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to talk of many things

Discussion in 'Archipelago Archive' started by jhahilt, Sep 8, 2011.

  1. jhahilt

    jhahilt Dreamer

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    Hi
    I was wondering if anyone has given thought to having a common language, a lingua franca of sorts, to facilitate trade and communication between the various lands. This language would not necessarily be spoken by everybody but those with a need to interact with other nations would find it helpful.

    There could be opportunities for exploration into the history of such a language, how it came to be ?, perhaps there are ancient/old affiliations between the people of the Archipelago.

    Cheers.
     
  2. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Think I'm the language guru around here... inasmuch as that's what I actually studied in college, as opposed to the panoply of other snippets I've acquired throughout a misspent [sic] lifetime.

    Lingua francas have not been terribly common throughout history, and all the examples I can bring to mind involved major power discrepancies--that is, the language of one dominant group was adopted by anyone who wanted (or had) to have dealings with them. That's true of Latin, Arabic, French and now English. I don't see that situation in the Archipelago: doesn't mean we can't have one, just that it's more difficult to motivate. (I'll get back to these in a minute, after covering the other alternative.)

    Trade tongues, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen. Probably cheaper. The technical term for these is "pidgins." The difficulty here is that for the most part pidgins arise as a compromise between two specific languages, rather than being a common property of the speakers of several different ones. For example, Wikipedia lists forty different English-based pidgins... and that list is hardly exhaustive. Many of these would have a fair degree of mutual intelligibility, since whatever terms one group was borrowing from English would generally be the same ones another group would; on the other hand, terms borrowed from the local languages would be completely different, unless two of them were closely related to begin with. The big advantage of pidgins is that except for vocabulary, their features are pretty constant, especially for pidgins based on the same language: thus, an English sailor, once he'd picked up on how pidgins worked, would be able to speak with nearly any group using an English-based pidgin, apart from those local vocabulary words: word order would be the same, most or all of the phonotactics would be the same, grammatical functions such as verb tense, pluralization and prepositions would be the same or very similar, and so forth.

    There are some exceptions to the general rule of input from only two languages, but these tend to involve specific features rather than broad ones. One of the best examples is that the word for "know" in virtually every English-based pidgin is some variation on sabe: English itself has borrowed this as "savvy." Anyone who's taken Spanish might recognize this as the 3rd-person singular of the verb saber ("to know")... though interestingly, this isn't derived from Spanish, but rather from Portuguese (the word is identical in both)--which was the language that had given birth to a previous generation of pidgins in the areas the English were gradually taking over. Why that one word and not others, I couldn't tell you--though I could guess: English has two words pronounced the same way, and "no" is a lot more common; pidgins will rarely if ever have two words pronounced alike, so it was easier to keep "sabe" on (not to mention convenient, since "no" is pronounced the same in Spanish and Portuguese as well, so in a sense it would have been borrowed in from the Portuguese pidgin as well).

    One universal feature of pidgins is that they are simple, and limited in what they can express. That's very close to the definition of one, in fact: the only thing you need to add is that it isn't anybody's native language (though in fact that follows from the first part). A "universal pidgin" might arise among a large group of scattered islands that had regular contact with one another, though this would probably only be considered a "pidgin" by courtesy, since technically a pidgin arises to facilitate communication with native speakers of the other input language... which a universal trade tongue would not be much good for. Still, such a language would probably share many of the same features: it would be more of a "jargon," though, limited to other people in the same profession--long-distance merchants, in this case. Another difficulty with using a pidgin as a trade tongue is that they tend not to have written forms: they can be written down in the alphabet of one of the input languages (with greater or lesser degree of accuracy), but this would be highly inconvenient, if not outright unacceptable, for sophisticated merchants doing business in numerous countries.

    Now back to lingua francas. There have been cases where a single language originating (or at least presumed to originate) as a pidgin has spread over broad geographical areas. The best example for our purposes is probably Swahili... which, it may be surprising to learn, is the primary language of very few people even today. As a second language, however, it is spoken by over 100 million, and has long since moved past the point of pidgin features and into the realm of a "full" language. It has not one but two written forms--using the Latin or Arabic alphabet depending on who's doing the writing... this too would be inconvenient for our traders (considering how different those alphabets are), but I'm sure our guys would have settled on a single alphabet over time. Eventually. Probably. After considerable debate and a few wars, perhaps.

