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Ad Astra 2017 ()
#1 Copy

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."

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.

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.

/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.)

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
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Questioner

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

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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yulerule

So, we have Shard names; Ruin, Preservation, Harmony, Cultivation, Honor, Ambition, Autonomy, Devotion, Dominion. Those are pretty much regular English words. And then we have Odium. That's a little more Latinate. It's not-- It doesn't fit the pattern.

Brandon Sanderson

So I don't really look as something as Latinate or Germanic, when I'm picking the names usually.

yulerule

But this one is more. Even in Devotion or Dominion, their more regular English. Why?

Brandon Sanderson

I just look for the thing that feels right. Remember, all these words are in translation. When you read the book, they were a word in the original language of the book, that then we have translated to English. And so, don't look to much about what's Greek, what's Latin, what's Germanic. I will mix those a lot. And that's just because I'm looking for the word that has right resonance in English, that I'm writing in. You might even find Latin and Greek mixes in some of my stuff. And that's not done to be like, "Oh, you should be paying [attention]." Usually, I'm just looking for a flavor.

yulerule

So is the flavor-- Because I actually did have *inaudible*

Brandon Sanderson

Because Odium is cooler. It just sounds cooler. There is no answer other than "I like the word better."

yulerule

Is there any connection with the thought that it's not Hatred? Because in Oathbringer, he says he's Passion?

Brandon Sanderson

He would claim that he's Passion and not Odium. But that is part of why I chose it. Hatred felt too on-the-nose, because there is quite arguably that step toward just being all Passion, and that's what he claims that he is.

yulerule

His own perception of himself, can perception, in the cosmere, can that influence?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, it can influence.

yulerule

So the Shard's intent can--

Brandon Sanderson

Can be influenced by their perception and the holder's, 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.

Stormlight Three Update #3 ()
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psychomanexe

I'm pretty sure moash was named after moshe, right? >.>

sheesania

Wow. I'd be pretty offended if the author I got published, after something like ten huge books, named one minor vengeful, traitorous character after me. Or else I would find it really amusing.

Brandon Sanderson

Moash was actually named before Moshe became my editor, as Alethi has some Hebrew roots, making some of the names similar to Hebrew names. He considers it a fun homage that I left it, after he became my editor. (Even considering what Moash does in WoR.)

grampipon

Alethi has Hebrew roots? Man, I'm Israeli and I didn't notice.

Brandon Sanderson

They're buried, but in there. The Kh that you see in a lot of Alethi (like Kholin) are a gutteral, kind of like Chet. That might help you find some. Do note that there are some other influences too, not the least of which being the Vorin idealism of symmetry. (Bonus fun fact, the Double Eye is inspired by the Sephirot, though that one's a little more obvious.)

JordanCon 2018 ()
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Questioner

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

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

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

Brandon Sanderson

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 from 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.

General Reddit 2017 ()
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Kabsal

I spot a potential error [in Oathbringer]:

While she spoke of Jezrien and Kelek, she said their names strangely: Yaysi and Kellai.

This line comes from Dalinar's perspective - don't the Alethi use the name Jezrezeh and not Jezrien?

Peter Ahlstrom

The name Jezrien isn't unknown—Sizgil knew it in Way of Kings, even though they don't say Jezrien in the Makabaki lands either. But I'll ask Brandon about this line.

EDIT: We have determined that Dalinar should have said Jezerezeh in this context. So we'll fix this in the ebook and audiobook, and in future reprints.

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

JordanCon 2018 ()
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Trae

The term "the God Beyond" is used across several worlds and stories set in the cosmere. Is this piece of terminology one that has spread across the cosmere through the intermingling of worldhoppers and native populations? And if not, is it merely a conceit that the translation into English we read encapsulates similar convergent ideas?

