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The Thyatian Languageby Giulio Caroletti from Threshold Magazine issue 11
The Thyatian Language
by Giulio Caroletti
One of the major problems when we face history is that we tend to miss the true perspective of time. We are used to perceive cultures in space, but we often discard the great differences that a population, a culture, a language experiences through its history.
Fantasy and science-fiction literature (and, thus, also role-playing games settings and adventures) often suffer from a coupled problem: an excess in spatial (“horizontal”) and temporal (“vertical”) extension of its cultures, nations and empires.
On Earth, at the time of writing, according to the UN there are 190 undisputed sovereign states and 16 disputed ones; and, according to Wikipedia, “Estimates of the number of languages in the world vary between 5,000 and 7,000.”
States like the US did not exist 300 years ago, while states like Italy and Germany did not exist even 200 years ago. Moreover, it is quite easy to point out how different England and France were at different times in history, like 1300 AD, 1700 AD, and today.
Keeping this in mind, it is important not to reproduce the same mistakes when dealing with the cultural history of fantasy settings. It is true that magic and deities can change the path of cultural history too, and “freeze” cultures (Mystara has a very good example of this in the Hollow World, for instance). However, to do so (or, at least, to do so systematically) is simply not very entertaining either for writers or players. Moreover, it would be unrespectful of Mystara's setting, rich as it is of spatial and vertical abundance, contrarily to many other role-playing worlds. The main area of Mystara, the Known World, is lesser, in size, than the whole of Europe; and, thankfully, it seems to share the same linguistic, cultural and historical abundance in variety of that area. It would be a pity to think that – to name just an example - Ethengarians, whose culture stems originally from 1700 BC, should have remained essentially the same over the course of 2700 years.
In this article we will try to answer these questions with a focus on the Thyatian cultures and languages, starting from the rise of the Antalians on Brun around 2400 BC. Since the Empire contains several cultures, we will also discuss to some extent their presence and influence on Thyatian language and culture as well.
The Thyatian Language
Thyatian is a language belonging to the Thantalian sub-branch of the Antalian branch of the Neathar languages. The Thyatian alphabet is derived from the Taymoran and Milenian alphabets.
Thyatian was originally spoken in old Thyatium, the area currently known as the Duchy of Thyatis. Through the power of the Republic of Thyatis, the most important of the pre-Alphatian city-states in the region, Thyatian became the dominant language, initially in the regions known as Mainland Thyatis and subsequently throughout the Known World. Thyatian is the Common Tongue of the Known World, the language of international communication, scholarship, and science. As for AC 1000, in its standardized imperial form, or as a dialect or local version, it is an official language of the Empire of Thyatis, the Grand-Duchy of Karameikos, the Principalities of Glantri, and the Kingdom of Ierendi.
The area now known as Mainland Thyatis was settled for a long time by Neathar tribes. Most of these spoke languages belonging to what has been called by scholars and ethnolinguists “Thantalian” language family, although probably no Thantalian tribe existed, nor did the tribes, at that time, consider themselves part of a linguistic or cultural unicuum.
The ancestors of the Thyatian people were Thantalian tribes brought to Davania by the Nithians, in an unsuccessful attempt at colonizing the southern continent around 1000 BC. After disposing of their Nithian masters, the tribes lived in northern Davania until they faced the Milenian Empire, and had to choose between being absorbed or flee. Those who chose the latter were the so-called original “three tribes” of Thyatians, Kerendans and Hattians. It's possible that the tribes were really called this way, maybe because of patronymics or because of cities they came from, although other scholars think that the names were given retrospectively by the Thyatians to their ancestors, to fit the three-parted division that happened later on in Thyatian history.
The southern tribes, among which the most important were called Etrusnans1, and the local Thantalians intermingled, especially since they were all pressured by the same enemy, the Nithian Empire in the north. It is to be noted that in the sixth century BC, what is now known as Mainland Thyatis was also settled by Doulakki and by descendants of the Traldar and Taymorans, who brought writing and their alphabets to the region. The Thyatian alphabet, which is the standard alphabet of the Known World, descends from modifications of the Traldar/Doulakki alphabet (which was also the Milenian alphabet) and of the late Taymoran age alphabet.
