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/r/Fantasy_Bookclub Alloy of Law Q&A ()
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Ace_of_Face

Not really a question, but the one thing that disappointed me was that you didn't come up with new slang names for Allomancers! After three hundred years, do you really think they would still be calling steel Mistings "Coinshots"?

Brandon Sanderson

I toyed with this one, but decided that I would keep them the same for a few reasons. First off, I felt that certain things in-world would hamper some linguistic diversity. (Having the books Sazed left behind as a guide to Allomanc and history, everyone living in a small geographic area, the semi-religious nature of Allomancy making people look at it in traditional ways.) So, while I advanced the slang of the world, some of the terms I decided to leave the same.

Another reason for this came when I was writing the book. At first, I experimented with greater linguistic diversity--I even tried a vowel shift, as I figured three hundred years might be enough for that. In the end, I pulled back. I was already worried that this book not feel "Mistborn" enough, and so I wanted some direct ties back to the original series. Fiddling too much with the language while changing the setting and characters so drastically felt like a mistake to me.

General Reddit 2016 ()
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BipedSnowman

This is just a little thing I thought of that is kinda neat. Symmetry on Roshar is seen as holy, but the letter H can be used in place of another consonant without "spoiling" the symmetry.

Is this because of the spelling of the name Honor? If the H is a stand-in for the R, it makes the name symmetrical.

Dickferret

Where is the "h" thing mentioned?

BipedSnowman

I am copying this from somewhere else, but apparently WoR chapter 47. (I guess i tagged the post wrong, but it's just barely a spoiler anyway.)

""Bajerden? Nohadon? Must people have so many names?" "One is honorific," Shallan said. His original name wasn't considered symmetrical enough. Well, I guess it wasn't really symmetrical at all, so the ardents gave him a new one centuries ago." "But ... the new one isn't symmetrical either." "The 'h' sound can be for any letter," Shallan said absently. "We write it as the symmetrical letter, to make the word balance, but add a diacritical mark to indicate it sounds like an h so the word is easier to say." "That - One can't just pretend that a word is symmetrical when it isn't!" Shallan ignored his sputtering [...]"

pwnt1337

Is this similar to the many interpretations of the spelling and pronunciation of YHWH?

Brandon Sanderson

Hebrew, among a few other languages, is an inspiration for some languages in the cosmere. (One of them is Alethi.) That said, in this case it's more like how in some Asian countries, they would give honorific names to famous scholars or rulers after they pass away.

General Reddit 2016 ()
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IneptProfessional

Since you mention languages on Roshar, are there any languages that are completely unrelated to any other on the planet?

Brandon Sanderson

Our basic language families are:

Vorin: Alethi, Veden, Herdazian, and more distantly Thaylen. Nathan is close to dead, but shares a root, and Karbranthian is basically a dialect. Other minor languages like Bav are in here.

Makabaki: Azish is king here, and most the languages around split off this. There are around thirty of these.

Dawnate: A varied language family with distant roots in the dawnchant. Shin, parshendi, Horneater. They share grammar, but they diverged long enough ago that the vocabulary is very different.

Iri: Iriali, Reshi, Purelake dialects, Riran, and some surrounding languages.

Aimian: These two are lumped together, but are very different. Probably what you were looking for.

That isn't counting spren languages, of course. I might have missed something. Typing on my phone without my wiki handy.

Barnes & Noble B-Fest 2016 ()
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JoyBlu

Do you have a pronunciation guide anywhere?

Brandon Sanderson

So, we need to put one of these up. I put one up for Elantris. The trick with pronunciation guides is that, personally, I am kind of a believer in that I write a script where you are the director. You get the script I've provided, and then as you read the story, you are creating the actual final detail of how everything looks and osunds and stuff. And so, in your head, your version of the character names are canon to you, and there is no right pronunciation, really. I can give you the one that I thin is closest to how they would say it in-world, but I don't even always say them right. For instance, I just said Tashikk for the country in the Makabaki region when I was reading the Lift thing. But that's actually the Arab ق (IPA: /q/) sound, I can't even do it, it's the double-q. I can't say that. *Brandon tries to say taʃiq* Peter can do it, my editorial assistant, he's not here, but he can do it. I can't. I say them like an American. I say "KELsier" (ˈkɛlsiər). They say "kelsiEY" (ˈkɛlsiˌei). So, is my version right? My version is wrong, but it's right to me? So, yeah. But if there's a character name you want to know how I say it, I can tell you. Is there one specifically?

Questioner

Shallan?

