Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Minority languages

All two or three of you reading may be saying by now, "enough with the languages, you dolt!" But, as a self-confessed linguiphile, I carry on.

Foolishly—or naïvely—I had learned that the Romance languages were Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French and Romanian, and I believed that was the whole story. "Minority languages" in Europe would have meant oddball exceptions like Basque, or the Urdu that Pakistani immigrants spoke, or something like that. I never would have guessed that minority languages could include twice as many more extant Romance languages than the list of ones I did know.

My ignorance there isn't really surprising, though—I was surprised and saddened to learn that many speakers of Asturian, for example, weren't even aware of their own language and only assumed that they spoke some really bad hillbilly Spanish. It's only in the last couple of decades or so that awareness of and promotion of these minority languages has been important to the European community.

I have mixed feelings about efforts to preserve languages—if you think about it, you're not really doing the native language speakers of some really obscure language, such as Aragonese with it's highly optimistic number of 30,000 speakers any favors by trying to make them keep it up instead of learning Spanish and entering the broader, cosmopolitan world around them. However, as a self-confessed linguiphile, I also believe that languages are fascinating cultural artifacts worth preserving for their own sake. Ideally, I'd like to see numbers grow for languages, and diversity foster, but in today's increasingly cosmopolitan world-culture I recognize that that's unlikely. Languages grow because they're already big, successful and cosmopolitan, so you can expect to see languages like English, Spanish, Mandarin, etc. grow, at the expense of minority languages. Sadly.

Because of amateur research of late has been into Romance languages, it's there that I'm seeing this most clearly. Have you ever heard of Galician or Asturian, or even if you have, did you recognize that they were completely different languages from Spanish and Portuguese, although closely related to both? Did you realize that a huge chunk of France speaks Occitan as its native language rather than French, or that Occitan and Catalan make up a separate branch of Romance languages? Did you realize that Sardinian was a separate Romance language on it's own little branch, or that Sicilian, Venetian, Piedmontese, Lombard and a number of other languages in northern Italy and southern Switzerland actually aren't Italian, but are instead separate languages? To name just a few!

I did not. And I find the whole thing fascinating. The Romance languages have gone just recently from a fairly pedestrian and utilitarian topic to me (not unusual given the growing prevalence of Spanish in the United States) to one full of mystery, surprise and excitement.

I'm lovin' it. And not in a MadDonald's way.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


I've decided that I'll take up the further adventures of Rodrico and Francesca on the wiki that I designed especially for taking up the further adventures of Rodrico and Francesca.

Link here:

Sorry for the lame name, DarkDnD. I had to think of something quick and that's what I got. That brings to mind another thought I've had about designing fantasy worlds. Few fantasy worlds lack names; it helps the reader distinguish that world from the real world, or from other fantasy worlds, for that matter. Oddly, the real world doesn't really have a name; it's just "the world" or "earth." I sometimes wonder if Earth is a slight mistranslation of the Latin Terra; if what was actually meant was "land" to distinguish it from the oceans and seas.

In any case, it's not really a name. Even Terra isn't really a name, as some sci-fi writers like to use, it's just an ancient tradition to use the Latin name that has been revived to give a slight ring of authenticity and formality, but once you realize that Terra is just the Latin word for earth (or land) then some of that mystique dries up.

Although I certainly don't claim to have done an exhaustive survey, it strikes me that few cultures on our world (in fact, I can't think of a single one) have actually named the world anything other than variants on "the world." Why would they? As far as most of them knew, it was a singular thing. There's no need to name something if there's just one of them. Likewise, most cultures call the sun simply "the sun" and the moon simply "the moon" when translated out of their native languages; because they're also singular entities. They knew of nothing to which to compare them, so there was no need to name them.

So I've given some thought in fantasy worldbuilding exercises, either for gaming or for fiction, to the question. If the inhabitants of your fantasy world have a name for the world, why do they use that name and what does it mean? It's not enough simply to have a cool sounding name "just because." Well, maybe it is, but at least it makes me sit up and wonder why. If it's just for the reader's convenience, that's one thing, but I like to make at least a brief nod towards an "in setting" reason for the name to exist.

