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04 December 2007 @ 02:14 pm
Languages/Slang in Amestris  
One of the things that every language, in every country (and probably every parallel universe) must have is slang.

Recently in one of my fics I was making an attempt to contrast the language in FMA and modern language, and came to the realization (fine, so it's not such a big discovery, but still) that the series has almost no built-in slang at all.
Now, I'm not expecting something on the level of A Clockwork Orange, which would turn the story into a semi-comprehensible treatise on worldbuilding and culture instead of the story that we all love. But this prompted me to start considering what types of slang would be prevalent in Amestris (I'm a geek, I know), which turned into…well, contemplation of the language in general.  If this sort of thing has been talked to death before, I apologize; I haven't seen it, and it was just something I was thinking about.

I don't pretend to be a linguistics expert, so there's a high chance I'm talking nonsense here, but I thought I'd bring this up in case there are other people who are interested in this sort of thing, and if they feel like sharing opinions, I'd be even happier.
Obviously, the story occurs during the a parallel of the beginning of the twentieth century when compared to our own world, but it doesn't seem to be affected by the same cultural trends, from what we've seen.

Personally, I regard Amestris as being a loose parallel of England or the US, because I believe that the language they are speaking is English. (This is based on their names, which are almost all clearly in some English language, the place names – "Central" even, is in English, etc.)

However, when looking for slang, using slang from the early 1900's, or the Jazz Age (in the 20's), would be sort of ludicrous, considering that we've seen no basis for similar cultural trends. Add to that the fact that Amestris is a heavily military-oriented country, and I think that the influences would be rather different.
Slang comes from many different places: the military is one of the most common sources of slang, surrounding countries/immigrants, common cultural trends, science.
Consider Amestris.

If we look at the surrounding countries, we'd have to establish a language for each one if we want to 'borrow' words from there. Since we have hardly any knowledge of what goes on in each country, culturally or otherwise (except Xing, but they don’t seem to have close enough contact with Xing for much 'borrowing' to be done back and forth), any assumptions about the language would mostly have to be based on the names of the countries.

"Drachma" to me sounds like the "ch" would be guttural, which eliminates English, but not much else, as most languages in the world contain that sound. Because of the structure of the word I would eliminate most Semitic languages, and probably the Celtic ones (though the Drachmans speaking some sort of Gaelic would amuse me greatly). Cyrillic languages work, and so do Germanic ones, and it doesn't really give off Latin vibes, to me at least. I would probably go with German or Russian, just to be interesting.
However, the drachma was also the name of the pre-Euro Greek currency, so a case could be made for Greek, as well.

Aerugo sounds like it has Romance tendencies, to me, (mostly because of that ae combination). Latin, Spanish, French? Supporting the Latin is the fact that 'aerugo nativa' is the Latin name for Malachite. The word also means 'rust', and is derived from Latin.

Creta is the name of Crete in Latin and several other languages, which would tend to give off distinctly Greek vibes. Interestingly enough, this would mean that all three of the countries surrounding Amestris could have distinctly Greek and/or Latin tendencies (which actually goes well with the Amestrians speaking English).

Ishval sounds like it could be vaguely Semitic, to me. They're dark-skinned, which also hints on something Middle-Eastern, and monotheistic which takes it more towards the Middle-East than Far East. Here the problem with the official spelling arises, because it would make a difference: if it's Ishval, then it can't be Arabic, because Arabic has no 'v' sound. Turkish, Persian, and Hebrew do have that sound. However, if it's Ishbal (which doesn't seem too likely, as most sources I've seen say that 'Ishval' is the official spelling), then there's no real indicator either way. I don't remember if we've seen what their letters look like. 
On a completely random and unrelated note, it appears that Islam exists in Viz's version of the manga, or the "official translation", as we see Rush Valley referred to as "A Mecca for Automail Engineers". This is actually a gross anachronism, since there would be no reason for anyone in their universe to use an idiom like that. Therefore we can conclude that in Viz's version, which already contains the mythical, nonexistent country of "Cselkcsess" or whatever, Islam would happen to be a major religion. Go figure. [/over-analytic snark]
These languages would leave us with a few major options for linguistic influences on Amestrian English: 

heavy Greek/Latin influences, as a case could be made for three of the surrounding countries to speak those languages, with some Semitic languages tossed in for fun. In a sense, this might not actually change the language so much, considering that English is derived in a good part from Latin. Sadly, I don't know enough about Greek/Latin to be able to consider what that might do to the language physically.