Brandon Sanderson

I say shuLAWN (ʃəˈlɔn). But, again, none of us are actually Veden like her, so who knows how they say it? They would have some accent that would be something that I can't even do.

Questioner

What's Sazed? How do you say that?

Brandon Sanderson

Oh, Saze? So, I say say-zed (seizɜd). But I say that, and that's how Kelsier says it. Sazed himself is from the Terris region, he's gonna have a slightly different pronunciation. I would say that say-zed is not how he says it. It's gonna be either sawzd (sɔzd) or, it's gonna be something softer like that. I just say it like Kelsier does. But he says it wrong, depending on your definition of wrong.

Ad Astra 2017 ()
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Questioner

Jasnah's name. What was the origin for it?

Brandon Sanderson

Jasnah's name predates most of the language work that I did. It comes from ancient, kind of Semetic languages-- playing around with those. And then her name became one of the ones that I built the language around. Because after I had named her, and written the whole book, I had named her and Dalinar. Kaladin's name changed once I had rebuilt the linguistics. Shallan's name changed once I rebuilt the linguistics. But Dalinar and Jasnah kind of became the origins. But it's ancient-- you know, a blend of Arabic and Hebrew. It's kind of-- yeah.

Questioner

Because I have an interesting tidbit--

Brandon Sanderson

Uh-huh

Questioner

"Jasna" in Polish actually means "bright."

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, I've been told that! Just-- I went to Poland, like, last-- like a couple of months ago, and they're like, "Did you know this?" I had no idea.

Arcanum Unbounded Seattle signing ()
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Question

In Stormlight, so many of the names of things are pairs of words, like the glyphpairs or something...

Brandon Sanderson

Yeah it's the glyphpairs, those are very big parts. You'll find it common throughout my writing though because, in my studies of languages, I found that most languages that's very common, that's where things come from. English doesn't do it as much, or at least it's not as obvious because we don't have many weird words for things but it's super common throughout linguistics. For Alethi, with the glyphpairs and stuff, it's the way they do things. It's like German, they make a new word by taking two words and smashing them together

White Sand vol.1 release party ()
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Questioner

I was just wondering how you come up with the names in your books?

Brandon Sanderson

It depends on the book.

Questioner

Is it usually like a cultural tie-in kind of thing or...?

Brandon Sanderson

It's one of two things. Either I go for a cultural tie-in, like you say-- that's if I want to do a shorthand. Something just a little bit easier because I'm not building the linguistics out. Like Mistborn is an example of this; I didn't build the linguistics of Mistborn. The linguistics-- I'm just like, "This is a French sounding area, this is uh--" You know, because I spent my worldbuilding time on other things. But in Roshar I spent a lot of time on the linguistics. I don't want the names to just sound like names from our world. Roshar is most different. It's not an Earth analog. And so I built the linguistics. Or I sometimes do kind of a hybrid, where I pick some weird linguistic trait and I build names around it. Like Warbreaker was this. I'm like, "I'm gonna use the repeated consonant sound as a theme, so you always know who's from what culture." And so you end up with Vivenna and T'Tellir and things like this, where it sounds like people are stuttering to those from other cultures.

Orem signing ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

So is there a connection with K's? Where the characters...

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

You mean names with K's?

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Yes...

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

I'm going to say it's more coincidence. It has to do with what I like to name people. Kaladin's original name was Merin and it was just bad. So I eventually settled on something I liked. I just like the sound of it.  If you dig down into it, most of the names in the cosmere do not have similar linguistic roots. Some do. I'm just going to chalk it up to coincidence.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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YataVS

A little curiosity over the word "Shin", is it a deformation/twisting of their origin ? like "Ashyn person" --> "A Shyn person" ---> "A Shin person" ? (I assume this is a quite safe question to response without going into the rabbit hole)

Brandon Sanderson

Shin/Ashyn do have a relationship, but I didn't specifically intend "A Shin" to be Ashyn.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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Oversleep

I'm liking Skyward so far. I can't wait to read about using light-lances, they're rusting cool!

I gotta ask, though: what does "scud" mean? It seems it is an equivalent of "damn" but is there any etymology behind it? Cause, "scud" is also name of Soviet tactical ballistic missiles. Any relation?

Brandon Sanderson

Scud came from the Soviet missile, as a nod to some of my inspirations for the setting of the caverns.

Skyward Chicago signing ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Do the Heralds know about AonDor?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

I would say, conceptually, a few of them do, but not in specific detail.

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

'Cause Ash's name is a combination of Transformation, Beauty, and Light. I didn't know if that was a coincidence, or--

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

There are some non-coincidences in the linguistics that people have started to pick up on, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the people who have those names know about the origins of their names.

