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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.

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