The languages of the empire and translation magics Language in Empire of the Covenant | World Anvil

The languages of the empire and translation magics

Welcome to the Empire of the Covenant! In this federal empire, tensions are increasing between the Light and Dark political factions. Light Lady Annabelle is the target of the Leader of the Dark faction and in order to gain allies to protect her, she starts Courtship Rituals to make suitors compete for her hand—but then the Dark Lord joins in. Come read about Annabelle's Courtship and her world!
Introduction to the story | Lady Annabelle Alyssenne | The imperial nobility | Novel upcoming

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While Arianian and Southern are the two official languages of the empire, they are far from spoken by everyone and what dialects one speaks has a great deal of influence on their social standing. Luckily, translation magics are available for the richest.  

Languages spoken in the empire

Since the Empire of the Covenant is so vast, its inhabitants speak hundreds of different languages. In an effort to present the empire as a unified entity, those languages are all gathered into one language called imperial by officials and foreigners, and each individual languages are designed as dialects.   The two major dialects are Northern or Arianian, the one talked in the capital of Arianie in the north, and Southern, the one talked in the south in the Estates of Alyssenne and Lyrienne. Those two are the two official languages allowed to be spoken in the senate.   Most nobles and powerful family will educate their children to speak both languages and they are both used as trading languages in their respective half of the empire. However, only a tiny minority of the empire is really fluent in at least one of those languages. Education standards vary a lot Estate to Estate, but on the whole they are not very good and most people will not be taught something seen as not directly useful.   Since in the empire anyone can become a lord or lady of an Estate if they have enough power, this means that it is not rare for uneducated individuals from accessing to the position. They need some means of understanding what is going on in the senate and participating in the debate. In addition, individuals speaking those two official languages may also need to communicate with people who do not, and learning a myriad of dialects is not really practical.

Map of the Empire of the Covenant
The Empire of the Covenant is a millennia-old federal empire spread over a whole continent and gathering around 600 independent Estates. Those are ruled by powerful mages, lords and ladies who are the Heads of their Houses and who are linked to the ancestral magic of their Lands. Estates are divided by their affilitation with the Light or Dark political factions.   See Geography, Climate and Demography of the Empire and Political Organisation of the Empire.
Lady Merisse pinched her lips at her new subjects' badly hidden sneers. Of course, she was not speaking the local dialect of a small Estate lost in one corner of the empire. And of course she had not had access to the kind of education that taught Arianian or Southern. And those ancestors-cursed idiots dared look on her because of it?   She exhaled slowly. This kind of not-so-subtle insults would be common in the days and even years to come. She had better get used to it; it was not as if she could murder all of her subjects every time one of them dared to be rude... But that did not mean she was going to accept it with a smile either.   She gathered her magic and spread it around her until it filled every corner of the room with her presence, allowing everyone to feel it even without magical sensitivity.

Translation magic

Two solutions exist for those problems. The easiest one, though not the most affordable, is to use a translation craft. Those can be one or two ways, making either the user seem to speak the language of the listener, or the listener speak the language of the user, or both.   Such crafts can be based on different designs. The most sophisticated ones require to be filled with comprehensive knowledge of the languages to be translated, but they only work for those languages. Of course, the more languages they contain, the more sophisticated their magic is and the more expensive they are. Most people in the empire cannot afford a basic one-way translation craft working for one language.   To compound problems, while correctly created translation crafts should be able to last a few centuries or more if properly taken care of, the language information they contain quickly becomes outdated. This means that translation crafts are not able to trickle down the population or accumulate inside family over several generations and further reduce their availability.   Nevertheless, among lords and ladies, most have at least one dual-way two-language translation craft to ensure that they are fully fluent in Arianian and Southern. Such crafts are also good to dissimulate their accents, as this could reveal that they did not grow up among high society.   Another type of translation craft work by transmitting images and concepts directly into the head of their user and listeners in a similar way to how Sense writing for the blind functions. Such crafts do not have the same limitations as other translation crafts, but they require some training to use properly. They are also seen as rather crude and rude to use on people without their permission.   The other solution to language problem is to do exactly the same thing but without using a craft at all by reaching with their magic to another person or sentient creature and directly projecting images and concepts into the magic. This is something that individual with enough magic do instinctively but that is more complex and tiring to do correctly without the help of the craft.

An example of jewellery with magical properties, by AmélieIS with Pixabay and Vecteezy

The imperial library of the senate, by mutantmommy on Pixabay
Lady Merisse smiled without hiding her delight at the grimace of the lord facing her. She focused on the idea of agreement, then of delay. The man had no other choice but to bow in ascent. Coward.   When he left her, she retreated her magic and let her gaze roam around the senate chambers. Everyone watching her surreptitiously immediately pretended not to and avoided meeting her gaze. She withheld a sneer. Peasants or lords, everyone was the same in the end. If they thought she would let them ostracise her for something as basic as a language, their ancestors had really cursed their brains.   She was more powerful than the quasi-totality of all the individuals gathered in this so prestigious room, and she would not let anyone dare question her presence among them. They all repeated that power was might while they subjugated the inhabitants of their Estate, well she was mightier than them.

If you want to read more about Lady Merisse's story, you can go here:  

Cover image: People speaking by AmélieIS with an image from vetcteezy


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Dec 14, 2021 01:22 by Dr Emily Vair-Turnbull

Lady Merisse scares me. O_O   This is really fascinating. I love that there's both a class aspect and a location aspect, and that there are workarounds and translation magics.

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
Dec 14, 2021 12:26 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

*smirk* Lady Merisse is really growing on me as a character!   Language and class always seem to be linked together, do they not? :( If only we could have cool magic too :p

Jan 5, 2022 21:10

Quite an interesting, kind of medieval (or current British :) ) look at the language of fantasy world, mass of dialects and nobody to speak them. P.S. Lady Merisse fails a vibe check.

Jan 5, 2022 22:45 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

Awww, I'm sure Lady Merisse is perfectly nice :p   Thanks for the comment :D

Jan 14, 2022 00:27

Nice work on the translation devices! What I would have liked to read more about, is how the different languages / dialcets differ from each other, for example, how the vocabulary or idioms reflect the culture of the speakers. Maybe these differences also cause particular problems for the translations?

Check out my Summer Camp 2023 wrap-up here!
Jan 17, 2022 21:20 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

Thanks for the comment! That's really interesting ideas and something I'll consider some more when I write the next novels in the series with the other POV characters. If I come up with something fun I'll come back to add it to the article :D

Jan 23, 2022 12:24

Very interesting article, although I'd have loved to learn more about the languages themselves (but that's the linguistic nerd speaking). It was very nice to see that you took into account the size of the empire and the myriad of languages that come with it. And the diplomatic issues that may ensue *Way to go, Lady Merisse*   I wonder how the translation crafts are infused with their knowledge. Must the mage be fluent in the language he's creating the translating artifacts for? If so, such people are probably extremely expensive to hire!

Hoo~ Hoo
Jan 30, 2022 10:29 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

Thanks! Yes, I was very lazy with actually coming up with any language details XD I think it's something I'll have to consider more in the upcoming novels - though I don't want to conlang too much in this world since I'm changing POV characters in every book, and I would have to come up with whole new language every time XD   Regarding the way translation crafts are created, that's exactly that! The creator can only "add" information about languages that they know, and even then they are limited by the extent of their vocabulary. However, several mages can work on the same craft and come later to add another language. Still, the most developed crafts that contained hundreds of languages do indeed coast a fortune.

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