In Bell, Clock and Candle’s setting, there’s a lot of languages, some of which look kind of familiar but also not quite, some of which don’t look familiar at all. This page isn’t a dictionary (good lord, that would take forever), but it is a quick guide to some of the languages that show up in the story, updated as we go so as not to ruin some of the mysteries.
Elessa’s lingua franca – that is, what we’re theoretically reading it in – is a mish-mash of Standard Dutch, Flemish Dutch, English, German and French. You’ll see this the most in names (Vandemeer, Morgen, Haber, Riviere), places (Ijsberen = Ice Bear/Polar Bear, Froschstadt = Frog City) and occasionally in slang or other words used by characters.
Like any big country with some history, though, Elessan has a few dialects. You’ll see this the most for now on the Smokework page rather than in-story, although it will come up. Archaic Elessan, which hasn’t been spoken for about 150 years, is straight High/Modern German; Low Elessan, spoken in a few more rural areas, is straight Dutch with some Flemish elements and terms.
For the most part, you don’t have to worry about this. The important thing to know about Elessan, though, is that J = Y, not J. (Sort of a breathy Y; if you’ve listened to Dutch or any Nordic language, you know what I mean.) However, it otherwise follows recognizable orthography for English-speakers, so W and V are W and V, no special characters, etc.
The Kanet’ are one of the five officially recognized clans in Elessa – indigenous people who lived in Elessa prior to the arrival of the Elessans. (Arguably, this number isn’t even correct, but more on that elsewhere.) Their language is called Kanet’valan, which is a triconsonantal-root, analytic language with both a separate writing system and two different ways of transcribing it into the Elessan alphabet.
…For non-linguists, here’s a quick explanation of how Kanet’valan works. Instead of how English and many other languages work, which is taking a root ([love] for example) and expanding it into other words ([loved], [lovely], [unloved], [loveless], [loveliness]), Kanet’valan’s roots are three consonants and words are derived by the choice of vowels. (This is very similar to how Hebrew, Arabic and other related languages to them work, but Kanet’valan does it a little differently.) For example, then, T-R-N is a root that relates to light, but has no meaning on its own. From this root, Kanet’valan produces [tąrana] (illumination/light), [taran’] (stars, a shy-but-clever person), [etąran’] (the moon), [etìr’na] (silver, money), [atir’na] (the sun), and many others.
‘Analytic’ means that Kanet’valan, largely, does not inflect. Inflection is when grammar is shown through suffixes (or prefixes) on a word; French, Spanish, German, and even English all do this to some extent, although English’s inflection is very sparse. Most of English’s inflection is left in pronouns; you say [I] when you are the subject of a sentence, but [me] when you are the object, and [my] to show ownership, and we still show past tense through usually an -ed ending, or sometimes through a change to the whole word. (ex. go vs. went.) In Kanet’valan, by contrast, past, past perfect and future tense (the only tenses in the language) are shown through indicator words ([anik], [antik], and [tek]) appended usually just after the verb. SVO (subject, verb, object) order is used to indicate subject and object.
The only inflection that Kanet’valan does use is in conjugating verbs; a verb changes endings depending on whether the subject is first, second, or third person, male or female, and singular, dual, or plural. English does not have a dual, but it’s an easy enough concept – it’s used for when the speaker is referring to two and only two objects. A sample of a fairly standard Kanet’valan verb is shown below to give an idea of the endings.
uval’rą – sing
1st singular: uval’rąt/uval’rét (I sing)
2nd singular: uval’rąvu/uval’révu (You sing)
3rd singular: uval’rąn/uval’rén (He sings/She sings)
1st dual: uval’rąɉot/uval’réɉot (We two sing)
2nd dual: uval’rąɉu/uval’réɉu (You two sing)
3rd dual: uval’rąɉen/uval’réɉen (They sing)
1st plural: uval’rązot/uval’rézot (We all sing)
2nd plural: uval’rązu/uval’rézu (You all sing)
3rd plural: uval’rązen/uval’rézen (They all sing)
Finally, pronunciation and transcription, which will make the above make more sense too; Kanet’valan’s writing system will likely make an appearance in time, but like many non-Latin writing systems, has been transcribed more than once into Elessan characters. The first, called ‘vertalingen’ or ‘Elessavertalingen’, is easier to read for non-Kanetaz, but it also suffers drastically for both accuracy and meaning; the other, ‘Nadjat’valan’, was created later by Kanet’ children who spoke both languages, and while it uses more unusual characters and can be harder to read at first, it transcribes the language much more accurately and cleanly.
