Let’s make a language, part 27c: Religion (Ardari)

Although I’ve been intentionally vague on the whereabouts of Ardari, it’s definitely less attached to European culture than Isian. To that end, it has few true borrowings for religious terms, instead relying on reinterpreted roots from the native belief system. Angels and devils, for instance, are firar and ghemar. A priest is an ekòna—but modern reformation has led to the creation of a feminine variant for what was once a masculine-only term: ekòni.

The Ardari priesthood might not have been a bastion of equality, but the faith itself was. Most supernatural beings in the old polytheistic system came in male and female forms, so there are pairs like tsora and tsori, or fira and firi, and these stand alongside the neuter terms used as the default.

That’s not to say that Ardari doesn’t import religious terms from other languages. It does, but it uses native words for most of the basic concepts. The sole loan in the list below is tyorymat “religion”, a conceptual term that only came in once Ardari speakers of eras past needed to talk about religion as distinct from faith. Other borrowings are made instead to describe concepts specific to one religion, such as santös “saint” (from Latin sanctus), èklecha “church” (from Latin ecclesia), or mazhid “mosque” (from Arabic masjid).

Word List

  • angel: fir (or gendered fira/firi)
  • devil: ghem
  • fairy: lyun (or gendered lyuna/lyuni)
  • faith: mitraz
  • ghost: qoj
  • god: tsor (or gendered tsora/tsori)
  • heaven: èlyas
  • hell: uldall
  • holy: mirs
  • magic: bräz
  • priest: ekòna (also modern feminine form ekòni)
  • religion: tyorymat (distant borrowing from theo-)
  • ritual: plan
  • sacred: grès
  • soul: jull
  • to bless: konye-
  • to curse: dakya-
  • to pray: nyes-

Let’s make a language, part 27b: Religion (Isian)

Isian, as we have seen, has borrowed more than a few terms from European languages. That shows up again in the matter of religion. Its speakers are mostly Christian, thanks to an earlier period of conversion and reformation. Before that, however, they had a polytheistic faith similar to many of their neighbors.

Remnants of this still show through in terms like alam “god”, which stands alongside the Latinate loan Domo “Lord”. The latter refers specifically to the God of Christianity, while the former, native, word can be used for any deity. It’s also more amenable to derivation, such as alanchi “demigod” or alamel “godly”. Domo on the other hand, is essentially fixed in form.

Other borrowings include engel “angel” and sacrel “sacred”, though the second is more of a calque. The word helin, meaning “ghost” or “spirit”, may also be related to the Germanic root underlying English “holy”. And it’s clear that priests have always been considered “holy men”, as the Isian word for them is a direct compound: chisam.

Word List

  • angel: engel (borrowed, possibly from Germanic)
  • devil: nukh
  • fairy: su
  • faith: sahe
  • ghost: helin
  • god: alam (Christian God usually trans. as Domo)
  • heaven: timiro
  • hell: hasilo
  • holy: chi
  • magic: ampen
  • priest: chisam (lit. “holy-man”)
  • religion: caltir
  • ritual: ronden
  • sacred: sacrel (borrowed from Latin/Romance)
  • soul: mit
  • to bless: leya
  • to curse: murgo
  • to pray: barda

Let’s make a language, part 27a: Religion (Intro)

As with the last part, we’re going to delve into a topic that may be a bit controversial. This time around, it’s the other half of church and state: religion.

For some languages, the whole subject is unnecessary. Quite a few, even among fictional conlangs, won’t need too many words for religious concepts. Auxiliary languages can likely get by with borrowing the needed terminology. And a far-future sci-fi setting might consider religion to belong to an earlier era.

On the other hand, even if the hypothetical speakers of your conlang don’t need to talk about their religion, that doesn’t mean they won’t want to talk about any religion. So it helps to have a bit of vocabulary specifically tied to the subject.

Gotta have faith

Religion and spirituality, in some form, have been around since the earliest days of humanity. Even if it’s nothing more than simple ceremonial burial, you can find evidence of the practice from the Stone Age, and some of our oldest human creations are religious in nature. It stands to reason, then, that a few basic ideas are going to be universal. The specifics might be wholly different even between two neighboring cultures, but they’ll both likely have some common ground in the fundamentals.