You could always throw in German/Russian/Hungarian/Whatever in the north, just to spice things up, which does make sense in terms of the family of languages.
Now, Ishval and Xing do throw things for a bit of a loop. There's no sea separating them, so that desert has to be one big massive effing desert to actually keep the influences from becoming major. (one could say that we can see Eastern influences; names like Pinako and Izumi pop out in my mind).
The problem is that Ishval is stuck there in the middle, with no clear connection what it's related to, and if they have a Semitic language, then we've got a completely different family stuck there between Latin-based and Sino-Tibetan languages (without the buffer of Indian languages and such). This would hint that either to the north or south of Ishval the desert should be chock-full of Bedouin-style wandering tribes, and maybe a few more big countries besides (not to mention the monotheism thing, which is interesting, as the few religions we've seen within Amestris [like the whole Leto business] are sort of blatantly pagan, and we've seen no reason not to think that the religion in Xing wouldn't follow Chinese/Japanese patterns. In the anime, the whole underground city part hints at the existence of Christianity, or something similar at some point in the past, but it seems to have vanished, at least from Amestris.)
I believe that a major source of slang in Amestris would be from the military, given the part it plays in their lives. This would be relatively easy to come up with, since extensive dictionaries of military slang can be found.
Personally, I think that one of the most interesting things to consider would be how things like alchemy and automail, being the two major differences between the FMA world and our world, would influence the language. 

As alchemists tend to be secretive and don't seem to like congregating much, the chances that a lot of alchemists would develop extensive slang, or military-alchemical slang don’t seem great. We've seen nothing hinting at alchemist units in the army or situation which would encourage specialized jargon, so chances are that alchemy would affect language on a more minor level (also because scientists in general are usually less prone to using a lot of modern slang). 

Either way, in our world science has affected language quite a bit (phrases like "it's not rocket science", for example), so chances are high that it would affect their world similarly.

Automail, being as widespread as we've seen it, probably would affect the language quite a bit. Medicine and medical situations have been affecting the language for centuries, from words like 'retarded', to 'ring around a rosy'. The existence of automail is probably not terribly ancient, but it would still probably have plenty of effects. (It certainly is incredibly meaningful, culturally). I think a case could be made for using phrases like 'metal-fingered' for clumsy. 
(sadly, I am enough of a language geek that it would probably amuse me no end to sit and compile an actual slang dictionary for Amestris...)
I think that's all I have to say for now. I apologize for the long-windedness, and for the fact that it didn't so much end up being about slang as…well, general language stuff in Amestris and Surrounding Countries. 
Current Mood: curiouscurious
fractured_chaosfractured_chaos on December 4th, 2007 12:40 pm (UTC)
Not sure if this'll help any, since I'm referencing Balance of Power:

Glad to know I'm not the only one considering this. Although, in my case, I've just sorta given up on the idea of Amestrian (or even regional) slang so much, as using modern slang with my OCs and having Ed, Al and Hughes say 'WTF?!' ^^;;

I have, however, picked a bit of slang for the Alchemists in particular, considering that alchemists such as Ed and Roy (Al, not so much), are either blatantly atheist or subliminally, the expletive 'God' doesn't get used in the same sense as someone who believes. So I have them tend to say 'The Void', or 'Providence' or something equally non-religious (of course, that being said, Ed seems to have picked up a few new expletives while exposed to the Geek Squad).

Ed doesn't strike me so much as the slang-type person anyway; not that much socialization while he was young, yanno? ^^;;
Ketitaketita on December 4th, 2007 12:47 pm (UTC)
The funny thing with me is that I actually contrasted it the other way around - I had Ed speaking with modern slang, to contrast it to the rest of the early-1900's-people. Not ideal, but at least it gave me a basis for the misunderstandings which would surely happen.

The expletive thing is a good point. The thing is, while they don't seem to believe, they do believe in something, otherwise where would all that talk about sin come from, you know? That hints on some sort of religious background, at least culturally.

Note that Ed a) tends to cuss a lot, which does sort of fall into the category of slang and b) joined the military at twelve. Given that the military is one of the most notorious sources of slang that exist, I find it hard to believe that Ed wouldn't pick some up. In addition, remember that he doesn't hobnob with scientists so much, but tends to meet with some of the rougher types. So I'd say not so much heavy socialization, but he'd probably have a bit of a messed-up sort of language.
crime is for the iron nerved ✞raunchdressing on December 4th, 2007 12:55 pm (UTC)
Haha I was going to say something about the swearing, too. They cashed in all their slang-points for thousands of "what the hell is going on here!s" a day.

