magic and the language

#1
One of the things I tend to notice is that magic in general tends to use Latin words or phrases. while it sounds cool and everything I wonder why its a staple?

"In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni"

While I can appreciate a decent rhyming spell cast by a witch, as we seen in Bewitched (mixed with English and German) and Sabrina (both iterations of English rhyming), it seems to have fallen out of favor for Latin.

Anyone use any other language for spell casting either in the modern or fantasy world?

Re: magic and the language

#2
Latin is nice to use for magic because it is a dead language that everyone is familiar with. It's immediately recognizeable, everyone knows what ecclesiastical Latin sounds like so there's no need to wonder how a word is pronounced, and very, very few people are familiar enough with Latin to have their immersion broken when the author gets it wrong. 

Latin is simply staple for a whole bunch of super good reasons. 

That said, I usually prefer either nonsense words, short Latin words over sentences, or any language I actually speak (usually but not always the language I'm writing in). 

Re: magic and the language

#4

Haust Wrote: Latin is nice to use for magic because it is a dead language that everyone is familiar with. It's immediately recognizeable, everyone knows what ecclesiastical Latin sounds like so there's no need to wonder how a word is pronounced, and very, very few people are familiar enough with Latin to have their immersion broken when the author gets it wrong. 

Latin is simply staple for a whole bunch of super good reasons. 

That said, I usually prefer either nonsense words, short Latin words over sentences, or any language I actually speak (usually but not always the language I'm writing in).

Seems kinda limiting especially if your world doesn't have the Romans in it

Im in agreement with using nonsense words or even other languages. I typically use Proto-Norse and/or old English before the vowel shift

Re: magic and the language

#6
I'm one of the weirdos that since every culture in my fictions has their own language and history, I use that. I often flesh out languages as best as I can because it also makes naming characters consistent and adds a little extra depth.

The only example I have right now is First Flame. Arylos is the only main character from another culture that uses magic and Bellona who used magic before spoke Latin (but she's canonically a Roman god so it doesn't count)

Then we have Kalndahvok, a Reig. A species of godlike dragons (or dragon-like gods depending on perspective) that manipulate reality by chanting. During a fight against the duo, it's often stated that he's whispering words that can't be heard. During an instance of the fight, Iris can hear what he's saying.

“Kaln sor fahrn yei feiz. Forn dahv, reiz belvir nohktr zu’neir serl” -> "Suffer and die in pain. From Wrym, let tyrrany poison your heart."

It's an in-universe chant meant to inflict severe pain; as if each word carves portion of flesh away. I like to do things like this but it does require a lot of effort. As more cultures get involved, more languages like the Templarian language will be used.

Re: magic and the language

#7

Haust Wrote: Proto-norse, huh. Have you studied it? Fun language, I've glanced at it for the purpose but with so few surviving inscriptions it seems a bit like a nightmare to work with for anyone who isn't a language reconstructionist.


While Im not a linguist I bought a dictionary from Cambridge U which has a number of words that I can use. I use a soft translation and use the phonetic spelling. For example the spell "Gríma ormr – shadow serpent" I would simply use "Grima ormer".

I also use a variation of what you mentioned and made use of an anagram generator. This example would be for the spell levitate and it would come out to "el-ettiva", and describing the effects of the mage floating in the air.



Re: magic and the language

#10
Another important reason that Latin tends to get used these days, in my opinion, is because for several hundred years Latin was the language of priest, nobility, and the holy bible. It was a language that the commoner didn't know or read, but instantly recognized and understood the importance of the tongue giving it a powerful sense of importance. Since the language is now basically dead that further adds to the mystique of the tongue. Add in the fact that for most Western readers it is the root of their own language adds another layer of familiarity and importance to it. 

So while there are many good languages to use for magic, Latin is instantly recognizable, carries the weight of God and nobility, an air of familiarity, and a deep important feeling from being the lost predecessor of current speech. That's a lot of mental links tied to one tongue and I can't think of another language so loaded with social meaning for the West off the top of my head so Latin is usually the best tongue for someone wanting to use a premade magical tongue.

Re: magic and the language

#11

Gasmaskbro Wrote: and a deep important feeling from being the lost predecessor of current speech.


It's the other way around for me, to be honest. I associate it a lot with arrogance, an exercise in gatekeeping, and futility. In fantasy, it's usually not the swamp witches who speak Latin. It's the fancy-pantsy arch-mages in their ivory towers. 

