Total War: WARHAMMER Dev Blog: Speaking in Beast TongueApril 11 2017
Dev Blog – Speaking in (Dark) Tongues
For those of you who do not speak Beast Tongue (that is, everyone except me, a couple of other writers, and the Beastmen themselves), that is “Hello!” Now, of course, it is unlikely that a snarling, slobbering, snorting beast of the herd would greet anyone in such a way, choosing instead to trample, gore and devour them, but here at CA we do not resort to such base behavior… often.
In Call of the Beastmen, we introduce the eponymous Race to the Old World and, with them, their own means of communication – the Beast Tongue language. No Beastman will talk in Reikspiel (what we would call English), as they have neither the intelligence nor the desire to speak in the tongue of their most hated of foes.
A little lore background – the Beastmen are the mutated, horrendous creations of a world ripped asunder. When Chaos (and magic) first came to the Old World, it poured forth from the collapsing polar gates that hung high above the world. As they crashed down, showering the world with pure, unfiltered chunks of warpstone, Chaos followed and the world was changed forever. The Beastmen were thus born of mutation and turmoil; man became beast and beast became man.
Beastmen hate the world of man and they hate civilisation, for they are not civilised – nor do they want to be. They remember a time when they were in control of the world; a world untouched by towers and castles and cities – just them and the world – a more primitive time.
The true origins of Beast Tongue – as we call it – are in the Chaos language, known as the Dark Tongue. Dark Tongue is relatively well-established in the Warhammer universe, with several books featuring it throughout – in particular, the seminal books of the Realm of Chaos series; Slaves to Darkness and The Lost and the Damned.
The Dark Tongue gives us a pool from which to work, with important words such as Akhash (blood) and Khar (rage) being well-established. Other words connect more directly with the concepts of Chaos, such as Tzeen, meaning ‘change’ (obviously linking to Tzeench, the Chaos God of change). The same is true of Slaa meaning ‘ecstasy’ – Slaneesh being, of course, the Chaos God of excess and hedonism.
Dark Tongue contains many other phrases and sounds relating to concepts oft-used by Chaos, such as shadows, death, lord, beasts, domination, etc. which were then used to create sounds and phrases that are the very beginnings of the Beast Tongue. The Beast Tongue is more of a bastardisation (or, if you want to be technical, a creole, or pidgin language) of Dark Tongue, as the Beastmen are the ‘Children of Chaos’. As such, it is a far more inelegant, imprecise version, with more emphasis on the guttural, ‘beastly’ sounds that define them. Where Dark Tongue is hissed and spat, Beast Tongue is growled and roared. There is an endless rage and hunger at the very core of the language, which is what we tried to emphasise when writing it.
Languages are also formed primarily around the context and the understanding of the speaker – the famous, if not entirely accurate, anecdote that Eskimo languages have 50 words for ‘snow’ is a good example. The language we use reflects our view of the world – Eskimos see and deal with a lot of snow and so they have words to explain its various permutations in more detail than anyone else would. So it is for the Beastmen – their concepts and worldviews are explained through their language.
The Beastmen take this approach to simplistic extremes, reducing a lot of concepts to single words that we would convey with many different synonyms. For instance, the Beastmen have only have one word for ‘see’ (‘fuib’), because they use their eyes to look upon things. They have no need to describe it any other way (whereas we would say see, gaze, look, glare, leer, etc.). The Beastmen also do not use ‘if’ or ‘but’ because they deal in absolutes; they will do what they set out to do or they will die – it is binary, and they refuse to accept death as an option.
Needless to say, Beastman grammar is pretty basic. At a high level they may have the intelligence of man and the low cunning of beasts, but their language is one of not-particularly-evolved men – basic sentences, grunts, and a lack of the grammatical style that we take for granted (think more Tarzan and less Sherlock Holmes). The basic nature of the Beast Tongue means that we were able to translate into it letter for letter – any English word can be expressed in Beast Tongue with a little diligence and fun diagrams (N.B. the diagrams were not fun).
This means that if you look, listen, and work hard at it, you can translate what the Beastmen are saying word for word. Obviously it should be pointed out that the Beast Tongue is an inexact language (even real ones aren’t perfect even with thousands of years to get them right), but if I were to give you a few examples, for instance, and knowing what you now know, it might be possible for you to figure it out? Maybe?
Let’s find out.
“Akash sur akash tarrh”
“Shugu guar pharchaa”
Good luck! Or should I say Tararh zerph!
I should not. BYE!
To use the Beat Tongue Lexicon: Beast Tongue is concerned mainly with the sound of the language, rather than how things are spelt – they use runes, rather than a written language. As such, as you can see from the diagram, you pick the letter or letter sound you need from either column and replace it with the corresponding letter in the parallel column. So “Sun”, for instance, would become “Feb” (we choose the E rather than the ii because of the sound of U in ‘sun’ is ‘uh’ not ‘uu’). Then throw some runes together. It sounds more complicated than it is, but just apply a little judgement and I’m sure all your words will be perfectly beastly!