Skyward Chicago signing ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Why is it called a Nahel bond?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

That is a word in Rosharan. I'm not sure what it meant in 2002, but it basically just means "the bond to divinity." I'm not sure what the 2002 version of the linguistics played out as. I actually just called it Nahel in the original draft. I added "bond" in as I prepared this [Way of Kings Prime excerpt] for reading so it would make more sense to people.

Skyward Chicago signing ()
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Argent [PENDING REVIEW]

The namesake of the Nahel bond. Was that a person, or is just a name?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

It's a word in original Alethi as I was working on it. And actually, the original didn't use "bond." Bond was implied by it. The word meant, "connection to the divine." It's gotten larger since then...

Questioner 2 [PENDING REVIEW]

So when Vasher takes a similar name, he's trying to imply that meaning?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

Yes.

General Reddit 2017 ()
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John-Bastard-Snow

What is a Lait?

Used in Stormlight Archive "was in a lait?

Brandon Sanderson

It's not an Earth loan-word. Like crem, it's transliterated, not translated. It roughly means, "A place where the storms are blocked." Generally, it means some kind of depression or location in the shadow of a larger rock formation.

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Why do you have to make so many of your terms and names in your books so confusing? I'm going to be using Mistborn as an example: Feruchemy, Hemalurgy--

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

I think they're cool. Part of the answer is I look for the way languages are built. I try to do things in the way that it's going to feel natural but also foreign, and that is really tough. Like, it's going to feel alien, it comes from a different world, but it's natural to do and remember, and it is also based on the world.

If you think Mistborn is hard, read Elantris. All of those names are based on some linguistics that, I realized as I wrote the book, this is one is even tougher. So sometimes I'm looking for things that are more familiar and less strange, sometimes I'm looking for things that are more strange. At the end of the day it's just whatever I think sounds cool.

JordanCon 2018 ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

So, kind of a support question. The nature of Investiture and metals, is it just solid Investiture that's metal or is all Investiture some kind of state of metal?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

So this gets back into your idea of metal. Do they all represent metal? Well, I'm fascinated by states of matter, if you can't tell, and I'm fascinated by groupings on the periodic table in our world. I am fascinated by how certain things share... properties with one another but not other properties. When I was building the Cosmere, I loved this idea of this pure Investiture, this solid state investiture which looks like metal, but its not a metal that would be on our periodic table, and none of them are, but they share some properties with metals. You look at it and you're like "That's a metal!" - but is it? Well it wouldn't go on the periodic table in our world. It's its own thing. 

So yes and no. 

Billy Todd, Moderator [PENDING REVIEW]

Is that similar to the way that a Rosharan calls all birds "Chickens"?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

No, the way that Rosharans call all birds "chickens" or all alcohols "wines" is actually me maybe feeling more clever than I am, putting in seeds from book one that... This just happens in linguistics, where certain words sometimes narrow in definitions, other times they broaden in definition. Just how we call Googling something, searching for it. There are people who are joking that movies are just going to be called Disneys in the future. I love the linguistics of this, and I wanted to indicate that the word for "bird" just spread through Roshar as "chicken" because those were the birds that they knew about. And wine was a pretty good one. There aren't grapes on Roshar, right. They call them "wine"; none of it's wine. You wouldn't call any of it wine. Because they don't have grapes. But this is a word from a planet when they used to have grapes, that they used for this thing, that eventually replaced the word and became the generic. You see it more often in our languages the other way, Peter can talk more about this. Words will become more and more narrow over time.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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WeiryWriter

Is there an important reason why Lukel is the only character of Aonic descent in Elantris whose name is not based around an Aon? (Since "u" does not feature in any Aon.)

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, but it's more social than magical. Like when I ran across someone in Korea named Moses, and it was so interesting linguistically compared to other more traditional names.

Skyward Houston signing ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

In the reading that you did, the Nahel bond, has it changed?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

Yes. So, spren were added, and things like that. What he had would still be called a Nahel bond. A Nahel bond in the original definition means bond to divinity, but that's come to encompass a lot more in the cosmere, any time you're bonding with-- the bond between a soul and Investiture. But in the original version, it was more only with a Shard of Adonalsium or something like that.

