Friday, October 17, 2014

Small words

I live in a small town were we use small words. We have diminutives for everything, including "everything". In Spanish everything or all is "todo" and the diminutive of everything is "todito". We have small trees ("arboles") called "arbolitos", and small cars ("autos") called "autitos", but it doesn't stop there; we have small favors ("favores") called "favorcitos" and small mornings ("mañana") called "mañanita"; the same applies for night "nochecita" and afternoon "tardecita". If you want to say to someone that he or she is a bit of an obnoxious prankster you'd say "How [small] funny you are today" (Que graciocito estas hoy).

Why is this? I can tell you upfront it isn't because we think so small we use small words ;)

To find the roots of this we need to go the some of the basics of the Nahuatl language, the language of the Aztecs who ruled over the vast majority of central and southern Mexico. It is here were things get interesting for those who enjoy alignment languages and the usage of language as a game element. The use of diminutives is common in the central and southern parts of Mexico, but not so in the northern states.

The Nahuatl language has the suffix "-tsintli" or "-tzintli" that is used on words when the speaker is showing reverence. Some sources indicate the suffix "-tzin" and "-tli", with -tli added to substantives and -tzin alone for adjectives, pronouns, forenames, etc. .  Water "atl" becomes atsintli  or small water, rock "tetl" becomes tetsintli, child or kid "pili" becomes piltsintli and house "kali" would be kaltsintli.

Some sources I've researched relate this suffix to the Spanish diminutive suffix "-cito" or "-ito". So when someone says they appreciate the hospitality of your "small" home they're not insulting by saying your mansion, castle or palace is small. When being served in a tavern and you're asked if they should bring you a small beer and a small bbq rib your character shouldn't take offense. Your character isn't going to be served a minuscule piece of pork and sip of beer, quite the contrary. Nonetheless you can see how this can get really ugly really fast, specially with a dwarf in the party.

Responding to the dwarven patron of the tavern that his small ale and small pork ribs have a small flavor can get your character bruised up bad. Not knowing how to use the proper terms at a given time can have dire consequences. This gives a new dimension to language skills, guild slang and culture knowledge. It can be helpful in finding out relationships between NPCs. For example Aztecs had two types of speak, the normal one and the aforementioned one with the -tzinlti suffix. Brothers and friends use the common tongue to speak with each other, but the reverential tongue to speak with a parent or godparent. Event friends who build a godparent relationship through a child will begin using only the reverential tongue.

Applied in game a NPC may give away her or his relationship to another NPC simply by the words used. Is there a hidden allegiance? Is the NPC a superior or subordinate? Do the words they speak mean literally what they say or is there a hidden message understood only if you know the relationship between both speakers?

How do you put your character's language, culture and lore knowledge skills to play in your game?


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