The rise of a common Thyatian language and recognized ethnicity was furthered by the end of the Nithian Empire. Traldar, Doulakki and post-Taymorans, whose cultures had already suffered much decline in the last centuries, were dealt a strong blow by the end of the Nithian Empire and the Spell of Oblivion. Their city-states were progressively conquered by the Thantalian-Southerner cities, among which the major ones were Thyatis in the east, Kerendas in the west and the isle of Hattias in the south.
Between 500 BC and 200 BC, when the Alphatian Empire decided to move into Thyatis and conquer the whole region, a common language and ethnic identity formed in the area, although a few Doulakki and post-Taymoran cities remained, either as independent cities or as vassals of the Thyatian, Kerendan and Hattian city-states. The Alphatian conquest and the two centuries of domination led to the extinction of the Doulakki and post-Taymoran culture of Thyatis. A few fled to their kin in Traladara after the Alphatian invasion, some were brought to the Hollow World, but the others were all but assimilated into the Thyatian subjects of the Alphatian Empire.
By the time the Thyatians revolt and expel the Alphatians from Thyatis, Ochalea and the Pearl Islands, and the Thyatian Empire is born, Thyatis is ethnolinguistically a mostly united nation, although enough differences are present between western Thyatians and eastern Thyatians that the westerners identify as “Kerendans”; the insular Hattians, moreover, belong to a definitely distinct culture.
With the increase in literacy, cultural life, science and technology brought by the Alphatians between 200 BC and Year 0 of the modern Thyatian Calendar, the intellectuals and scholars of the Thyatian lands codified the rules for the written Thyatian language. This eldest form of Thyatian, called Old Thyatian, has been revised several times throughout the 1000 years of existence of the Empire, and constituted the basis of what is now known as the High Thyatian. High Thyatian is an intellectuals' language and is convoluted and more complex than the language ever spoken by commoners.
Although the Old Thyatian language was used in politics, law, religious activities, poetry and drama, the needs of the common people gave rise to the use of so-called Vulgar Thyatian for writing. Born as a half-literate, crude and simplified version of the Thyatian written language, it was given dignity first by satirists and comedians who wrote theatrical plays for the common people, and then by politicians and intellectuals affiliated with the progressive and popular parties who considered Old Thyatian's complexity annoying, and by merchants and traders who knew how the simple common tongue suited their commercial interests. Through time this resulted in the codification of a simpler form of written Thyatian which is now known as Common Thyatian and which is the official language of Glantri, Karameikos and Ierendi, and the informal Common Tongue of the whole Known World (and sometimes beyond the Known World as well), brought around by Thyatian armies and merchants, and by all those who traded with the Thyatians.
High Thyatian remains mostly a written language, with the exception of special occasions, mostly in politics, science, drama, religion, magic, although politically or artistically motivated people might prefer Common Thyatian in some instances (realistic characters in dramas or comedies; or popular, republican or ethnical minority politicians who might want to distance themselves with the aristocrats, imperialists and/or intellectuals with whom the High Thyatian is associated).
People who speak Common Thyatian will be able to understand most of High Thyatian; moreover, every person who learns to read and write in Thyatis will be given at least a basic education in High Thyatian.
The Mainland Thyatian language is divided roughly into two dialect families, the western branch, called Kerendan, and the eastern branch, called Thyatian. The two branches are not clearly separated, but there is a dialect continuum2 between them.
Roughly, the western dialects include those from the dominions of Machetos, Kerendas, Vyalia (with strong Vyalia Elven influences), Biazzan, and in the Ylari city of Ctesiphon.
The eastern dialects include those from the dominions of Thyatis, Lucinius, Retebius, Kantrium and Halathius, and the Thyatian speaking communities from most of the eastern part of the Emirate of Dythestenia in Ylaruam.
Actius and Borydos have dialects which share traits of eastern Thyatian with strong Hattian influences.
Some dialects are not included in this classification: these include insular or domain-specific dialects, like Trinakrian (the Thyatian dialect of Tel Akbir and of the Thyatians from the Ylari city of Tameronikas), which is strongly influenced by Alasiyan and Doulakki; Terentian (the dialect of Terentias), with Elven and Minrothaddan influences; and Carytian, the dialect of Carytion, where the local, insular population retained archaic elements that can be traced back even to the Taymoran culture. Auroran dialects include those of areas where Thyatian is a local language, like in Helskir and West Portage and the northern parts of the western Isle of Dawn (but not in Westrourke, Caerdwicca and Furmenglaive, where Dunael3 languages related to Thratian are used).