Letters on the left are Nadjat’valan; letters on the right are Vertalingen. Letters are presented in the order they appear in the Kanet’valan alphabet; consonants first, and vowels at the end.
KENE: K/K, k/k = English K, like ‘cat’ or ‘keep’
NETE: N/N, n/n = English N, like ‘no’ or ‘and’
TENGA: T/T, t/t = English T, like ‘top’ or ‘at’
NGALO: Ŋ/Ng, ŋ/ng = ‘ng’ like in ‘hang’ or ‘wing’ – in English, not usually at the start of a word
LAMA: L/L, l/l = English L, like ‘lick’ or ‘late’
MADGI: M/M, m/m = English M, like ‘miss’ or ‘ammo’
DGIBA: Ǆ/Dg, ʤ/dg = hard ‘j’ or the ‘dg’ in edge; ‘judge’, ‘jury’, ‘jewel’
BESE: B/B, b/b = English B, like ‘bet’ or ‘ebb’
SESZE: S/S, s/s = English S, like ‘hiss’ or ‘set’
SZEPE: Ɉ/Sz, ɉ/sz = somewhere between z and j, very soft and buzzy; admittedly cannot place this in IPA
PASHA: P/P, p/p = English P, like ‘pass’ or ‘inept’
SHAHU: Sh/Sh, sh/sh = English Sh, like ‘shan’t’ or ‘shallow’
HAITHI: H/H, h/h = English ‘h’, like ‘haunt’, ‘hollow’
THIEDRA: Þ/Th, þ/th = English hard ‘th’, like in ‘thane’ or ‘thought’; not like in ‘than’ or ‘the’
DRAIDE: Dr/Dr, dr/dr = like at the start of ‘dragon’ or ‘draft’
DAIGE: D/D, d/d = English D like ‘doubt’, ‘dark’
GEKHU: G/G, g/g = English hard G like in ‘ghost’, ‘get’, ‘gamble’, not like in ‘geranium’
KHERE: Ǩ/Kh, ǩ/kh = Guttural, back of throat ‘k’; found in Arabic and Hebrew, and not dissimilar to the sound in ‘loch’
RAVI: R/R, r/r = English R, can be rolled or not depending on dialect, like in ‘row’ and ‘arbor’
VAZE: V/V, v/v = English V as in ‘vase’, ‘event’
ZOHWA: Z/Z, z/z = English Z or as S is sometimes pronounced, as in ‘zero’, but also as in ‘roses’
WODJA: W/W, w/w = English W, as in ‘wait’, ‘awake’, and ‘west’
DJAJA: Dj/Dj, dj/dj = Pronounced like ‘dy’ or ‘di’ in English; think ‘Deanna’, or in Spanish, ‘adios’
JACSA: J = English Y, as in ‘yacht’ and ‘yesterday’
CSIYU: Ç/Cs, ç/cs = Sh, often interchangeable with Shahu
YENET: Y/Y, y/y = English Y, interchangeable with Jacsa
E/E, e/e = as in bet, net, get
É/Ei, é/ei = as in pay, weigh, nay, pray
I/I, i/i = as in bit, pit, nit, quit
Ì/Ie, ì/ie = as in eat, wheat, beat
Æ/A, æ/a = as in bat, at, gnat; vertalingen inconsistently transcribes this as a or ae depending on the word and transcriber, since Elessan doesn’t distinguish between this and the following sound at all
A/Ah, a/ah = as in father, awe, cart; vertalingen inconsistently transcribes this as a or ah depending on the word and the transcriber, since Elessan doesn’t distinguish between this and the previous sound at all
Ą/Ai, ą/ai = as in right, mite, quite, why, fly
O/O, o/o = as in otter, cot, lot, brought
Ò/Oh, ò/oh = as in sow, woe, tow, know
U/U, u/u = as in moot, loot, accrue, knew; but sometimes as in cook, look, brook depending on dialect and phrase
Kanet’valan dislikes having consonants ‘against’ each other with no vowel in the middle; hence, ‘ is used to mark an absence of a vowel and sometimes a glottal stop. Elessavertalingen drops this entirely, especially at the ends of words that have final consonants, which sometimes leads to messier-looking words.
Due to Elessan bureaucracy not being able to process the special characters and a lot of names predating the invention of the Nadjat’valan system, Kanet’valan names tend to be written in Elessavertalingen still, with the exception that the ‘ marks tend to be preserved. (See Csindra’s name on the Dramatis Personae for a good example.)