In a spirit of madness during a recent RPG session I had an Elvish NPC say a few words in his own language, offering his culture’s name for a mythic beast mentioned by one of the player characters. In the split second before the dialogue I decided that the human culture’s name for this mythical beast would be a derivation (unknown to them) of the older Elvish name. The beast was a griffin that emerged from the sea near the PC’s home (an addition to the campaign mythology by that player) known simply as “The Grey” so in that moment of improvisation I had the Elf NPC refer to it as “Gar Ai Meddin” (the dd being a voiced “th”) translating that as Hawk of the Ocean. I could see how “Gar Ai” became “Grey” and job done.
So far so normal for me. But I enjoyed the sound of “Gar Ai Meddin” – it sounded suitably faux-Welsh and alien to the ears, but pleasingly euphonic. Gar I decided was Hawk (though it also reminded me of the Old English Gar meaning Spear, and that was apt I thought, comparing the swift dive of a hawk with the swift flight of a spear) and Meddin was literally Deep Water.
That I decided meant that “Medd” was water, with an affix meaning “Deep”
I should have left it there.
I didn’t. A week or two later and with the help of vulgarlang.com a wonderful site that does all the heavy lifting when it comes to building the framework of a constructed language, I now have a workable Elvish language (they call it “Siwn” which means “Lesser Light” as language to them is a way of experiencing the world) with a functional grammar, structure and about 4000 words of vocabulary.
It’s a crazy waste of time and effort since I have no intention of using it more than tangentially in play, but it has been fascinating in seeing how much of a culture you can discover by forming their language. These Elves for instance revere the concept of light as revelation. Consequently their words relating to inspiration, truth and goodness all derive from the root “Si” meaning light. Their words for making, shaping and creation are all derivations of words for speech and language, and so on. I honestly think that if no syllable ever crosses my lips during play (and I don’t intend to inflict it on my players) I’ve learned some valuable stuff about the rare Elvish race in my campaign setting.
I’ve even dabbled with translating a poem that already existed in the setting, composed a century or two ago by the same Elvish NPC, into this new language — and in the process discovered that Elvish poetry doesn’t rely on end-rhymes but rather end-sounds…
The first stanza in English:
Namer of names, her words were light
And sunshine pierced the deepest dark
Whene’er she spake, where e’er she went
In deepest gloom a kindled spark
Would shine and brighten blackest night
And in Siwn
Minin aiminem vi ddem si had
vur alsi si idd mach alin vavrwd
Re vi siwnˈdasad, ˈMisme vi ˈruhed
Ho alin mach na ragle vassad
Dwn vur almarmach odlaj
You can see the full language breakdown at the campaign’s WorldAnvil page HERE and play with the dictionary if that sort of thing appeals to you.
The title of this article by the way translates roughly to: “Too much time on my hands”