- An apostrophe signifies either a pause or—if the apostrophe is situated between two r’s—a trill in a word. For example, elves will trill the double r in Zar’roc, a sound often ignored by humans in favor of the more straightforward method of splitting the name into two parts.
Only a few words or names warrant apostrophes in the ancient language. An apostrophe is often introduced into a word that was previously free of one to force a pause or trill and to give it an added layer of importance. Shur’tugal is one such word. Said properly, the apostrophe makes you spend an extra half-second on Shur’tugal, emphasizing the Riders’ elevated status.
In the case of Urû’baen and Ristvak’baen, baen is part of each name, but because it represents such a powerful and complex form of grief, it is set off by the apostrophe. (A side note on Urû’baen: The name is a bastardization coined by Galbatorix. Urû is a dwarf word—obvious since the ancient language uses no circumflexes—that means elders or sages. Urû’baen then translates as the elders’ grief/sorrow, the elders’ folly, or even the elders’ downfall. Galbatorix knew that most humans wouldn’t understand the deeper meaning, but for the elves and dwarves, the capital’s name is an open insult.)
- By default, all verbs in the ancient language are set in the present tense. Thus älfr ach thornessa (literally, he do this) translates as he does this. Future tense is indicated by using shall, will, and other appropriate words. Past tense is formed by adding the suffixes í and o.
Eka ero—I was
Eka eddyr—I am
Eka weohnata waíse—I will beälfr ero—he was
älfr er—he is
älfr weohnata waíse—he will be
älfr achí—he did
älfr ach—he does
älfr weohnata ach—he will do
therr erní—they were
therr eru—they are
therr weohnata waíse—they will be
- Unless you are using formal grammar or if their absence causes confusion, am and both definite and indefinite articles are often excluded from sentences, as in Eka aí fricai un Shur’tugal, which translates literally as I a Rider and friend but means I am a Rider and a friend. The line can even be written Eka fricai un Shur’tugal or I Rider and friend without changing its intent. The example given below, älfrinn ero aí koma ramrsja, might, in casual conversation, be said älfrinn ero koma ramrsja—she was woman strong-looking—but would be interpreted as she was a strong-looking woman.
- The ancient language has no present participles (walking, building, throwing). Whereas in English we would say, “Walking into the room, Eragon sees Arya,” the elves say, “As walk into the room, Eragon see Arya.” Other examples: “As I was running down the hall” has no direct correlation in the ancient language. The closest you can come to saying this is “As I ran down the hall.” Same for “As I am running down the hall,” which becomes “As I run down the hall.”
A different case would be Du Völlar Eldrvarya or The Burning Plains. As is the custom in the ancient language, the noun völlar precedes the adjective eldrvarya. Since eldrvarya is the plural form of eldrvarí or burn, a literal translation of Du Völlar Eldrvarya reads The Plains Burns.
she was a strong-looking woman—älfrinn ero aí koma ramrsja
she looked like a strong woman—älfrinn sjaí aí koma ramr
she is a strong-looking woman—älfrinn aí koma ramrsja
she will be a strong-looking woman—älfrinn weohnata waíse aí koma ramrsja
- Titles, honorifics, and descriptions usually follow the person or item named. King Evandar is Evandar Könungr. A strong woman is aí koma ramr, where koma is Descriptions can be placed in nearly any order so long as they follow the item being described. Translators are free to use their discrimination in arranging the words.
- In the ancient language, if you place an accent mark over a vowel that is the first of a pair of vowels, the pronunciation of the first vowel changes, while the second vowel is pronounced independently and reverts to its native sound. Thus äenora (ay-eh-NOR-uh) versus aenora (ay-NOR-uh). However, if you modify the second vowel with an accent, the first vowel does not revert to its native sound but retains the pronunciation that it would otherwise have: alaleä (ahl-ah-LEE-ay), not (ahl-ah-LEH-ay), and guliä (GOO-lee-ay), not (GOO-lih-ay).
There are a few exceptions, mainly the result of how the spelling of the ancient language has changed over the millennia. The elves have allowed these exceptions to remain because they do not interfere with the existing pronunciation. In Alagaësia, the ̈ is redundant because ae would still say ay without it. Technically, the word could even be said al-uh-GAH-ay-zee-uh, but no elf would pronounce it in that fashion unless he or she wished to appear snobbish and condescending . . . rather like those who spell cooperate as coöperate.
Another example is gedwëy. Again, the ̈ is superfluous, since it makes e say ay, and ey says ay anyway. But since ̈ just places added emphasis on the word’s existing sound, it has been left. Some scholars drop the redundant accent marks, while others cling to the old forms and styles. Because of the epic nature of Eragon’s saga, the ancient language has been presented in the traditional manner.
- The ancient language does not have the letters q or x.