Boskone 54 ()
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Questioner

In Alethkar, a lot of the consonant sounds are “C” sounds or “K’s”, like Kaladin. [Can’t hear the rest of the question here very well]

Brandon Sanderson

It’s just based on the rules I came up for it when I was designing it. They’re mostly semitic origins or middle eastern origins. Kholin is actually [pronounces it], but I don’t expect the audiobook narrators to do “chuh” every time they see a “kh”. The “k” is a “c” sound. That and the “j” are the only weird ones, for Alethi. In Tashikk, I can’t even do the Arabic glottal. The double “q” or the double “k” in the Azish often is that, but I can’t do it. Peter can.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Kalad's Phantoms

Kalad used to be Khlad, by the way. I didn't want his name to sound so Pahn Kahlish, which I signify with the extra h sounds to give them an airy feel to their words. I added the mythology of Kalad's Phantoms to the book late in the process, wishing to give some more depth to the superstitions of the world. And perhaps do some other things too. . . .

Skyward San Francisco signing ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

For the Saint in Skyward, I just love the funny prophet character. What was your inspiration for that?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

So, the Saint in Skyward. Not giving any spoilers. When I was working on this character, I was really looking for something-- I look for linguistic cues. Because if you can have linguistic cues to who's talking and what the character's like, and something that'll characterize them through their language, that makes it so much better in storytelling, because you don't have to put that in narrative, you can put it in the flow of a conversation. And you'll notice, at least I've noticed, that a lot of the great screenwriters look for these sorts of things, so they can tag who is speaking, even if it's offscreen, by the way that they are talking, and I just love to do this. And a lot of these things come out of me taking a scene and working with it and casting different people in the roles and trying their voices until I hit on one that I say, "That's interesting, let's dig into this further", and that's what happened there.

MisCon 2018 ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Is there a feminine Alethi nickname that means gift or blessing?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

Yes, but I'd have to go look at the dictionary.

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Is that dictionary purchasable?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

No, but if you email me, we can hunt through it and see what we can find.

WorldCon 76 ()
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Thousandarms97 [PENDING REVIEW]

I know Allomancy is, like, "alloy" and "mancy." Were you inspired by "alomancy", which is the divination of salt?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

I wanted to use "mancy" because in part I was working in a seeing-the-future with atium. And I thought: number one, it's resonant; and number two, it works because we are looking at the future. So that's where the name came from.

Thousandarms97 [PENDING REVIEW]

No future salt-based magic system, though?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

No. I've toyed with it for a while, but I just have never come up with anything that I'm satisfied with.

Oathbringer release party ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

Would you care if I took what we have on, like, Aonic, and sort of rolled it into a conlang?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

Yeah, that'd be fine. Aonic is the one that, like, in some ways the least useful.

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

It has the most words that I've found for it.

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

If you're interested in conlangs, go talk to Peter, and maybe we'll sic you on something. Maybe we can get you working on something officially. I've tried to get Peter to do something... Go talk to him. Talk nerd stuff with him.

General Reddit 2018 ()
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dunemafia

A small question, if you don't mind, how do you come up with fantasy names? I mean, is there an onomatology you draw from?

Brandon Sanderson

It varies from book to book--really from series to series. Generally, there are three general ideas. The first is the hard way--building the linguistics from the ground up. I'm not the best at this, but I can hold my own when I really want to. The second is easier--picking a linguistic trick (like names with repeated vowel sounds or names that are symmetrical, both ideas I've used) and using those as markers that a certain name is from a certain culture. The last is the easiest, which is picking an Earth culture and making names that feel like they could fit. I generally do this in books where language barriers aren't going to be relevant to the characters, and I want to shortcut the linguistics to use my worldbuilding time other places.

General Reddit 2018 ()
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Only4DNDandCigars

I was reading Elantris, with my passive work being Jorge Luis Borges "Book of Imaginary Beings". The chapters are encyclopedic and short, and are meant to have a kaleidoscope style of reading. With Cosmere on my mind, I can across a really interesting entry:

Sylphs For each of the four roots or elements into which the Greeks divided matter there was a corresponding spirit. In the words of Paracelsus, the sixteenth-century Swiss alchemist and physician, we find four elementary spirits: the Gnomes of the earth, the Nymphs of water, the Salamanders of fire, and the Sylphs or Sylphides of air. The words are Greek origin. Litre has sought the etymology of "sylph" in the Celtic tongues, but it is most unlikely that Paracelsus would have known, or even suspected the existence of, those languages. Today, no one believes in Sylphs, but the phrase "a syphlike figure" is still applied to slender women, as a somewhat cliched compliment. The Sylphs occupy a place between that of material beings and that of immaterial beings. Romantic poetry and the ballet find them useful.

I don't think it is a far stretch or much of projection when I say that reminds me of a certain Spren. Either way, it made my day to come across this while reading.