According to those who study the field (I don’t), religion of any kind probably started when someone first asked, “Why?” Why is the world like it is? Why do the seasons change? Why do people die? Maybe they begin as simple answers to those questions and more, or a shared set of stories, myths, and legends that only increase in popularity as they are told and retold over the generations.

This bare summary already gives us fertile ground for linguistic roots. The concepts most common to all religions are very likely going to be represented by native terms: faith, prayer, blessing and cursing, gods (or a monotheistic God, such as the case may be), an afterlife. Depending on the culture, you can also add in those placed in charge of religious matters, whether priests, shamans, or something else entirely. The ceremonies, rituals, and rites will also be in this field; they’ll likely be too specific to translate directly, but the words describing them won’t be.

As the folklore surrounding a religion grows, it necessarily gains a bit of verbal cruft. Even in Western Christianity, you’ve got quite a lot of vocabulary, from saints to bishops to crusades. (Note that many terms associated with Christianity, like “crusade”, tend to be related to “cross” or its analogues in Latin, Greek, and the Romance languages. That’s certainly not a requirement, but more of a historical quirk.)

Not only does a growing religion gain more words, but it also spreads across the lexical space, as it envelops closely related fields. Western faiths might all be monotheistic, but they each have a collection of supernatural beings, including (to use Christian-specific terms) angels, devils, demons, and ghosts.

This is where the twin forms of borrowing come into play. First, a highly organized religion will be able to spread its message far and wide, sending its specific terms to new places on the lips of its priests. So many English religious words come from Latin and Greek for this very reason. Similarly, Arabic loans related to Islam pop up everywhere from the western coast of Africa to the farthest reaches of Indonesia.

The second bit of borrowing comes when a new religion overtakes an old one. Here, it’s not so much that new words are borrowed, but the old ones may be reinterpreted, then spread in their new connotations. An example might be English ghost, which seems to have spent the last thousand years or so cycling between referring to a malevolent supernatural entity, the haunting spirit of the deceased, or even a kind of supernatural essence (as in the word spirit, itself a Latin loan). Fairies got their own bit of folk reinterpretation, while possibly-wise daemons became always-evil demons.

No matter what your conlang’s speakers believe, they’ll have a number of words specifically for their religion. The native terms will be made for that. If, along the way, the people were converted to some other faith, then they’ll likely take it in one of those two ways. Either they’ll import the words they need (spirit, bible, angel) from the “official” language of their church, or they’ll take some of their own and remake them to fit the new worldview: ghost, holy. Coinages tend to come about for new ways of thinking about the religion, and even then they aren’t made from whole cloth.

Let’s make a language, part 26c: Government (Ardari)

As is ever the case, Ardari is more likely to construct terms of its own. This is certainly true in the realm of government, where a number of words are derived from the root verb tysan- “to rule”. Indeed, in the short list below we already see tysanönda “authority, right to rule”; tysanègh “government, center of rule”; and tysanyn “rule, regulation, law”. Note also that these are native terms, not borrowings, though Ardari does have a few of those, including zhudis “court” (probably from “judicial” or something similar) and polisa “police force”.

These two are examples of modernization at work. The area where Ardari is spoken hasn’t entirely transformed into a modern Western democracy. There are plenty of elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and bureaucracy still around. At present, it might be best described as a parliamentary monarchy, closer to the UK than the US. It’s certainly not decentralized, however: the word for a province, dalrit, being a transparent derivation from dal “nation” is proof enough of that.

Most other terms are native, and they often have other connotations besides those shown here. For instance, makhèla, here glossed as “army”, can also connote any gathering of forces. (Phrases can be used to disambiguate: dalin makhèla “national army”; idyaze makhèla “attack force”; illin makhèla “rebellion”.) The same goes for byara “navy”, with creations such as dable byara, literally “land navy” but actually referring to an amphibious assault.

