The Old Tongue is a now-dead language, once common parlance in the Age of Legends, but now spoken only by scholars and certain nobles, and not perfectly by either of those. Its structure and meaning are shaded so that a single phrase can have many different meanings, depending on context. Modern dialects have evolved from the Old Tongue (some might say, 'degenerated'), such that a farmer who hears a word of the Old Tongue will think that it sounds familiar, and such that any native speaker of the Old Tongue can decipher the New.
- See also: List of Old Tongue words
The Old Tongue was spoken during and shortly after the Age of Legends. Due to the ensuing turmoil of the Breaking of the World, the Trolloc Wars, and the War of the Hundred Years, the records of this time period are fragmentary at best. However, enough evidence has survived for those who wish to learn it to do so. The Breaking, for example, did not destroy use of the Old Tongue, due to the continued printing of books in the language during that time. Men and women of the Ten Nations of the Second Covenant, spoke the language normally. However, around this time period the predecessor of the New Tongue, known then as the vulgar tongue, had begun to grow. In the chaos of the Trolloc Wars, the vulgar tongue grew to prominence, and became the normal language. In the time of Artur Hawkwing, though even farmers could know the Old Tongue, and nobles were obliged to, the vulgar tongue grew to popularity. After the War of the Hundred Years, the Old Tongue was almost defunct.
Many nobles are expected to learn the Old Tongue, though few do to any meaningful degree; all of the Aes Sedai have some knowledge of it as well, as they are taught it in novice classes; to say nothing of the scholars and historians to whom such things are of great interest. However, besides the examples listed above, the Old Tongue has utterly disappeared in normal usage.
The loss of knowledge of the Old Tongue appears to have been the most severe in the Westlands. Although the Seanchan and the Aiel do primarily speak the New Tongue, many phrases of the Old Tongue are used in everyday language (such as damane and da'covale in Seanchan, and algai'd'siswai and car'a'carn among the Aiel), and these words are commonly known by the average person, and not just educated scholars.
Although it has long since passed out of use, its importance should not be underestimated. It is the language of such great figures as Lews Therin Telamon and the ancient Aes Sedai, as well as that of the Forsaken. It was spoken by a society that was, by all remaining accounts, quite advanced in most respects, and it was the language of those who struggled to mend their shattered societies in the aftermath of the Breaking. It did nothing less than survive a minor armageddon, and usher in the dawn of a new world. The Old Tongue is highly relevant to current times (as experienced by the characters in the main story) as not only the sole link to understand many important historical and academic knowledge, but as the language of the Prophecies of the Dragon.
At present, the Old Tongue can still be seen through ancient names of places (e.g. Manetheren or Aridhol), or Cairhien (formerly known as al'cair'rahien'allen), things and old concepts (e.g. Aes Sedai, or the names of Aiel warrior societies), inscriptions (e.g. "Tia mi aven Moridin isande vadin"), and in certain phrases used in conversation. Significantly, the entire Karaethon Cycle was written in the Old Tongue originally, so anyone wishing to understand the prophecies related to the Dragon must learn the language, or be content with a possibly suspect translation.
At times, the Old Tongue will be repurposed in one specific nation to refer to one specific cultural concept. For example, the word carneira simply means "first" in the Old Tongue, so it confused Moiraine Damodred to discover that in Malkier, the word carneira referred to the importance of a traditional first lover of an adolescent before marriage.
The exact phonological value of many letters and digraphs can only be guessed at, but the pronunciations provided by Jordan for some of the more important words offer at least some semblance of a guide. Further, given that the author's own native language is (American) English, one can perhaps make a few inferences accordingly.
Consonants seem to represent more or less the sounds an English speaker would expect:
- b: [b]
- c: [k]
- d: [d]
- f: [f]
- g: [g]
- h: [h]
- j: [dʒ], possibly others
- k: [k]
- l: [l]
- m: [m]
- n: [n]
- p: [p]
- q: extremely rare in the extant lexicon, and seen only in the presence of 'u' to produce the sound [kw]
- r: [ɹ] note: this is the IPA transcription for the sound as it appears in English - the transcription [r] in fact represents a trilled 'r'
- s: [s] initially or in the presence of unvoiced consonants; [z] following or between voiced sounds
- t: [t]
- v: [v]
- w: [w]
- y: [j]
- z: [z]
Also, a few consonantal digraphs have been observed.
- ch: [tʃ]
- sh: [ʃ]
- th: [θ], probably [ð] as well
Several others appear, though their pronunciation, again, can be only guessed at.
- kj: ?
- jh: ?
To date, no 'x' has been seen in any known Old Tongue words.