I've seen a few fics that use "The Gate" in the stead of "The Void" or the like, but it seems a little clumsy, and ... it's very early in the morning so let me know if I'm wrong, but do all the alchemists know about the Gate anyway? o_o;
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Ketitaketita on December 4th, 2007 01:00 pm (UTC)
In recent chapters we've seen what Xerxes looked like - I'm debating as to what I would link that to. It does look Middle-Easternish, but they weren't brown, you know?

Remember though, that Amestris is a pretty young country - only 400 years old. Meaning, it's language must have been derived from somewhere, and originally, the influences from the surrounding area (not to mention conquered peoples) would have influenced it. Even American English has a lot of influences, and anyway, the Americans were all Brits at the beginning - the language came pre-influenced ('cause England got conquered by a bunch of people).
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Ketitaketita on December 4th, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC)
True. However, given the interesting combination of languages surrounding Amestris, I would argue that their English probably started off influenced slightly differently than British/American/Australian English. Obviously we don't see that in the manga, because like I said, Arakawa didn't go into that sort of thing.
You're right about the homogenous-ness, definitely. The question is, does that make a case for people from cities like Liore, who are certainly not of the same stock as most Amestrians, having some sort of dialect, or English-affected-by-some-other-language. An accent, at the very least.
(which, btw, raises the question of how big Amestris actually is - if it's the size of, say, even half of the US [calculate the average speed of a train X time traveled between two known locations and derive the distance, then do a percentage to figure out the size of Amestris in relation to those locations] there could be a case for several different accents and ways of talking (look at the different accents in the US). Meaning, I think that Amestris is pretty homogenous, but within reason - and dependent on the size of the country.

Even if there's not that much outside influence on the language, that doesn't negate the fact that they'd still have specialized slang, though.
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Ketitaketita on December 5th, 2007 08:00 am (UTC)
Well, originally I started thinking about slang, but then I got sidetracked with thinking about all the different countries around and their possible influences, so the train of thought derailed a bit.

You're definitely right about Amestris being closed off, though. There /would/ be influence, but probably not massive amounts.
I want to create something beautiful ☆: :Dnumi_nami on December 4th, 2007 12:45 pm (UTC)

I think that would be Viz's mangled translation of Xerxes.

I think a case could be made for using phrases like 'metal-fingered' for clumsy.

That would be, IMHO, a slightly derogatory phrase for automail users -- they still do retain their fine motor capabilities even though their limbs are made of metal. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Paninya is a mechanic-in-training, right? That'd require some kind of dexterity or something. If I'm wrong, well...I dunno. I haven't seen Ed do anything...delicate with his hands, so...

Otherwise, your post still has me winded. *rubs hands gleefully* Language geeks are always welcome in my book.
Ketitaketita on December 4th, 2007 12:52 pm (UTC)
I know it's Viz's manglement of Xerxes, but it still offends me -_-

The case for 'metal fingered' IMO would be that even if automail "now" is fancy and dextrous, it probably didn't start out that way. Originally, it was probably rather clumsy, and incapable of complicated motor movements. Back to my 'rocket science' comparison - the phrase 'not rocket science' implies that rocket science is torturously difficult, while in fact, the actual 'rocket' aspect of it isn't. So sometimes a phrase could reflect a certain perception, even an outdated one.

language geeks of the world, unite!
I want to create something beautiful ☆numi_nami on December 4th, 2007 01:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, Viz. D:

So 'metal-fingered' would be something that's deeply stuck in Amestrian history, even though it's not true anymore...like a phrase that's so commonly used that people don't even think twice before using it. Interesting.

I have always wondered about the exclamations/expressions in Amestris; where one would normally say 'oh my god', what do people in there say? It'd differ from occupation to occupation (I don't believe alchemists have someone to look up to, though, or maybe I'm just overexposed to Ed) -- from country to country, even. >:F It'd be fun to write those sorts of nuances, but it'll be a pain to look up and even remember to keep consistent...

(And now you have me thinking of military slang. 8B)
Ketitaketita on December 4th, 2007 01:11 pm (UTC)
I mean, now that I think about it, you could have 'ring around the rosy' type rhymes, only talking about, say, turning people into chimeras or something instead of the plague. <=random

Well, in terms of 'oh my God', just because Amestris is sort of atheistic doesn't mean the rest of the world, or the place-that-was-there-before-Amestris-came-to-be isn't more religious. One idea which I ended up not including in the spiel was how Alchemy must have come from some sort of religion; I mean, that's where it comes from in our world. It's based on mysticism, and that only makes sense in a religious context (and I'm not talking about the Spheres emblazoned all over the Doors, oh no...)
For many people nowadays 'oh my God' is sort of...out of religious context. On the other hand, because of the fact that they don't really believe, I tend to keep characters in my fics cursing mostly using neutral terms (like 'shit). It's been implied in the series though that not everybody is as anti-God as Ed is...