Word List

  • army: makhèla
  • authority: tysanönda
  • border: aroned
  • capital: präzdoza (lit. “great city”)
  • court: zhudis (borrowing, cf. “judicial”)
  • crime: karha
  • free: arin
  • government: tysanègh (lit. “place of rule”)
  • judge: tölera
  • law: gla
  • official: (tysanèghin) fèlokön (shortened nafèlokön “worker”)
  • nation: dal
  • navy: byara
  • peace: sèsym
  • police: polisa
  • province/state: dalrit
  • right (a right): èkhros
  • rule: tysanyn
  • tax: èzas
  • to control: träm-
  • to elect: soslin-
  • to permit: ejoten-
  • to prohibit: èkoten-
  • to punish: laqas-
  • to rule: tysan-
  • to vote: jamull-
  • war: jova

Let’s make a language, part 26b: Government (Isian)

Isian, when it comes to its government, fits into the usual “small” Western mold. It follows the typical European-style parliamentary system, with a number of parties vying for power. But it still has vestiges of a monarchy, too, a time when the land was ruled by a lakh or king. Today, even that is long gone, but remnants survive in words such as lactor “province”, literally a “king’s land”. The fact that nashil had to be borrowed should say something about Isian speakers’ centralization…or lack thereof.

The rule of law is also respected in its modern form. There are courts, judges, trials, etc., and they are (mostly) fair and just. On the national level, there is a standardized police force (borrowed term polisi), while localities generally have a holtedos—roughly speaking, a city guard or neighborhood watch. Officers of these are generally called holtem, which can also be more literally translated as “guardian”, while national policemen are instead polisimi.

In these tumultuous times, it’s also important to note that Isian speakers are protected by a defensive army (ancha) and navy (busa), though the latter is quite small and admittedly anemic. Historically, it has always been thus; Isian is a language of land forces, not sailors. But peace (histil) has reigned for a long time, and the last war involving speakers of the language is simply known as Cabrigo: The Great War.

Word List

  • army: ancha(s)
  • authority: awtorit (modified borrowing)
  • border: obres
  • capital: lireblon
  • court: caje
  • crime: cofan
  • free: mir
  • government: orisanas (from orisi “to rule”)
  • judge: teldem (from telde “to judge”)
  • law: rokh
  • official: rokhesam (from rokh + sam, lit. “law-man”)
  • nation: nashil (modified borrowing)
  • navy: busa(s)
  • peace: histil
  • police: holtedos (also holtem or borrowed polisi)
  • province/state: lactor (from lakh + tor)
  • right (a right): mas
  • rule (regulation): liyo
  • tax: ferma(s)
  • to control: camida
  • to elect: jiro
  • to permit: likha
  • to prohibit: nasco
  • to punish: agri
  • to vote: banki
  • war: cabri

Let’s make a language, part 26a: Government (Intro)

Ah, government. One of those things you can’t really live with, and you can’t really live without. But let’s not get political today. There’s enough of that going on without us adding our two cents. Instead, let’s talk about the ways government can be filtered through the lens of language.

Rules of rule

First off, remember that there’s no real “hierarchy” of government systems. None of them are truly natural, and all have their problems. (Democracy, so the quote goes, is the worst form of government…except for all the others.) Rome had a republic 2000 years before the US, the UK and Japan both have hereditary monarchs who wield little actual power, and although the West may have backed away from theocracy centuries ago, it’s still alive and well in the Middle East.

Thus, there’s not really a point where we can say that this form of government can’t be native to a language’s culture. Maybe you won’t find technocratic socialism in a Middle Ages society, and it’s doubtful that a far-future Earth will have brutal autocrats in charge. But the concepts don’t really change much. No matter how a land is governed, some things are near universal.

Most English terms regarding this subject are derived from Classical sources, usually Latin and Greek: republic, democracy, judicial. That’s okay; political science really started to get going around the same time that the classical revival was on, so it’s no surprise that the thinkers of that era chose the old tongues. And in many cases, the concepts themselves come from those same sources.

