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Re: CHAT: Which world? Which culture?

From:John Leland <leland@...>
Date:Monday, July 14, 2003, 20:11
For me, creating concultures is a major part of my conlanging.  In fact,
it might be more accurate to say that in some cases conlanging is a small
subset of my conculturing. The proportions vary for different conlangs,
and even for the same conlang over time. My first conlang, Natece, was
originally imagined as the consciously created artificial sacred language
of a people whose common language was unspecified. (I had read of a
long-ago-disproved theory that Sumerian was an artificial sacred language,
and wanted to create a parallel). The conculture focus was the
belief-system of the monks who wrote texts in the language, and their
ascetic ideology influenced some aspects of it (e.g. the word nha--roughly
"pure" or "good" meaning "without that which it is right to be without")
Later I decided to translate portions of the Bible into Natece, since
that was a classic way of beginning a national literature for many
natlangs, and I decided the original culture had been influenced by
Christian missionaries. Originally, the Natece writers were
visualized as fully human. Later on, I used Natece as the language of
aliens on a particular world in a series of (unpublished) comic short
sf stories. The aliens were thought of as small cute furry beings
resembling Ewoks or Hokas or Fuzzies, but I did not alter Natece in ways
that would reflect this, though some of the stories turned on issues of
translation between Natece and English. (The protagonist of the stories
was one of the human Anglican missionaries working on the planet of the
Natece people.) Still later, after I had largely given up working on
Natece, I decided it had become known to the human inhabitants of the
World of the Intercosmic Collapse, and that some of the scholars,
particularly evil priests and magicians, used it as a language for
incantations. (This was odd, as the original Natece people, even before
Christian influence, were strictly ethical monotheists).
The World of the Intercosmic Collapse was originally designed for fantasy
gaming. Its cultures were deliberately imitated from familiar fantasy
worlds, chiefly Tolkien and Robert E. Howard--the Collapse involved the
comnination of a Tolkienian universe, a Howardian univese, and a
more-or-less straightforward roughly medieval culture universe, all of
which I had done previous gaming in. A very large proportion of the
development of the cultures of that world has been recorded in Modern
English; the only language in which I have created a significant body
of texts is Meridonian, and even there probably more than half of the
mythology and history of Meridonia presently exists only in English. Many other
languages are supposedly spoken in the same world, but there are only
a very few texts in any of them--a few in Saryani, supposedly a Semitic
a posteriori lang, and a few in Faerrenese, the equivalent of early Middle
English under Meridonian influence. Most of the notional languages would
be very close to languages of our world, supposedly because people from
our world have passed through into the WIC, settled and brought their
languages and blended them with other settlers.
In starting Rihana-ye, my third major conlang and conculture, I decided
that all texts would be composed originally in Rihana-ye itself (though I
would go back and add interlinear English glosses).I had been struck by a
remark of Tolkien's that the true Simarillion should have been written in
Elvish, and I wished to keep within the framework of the language as much
as possible. The only major non-Rihana-ye text is the "Introduction" to
the language in English. The speakers of Rihana-ye from the beginning were
visualized as human (though not Caucasian), and there are no (known)
non-human intelligent beings in their world, other than the gods and
spirits. Their history was originally completely independent of our world,
and unlike Natece or Meridonian, there is no fictionalized explanation
which might excuse contact with the languages of our world. However,
some of the cultures of that world have limited parallels with our world.
In particular, the geography is influenced by Asia. Rihana would be
somewhere about Central Asia, Pihana, which the Rihana people conquered
and still rule,would be roughly India, Zatona would be roughly China, Hemana
roughly Iran (though culturally in some ways closer to Arabia), and so on.
Zanona in the distant west (roughly Greece)is supposed to speak an a
posteriori language derived from Proto-IE roots, but it is not developed
as yet. One Rihana-ye ruler had folktales collected from foreign lands,
and the ones from Zanona are adaptations of Greek myths(retold in Rihana-ye,
supposedly from Zanona-ye sources)In some ways I think of Pihana under Rihana
rule as resembling Moghul India, but I also borrow bits from other aspects of
history--there was a family in Rihana once that was based on the family
of Alexander the Great; there was a powerful priest whose career in some
ways paralleled Becket's, and so on. A lot of the Rihana-ye language is
influenced by the way I imagine the people's culture and religion; as I
commented before, unlike some langers Rihana-ye is not intended to
express personal or modern-American ideals, but those of
traditional pretechnological militant, hierachical, patriachal culture. In
Rihana-ye, status can 0be expressed in nouns, prepositions (there are 2
forms of "to" one toward superiors, the other toward inferiors) adverbs
and lately (something I have always intended but not done before) verbs.
One thing I have wavered on is whether the Rihana-ye conworld is a parallel
Earth (as much of the geography suggests) or more independent. I assume it
has one moon, but the sun is red, and although its calendar has had 365 days
I am presently considering altering it. Its planets are those of our solar
system (as known in the Middle Ages, out to Saturn), but with the addition
of the hypothetical planet Vulcan (whose theoretically calculated existence
within the orbit of Mercury has long been disproved.) My personal interests
are in history and religion, so those are the aspects of the culture that
are most developed. Occasionally I attempt to develop other aspects--some
bilingual documents from merchants trading between Rihana and Zatona, for
instance, and some charters granting lands to conquering nobles. There are
also a number of short folk-songs, chiefly amorous. Food and clothing and
tools are underdeveloped, though occasionally something comes up. I tend
to assume the Pihana-ye people eat chiefly rice and fruit, while the
Rihana-ye originally were herders living chiefly on meat, milk,
butter, kumiss etc. But what I imagine myself as creating is in effect the
surviving written documentation of an ancient culture, so I "know"
Rihana-ye language and culture as one may "know" Anglo-Saxon or Sanskrit,
on the basis of a group of surviving documents, chiefly political and
religious, not with the fullness of detail possible for a living language.
Despite this, Rihana-ye (and Meridonian) are living cultures in that
their histories are open-ended--they have written pasts which are
inalterable (though various literary retellings may exist, especially in
Meridonian) but their history can still go on indefinitely; Kelezdya
is "now" Prykypyzza de Mer'donya reigning in Del'pyloz; Pitikika is "now"
(I believe--I am writing up recent history at present) reigning in
Rihana. I myself do not know what will happen next; in the WIC events are
determined partly by gaming dice; in Rihana it is purely a matter of my
own imagination.
John Leland