{Sunday Musings} Integrating a Dead Language into Descendants of Isis

32675-599Disclaimer: I am not an Egyptologist. I am not a linguist. I’m not a historian. I am an author and scientist.

To bring certain characters and written texts to life, authors use language, communication, and slang. And I’m not just talking about American English vs British English. I’ve seen French, German, even Latin used in many novels. For the Descendants of Isis trilogy, the language that brings Seth’s spells and Isis’s clues to life is Re-en-Kam: the speech of ancient Egypt.

Here’s the situation: Re-en-Kam has been a dead language for thousands of years. The only thing available is the hieroglyphics left behind in the tombs and temples of Egypt, and unfortunately, hieroglyphs don’t include many of the vowels that would have been used in speech, making it difficult to know what the language sounded like.

Of course, a few Egyptologists have speculated how the language might be vocalized, such as E. A. Wallis Budge, who wrote an entire dictionary of hieroglyphs. I particularly found his work useful in creating my spells and clues of the Descendants of Isis trilogy along with several other research books which I acknowledged in the back of my novels. But much like the locket which Natti is attempting to translate, Re-en-Kam is a puzzle to figure out (at least compared to the English language). For instance, it’s the verb that comes first, not the noun. Therefore, instead of saying “I love you,” it would be “Love I you.” Additionally, there’s a difference in reference, gender, and gender plural (a few examples below).

  • Merut: beloved woman, sweetheart, love
  • Merit: love, desire, wish
  • Hemet-netjer: high priestess
  • Hem-netjer: high priest
  • Hemut-netjer: high priestesses
  • Hemu-netjer: high priests

Not an easy task, and even when I finally understood some basics of the language, the question became how do I portray what my characters are saying to the reader? Every author has their different style. For me, I decided to take advantage of the multiple points of view (pov) in my trilogy. When reading Natti’s pov, the reader sees the sentence written has it would likely sound in Re-en-Kam. But in Seth’s pov (being that Re-en-Kam is his first language) the language is automatically translated to English and italicized.

Learning a language is a lot of work, particularly a dead language, but it’s well worth the try! As of this post, I’m learning yet another language: Arabic. In the hopes that one day I will be able to travel to Egypt.