So What IS the Strange Language of Fire-Rider?

Begun reading the Fire-Rider series? If so, you’ve noticed some major changes in the English and Spanish languages. And you may be wondering if there’s rhyme or reason to them.

Fire-Rider takes place some 1900 years into our future, after what we think of as “developed” countries have collapsed and dissolved into the sands of time, much like the great cultures of Ozymandias. Languages change over time: they evolve in response to cultural and technological pressures, inventing new words, losing old ones, changing meanings, and changing pronunciation.

A time traveler from Beowulf’s era would be utterly flummoxed by our language, and we, suddenly finding ourselves in his Great Hall, would hear his brand of English as some strange German or Scandinavian dialect.

So the world of Kaybrel, Kubna of Moor Lek, is imagined: language has changed as much as the culture has changed. In Western European languages, such as English and Spanish, certain shifts in the pronunciation of consonants (all the letters except a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y) are predictable. B turns to p and p turns to b. G may turn into k and k into x. T evolves to sound like th; the th of the turns into the th of theater. The sounds of vowels also change, as styles in the way they’re pronounced shift.

Kaybrel, his friends, and his enemies live during the Great Lacuna, a long Dark Age that follows the fall of Western civilization. The people who find and decipher the records of his time, 3700 years from our day, call this period the “Inter-Historical Era,” because literacy had all but disappeared. Written histories disappeared because almost no one could read or write.

Without written language, dialects flourish and pronunciation becomes fluid. The collapse of technological and literate culture would lead — will lead — to rapid language change.

In imagining how places and personal names would be pronounced in the future languages of Hengliss (< English) and Espanyo (< Español), I’ve applied some of the known sound-shift tendencies. Kaybrel’s name, for example, is based on our Gabriel. Lek comes from lake; Doe from Tahoe. Some of the characters’ names are essentially the same as today’s versions: as Geoffrey has not changed since Chaucer’s time, so (for example) Mitchel has not changed in Kaybrel’s time.

Along those lines, many Americans and most British speakers drop the final -r from some words ending in r in some circumstances. Kaybrel is a kubna, a term that in his world means (roughly) “warlord.” If the k was once a g and the b was once a v and the ancient American word ended in an -r, then the word kubna stems from the old American word “governor.”

governor > guvna > gubna > kubna

 A sound that American English uses  more and more commonly — but that we don’t typically show in our spelling — is the glottal stop. It’s the little hitch we make between, say, the uh and the oh in “uh-oh.”   The way North Americans use glottal stops is highly dialectal. Despite the homogenization of late twentieth-century “standard” American English, a careful listener can still guess what part of North America a speaker comes from or — more distinctively — what his or her racial identification is by the person’s use of the glottal stop.

I believe the glottal stop will move more and more into everyday “standard” US English, so that by the time the culture of the United States collapses — and it will, just as Athens and Rome and Egypt did — a glottal stop will replace many specific sounds. The “d” in Idaho, for example, will disappear, turning the region’s name into A′o.

The language of the Great Lacuna indicates that glottal hitch with a straight “minute” sign: ′ .

Each serial installment of Fire-Rider contains a glossary. Most words’ meaning should be easy to guess from the context, but if you’re feeling flummoxed, you can easily find any Hengliss or Espanyo term at the back of the book.

Each book also contains a list of place names and a list of the characters’ names.

You can find all three of these — the glossary, the place name list, and the list of historical figures — at this website, too.