Diglossia and Culture among humanity:
Hey look, Cody's talking about languages again (ducks from the thrown produce).
A slightly different angle for this one, but I recently listened to a lecture on the concept of diglossia and as usual I figured I'd put it into perspective by writing an essay on the subject. Like in our world, I can see Arcanis-equivalents of much of what was discussed in the lecture applying to the human nations of Arcanis (probably also the non-human ones, but those are more difficult to apply human notions to) and figured it would be a good vessel of discussion.
For those not familiar with the term diglossia, it is the sociolinguistic term of people effectively speaking two different languages in their everyday lives. These are often termed the "high" language, which is the formal language of the society, and the "low" language, which is common everyday speech. As an example, in the United States of America right now pretty much every school child is taught 'standard' English, which is a fairly highly structured version of the language based off the Americanization of the London dialect of English, which became the official 'high' dialect of English in England as that was where the King/Queen resided. Proficiency in this official version of English is demanded to various levels for people in professions, and being able to communicate well using it is essential in most jobs. This language is generally fairly standard throughout the United States, and even to an extent in other nations such as Canada.
Conversely, the 'low' dialect is the 'street' languages or dialects. These are your 'urbanics' or 'Black English' or what people would consider to be an accent. These are the tongues that you speak at home with your family that you learned on your parent's knee. This is the language you speak at the bar with friends while watching the game. This is the version of the language which often gets you hit by a ruler in school for being 'wrong', and you almost never see literature written in this language. People tend to be shamed publicly for speaking in the 'low' dialect of their society, or often viewed as being uncultured, so most people do what they can to hide their proficiency in the 'low' dialect when they can.
As an example: I watch a web series made by a gentleman from Boston. Most of the time, he speaks with a lovely, flat accent and uses 'normal' speech. However, he has on occasion (often when he is sick, tired, or trying to make a point) switched back to his accented voice, with all the changes associated with that accent (further example: "going to" vs. "gunna") coming through. Now, this youtuber has said he does this for various reasons: it is easier to edit sound with the 'flat' accent he puts on, it tends to be easier to understand, etc. However, it should be pointed out that he has said (and I have heard it elsewhere) that this is a skill he picked up early in life. There was a reference in the film "the Departed" as I recall where they called out one of the characters about saying he had two faces and two languages that he spoke in, and this is that.
Another example of this is "Yankee" English vs. "Southern" English in the United States. As a non-American, I can tell you that their is a massive difference in accent and lexicon between Minnesota (the state closest to where I was born and raised) and Texas where my cousins live, and even between Texas and Alabama (where one of my uncles is from). Among my home area, and from what I understand most of America north of the old Mason-Dixon Line, the Southern accent/dialect is viewed as uncouth, even "hillbilly-like". Even the cultured, Scarlet O'Hara "I do declare!" accent has various negative connotations. Because of this, many people I know from the American south also try to 'hide' their accents, especially if they came from a more rural upbringing.
Now, this relationship doesn't just have to be between 'common' and 'official' versions of the same language. In ancient Rome, Latin was the 'high' language according to the culture, with all the languages of the subject peoples being the 'low' language. If you were in North Africa, you would expect Roman citizens to speak Latin (it would be drilled into your head if you were in the legions), but the 'low' language would be Berber (or the version of that tongue that existed 2000 years ago) or Ancient Egyptian. In India, typically Hindi or English are viewed as the 'high' languages that people are taught in school, but languages like Punjabi or Malayalam or Tamil are spoken conversationally to kin, so those would be the 'low' languages. Alternatively, there are nations like the islands in the Caribean like Jamaica or Haiti that officially speak one language (English and French, per those examples), but when speaking among themselves would speak a Creole language (such as Jamaican Patois) which incorporates aspects of the official language with African slave languages, Spanish, etc. These languages are often barely mutually intelligable to the listener, which I have found personally with both Jamaicans as well as with Haitians speaking to me in French (which I admit I'm only partially proficient in).
