|Source: Kelandon canon|
Eras and Dialects
The slith tongue developed over the course of more than a millenium, its era-specific dialects typically classified into four parts: Archaic Slith, Classical Slith, Modern Slith, and Barbaric Slith.
Archaic Slith was spoken in the homeland prior to standardization, which was nearly one thousand years before the assassination of Hawthorne. Since it was not standardized, it was subject to many dialects and regional pronunciations and forms, although not as many as one might expect. Its unity led to the widespread belief that sliths in the homeland once spoke exactly the same language without dialectal differentiation, perhaps in the past so distant that it is now shrouded in mystery.
In any case, Archaic Slith was characterized by a handful of irregular or overlapping forms. It had an ablative case, which was already falling out of use late in the period, and it lacked a few of the verb forms that became available in the later language.
Classical Slith was the glorious form of the language spoken from the demise of Archaic Slith around nine hundred years before the assassination of Hawthorne. It was standardized not to any particular dialect of Archaic Slith (which is unusual), but to a mishmash dialect of all of them. The primary goal was to differentiate forms and smash down irregularities, so forms were put together that had never been spoken in conjunction before.
Classical Slith has been generally considered the most perfect form of the language. Although some (particularly poets) occasionally reached back to Archaic Slith for forms and constructions, the classical dialect was more often than not considered as elevated a form as was possible. The incredible number of forms of the verb, the simple declension system of the noun and adjective, the expressivity of the conjunctions, and the exactness of the language were held up as the standard for ages.
Still, over the course of the centuries that followed, the spoken language continued to evolve as the written language remained static. Eventually, after approximately five hundred years, the spoken language had moved so far beyond the standard written language that the language was standardized again to reflect more current usage. This new standard was called Modern Slith.
Modern Slith had fewer cases, fewer conjugations, and fewer sounds, but it balanced these deficiencies with an increase in prepositional usages and a wider vocabulary. It became the standard written language approximately four hundred years before the assassination of Hawthorne, although many with high literary ambitions still wrote in the classical tongue, because even during this period, Classical Slith was still understood, even if it was not commonly spoken.
This phase of the language was marked by more regularized constructions. Participles in oblique moods (the subjunctive, optative, and imperative) disappeared. Conditional clauses followed certain patterns, rather than being as free as in the classical tongue. Some long vowels were being lost, and a couple of cases dropped out of use.
Two hundred years before the assassination of Hawthorne, a very dramatic event in the history of slithkind occurred: the exile of Thsss. Many sliths were banished to Avernum, thus creating a linguistic divergence: the language of the Avernite Darklings began to evolve separately from the language of the homeland sliths. The Bahssikavans broke away from the Darklings on the very site of the banishment, which began their separate evolution as well.
Until their destruction shortly after the assassination of Hawthorne, the Bahssikavans continued to speak Modern Slith, and Thsss himself, a well-educated and literate slith, spoke that dialect as well. However, near the end of his life, and especially after his death, his followers began to speak a heavily colloquilized form of the language. In a few short decades, the language had undergone several more sound changes, strengthening stress and losing word-final distinctions, which wrought havoc on the declensional system.
Thus was born Barbaric Slith, a new dialect without declensions at all and with far fewer conjugations. Its vocabulary was greatly reduced as it became culturally unacceptable to talk about abstract or complicated topics beyond hunting and killing and war. Most Darklings retained an understanding of Modern Slith, but few spoke it any more. In some particularly backward corners, knowledge of the older language was lost entirely.
Barbaric Slith was never standardized, which led (as with Archaic Slith) to a myriad of local variations, but the speech-patterns of the dynamic leader Sss-Thsss, descendant of Thsss, were extremely influential. This form dropped all distinctions between long vowels and short vowels, had a heavy enough stress that unstressed vowels underwent mutation, and (most colloquial of all!) introduced articles. Thsssish (a name given to the dialect by outsiders) became the most common dialect of Barbarian Slith.
