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So all this time you thought that the reason we made you learn so many languages was just because of the ancient and obscure writings you would be able to read? A common belief, but a bit off the mark. Of course, it may be safer that way, that so few of our apprentices suspect that the tongues they learn are the main part of their instruction, not just an incidental. The other things--the theory of magic, the minor spells--are what is truly incidental. Though, to those who don't show your talent with languages, that will be all they learn. Enough to make them competent enough to go out and make a nuisance of themselves, but not enough for them to last too long against their admittedly better-trained competition.

The languages you've learned so far--Aguin, Nessish, Piuyt, Felessan, and what else these days? In my day, it was Orugon, too, but I think we had decided that the few writings we had in that were too dangerous for you. Beezwod, you say? Oh, yes. A distant cousin of Orugon, since we thought that family was too important to be neglected, but nothing more powerful than hair-growth charms has yet been written in it. And probably never will be.

Well. You had observed, perhaps, that the more powerful spells were written in the older languages? For the most part, at least; mere chronology is not always an exact measure. "Extent of divergence" might be more accurate.

And, hopefully, you had also noticed some curious resonances between the different languages. Of course you had, or I wouldn't be talking to you here. Perhaps you noticed a few words that were almost identical between Aguin and Piuyt. What was it that Master Pionne said? Oh, yes...you had translated a Fire-Charm from Aguin into Piuyt, for a noticeable enhancement in efficacy. That kind of thing won't work in general, you'll find--each language has its own advantages and disadvantages--but Piuyt is more Fire-allied than Aguin, and the reason we don't teach you Piuyt Fire-Charms is because they're more powerful.

So would you hazard any guesses here? No? Wise lad--there isn't quite enough information yet to make a firm hypothesis. Master Lanithef has taught you well. And, as you doubtless surmised, I've got too much momentum here to stop without telling you how correct at least most of what you've surmised is... Pardon my awkward phrasing, I've been immersing myself in the Thedranoc languages lately, and every once in a while it catches me out.

Let's take it slowly here. The similarities betwen Aguin and Piuyt are too numerous to be mere coincidence. As I recall, you grew up speaking Piuyt, or rather the Quina dialect thereof, didn't you? Lovely province, Quina is. In school, you were doubtless taught the "more correct" Piuyt of Mouteca--it is always the politically dominant that set the standards of language--and no Aguin at all, with relationships between Piuchon and Ajoina as strained as they are. But when you started learning Aguin here, you noticed right away that the "provincialisms" that were so mocked in your earlier schooling were actually Aguin influences. Quina has only been part of Piuchon for a hundred years or so, not long enough for those traces to fade, and whether they will at all will depend on how long it remains under Piuyt influence.

But I digress. The point is that between your own experiences with Aguin and Piuyt, and what you've seen of Old Piuyt, you have enough evidence to deduce that Aguin and Piuyt--and your own Quina dialect-- are all descended from a common ancestor, called Old Piuyt here, and Old Aguin in your neighbouring country, naturally enough.

Perhaps you also noticed the similarities between Felessan and Nessish--no? Well, nothing to be ashamed of there, they diverged much longer ago, and without a better grounding in the theory of phonological transformation, you couldn't be expected to notice it unless you'd grown up with it, like I did. And even then, I thought it was just a case of borrowing and later corruption, until my eyes were opened.

Similarly, you can show--this is something few would concede outside these walls, and a few philologists have become laughing stocks for advancing it--that Old Piuyt(as we'll call it for convenience) and the ancestor of Felessan and Nessish, which we call Proto-Lenss, can also be shown to have diverged from a common ancestor even longer ago. The Skriti family, of which Beezwod is a member, split off at that time, and Orugon and the Thedranoc languages even further back. And-- this is something that no one besides we would even dare suggest-- before that, the languages of the Sidhe and Kvart.

You may well be surprised. The Sidhe themselves would, and have, denounce it most violently, to the extent of having the hapless fellow who brought it up quietly killed. This school's founder was a good friend of such a man, Enileth, whose name we don't speak outside these walls for fear of attracting Sidhe attention to us again. Amorsi had known the thrust of his friend's investigations, and while he had initially considered them unfounded, this reaction made him reconsider. As surreptitiously as possible, he spread his ideas among his more promising students, and we still preserve the cover.

You see, Enileth had already come to the point of concluding that all human languages came from a common source--which makes sense if we go far back enough in time to presume that all humankind was a single tribe, who of course only spoke one language among themselves to begin with. But instead of assuming that the language arose naturally, from the grunts of savages, Enileth said that it was given to us by the gods.

The gods speak their own language, which exists on more levels than mere spoken and written, but we can hear sounds when they speak the same way that you can see shadows on the wall of a tent lit from the inside, without being able to see the objects inside. So the first humans, who were taught language by the gods, spoke a tongue that was a shadow of the gods'. The Sidhe and Kvart, though they claim a nobler origin, almost certainly were once savages themselves, and so their own languages are also shadows of the gods'. From what I know of the Sidhe, their tongue is also more than mere speech, but still does not encompass the richness of that of the gods. I do not know if the same holds true of the speech of the Kvart--this is still an area where we need more information, and as you might imagine the Kvart have never been forthcoming.

Do you see? We can speak certain phrases, in certain languages, and they cause what we call magic, the older the more powerful the language, the closer to the gods' tongue. The Sidhe magic is more powerful yet, and doubtless uses their own tongue, which is closer yet. And the gods themselves--well, how else can they accomplish their miraculous feats, but by speaking in their own tongue?

So what we are doing here is simple--we are trying to get as far back, as close to the gods' tongue, as we can. We take existing languages, and we synthesize their ancestors...and then their ancestors, and farther back. Our knowledge gets less certain as we go back, but we have still discovered a few incantations of mighty power indeed. Just a few years ago, one of our journeymen happened upon a number of primitive tribes living in neighbouring valleys, whose languages resembled nothing any of us had heard before. His notes will open up areas of research we'd almost given up on. I told you before that different languages are better for different kinds of spells; Orugon is a powerful Air-language, Proto-Lenss and its relatives resonate well with Fire(as you already discovered), and the Thedranoc and Skriti languages are both Water-oriented. But these new languages hold the promise of opening up Earth-magics again, something that has long been relegated to the ranks of hedge-wizardry. If you wish, my boy, you can enter this field as well, although you will need more than the mere smattering of a few languages you have now. Before you end your true apprenticeship, you will know a dozen more.

You have the gift of tongues, boy. All great wizards do, although few have made the connection before. But you could be greater than them all.

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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com