Brandon Sanderson

If you poke around a bit, you can probably find where the names of some other spren (like Notum) come from. In a lot of their names, I'm looking for something similar to what I did with Syl. My rationale is that if you heard her name in-world (which might not actually be the exact sounds Syl) you'd have the benefit of local traditions, word roots, and mythologies. You'd hear it and say, "Huh, that sounds like a word for wind." So, when the books are "translated" to English, the translator creates names in English that evoke the same feel in readers here.

Oathbringer Chicago signing ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

So my dog's name is Vin. I was wondering if there was any sort of story behind that name and how you thought of it.

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

Wine in French. Because building the whole region off of French-sounding names—Kelsier and Demoux and things like that. And I just really like... the sound of it. I know it's kind of like a guy's name, but I just really like the sound of it.

General Reddit 2017 ()
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Badloss

I love, love Brandon Sanderson but I feel like every time he needs a "magic word" he just takes two regular words and jams them together.

Dreamshard, Shardblade, Shardplate, Lightweaving, Mistborn, Coinshot, Pewterarm, Coppercloud, Surgebinder, Soulcaster, etc etc etc

Sorry u/Mistborn I still love you

Brandon Sanderson

It's done intentionally. Let's look at our options.

I can create all-out fantasy words for terms like this. (Lait or crem from Stormlight are examples.) Problem is, the more you do this, the more you pile a difficult linguistics on top of a reader. The more words like this they have to learn, the more difficult it is to get into a story. If you were doing it, perhaps you'd go this direction. I feel that overloading on these terms is dangerous. Already, the main reason new readers put down my books is that they feel overwhelmed by the worldbuilding.

So we have the second option. Use a latin, germatic, or greek root and create a word that FEELS right, has some mental connection for the reader, but which isn't a real word. Allomancy/Feruchemy/Hemalurgy. Veristitalian. To a lesser extent, Elantris.

This so called "Harry Potter Spells" method gives some familiarity to the naming, makes them stick a little better in people's heads, which makes the books a little easier to get into. But they're also distracting to some readers who say, "Wait. There's no Latin in this world, so where did Latin root words come from?" And for others (particularly in translation) those roots mean nothing, and so these all end up lumped into the first group.

The final method is the pure Germanic method--creating compound words. It works in English very well because of our Germanic roots--and is one of the main ways (other than turning nouns into verbs or the other direction) that we create new words. Supermarket. Masterpiece. Newspaper. Thunderstorm. Footprint. Firework. Heartbeat. Yourself. None of those look odd to you because they are words that are "meant" to go together in your head.

I use some of batch one, some of batch two, but I do favor batch three--it does what I want it to. Works in the language, has an "otherworld" feel but is also very quickly understood by someone new to the series. There are arguments for all three methods, however.

Phantine

You can also just go the route of using an English word despite it clearly not being accurate.

"He tied a ribbon around his horse's third antennae, and patted its chitinous flank."

Brandon Sanderson

Agreed. Re-contextualizing English words can work too--I find it particularly useful to do what I mentioned above. Take a verb and make it a noun or vice versa. Or use a verb in a way that you normally don't. (Awakeners or Lashings are examples from my work, though Spice from Dune is one of the grand-daddy examples of this. As it is for a lot of fantastical linguistics.)

Skyward San Diego signing ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

A question about Jasnah and your relation to Jasnah. She's a Veristitalian... Is that a part of Jasnah that is you, or is that a part of Jasnah that's somebody else?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

The fascination with history and trying to use it to change the present is me. And that is the part of Jasnah that I-- Also, by nature, I'm kind of a Slytherin. And so would Jasnah. That part of me is there. The "do-gooder Slytherin," if that's not an oxymoron.

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

And does the word Veristitalian come from "veritas"?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

Yes. So, in their language, it would not actually be Veristitalian. What I do is, my books, I pretend they're in translation. So when Wit makes a pun, or when you see something that echoes Latin or Greek, the idea is that they are echoing in-world ancient languages that we have chosen, instead of transliterating, to actually translate so it gives the right feeling in English.

/r/fantasy AMA WorldCon 2013 ()
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woodchuck_vomit

Does "Alethi" come from or have anything to do with the Greek word for truth or is that just a coincidence?

Brandon Sanderson

Alethi is a coincidence. However, it is the sort of coincidence that happens a lot for me in languages, as I often look for a "feel" for a language. Alethi, for example, is a Semitic language mashup with some Mediterranean influence. So I'm not surprised if it means something in the right languages. (I did this with Straff and Elend from Mistborn, looking for Germanic-sounding words and accidentally using two words from German.)

