutch words for local cultural items, plus as much Dutch as the DM wants to intersperse for flavour. And they speak with a Dutch accent too. But as with all local varieties of a language, 90+% of the language is still pure Alphatian. Blackhill Alphatian likely has few localisms, being nearly the same as Imperial Alphatian.
Antalian = Old Norse
Atruaghin = If I were to describe the Atruaghin language, I might pick one American Indian language to use for that. I might pick Mohawk, since it seems to be the most active of the Iroquois languages, and the Iroquois are archetypal representatives of the eastern American Indian culture. Though all members of the Atruaghin Clans would speak a single Atruaghin language, they'd have their own localisms: Pacific Northwest Indian localisms for Turtle Clan, Pueblo Indian localisms for Bear Clan, Woodland Indian localisms for Elk Clan, Mesoamerican localisms for Tiger Clan, and Plains Indian localisms for the Horse Clan (as far as they have spoken names, since according to official sources, they don't use spoken language).
Horse Clan Sign Language = Plains Indian Sign Language
Azcan-Oltec = Nahuatl
Denagoth = likely an invented language. Seems to have a dark "Tolkienian" feel (I'm thinking of the similarity with the name “Morgoth” and how the Shadowlord is similar to Sauron)
Dwarvish = the invented language seen in the Rockhome Gazetteer. I suggest that the name-elements on the map of Rockhome that are Dwarvish are Dwarvish, and the name-elements that are English represent translations into Common. So some of the names are straight Dwarvish (Stahl, Evemur), some are partial translations (Karrak Castle; "castle" is Common; its Dwarvish name would include the Dwarvish word for "castle") and some are wholly translated into Common (Greenston). The Thyatian-speaking editors of PWA and JA call the country Rockhome, so this is likely its name in Common.
Elvish = AFAIR, there's a glossary of this language in the Alfheim Gazetteer. AFAIR much of it was borrowed from Tolkien's Sindarin and Quenya languages. Elvish Localisms: Spanish localisms in Belcadiz; in other words, the flamenco elves speak Elvish, but they have Spanish personal names and place names, and Spanish words for local culture like “flamenco”. Shadowelves and Schattenalfen have their own "sibilant" localisms. The other Elven nations such as Blacklore Elves and Icevale Elves have their own varieties -- however, the localisms of the Elven clans or nations that use “typically Elvish” names would hardly be distinguishable. Though it may sound incredible, according to official sources, Elvish is a single language throughout the Outer World and Hollow World. My scheme honours that. I chalk it up to fantasy linguistics.
Emerondian = a fantastic invented language
Espa = Spanish
Ethengarian = Mongolian
Eusdrian = Old Frankish. The SCCS says Eusdrian is “similar to the Antalian language used in other parts of the world”.
Fenswick = English
Herathian = Canaanite
Hulean = Ottoman Turkish
Jennite = Scythian
Jibar = Guarani
Hutaakan = The invented quasi-Egyptian language seen in Hutaakan names.
Ka-Na-To = The Brute-Man tongue appears to be a cave-man-like invented language
Karimari = The Lingala-like language of the Aka Pygmies? Maybe Lingala could be used since a Lingala dictionary is likely more accessible than an Aka dictionary.
Kaelic = Scottish Gaelic
Kogolor = a separate language from Rockborn Dwarvish according to official sources
Lalor = the invented language of the Hin, now in disuse in favour of Darokinian.
Lupin = an invented language. Unlike the Rakastas of Bellayne, the nobility of Renardie abandoned their racial tongue in favour of a human-derived language Renardois. The peasants still speak Lupin.
Makai = Hawai'ian
Malpheggi = an invented language. In the 3e and 4e realities of Mystara, both Shazak and Malpheggi would be subsumed into Draconic.
Manacapuru = maybe the RW-Mara Indian language since that is where the RW-city of Manacapuru is located. However, since Mara may be extinct, and linguistic materials may be hard to acquire, a related or nearby language of the Amazonas State might be used instead, such as Piraha.
Milenian = Classical Greek
Minrothad Patois = a quasi-RW-based language as seen in the Minrothad GAZ
Neathar: Like Thyatian and Slag, Neathar is a Common language of one of Mystara's sub-settings. Based on Neathar names, Neathar appears to be an invented language even though the Neathar people are something like the RW-Indo-Europeans. It appears that TSR often fictively translated Neathar terms (such as the names “World Spine Mountains”, “Beastman”, “Icevale”, “Brute-Man”, and so on). Can any say whether Neathar is the language used by the researchers of the Lighthouse? If so, this would justify there being Neathar Common names for places and peoples throughout the HW.
Nimmurian = Akkadian
Nithian = Ancient Egyptian
Ochalean = Chinese. However, is there an official reference to Ochalean being a separate language? If not, then it would be a localism of Alphatian or Thyatian (I don't remember which language DotE says is mother tongue of the Ochaleans in 1000 AC).
Rakastan = an invented language. British English localisms in Bellayne, Japanese localisms in Myoshima and among the barbaric Rakastas of the Yazak Steppe.
Ranax = Gaulish
Renardois = French
Risil = Perhaps the Western Desert Language could be used to represent Risil, since it's the most widespread Aboriginal language.
Shazak = an invented language. In the SCCS, it's said: “The shazaks have their own language, called Shazak; it is nearly identical to the Malpheggi language used by the more civilised lizard folk in the rest of the world. Both the gurrash and the caymas speak their own dialects of Shazak.” Gurrash seem to have Cajun localisms.
Sindhi = Hindi
Sylaire = French
Tanagoro = Zulu
Thothian = is there any official source that says this is a separate language? If not, then Thothia would speak Alphatian, with Ancient Egyptian localisms.
Thratian = Old Irish. Since they're M-Cimmerians, and Cimmerians of the Hyborean Age are Dark Age Irish.
Tortle = an invented language
Traldar = Homeric Greek. I suggest that the Traldar of the Lost Valley speak the Traldar language with fantastic localisms. I admit it's pushing the bounds of even "fantasy linguistics" to explain how the Traldar in B10 speak Thyatian Common.
Urduk = Pashto. The Desert Nomads seem to be like Afghans.
Verdan = Portuguese
Yavi = Swahili. I googled a few of the names from the map of Yavdlom. Though I didn't do a thorough study, it seems the names could be Swahili (e.g. Machupa).
Yaz = perhaps a Dakotan-flavoured Goblinoid language.
Yazakan = the goblinoid language of the Yazak Steppes. I suggest it's a Kazakh-flavoured goblinoid language.
Yazug = The language of the Dark Jungle Orcs. An invented Goblinoid language.

A note on non-human languages in various realities of Mystara
In the CD&D and 2e realities, the many humanoid and fairy races each have their own language. In the 3e reality of Mystara (glimpsed in the 3e DRAGON magazine articles about Mystara), many of these languages (including the Yazakan, Yazug, and Yaz languages mentioned above) would be consolidated into Goblin, Orc, Giant, and Sylvan. And in the 4e reality of Mystara (glimpsed in the 4e Bargle website article), they'd be further consolidated into Goblin, Giant, and Elven. Any linguistic flavour would be retained in 3e and 4e as "localisms" though.

Goblinoid Localisms:
In each of these realities though, Mystaran goblinoid peoples who have an atypical culture (such as a RW-inspired culture) would have their own localisms:


P.S. I may've overused my invented term "localisms" in these posts. From an IC perspective it should definitely be replaced by "dialect". In fact the term "dialect" is used a lot in the 2e Mystara books. But I used "localism" in order to stress the idea that multiple ethnic onomastic varieties can belong to a single Mystaran language without having to designate a separate language for each RW flavour.