Brandon Sanderson

What an excellent question. I have been expecting that question for a while. So... various people are using this phrase, "The God Beyond." And, what Trae is asking is, "Is that a translation artifact?" ...Like, our conceit is, when you are reading a book from the cosmere, I (or someone) has translated it into English. So when you see someone make a pun, it doesn't necessarily mean they made that exact pun, it means they made a pun in their language that worked, and I am looking for one in English that expresses the same concept or the same humor. Or lack thereof, if you don't like puns. In our language. So, you're asking, the God Beyond: do they all say "the God Beyond"? Or the saying some entity that I am translating all as God Beyond. And they are actually all saying "God Beyond." It is the same, in their language, same thing. So, like worldsinger, worldbringer, things like this; the linguistic ties there are intentional, as opposed to just an artifact of the translation. There are things that are artifacts of translation very commonly, but that is not one. I am doing that intentionally.

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

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.

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.

/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.

WorldCon 76 ()
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Thousandarms97

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

No future salt-based magic system, though?

Brandon Sanderson

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

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.

/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.

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.

Oathbringer Chicago signing ()
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Questioner

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

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.

Stormlight Three Update #4 ()
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argel1200

Regarding Ashraven... Would it be correct to say that memories are part of the mind/CR aspect? Assuming so, was Shai forging a new CR aspect to in-effect reconnect Ashraven's Soul (SR) with his body (PR)? I was thinking this could explain how she got his mannerisms correct -- i.e. that those are timeless SR aspects, so she didn't really get those right but instead, the SR connection was re-established?

Brandon Sanderson

Regarding Ashrovan: The problem here is that I don't want to get too deep into these sorts of things, for reasons that I want aspects of the magic to remain subject to discussion for a while yet. Suffice it to say that when we talk about Returned and lifeless in Warbreaker sequels, you'll have more ammunition for understanding what happened in Emperor's Soul.

Faera

Ashraven, Ashrovan...it's Ashravan damnit. He didn't step up to become emperor just so you could get his name wrong. Gaotona is ashamed of you all DX

Brandon Sanderson

In the original language, the a/o is very similar. I always get them mixed up in the English, like when I try to write aㅂsound from Korean in English.

Either that, or I just couldn't decide which one I wanted when writing the book, giving Peter a headache as he had to go back and standardize them all. :)

/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.

MisCon 2018 ()
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Questioner

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

Brandon Sanderson

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

Questioner

Is that dictionary purchasable?

Brandon Sanderson

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

/r/fantasy AMA 2017 ()
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Bradtholomew

What is the origin of the name Kaladin?

My wife and I recently had our first child and that's what we named him. Just curious if there's any story behind the name.

Brandon Sanderson

I use Arabic in some of the creation of Alethi names, and Kaled (or Khaled) was the root I started playing with to come up with a new name for Kaladin, as I didn't like the one I'd used in 2002. I'd already designed Kalak after this, the Herald, and wanted a common name version of this.

When I arrived at Kaladin, it sounded right to me--likely because of the similarity to Paladin, as others noted below.

Dragonsandman

So if Kaladin's name is derived from Khaled, is it fair to assume that the Alethi language sounds similar to Arabic?

Brandon Sanderson

Alethi has some Hebrew to it too. I used Semitic language roots for the Dawnchant, which had a huge influence on Rosharan languages. While there are a few oddballs rules, and some linguistics that stand on their own, both major language groups on Roshar (the Azish family and the Vorin family) would probably sound very Arabic to you.

For example, the Alethi Kh is a voiceless velar fricative. The Azish kk or q sound is a voiceless uvular, sometimes stop, sometimes an affricate. Sometimes a uvular ejective.

No, I can't make those sounds on demand. Peter can, though. It's helpful to have a linguist on my team.

Shin is its own language, as is Iriali.

BeskarKomrk

What can't Peter do? He seems to be an expert on everything!

Brandon Sanderson

He is amazing. But, in this case, he was a linguistics major in college. So there's a little extra amazingness from him in these areas.

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.