Ad Astra 2017 ()
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Questioner

What's the etymology of "slontze"?

Brandon Sanderson

...This is from the Reckoners series, Steelheart. I wanted a fake Yiddish word. So I, you know, mention things like this, and it's not actually-- I-- It doesn't quite fit, but I wanted something that had the right feel, like that. I don't know why I wanted a fake Yiddish word. That just felt-- So I went through a bunch of Yiddish slang, and that's the word I came up with. So, that's what I do a lot, like "I want the feel of this."

Manchester signing ()
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Questioner

..One of things I had difficulty with was coming up with names for the characters and seeing how your names are more than just random collections of letters, a lot of them actually have meanings behind them. I was wondering how you were able to do that.

Brandon Sanderson

That's actually a very good question and number one you should keep writing, even if you feel like what you are writing is a rip-off, it is better to finish that first book and be acknowledging your influences because you want to be practicing. And sometimes it is very useful to lean on something else while you do it. In fact this is how Great Masters did artwork, you can find-- I don't know if you guys know this-- various different versions of the Mona Lisa, we saw one in Spain, my wife and I, that was done by DaVinci's student while DaVinci was painting the Mona Lisa. "Here's what I painted now you do it too"  That was the means by which the Great Masters would train their students, so leaning on someone is just fine. You just can't publish it like that, but it can teach you a whole lot. Don't feel bad about that.

Names, I use two general methods, and this is not going to give it the justice it deserves, I'm giving you the five minute version. One version is I look for the linguistic attribute that is interesting to me that will visually distinguish these people on the page. So when you are coming across them and you see that name, I want you to say "I bet that they're from this country". That is really tough because that means they all have to feel similar but you can't let everyone get confused over who's who and that's the real challenge, it's the getting confused. For instance in Warbreaker I tried using some different things like we don't in our world. In Warbreaker I used repeated consonant sounds, so you get someone like Vivenna, when you see that double v, you are like she must be-- Llarimar, there's a double L, you pronounce them both out. T'telir. And when you get double repeated consonants you are like "Oh they are from this region, that makes sense to me even though they start with different letter there is something to them" The same sort of thing is supposed to happen in The Way of Kings, you see names that are mostly symmetrical. When you see something like Shallan and her name is a derivation of Shalash, who was one of the Heralds and its a symmetrical name. When you see something that reads almost, or does read, forward and backward the same way you are like "They must be either Alethi or they must be-- They've got to be Vorin because that is the Vorin religion influencing this". And hopefully it will give you some subconscious cue when you run across those names and you'll get it.

Now a way to do this that is easier is than doing all of that is going to take a lot of work linguistically is to go get yourself a nice atlas and say everyone from this country is going to have names that are analogous to this region in our world and I am then going to take this atlas and look for these names and use baby names from that culture... I did this in Emperor's Soul, I just picked ancient Persia, I picked people who lived there in this era and what they named their cities there and I'm going to take those words and I'm going to screw with them until it is not actually a word but it feels like it might be one. That way everyone from this region is going to feel like they've got a similar name. Or I can just-- For that book it was much easier because the linguistics were not as big a deal.  I could basically just crib off the bat. And that works very well also.

Sometimes I do it intentionally, Mistborn was supposed to evoke a sense of 1820's Paris, or London, that was what I was shooting for with the grime and the dirt, the ash falling. So I used French names and Germanic names and Spanish names and things like this, so when you run into Vin, Vin is just wine in French and Kelsier [Kelsi-ay] is how they would say-- you can say Kelsier [Kelsi-er] if you want-- and they have Kelsier and Demoux so you can go "Oh this is a French sounding region" so when you get some like Elend and Straff you are like "They are from a different region. They sound like the eat meat and potatoes and they try to conquer Europe periodically, those guys" *laughter* That helps you distinguish the regions very easily.

General Reddit 2016 ()
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usuyami

Are there any languages with clicks anywhere in the cosmere?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, though I'm loathe to use them in text because of how people roll their eyes at fantasy novels that try to be too cute with non-standard (meaning non western Earth) symbols in naming.

/r/fantasy AMA 2011 ()
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RankWeis

The characters in Mistborn all have very French names. My girlfriend insists Vin's name is pronounced almost "Veh", as it would be in France, and I'm almost convinced. How do you pronounce it?