For my Dark•Heritage setting, the world is called Kael. However, in that setting, ancient traditions held forth that humanity originally came from another world, therefore they always were cognizant of the idea that there were other worlds beside their own. Knowing of other worlds meant that they needed to name them to distinguish them; otherwise, "the world" begs the question "which world?" Kael, therefore, is an ancient word from very primitive languages that has survived as a relic and which originally meant "new home".

The other setting I've been tinkering with lately I call Jovis. That's a name that I came up with on the fly, and it's not very clever (Jovis is based on the archaic Latin Iovis. The compound Iovis Pater—Father Jove—is the source of the word Jupiter. I used that because Jovis is a world as large as Jupiter; albeit one with a much lesser density, such that the surface gravity is the same as our world.) That's the whole sordid tale of the origin of the name Jovis, and it's really for reader convenience, and in setting the world is rarely named—except by those who travel beyond it. Which of course are very few people, but the main characters of that setting are some such people. My idea there is that few people on Jovis know or use the name Jovis, and that the characters really only learn the name from those they visit outside of the world, or from other travelers who had to come up with a name for the world.

By the way, I fully admit that DarkDnD is an even worse name than Jovis. At the time I created the wiki I had given absolutely no thought to naming the setting; I just wanted someplace I could doodle with the ideas behind it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Catalan, Occitan, Galician, etc.

So, I googled up some Catalan placenames, and I ended up finding some website that had place names for minority languages all over the place. I got a great list of Catalan names (side by side with the more well-known Spanish or French ones), Occitan placenames, Galician placenames, Aragonese place names and Asturian (I quit after those, but that barely scratched the surface.) I also got a census of names (in Catalan, mostly) from Valencia in 1510, which I thought was really interesting.

So, after trawling around in these fantastic and relatively unknown (in the Anglophone world, anyway) languages, I've come up with the brother/sister team of daemon hunters, Rodrico d'Arnau Domènechoz and Francesca de Sperança Domènechoz. They're twins; but poor Francesca got the short end of the stick when she was born a tiefling—her twin brother is full human.

Orphaned at a relatively young age, but heirs to a modest property in the idyllic and pastoral provincial upcountry of Calça, they were raised as wards of the Church at a small priory in Baix Colomers by a strict and hard (yet kindly underneath it all) man of the cloth. This man, Pare Bartomeu de Nicolau Fontanills was very conservative in his outlook, very wary of heresy or anything untoward. Of course, raising a tiefling child also made him a bit paranoid, and perhaps he overdid it to some extent. In his attempts to ensure that the children didn't fall into darkness themselves, and simultaneously to protect them from suspicion (mostly by trying to ensure as few people even knew about them as possible) he actually incited their curiousity about daemonology and Francesca's darker heritage, as well as giving them an insatiable desire to travel and see all the things that the poor pare denied them.

Despite these mistakes (or possibly exacerbating them) the pare arranged for the best possible education for his wards; they were trained in languages, art, math, science, geography, and fencing, and learned woodcraft and other more practical skills that would help them eventually manage the estate they were to inherit. That never came to be.

Ironically, it was not Francesca, the overtly daemonic-featured sibling who engaged in questionable behavior, it was her brother Rodrico who tampered with forbidden arts, summoning spirits from beyond the world and binding them to his service. While not an overtly evil thing to do, it is one that is heretical and that people fear greatly, equating it (by definition) with witchcraft.

Word of the twins; who had the appearance of daemons (which would be true for Rodrico too when manifesting the sign of a vestige) caused a riot of the peasantry in peaceful little Baix Colomers in which poor Pare Fontanills was killed and Rodrico and Francesca barely escaped with their lives.

More on the twins soon... I've actually started up a space to talk about this stuff.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Italo Disco Top 20

I stumbled across a site ( that has a "Top 20" of the genre on it, and I thought I'd do the same just for fun. The author of that site has more exposure to the genre than I do, but I still have enough to narrow down twenty of my favorites and still have lots left over.