Mositius is a very recent dominion and there is no local dialect there. For different reasons, Sclaras does not have a dialect either.
Last but not least, Hattian is a special case that is described later in this article.
The Ispans were a Thyatian sub-culture which developed in the cities of Fabia and Cubis during the Thyatian occupation of Ylaruam. Their dialect was most similar to the Trinakrian dialect of Tel Akbir and Tameronikas. When the Alasiyans re-conquered Ylaruam, some Ispans remained in those cities, where they make up almost the whole ethnically Thyatian communities.
Among Ispan refugees who fled to Thyatis after the Ylari conquest, many were later exiled and travelled to the Savage Coast because of their fanatical belief in Solarios (Ixion), and the religious troubles they caused within the Empire with their arrival.
On the Savage Coast, their dialect evolved into the current Espa and Verdan dialects of Thyatian. Some others founded small Ispan communities in other areas of the Empire, the most important being L'Alguer on Carytion. The remaining Ispans mostly dispersed within Mainland Thyatis and lost most of their cultural heritage.
Belcadiz elves speak a Thyatian dialect who is very close to Ispan and Espa. Since the origin of Belcadiz elves is all but unknown to everyone but Belcadiz elves, any speculation about these similarities has supporters among scholars. Some say that Belcadiz elves lived hidden between Ispans for centuries, influencing them and hastening the process of cultural differentiation from other Thyatians; some say they came from the Savage Coast, where some (or many) of them might still pass as humans; others think they came from the same alien world that spat the d'Ambrevilles (who seem to speak a language distantly related to Thyatian) on Mystara.
The so-called regional variants of Thyatian are towards Common Thyatian what Common Thyatian is towards High Thyatian, at least in terms of linguistic “distance”.
The ethnically Thyatian communities living in other countries, having their language continuum with the Mainland and the Empire broken, developed their own dialects, which took a form of their own and specific regional features.
Still, these dialects are intelligible to a Thyatian speaker, and most of the people speaking a regional dialect will still make an effort to speak in Common Thyatian when they meet a foreigner.
There are three main Thyatian dialects outside of the Empire of Thyatis: Glantrian, Caurenzan and Ierendan. In other areas of the Empire, where Thyatian is not the main language of the commoners (like on most of the Isle of Dawn4, the Pearl Islands, Ochalea and the Hinterlands), Common Thyatian is spoken and regional variants are not found.
Glantrian, or Glantrian-Thyatian, is the common tongue of the Principalities of Glantri, and has some distinct differences from Thyatian, especially because of the high number of loan words from Alphatian, Flaemish-Alphatian and Elven, related to most magic and technological terms.
Caurenzan is the Thyatian dialect of Caurenze and of the House of Sirecchia. Most Glantrians of Thyatian origin came from the Emirate of Dythestenia, but the chauvinistic Caurenzans made a point of trying to retain as much traditional Thyatian elements as possible in their ways, and language was not an exception to that. However, since Thyatian dialects of western and eastern Dythestenia belong to two different branches of Thyatian (respectively Kerendan and Thyatian, see above), Caurenzan ended up becoming a syncretic form of Common Thyatian, with most of the dialect variants and asperities removed. Caurenzan is thus considered an elegant and simple dialect and the most beautiful form of Common Thyatian – especially by Caurenzans, obviously.
Ierendian is the common tongue of the Kingdom of Ierendi; it is a regional form of Common Thyatian, with influences especially coming from the Makai tongue. Thyatians will consider it just a dialect of Thyatian, while Ierendians will consider it an independent language; and the matter is just a part of the ongoing hostility between the two countries.
Although Darokinian has a strong Thyatian influence, the language cannot be considered part of the Thyatian language family. In AD&D Mystara, Darokinian is described as a dialect of Thyatian, but it is very unlikely that Darokin, which was unified a thousand years ago by the Eastwind dynasty, would be simply a Thyatian language. You are obviously free to change this in your campaign.
We decided to leave Hattian last, because of the special nature of Hattias and of the Hattian culture.
