Re: Coupla questions

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Posted by Mark Rosenfelder ( on October 25, 2000 at 19:13:35:

In Reply to: Coupla questions posted by Geoff Eddy on October 25, 2000 at 19:07:30:

[This was actually from e-mail, but I thought it could be of general interest.]

Hi, Geoff.

> 1. The Thematic Dictionary has a number of
words for various substances [...]

Well, the Lliotans will need the words; that may or may not mean that you need them. :)

In the area of element names I tried to be fairly exhaustive. I went through a book or two on the history of chemistry, noting down what substances were known at what times, how they were discovered, what their distinguishing features were, and why they got the names they did.

Then I basically worked out the same chronology for Almea. There are a couple of variations in the tempo, based on the fact that (say) Chinese and Western science discovered things
at very different times.

I found that this is an enormously complicated field, where everything interacts! Ideally you want to think about why a culture would know of some substance. Does it occur naturally? If not, what sort of technology is needed to get it? If they have technology X, what other substances are they likely to get out of it? You don't want the blighters developing steel when they can't get hot enough fires, nor isolating oxygen and no other gases, and so on.

Roughly following terrestrial history will keep you out of most trouble, but you still have to think about what your cultures are and what
the substances are. Many minerals should only be discovered in a mountainous mining area (of course they can be traded from there). Is there something like alchemy that encourages experimentation? Or, contrariwise, are the people puritans who don't believe in bodily ornamentation? (Many substances were first used as cosmetics!)

If you're interested I could send you my notes on all this... helpful if you don't want to figure out for yourself what orpiment is or whether
it's likely to be discovered by the equivalent of the Egyptians, the Romans, the Arabs, or the French...

As for names, there's a few basic categories:

See this page o' mine for some examples and anecdotes.

I omit the modern category of names based on the elements the substance is made of. This is basically outside my period-- it started around 1800. Obviously, for a culture to use this method, it has to know all the common elements (many of which don't occur naturally) and have reliable ways of determining composition. And of course it has to have the theory of elements!

This is one area where I strongly discourage just making up names as you need them! That's fine for gold, silver, diamonds-- things you
can pick up out of the ground. But most substances are going to be discovered in historical times, and people will derive names for them, not invent new roots.

> 2. I'm planning to put up some "EZ Liotan lessons", roughly along the
> lines of the ones in the Verdurian learning materials.

It helps to have a rough outline. Go through your reference grammar and put things in order. It's usually clear what are the basics and
what can be put off. If it's not, keep asking yourself what someone really needs to know if they're dropped off at the main Lliotan train station knowing just 200 words of the language.

Don't put too much in a lesson, because you're sure to find (as you write the readings and exercises) that there's some things you need
to add (or want to, just to allow some construction).

I tried to delay the horrors-- e.g. the first declensions presented are the easiest and commonest: nouns with identical nominatives
and accusatives. Odder nouns come later. The first adjective class presented is not the commonest, but the easiest-- the one whose
forms all match nouns. On the other hand, gender is so basic to the language that it's better to introduce it early on (lesson 2).

The harder task, I think, is grading the lexicon. You can't use the full richness of the language; you have to use a steadily expanding
but minimal vocabulary, and avoid grammatical constructions you haven't introduced yet, too. Try to re-use words from earlier lessons.


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