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The Alphatian Language:
Magic is in the Words

by Hervé Musseau

The Alphatian language is, to outside appearance, a rather standard language. It has 24 letters that constitute an alphabet, and which can be combined to form words which in turn make sentences. It is easy to grasp basics of Alphatians, because words represent a concept, yet hard to master because the same word can have many different significations (though always from the same basic concept) that would correspond to distinct words in other languages.

But that's just the Alphatian of the mundaners and foreigners, not the true Alphatian of the aristocracy. Because there is another whole level to the language, a level with magical potency that is the real basis of Alphatian, one that conveys great power to those who can understand it. It is taught to promising youths at the universities, and is one of the foundations of the magical superiority of the Alphatians and their culture.

History as the Immortal Razud Knows It

The origins of the Alphatian language are partially lost to time, though not entirely. To understand it, one should first accept that the Alphatian culture is not actually Alphatian in origin, but Cypric.

Very, very long ago, on Old Alphatia, two human cultures grew on the same world, independently. One of them called themselves the Cypris (archmages), who had coppery skin, a small population, and a strongly magical culture. They were masters of magic, but they were also very chaotic and individualistic; they used their powers for their sole pleasures, living in luxury and decadence. The other culture was the Alphatians, with pale complexions, a large population whose culture is but forgotten, though from all appearances they were expansionistic and quite warlike. The name Alphatian is not that used by the Alphatians themselves (the name they used for themselves is now lost), but the name given them by the Cypris, which meant primitives, for the Alphatians, though skilled at magic as were all the peoples of Old Alphatia, were far from equaling the level of the Cypris.

It was inevitable that the Alphatians would try to conquer the decadent Cypris. And when this happened, the Cypris did nothing to prevent it - they were too uncooperative and decadent to even try to resist the Alphatians. Thus, one by one, the palaces of the Cypri wizards fell to the conquering Alphatian warlords. But several Cypri wizards cast powerful wishes (and possibly now-lost more powerful magic) before being captured, generally worded so their lives would be spared, or sometimes to curse their victors.

Piecemeal, the whole Cypric civilization fell to the Alphatians. But as each Cypri wizard was uttering the magical wishes, the sorcery was accumulating and interacting in a strange fashion like was never seen before since the Cypri wizards had never worked together toward the same goal. The global effect of that merging was a very strong spell which is impossible to word exactly because of its complexity, but is basically geared toward preserving the Cypric culture above and on top of the Alphatian one, to make the Cypris grow and prosper at the expense of the Alphatians, and to turn the Alphatians into Cypris.

Thus the Alphatians, though they had vanquished the Cypris, actually adopted their culture, and the archetype of the decadent, self-indulgent, tyrannical Alphatian aristocrat wizard is in fact the direct representative of what Cypris were like, preserved by the powerful dweomer. Yet the spell in its complexity also left room for variations, which can be seen among the various kingdoms of modern Alphatia, and the fact that it is stable yet not stagnant.

The now unified Alphatian-Cypric civilization thus adopted wholesale the Cypric culture, including their language and wizardly repertoire. The Alphatians, who reinterpreted their name as meaning the ones or the first ones, soon forgot their own culture; they also intermarried with the Cypris to the point where the copper complexion became common (this was an effect of the spell) and the Pure Alphatians became rare.

A Language of Magic

The Alphatian language is in reality not made of 24 letters, but of 24 symbols, not unlike magical glyphs or the Runes of Power of the Northern Reaches. Each symbol is the magical representation of an essence, or element, the combination of which fully characterize everything that exists. The number of symbols has varied through Cypric and Alphatian history, ranging from 21 to 27 (the current ones plus nyx, bury, and sula. Some symbols have been added because they were lacking, some were removed because they were redundant, and the current archmages recognize the 24 symbols as the best - in their eyes, perfect - representation of all the elements.
Everything is a unique combination of the 24 elements. As a consequence, it can be represented by an assemblage of the 24 symbols. Where the mundane Alphatian would write the letters in a simple suite from left to right, an Alphatian wizard will draw the symbols to intertwine in the best representation she can make of the thing she wants to name. This drawing is in itself a magical word that wields inherent power over what it represents.

Thus, an Alphatian who wants to tap an object for magical power will think about what its essence is. She will try to get as far as possible into describing its fundamental elements and how they are intertwined, because the closer she gets to its true essence the greater control she has over it. In gross term, it is far better to know that a tree is a five hundred and twelve year old oak which has always been in the forest of Alfheim and imbued with a portion of the life-force of the Immortal Ilsundal, than a tree.