Now, how does this relate to Arcanis?
Well, we know in Arcanis that there are two languages that exist in a literal (named) high vs. low relationship, these being Khitani and Coryani. In the case of Coryani, High Coryani represents the language spoken in Coryan-the-City when the Empire was founded, and became the official tongue of the Empire, court, records, and the Church by grace of the fact that it was the language of the city that became the capital of the Empire. We do not know how hard Coryan tried to impose this language on the rest of the Empire in the following 1075 years, but if they did they met with almost total failure from what we've seen in universe as literally every mod has Heroes speaking to the common folk (and even the nobility) in Low Coryani.
Low Coryani has often been stated as being a trade language of the Empire, and is something of an amalgum language of the various languages that became subject to the Alabaster Throne. We do not know how many of these other languages exist(ed), but following the 2nd Coryani-Khitani War we know that distinct Milandisian, Cancerese, and Altharin languages were still in use by the nations which secceded from the Empire, and Myrantian remained in use to the modern day. Presumably there was also an "Annonican" and a "Valentian" and a "Cafelan" tongue as well (or many such tongues), but these have not been widely espounded upon in fiction.
The exact nature of Low Coryani has not been widely discussed within the universe, beyond it being the 'low' tongue of the Empire. Most likely it started out as a pidgin language between the various desperate provinces of the Empire following the formation (remember: Milandisia, Canceri, Cafela, Illonia, and probably Balantica all entered the Empire willingly as part of the First Emperor's First Crusade of Light). While people officially had to learn High Coryani (derived from Tridueaian, the tongue of Coryan-the-City), learning new languages is hard for adults so they would instead learn a mixed version of their own tongue (say, Ancient Milandisian) and this new one. What is known, however, is that over the intervening centuries that whatever this langauge started as, by now it has become a full language in its own right. Pidgins tend to take words and grammar from one component language, add words from another one, and cut as much out to get the rough message across. However, we know that Low Coryani isn't an awkward but functional pidgin language, but a full, living tongue that has incorporated grammar and vocabulary from many different language.
In the case of the (modern) Coryani Empire, most likely High Coryani is the 'high' language for most of the population (being the language of official documents, the bureaucracy, and the Church), while Low Coryani is the 'low' version which people use to buy cabbages on the street and talk to their children and (likely) slaves. It is highly unlikely to me that one would see High Coryani spoken outside of Illonia (and likely, even not there casually), and would be viewed as a marker of social distinction. When patricians speak in front of their slaves and don't want to be heard (or, very possibly, want the slave to know that they are no longer considered to exist in the same room), they would likely switch to High Coryani, and would use Low Coryani when directly addressing their 'lessers.' [As an aside, this happens to me literally every day at work. I work with a lot of Germans, and when they are speaking publicly about work stuff they speak English. However, if they are gossiping, they switch to German, at which time they pointedly are excluding non-German's from the conversation.] Similarly, the scribes in the Bureaucracy would do all their documents in High Coryani, even if between themselves they spoke Low Coryani. When the Emperor releases decrees, they would officially be written in High Coryani, though it likely would be co-released in Low Coryani. This last example is seen on the Rosetta stone in our world, with the same decree written in Greek (the official language of the Ptolemaic dynasty), and in two forms of Egyptian (the "High" Egyptian in hieroglyphics, and the "Low" Egyptian known as Demotic).
Of these two languages, Low Coryani would probably be easier (subjective) to learn for newcomers to the Empire as it bears at least some resemblance to their own tongue (in the Known Lands), so they can pick up bits of grammar more easily. Because of this, it would be the 'common' tongue of slaves within the Empire that slave-owners would force their slaves to speak if they did not already know a Coryani language. For example, as an English speaker, I can pick up French easier than I can Russian because there is so much loaned French words/grammar in English, while there is almost no loaning of words and grammar from Russian. It is also possible that High Coryani and Low Coryani are mutually intelligible in the same way that "Black English" and "Standard English" are mutually intelligible in our world, as likely (but not stated outright because why go into that much detail) Low Coryani uses the framework of High Coryani with a bunch of the vocabulary changed to reflect foreign influence. Similarly, slaves would often be the ones doing business, buying food, etc. for the household, so they would have to know how to talk to the traders and merchants.
