Thus Spake The Creator

The Old Tongue

Go here for an entire letter on the Old Tongue.

Q: Mr. Jordan? If I may? How did you develop the Language? 
A: the words come partly from Gaelic, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, the grammar and syntax I believe I invented myself although it's possible that another language usees the same. Of course, just as with English, I have deliberately put in some very illogical inconsistencies. 

Q: Mr Jordan, I was wondering where you came up with the "old language" and the Aiel language? Are there preset rules to them and it is a functionong language? Or do you just have a set of _words_ that you devised and insert when needed?
A: It's a functioning langauge in that I have developed a basic grammar and syntax, and have a vocabulary list which I have devised, some from Gaelic of course, but from languages less often used. russian, arabic, chinese, japanese. I try to follow these rules that I've set up but occasionally I realize I have to invent a new rule because I'm doing something I've never done before but it all follows the grammar I've devised. As far as the Aiel that I've devised as a culture they have bits of Apache, bits of Beduin, bits that are simply mine. 

Q: Is there a complete language of the Old Tongue, and if so, how long did it take you to develop it?
A: There are some 880 basic words -- maybe 900. I got a list of what is considered basic English, which are the 800 odd words of a basic English vocabulary, removed the words that were of no use in the context of my world, came up with words in the Old Tongue in each of those English words, and then added those words that did have a specific context in my world.

Q: First, I'd like to thank you for your incredible Wheel of Time series. It's given me incredible reading enjoyment as well as given me the opportunity to build Wheel of Time areas on an online Internet game, a MUD [Multiple User Domain]. My question is when was the transition period between the Old Tongue and the New Tongue? I assumed it was after the Breaking, but many of Mat's memories still have the Old Tongue in them, and they were long after. When was the change, and what caused it? 
A: I have gone into this in some depth in other places, but basically after the Breaking, the primary language was still what is called the Old Tongue. In the period between the Breaking and the Trolloc Wars, what would become the language spoken today began to develop as a common or vulgar tongue. During the period between the Trolloc Wars and the War of the Hundred Years, that vulgar tongue supplanted the Old Tongue as the usual or everyday mode of speech, and the Old Tongue regressed to being more and more something of scholars. At the time of Artur Hawkwing, anyone who was educated, whether noble or commoner, could speak and write the Old Tongue, but in everyday life, most people used something very much like what is spoken today. And it was the simple swamp.

Q: Do you have a Languages education? Where did you get the idea for the Old Tongue?
A: Well, I got the idea for the old Tongue simply because the core beginnings of this story lie 3000 years in the past -- and I've never heard of a language remaining unchanged over that length of time. We could not understand the English spoken by an Englishman from 1000 years ago, and we'd have difficulty understanding him from 500 years ago, and the same holds true for a Frenchman with his language or a German with his.

A question about how he formed the Old Tongue.
A: The actual words are based on many words. I used turkish, arabic, russian, chinese, japanese, and for a hint of the familiar, I used a little Gaelic, too. Because fantasy languages always have some Gaelic. That's just the way it goes. but I made deliberately the grammar and structure complicated.

... English is supposed to be the most difficult language to learn in the world as a second language. I think that that is pride speaking, but just the same... yes, well, 'my language is harder than your language.' I've been told it's true though, but whether it is, I don't know.
... [he once tried learning Cantonese] ...
I'll tell you, there are eight tones in Cantonese. Mandarin isn't too bad, there are only four tones there, but you've got eight tones in Cantonese. And there are others that can get twelve or better in other dialects. You can as well just forget about it, unless you grew up jodling from the cradle...

Reports from signings

The concept of the unified language he basically explained as there had been a single language in use (the Old Tongue), and the writing and printing of books continued throughout the Breaking, albeit in a very limited extent. The written word introduced a very large conserving factor in the language-change mechanism.

He didn't give any conclusive answer to the Two Rivers channeling paradox, but he noted that many strange occurances come from there, like inherent ability to speak the Old Tongue under stress.

A reader asked when the term "Ajah" came to have the meaning it has in Rand's time.  He said that until at least 500 years after the Tower was founded, it meant a temporary association for a specific purpose, and was a 
lower-case noun.  Its proper-noun sense arose afterwards, supplanting the earlier usage after the Trolloc Wars.

Sitting in the back of the room, my memo-recorder didn't pick up very much, but the following is what I can make out of it and remember as answers to a question about how he created the Old Tongue (always a topic some people are very interested in) :
- There is no simple standard way to make plurals, to shift the irregular verb, it's all adapted because of the merging of different languages (Just like around 900 AD when the Saxons encountered the Danes and began creating a lingua france, so the Old Tongue is also supposed to have been created by mixing different languages, and thus has a lot of the same sort of irregularities as english has.)
- He started with that list of 880 english words with which you should be able to manage in 95% of english conversations, removed what he found unnecessary and added others he needed.

Oh, Rando, I'm really sorry about this, but Jordan overthrew your toh-toes argument. Pratchett was talking about you having to take care in fantasy not to use words like sandwich, unless you had the sandwich guy appear in your story. Jordan disagreed: the writer is simply translating... "And their word for a bit of unidentifiable meat wrapped inbetween some... two slices of greasy bread would translate as 'sandwich.' But that's not what they call it at all, that's just what you call it in english. "

Raina's Hold / Thus Spake the Creator - Index