Hattians belong to the Thyatian ethnic group and speak a dialect of the Thyatian language. However, their culture, description and names are clearly inspired by Teutonic Knights, Prussians and Germans.
There are two possible ways to relate to this: the first one is to assume that they simply are Thyatians with Teutonic/Prussian cultural twist, and thus with German-sounding names and surnames.
An alternative way is to make them an independent group in the Empire, related to Antalians (and thus to Northmen and Heldanners), who speak a German-like language.
In both cases, the Hattian language or dialect would be the source of the names of the months in the Thyatian calendar.
The task of writing ethnolinguistic articles about a fantasy world is not an easy one. Definitions of ethnicity and language are difficult even in real world, and even more difficult is to find out rules on the evolution of languages and the distribution of genetic traits in populations. The fact that Mystara has cultures which seem to be, in many ways, strongly related to Terrestrial ones (or Laterran, if you prefer), can make the task easier - or more difficult, if one wants to stay inside Canon.
Thyatis and the Thyatian language are an excellent example of this. The Thyatian Empire is clearly based on the Roman and Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) Empires. Thyatian names in the official TSR products likewise seem to be a mix of Roman and Byzantine ones. While the western parts of the Roman Empire used Latin as their common tongue, the eastern parts of the Empire (which later became the Byzantine Empire) used Greek. Unfortunately, western Thyatians and eastern Thyatians of the Mainland all speak the same language. So how can we justify the presence of Latin sounding names and Byzantine sounding names not only inside the same Empire, but inside the same limited region, namely Mainland Thyatis, whose main population is ethnolinguistically the same?
Moreover, other aspects must be taken into account:
All cultures of Thyatian origin and stock seem to speak Romance languages, according to names and language snippets in official sourcebooks (Caurenzans in Glantri; Espa and Verdans on the Savage Coast);
There is already an enormous amount of Greek-related countries and people on Mystara: the Traldar (Hollow World), potentially the Traladarans (a mix of Greek, Slavic and Romanian), the Milenian Empire in the Hollow World and the Milenian city-states on Davania, the Minaeans on Skothar (which descend from Milenians), and the Traladaran city states on the Gulf of Hule (Slagovich and the like);
Traldar/Traladarans/Milenians and Thyatians don’t seem to be related at all (canonically, the Traladarans are related to Nithians, while the Thyatians are related to Antalians).
So how do we solve this?
Well, there are several possible approaches. Two in particular comes to mind:
It is a fantasy setting and a fantasy world. The Thyatian language might apparently resemble Latin or Greek, but it is not related to either. It is a different language in a different world, and names and sounds lie somewhere between the spectrum of the two, so Latin-sounding and Greek-sounding names are all ok, and all allowed for Thyatian characters. The nicest interpretation of this approach that we are aware of is Travis Henry’s one, in which he introduced the concept of “localism”: it doesn’t matter what type of language Thyatian is (or any other Mystaran language), the presence of Greek sounding or Latin sounding names in Thyatis derives from the fact that a certain set of names and surnames, whose origin is not important and not related to actual linguistics, will be found in certain regions of Thyatis. And this applies more or less to any Mystaran language.
Thyatian, in this interpretation, might have a set of Italian sounding names and surnames coming from, for instance, Caurenze; a set of Latin sounding names and surnames in eastern Thyatis; and a set of Greek sounding names in western Thyatis. And these ‘localisms’ are not related to the actual Thyatian that is spoken in Thyatis, which might or might not be related to a RW language.
The only problem of this interpretation is that if we use it in a strict sense, we must also discard all Spanish/Portuguese linguistic references to the Espa/Verdan cultures of the Savage Coast.
Thyatian is very close to Latin. Latin- and Roman-sounding names are all right for Thyatian characters, but we know that many characters have Greek, Byzantine and Italian-sounding names. Where do they come from? What should we do with them?
Here we are again confronted with two possibilities:
To replace all Greek, Byzantine and/or Italian-sounding names with Latin- and Roman-sounding ones, or with others coming from the other cultures that belong to the Empire (Norse names from Oceansend, Helskir and the northern Isle of Dawn; Alphatian names from the Isle of Dawn; African names from the Pearl Islands; and so on).