This was created when, approximately forty years prior to the assassination of Hawthorne, a great number of sliths began defecting from the Darklings and making peace with the humans. They founded the city of Gnass. In an attempt to differentiate themselves from the Darklings, they began to change their cultural norms: it became acceptable again to speak abstractly, and they needed to expand the constructions and vocabulary in order to accommodate this. This led to a great deal of neologisms and strange new ways of expressing things, heavily influenced by human language.
Many humans believe that slith language consists of no more sounds than a hissing lizard makes. Nothing could be further from the truth. The classical slith tongue actually depends on extremely clear pronunciation both of consonants and of vowels. It is true that it contains a wealth of fricatives and prefers the unvoiced forms, but it also has many other sounds.
- a: like the a in father, an open back unrounded vowel.
- e: like the e in pet, a mid front unrounded vowel.
- i: like the ee in beet, a close front unrounded vowel.
- o: like the o in okay, a back mid rounded vowel.
- u: like the u in French lune, a close front rounded vowel.
Long vowels are indicated in one of several ways. A macron, a circumflex, or a double vowel all represent a long vowel. That is, kÄlÅs, kÃ¢lÃ´s, and kaaloos are all the same thing. In very casual writing, particularly in the current day, long vowels are sometimes not indicated (e.g. kalos), but this is considered very colloquial and bad style for all but the most informal writing.
If short vowels are said to be held for a beat, long vowels normally are held for a beat and a half, although they may be held for as long as two beats or more, depending on the speaker and situation.
Note that semi-vowels i and u never assumed their consonantal qualities in the classical tongue. That is, i was never pronounced the same way as the y in English you, and u was never pronounced the same way as the w in English we. They were always separate syllables.
- k: like the c in cat, a voiceless velar plosive.
- g: like the g in get, a voiced velar plosive.
- t: like the t in today, a voiceless alveolar plosive.
- d: like the d in dog, a voiced alveolar plosive.
- p: like the p in pot, a voiceless bilabial plosive.
- b: like the b in bat, a voiced bilabial plosive.
All stops are aspirated.
Liquids and Nasals
- r: like the r in Spanish rojo, an alveolar trill.
- rh: like the r in standard French rue or German Recht, a uvular trill.
- l: like the l in loud, an alveolar lateral approximant.
- n: like the n in name, an alveolar nasal.
- m: like the m in met, a bilabial nasal.
Rh should not be confused with gh, the fricative. Although they are allophonic in French and German, they are not the same sound, and sliths distinguished between them.
- f: like the f in fed, a voiceless labiodental fricative.
- v: like the v in very, a voiced labiodental fricative.
- th: like the th in thin (but never like in this), a voiceless dental fricative.
- dh: like the th in this, a voiced dental fricative.
- s: like the s in sad, a voiceless alveolar fricative.
- z: like the z in zoo, a voiced alveolar fricative.
- sh: like the sh in she, a voiceless postalveolar fricative.
- zh: like the z in azure, a voiced postalveolar fricative.
- kh: like the ch in Chanukah or Scottich loch, a voiceless velar fricative.
- gh: like the Armenian gh or the Modern Greek Î³ (gamma), a voiced velar fricative.
- h: like the h in hat, a voiceless glottal transition.
As above, gh should not be confused with rh, the trill.
Finally, some consonants occur in long forms. These are indicated with double letters. That is, hess should be pronounced with a lengthened sibilant at the end, with the same rhythmic implications as for long vowels (a beat and a half if a single consonant is considered a beat). Digraphs are written with the second letter doubled: a long sh is spelled shh.
Two short vowels in succession create a diphthong, never two separate syllables. No long vowel can be followed by another vowel. No long vowel can be followed by a long consonant (hence kÄlÅs, not *kÄlÅss). Neither can a long vowel be followed by two different consonants in a row. It is unusual, although not impossible, for more than two consecutive consonants to appear in a word.
