kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
Humans have practiced agriculture and lived in towns for about 10,000 years, at least in the Middle East, yet we only have written records for half of that time (since about 3,000 BC). This has long fascinated me. Five millennia of people toiling the fields, worshiping their gods, waging war and telling stories around the campfire, and all of that experience has been lost to us. I suspect their accomplishments could have rivaled, say, that of the Inca, another preliterate Neolithic civilization; we know as little about the Inca's predecessors as we do about the Samarra and the Ubaid, but that doesn't mean they were less impressive than the folks Europeans stumbled upon.

I resolved to give my fantasy world a prehistory, one that players wouldn't know about but which would leave traces in ruins and half-forgotten legends. This is contrary to most fantasy worlds, which have written records that go back eons by Earth standards. (Over 3,000 years separate the two Wars of the Ring, for example. The first War was as a distant to Frodo and the gang as the Trojan War is to us, but they seem intimately familiar with the old events at Mount Doom.) This can be justified by the longevity of fantasy races, but to me that's a reason to keep the immortal races at a distance, and declare that humans, elves, and the rest never hung around long enough to give each other history lessons.

What should a prehistory consist of? In my universe, I used myth-like stories to account for differences between people. So I came up with tales to explain migratory patters, attributing dispersions to dramatic events that sent folks fleeing all over the map. I also had the stories describe the changing relationships between men and the gods, imitating the dynamic you see in Genesis. So humans were often wicked and cruel, sometimes even depraved, while the gods were self-righteous genocidal maniacs, smiting whole cities out of disgust with human misbehavior.

I don't know if it's all a waste of time -- since few players will see this stuff, or care all that much -- but I like the way it adds depth to a fantasy world. I'd be interested to hear other thoughts on this approach.
kent_allard_jr: (the ancients)
Kimberly played me The Human Family Tree the other night, and I loved it for two (largely unrelated) reasons. First, a lot of the "action" took place in my neighborhood of Astoria, Queens, due to its amazing ethnic diversity, and it reinforced my love for the area. While most New Yorkers think of Astoria as a "Greek neighborhood" the stereotype is a bit out-of-date; while the Greeks own much of it (and the Italians, who long abandoned the place, still run its politics), it's as much Middle Eastern, Latin American and Eastern European as Greek these days. Sadly, no good neighborhood in New York survives for long, and as more white-bred over-educated folks like myself discover Astoria's wonders, it will turn into yet-another Yuppie Disneyland of Costco's and Trader Joe's. (Yes, I know I'm contributing to the trends I decry...) Nevertheless I'm glad to see the spotlight on my beloved multi-ethnic home while it still lives.

The other reason I loved the special was its subject matter. It traced mankind's exodus from Africa, and the paths different populations took across the world, providing a history of man's migratory patterns. You can see many of their findings illustrated on this wonderful interactive map. I encourage everyone to click on a path or two, and get a sense of some of the weird stories that suggest themselves.

Much of my reading over the past several years has been in historical linguistics, and part of its appeal, for me, was its use as a tool to uncover pre-history. When you find that the languages of Madagascar are related to those of South-East Asia, for example, it implies all sorts of scenarios, from heroic expeditions straight across the Indian Ocean, to vast Austronesian trading empires along the East African coast. Yet historical linguistics can only take us so far back, in Eurasia to the end of the Neolithic, at best. The "Genographic Project" highlighted in this special opens a whole new set of tools to unlock these amazing untold stories.
kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
Mark Rosenfelder's Internet classic is coming out, expanded, as an actual, honest-to-God book which I look forward to with great enthusiasm.
kent_allard_jr: (the ancients)
Yes, it's a pointless task, but supposedly one of the lines is, "Wait, McCullen is Scottish. Maybe the plane responds to Celtic!"

In case you wondered, there is no language called "Celtic" (unless it's used in Boston's basketball courts), and if it ever existed, it hasn't been spoken since the Bronze Age. The screenwriters must be thinking of Scots Gaelic. Funny how they spent tens of millions but never bothered Googling a major plot point.

(To be honest, I'm just posting this because the "ancients" icon hasn't gotten enough use. Say hello to Mr. Agamemnon!*)

*((Yes, I know that's not really Agamemnon. Damn it.))
kent_allard_jr: (the ancients)
I'd like to tentatively recommend The Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony. I only say "tentatively" because I haven't finished it yet. So far, though, it looks like a comprehensive and remarkably readable overview of Indo-European language and culture, as best as we can reconstruct them. I love this stuff, uncovering the epic prehistory of Europe. After all, people had been growing crops, living in cities and waging wars for thousands of years before written records, and wouldn't it be wonderful to hear the stories they could tell?

On a related note ... at one point I was thinking of the perfect essay, something that would touch upon almost all of my interests at once. I never got to finish that thought, but I knew it would have something to do with roleplaying and Indo-European prehistory. That did lead me to translate the phrase Dungeons and Dragons into PIE, or at least try to do so. *Koueh2 Snogones Kwe, literally "caves snakes and" (the conjunction at the end, Senate and People-style) was as close as I could come up with, but don't take my word for it, because I'm awfully uncertain about this stuff.
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
OK, I worked out a basic vocabulary for four related languages, Proto-Human, Old Jeraldic, Old Malarian and Gehrian. (See this entry for their position on my big, throbbing ConLang trees.) Below, for your sleeping pleasure, are a few terms in these languages; the English translation is given in quotation marks, both in the "Proto-Human" category and in other languages when the meaning has changed.

Feel the power of my ConLang tables, young Skywalker! )

kent_allard_jr: (Default)
I decided to get serious about my fantasy world's language construction. (It's been a good way to distract myself from the election disaster.) My first step was to determine how the planet was settled, with humans starting from a central point and migrating outwards from there. You can see the map of the migrations here (800 KB). (Some of you might remember a similar map from the World of Greyhawk Gazetteer, which fascinated me a a kid.) Then I worked out the language families, based on these migrations and my knowledge of the world:
Giant diagram fun behind the cut tag. )

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August 2012

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