Language in Sacaan (Worldbuilding)

[Author’s Note: This was originally posted on my Patreon back in March]

So let’s talk language. And, specifically, Sacaask – the language that our main characters in Argentum are technically speaking.  

I’ve spoken a bit about Sacaask before (Because T-V distinctions are interesting and I am a nerd), but there are a few quirks to the language that don’t translate very well into English, the T-V distinction being one of them. 

Like many languages in our world, Sacaask has an informal and a formal ‘you’ pronoun, and how people use them says a lot about who they are and what they’re trying to put across. Sabbat, for example, almost exclusively uses the informal ‘you’ unless he’s in disguise or really annoyed with Archer and deliberately putting distance between them – he’s not about to give anyone more respect than he thinks they’ve earned, and he doesn’t much care who he offends. Fest, on the other hand, almost exclusively uses the formal ‘you’ unless he’s been told otherwise, even in situations where that comes across as awkward and over-formal – he’s anxious and erring on the side of caution rather than risking offending anyone.

Sacaask also has two forms of the pronoun ‘they’, another thing which is really bloody tricky to make work in any form when writing in English. There’s the ‘they’ that works like it does in English, and then there’s what could best be described as ‘priest-they’, which pretty much translates out to ‘this person is non-binary in the way explicitly associated with the priests of Ashkenta’ (and yes, there are enough members of the priesthood and the priesthood is important enough that having a pronoun specifically for them makes sense).  Anneke uses the priest-they form, because they’re a priest of Ashkenta, and anyone talking about them would be conveying that information even if all they said was ‘they like coffee’ or ‘they’ll meet us at six’. 

The sentence structure of Sacaask isn’t particularly like English either – in fact, it’s a good bit more Germanic. Instead of ‘I will perform an action to you’, Sacaask structures the sentence as ‘I to you will an action perform’ (which I am not even trying to represent in my writing, so that’s more an interesting bit of random information than anything else). 

In terms of the history of the language, Sacaask comes out of the melding of three separate languages spoken by the three groups of people who came together to found the nation (a group of Northern hunters, some shipwrecked explorers from what would become Kasawe, and a band of traders from the far steppe) – it’s essentially a pidgin that became a creole as the children and grandchildren and so forth of those original three groups grew up speaking it. As such, it has some mutual intelligibility with the three parent languages, which is exceptionally useful for a society and nation whose primary export is mercenaries*. 

Most people in Sacaan are at least bilingual – again, because mercenaries – inasmuch as they speak Sacaask natively and Aventrian (the trade tongue of the continent) as a second language. A fair number of them also speak Old Aventrian (think Latin-equivalent if Sacaask is English), since it’s used in both religion and spellwork and many magical and scholarly texts are written in it, and almost everyone in Dockside has a smattering of the various languages used by the other seafaring nations (also if you count Sacaask street cant as a distinct language, most people in Old Town are trilingual). 

*Sacaan developed in isolation for a fair while due to Plot Reasons, which meant that when outsiders encountered the first mercenary band to leave the caldera, they were essentially confronted with the equivalent of a pack of heavily armed strangers who’d walked out of Mordor and started chatting away at them in Old English. This was made… better? when they switched to the equivalent of bastardised Church Latin and managed something akin to the following (all while grinning and generally projecting ‘hello, we wish to be friends’):

Leader: “Greetings, O herald! We are [unintelligible]! We are wishing to kill-“
Second in command: *very urgent whispering*
Leader: “My deepest apologies-we are wishing to be paid to kill your enemies! Please escort us to your emperor!”

This communication issue had the side-effect of making people underestimate their intelligence for a fair while – which several Sacaask mercenary captains took full advantage of to manipulate events in their favour – and is probably part of where the stereotype of Sacaask folk as uncomplicated and cheerfully violent came from. 

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