This is the basis of the Alphatian magic. This is how spells are written in Alphatian spellbooks: they are written in plain Alphatian, but in the magical version of it, that which only wizards can comprehend.

Just as the symbols evolve (after long philosophical and magical debates), so do words in Alphatian. Nothing is ever fully described by the symbols; there is always another way, a better way of describing the essence of something, one that will come with greater control over it, and thus more magical power. This is the object of many studies by the Alphatian wizards.

Obviously, due to the way words are made, the closer two things are (on the elements scale) the closer their name is. This is why mundaners, who don't care for the magical power of names, use the same word for things which are "close enough"; this can be very confusing for non-native speakers. The mundaners are used to this multiplicity of close meanings from a single word; the aristocrats find their impreciseness crude.

Each element is assigned a level of importance (again, after much debate), from 1 to 24. As one might expect, the importance of each element has varied more than once through Alphatian history, as schools of thought waned and faded in preeminence, and as a consequence so has the order of the letters in the mundane alphabet. Each Alphatian wizard thus uses her own version of the Alphatian language, the one she has studied and determined to be the most powerful. It will bear resemblance to the commonly (and currently) acknowledged version, yet be different enough to be a different language unto itself. Typically, the order of letters is changed to reflect the wizard's favorite elements (including, as a consequence, how she writes numbers). Also, the symbols used for the letters will vary, either because they have been refined for her use, or because she has re-discovered some older form that she thinks conveys more control but for some reason was barred.

Because it uses complexly-interconnected symbols of elements to represent anything, the Alphatian language is almost impossible to pronounce except in its mundane incarnation. Each wizard voices her incantations in a personal way, even more so than when writing. That is why the verbal incantation is limited to the most basic spells, while more complex channeling of magic typically requires the addition of a somatic part. For the most powerful dweomers, neither words nor gestures are sufficient, and tapping the elements correctly requires the actual expenditure of some, in the form of material components.

As could be expected, each element has its own school of thought that believes in the supremacy of its element over others. This has led to unfortunate episodes of Alphatian history, reaching its highest point with the destruction of Old Alphatia. Beyond the philosophical arguments, this has prompted the creation of magical specialties whose goal is to gain ultimate mastery over an element. These specialties are sometimes called (elementary) schools, (secret) crafts, (hidden) arts, (essential) circles, or (path to the) spheres.

It is not without a reason that magic is so pervasive within the Alphatian society; it is actually ever-present. Because the Alphatian language conveys a sway over the things (and people) they represent, every spellcaster in Alphatia, because she has learned the true significance of the language, can cast cantrips at will. The aristocracy, when they put any effort in it, do indeed have complete mastery of their environment. Of course, grasping the essence of a broom is more complicated than ordering a slave to clean the manor. That's the reason why aristocrats keep whole contingents of slaves and servants to tend to the basic needs of the household, while they themselves concentrate on more important issues (i.e. philosophy, arts, magic, and above all themselves).

The Letters

Letter Numeral Alternate/old versions* Element Anti-letter** Anti-element**
alpha 1 ar, ei beginning, first, prime, air omega (omega)
beta 2 bet, vet, vert birth, renewal, growth omega (omega)
gamma 3 gammia, gami, gammon generosity, sacrifice, relationship, balance omicron (omicron)
delta 4 deltia, dalti, dalt day, light, clarity nyx night, darkness
epsilon 5 ansilon, anduln, andru nature, earth, change, plenty, fertility, matter bury undeath, necromancy
zeta 6 zita, zat, chat protection, defense, ward upsilon (upsilon)
eta 7 elta, ella reliability, trustworthiness, order xi (xi)
theta 8 thet, thot, thotha immortals, divine protection, clerics ***(none) ***(none)
iota 9 icta, issta, itta coldness, ice, static, standstill rho (rho)
kappa 10 kappra, kippi, cypri knowledge, creativity, teaching/learning, light, magic, wizardspi (pi)
lambda 11 lampda, lampha, ampha water, flow, fluidity iota (iota)
mu 12 ma individual, human, mankind sula inhuman, beast, animal
nu 13 nun, num, nem time, delay, need, necessity chi (chi)
xi 14 xon, lxon, lon luck, randomness, chaos eta (eta)
omicron 15 omi, om property, home, homeland, individuality, selfishness gamma (gamma)
pi 16 phi mystery, secrecy, female kappa (kappa)
rho 17 rha, har, hart, hast travel, movement, rhythm, motion, combination iota (iota)
sigma 18 sum, su, sid, sud success, life-force, sun, fire, power, energy iota (iota)
tau 19 tay, taur, tayr, tyr honor, justice, leadership, authority sula non-Alphatian, slave, barbarian
upsilon 20 utsilon, tsilon, tsla strength, speed, action, male zeta (zeta)
phi 21 psi intelligence, sentience, thought, memory psi (psi)
chi 22 zi joy, harmony, pleasure, bliss nu (nu)
psi 23 phi mind, dreams, spirituality phi (phi)
omega 24 omeca, omexa end, last, death, destruction, entropy alpha (alpha)

