An Elven Lexicon
by Sean K. Reynolds (Dragon #279)
The elves are an ancient race with a long tradition of magic, poetry, song, and literature. Their many subraces have found homes in most of the natural parts of the world, including their evil cousins, the drow, who survive in the strange environment of the Underdark. Because of this long history and the varied influence on their culture, the elven language is rich with vocabulary, intricate with grammar, and subtle in its expressions. It takes many years to master the elven tongue, and only the elves themselves have the opportunity and time to do it. Many half-elves fall short of true mastery, and all other races can only hope for basic fluency. Most elves think that non-elves can only achieve the proficiency of an elven child, but only the most rude and arrogant elves would verbalize this opinion.
The script of Elven is a beautiful thing to behold, and it is used for many similar languages. Aquan, the language of the water outsiders, uses the Elven script, as does Sylvan, the language of many fey creatures. Not surprisingly, the elves feel the closest kinship to the water spirits and creatures of nature. Even Undercommon uses the Elven script, as the great numbers of the drow in the Underdark made it the most common. A few scholars who have seen the Druidic script consider it an odd mixing of altered Common and Elven characters, but both the druids and the elves contest this. Unlike Dwarven, few monstrous or evil races use the Elven script for their language, possibly because some of the most fecund and widespread races (orcs and goblinoids) already use the Dwarven script and others adapted it for convenience. Elven is a living language, keeping pace with new discoveries and advances in learning. Unlike humans, who adapt words from other languages or make up words to suit their needs, elitist speakers of Elven prefer to use descriptions using current elven words. For example, while a human might refer to his gnome-built exotic weapon as a "pistol," an elf might call it a "thundering iron tube with the smell of smoke and the impact of a great hammer" As this phrasing is time-consuming and therefore inefficient in situations where time is of the essence (such as in combat), a practical elf either uses a shorter version of the lengthy description, such as "thundering tube," or just uses the Common word. In elven writing, song, and poetry, however, the formal and lengthy version is greatly preferred, and literature or arts that use the short forms are reviled as hack-work or doggerel. Because of the longevity of elves and their interest in history, the essentials of Elven have changed little over time, and ancient texts in Elven are completely understandable to modern elves (although cultural references might make some portions of the texts more difficult to understand or inexplicable to non-elves).
Elves prefer natural materials such as wood, and their alphabet reflects this tendency. Elven characters are composed of curving lines and gentle arcs, easy to carve into cut wood or living bark. Some elven artisans practice methods of woodcarving that work with the natural grain of wood. This might make their carvings impossible to see from one angle and completely visible from another, or disguise their marks as normal growth unless viewed with careful scrutiny. These methods are common in areas where enemies are known to pass.
Elven punctuation is a chaotic mess as far as non-elves are concerned. They have marks representing pauses of different length, accent marks that indicate additional levels of detail in a word or refer to a secondary meaning by association with a similar word, marks that show changes in volume, marks for the end of a sentence, a change in speaker, marks showing the status of the speaker and author, marks showing that a phrase should be repeated a certain number of times, marks suggesting hand positions and posture if the text is spoken, and dozens of others. The effect is maddening to non-elves, but fortunately it is possible to function with only a few common marks. A comma in Elven looks like a comma (,), a period is a vertical line with curved ends (J), and an exclamation point is a curved line with a loop (s). Questions are flanked by a pair of curving lines (=), representing the turns of a river. Possessives are indicated by a cord-like symbol (Z) after the owner, indicating the next item mentioned is the possession. One mark frequently used in Elven that has no equivalent in Common is the "cren" mark (~), used as a prefix indicating something important. For example, a common surnar would not have the cren mark, but the high priest of a temple would be written as ~surnar, and a great king is ~cor. The symbol is also sometimes used to indicate something magical, especially if the item had been described as such earlier in the writing. Thus, the elven warblade One Thousand Broken Dreams carried by the hero Datharian Mistwatcher might simply be written as ~kerym later in a letter about him (of course, a ballad or story would use the full name of the sword and hero every time instead of the simple and expedient character abbreviation). Plurals are created by the prefix "ke'." When elves carve on wood, they try to use as much of the surface as possible and make it an attractive item that doesn't waste the wood needed for it. Elven messages have been found on flat pieces of wood, on smooth strips of bark, and even circling smoothed branches and other cylindrical objects (such as arrows and bows). In addition to carvings on wood, elves have developed a form of paper made from pulped plant stalks, and their calligraphy and painted characters are as beautiful as their carvings. The paper medium allows them even more complexity in their writings, as they can give additional meanings to words using colors. This technique is exploited to its fullest only by master artists.