Brandon Sanderson

The Central Dominance is intentionally French sounding. I say Vin's name like an American would, but everyone in world would say it with a French accent. Same goes for Kelsier, (which they would say Kel-syay.) Again, I say it as an American would, but then I'm not from the Central Dominance.

unknown

One further question on pronunciation- Sazed. Is it sayzd, sayzed, or sah-zahd? I always pictured the Terris people as somewhat Arabic so Sah-zahd came more naturally to me, but I'm curious as to what the intended pronunciation is.

Brandon Sanderson

I say Sayzed, as does Kelsier. The Terris a is not as harsh as that, but it's not quite a soft "a" either.

/r/Fantasy_Bookclub Alloy of Law Q&A ()
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Questioner

I think you may have answered this one before, but where do you come up with your names for all your characters?

Brandon Sanderson

It depends on the series. For Mistborn, I build a 'feel for certain regions and develop names using the linguistic rules of that region. The Central Dominance (and Elendel in this book) had a slightly French feel to the linguistics, and many of the names came from that paradigm.

However, unique to the Mistborn world was the need to give people simple nicknames in a thieving crew sort of way. Wax, Clubs, Breeze, Mr. Suit, all of these are along those lines.

General Reddit 2017 ()
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namer98

I just finished the audiobook this morning, and in the setting are rules about how to not provoke shades of the dead. The rules are in order of least to most severe:

  • Don't run
  • Don't kindle a flame
  • Don't draw blood

The post script talks about how these rules were based on shabbos as presented in the Torah. It was just interesting to see a non-Jewish author (In this case, Mormon) base something off of Judaism.

Brandon Sanderson

:) Thanks for the thread.

The Double Eye from the Stormlight books (inside front cover illustration of the magic in the hardcover of book one) has some roots in the Tree of Life also, and if you look at Alethi, you'll find some Hebrew poking through now and then.

namer98

I read all of your books as audio books because they are all so well narrated, especially the Wax and Wayne series.

I will have to keep a better ear out for the Alethi.

Brandon Sanderson

It can be easy to miss, as I play with it a little first, fitting it to Alethi. But Moash came from Moshe, for example.

MuslinBagger

Is that a hint of things to come? Is Moash like Moses or something? He is, isn't he?

Brandon Sanderson

Sorry. It doesn't mean anything other than "My editor is named Moshe, and I've always liked how the name sounds."

PM_ME_LEGAL_PAPERS

Speaking of which, there's a Lighteyes named Yonatan (a very Jewish name) that Wit insults in...I think it was Way of Kings. Is that based off of someone you know as well?

Brandon Sanderson

That is indeed. (Look again at what he's wearing.)

That's based off of my editor's nephew, who was included as a wedding gift.

Salt Lake City signing ()
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Questioner

Have you studied Latin?

Brandon Sanderson

I have studied enough to know about it, but I have not studied enough that I could read or even figure out most origins. Yeah.

Questioner

Okay. 'Cause I did-- I took a semester of Latin, and I'm like, "Oh, that's where all these words came from in Brandon's writing." And...

Brandon Sanderson

I do often say, "Alright, I need the right feel for this." And I will go delve into Latin, and Greek, and things like this trying to-- The big question is, I'll need to create a word that imitates an ancient word from the world that we're in, but it's going to be in translation. And so often I will use a Latin root to be like-- to indicate "this is an ancient word from their world, from their scholarly language. To make a parallel to that, I'll use one from ours."

Stormlight Three Update #4 ()
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usuyami

With all the linguistic elements in Stormlight, how much have you done in the way of mapping out the linguistic history of Roshar, ie deciding that this modern language descends from this older language, which descends from that ancient language that also gave rise to all these other languages, etc.?

Brandon Sanderson

I've done a surprising amount of this. The linguist in me slipping out. The vowel shifts are one of my favorites.

Warbreaker Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

Also, just in case you're wondering, the Bright Sea and the Inner Sea are both the same place. It's another Idris/Hallandren thing. Most mountains, oceans, and lakes have two names—the Idrian one and the Hallandren one. Originally, this happened because there was bad blood between the two kingdoms, so they'd call things different names in order to differentiate themselves. Ironically, in a lot of cases both names have stuck, and both kingdoms have found themselves alternating between the two names.

Inner Sea was the Idrian name for the body of water, renamed because they wanted to downplay how important it was. (Idris is landlocked, after all.) Bright Sea was the original name.

General Reddit 2016 ()
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signspace13

I think wines in Stormlight are more similar to fermented juice than alcoholic beverages, the word wine is just the closest thing in English to whatever they are saying in Alethi.

nucleomancer

I guess you're right. With all the storms, I don't think they can grow grapevines.