But there’s no reason it can’t be different elsewhere. Maybe a language’s culture developed a form of representative government on its own. Growing out of some kind of tribal council, for example. Then, republic would very likely be translated by a native root. So would elect and a lot more. As an alternative, they may use a “calque”, or loan translation, translating the meaning of the borrowed word instead of taking its form directly.

Law and order

Government, however, encompasses more than just the rule of a nation-state. It can also include a lot of basic societal structure. How are cities managed? Who protects those who cannot protect themselves? What about handling war, crime, or just simple grievances?

In many cases, a language will have native roots for the most fundamental concepts. Every civilization has something like cities; that’s practically the definition of civilization. War is, alas, within our very nature. Codes of law date back millennia, whether Hammurabi or the Hebrews. At its heart, you might even call all government merely different varieties of conflict resolution, and one of those philosophical conlangs could definitely find something there.

However you do it, the “oldest” things are likely to be native, but it’s not always certain. That’s especially true if you trace a culture’s history. There might be periods of occupation or enslavement, where they were wholly subservient to another people; in this case, many words would be borrowed from the “overlord” tongue, and not always with positive connotations. On the other hand, an imperialist culture would probably have more native terms for its institutions, rarely borrowing at all from its victims. (After all, they’ve already got all the words they need to rule.)

High and low

Now, all this pertains to government as it’s seen by its citizens. Not everybody is a political scientist, so most will tend to use the words they know. On the other hand, those who work with or study government will develop a much broader vocabulary. Legal codes tend to use verbose language, as they need to be definitive. Political treatises very often need to draw very fine lines, so they’ll need complex words or phrases to subdivide the concept space. And there’s nothing stopping the government itself from creating new words to describe its actions. (We’ve got a few of those in English, such as gerrymandering.)

In all, this causes a kind of diglossia. There’s the “high” language of the learned, describing nuances that most people neither want nor need to know, using words and phrases like autonomous, technocratic, subcommittee, or continuing resolution. Then you have the “low” vernacular, which talks plainly of votes and armies and judges and the like. It’s like this in many fields, particularly the scientific, but it somehow seems “thicker” when government gets involved.

Not every language will be subject to this process. It’s more likely to occur with agglutinating languages, because they’re practically made for it. Isolating types, on the other hand, will have more complex phrases instead of words, and those phrases might retain a bit of their transparency. That’s not to say the nuances won’t be there, but they’re expressed in different ways.

Moving on

No new part next month, as I’m working on a few other writing projects that need to take precedence. But I’ll be back in September with Part 27, covering the other half of the phrase “church and state”. Yes, we’ll be looking at religion, and I won’t deny that I’m glad I’m taking a month off before I deal with that.

Let’s make a language – 2017 translation special

It’s been awhile since the last time we saw our two “Let’s make a language” conlangs in action. Since I’m a bit preoccupied right now, to the point where I’m not really “feeling” the series as much, I thought I’d change that. So, here we’ll see another short bit of text translated into our two favorite fictional languages.

A year and a half ago, I used the Babel Text. This time around, it’s another linguistic classic, Aesop’s fable of the North Wind and the Sun. I chose it because it’s very popular for comparative language research, and—oh, never mind. I picked it because it’s short.

The North Wind and the Sun

The version of the fable I’m using is lifted directly from Wikipedia. I’m not entirely sure which translation it is, so yours may be slightly different. Nonetheless, it’s not that difficult a text, except for some fairly complex grammar bits.

The North Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger, when a traveler came along wrapped in a warm cloak.

They agreed that the one who first succeeded in making the traveler take his cloak off should be considered stronger than the other.

Then the North Wind blew as hard as he could, but the more he blew the more closely did the traveler fold his cloak around him;

and at last the North Wind gave up the attempt. Then the Sun shined out warmly, and immediately the traveler took off his cloak.

And so the North Wind was obliged to confess that the Sun was the stronger of the two.


First up is Isian, and here’s what our little story looks like in it:

E Ul Naf wa e Sida nactas ed e folosin mid, ha ta usangam cosas cu disine ta him capat ijedo.

