Of all the peoples of Pelagia, perhaps the strangest are Those Who Shelter Words (TWSW). Their general social structure would not look out of place to states like Safiria or Galinomai – at least, not at first glance. And their form appears to be that of a typical human – if ‘typical’ is the right designation on Pelagia. No, that which is strange about them is not their society or their form – it is how their minds work. It is as if they are wired completely differently from any other peoples. I have assembled a few brief notes I shall flesh out as I learn more. Perhaps they shall explain.
Words are the very centre of life for TWSW, and are seen again and again. Their occupations are all to do with words; their economy is all about the trade of words; their magic is done via words; their fields and worked and their armies staffed by walking words; their buildings are described, not designed; even their entertainment is words. And it starts with the words in their heads.
Root and Branch Words
For most peoples in the world, a new child’s first words are things they have heard spoken around them – ‘mum’, ‘dad,’ ‘bed’, and so on. But for TWSW, from the moment their motor skills are good enough to speak, they’re speaking – and their first words may just as well be ‘them’, ‘one, ‘colour’ or even ‘transport’. There are a number of Root Words which all of TWSW are born knowing – both how to speak and how to write. For each of these words, they implicitly know their meanings, but rarely try to articulate them. The full list of root words has never been assembled – because for TWSW it is superfluous, and few outsiders have spent long enough studying them to do so. I have begun a list and will attempt to update it as I can, but it is not ready yet.
In addition to the root words, there are many, many more words known by TWSW, commonly designated Branch Words. Unlike root words, nobody can speak or write them initially; for Branch words what every person knows is a description of each word, entirely in terms of root words (eg “They who fell trees” = Lumberjack). It is as if they understand every branch word already, but are not able to say them – instead, they say the description. If they hear a branch word spoken in conversation, or read it written down, but have not yet ‘acquired’ (more on this later), they understand its description, but cannot speak or write it. Also, though they know the descriptions of every branch word, they are unaware of each description until they encounter the word. Thus there are many ‘lost words’ – branch words that if they heard them, they would understand, but nobody in their society knows the words anymore.
They have a process they call ‘Acquiring,’ by which a branch word can be gained. Branch words are acquired by reading their word imprint. Word imprints are formed by special techniques known only to wordsmiths, and placed on a page, which stores them until they are acquired. The prospective acquirer must get the page, look at it and read it aloud, touching the word imprint as they do so. As they read it, the word imprint will disappear from the page and enter their mind. Because the word imprint disappears, each word imprint can only be used by one person, ensuring the need to produce more for each generation. After someone has acquired a branch word, they can use it in conversation and write it down for the rest of their lives.
True Names and Naming Conventions
There is one exception to this process, and that is what they call true. Each person has a true name, but not everyone discovers it. Their true name has great magical significance, and much of their life is devoted to discovering what it is. True names are the only truly new words that can be discovered – and each can only be discovered by the person whose true name it is. Once discovered, they know it, and can tell others, who then acquire the word without needing to use a word imprint. Telling someone your true name is the greatest respect and trust possible among TWSW.
Because people aren’t born knowing their true name, but only root words, people are given titles in terms of root words. Babies and young children are generally just referred to as “Child of [Mother’s title] and [Father’s title],” but when they are old enough to speak and understand (generally around 3 or 4) they can choose their own title, and are henceforth known as that. People can change their title whenever they want, and be known by different titles in different companies. Many aim to have titles that reflect what they think their true name will mean, but this is not universal.
Knowing words in this manner completely changes the growing up experiences of TWSW children from most other peoples. They cannot be taught words (as ‘taught’) is normally understood; and they already know how to read every word, and how to write and spell every root word and every branch word they have acquired. They even appear to be born understanding basic grammar, though it may merely be that they pick it up very intuitively.
What they learn as they grow up is how best to use these words. Their curriculum would largely resemble what several other peoples’ call ‘English’ – the study of novels, poems, plays and speeches, and understanding how best to craft them. As they grow older, history, philosophy, law and psychology are added. Some also learn magic, though this is only the most gifted. Mathematics and Science are notably absent. This is probably due to their approach to numbers
The only number which is a root word is ‘one’. Those who are too poor or young to have acquired any higher numbers must count out every higher number in terms of ones – eg one and one and one (three). Most citizens manage to acquire the numbers one through to ten, and those who cannot afford further numbers then talk of numbers in terms of these – such as five ten one (51) or three ten ten two ten five (325). Moreover, though it may not be obvious from listening to them, they always speak and write out numbers in full – they have no numerals as we understand them. As a result of these factors, mathematics is almost non-existent.
Numbers are not totally ignored, however. Being able to say numbers properly is a sign of class, and properties which have higher street numbers written out in full are highly valued, and normally inhabited by the wealthy.
If Root and Branch words are the first thing you need to know about to understand TWSW, the second is golems. Every child is given a golem at birth, which functions as their personal assistant for the rest of their life. Golems do all of the physical tasks – building, farming, maintenance, even defence – the only thing they do not do is make more golems. Having golems perform menial labour allows TWSW to focus their attention on mental tasks and words. Most of them only see their golems at morning and evening – during the day, they hire their golems out to work. Only the rich can afford to keep their golems around all the time.
The golems are driven by the words in their head; and there are some safeguards in there which prevent the golems from going astray, but I have not yet been able to discover precisely what they are. Certainly, the golems must obey their owners, and they cannot generally harm people unless ordered to do so by duly constituted authority. They also cannot produce themselves, and cannot order each other around – every order a golem follows must come from a human. What’s more, they can only respond to word-based commands – verbal or written – and do not understand pictures, diagrams or signs. Skilled descriptors train for years in order to learn how to describe buildings well so that golems can build them.
I'll keep updating this when I get a chance. At the very least, I have professions, magic, economy and geography to go, as well as a long list of root and branch words.