in the Shadow of Greatness


February 1, 2002

Language in the Eternal City

Language in the Eternal City. What sort of jargon, shorthand language, or linguistic atmosphere is proper to Amber?

In the canon, Corwin and Random use a collection of phrases and words that recall contemporary Earth—as well as the quips accumulated from centuries. Take a look at the 'Annotated Amber' if you'd like to know more about it. Asides to poets and writers stretching back into our earthly culture.

Many GM's (myself included) work hard to subtract the earth-centric flavor of Zelazny's canon. One of the places I start is language.

Characters IMC do not learn English or French as a language—instead they might master different (more Amber centric) tongues of the Golden Circle, the long-standing trading allies of Amber. The background of Amber and the tutoring of the princes and princesses is integrated when I do this. It also provides the benefit of 'reverse-engineering' Golden Circle cultures from our shadow experiences, specifically Earth. Earth becomes a fractured mirror of the Golden Circle. Take a look at Jvstin's Golden Circle shadows for a good example of creative use of the Golden Circle.

Therefore in the Eternal City, young royals and others of Amber will know Begman Ang, or Kashfan Frahk, or even the Chin spoken in the Empire of the Gleaming Banner. And these languages, being important to a well-traveled amberite, can be used to understand German, French, or Mandarin Chinese in far-distant shadows.

Why bother with this fillip? Atmosphere. Suspension of disbelief. Color. Unless you design Earth as some sort of Primal Shadow, there is no reason for our little world to have such a strong role in Amber's doings.

And if you make Earth a crossroads, then how in the world did Corwin walk there for centuries with no one the wiser? Did no one try to find him—canon suggests otherwise. It suggests that Florimel was only there by fluke originally, that others who searched for Corwin found nothing. That's why Earth really isn't central in my campaign. And why should language be any sort of threshold of understanding for traveling amberites? It just makes too much sense.

I don't see Thari as a meta-language that works like the Universal Translator of Star Trek. That seems so artificial.

I started this talking about jargon. Phrasing and usage that might intrigue, that could inspire. Jargon, slang, and even the flavor of 'quoted material' changes in every culture. What is "not crying over split milk" in one culture can become "today is a good day to die" in another. These two sentiments can be very close, and very central to the play character of a shadow-culture. Don't you think?

Filed under : Amber at 01.02.2002