Just like the word 'chicken' seems to be used where we would use 'bird'. :)

Brandon Sanderson

This is correct; these are both several examples of linguistic broadening and semantic change in Vorin languages.

When and Alethi says "wine" they generally mean "alcohol." Though some of them are fermented juices, much of what they drink wouldn't seem like wine to you at all. Several that the Alethi lighteyes are fond of are akin to a harder liquor with an infusion. In others, the colorings are added for the same reason we add coloring to a cola--for convenience, feel, and tradition more than taste. A character in Book Three finds themselves in possession of some distilled Horneater liquor, and it's colorless.

General Reddit 2016 ()
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[joke about Birds=Chickens on Roshar]

Brandon Sanderson

See also: Eastern Rosharans using the word "Wine" for a variety of types of alcohol, when only rare imports from Shinovar actually come from a grape, and naming animals things like "hound" when they only vaguely resemble a creature from Shinovar. (Or the term silk, which is harvested from plants that float in the ocean. Or using the word 'cremling' for any kind of small crustacean or insect, which is a linguistic expansion of the word over the centuries, when there used to be two distinct terms for them.)

Vorin languages, in particular, lend themselves to this kind of simplification of terms.

Oathbringer release party ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

What is the most fully-developed you've made any of the languages in the books? Or do you just come up with the sounds and just sort of stop?

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

It depends on which ones. Like, the further we go in the books, the more developed they become. Peter is a linguist, was a linguistics major, so I lean on him heavily for some of these things. Korean gets used all the time. Because I speak Korean and did my mission in Korea...

Skyward Seattle signing ()
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Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

I heard you talk about the Vorin languages have a vowel shift.

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

I'm kind of bad at vowel shifts, but it does have a vowel shift. You'll see Kalak being called Kelek, things like this. And I try to stay consistent with it, but I've also not been as rigorous with it as I maybe should be. Peter always points out little errors I've made. So it's a vowel shift that has some inconsistencies, how about that. But of course, real-world vowels shifts have it.

Questioner [PENDING REVIEW]

You need to publish something only about the conlang.

Brandon Sanderson [PENDING REVIEW]

Only about the linguistics? Yeah, having an assistant who has a degree in linguistics is really handy. Peter's been of very big use, particularly on Stormlight, because I didn't have him before those books. I just kind of had to muddle through it. And now I've got him. I'll call him up and say, "Pronounce this; pronounce this." There are lots of names in Stormlight that I can't pronounce that he can. The Arabic /q/, he can do, and I can't. Which we use a lot in some of the names over in Azir, and stuff like that.

Skyward Pre-Release AMA ()
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WeiryWriter

So in a recent conversation I brought up the relationship between the names of Urithiru and Ur (the ancient Mesopotamian city-state), in retrospect I realized that I was treating the similarity of names as a given but I don't think you have ever been asked about it. Was the reference intentional on your part from the outset (i.e. starting with the idea to reference Ur), or did it arise coincidentally as you played with the linguistics of Roshar (i.e. stumbling across the "ur-" syllable and going "I can work with that!")?

Brandon Sanderson

Ur was part of it, certainly. But it was more the second--I was playing with things, and liked the feeling of Ur in part because of the ancient our-world references.

General Reddit 2017 ()
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RobotAztec

Is all the chickens who are not chickens in Stormlight a big fat joke about [Terry Goodkind]?

Brandon Sanderson

No. Loan words into Alethi (chicken, wine, hound, etc) are a little bit of linguistic worldbuilding I am using for quite a different reason...

muther22

I'm guessing you aren't willing to elaborate on that point?

Brandon Sanderson

Book three will make it clear, but it is not so hard to guess right now. I will avoid saying more until November.

Miscellaneous 2016 ()
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Questioner

How do you make up names and words for your fantasy settings?

Brandon Sanderson

Mostly, I choose an earth culture (or two) to base my linguistic influences on. For instance, in the Mistborn books, I used French. It's obvious in words like Fellise, Renoux, Blanches, Delouse and Demoux. Less obvious is Kelsier, whose name would be pronounced in-world without the last R sound.

Questioner

Do you think you'll ever develop a language like Tolkien did?

Brandon Sanderson

Maybe. I did a lot of that in White Sand, which didn’t get published. I’ll do more for other books.

Questioner

Do you use Hebrew words?

Brandon Sanderson

The name Adonalsium is derived from a Hebrew name for God, Adonai and Aharietiam was derived from the Hebrew/Jewish term for the end of days acharit hayamim or אחרית הימים