Latin was gatekept heavily by the ruling classes of Europe until the end of the Black Plague. It was used for letters, for educational texts, for administrative documents and ofc for theological stuff. So when the plague rolls around, and most of the people who spoke Latin died? Yeah. That's bad. Now there's a bunch of very, very important papers (land deeds, law books, stuff like that) that people can't access anymore. 

And that's how Latin spread like wildfire through the English language. What were they going to do, just have people not read the law books? Nah, people just learned Latin. They couldn't fill the empty government positions quickly enough. 

I can definitely see the influence of this on modern fantasy if I squint a bit. Latin still has this air of self-importance. 

Re: magic and the language

#13
Personally I assume anyone in a fantasy world is speaking in a fantasy language that has been translated into English - I'm not fond of reading fantasy written in pseudo "old" English because "why would their fantasy language be translated to old English instead of modern English".

Conversely I imagine any Latin spells are simply the high elvish/whatever translated into our equivalent and move on. I quite like latin but it could just as well be nonsense words. Following that logic I really don't see why people get annoyed by latin magic words because it seems equivalent to the English words the majority of the story is told in.

Re: magic and the language

#14
An interesting issue, because like Bluelightning just said, I normally assume it's not in English anyway unless the author tells us that.

In my current story, I actually have a conlang for the current area in the setting, and will make others when they're needed. This gives me the benefit of a consistent use of "nonsense words" because they do have a meaning, it's just a meaning that I've attributed to it. The language itself doesn't show up until further into the story because the main character is hearing it translated into English herself.

I think languages are a great way to add flavour to your story. If you use Latin, you have a lot of baggage along with it. If you use Old Norse, Old English, Old French, these all have their own tone and feelings to them. As long as you're aware of that, you can kinda get the benefit.

Of course, that also raises the question of "How do you have Latin in your world if Rome doesn't exist?"

Re: magic and the language

#15

DrCCat Wrote: One of the things I tend to notice is that magic in general tends to use Latin words or phrases. while it sounds cool and everything I wonder why its a staple?
Not everyone has a toddler to run lines through. What you need to do for your spells is get a 2 year old that enjoys repeating what you say, tell them your spell chant in your native language and then make whatever they regurgitate back out your actual spell.

Re: magic and the language

#16

DrCCat Wrote:
Haust Wrote: Latin is nice to use for magic because it is a dead language that everyone is familiar with. It's immediately recognizeable, everyone knows what ecclesiastical Latin sounds like so there's no need to wonder how a word is pronounced, and very, very few people are familiar enough with Latin to have their immersion broken when the author gets it wrong. 

Latin is simply staple for a whole bunch of super good reasons. 

That said, I usually prefer either nonsense words, short Latin words over sentences, or any language I actually speak (usually but not always the language I'm writing in).

Seems kinda limiting especially if your world doesn't have the Romans in it

Im in agreement with using nonsense words or even other languages. I typically use Proto-Norse and/or old English before the vowel shift
  1. Does England exist in your world?
  2. Is all your dialogue in English?

Re: magic and the language

#17

Cefor Wrote: If you use Latin, you have a lot of baggage along with it. If you use Old Norse, Old English, Old French, these all have their own tone and feelings to them.
The problem with Old Norse and Old French is that speakers of modrern Nordic and French are quite likely to be able to spot your mistakes. That might not seem like an issue but it can be very immersion killing when some well-learned or fluent character makes simple grammar mistakes that you can spot immediately. 

Not a huge issue perhaps, but with Ecclesian Latin, as far as I understand it's far enough removed that you don't really need to worry about this with any of the modern decendants of the language since it became its own thing during the middle ages. That's a plus it's got over many other dead languages. 

Re: magic and the language

#18

Haust Wrote:
Cefor Wrote: If you use Latin, you have a lot of baggage along with it. If you use Old Norse, Old English, Old French, these all have their own tone and feelings to them.
The problem with Old Norse and Old French is that speakers of modrern Nordic and French are quite likely to be able to spot your mistakes. That might not seem like an issue but it can be very immersion killing when some well-learned or fluent character makes simple grammar mistakes that you can spot immediately. 

Not a huge issue perhaps, but with Ecclesian Latin, as far as I understand it's far enough removed that you don't really need to worry about this with any of the modern decendants of the language since it became its own thing during the middle ages. That's a plus it's got over many other dead languages.
That is fair, though I'm sure that there are people out there who would still do that for Latin haha

This is why I retreated to a conlang instead of just trying to use an older language. You get to make the grammar rules so you can decide if you're wrong or not.

Of course, you have to be internally consistent if you do!