Khitani is somewhat different. The little bit we know of the language is that High Khitani is the language of "Educated/Scholarly people of the Khitani Empire" (ARPG pg. 155) while Low Khitani is the language of the "Common people of the Khitani Empire." Now, we don't have enough information to state outright whether or not the two Khitani languages have the same relationship as the Coryani languages, but I feel I can make a few assumptions. For one: as far as we are aware the Khitani Empire was a much more culturally unified nation than the Coryani Empire was. The Khitani Empire was (officially) founded by a Valinor of Larissa who led its "pure" people (the Uls) off to the far northern provinces of the Imperium to escape the Sword of the Heavens. Since then, aside from the two wars with Coryan over the Blessed Lands, we don't have any information about the Khitani getting involved in the politics of other nations except defensively, and in one case trying to absorb the 'lost' province of Haina.
Because of this, we don't have any real evidence that the Khitani ever sought to bring other cultures into their own, and that when their language developed it was insular. If this supposition is correct, then the difference between High and Low Khitani would probably be that they are two separate languages (possibly related, but separate) which are not mutually intelligible, but one is spoken by the ruling caste (the Uls, the bureaucrats, eunichs, etc) while the Low Khitani language is that of the original population of the region which never died out. The titles "High" and "Low" could be an artificial naming scheme meant to suggest a unity of the two languages, even if they are actually not the same language.
To give a real-world example of this, look at "Chinese." I have worked with many, many different Chinese people (both native born Chinese and Canadian-Chinese people), and talking to them about their language(s), I have learned something interesting: China, the nation, lies about the existence of the Chinese language. Almost every native-born Chinese person I have spoken to will say that there is only a single Chinese language, and then there are various different dialects like Cantonese and Xiang. However, every NON-native of China that I have talked to will say that this is a flat-out lie meant to perpetuate that China is a unified whole rather than a nation made up of distinct cultural groups (no matter how similar they may be).
Having myself heard people speaking Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, I definitely side with the second view because these sound LESS similar to my ear than Spanish and French do (which are related, if distinct, languages). In this case, Mandarin is the slightly dumbed-down version (it is a simpler language in terms of grammar, tones, and such compared to other Chinese languages) of Chinese which has become the official language of the nation, acting as the "High" tongue for people to learn in school, while learning Cantonese, Hakka, and Ping at home. What allows the Chinese government to claim that there is only one Chinese language is that all versions of Chinese use the same writing system. Because Chinese writing is not (or, not fully) phonic but more symbolic, as long as the languages using it structure their sentences in the same way, it doesn't matter if one symbol is said as "Ping" in one language and "Big" in the other, as long as that word means the same thing, the written sentence still makes sense.
Now, if Khitan (which is heavily modeled on China) follows the same logic, then in this case High Khitani could be the language spoken by the Uls and other nobles, and Low Khitani could be nothing more than a variation of Altharin which the commoners in that province spoke. Because of the story associated with the Uls and them leaving, and how the Uls look down upon the Vals and those in the rest of the former Imperium territories, I would not be suprised if they started speaking their own 'special' language to separate themselves from others, in the same way that a cult will start to alter their language to differentiate themselves from those not in that cult.
Alas, in terms of Khitan I can only make suppositions, but it is an intriguing idea to me.