Words are stressed according to a system of heavy and light syllables (exactly like Latin). A syllable is considered heavy if it has a long vowel or ends with two consonants (either a long consonant or two different ones). That is, both syllables of kÄlÅs are heavy, because they both have long vowels. The first two syllables of hessÄden are heavy, the second because it contains a long vowel, and the first because it ends with two S's. The first syllable of Nakhtha is considered heavy because it ends with khth, two consonants. The second syllable is considered light because it has a short vowel not followed by anything.
Words are stressed on the penultimate (second-to-last) syllable if that syllable is heavy, or on the antepenultimate (third-to-last) syllable if the penult is light. Thus bainÄden is stressed on the penult, but bainatas is stressed on the antepenult.
Stress is also not as strong as in English or French. It is more or less as forceful as in Spanish.
Syntax and Style
Because subject-object relationships are expressed in Classical Slith by case endings, word order is relatively free. KsÄ“von vÄ«dam means I see the man, but so does VÄ«dam ksÄ“von; the order doesn't impact the grammatical meaning of the sentence. In such a situation, word order conveys emphasis, not meaning. For instance, KsÄ“von fÄlaktet khthÅrom means I killed the man with a spear, and KhthÅrom fÄlaktet ksÄ“von means the same thing, but the latter places more emphasis on the fact that the speaker killed the man, instead of just injuring him.
Such subtlety is hard to render in translation.
Conversational word order
The most normal, unemphatic word order in Classical Slith is subject-indirect object-direct object-verb, with modifiers as near to the things that they modify as possible. However, the subject is often unexpressed, and there frequently is no indirect object. Additionally, it is not uncommon for the direct object to follow the verb (especially in informal writing, where it becomes the norm).
Thus, a standard way of saying The man spoke the speech to me is KsÄ“voss mÅthi hessem hessoth. It would not be unusual to say mÅthi hessoth hessem casually. For emphasis that he spoke the speech to me and not someone else, hessem hessoth mÅthi.
Modifiers tend to follow what they are modifying, although the tendency is very slight. The noble man is likely to be expressed KsÄ“voss kÄlÅs, although it could very easily be expressed KÄlÅs ksÄ“voss as well. The major exception is the genitive case: a possessive genitive is noticeably more likely to precede, whereas a partitive is likely to follow. For example, The man's speech is KsÄ“vose hess, but A flagon of ale is KÄlÄ«s fÄ“rletke.
One near-rule is that conjunctions (and relative pronouns) must almost always come at the beginning of the clause that they introduce. In Archaic Slith, some transition words were frequently post-positive, but that tendency ended at the dawn of classical prose. Thus, one would almost invariably say KsÄ“voss kÅ hessath for The man who speaks rather than KsÄ“voss hessath kÅ. The placement of conjunctions and relative pronouns is generally very regular.
Formal prose style
Good classical prose frequently involves very long and very complicated sentences. One cause of this is the tendency to create different levels of subordination. For example, BainathÅn morÄni ksÄ“von kÅ hessoth thÅthi mÅ khthÅrom loosely translates as While he was walking on the mountain, the man who spoke to you was the one whom I killed for you, except less strained. The participle sets up the circumstances of the event but are not emphasized strongly. The relative clause describes the cause of this action (presumably), which is that the man spoke to the addressee ("you"). Since the cause is an important sub-component of the action, it is a level above a participle. However, the main clause is reserved for the action: I killed the man. These layers of subordination can pile on top of each other, creating extremely long sentences.
Another feature of this sentence is the drawn-out structure of the main clause. The direct object appears early, in the first three words, but the grammar of the sentence is not completely resolved and the meaning finished until the very final word, the main verb. Good classical prose more often than not keeps subordinate clauses or extra descriptive words within the middle of the main clause, instead of adding them at the end or beginning, leading to the most important words appearing at the beginning and the end of the sentence (here, khthÅrom). The grammar and meaning remaining unresolved until nearly the final word is a major aesthetic point.