    [Cool story alert--at least for those who geek on languages. The rest of you can be satisfied with the foregoing. :cool: ]

    No one knows exactly how Swahili arose, which is why I mentioned "presumed" to originate. On the other hand, there is another example that can be dated almost to the year--and that year is 1914. The language is Tok Pisin, which originated as an English-based pidgin: the name of the language itself is that language's way to say "talk pidgin." It originally had all the features of any other pidgin, in terms of limited expression and so forth; however, it also had one advantage no other pidgin in history has: New Guinea. More specifically, the eastern half of New Guinea. Why was this an advantage, I hear you ask? Well... there are roughly 6,000 languages spoken on this planet, depending on who's doing the counting. Out of these, eastern New Guinea accounts for a whopping 850 of them. Regardless of who's doing the counting. In what is only the 54th largest country on the planet, with only the 101st largest population (c. 6.7M). (Second place, should anyone be interested, goes to India, with around 700... and which is over seven times as large and roughly 180 times as populous.)

    Needless to say, in both of these cases, people had to figure out some way to communicate with one another--especially when it came to such pesky things as official documents, court proceedings and similar records. When the English were in charge, the choice was easy: they weren't given a choice. They used English. Come decolonization and independence, however, that changed. India did what it thought was logical: it made two languages "official" national ones--English, which was already in use, and Hindi, the most common native language... with the idea that English would be phased out over the next couple decades. Problem was, everybody for whom Hindi was not their primary language didn't like the idea that they'd be disadvantaged in having to learn a second one (with all the problems involved in acquiring proficiency in a second language), while the Hindis would be using their primary. As a result, the use of English actually increased, rather than decreased, over the years.

    When Papua New Guinea became independent, it made what has to be the single most brilliant decision in sociopolitical linguistic history. They chose a language that wasn't anybody's primary language--not even the educated elite who may have grown up speaking English. But it was a whole lot of people's second language--because no matter which of the 850 native languages someone spoke, they were all accomplished at acquiring pidgins to communicate with one another, and of course with their colonial... uhm, "caretakers."

    Today, Tok Pisin is the first language of over 1M Papuans, and has long since stopped counting as a "pidgin." Not bad growth for just three generations. (And a lesson to remember next time you hear someone talking about making something an "official" language wherever you are.)

    [End cool story. Back to discussion... briefly.]

    At any rate: historically, a lingua franca wouldn't be too likely for our situation, though it's hardly impossible. Just depends on how closely we want to adhere to "reality," and how convenient or inconvenient we feel having travelers learn multiple languages will be to our visions of our own corners of the world.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2011
  3. jhahilt

    jhahilt Dreamer

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    Great stuff, plenty to think on for everybody there. As you say what we end up with will largely be dependent on how close to "reality" we want to stick to. Any of the above scenarios could be woven into the fabric of the Archipelago, I was particularly taken with the Swahili language, had no idea it was so wide spread. If a common language of some sort is taken on board, a corresponding alphabet would round off things nicely.

    I brought up this matter because the masterplan (a nascent construct at the moment) for my tale based in this setting involves a lot of travel and interaction with the many nations. I must say that personally I'm leaning towards a "convenient" solution. A language both oral and written, which most folk having the need can use.

    However, an "inconvenient" approach has it's merits. The inherent complications might enrich the stories told, and the challenge of finding ways around the difficulties could make the writing in this regard quite rewarding. As an example, a Guild of Interpreters could be part of the day to day affairs of the Archipelago. An international organisation of erudite, respected, non partisan and above all, trustworthy people, who could facilitate communication where differences in language would otherwise be an obstacle.

    I'd be happy to work with "convenient" or "inconvenient". It is a matter that I feel should be resolved fairly early in the creation of this world because of the profound impact that clear communication has on the dynamics of interaction between different nations.