*This list is far from exhaustive.
**Some anti-letters do not exist as letters any more, while others do. If the Alphatian language was perfect, all anti-letters would disappear as their element can be in theory be represented by opposition to another element.
***The Outer Beings are unknown to the Alphatians.

The Schools

Letter Element Schools*
alpha beginning, first, prime, air Air Elementalist, Thelemic, Zypher Mage, Mage of the Wing
beta birth, renewal, growth Invoker, Creationist, Restorer, Rejuvanator
gamma generosity, sacrifice, relationship, balance Balancer
delta day, light, clarity Light Master
epsilon nature, earth, change, plenty, fertility, matter Earth Elementalist, Geomancers, Stone Breakers, Cathedralist, Transmuter, Druidist, Weather Master, Biomancer
zeta protection, defense, ward Abjurer, Warden
eta reliability, trustworthiness, order Law Mage, Cooperative Mage
theta immortals, divine protection, clerics Diviner, Immortal**
iota coldness, ice, static, standstill Cold Mage, Stasicist
kappa knowledge, creativity, teaching/learning, light, magic, wizardsEnchanter, Geometer, Artificer, Puzzler, Numeralist, Thaumaturgist
lambda water, flow, fluidity Water Elementalist, Alchemist
mu individual, human, mankind Charm Mage
nu time, delay, need, necessity Chronomancer
xi luck, randomness, chaos Chaos Mage, Wild Mage
omicron property, home, homeland, individuality, selfishness Dimensionist, Astromancer, Walker of Starlight Threads, Brother of the Moon
pi mystery, secrecy, female Mysticist, Cryptomancer, Ritualist, Rune Master
rho travel, movement, rhythm, motion, combination Conjurer, Summoner, Crystal Seer, Nomadist, Animator
sigma success, life-force, sun, fire, power, energy Fire Elementalist, Evoker, Force Mage, Soul Master
tau honor, justice, leadership, authority Quester, Politician***
upsilon strength, speed, action, male Warlord, Duellist
phi intelligence, sentience, thought, memory Mentalist, Metamagician
chi joy, harmony, pleasure, bliss Emanator, Song Mage
psi mind, dreams, spirituality Illusionist, Phantasmer, Psionosorcerer
omega end, last, death, destruction, entropy Entropist
(nyx) night, darkness Shadow Master
(bury) undeath, necromancy Necromancer
(sula) inhuman, beast, animal; non-Alphatian, slave, barbarian Hive Master, Demonologist, Dracologist, Fleshcrafter, Wokani

*This list is far from exhaustive.
**Immortality is not a school of magic, but a step sought by Alphatian archmages in order to wield even greater powers.
***Emperors and council members form, in a sense, their own school of thought.
Metadynamics, Rhadomancy (dragon 229), Aportation (dragon 220)

Quiz: Are You Ready to Master Alphatian?

The Alphatian language is
1. set in stone
2. in constant flow
The Alphatians have ..... the Cypris
1. conquered
2. acquired the magics of
3. adopted the culture of
4. been cursed by
5. become like
Magic is
1. primordial
2. unimportant
Alphatian culture is
1. uniform
2. diverse
Mundane and wizardly Alphatian are
1. fundamentally the same
2. like two sides of the same coin
The month are named after
1. elements
2. great wizards
3. Immortals
4. ancient emperors
To read another wizard's diary I have to
1. cast read magic
2. just decipher her handwriting
Elementary school is for
1. the kids
2. the archmages
Zzonga starts with a
1. chi
2. zeta
Exercise: Class in order of decreasing importance
1. Alphatian
2. slave
3. Immortal
4. barbarian
5. Outer Being

Answers: 2, All of them, 1, 2, 2, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1-3-2-4 (5 unranked).

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Copyright (c) 2000, Hervé Musseau. Used by permission. All rights reserved.