Is awcos ed ke costan hi ades los e usangam cu asine ey capat cal par pasa folosin dir a.

Ad e Ul Naf dosemay hi furus, nu i cu furus, e usangam otasis ey capat im oto;

ar tarkinas ni, e Ul Naf madeshis cu gati. Ad e Sida him hi shalis, ar necamay e usangam asines ey capat.

Teti e Ul Naf tole kinadid e Sida tes e folosin a o es naw.


Mostly, the hardest part about translating this story is the sometimes complex sentence structure. Fortunately, Isian is fairly close to English in word order and the like (except for the postpositions thing), so it’s a lot more straightforward than it might seem at first glance.

That said, there are a few pitfalls. Lo, for instance, is a new verb meaning “to cause”. As you might expect from that gloss, it’s a causative verb. Its object is a subordinate clause, which makes things a bit hairy in line 2.

Most of the rest is just finding out which word to use. The indefinite pronoun ed is used to mean “which one” on line 1, and ijedo has a secondary meaning of “when” or “at the time of”.


Not too much new vocabulary in this one, as you can see. Then again, there’s not a lot of text to translate, and it’s a bit repetitive.

  • to dispute/argue: nacta
  • about/concerning: mid
  • strong: folos
  • to travel: usanga
  • cloak or coat: capat
  • to cause, make happen: lo
  • to take off, remove: asine
  • other: dir
  • but: nu
  • to release, let go: madeshi
  • to try, attempt: gati
  • to shine: shali
  • immediately, at this moment: necamay
  • to admit, confess: kinadi


Now we’ll move on to Ardari, and you can’t believe how much this one made my head spin.

Kyama Fawatövi Chitö qa èlldad am dortö mantö krazènedyt, tym jechinkön fynine pärine ilya ky vi tonad.

Ys bèt torydyid: Mantö qa jechinköntö ani pärine sudram ky twèralyët am dor zèt lembejëdall.

Drä, Kyama Fawatövi am dor èll ky furadökhan, adam furad jechinköntö ani pärine anön òs sòvadjyn,

Kyama Fawatövi èftanyntö zhajopad. Drä, Chitö fynin blajadjyn, jechinköntö ani pärine nyasab sudramad.

Ghinyas Kyama Fawatövi qa Chitö am dortö weghetö èllda is ky kómaryd.


As with Isian, most of the grammar should be obvious. Here’s what’s not:

  • -khan is a conjunction clitic. When added to a verb, it’s like saying, “, but…”

  • len- is a derivational affix for verbs, roughly connoting “in a specific way”. Here, it’s used to create lembejë- “to think of” from bejë- “to see”. (Usually, this will make a ditransitive verb, but Ardari is fairly free about dropping verbal arguments.)

  • The verb kóma- “to cause” works essentially the same way as Isian lo, taking a subordinate clause as an object. Again, this is much different from the English method of “that” followed by a clause.


Note that, in this list of new vocabulary, I haven’t included regularly derived terms like jechinkön “traveler”.

  • to dispute, argue over: krazèn-
  • strong: dor
  • when: tym
  • to travel: jechin-
  • coat, jacket: pärin
  • to consider, see as, think of: lembejë-
  • should (adverb): zèt
  • to take off: sudram-
  • but (conj.): -khan
  • more: adam
  • near, close: myll
  • to give up, surrender: zhajop-
  • to attempt, try: èfta-
  • to shine: blaja-
  • immediately: nyasab
  • to make, cause: kóma-


And there we go. It was a bit later this year, and it wasn’t nearly as much as last time, but we’ve successfully added another extended text to our repertoire for Isian and Ardari. Hopefully, you can do the same for your conlangs, whatever they are.

Next month, we’ll pick back up with the usual topic-based posts. Specifically, we’ll be looking at government, because nobody’s doing that these days, right?

Will there be more translation exercises? Probably. Not this year, most likely, but stay tuned. Who knows? 2018 might have something even better in store.

Let’s make a language, part 25c: Business (Ardari)

Ardari has a large vocabulary for dealing with business, and its agglutinative nature expands that even further. But we’ll stick to the basics here.

