On the Origin of Names
Because my section is so big, I’m splitting it into several sections The acknowledgements section will follow tomorrow, and the word-list and pronunciation guide will follow throughout next week.
I’d like to begin by commenting that as a long-time fantasy language enthusiast and constructor, hobby-linguist and hobby-philologist, this is a subject near and dear to my heart. Had I been published before or instead of Paolini, “On The Origin Of Names” is a title of an essay I would have included within the appendices of my own work.
So it should come as no surprise when I pick this… travesty, this insult to linguists and historians everywhere… to miniscule tattered shreds. Not that it is in much better condition to begin with. In this short essay, which first appeared in Eldest (and has since also appeared, unaltered, in Brisingr and Inheritance), Paolini does for speculative linguistics what Stephanie Meyer does for traditional Eastern European folklore.
Right. Let’s get into it before I really start ranting.
On The Origin Of Names, by Christopher Paolini
I said it above, I really like the title of this essay. It’s a title I would have used. It’s really a shame to have wasted such a beautifully concise, stylish title as that on such an inexcusable steaming heap of horse plop. ‘Plop’ is such an excellent word, isn’t it? So superbly onomatopoeic. I would much rather ruminate on how perfectly suited to its function is the word ‘plop’, than read this gods-forsaken (yes, by all of them) travesty of an essay, this contemptible affront to linguistics.
But, I suppose, I did sign up for this.
To the casual observer,
With the dearth of usable information provided about the history and languages of Alagaesia, nobody aside from Paolini has any choice to be anything other than a ‘casual observer’.
The various names an intrepid traveller will encounter throughout Alagaesia
Why do I get the feeling Paolini doesn’t know what ‘intrepid’ means, and uses it here solely because he likes the sound of the overused phrase?
Might seem but a random collection of labels with no inherent integrity, culture or history.
You know what, I agree. They DO seem very much like a random collection of labels with no inherent integrity, culture, or history. Funny about that.
However, as any land with any land that different cultures—and in this case, different species—have repeatedly colonised, Alagaesia acquired names from a variety of unique sources, among them the languages of the dwarves, elves, humans and even Urgals.
That’s not even remotely how it works. If a group moves into a new land, they will give their own names for things, or spell them in their own way. Look at an English-language map of Europe. Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, and Greece. Now look at a French-language map. Allemagne,France, Belgique, Espagne, and Grèce. A Spanish map would show Alemania, Francia, Bélgica, España, and Grecia. A Greek-language map would show (when transliterated into the Latin alphabet) Germanía, Gallía, Vélgio, Ispanía, and Elláda. A German map? Deutschland, Frankreich,Belgien, Spanien, and Griechenland.
This is the way map-making and place-naming works. Every culture who settles in a place will translate or transliterate existing names to conform to the spelling conventions of their language, if they bother to record existing names at all. Many conquering invaders, historically speaking, simply gave their conquered territories new names to conform to their own language.
For a more recent example, the colonisation of India by various Western cultures including Portuguese, Dutch and English traders resulted in many traditional sites and cities being given new names to conform to English naming conventions, which have since been changed due to the collapse of the British Empire and the rise of Indian independence. These include Mumbai (Formerly Bombay, from the Portuguese Bombaim, ‘good bay’), Kolkata (formerly Calcutta, thought to be a British mispronunciation and transliteration of a traditional village name), and Puducherry (corrupted into Pindicherry during French occupation).
The map of Alagaesia shown at the start of each book in the Inheritance Cycle is presumable written by humans. Why would they preserve the traditional elvish and dwarvish place names? No, Paolini, you explanation so far does not work.
Lastly before we move on, if you do not capitalise as proper nouns any of “dwarves, elves, humans”, you have no need to capitalise “Urgals”. Unless Urgal is a proper noun rather than a common noun, but it’s not being used as such in this context.
Thus we can have Palancar Valley (a human name)
Because “human” is a language shared by all humans. This is lazy worldbuilding.
The Anora River and Ristvak’baen (elvish names), and Utgard Mountain (a dwarf name) all within a few square miles of each other.
See above: A human-drawn map would not be using the proper Elvish name, and considering that humans and dwarves have apparently had extremely limited – to no contact with dwarves, they would not have kept the original dwarven name either.
It is, however, a point in Paolini’s favour that Edoc’sil, Ristvak’baen, and Utgard are different names for the same mountain, which is something you certainly would find in geographically close but linguistically or politically separated cultures.