To provide an explanation to the strong presence on Mainland Thyatis of Greek/Byzantine/Italian-sounding names. This is what we intend to do in the Appendix.
Appendix: Thyatians as Latins - RW inspiration and the Byzantine elements
In this Appendix we will give the ratio behind our interpretation and invention of dialects and regional derivations of the Thyatian language. Our starting point will be to consider the original Old Thyatian language (see above) as the Mystaran equivalent to RW Classical Latin language.
In order to do so without having to provide a long list of new, re-adapted names for Canon characters with Greek/Byzantine names, however, we also try to give an explanation to their presence.
In this reconstruction, Thyatis is the equivalent of RW Rome; however, Old Thyatian will be different from Classical Latin at least because of the presence of Alphatian loan words, that will in part supplant the Greek and Hellenistic ones found in RW Latin. This doesn’t mean there will be no Greek/Byzantine linguistic influence at all: the Thyatian language bears still a meaningful trace of Doulakki, Traldar and Milenian influences, established upon the original Thyatians approximately between 600 BC, when the legendary proto-Thyatian three tribes arrived from Davania to the Known World, and 0 BC, when the individual traits of Doulakki, Traldar and Milenian cities in Mainland Thyatis had finally disappeared.
It is to be noted that a great deal of Thyatian characters from the GAZs bear names5 which are neither Greek-sounding nor Latin-sounding. In some cases (such as "Justin", "Stefan" or "Philip") this could be explained with a Common Thyatian spelling of an Old Thyatian name (Justinus, Stephanos/Stephanus or Philippos/Philippus); this could also be applied to some surnames (for example, "Malaric" or "Antonic" could be the Common contracted form of "Malaricus" or "Antonicus", and so on). However, we prefer to consider these names as sign of the presence of the Dunael language, created by fans to explain the presence of these names and the toponomy of Westrourke, Caerdwicca and Furmenglaive, that we consider a M-Celtic language. Latin names rendered in an Anglicized version (such as "Pulcherine" from DDA1 or "Nicephore" from GAZ4, where one should have instead "Pulcherinius" or "Nicephorus") can be explained with true influences from the Dunael language.
If we mix our interpretation with the concept of ‘localism’ introduced by Travis Henry (see Postface, above), we can conclude that in certain areas of Thyatis, because of the influence of Traldar, Doulakki and Milenians, there was a set of names and surnames that bore the Greek/Byzantine linguistic influence. The same happened on the southern Isle of Dawn with the Dunael who brought the Celtic influence to the Empire and to its language and names. With the expansion of the Empire and the internal migrations, especially towards the capital, these surnames became very common.
It might be interesting to define a number of Traldar/Doulakki founded cities in current Thyatis (taking inspiration from the founding of Italian cities by the Greek in RW). These might include the Mainland cities of Kerendas, and Tel Akbir (before the Alasiyans occupied the area, just like Arabs occupied Sicily); and, in Ylaruam, Tameronikas and Cubis.
1The Etrusnans will feature in an article on the next Threshold issue and are also mentioned in Threshold issue #9 and in the article “Lost Civilizations of Thyatis and Alphatia” in this same issue.
2A dialect continuum is “a range of dialects spoken across some geographical area that differ only slightly between neighboring areas”, although traveling in any direction, “these differences accumulate” to the point that sometimes “speakers from opposite ends of the continuum are no longer mutually intelligible”. This, however, is not the case for Thyatian and Mainland Thyatis (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialect_continuum).
3The Dunael culture and language were introduced by James Mishler for his campaigns, and were later covered in several articles that can be found on Pandius, see for instance: http://search.freefind.com/servlet/freefind?id=574922&pageid=r&query=Dunael&mode=Find+pages+matching+ALL+words.
4Cultures born on the Isle of Dawn include the fan-made Dunael and the Thothians; while colonists on Dawn are of Alphatian, Northman and Thyatian origin. The Dunael fill the need to explain Celtic and old English names of characters from the Isle of Dawn and, if necessary, other parts of the Empire, which are present in official products, and their culture is built on the description in Dawn of the Emperors of the dominions of Caerdwicca and Furmenglaive.
5These include Devon, Sherlane, Retameron, Bartran, Alfric, Olliver, Merrik, Aleena (GAZ1), or Caine and Guldahan (GAZ8).