Vowels, as mentioned, are less certain; the Old Tongue demonstrates a degree of orthographical irregularity that, if not equal to, is at least reminiscent of Modern English. The diphthong 'ai', for example, is seen as both [e] and [ai] at various times (though the latter is the more common phonetic value), and in at least one word - shai'tan - its component letters are pronounced separately ( [ʃeɪtan]/[ʃei.ɪ.tan] ).
- a: [a], [e/ei], [ʌ], possibly [æ]
- e: [i], [e], [ε]
- i: [i], [I]
- o: [o], [a]
- u: [u]
Also as mentioned previously, the Old Tongue also makes use of several diphthongs.
- aa: [aː]
- ai: [aj], [e]
- ae: [e/ei]
- ei: [e/ei], [aj]
- ie: [i]
- oo: [u]
- ou: [u]?
It should be stressed once more that these phonetic values are quite tentative, most particularly in the case of vowels and diphthongs.
Much like Modern English, the Old Tongue retains little morphological diversity (if, indeed, it had very much to begin with); the only attested forms of nominal and adjectival declension are those used to produce a plural form of the word in question, and it is unclear whether these are the relic of a more complex system of declension, or simply an isolated phenomenon. It is also uncertain of just how many classes of noun and adjective there are, but at least four have been observed to date.
The 'first declension' (so termed entirely arbitrarily by the author of this article, for nothing more than the sake of convenience; all such future terms should be considered to be similarly artificial) is marked by the addition of an 'i' to word's end in the plural. Shar ('blood'), for example, becomes shari in the plural, as in the name of the Aiel society Tain Shari ('true bloods').
Second declension words take an 'a' in the plural, also appended directly to the end of the word. The singular form of 'eye', for instance, is sei, and the plural seia.
The third declensional pattern is somewhat more unusual, involving the removal of a letter rather than the addition of one, as in the word dareis. Here, the presence of the 's' indicates the singular form of the word for 'spear', and its absence the plural - 'spears'. (This would seem to indicate that the Old Tongue is not a context free language.)
Fourth and (provisionally) last, the most irregular declension seen to date. As with the first and second declensions, some words of the fourth simply add their plural marker - 'n' - directly to the end of a word, as in the adjective tain ('true', singular form tai). Others, however, involve a more involved inflectionary process, such as the word for 'people' - the singular athan becomes the plural atha'an (whether this would be pronounced more like [aθa:n] or [aθa?an] is unclear).
It is entirely possible that still other 'declensions' exist, as many of the observed words do not necessarily seem to follow the aforementioned paradigms; or perhaps those observed words simply do not inflect, with these four patterns representing nothing beyond the more tenacious vestiges of an already all but vanished synthetic typology.
Also of note is the presence of what appears to be an appositional genitive, in such phrases as siswai'aman ('spears of the dragon') and tai'daishar ('lord of glory'), where aman and daishar mean 'dragon' and 'glory' respectively. The lack of any observed genitive case-form, and lack of morphological diversity in general, seem to suggest apposition as a likely explanation for the observed phenomenon, though the given meanings could, alternatively, be merely translations of adjective-final phrases into good idiomatic English - i.e. one would probably be more likely to say 'lord of glory' than 'glory lord'. If the former is indeed the case, however, it provides an interesting contrast to cases in which the use of a preposition is evidently preferred, such as Far Aldazar Din ('Brothers of the Eagle') or Far Dareis Mai ('Maidens of the Spear').
The details of verbal inflection, regrettably, are even less clear than those of nouns - the same verb has rarely been seen in more than one form, if at all. Indeed, the majority of attested words are in fact nouns, adjectives, or various particles, with very, very few verbs known at all. The best example provides only the murkiest of ideas of what Old Tongue conjugation may be like, and it involves the verb 'to be' at that. (There's no telling if it exhibits the same irregularity as its Indo-European counterpart, but given Mr. Jordan's self-stated goal of creating a language that mimics the oddities of its real world counterparts, it seems at least plausible.) At any rate, below is a (quite) partial table of the verb 'to be' as it has been seen to date.
- 1st per (sg.) | misain
- 2nd per (sg.) | ?
- 3rd per (sg.) | isain, ain (difference in meaning, if any, unknown)
- 1st per (pl.) | ?
- 2nd per (pl.) | ?
- 3rd per (pl.) | ?
As one can well see, drawing any conclusions from such sparse evidence is a difficult enterprise at best, and Old Tongue verbs will likely remain something of a mystery until such time as more may be observed.
One interesting point of mention, however, is the presence of a contraction, corresponding more or less to the English "isn't". In the phrase Tia mi aven Moridin isainde vadin - 'Death is no bar to my call' - the word isainde is formed from the third person singular form of 'to be' (seen above) and the word for 'no/not', inde. Thus, a more literal translation of this phrase might be 'to my call Death isn't (a) bar'.
It seems at least probable that other contractions exist, but again, the paucity of information prevents one from knowing for certain.