These are simply in alphabetical order by artist:
  1. Bad Boys Blue "Pretty Young Thing" — This one skirts the edges of the definition of italo-disco somewhat, but since that definition is pretty arbitrary, and this sounds exactly like an italo-disco song, I'm letting it it slide. Plus, it was part of one of the Gapul megamixes I picked up in Argentina, which was so very formative to my awareness of the genre in the first place. Sadly, I just learned that the lead vocalist died (at the age of 50) from a sudden heart attack earlier this year.
  2. Baltimora "Tarzan Boy" — For a very long time, this was the only italo-disco song that I knew of, and I wouldn't have called it italo-disco if I hadn't seen it on some Gapul megamixes also and realized that it fit right in. This gets a few bonus points for cracking into the American and British markets; something no other italo-disco song ever did.
  3. Brian Ice "Talking to the Night" — I'm leaning heavily on the old Gapul megamixes as source material, because that's where I first heard so many of these songs (and therefore, cemented them as favorites in my mind even after I started branching out beyond them.) This was literally the first song on the first mix I heard, and it's been a favorite ever since.
  4. Den Harrow "Future Brain" — Great song, and apparently a real chart-topper on the continent years ago. Sadly, Den Harrow has recently undergone a Milli Vanilli style controversy; apparently the frontman was merely a model lip synching while other people sang the lyrics. Still; good song. Classic of the genre.
  5. Fancy "Bolero" — Fancy has the dubious honor of being one of the weirdest looking italo-disco stars. He's also a German and supposedly is a good friend to Siegfried and Roy. Wow. Anyway, I like this song; it's very overblown and overly dramatic, but that's part of the fun. Nobody said these guys took themselves seriously; after all they were disco artists.
  6. Fun Fun "Baila Bolero" — unlike the superficially similar synthpop genre, female vocalists were relatively common in italo-disco, and this is a great example of two Italian gals singing about a fling with a Spaniard. Ivana Spagna is also supposedly some of the musical talent behind the two front-girls; she was a notable italo-disco star in her own right (although not one that I'm particularly fond of, as it happens.)
  7. Hivoh "To Be Together" — the sappy teen angst in the lyrics here makes it particular fun. He can't go back to class because they're broken up? Haha. The deadly serious and dark nature of the music accompanying these terribly cheesy lyrics is the icing on the cake. A feature of the genre in general is really bad lyrics, though—I mean, these artists obviously didn't really speak English very well, and not only are the lyrics really bad but so is the delivery of them.
  8. Hot Cold "Love is Like a Game" — another really fun disco song with female vocals (and another one of my original Gapul favorites.)
  9. Ken Laszlo "Tonight" — I've already posted the video here earlier; this is probably my single favorite italo-disco song. It's a close call, though.
  10. Miko Mission "Two For Love" — Although "How Old Are You?" is probably (marginally) a bigger hit, this one wins because I heard it first, and asking a girl if she's old enough to date or not is really creepy.
  11. Mirage "No More No War" — The sheer chutzpah of recording a song with these lyrics is part of its charm; they're dreadfully sappy and vapid, while giving the superficial appearance of being timely and politically deep. Oh, well. Mostly I just like the beat. Some nice synthlines on this one.
  12. P. Lion "Happy Children" — P. Lion did a number of songs which are all pretty good, if a bit disposable, but this one actually stands out from that crowd as a bit more substantive and having a bit more artistic merit. Not too much, mind you, but enough to stand out.
  13. R. Bais "Dial My Number" — Great song. Decent lyrics, which is a change.
  14. Radiorama "Chance to Desire" — I struggled a bit with which Radiorama song to include, as they actually have a good half dozen or more than are all great songs. Radiorama is another one that wasn't content to be "just" disco music, and they had a number of surprisingly thoughtful and musically deft songs. This one is my favorite of the bunch, though.
  15. Raff "Self Control" — Another song that I heard on a Gapul megamix, but it also is one of my favorites overall. It seemed really familiar to me, even though I doubt I could have heard it when it was current, but Laura Branigan remade it and it was a minor hit in the states by her.
  16. Sandy Marton "People From Ibiza" — Sandy Marton had a small string of hits, including "Exotic and Erotic", and "Camel By Camel" and a few others. This one is my favorite. I wasn't aware of Ibiza's reputation as a party island until I looked into it after hearing this song, too.
  17. Savage "Only You" — I was very tempted to put "Don't Cry Tonight", which is probably a bigger hit for Savage, but I think I like "Only You" a little bit more. They sound very similar anyway; "Don't Cry Tonight" is almost somnambulant it's so slow now. I have to remind myself, but my version is one that I ripped to mp3, opened up in an audio manipulation software, and speeded the tempo up a bit. It's still slowish (and it needs to be) but it's not too slow.
  18. Silent Circle "Touch in the Night" — Silent Circle was another hit machine, cranking out several songs that are well remembered today. This is probably their most successful and—you probably guessed it—appeared prominantly in my favorite Gapul megamix.
  19. Silver Pozzoli "Around My Dream" — Despite the clunky lyrics, this is a fun song. Relatively chipper, despite it's laid-back tempo, this is one of the great "feel good" songs of the genre.
  20. Taffy "I Love My Radio" — A big hit in the UK; unusual for the genre, yet still unknown in the States for the most part. Very nice female vocalist.

