Friday, April 12, 2013

World Building A to Z: Language, Lingo, and Legal System

This month, I'm sharing stuff I've seen that reflect on world building and setting. A vanilla cupcake topped with chocolate frosting to Arlee Bird and the folks at Blogging from A to Z 

Language: When it comes to language, I've noticed a lot of references to Latin in stories with world building. In China Mieville's UN LUN DUN, there is a pons absconditus (hidden bridge), the Unbrellissimo (extreme unbrella- yes, I know-it's spelled with an the letter n in the book) and abcity (away from the city).   Having studied Latin back in high school, I can tell you that many words from this ancient language have found its way into a variety of present-day languages. When a writer refers to an ancient language in his work, they might be hinting at how old the civilization of this world is. 


Another thing I've noticed in a lot of stories with solid settings are allusions to Greek mythology. These allusions hint at plot and character motivations . I'm not referring to stories about Greek myth, such as Rick Riordan's THE LIGHTNING THIEF. I'm referring to stories where names and other titles of things from Greek myth are woven into the story:  Planet Pandora in the movie Avatar, Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Christie mysteries, Diana Prince in Wonder Woman, the unseen hand of Aphrodite in the movie Mighty Aphrodite, the teen protagonist in the movie Juno, and the mission in the movie Apollo 13 (disclaimer: I haven't seen this film). There are also tons of references to Greek myth in HARRY POTTER- Professor Minerva McGonagall and Narcissa Malfoy, for example.

Lingo: Knowing the lingo of a world can also come in handy. In THE HANDMAID'S TALE, a Handmaid, Guardian, Eye, Commander, and Aunt don't mean the same things as they might mean in our world. As do a Shade, Forfeit, Feed, Surface, and Tunnels in Brodi Ashton's EVERNEATH. 

Let's take a look at what are considered slurs or derogatory labels in other worlds: a mud-blood in HARRY POTTER, alien in JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE, and a stiff in DIVERGENT, to name a few. And we know these are slurs based on the reactions of those who hear them. Slurs can spotlight groups within a world that have encountered marginalization. (I will do a post on marginalization later, so stay tuned.)

Legal system: A legal system involves law, enforcers of the law, and punishment.

An example of law: In Neal Schusterman's UNWIND, the law allows parents to have their children unwound so that their body parts and organs can "live on" in other bodies. The law also allows parents to "stork" their children by leaving them outside a home.

An example of enforcers of the law: Imagine a world like that of CATCHING FIRE where peace keepers can shoot an innocent person to death for whistling a song. 

An example of punishment: In Nathaniel Hawthorne's THE SCARLET LETTER, Hester Pyrne must wear a scarlet A, a visible emblem of her sin whenever she leaves the house. If I ever become a fashion designer, my label would be called Scarlet A. I called it here first!

What are other examples of references to Greek mythology in stories? How about Latin or lingo? 

Can you think of examples of the legal system in stories?

21 comments:

Charmaine Clancy said...

I loved the way legislation was used in Schusterman's Unwind and the justification to appease the anti-abortion groups. It's one of my favourites.

Scribbles From Jenn said...

Confetti Girl is a middle grade novel with Latin lingo. Haven't seen much Greek outside the Riordan books. But he did it WELL!

Jenn @Scribbles From Jenn

Lynda R Young said...

You poor thing having to study latin in high school! ;)

Natalie Aguirre said...

Yes, latin is a common language used for things like spells in a number of stories. These are all things to consider in developing a rich world.

Lynn Proctor said...

thought provoking post!!

Linda Ann Nickerson said...

This post brought back so many memories - including college studies of root words and etymologies, mythology, and student teaching of The Scarlet Letter in a very small town. (The PTA thought Hawthorne's book was a bit racy for their youth ... and this was not so long ago!)

Happy A-Z, and happy weekend!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Latin does show up often these days.

Pat Hatt said...

There are a ton of each, greek mythology is one of may favorites to use though.

S.P. Bowers said...

You always have such great examples. I'm learning so much from your A-Z, Thanks!

John Wiswell said...

Latin gets around a lot for a dead language. I enjoy that those shreds of culture still pop up in new fiction, and even new science. It makes the heritage of ideas plunge deeper.q

John at The Bathroom Monologues

Elise Fallson said...

I like seeing references of Latin and Greek mythology pop up in stories. I never had to take Latin in school, but I wish I had. It would have been easier for me to learn the names and classification of the various insect we studied when I was an undergraduate and graduate student. But along the way I did manage to pick up on some Latin. (:

Michael Offutt, S.F.A. said...

Handmaid's Tale is soo good. It reminds me of the Republican party and their vision of the world.

I've never read China Melville. I know I know, I need to correct that.

Cindy Dwyer said...

I took two years of Latin, but don't remember much!

Mark Means said...

Comic books are chock full of mythological backgrounds as well as the basis for many heroes and/or their names.

Left and Write

Joyce Lansky said...

You've given great examples of books that I've actually read. Any of these unique societies have strange legal systems. Have you read Margaret Peterson Haddix's series Among the Hidden? Each family is only allowed two children, so any third borns are hidden or murdered.

http://joycelansky.blogspot.com

Kern Windwraith said...

I took what was described as "preliminary Latin" in school, and it's something I've been grateful for many times since. You're right that it does tend to pop up frequently when authors build their new worlds.

Medeia Sharif said...

I like seeing references to Greek mythology in books and movies.

Kathy said...

Brilliant post full of insight. I am especially impressed with authors and stories who create a whole new world, culture, and language out of their imaginations like Harry Potter and Avatar.

Kathy
http://gigglingtruckerswife.blogspot.com

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I studied Latin in high school, too, and I love seeing how it crops up all over the place in novels...and on "Jeopardy!" :)

Melanie Schulz said...

I'm passing this post onto my daughter who hates the fact that I make her take Latin. She claims it's a dead language and therefore not necessary.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone!

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