Like much of the rest of Old Tongue grammar, the only syntactical 'rules' are fairly provisional, and amount more to a listing of observed phenomena than any truly prescriptive work.
Generally speaking, a roughly OVS syntax seems to be employed, though this is not without exception. The phrase above, for example - 'Death is no bar to my call' - seems to maintain an SVO syntax, with the indirect object and its corresponding construction appearing next to the subject.
Also, it seems that certain prepositions require or tend toward their own unique word order; the word far (an Old Tongue word for 'of') is one such, and always or nearly always places the 'main' noun after the one that limits it - Far Aldazar Din literally translates as 'of the eagle brothers', though in English one would actually say 'brothers of the eagle'.
In all probability (as with more or less any language), Old Tongue syntax is flexible to some greater or lesser degree, and changes regularly to convey different meanings (such as the indicative 'you are going' versus the interrogative 'are you going?'). But as with more or less all other aspects of its grammar, there is simply too little available evidence to draw very many conclusions.
Phrases and Translations
- See also: List of Old Tongue words
Below is a list of some of the known Old Tongue phrases.
- "Dovie'andi se tovya sagain." (It's time to toss the dice.) Said by Mat Cauthon from time to time, generally before battles. He starts using it after being released from the ruby-hilted dagger from Shadar Logoth. It is later used on the banner of the Band of the Red Hand.
- "Carai an Caldazar! Carai an Ellisande! Al Ellisande!" (For the honor of the Red Eagle! For the Honor of the Rose of the Sun! The Rose of the Sun!) - The ancient warcry of Manetheren and its last king, whose queen, Eldrene, who was called Rose of the Sun. Mat shouts the warcry in the first fight against Trollocs and again the cry "Carai an Caldazar!" while fighting Trollocs and Myrrdraal near the Jangai Pass.
- "Mia ayende, Aes Sedai! Caballein misain ye! Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye! Mia ayende!" (Release me, Aes Sedai! I am a free man, Aes Sedai! I am no Aes Sedai meat! Release me!) - shouted by Mat while he is being Healed of his connection to the dagger from Shadar Logoth by Aes Sedai.
- "Muad'drin tia dar allende caba'drin rhiadem! Los Valdar Cuebiyari! Los! Carai an Caldazar! Al Caldazar!" (Footmen prepare to pass cavalry forward! Forward the Heart Guard! Forward! For the Honor of the Red Eagle! The Red Eagle!) - also spoken by Mat while he was being freed from the Shadar Logoth dagger, a phrase used in a battle of Manetheren against the Trollocs.
- "Sene sovya caba'donde ain dovienya." (Luck is a horse to ride like any other.)
- "Tia mi aven Moridin isande vadin." (The grave is no bar to my call.) - inscription on the Horn of Valere.
- It should be noted that this sentence is from Book One, The Eye of the World, and Robert Jordan does not seem to have designed a consistent framework for the Old Tongue until Book Two. Consequently, this sentence falls outside standard Old Tongue sentence structure, as far as can be ascertained from later books. In more standard format, it should be "Tia mi aven vadin isainde Moridin." Perhaps this can be attributed to the great age of the Horn of Valere; we do not know the Age in which the Horn was created and the inscription could be an archaic form of the language known in the Second Age.
- "Sa souvraya niende misain ye." (I am lost in my own mind.) Mat, again, muses this to himself after witnessing the destruction at Imre Stand, in the Aiel Waste.
- "Deyeniye, dyu ninte concion ca'lyet ye." (Majesty, by your summons do I come) - Mat accidentally says this to Queen Tylin when she first summons him.
- "Nosane iro gavane domorakoshi, Diynen'd'ma'purvene?" (Speak we what language, Sounder of the Horn?) - Birgitte to Mat when they first speak in A Crown of Swords.
- "Shen an Calhar" - The Band of the Red Hand
- "Mia dovienya nesodhin soende." Luck carry me through. Literally: My luck through (this) carry.
- Jordan, Robert and Patterson, Teresa. The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time. Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., 1997
- Also see Source:Letter on the Old Tongue, 21 November 1994
- The Fires of Heaven, Chapter 53
- Lord of Chaos, Chapter 5
- Knife of Dreams, Chapter 37
- The Fires of Heaven, Chapter 22
- The Dragon Reborn, Chapter 18
- The Dragon Reborn, Chapter 19
- The Fires of Heaven, Chapter 3
- The Eye of the World, Chapter 52
- The Great Hunt, Chapter 19
- The Dragon Reborn, Chapter 12
- The Shadow Rising, Chapter 37
- A Crown of Swords, Chapter 16
- A Crown of Swords, Chapter 21
- The Fires of Heaven, Chapter 51
- The Shadow Rising, Chapter 57