Business itself is prejn; in Ardari, the same word can also stand for “economy” or “a transaction”. This is different from the actual root for “to trade”, chachen-, which refers to any sort of exchange.

Grammatically, a number of “business” verbs can be ditransitive, taking two objects. These include mänyt- “to borrow”, dyem- “to buy”, khipy- “to lend”, and vird- “to sell”. In all of these cases, the indirect object is in the dative, and it marks the other party in the transaction besides the speaker.

Back in the list of words, we see a few interesting and idiosyncratic derivations. “Generous” is derived from the noun tyamin, meaning “charity”, which thus also stands for “generosity”. And dròv is the root for dròvymat “greed”, rather than the other way around. Also, the general term for money, dènyèr, is a loan, possibly deriving from the French denier, but almost assuredly related in some way to Latin denārius.

Finally, the Ardari verb fors- “to own” carries much of the same connotations as its Isian counterpart. It’s more than a simple possessive, rather indicating the possession of something worth having in the first place. The derived adjective forsynt, however, has a bit of an idiomatic meaning: it’s considered poor form to use it to describe human beings, as it connotes a master/slave relationship, something Ardari speakers do not approve of. The further derivation ärforsynt, though, is used as a religious term referring to demonic possession, and it only refers to people. Language is strange sometimes.

Word list

  • business: prejn
  • cheap: zelk
  • cost: kamnad
  • expensive: long
  • generous: tyaminösat (from tyamin “charity”)
  • greed: dròvymat (from dròv “greedy, grasping”)
  • job: kroll
  • money: dènyèr (borrowed)
  • poor: nydor
  • rich: agris
  • to accept: lèp-
  • to borrow: mänyt-
  • to buy: dyem-
  • to gain: gir-
  • to get: baj-
  • to keep: chòll-
  • to lend: khipy-
  • to lose: malyos-
  • to offer: makej-
  • to own: fors-
  • to receive: bèrill-
  • to reject: lèghan-
  • to sell: vird-
  • to steal: tyek-
  • to store: jols-
  • to trade: chachen-
  • value: säfyn

Let’s make a language, part 25b: Business (Isian)

Isian, as we have seen before, is spoken by a culture that tends more towards the old-fashioned. It’s not the highly corporate environment of the West, nor the planned, centralized systems common in the East. It’s its own thing, really, a kind of land out of time.

Lucky for us, that makes things easier. We can look at the basic terms below (I’ll assume you can follow along), but I’ll pick out a few that have more nuanced meanings.

First up, masca, “to trade”, is a kind of catch-all. It’s intended more for the economic type of trading, a generic term for buying, selling, bartering, etc. That’s why “business” is translated as the derived noun mascanas. The Isian word might be better considered as “to do business with”.

“Cheap” and “expensive”, dib and gowan respectively, follow the style of other large/small pairs by having distinctive vowels: the high, front vowel i is characteristic of “small” things in many languages. “Poor” and “rich”, on the other hand, might seem backwards, but this could mean that the quality being measured here is poverty rather than wealth. Or it’s just happenstance. That’s a more likely explanation.

Next up, cosen is “money” when used as a mass noun. As a count noun, however, it means something closer to “price” or “amount”. (The difference is that count nouns take articles and quantifiers, while mass nouns don’t.)

And then we come to ama. It’s a bit of an oddity in Isian. It’s strictly translated as “to own”, and it does have an element of possession as its primary connotation. But it’s different from the simpler fana “to have”, because it carries a secondary meaning: the object being owned has monetary value to its owner.

