Wednesday, January 5, 2022

A Note on the Uncommon Spelling of Prophesy: a language resource

This post is Part 3 of a series to augment the Codex of the Known World available for free download. Start with Part 1 here.

This and other linguistic resources are gathered in my Language Directory for you to explore.

This post is also Part 1 of a series about prophesy. Find more prophetic content in my Codex Directory.

In Part 1 of this series, I outlined the many dialects and languages in my epic fantasy saga. Throughout the Tales of the Known World saga, the word prophesy is spelled with an /s/ in all cases. This is in contrast to the standard American spelling, which uses the /s/ form for the verb to prophesy and commonly uses the /c/ form for the noun a prophecy.

The reasoning for this spelling decision is threefold. Firstly, in many American-English dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster, the entry for the noun prophecy lists the spelling prophesy as an acceptable variant. It is therefore uncommon – but not incorrect – to use the /s/ form prophesy as a noun.

Moreover, Merriam-Webster lists two acceptable plurals for the noun prophecy, one as prophecies and the other as prophesies, further solidifying this /s/ form as being unusual but not ungrammatical.

Check out the Codex of the Known World for more resources!

Many languages around the world have different spellings for correlated verbs and nouns, as in the case of the American spelling of to prophesy and a prophecy. In the Known World, the language of the prophetic merfolk, commonly called Meri, is one such language.

In Meri, most verb/noun correlations, such as to swim and a swim, or to laugh and a laugh, are created with special adjustments that convert a root verb into its correlated noun. To illustrate this in English, consider how to speak becomes a speech, or how to meet becomes a meeting.

Meri is a very regular language, and exceptions to its rules and guidelines are rare. By all logic, the merfolk language should have a spelling differentiation between to prophesy and a prophecy. However, this word is one of Meri’s rare exceptions.

As opposed to a regular Meri pairing like speak/speech or meet/meeting, a highly irregular pairing uses the exact same word for both the verb and the noun form of prophesy.

This brings us to the second reason for using the /s/ form of the English word prophesy in all cases – it is as unusual in English as it is in Meri, and it captures the marked homogeneity of the merfolk word in a subtle yet pervasive way.

Download the Prophesy Appendix:

The merfolk culture is built on the prophetic Gift. Nearly all men produce a portent every twenty days, and they devote their lives to interpretation. For more about the role and inner workings of prophesy, check out the Prophesy Appendix above.

The third and final reason for this spelling decision lies in the nature of language itself. Over time, languages evolve, usages shift, and spellings mutate to reflect the pronunciation of the day. As generations progress, languages tend to evolve towards more regular and less complicated spellings and conjugations, a linguistic process known as regularization.

In our modern era of text communications, acronyms and abridged spellings such as lol and thru have become commonplace and entirely intelligible. While educators still consider these spellings ungrammatical, the majority of the English-speaking populace can encounter these words and understand them without difficulty.

The more common an English word is, the more resistant that word’s pronunciation, conjugation, and spelling are to the process of regularization. Consider two irregular verbs, the uncommon verb to wed and the common verb to eat (Today I wed/eat, vs. Yesterday I wed/ate).

Modern English has regularized wed and now provides wedded as an interchangeable past tense variant. But due to the high frequency of the verb ate, the regularization eated sounds ludicrous to modern speakers. That said, thanks to online abbreviations, even common words like through are experiencing regularization at an unprecedented rate.

Since the word prophesy is fairly uncommon in English usage, the spelling difference between to prophesy and a prophecy is likely to disappear in the coming decades. In direct contrast, the word for prophesy in the merfolk language is very common as both a noun and verb, resulting in the stable irregularity of prophesy/prophesy in a language where meet/meeting is the regular framework.

This strange unity of verb/noun root words reflects the cultural heritage of the merfolk, which is heavily focused on predicting the future. Their word for prophesy is as unlikely to change as our word for eat, and this final notion clinched the spelling decision, as it seemed silly to undermine the symbolism of the transliterated /s/ form in order to uphold a spelling convention that is dying out in modern English.

That's it for this post! Up Next: The tattering of prophesy for interpretation...

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