In my previous post I introduced the Nellish language (represented by English in the Dragonmore books) and talked a bit about creating the name “Arkenbrant” for the paladins’ fortress. Today we’re going to have a look at another language and another name: Assilith, the language of the elves, and Sher Ashelon, the city of the wizards.
In A Taste of Fire I explain that Sher Ashelon is the only city in Mainland where humans and elves still live side by side. It’s a place apart, something special, so I wanted a name that performed the following functions:
- set the city aside;
- identify its cultural origin;
- still make it seem familiar.
To set the city apart, all I had to do was give it a name that was neither Nellish nor Ronnish (the languages represented by English and French in the books). The city of the wizards is not the only place associated with elves, so I had to come up with a coherent pattern, something that would henceforth be associated with elves, in short: a language.
That being said, I did not churn out a whole language with a full lexicon. I merely decided on the type of phonology I wanted—the flavour—and created names as I needed them. The language had to sound very different from English or French, but as I said earlier, I wanted it familiar too. Elves are not aliens from another planet, they are part of our world, intimately, and have been for a very long time.
Now I’m a big Tolkien nerd, so I had to be very careful not to inadvertently come up with something that would be nothing more than altered Quenya or Sindarin. Besides I had already used English and French, so I thought it would be nice to draw inspiration from other parts of our world. I had recently been to Israel and developed an interest in Hebrew, so I decided to use that one as the base for the elf language (that eventually came to be called Assilith). Hebrew is perfect, because it’s both familiar to our ears and utterly unintelligible to English speakers. It is both familiar and alien, like elves.
From there, the only thing I had to do is come up with names that sounded nice, that fit a Hebrew-inspired phonology, and that didn’t mean anything ridiculous or embarrassing in actual Hebrew. I have no idea if I succeeded at that last one, my knowledge of Hebrew being anecdotical, but I’m rather pleased with the sounds of the names themselves: Benesh, Gabroth, Enish Dana, Tara Sova, Sher Ashelon. I kept a few things that would fit in Sindarin/Welsh as well, like the cluster “th”, mixed a bit of Irish references in there (“Dana”, “Tara”, and “inis” that means “island”), but the rest, to me at least, evokes Israel and Biblical times, in contrast with the European feel of the rest of the cultures.
Based on the names I had created, I then assigned meaning and a bit of grammar. “Sher Ashelon” means “Home of the Dragons”, I decided—sher means “home” and ashel means “dragon”. That left me with a plural marker -on (think Hebrew -im) for later use, as well as a way to form “X of Y” phrases. That’s very little compared to an actual, full-fledged language, but as I said already, hints are all we need to make this look real—hints, and for me to not forget the rules I implicitly set next time I have to come up with an Assilith word or name.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip in the history of Dragonmore. Next time, we will continue to explore Trion with another name and other glimpses, both at the scene and beyond.
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