- Adjectives are a tricky business. Some words are adjectives to begin with—such as vandr, or bad—and may be used as nouns without alteration, as in the good, the bad, and the ugly went to town together. The ancient language possesses many separate and unique words for adjectives that, in English, are related to a root noun: poet (noun) and poetic (adjective), opposed to skald (poet) and kvaedhí (poetic), which obviously share no orthographic connections. However, the reverse is just as true.
In order to turn nouns into adjectives, English utilizes a wide array of suffixes, among them -ic, -ish, -able, and –y. The ancient language has a much simpler—and oftentimes more flexible—system. The second to last vowel of the chosen noun is changed to u, except if the vowel is already u, in which case it becomes ú. If the noun ends with an r that is not of the ar suffix, then the last vowel of the word is the one changed to u. The last vowel is also changed to u if the noun only has two vowels. One vowel words hardly need explanation. Thus:
beor (giant bear)—beur (bearish, or bearic)
brisingr (fire)—brisungr (fiery)
celöbra (honor)—celubra (honorable)
skul (scale)—skúl (scaly)
However, if the vowel to be changed is part of a linked pair and changing it would clash with the natural pronunciation, then the adjectival form is a separate word, as with agaetí (celebration) and agaetra (celebratory).
When you have a sequence of three vowels or more—as in aiedail—you only modify the preceding vowel . Thus i changes a to ae, yet does not affect the e as it would if i and e were paired alone. And e does not affect i, because, that is simply not done in the ancient language. A vowel can only modify one letter at a time.
- The ancient language has no separate forms for past participles. All verbs in past tense can also serve as past participles, just like the English have, had or say, said.
a—as in cot, bother when at the beginning or in the middle of words
a—as in nut, humdrum when at the end of words
e—as in bed, bread
e—as in beet, fleet when placed before a, o, or u. The second vowel retains its original sound unless otherwise modified.
i—as in bit, glimmer
i—as in beet, fleet when placed before a, e, and o. The second vowel retains its original sound unless otherwise modified.
o—as in bone, tone
u—as in rule, lute
y—as in by, fly when in the middle of a word
j—as in young, yam when in the middle of words: dvelja (DVELL-yuh) Occasionally the j is silent when it conflicts with the sound of a neighboring vowel or consonant, as in drjugr (DROO-gur) or garjzla (GARZH-luh).
j—as in job, gem when at the beginning of words: jierda (JEER-duh).
y—as in yard, young when at the beginning of a word or in the ya suffix
ae, ai, aí, ay—as in date, bay
au—as in loud, out
ei—as in beet, fleet
ey—as in bay, flay
oi—as in boy, oil
ui—as in ewe
ang—as in hang
ar—as in car
ér, eir—as in ear
er—as in air; dwerva (DWAIR-vuh), not (DWER-vuh)
ir—can be pronouced either as ear, as it is in togira or Ilirea or as the er sound from gird, as it is in faelnirv or skölir. No known rule governs the usage.
ge—as in get when at the beginning of words.
ge—as in job or gem when at the middle or end of words.
oh—as in know
or—as in oar
th—as in thank
ur—as in birth, purr
yr—as in ear
á—as in map, mat
é—as in beet, fleet
í—as in beet, fleet
ó—as in boot, coot
ú—as in lung, young
ä—as in date, bay
ë—as in date, bay
ï—as in light, fly
ö—as in saw, gnaw, and Eragön in its elven spelling
ü—as in ewe
äf—gives words a negative connotation. For example, taka (to take), äftaka (to steal).
eld—turns words into agents of action, as in ethgrí (invoke) and eld ethgrí (invoker) or hvitr (white) and eld hvitr (one who makes things white). This prefix does not connect to the word it’s modifying but is followed by a single space. When possible, the two parts are pronounced as one.
o, u—act as in-, un-, dis-. See entries in dictionary for full definitions
ar—pluralizes words that end with consonants. If the word ends with r, simply place an a before the r. Thus älfr becomes älfar, not älfrar. However, if the r is preceded by a vowel, then the suffix ya is used. There are a few instances where words that end with a consonant other than r still take the –ya suffix, such as daert, but those exceptions must be memorized, as they are irregular.
í—forms the past tense of verbs ending with all consonants and vowels except r and i. Andask, andaskí. Adurna, adurnaí. If í follows an á, the acute accent is dropped from the á.
o—forms the past tense of verbs ending with i and r. It also replaces the i. Ethgrí, ethgro. Burthr, burthro.
r—can make a word or name masculine.
s—makes a word possessive. No apostrophe is used. If s is preceded by an í, the acute accent is dropped from the í. Kalfí, kalfis
ya—pluralizes words that end with vowels. It also replaces the last vowel. Thus älfa becomes älfya, not älfaya. When ya interferes with pronunciation, the vowel is retained and shifted to smooth the transition. The letters a and i are usually changed to e. Thus celöbra becomes celöbreya, not celöbrya or celöbraya. The suffix ya also pluralizes words that end with an r preceded by a vowel, such as ástar, ástarya.