If I could admit an even looser definition of "the genre" that included some other club-oriented music from the same time frame, many of it very similar in nature, I'd also add Bobby O's "She Has a Way", Vicious Pink's "Take Me Now", Man 2 Man's "Male Stripper", Paul Lekakkis' "Boom Boom (Let's Go Back to My Room)", Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" and C.C.C.P.'s "American Soviets." But for now, I'm going to be more strict in genre definition and leave them out of the count.

I'll also point out that youtube has most of these songs on it, if you want to hear them, and the link I presented at the very beginning of the post has very low quality mp3 samples of most of them as well.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Latin names

Considering the fact that as a teenager I learned Spanish pretty fluently and have had an abiding interest in Latin languages ever since, it's a little bit odd, if you think about it, that I never thought of using Latin names for fantasy. I don't mean actual, honest-to-goodness Latin; I mean the various descendents of vulgar Latin; i.e., the Romance languages of today.

It took barsoomcore to show me the light; when I first read about his homebrew Barsoom setting (no relation to Edgar Rice Burroughs' world of the same name; except some vague similarities in tone and ecology). And he had a nation that used Spanish sounding names. barsoomcore's Barsoom was already a big "click" for me; which is unsurprising seeing how similar it was in many ways to ideas I had at the time I first read about it, but this idea of using Spanish names, simple as it may have been, was something that had never occured to me and seemed like a great idea.

As I've poked around a bit, I've actually decided to make it a little—but not much—more exotic than that. Rather than using actual Spanish, I've been combing through namelists and dictionaries of Galician, Catalan, Provençal (or Occitan) and Romanian, with occasional Italian as well, and going with that. Other times, I simply take Spanish words and names and subtly alter them manually so that they feel familiar—but not too familiar. One wants to give the impression that ones setting is more exotic than southern California, at least.

This goes back to my theory—which is really the point I was trying to make—that too exotic isn't exactly helpful. I was recently reading a Lin Carter book on the fantasy genre, which I thought was turgid and spectacularly non-academic, despite it's claims to the contrary. Carter himself is no huge name junkie (I still wince at his princess Darloona in his own Barsoom ripoff, the Jandar of Callisto books) and he held out a number of Lord Dunsany's worst names as models to be striven for. H. P. Lovecraft also criticized his friend and fellow pulpster Robert E. Howard for using real-like names instead of bizarro combinations of consonants and vowels that can't even be properly pronounced, thinking that it ruined the verissimilitude of the world as a fantasy construct or something.

I think both of them missed the boat there; people in general, when subjected to really difficult or unusual words and names, tend to gloss over them, forget them and mix them up. There's a time in fantasy when you want to wow your audience with how exotic and fantastic your setting is, and the names is not that time. You want names that are easy for the audience to latch onto, that are familiar (but not too familiar) enough that they can relate to them.