    Cheers.
     
  4. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Thank you.

    Really, most of the world got along fine [sic] throughout most of history without common languages: people just learned the ones they needed. It's only in recent years that we see intelligent, (theoretically-)educated monolinguals. (It was years before I met someone from India that knew fewer than four languages: this one only knew three. Made me damned embarrassed to be an American, where language education is an afterthought on the best days.) I imagine most of the people in the Archipelago who do significant traveling would similarly acquire the languages they needed to conduct their business; even if they ran into someone whose language they didn't know, odds are they'd share some other language both had picked up at some point. (This is why two centuries or so of European diplomats did all their business in French: during those years, everybody educated learned French.)

    I figure for the most part whether or not language differences are a feature of individual stories is pretty much going to be up to the person writing them. It's easy enough to gloss over, or to avoid putting characters in situations where they're surrounded by people they can't communicate with. I like to include such features--or at least have the option available: worlds where everybody speaks the same language violate my ability to suspend disbelief--but I'm the language geek, so that's no surprise, eh? On the other hand, I only include multiple languages when they advance the story somehow... and I certainly don't expect my readers to learn new ones just to be able to read what I'm writing. So I'm good with a common trade tongue, or a handful of widely-learned languages alongside a whole mess of local ones, or whatever.

    If for some reason people want a "common" language--and don't mind it being somewhat limited in scope--I can kludge something together. And my offer on linguistic help for individual languages still stands, too.
     
  5. jhahilt

    jhahilt Dreamer

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    Cool, lets see what everyone else thinks. So far many plausible alternatives have been aired here and I'm sure that somewhere amongst it all is the road to consensus.

    Cheers.
     
  6. myrddin173

    myrddin173 Maester

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    Well theoretically all of the Archipelagan languages would be somewhat related as I have thought that humans didn't "evolve" there but immigrated from some larger land mass. Maybe they are in the same family like Spanish and French are in the Romance family. I don't really see the need for a lingua franca but my people would probably support it, why learn half a dozen languages when you can just learn two?

    Edit: Of course that is my take on it, I thought of it after something Donny said in one of these threads. What do the rest of you think? Oh and Ravana I loved the language story. Linguistics is so interesting, if only there were some classes in it at my college. :(
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2011
  7. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Thank you. Hmm... I know there are plenty of ling departments in your area; maybe you can find something that would transfer? Assuming you could afford to, of course--which may be the real catch. Still, check around; if nothing else, you can probably at least find the occasional seminar open to the public. Even though those are usually targeted for grad/professional level audiences, you never know what you might pick up.
     
  8. jhahilt

    jhahilt Dreamer

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    Hi

    The idea that the people of the arhipelago immigrated from a larger landmass is solid and works in well with what I had in mind for the setting. What the original impetus for people needing/wanting to relocate to the archipelago was, can be used effectively I think to flesh out the history of the present people.

    Cheers
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2011
  9. myrddin173

    myrddin173 Maester

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    Well the relocation would have taken place many thousands of years ago, so I don't know if the actual cause would be presently known. It would probably be lost in the mists of time. I know both Enessia and Indaeos have creation myths where humans came to being in the Archipelago. Nevertheless some people could be researching the "truth" but the Archipelago is fairly cut off from the "mainland" so I don't know how they would actually figure it out.
     
  10. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    As with the lost moon, what's "true" and what the inhabitants know--or think they know--don't need to be the same thing at all. So we can determine what caused such an immigration and when it happened, if we want it, independently of what is presently believed.

    Interestingly, this would fit in well with what the Agrabali believe--which is that they were the original inhabitants of the land they live in, and everybody else is outsiders. Their actual creation myth concerns an impossible event, so obviously they're "wrong" there... but maybe they're right about everybody else being strangers. Or at least a large portion of everybody else. I don't think a foreign origin would fit in with what Telcontar's doing to my west--at least not for one of his two populations: I'm pretty sure it would have to be indigenous, the way he has them set up; the other one might represent an immigration, though.