Elantris Annotations ()
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Brandon Sanderson

In this chapter, I also go a little bit into the linguistics of the novel. If you'd been able to figure out that "Dor" wasn't an Aon, then you were a step ahead of Raoden at this point. I realize it's probably too small a thing to have been of note, but I do actually mention the "Dor" one time earlier in the book. It's in the discussion where Galladon discovers that the republic has fallen. He says, "Only outsiders–those without any sort of true understanding of the Dor–practice the Mysteries."

...

Anyway, if you want more on linguistics, head over to the "goodies" section of the website. I've got a whole essay on the languages in Elantris over there.

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.

Skyward San Diego signing ()
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Questioner

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

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

And does the word Veristitalian come from "veritas"?

Brandon Sanderson

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.

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.

Firefight Houston signing ()
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Questioner

From context and usage, it's fairly clear, sort of, what the word "slontz" means, but what exactly does it mean? Where does it come from?

Brandon Sanderson

Where does the word "slontz" come from? Alright, alright. Um-- *long pause* Boy, can I even dredge up where that came from? I like to use, particularly in certain worlds where it seems like it fits, I like the made-up swear words. And the made up names, just because I think slang evolves, and slang being individual to the world feels much-- And I know some people find them goofy, but it feels more realistic to me than them using our curse words. It just doesn't seem right. Now there are worlds where it was right, like in Mistborn I used our curse words because I was like, "These are a bunch of thieves living on the street," I wanted it to feel a little harder. Though, you know, it's me, so it's never gonna be that hard. But "slontz," I think I was like, "I wanna come up with some fake Yiddish word that sounds cool," honestly. I like the Yiddish. I hang out with my editor and my agent in New York, and they're both Jewish, and they use all these words that are so much fun. I'm like, "I want a word that sounds like that." I didn't spend too much time on the linguistics of that one, I'll be honest, it was just a fun word that I came up with.

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."

Idaho Falls signing ()
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Questioner

Are birds native to Roshar?

Brandon Sanderson

Birds are not native to Roshar.

Questioner

...Did they come over with the initial humans?

Brandon Sanderson

They did. The humans brought them over, along with a lot of other beasts. Like, horses aren't native to Roshar either. You can tell pretty easily the non-native things. Like, Roshar doesn't have any grapes. So the word wine got genericized in the same the way that the word chicken did. You'll see bunches of that. Like the way the weather works. Roshar does not have weather patterns like Ashyn did. They're used to seasons. Suddenly, the words for the seasons, all these weird things that you may have been wondering through the first couple of books, you're like, "Oh I see why they just call hard alcohol a wine," or, "I see why they call everything a chicken." It's kind of related to this.

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.

Skyward Chicago signing ()
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Argent

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

Brandon Sanderson

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...

Blightsong

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

Brandon Sanderson

Yes.

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.

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.

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.

The Great American Read: Other Worlds with Brandon Sanderson ()
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Questioner

So, are all birds in the cosmere referred to as chickens?

Brandon Sanderson

No. All birds on Roshar are referred to as chickens... What's going on here is a linguistic phenomenon, where they had lots of bird types on the planet they emigrated from. But over time the word for "bird" became genericized, chicken became genericized to mean bird. That's happened to a couple things on Roshar. Wine got genericized. They don't even really have wine; they don't have grapes, but they use it genericized to mean something different.

Orem signing ()
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Questioner

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

Brandon Sanderson

You mean names with K's?

Questioner

Yes...

Brandon Sanderson

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.

Emerald City Comic Con 2018 ()
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Questioner

How did you come up with the name of the parshman Kaladin journeys with, Sah?

Brandon Sanderson

I don't remember. I was looking for Alethi names. Alethi has its roots in Arabic and Hebrew with a little bit of Chinese thrown in here and there, mostly with Arabic. So, not sure where I got that one specifically.

Skyward Houston signing ()
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Questioner

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

Brandon Sanderson

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.

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.