Mother Tongue

I’ve recently been studying some Hebrew, and I’m rather fascinated by all the hidden (Kabbalistic) meanings behind letters and words. But the more I learn Hebrew, the more I find myself surprised at how much my vampire’s language—which I completely made up, without any prior knowledge of Hebrew or language theory—resembles Hebrew.

The language I have written for my vampires is not very extensive, but it is a functioning language. It has grammar and syntax, etc. It’s major claim to fame, however, is the fact that it’s root-word driven. When I was thinking about creating a language—and having to keep up with all the words—I thought, “I’ll make some root words and then just modify them to make more words.” That seemed like the simplest way to create a language.

There are three different types of words in Cainite. There are root words, which can’t be broken down into anything smaller. There are enhanced root words, which are root words with a letter or letters added to it which alters its meaning somewhat, but not completely. And there are compound words, which are made up of two or more root words.

So, in the first book, you have a line of Cainite:

Mehah yaechahre de yaemeh nashomehi, namehyaechare.

Meh is a root word which means soul or person. Ah is a suffix which indicates a plural (like s in English). So Mehah is souls.

Yaechahre is a compound word. Ahre is a verb which means to have. As with the Romance languages, you can alter the verb itself to indicate who it is acting upon. In Cainite, pronouns are always added as a prefix to a verb. Yaech is actually a compound prefix. Ya is the pronoun prefix for you. Ech is the pronoun prefix for me. Put them together and you have you and I or we. Yaechahre means we have. But the ahre verb can also indicate possession/ownership, so this word can also mean ours. When capitalized, it specifically refers to the vampires’ human servants.

De is a root word meaning for.

Yameh is a root word plus prefix. Although the prefix ya means you, it cannot stand alone; it has to be attached to a verb or noun. So, in order to make a pronoun, it’s attached to the word for person, but it still just means you.

Nashomehi is a compound verb. Om can mean either food or human (not surprising that they’re interchangeable words to vampires). Omeh is compounded from Om and meh (note, there are no double letters in words except when certain prefixes or suffixes are added), and literally means food of the soul—which, for vampires, is blood. Many nouns, however, can have the letter i added as a suffix, and then it becomes a verb. What’s the verb form of blood? Bleed or bleeding. Na is the masculine prefix he and ash is the feminine prefix she; together nash (remember to drop double letters) means they. So the word means they bleed.

Namehyaechare is a compound noun. Again, meh means soul or people and na is a masculine prefix. Nameh is therefore either the pronoun he or just the word for man. Yaechahre, in this case, means ours. So compounded together, you have our man. This is translated into English as kinsman.

So, we translate this directly into English:

Mehah yaechahre de yaemeh nashomehi, namehyaechare.

Souls ours for you they bleed, kinsman.

Cainite, like the Romance languages, puts noun modifying words after the noun. So instead of red house in English, you would word it house red in Cainite (or in Spanish, casa roja).

Why doesn’t mehah yaechahre become compounded into one big word like namehyaechare? Well, it all depends on if it’s meant to be two words or one word. In the first case, you are talking about our souls—two separate words. Namehyaechare, however, isn’t talking about our man; it’s compounded because it’s meant to be something slightly different than two separate words; it’s meant to be kinsman. If you wanted to translate the English sentence, He’s our man!, into Cainite, however, you would separate nameh from yaechahre.

You see a similar thing happen with the word ashchoechahre. Ash, again, is the feminine prefix. Cho means flesh. Echahre is mine. So the word means my female flesh. But it’s not meant to be used as three separate words; it is specifically talking about one single thing. Translated into English, it becomes daughter, but with a specificity that English lacks that vampires need: it specifically means a biological daughter.

Incidentally, ashomehechahre is a daughter by blood—meaning the vampire offspring of another vampire. There are no equivalents of granddaughter/son in Cainite; there is only the word nichmeh, which means descendant. But, where a more distant relative is close to someone, he or she may affectionately refer to that person directly as a child or sibling. In the first book, Joshua calls Micah naomehechahre, meaning my son (by blood), even though Micah is actually his great-great-grandson.

So what does any of this gibberish have to do with Hebrew? Apparently Hebrew works in a very similar way, with root words (typically 3-4 consonants long) being constantly tweaked with prefixes and suffixes.

For instance, the Hebrew word for love is ahava. The root hav means to give, and ahav is I give—to love someone or something is to give to it. Ahuvi means my love or beloved. Ahuva is a girl’s name. There’s a whole range of suffixes which will make it she loves, they love, etc.

But one particular word in Hebrew really surprised me. In Cainite, eruj means the number one. It can also mean leader (when written as such, it is capitalized). Apparently the same thing is true in Hebrew, with the first letter, alef, also meaning the number one and general or leader.
As I study language itself, I’m finding myself more and more interested. I was never very good at Spanish (a lot of that has to do with the fact that I have a drawl in English; my spoken Spanish is painfully slow), but I’m finding the study of how words are constructed—i.e. root words—and how words are assumed into other languages (there are some Hebrew-based words in English which actually got there when they were taken up by Greek, and then were taken from Greek by Latin, then taken from Latin into English) quite fascinating. How much easier would Spanish have been for me if I had instead had a year of language theory, which covered the history and evolution of languages, and I had been taught to look for root words?

Camiseta – If you think about it, this word shares the same root as the English word camisole (which, unless I’m mistake, is a French word that we borrowed directly). It also has the same root as camouflage, which means to cover or conceal. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is Spanish for a t-shirt.

Pescado – This is related to a word we are more familiar with in English: Pisces.

A dedo? Why not call it, in English, a digit? (i.e. a finger)

Detrás de – This means “in back of” or “behind.” No doubt it is related to detriment, which means to worsen something in relation to its current position.

Cerca – This means near, and is obviously related to the English word (no doubt originally from Latin) circa, which means near or around (e.g. My ancestor was born circa 1830).

If you were taught how to look for root words, how much of the Romance languages would you be able to read, even without actually learning the language?

Let’s try some German, which also heavily influenced English.

Veranda – This word is used as-is in English to indicate the exact same thing: a porch on a house.

Mantel – The German word for coat. The exact same word is used in English to denote a cape or cloak. (Most commonly seen describing a medieval cape/cloak).

Kopfsalat – Lettuce. Remind you of our word, “salad?”

Paprika – Peppers.

Mehl – Flour, in English. Or, for people who are accustomed to breading their fish or chicken, perhaps you recognize the word as meal.

If anyone has any recommendations of books or websites that teach language theory or root words which span multiple languages, please list them in the comments; I’d love to study more.


One comment on “Mother Tongue

  1. […] friend expressed interest in how I made my vampire language, after my last post on the topic. In order to keep all my words organized so I can use them (also, Cainite words are formed from […]

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