Ya ni panimayu ruskyi. Well, that’s not entirely true. I do understand a tiny bit of Russian. Enough to make a native speaker laugh, but not enough to do anything (like get to the bathroom or order more vodka).
My major in college was “Modern Foreign Languages”. Technically, I had a double major in “International Affairs” as well, but a multidisciplinary major at a Liberal Arts college comes out as sort of a blurry “she vaguely focused on the rest of the world.” The languages, which were an accidental second major, end up being the more useful set of hard skills that I have taken away from school. I even have a graduate certification in Spanish translation. More or less, it’s half a Master’s degree in Spanish that says I can accurately translate stuff from Spanish into English.
I don’t use any of these skills in my daily life. Every one of my language skills is currently classified as Rusty. However, I’ll be dusting off those language acquisition skills to add a tiny bit of Greek to the list. We’re planning to go to Greece on our honeymoon, and I refuse to go somewhere without the basics. I need to know greetings, numbers, directions and please and thank you. I need to be able to ask questions and be reasonably polite, even if that’s all I can do. Because that’s how I roll.
But this post is about more than the fact that my to do list now has “learn Greek” somewhere in there (and an alphabet to boot, do I know any frat or sorority people who can help me with that part, at least?). This post is also about the fact that I absolutely love the neural connections between language and culture. I like seeing how a culture’s idiosyncrasies are played out in it’s metaphors and idioms. I enjoy understanding more about one in light of the other.
If you haven’t read Metaphors We Live By, I highly recommend it. It’s a lofty academic book, but wow does it teach a lot about our world and our society.
As a writer, its my job to use language to reflect the tone, the place, the world. Language is especially important to a speculative fiction writer, because sometimes we are talking about things that don’t exist in our real world. We have to act as interpreters between our own imaginations and the reader’s understanding. It’s a trippy place to stand.
In Salvaged and that world there are only Corps-related terms that are new and unfamiliar, because the Corps itself is really my only invention in that world.
In Maaneshin, as the title suggest, there are many other things that the reader is unfamiliar with, and each of those words have to have a reason for existing. They need to describe something that doesn’t exist in our own world. I’m a big believer in the idea that we writers shouldn’t make up words for things that already have words.
I’m unlikely to create my own Elvish language or to break down the grammatical rules of my protagonist’s speech patterns. I like languages. I enjoy learning them. But for me, the whole reason for learning them is to help myself be understood, rather than to create more of a mystery.