(...I looked up sites on WWI-era military slang. I know, I know...)
crime is for the iron nerved ✞raunchdressing on December 4th, 2007 01:01 pm (UTC)
That would be, IMHO, a slightly derogatory phrase for automail users. . .

Well, they have to take three years to be able to fully use their new automail, don't they? Which is why it's such a big deal when Ed only has to take one...
Well, yeah, but think about how grammatically clumsy "metal-fingered-during-the-first-three[?]-years-of-getting-used-to-your-new-limbs . . . y" is. D:

I want to create something beautiful ☆: no waynumi_nami on December 4th, 2007 01:05 pm (UTC)
Oooh, hadn't thought of that *headdesk*. I need coffee.

"metal-fingered-etc, etc" in a fic sounds really bad. I agree with you.
fractured_chaosfractured_chaos on December 4th, 2007 12:45 pm (UTC)
*facepalms* it probably would help if I'd finish my thought before hitting enter....

Anyhow, I -do- agree that certain things would lend themselves to the development of slang, especially automail. I'd love to see what you come up with (if you should decide to run with this).

Either way, it's a wonderful excersize in research and figuring out the 'differences'. ^_^;;
Ketitaketita on December 4th, 2007 12:55 pm (UTC)
see, and I was so quick to reply, I didn't notice the 'finishing the thought' bit ^_^U

The only problem with working on an idea like this is that it can't work with only one person, as language is, by definition, a social thing. Maybe if a group of people got together and started playing with it, a compilation like that would be feasible, but it's kinda tough to find enough people willing to waste brain cells that way...
crime is for the iron nerved ✞raunchdressing on December 4th, 2007 01:16 pm (UTC)
This was actually on my mind the other day, especially what you said about the effect of the military on slang: I was wondering if Amestrian navy blue is called navy blue since Amestris seems to be lacking a [n obvious, anyway] navy.

I also wonder about the alchemic effect on slang and just the culture in general; for example, Hoenheim. Nobody in that whole universe at all thought to comment [or wonder even] about his being named after/conjecture/joke about his possibly being a ridiculously old famed alchemist of yore? Alchemists they may be, but historians they are not, it would seem.

In the anime, the whole underground city part hints at the existence of Christianity, or something similar at some point in the past, but it seems to have vanished, at least from Amestris.

Yeah, what exactly was the whole Puritanical atmosphere of that past? ._.;;
Ketitaketita on December 4th, 2007 01:20 pm (UTC)
In Amestris, it's probably 'army blue' :P

Ah, but you see, the thing with Hohenheim is that their history isn't quite the same as our history. Maybe that famed alchemist of the past didn't actually exist in their world, you know? Considering that they have countries that don't exist, that would only make sense....

And search me in terms of the atmosphere of the past. You're looking for logic in the /anime/. as in, why bother?
havocmangawip: ninjastayfronthavocmangawip on December 4th, 2007 06:26 pm (UTC)
U.S. Military slang makes me so happy!!

I have borrowed slang from WWI and WWII Army uses. I have also used FUBAR/SNAFU and "shit bird"... those are from later, around Vietnam...

I also asked a few real retired guys that I work with for some "derogatory terms for n00bs".

One of my friends said, "You're using 'green' too much."

We came up with "wet behind the ears" among others... and I was told I'd be shot if Havoc EVER said, "STFU n00b!". ;)
Ketitaketita on December 5th, 2007 08:03 am (UTC)
XD that's really cool. Well, when writing fics about the military guys it's probably really important to get at least a little military slang in there, for authenticity's sake.

but 'net slang....that would fail so badly... ;)
havocmangawip: got pornhavocmangawip on December 5th, 2007 08:11 am (UTC)
It is fun to get Havoc going with the combination of cussing, "hick talk/slang/colloquialisms" and military jargon.

While I was researching "terms for n00bs" I came across the concept of "Monkey Butt"... that is what happens in the desert when you wear underwear and don't use your Gold Bond Powder.

Officer Training Exercises 20 clicks outside of Liore c1910

Oh yes... Breda has forgotten his powder and is now in a WORLD of chaffing hurt!!

Havoc teases him mercilessly for being a "prude who HAD to wear his underwear"...

Or some other such fun... and then Havoc makes fun of Breda's Mom... yup... that's how it would go. I LOVE them together. (as buddies... them plus alcohol is just too much fun.)
Red Themister: Ed into Edredthemister on December 5th, 2007 12:43 am (UTC)
In terms of alchemist/Gate slang or whatever... one thing that always confused me in terms of meaning or "why the heck is that there?" is the symbols carved on the Gate(s). I know jack and shit about Kabbalah, but the symbology on the Gates very closely resembles a Sephiroth Tree... and yet I am still empty-handed as to why Arakawa put that there aside from the already mentioned link between Alchemy and Mysticism...