Which is why I've decided that I really like using these slightly off-kilter and unfamiliar Romance languages like Provençal, Catalan, etc. as a source. They sound close enough to Spanish or Italian that nobody gets lost in the names, yet exotic enough that they don't sound like they're actually Spanish or Italian names.

Italo Disco

I can't recall if I've blogged about italo disco in the past or not. I'm a fan of the stuff; but let's face it, in most of the Anglophone world, nobody even recognizes what it is. I only discovered its existance when I lived in Argentina for a couple of years (1991-1993) and by that time, honestly, it was already old news.

Italo disco is basically a linear descendent of actual disco music. By the mid-80s it had developed into something that can be distinguishable as a seperate subgenre all its own. Italo disco is characterized, usually, by having a steady, danceable beat (usually performed by a drum machine), and rather spacey, overtly analog synthesizer based sounds. Its almost all continental European; Italians (not surprisingly) and Spaniards making up a fairly large number of the artists. Although native English speakers rarely dabbled in the genre, most of it features English lyrics, often performed by singers who are clearly barely (if that) proficient in the language. Although some have a bit of a darker sound, mostly the genre is upbeat, peppy and poppy. The best way to describe it is simply that it's fairly cheesy synthpop of mid-80s vintage from non-Anglophone countries.

Only one true italo disco song is well-known to Americans and the British, and that's Baltimora's "Tarzan Boy" although some few sources also list Laura Branigan (of "Gloria" fame) as either italo disco or Hi-NRG, and Taffy's "I Love My Radio" was also popular in the UK, if still unknown in the US. Hi-NRG is a linear descendant of italo disco and it is often difficult to make a meaningful distinction between the two save that Hi-NRG (also known as Eurobeat) usually hasa higher BPM (Beat Per Minute). Hi-NRG has at least one band that was a genuine hit in the US: Dead or Alive of "Brand New Lover" (and others) fame.

I'm certainly not a fan of italo disco because it's serious music, with impressive claims to musicallity and artistic merit; I just think the stuff is fun. Like I said, I encountered it in Argentina, a few years after its heyday, when I found some old cassette tapes by mix artists Gapul, who created a series of "megamixes"—songs that contained fragments of numerous other songs strung together. After trying (with quite a bit of difficulty until recently, when the global internet made such things a little bit easier) to track down the tracks singly, I've managed—slowly—to build up a modest collection of some of the best that the genre has to offer.

To hear some cool italo tracks without going to all the trouble that I did, you could check out Youtube.

Here's Brian Ice's "Talking to the Night"

Here's Ken Lazlo's "Tonight"

Here's Den Harrow's "Future Brain"

Here's Sandy Marton's "People From Ibiza"

While this can't possibly be the original video, here's Hot Cold's "Love Is Like a Game." Mistitled in this video, sadly.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Over the last few days, Julie and I have been watching a bunch of older movies. Classics, really. Stuff that everybody knows of, most people have seen, yet which we haven't seen in so long that our memories of the movies are hazy, or movies that we inexplicably missed over the years.

So far, I watched Casablanca and The Philadelphia Story with Julie, and then I watched High Society on my own. I'm not actually sure that High Society is a classic in the same sense; I don't know if it's well remembered or well-known today. I also don't know how I missed it; it was clearly one of my father's favorite movies ever; he watched it frequently as we grew up, and played the soundtrack (on vinyl!) all the time as well. So I knew all the songs, even though I hadn't ever seen the movie.

For those of you who don't know, it was a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story; which was itself a pretty famous movie starring Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart—in fact, it's Jimmy Stewart's only Best Actor Oscar.

That it's a musical isn't surprising when you notice that they cast Bing Crosby in the Cary Grant role and Frank Sinatra in the Jimmy Stewart role. In fact, it was the first (and one of the very few) times that the two of them were on screen together, singing together. Frank Sinatra was purportedly wooed to the part for the opportunity just to sing that duet ("Well Did You Evah?" being the duet in question.)