    Keep in mind that the Archipelago is huge--Emperor Island alone would count as a "larger land mass" in most reckonings: it's more than 2,000 miles across, and about half as wide on average, making it larger than continental Europe (excluding Russia), and only slightly smaller than Australia. So any significantly larger land mass would probably have to be quite remote by comparison, or else physically isolated by conditions. An example of the former would be the Viking colonization of North America--except that in the case of the Archipelago, they kept coming, and survived. Examples of the second would be the spread of Polynesian culture throughout the Pacific--representing an archipelago far vaster than ours, albeit with much smaller, widely separated islands--or, more extreme, the migration of Asians across the Bering Strait to the Americas. Note, however, that in both of the latter cases, the settlement took place over thousands of years, and each resulted in vast numbers of different languages. The Polynesian ones generally bear recognizable similarities to one another, and might provide a model similar to what's being discussed here. The variety of mutually unintelligible languages that arose in the Americas goes the opposite direction, and is a good example of just how much languages presumed to have a common origin can diverge over time, so that probably wouldn't be the best example to look toward.

    If we wanted a common external origin for most of the people of the Archipelago, I'd say it would probably have to be something of a combination of the Viking and Polynesian examples: the islands were discovered by an energetic seafaring culture, and were colonized slowly, in waves, as people from the "motherland" felt the need to make a long, dangerous, and almost certainly one-way journey to remote frontier outposts that offered some form of opportunity unavailable to them where they were living. (Population pressure is a simple and obvious reason for this.) Some contact with the distant homeland was maintained... just enough to let people know that the new settlements were surviving and that there was room for more people. And that there seemed to always be yet another island just over the horizon, waiting to be claimed. At some point, this communication died out or was cut off: an easy reason could be that the home culture was displaced, by war or by migration of some other culture less interested in seafaring; as a result, the now even-lengthier journey no longer seemed worth making... or perhaps wasn't possible to make, if the home culture was forced away from useful coastal areas.

    That having been said... "realistically," language would still drift: even if there there was extensive and constant commerce between all the islands, local tongues would still tend to diverge, as the Polynesian ones did. Depending on the time-frame involved, they would more likely diverge a lot: if the immigration took place "many thousands of years ago," there's no good reason the languages would be recognizably related at all, except maybe to a historical linguist: most people looking at Sanskrit and Welsh wouldn't even postulate a connection. Nor do you have to go to that extreme: most non-linguists looking at English and Welsh wouldn't see a connection, even though they grew up next door to one another. And while English, French and German are obviously similar in many ways, knowing one doesn't allow understanding of the others. So a common origin doesn't necessarily buy us anything, in terms of reality-based linguistics: it would be just as easy to decide by fiat that there was a common tongue as it would be to try to motivate one by a distant common origin. It might explain similarities between the languages (if we decide that the languages are similar)... but it wouldn't entail that they remained mutually intelligible, and historically speaking, they probably wouldn't.

    Upshot: a common origin and a common language don't have strong interconnections; we could have either without the other.
     
  11. jhahilt

    jhahilt Dreamer

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    Hi

    This is along the lines I was thinking of, the writer can choose to have their people blithely unaware of their origin, or elements from their history indicating a "homeland" far far away could be introduced. Either approach will work and can co-exist with the other without too much conflict.

    As for the language, what I'd like to develop is a tale or two involving a group of "travellers" from which at least one if not several protagonists are drawn. Eventually I would have the tale to some extent or another involve all the nations of the islands, this to me seems a great excercise, having my tale and characters interact with what others have created. So I sort of need to know how much work my characters will have to do in the comms department.

    Cheers
     
  12. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    Well, everyone drawing from everyone else is kinda part of the point of the project.… ;)

    For the time being, I'd say it's safe to assume that no matter where your characters go, they'll be able to find someone to talk to. How picky you want to get about the specifics would be largely up to you: you can simply avoid telling the parts of the story where they need hired translators, if you don't want to deal with them. Alternately, you can mention that they are speaking through a translator (whenever they are) and leave it at that.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  13. jhahilt

    jhahilt Dreamer

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    Hi

    Much obliged, I'll plan accordingly.

    Cheers
     
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