Posts belonging to Category Language and Linguistics

Weather and Vocabulary

Yesterday, I talked about narrative uses of weather. When I discussed this with my mother the linguist, she didn’t hesitate to point out another—the interesting things that weather does to a cultural vocabulary.
There’s an Old English word, wederian. It means ‘to be good weather.’ Think about this a bit. What does it say about that [...]

Writing Dialect Without Going Overboard

One of the things I like seeing in a work in which most of the characters are coming from different places is an understanding that they’re going to have somewhat different dialects. That’s awesome; it makes it clear to me that the author/GM knows that people sound different, and can fake the distinctive features of [...]

Universal Symbols?

In response to my riff yesterday on discovering a character through one of her interests, UZ pointed out that there was a certain universal symbolism about tea.
“A villain who drinks tea is a civilized villain. A murderer who drinks tea is an urbane murderer. There is no such thing as a tea drinking contest. In [...]

The Evolution of In-Joke (and Other) Slang

In-jokes. The secret language of people who’ve known each other or been part of the same subset of a subculture for a while, they serve a writer or roleplayer as a way of illustrating a strong shared history between one or more characters. But for people going a little more meta, they’re also an excellent [...]

The Name: It’s How You Use It

It sometimes seems like a character’s name (or occasionally lack thereof) is one of her most important features; not only can it occasionally serve as a hint about the character’s purpose, background or abilities, but it’s also the fastest, most concise way to sum up a whole mess of qualities in as few syllables as [...]

Words Fail Me (and Isn’t That Awesome?)

Yesterday, I talked about situations in which one person just wouldn’t understand what another was explaining because they just didn’t have the mindset for it. But as UZ pointed out in a comment to that post, sometimes, it’s not the mindset that gets in the way: instead, it’s the vocabulary. Here, language barrier plays a [...]

Getting Across a Lack of Fluency: Advanced Technique

Here I am, back to getting across fluency issues. I consider these tricks to be a more advanced set than Friday’s assortment; some of them require linguistic elements that don’t show up in English, some work better with an understanding of grammar and word order, some work a lot better if you’ve taken the time [...]

Getting Across a Lack of Fluency: The Basics

Just about everyone has at some point met or read someone who is not a native speaker of the surrounding language. They can be hard to characterize properly, particularly in a face to face game where you can’t think through the dialogue first, and it’s easy to slip and not sound quite right. So how [...]

The Traps of Names

Badly chosen names are practically a correlary to Murphy’s Law; if there is a way a name can get mangled, mispronounced, misinterpreted or otherwise stepped on, the audience is going to find it. Haven’t we all (okay, mostly) had experiences of the sort with our own names in elementary school? Sometimes it’s accidental; emphasis in [...]

Naming and Geography

Naming characters is easy. Naming places is harder, or at least can seem pretty daunting. The best way to work around this is to let art imitate life—just look at all the ways people name places as it stands!
The easiest approach is the explorer-name route—[Person’s] [Population Center Term/Landmark]. It’s concise, it’s straightforward, and there’s room [...]