Monday, December 16, 2013

The Cythric Word List

If the previous posts on phonetics and that kind of buzzkill stuff were not your cup of tea, you can start your name-building process here, with this post. If you did follow along with the last few articles you'll know that we have the first two components of what we'll need to develop the Cythric languages into a complete tool we can use for naming; the phonology and phonological rules of its ancestor language. Now we start making words.

There are basically three approaches to this:
  • You can create a set of random tables to build random syllables and assemble them into words. A somewhat slapdash example of this can be found in the alien language tables for Vilani, Zhodani, etc from GDW's classic Traveller line. The results of their implementation are... less than satisfactory.
  • You can use an online utility or program to build your words for you. As with the previous random-ish method, youre going to end up with a lot of junky words that you'll need to sift through.
  • You can make words that match your rules by hand. This works best over a long period but I caution against sitting down and writing up a hundred words in one sitting; you'll go stale fast.
What I'm going to do is hand-craft a few words (word elements, really) and supplement that using gen. How many words do I need? Well, that depends. Ideally, you'd want probably a few hundred, and really there is no number too large, but a lexicon of many hundreds of words is probably overkill for most people needing a simple naming language. For place names, you probably need a few dozen.

Start by observing how place names are built. Place names in England are best for this because their construction is most apparent. Sometimes this is obvious, as in Beaconsfield from Beacon's Field, for example, or Whitchurch from White Church. In other cases it's less obvious, as in Ayslesbury, from Aegel's Fort. It makes perfect sense once you know a burgh is a fort and that in Anglo-Saxon (Old English) the letter g is sometimes pronounced as /y/.

Half an hour with a map and Wikipedia should give you a sense of the pattern of place names... and a good idea of the words you'll need. Here is an exhaustive list of such elements from English place names. By the way, this is the exact method used by Ed Greenwood to construct many of the names in the Forgotten Realms. It's a method that works whether you render the names in plain English or translate them into some other language, although it does presuppose both a roughly medieval western European culture and roughly Indo-European language. Names in the Japanese pattern, for example, are very differently constructed, so for something more exotic you may want to range further afield.

So words for places like river, camp, hill, bay, port, field, mountain, farm, fort, crossing, woods, meadow.  And adjectives like rich, great, wide, tall, hale, and number and color words. With, say, ten or twenty from each group you should have sufficient fodder to start building names. Assign words from your word list to the meaning you've assembled.

Here's my sample starting list of thirty words:

element type meaning
dyw adj black
ethyrhn adj hallowed
fearm adj strong
frapa adj green
frha adj high
ges adj bold
reag adj old
hot adj ill-omened
shrapa adj fertile, verdant
therm adj grim
firhn n (place) hall
hlen n (place) tower
lanwra n (place) stone
lim n (place) river
llan n (place) valley
llyn n (place) farm
osyrhn n (place) river mouth
sirhn n (place) hill
sorhm n (place) ford
thra n (place) land
ashri n (thing) flower
chaurn n (thing) shield
eddra n (thing) song
ge n (thing) spear
hearhm n (thing) helm
hlynta n (thing) hound
tharn n (thing) bird of prey
thorn n (thing) hammer
warhn n (thing) chief, headman
wyrhn n (thing) king

This should be enough to get started with, and I made sure to include some elements that could be used in masculine or feminine personal names as well. Now we are almost ready to commence the actual world building, once we know how words can be put together.