Word list

  • business: mascanas
  • cheap: dib
  • cost: chake
  • expensive: gowan
  • generous: nemis (“generosity”: nemiros)
  • greed: sumat
  • job: bor
  • money: cosen
  • poor: umar
  • rich: irdes
  • to accept: achine
  • to borrow: mante
  • to buy: tochi
  • to gain: elge
  • to get: gana
  • to keep: ifa
  • to lend: hente
  • to lose (possession of): pulo
  • to offer: acate
  • to own: ama
  • to receive: rano
  • to reject: nuyana
  • to sell: dule
  • to steal: toya
  • to store: odaga
  • to trade: masca
  • value: luros

Let’s make a language, part 25a: Business (Intro)

In today’s world, business is big, well, business. Commerce, economy, capitalism rules all. So it’s not surprising that we have a lot of words to describe such a topic. But it wasn’t always that way, and a lot of the terms we use to talk about business are, in fact, derived from strange places.

On the wealth of nations

The idea of value, of course, is about as old as civilization. From the first time one man noticed that his neighbor had something he wanted, we’ve had an economy. When trades became possible, when people became settled enough that they could diversify, business was born. Business then begat money, credit, coin, currency, and all those other nifty things we associate with wealth today.

Word-wise, a lot of basic terms in the business sphere are pretty old. Some English terms (e.g., gold) have come down almost directly from the Indo-European days with little change in meaning. Many others derive from Latin (credit, coin) or Greek (economy). Business itself is an example of an Anglo-Saxon native, dollar is a German loan, and so on.

Tracing the etymology of business and commerce words tells us a lot about the economic history of the English language. A lot of the “technical” terms are classical in origin, stemming from the past few centuries. Words that came about in medieval times represent concepts that existed in those times, and it’s clear that the Romans had an idea of credits and debts. In the oldest days, there might not have been a thriving stock market, but there was indeed a stock market.

“Stock” is meant here as “livestock”, which brings us to the next point: even if there’s no money, that doesn’t mean there’s no wealth. Coin only came about as an easier way to keep track of wealth, but anything can have a price. Land, cattle, grain, slaves, or anything a culture considers valuable will eventually be bought and sold, and the traders will need words to talk about those actions. The earlier they “discover” business, the more likely the base terms will be native, rather than loans from more advanced neighbors.

The day job

It doesn’t take a lot of sophistication to work out the rough outline of an economy. The things people do often will quickly become named, and those things a culture treasures will be among the first in line for native words. An agrarian society built upon a complex system of barter will have a much different set of “core” words than a highly capitalist mercantile empire. An expanding nation full of coinage will spread its money words to its penniless neighbors, as with the Roman denarius, whose descendants can be found throughout the Western world: dinars, deniers, and the “d.” abbreviation for pennies (whether old English coins or American nails).

Work itself can also be the subject of linguistic invention. Today’s English takes a functional approach to that, usually deriving an agent noun out of an action verb (programmer, cameraman). We’ve already seen some of that in earlier parts, but it’s pertinent here, too. And it’s another case where history and etymology mix: although many terms are simple agent derivations, we’ve got a few that aren’t, and those tend to be older.

Tools of the trade

On a more mundane level, the simple acts of trade, being so commonplace, so ancient, will almost certainly be nativized, if not fully native. We buy and sell, we trade and offer. Then again, we also exchange, accept, and reject, and all those are Latin loans. But those aren’t exactly newcomers to the language. They’ve been around. People use them all the time, because they do those things all the time, and the words aren’t considered foreign except by the most extreme purists.

So, once again, we can see the connection between language and culture. Business starts small, with trades, purchases, barter, payment, loans, and the like. Most everybody throughout history has done something of that sort, so there are common words to describe such actions and concepts in most languages. Loanwords will only come about here when an outside force presses them upon the speakers.

As economic science progresses, the terminology grows, but the same golden rule remains. A corporation might seem like a relatively recent invention, but the word is Latin, derived from corpus, the body. Pecuniary is a word that comes from ancient roots related to cattle, a valuable material good in such times. Economy itself? Greek, from an term roughly describing management or administration. The big-business words of today, like quant and blockchain, might not have the same pedigree, but they’re no less a product of their time.

Coming up

The next two weeks will see the usual posts for Isian and Ardari. Next month, however, is another “off” month for the series. Instead, I’ll be making a new translation special, just as soon as I figure out something to translate. Then, we’ll come back in July for Part 26, a study of government. Hopefully, ours won’t be as awful as the real thing.