The last point before we move on, is the concept of linguistic evolution and corruption. Even if the humans got the name Utgard from the dwarves hundreds of years ago (almost 800 years before Eragon’s birth, according to the timeline on Inheriwiki – although said timeline is riddled with inconsistencies and impossible contradictions, so we really shouldn’t use it as an authoritative source. Unfortunately, it’s all we have in the way of an attempt at dates or times or anything useful*), with minimal to no contact with the dwarves after that, the word is still going to change over time due to mispronunciation and generational corruption. Given that the humans in this world are seemingly set as Standard Pseudo-British, I would expect Utgard to eventually be corrupted into Uttard, or Attred, or something along those lines. Not preserved exactly as-is for about 800 years (call it 700 years, to allow for the difference between Palancar founding the city of Kuasta and founding Palancar Valley*) despite not being a word in the native language of the human settlers.
* On the page “Timeline of Events”, it states that King Palancar founded the city of Kuasta in 7203 AC. On the page “Palancar Valley”, it states that the valley was founded when “the first few humans and their King, Palancar” landed. Landed, not moved north from existing settlements. You may note that on all maps of the area, Kuasta is on the other side of the country, separated by miles of supposedly impassable mountain ranges. Another contradiction is that the first humans traded with the dwarves. If humans settled in any area that was not close to the Beor Mountains in 7203 AC, they would not have been able to trade with dwarves or learn their names for various landmarks, as the dwarves fled from the surface in 30AC, leaving a 7,173-year gap between the two civilisations. By any reckoning, the dwarves should barely know what a human is, at least before the settlement of Surda.
While this is of great historical interest, practically it often leads to confusion as to the correct pronunciation. Unfortunately, there are no set rules for the neophyte.
Because you didn’t set any rules, you pretentious berk.
You must learn each name upon its own terms, unless you can immediately place its language of origin.
One of the problems I have with this sentence is that it makes me so incoherently angry that I am incapable of explaining precisely why. I knew before this essay’s publication that Paolini is or was undeservedly condescending and patronising towards his readership and even fellow authors – one need only read his review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – but this is just tasteless.
The matter grows even more confusing when you realise that in many places the resident population altered the spelling and pronunciation of foreign words to conform to their own language. The Anora river is a prime example. Originally anora was spelled aenora, which means broad in the ancient language. In their writings, humans simplified the word to anora, and this, combined with a vowel-shift wherein ae (ay-eh) was said as the easier a (uh), created the name as it appears in Eragon’s time.
THANK YOU! This is actually one thing that Paolini did mostly right. It is still not enough to save him from the pit of linguistic ignorance whence this essay was spawned, but it is a start.
To spare readers as much difficulty as possible, I have compiled the following list, with the understanding that these are only rough guides to the actual pronunciation.
“Rough guide” is an understatement: the pronunciation guides are worse than useless, and I will explore them in the next part of this spork section.
The enthusiast is encouraged to study the source languages in order to master their true intricacies.
As though Paolini has ever produced enough of any of his ‘languages’ to be properly studied, and also assuming he has made such information available to the general public. No, beyond a few individual lexical morphemes and a handful of sentences and sentence fragments, ‘enthusiasts’ are not given anything even approaching enough information to ‘master the true intricacies’ of the Alagaesian naming conventions.
Also, Paolini, I invite you to explain to me the o-slash. This little Icelandic character appears only once in the entirety of your work, be it the books, the map, or any of the extended appendices or supplementary materials. How do you explain that linguistic oddity, Paolini? You can’t, because your names were pulled out of a Random Generator, and any linguistic, philological or etymological explanations you may have come up with were retrofitted to the randomly-generated words. Until you can demonstrate otherwise, I will assume this to be the case.
In summary, Paolini uses this short essay to conclusively prove to the world that he has read the chapter titles of a linguistics textbook, and nothing else. I would actually be shocked if he’s picked up a proper linguistics textbook at all, given the mess he has made of everything he touches to do with constructed languages. This pretentious, condescending and maddeningly incorrect essay achieves nothing but increase the scorn that linguists everywhere should rightly feel for Paolini, and should be considered an insult to everybody who has even a passing interest to linguistics, anthropology, or even the Inheritance Cycle.
Acknowledgements, pronunciation guide and word-lists still to come.