But I'm just a dork/language geek/symbology geek/whatever who wants to know random things like that.
Ketitaketita on December 5th, 2007 07:55 am (UTC)
Actually, the thing on the Doors is exactly the Sephiroth tree, complete with Hebrew letters and everything (there are a few spelling mistakes, but overall I can read it). I think it really has to do with Kabbalah being somehow the source for alchemy, at least in our world.
In addition, the Spheres are meant to be one of the ways that lead to truth, and deeper understanding of the world. It sort of makes sense to have them on the gateway to Truth (the idea being that through study of the Kabbalah, you can reach a more intimate understanding of the workings of the world).
It does invite some interesting speculation, doesn't it?
hotomihotomi on December 5th, 2007 12:53 am (UTC)
Mmm well I don't know much about slang myself but based on the information found in the manga; the country of Amestris was formed by conquering countries that were around, that is why it has a circular form. Wouldn't that mean their language/culture is a mix of many other languages/cultures?
Ketita: dead parrotketita on December 5th, 2007 08:05 am (UTC)
On one hand you're right, but on the other hand, cosmicbiscuit had a good point about Amestris seeming fairly homogenous. Which does raise some interesting questions about whether there was forced conformity on the people in order to quash conflicting cultures during certain periods.
The language has to be English though, possibly with some influences, but English.
wildwolfwind2_0 on December 6th, 2007 12:49 am (UTC)
Mother of Gate this sounds like a great idea!
fractured_chaosfractured_chaos on December 7th, 2007 12:21 pm (UTC)
Something that occurred to me... after rewatching 'The Philosopher's Stone', in fact.

Christianity was called a dead religion in later episodes, however, Riza mentioned "The Devil's work". If I remember some of my education right (Hell, I'm old, so I might be wrong here), the term 'Devil' is predominantly a Christian reference. Other beliefs have demons, etc... but that specific term isn't an actual part of the vernacular for them.

So, it would seem to me, that while Christianity might not be as prevalent as it is here, it hardly seems 'dead'. Obviously, whether one believes or not, the terminology has embedded itself in the language of Amestris... even after 400 years.

So... I take back some of what I said earlier ^^;;
Toby: Deatht3h_toby_chan on December 9th, 2007 05:20 am (UTC)
This is a really interesting discussion, and it touches on points tht I've put thought to before, not just to colloquial expressions, but everyday words we take for granted.

For example, few people think twice about using the term "Cologne", even though it's a perfume named after a city in France, a country which the FMA world does not have. This line of thought came to me by mention of Cognac in a fic, which is a type of brandy also named after a city in france.

Or, for example, recently developed terms named after figures and events unique to our world. "Sadism" and "Masochism" are words commonly used in FMA fic without a thought are terms named after the Marquis De Sade and Leopold Masoch, but even those terms did not come into use until the very late 1800s.

But at the same time, we can't just go back and re-think all the language we use by going back to the era at which the worlds supposedly separated from the track of our world(presumably 16th century in the anime) and make up alternative names and terms for everything that ha not yet been named. I don't know; its hard to call shots on that level, but it's certainly something to think about.
Ketitaketita on December 9th, 2007 01:56 pm (UTC)
Well, you could make a case where, if the worlds split around the 16th century, it could be that Amestris is somewhere on, say, the North American continent. I suppose an alternate history like that would be where the British colonies never revolted, and the Chinese started colonizing as well, taking over the East Coast. Years later, the country of Amestris was founded, by separating from the countries/colonies surrounding it, and becoming independent. The only questions that raises is about the linguistical and cultural diversity we see around it... but on the other hand, it would let you place Amestris more-or-less within our world, and even let you keep existing countries and languages. (though I admit, it's pretty far fetched, and would demand extensive explaining in order to render plausible...)

Either way, in order to 'properly' develop Amestrian English, you'd have to start making up massive amounts of history...which would be fun, but not necessarily totally worth the effort every time you want to write a fanfic. That, and the people reading would run into difficulties understanding wtf you were talking about if you had them drinking an alcohol called, say, Kerkyra (what, you don't know that it's named after a city in Creta??) and stuff.
That, and it would make FMA fandom pretty much incomprehensible to anybody not within the fandom and unaware of all this fanon created just to make it 'authentic'. ...though, still, I find it very tempting to go around inventing this sort of thing, just to give it added depth. *sigh*