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Some fantasy linguistics for these fantasy languages

Some fantasy linguistics for these fantasy languages published on 12 Comments on Some fantasy linguistics for these fantasy languages

Since both main languages in Leif & Thorn are getting rendered into English, they have features and subtleties that might not be clear in the translation. Started making notes for my own reference, and figured I would share.

(Readers who are into linguistics are totally welcome to dissect this stuff and offer ideas! [Looking at you, Mara.])


Sønska uses the vowels Å, Ö, and Ø, as well as acute accents, producing letters like ó and á.

Old Ceannic uses acute and grave accents, but they’ve fallen out of style in modern times. You’ll probably only see them in proper nouns that date back centuries, e.g. Rhódon (the mythohistorical epic hero), Aibreán (the majority ethnic group), or Iùlag (a constellation, the Compass).

Ceannic has a T-V distinction in its second-person pronouns. That is, when Thorn says “how are you?” to his sister, it has a different “you” than the same phrase addressed to President Romarin. Sønska does not have this distinction.

Sønska does, however, have reflexive possessive pronouns. That is, the phrase “Leif went to Thorn’s apartment and shared some of his coffee” has a different “his” depending on whether it refers to Leif’s coffee or Thorn’s coffee. Ceannic doesn’t do this.

Both languages have masculine and feminine third-person pronouns (he/him and she/her). In Ceannic, when people need another gendered pronoun, they usually just make the plural third-person pull double duty (singular they/them). Sønska, meanwhile, has a longstanding singular pronoun specific to nonbinary/agender people (much like ze/zir or hen/hens, but not a neologism). The idea of using a plural as a singular sounds like word salad up there.


Some notes on character fluency:

Thorn speaks awkward Sønska: stilted, with a limited vocabulary and some struggles with grammar. The two languages aren’t developed fully enough for me to know exactly what errors he should be making, because I am not Tolkien. Mostly I just think “if I were trying to say this in French, what’s the best I could do?” and then back-translate.

His Sønska will get more fluid and natural-sounding the more months he spends guarding the embassy, though it reverts to clunkier forms when he’s stressed or his attention is elsewhere.

Juniper speaks even more limited Sønska: basic vocabulary, almost no grammar (“show him the thing”). Holly knows school-level Sønska: mostly building-block conversational phrases.

On the other end of the spectrum, Violet reads voraciously in Sønska (as well as Middle and Old Ceannic, and probably a few other languages). She has an incredible vocabulary, excellent grammar, subtle grasp of idioms and allusions…and a chronic problem with pronouncing things weirdly.

Leif knows a handful of words in Ceannic, including “yes/no”, “please” (formal), “thank you” (formal), and a handful of nouns. He’s trying to pick up more. (He doesn’t know “leaf” yet. Nobody tell him.)

High-level embassy officials are fluent in both Sønska and Ceannic. The embassy guards have a high level of Ceannic understanding, even if their ability to speak it varies.


A lot of the names, proper nouns, and other formal terms are lifted straight from real-world languages. They don’t map directly to the way those languages relate to each other IRL — I just want them to feel internally consistent within a group, and “foreign” with respect to other groups.

  • Sønska names are pulled from Swedish and Norwegian. Lots of Swedish combination surnames, e.g. Ambassador Beringar = “bear-spear”.
  • The guards at the Sønheim embassy are specifically named after Valkyries (Sigrún, Geirskögul).
  • Old Sønska names are dodgy Internet Hungarian (Stanczia, Imri). These are mostly used for naming ancient vampirese; I figured making them Romanian would be a little too on-the-nose.
  • Ceannic last names are French. Like Ceannic first names, they have a theme. Estragon = tarragon, Lavande = lavender, and so on.
  • Formal or old-fashioned Ceannic terms and names map to Irish Gaelic. Tiernan (the cat) = little lord, Margaid (the ship) = pearl.
  • Go back far enough, and Old Ceannic pulls from Ancient Greek (Rhódon = rose).

One other language has been alluded to in the comic so far, and that’s Getsunai, language of the country to the west of Ceannis. Getsunai formal nouns are pulled from Japanese; all the native last names come from professions, so I’ve just rendered them in English, as in Birch Baker.

In spite of those IRL languages being really widely divergent, Getsunai in-universe is more closely related to Ceannic than to Sønska. I’ll break that down in more detail some other time…when I have a good map to post, because this is much easier to understand when you can see where the mountains are.

12 Comments

I would have to see words and sentences actually transcribed in these languages to say anything linguistically interesting about them, but I’m looking forward to seeing how they evolved. Here’s a question: what kind of Ceannic loanwords appear in Sønska, and vice versa?

I’ve been thinking about this on and off ever since you posted it, because I keep trying to reverse-engineer the whole linguistic history of the continent first…and let’s just say that’s more than I need to have nailed down right now.

So, hmm, loanwords. Sønska has picked up Ceannic words for a few ocean-related phenomena, because Ceannis is the one with all the coastline. Meanwhile, Ceannic has adopted the Sønska words for certain kinds of snowstorms, avalanches, and other winter-in-the-mountains events. The border between the two countries involves a giant hard-to-pass mountain range…but Ceannis picked up that territory more recently, so the Sønska names for the mountains might have more staying power.

Ceannic has exported its names for a lot of spices. Traditional dishes from both countries frequently keep their names when talked about in the other language. Sønheim had better gem-working technology for centuries, so a lot of the more complicated cuts and techniques have Sønska names wherever you go.

Magical techniques that only work on one side of the mountains are going to have names from that side. Same with wildlife that’s only native to one area. Or magical creatures/phenomena.

Dragons can show up on both sides. The Ceannic “sea monster” is a literal description, so the words just get translated when someone in Sønsheim is describing one. On the other hand, there’s an arctic creature that gets referred to by its Sønska name even in Ceannis, because a literal translation is “winter fox,” and in Ceannic that sounds deceptively cute.

The current storyline is the one that introduces the Holger Saga, which isn’t the only Sønska property that’s gotten wildly popular in Ceannis…so there’s a certain amount of fangirl Sønska that shows up in fan communities. More on that…um, much later. (Violet is too chill for it, and Holly thinks the whole habit is an embarrassment.)

Hi! So far I am enjoying the story a lot, and the linguistics are an interesting spin!
However, the names Stanczia, Imri are not Hungarian. (Being one I do know them.) Imre would be a correct form of Hungarian male name. Stanczia, however, I have never heared before.

Huh..I found Imre as the correct name now that I know what to look for. but the only Google results for Stanczia identify it as a Hungarian name. Sometimes a last name. Could it be an uncommon last name?

(The characters aren’t Hungarian in-universe, so it isn’t totally necessary for the names to be accurate! But I do appreciate the input.)

No problem, I undarstand you aren’t doing the comic in Hungarian. Also, I cannot claim I know all names ever used. A few years back a mother was on the news who named her childern “Christmas gift” “Wild flower” and “Radiator” (In Hungarian). Compared to that, Stanczia sounds like a nice reasonable name!

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