Elven consists mainly of open vowels and soft consonants, with few hard sounds. When spoken, it has a lilting flow that is somewhat musical. Words that modify other words can be placed before or after the main word, depending upon how the speaker or writer ranks them in importance. For example, if an author was writing the story of a great battle and wanted to describe how the moon's light reflected on the hero's magic sword like liquid pieces of silver, thereby emphasizing the moon motif to relate to the hero's worship of Sehanine Moonbow, he might say:
~FelosiaZ nodel ivae lerret mithral kerym don alusf
[Felosial's moon light magic mithral sword silver liquid]
But if the author wished to relate how the light from the sword was like the tears the hero shed at the conclusion of the battle when she realized her sister had been slain, he might say:
EFelosialS don alus lerret mithral kerym ivae nodeif
[Felosial's silver liquid magic mithral sword light moon]
If he wanted to compare the metal of her sword with a later statement about her mithral mail, he might say:
~FelosialZ mithral don kerym lerret alus nodel ivaef
[Felosial's mithral silver sword magic liquid moon light]
These phrases use the simple grammar used by non-elves, sometimes called Pidgin Elven.
Elves often insert vowels between words or at the end of words to enhance flow or to keep a rhythm. The vowel used is completely dependent upon the intent and preference of the speaker or author, and sometimes serves a function similar to Common's rule for using "a" or "an" in front of a word with a consonant or vowel. Non-elven speakers often omit this habit, allowing elves to identify them despite disguises.
|Elven||Common||part of speech|
|atamar||adamantine||adj or n|
|scient||gold||adj or n-wealth|
|mault||iron||adj or n|
|anharad||leather||adj or n|
|mithral||mithral||adj or n|
|lersaat||scroll||adj or n|
|stacia||star||adj or n|
|maskaulat||steel||adj or n|
|mormhaor||undead||adj or n-creature|
Here are some sample sentences and their translations into Elven. Note that since the list of vocabulary words is very limited, some substitutions have been made.
Mialee, talk to the ugly elf.
Mialee, hinual kesir biir.
[Mialee, talk elf ugly.]
The elf says the magic sword we want is in the lich's tomb.
Kesir hinual kerym lerret quen teshuel aul morenial mormhaor.
[Elf speak sword magic we take in tomb important-undead.]
He'll take us to the mountain of the tomb if we pay him.
Kesir teshual kukisha teshual quen nae moreniali silath.
[Elf want pay take we to tomb's mountain.]
The cave is evil and dangerous. We should go.
Saaden vaarn ent daquin Quen shan
[Below-earth and dangerous. We go.]
Shut up you stupid coward! Get in there!
Nehi hinual, nehel reloseer Kessuk Shan aul .
[No speak, you cowardice stupid! Go in!]
Tordek, hit the orc with your axe.
Tordek, enyor hakavarn faer neheli shaalth
[Tordek, battle orc with you's axe.]
A red dragon! Scram!
Harsan hakarmaskannar Nehel sekkar
[Red Dragon! You flee!]
Krusk is dead. He died with much bravery.
Krusk mor Quarlani shan faer arranaseer ary
[Krusk die. Soul go with bravery.]
Yeah, bad luck for him.
Avavaen, Krusk teshualk vaarn stalee
[Yes, Krusk take evil luck.]
Check out all this gold! Tomorrow we'll be kings!
Scient rell Belath quen ke'cor.
[Gold many! Tomorrow we king and king!]