It's disappointing to me that neither The Philadelphia Story nor High Society is really the definitive take on the story, though. High Society is more modern, in color, and features that absolutely superb Grace Kelly in the lead femme role—in her last role, as it turns out; she was already married and was Princess Grace of Monaco by the time the movie hit theaters, and the engagement ring "prop" she used in the movie was her actual engagement ring—(Grace Kelly is probably my favorite star of the "Golden Age" of Hollywood, and probably my favorite actress ever; although Ingrid Bergman and Olivia de Havilland give her some stiff competition) and the songs are top-notch, giving this movie an edge over its predecessor in that regard. I did enjoy the cast and chemistry between them more too; particularly between Crosby and Kelly, where I thought Grant and Hepburn strangely enough didn't hit a good chemistry. Considering all the times they played opposite each other, that was kinda bizarre, but maybe I'm biased—I've never really liked Katherine Hepburn that much.

However, the plot and character development is severely truncated (maybe in the interest of adding all the songs without dramatically increasing the running time? Actually the run times are within a minute of each other, which is kinda funny.) Be that as it may, the movie felt rushed and without sufficient motivation and character development, some of the plot developments would have seemed inexplicably dense if I hadn't just seen The Philadelphia Story a few nights earlier so I could fill in the gaps.

Friday, April 04, 2008


I've recently got my hands (via Interlibrary Loan) on the reprinted Imaro "novel"; really a collection of short-stories laced together as a pseudo-narrative. This was initially published some twenty-five odd years ago and failed for a variety of reasons (some of them coincidental, some of them due to the poor marketing strategy of the publisher, DAW books—for some reason nobody wants to say that the quality of the books themselves might be a factor.) They've recently been republished in trade paperback form by a small-press company, Night Shade books.

Anyway, I'm somewhat amused by the writer, publisher, and friend who wrote the introduction (none other than Charles De Lint) making the claims that Imaro was something really unique and extraordinary, that it specifically was not Tarzan and Conan, but black, because... honestly, that's exactly what it is.

Charles Saunders (the author) does for Africa what Robert E. Howard did for Europe and the Near East with the Hyborian Age, and for pretty much the same reason; so he can get the benefit of alluding (wink, wink) to real life cultures without feeling constrained to get every little detail right, as well as allowing him to freely mix and match cultures that in reality did not coexist at the same time. Sadly, Saunders, convinced he was doing something really unique in doing it for Africa, goes too far; he rather "cleverly" explains that cows are called ngombe, lions are called nganeh, etc. and then proceeds to use the Swahili words throughout. The only thing he's doing that's different from Howard, is that he's showing off the setting he's so proud of, the source material behind it that he's so proud of, and his knowledge of that source material, which he's also so proud of. Imaro reads like a rather self-congratulatory work of fiction. Although I'm sure some fans enjoy being exposed to African tradition (and are unwilling to go directly to the source material themselves for whatever reason) and that interests them, but it really bogs down the narrative and hurts the storytelling badly, in my opinion. Fiction—especially pulp, Sword & Sorcery, which needs to be fast-moving and exciting—is a poor vehicle for the rather ham-fisted polemic and social agenda that Imaro represents.

As well, if one can be allowed to make a genuine complaint about Howard's Conan, it's that he's often portrayed as a rather unflattering Mary Sue; he's too competent, overly idealized, lacks any noticable flaws, and rather obviously stands in for Howard's own wish-fulfilment fantasies of himself. Imaro takes these same flaws and amplifies them; Saunders makes no secret that if somehow Tarzan and Conan (to whom Imaro is often compared) were to appear suddenly in the same story with Imaro, Imaro would outclass them both.

That said, if you can get past these rather tedious flaws, the setting is imaginitive, and worth a read for that alone. But honestly, reading it, it felt constantly like I was being preached to, and that the author was showing off his research into African folklore rather than simply concentrating on telling good, interesting stories. I suspect that the claim that the one-month printing delay on the original printing of the novel (to avert a lawsuit from the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs over a poorly chosen tagline on the original cover) being the main factor in Imaro's less than impressive sales is as much wishful thinking as is Imaro's own super-competence.