Moving to other nations, and you can see the same high/low relationships between languages in those nations. When it was part of the Empire, Milandisian would have been relegated to the position of a 'low' language to the 'high' language of High Coryani. After independence, the relation between these two languages appears to have shifted somewhat, as Milandisian has seen something of a resurgence. Many times after a nation is 'liberated,' the people of that nation will push their local vernacular as the dominant language regardless of if it is spoken by the common person. For example, after the foundation of the Republic of Ireland, Irish (Gaelic) became the official language of Ireland. However, having met several Irish people, not a single one of them can utter more than a few scattered phrases in Irish. Another example in our world is Hebrew in Isreal. Here the people who now populate that nation came from many desperate locations, and have decided to revive the then-dead language of Hebrew as their common language. Unlike (to a great degree) Irish, however, Hebrew seems to have had much more success in becoming a commonly spoken language in Isreal, likely due to the fact that most Jews had a passing understanding of the tongue as a liturgical language, while Irish was almost extinct when it was legislated into being the official language of that nation.
Unfortunately, I cannot 100% say if Milandisian is the 'high' or 'low' language of Milandir. In almost every mod the common folk of Milandir all speak Low Coryani, and as the former 'high' tongue of the land there are surely lots of people (especially the "Noble Vals") of the nation who would speak High Coryani as their High Tongue. It is possible that Milandir is a nation that is triglossic, meaning that there are three different languages, each used in different social contexts. When speaking among each other, they speak Milandisian. When speaking to a superior in an official sense, they speak High Coryani. When speaking to foreigners or those that they are not close to, they speak Low Coryani. While we have reams of material on Milandir in Arcanis, this is a topic that has never been fully explored.
Canceri, on the other hand, is a nation where we can see the vernacular-becomes-high-language. From what I have read on the subject, the people of Canceri enthusiastically re-embraced Cancerese as the official 'high' language of the nation after their indepence. In fact, in the Canceri Sourcebook in the 3.5 days there was a discussion of the three primary dialects of Cancerese and the social pressures at work there. In Nier's Spine, the insular Nierites reject the 'impure' loanwords from Coryani, while the more open Nishanpur's dialect has more loans, for example. However, from my reading Cancerese is simply used from the top down as the official language of the nation, and only some people would speak Low Coryani. As an oppressive slave-owning population, they would do their best to have their slaves and commoners speak as little foreign tongues as possible as a means of population control, and because much of the nation is xenophobic there would be little opportunity for these people to learn anything but what their master commands them to learn.
I would be remiss to not mention Altheria in this regard, but like Milandir I'm not 100% certain of how things work. Like everywhere else, it seems everyone in Altheria speaks Low Coryani fluently, and never has Altharin been shown as spoken casually in spite of it being the language of that nation. However, Henry has stated that the Altherians have kept the otherwise-dead Altharin language in use as a form of worship of Althares (who gifted it to Mankind). My theory (and with only some evidence), is that the Republic of Altheria operates much the same as Ireland in our world, with Altharin taught in schools and is officially the proper language, but in casual conversation everyone (even the 'nobles') speak Low Coryani. It is possible that High Coryani lingers there as well, but due to the less-stratified nature of Altheria, I personally find it more likely that the vernacular Low Coryani would be far more prominent, and that the role of High Coryani would be replaced fully by Altharin. Because of the influx of foreigners into the nation as part of the Shining Patrol, I cannot see how Altharin could be (in real life) anything but an enforced language on people, kept alive only as a cultural memory than anything that would normally come up.
As I have said in so many previous essays, I think languages are both facinating and very informative about culture. Though it is not well-explored in Arcanis fiction, Henry and PCI have laid a lot of groundwork in the universe which allows rather deep analysis into the culture at work here. Unlike most fantasy universes which just have "Common" or "Undercommon", the inclusion of many different tongues is essential to the universe of Arcanis, even if by default for a living campaign we have to have everyone speaking Low Coryani so the mods can actually be played.
Legends of Arcanis Campaign Staff
Initial Author Contact/Adventure Vetting
Haakon Marcus val'Virdan, Divine Holy Judge of Nier
Ruma val'Vasik, Martial Crusader and Master of the Spear
Jorma Osterman, Arcane Coryani Battlemage