The third notable point is the sandwiching of morÄni between bainathÅn and ksÄ“von. Since the endings of the words allow one to tell that bainathÅn and ksÄ“von agree, they can be separated by a word or two (rarely more than that, in good prose) that should be taken closely with one or both of the words. Here, morÄni indicates the location where bainathÅn was happening, so it is placed near that word. This is quite common, although the more extreme form, known as hyperbaton, in which words that agree or complete each other's meanings are separated by a large distance (e.g., KÄlÅs khÄtatothÅn khthÅroth ksÄ“voss to de dÄ“ghon, that is, The noble man killed the hated dragon), is very rare in good prose. (So, too, is the placement of the de, explainable in context.)
A fourth feature of this sentence is the ambiguity of the dative. The word thÅthi comes between the clause who spoke and the clause I killed, making the word do double-duty: who spoke to you and I killed for you are both intended meanings of this sentence, even though the word you only appears once. Using the same word for two purposes is a feature of good classical prose.
High poetic style
High classical poetry follows quite different rules from those that govern prose. While the primary difference between poetry and prose is metrical, syntax and diction are also quite different.
Classical poetry is invariably in a metrical form of some sort, and the meter is dictated by the genre of poetry: epic in dactylic hexameter, love poetry in elegiac couplets, etc. The meter is formed from patterns in heavy and light syllables (see Pronunciation, under Phonetic Laws): the dactylic hexameter, for example, follows a pattern of heavy-light-light (or heavy-heavy) repeated six times per line. Prose deliberately avoids the heavy/light patterns of the major poetic forms.
Poetry also allows greater variety in word-order. Words that are normally sentence-initial, such as conjunctive particles and relatives, can be post-positive (placed second) or moved even later, hearkening back to the Archaic tongue, in which several of the particles were commonly post-positive. Hyperbaton, while still unusual, is somewhat more common. Most significantly, there is no natural word order for subjects, verbs, and objects, in strong contrast to the tendencies listed above for conversational word order. Placement of the words throughout the sentence in poetry has much more to do with emphasis and narrative than any sense of natural order.
Verse very deliberately avoids jangly sound-devices. End-rhyme is to be avoided at all costs. Internal rhyme is nearly unavoidable, but it is de-emphasized whenever possible, and only internal slant-rhyme is unregulated. Alliteration can be used, but only sparingly. Rhythmic effects, however, are used frequently: the deployment of heavy and light syllables to make the verse quick and easy or slow and weighty is carefully controlled.
Classical Slith Dictionary
Here are lists of basic translations of Classical Slith words into English, with occasional reference to other languages that have comparable words when English lacks one. Listed here are nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and particles. Pronouns are found elsewhere, and a more complete description of particles is also elsewhere.
L. refers to a Latin word, and Gr. indicates a Greek word.
|Classical Slith||Part of Speech||English|
|dÅrh||adverb||long, for a long time|
|fakhaden||verb||to do, make|
|fÄ“rlÄ“th||noun||ale (gen. fÄ“rletke)|
|hÅraden||verb||to speak foolishly, kiss|
|ithkhaden||verb||to go, come|
|kairaden||verb||to make happy, please|
|ithkhaden||verb||to go, come|
|ithkhaden||verb||to go, come|
|ksÄ“voss||noun||slith, man (L. vir)|
|pesthaden||verb||to think, believe|
|kithunoth||noun||to shelter, keep safe|
|slithzerikoss||noun||slith, person (L. homo)|
|thefaden||verb||to defend, protect|
List by part of Speech
N.B. Particles are given in their most common form. Much more information is available under particles.
|NÄrh||part.||Don't (question, positive)|
|NÄsh||part.||Don't (question, negative)|
- Slith Language (the authoritative source)