A pupil in the temple of Qunayir

Quick Links



The Charyan Languages

During the period I'm mainly concerned with here, the 'three hundred years of the three hundred Kingdoms', the living members of the Charyan language family included the following languages:

Archaic Charyan

Archaic Charyan, or Den'harulon 'temple language' was the most ancient Charyan language still in use. It was mainly used in temple ceremonies, as the name implies, but as new ceremonies, hymns and prayers were constantly written for the ever-increasing number of gods, the language was far from dead.

Classical Charyan

Classical Charyan or Den'wenray had been the language of administation and learning for over ten centuries when the Charyan empire finally collapsed. It was still in use at the court of emperor Rordal and at the Imperial Academy of Broi. In countless other states it held the same prestige. A simple variant, Den'wenray'qui, was used in popular literature, but the use of Den'wenray steadily diminished during the 'three hundred years of the three hundred Kingdoms' period. Still, it was considered a cultured language and as such people of standing made it a habit to infuse their daily language with a hefty dose of Den'wenray.

Old Charyan or Eastern Colloquial

Old Charyan or Den'yunilai was widely viewed as the language for lyrical poetry par excellence, especially in the western part of the empire. It is actually very close to the eastern colloquial language, and depending on the context is often termed thus. Also, many poetic words from Old Charyan are very close to the coarsest colloquialisms of Southern Colloquial.


Denden, literally 'language-language', was the lingua franca throughout the Charyan empire, for mercantile and military purposes mainly. After the fragmentation of the empire, it took on a secondary role as a literary language for the common people who didn't aspire to a civil service office, and it was used as a means of communication between the many refugees from all parts of the empire, and the even more numerous ethnicities in the incredibly culturally pluriform Charyan cities.

Southern Colloquial

The Southern Colloquial language, or Den'poim, literally 'people's language', was the native language of most ethnic Charyans in the much diminished empire of emperor Rordal. Some literature was written in it, but nothing considered important by the Charyans themselves. It was the language everyone learned at home, in one of the countless dialectal varieties, either from their parents or from the servants if the parents were cultured and spoke Denden or Den'wenray to their children.

Northern Colloquial

The north had always been one of the poorer regions of the empire and its population mainly consisted of farmers. As such, this language had little prestige. It was not native to the Charyan empire of emperor Rordal.

The Broyan stage language

The Broyan stage language (Den'Broi or Den'fenqar, an offspring of the Broyan Charyan dialect which was spoken in the north before the great exodus of the Charyan people from the south to the north, the Broyan language steadily lost its place amongst the vast numbers of speakers of southern varieties of Charyan. After a century or two it was only used on the stage, and during the golden age of the empire it reached a pre-eminent position, and from that moment on, there was no drama composed in any language but the Broyan stage language. There is a preliminary grammar available.

Of course, any cultured Charyan would have had to know all of these languages to function in society. On the other hand, people generally conceived of these languages not as different languages per se, but as different styles and dialects. Northern, Southern and Eastern colloquial were termed dialects, and it often sufficed to know only one of them - Broian was seen as a distinct language, and generally imperfectly understood. The others were considered to be stylistic registers, even though there are many grammatical and lexical differences between them.

Of more ancient stages of the language family almost nothing is known. A later stage of Denden is known as Late Colloquial Charyan, is characterized as a predominantly mono-syllabic, complex pronominalizing tone language.

A street girl and Classical Charyan

Murxao was a girl of about twelve, born in one of the poor, eastern districts of Broi. There, the people spoke a dialect of Southern Colloquial, and that was the language she grew up with. Some of the neighbours were ethnic Matraians, and she played a lot with the children and picked up a decent smattering of Matraian, too. Most people in Andal grow up polyglot.

When she was ten her parents died. A few months later, she inherited a small plot of land in one of the market gardens near the Temple Mountain, where the emperor has his palace and all the important gods their temples. She began selling fruit to civil servants on their way to the palace, and there she 'learned to speak civilly', i.e. she learned some Denden. She didn't lose her cute eastern Broyan accent, though, and frequently used words the officials only knew from the poetic language Old Charyan.

In this part of town people spoke a very different dialect of Southern Charyan, with a lot of influence from Denden, which was also much in use, because in this quarter many officials from all parts of the country have their residence. Murxao readily adapted, though

A tumultuous time arrived when Waghdazyal Nothaz, the Slayer of the East, arrived with his troops in the capital to force the emperor either to pay his soldiers their pay, or to abdicate.

In the course of a skirmish with some drunken soldiers - who she couldn't understand at all, since they spoke an eastern dialect, Murxao ran into an ethnic Broyan boy, Dendir. With him, she explored the Broyan ghetto, and noticed that the people there spoke 'as if they were on the stage'. A small group of ethnic Broyans, descendant of the first settlers, still speak their ancestral language in daily life, although it is now almost exclusively used on the stage.

Further adventures made it necessary for Murxao to take refuge in a temple on Temple Mountain. She arrived at the temple of Qunayir, guided by the Goddess herself. Suddenly she found herself enrolled as an acolyte. The High Priestess Tala taught the acolytes the use of the written language - Archaic and Classical, and the former apple-selling street-girl learned her letters for the first time.

However, when she wanted to know what certain words meant, Tala couldn't do better than to repeat the word again - she didn't conceive of the written language and the language she daily spoke, as different languages. Picture the following conversation (in Denden):

Murxao: 'Tala zipurdam, tan harul art hen ga?' (High Priestess Tala, what's the meaning of harul?)

Tala: 'Murxao, harul harul ga!' (Murxao, harul is harul!)

Murxao:'xinni, Tala zipurdam, edo taujonir.' (I'm sorry High Priestess, Tala, I don't understand.)

Then suddenly, Murxao got a brainwave:

Murxao: 'Tala zipurdam, tan harul art tan Den'Matrai hen ga?' (High Priestess Tala, what's the meaning of harul in Matraian?)

Tala: 'Tan Den'matrai harul tan art qinne ga.' (In Matraian, the meaning of harul is qinne.

Murxao: 'Aya! Tan harul art char ga!' (Ah! the meaning of harul is 'gold'!)

Tala: 'Tauga! Tan harul art harul ga!' (No! The meaning of harul is harul !)

Anyway, Murxao now knew what was meant with harul, and she was on her way learning the civilized language. We'll leave them at this point.


  • 10-05-2000 - Added picture of boy
  • 15-05-1999 - Converted to Lynx-friendly table structure
  • 10-05-1999 - Creation

text and illustrations © 1999 Boudewijn Rempt