Classical, but not ancient; sacred, but not divine; once spoken in every corner of Elondor, sup-planting language upon language as they spread across plains and highlands, only to eventually be replaced themselves by a younger generation of vernaculars—the Ortûlékian languages have left their mark on Elondor, uncontestably remaining even long after the last of them has van-ished from the sphere of everyday speech.
This language family was my first—beginning in August 2013 with the construction of what would become Middle Olgish on cruising altitude over the Pacific, followed soon by the conception of High Aribelian and Iilish—and has in the past eight years undergone more revisions and expansions than any other. They have spawned two of the great literary languages of the Imperial Era, Middle Olgish and High Aribelian (with Iilish as an adopted third), and are hence perhaps the most prominent language group in everything I have written so far, and inseparably entwined in the history of two great states, Aribel and the Lécaronian Empire.
Branches and Languages
The story of the Ortûlékian languages begins in the late Neolithic in the vast moorlands of Belkondíl. Belkondíl, the name itself a modern Olgish form of an ancient word, refers to two of the country’s landmarks the most entwined with human history. It means ‘the land between the rivers’, those rivers being the Brethan in the west, originating in the rocky highlands of Lemmi-Dirith and winding southwest through a broad river valley before coming apart into the thousand arms of the Brethan Delta; and the Cëlac, crossing the country in the east and feeding the White Sea at its estuary. It was the latter that the early Ortûlékians sought out. They had survived the last glacial maximum in the refuges beneath the highlands hemming its course; now, as the cultivation of millet and barley and the herding of cattle had become their sources of livelihood, they moved south into the plain of Ortûlék, a softly undulating moorland, rough to cultivate, but offering lush space for their settlements and herds.
Their language was Pre-Proto-Ortûlékian, lost to the whims of history but still tangible as an internal reconstruction based on the phono- and morphological quirks of the later Proto-Ortûlékian. Its first offshoot, the enigmatic tongues of the Noldorinians, a Neolithic and Early Bronze-Age people who migrated into the Brethan Valley, were mostly lost as their speakers were subsumed in later Olgish conquests. All later members of this family are descendants of Proto-Ortûlékian, which began to be spoken in the Early Bronze Age in the plain of Ortûlék and the mountains to its north, where copper was found in abundance in these days.
At this time, the language had already split into three dialects; that of the Olgs, who were known for their skills in metallurgy and handicrafts, that of the Genes, who were known for their unmatched knowledge of the world, the gods, and the secrets of magic, and that of the Auls, who were renowned for their hard work in cultivating crops and their love for peace. Olgish legend tells in long and complicated ways how the clans of Ortûlék came into contention with each other, how the secrets of magic were revealed to the uninitiated, and how the peoples parted ways and wandered off into the world. In reality, the blame has mostly likely to be borne by the Olgs, who had come under the influence of the neighbouring Sosks, a war-like, equestrian culture, and with increasing aggressivity began to expand into the lands of the Genes and Auls. The former were driven north into the fertile valley of the River Ilathw; the latter fled east, seeking refuge as vassals of the Soskish Kingdom of Hûnutû. The Noldorinians were driven off into the southwest and eventually disappeared entirely as the Olgs settled all over Belkondíl.
With the spread of the Olgs, the major language of western Belkondíl became Olgish, steadily coexisting with the Besokian language of the Sosks in the east. It developed many dialects, some of which would later be recognized as individual languages, most notably Brethanian, Corbian, and Wertian, but most of which subscribed to the greater Olgish identity. Its chief dialects were those of Soskilón, Ortûlék, and Lágon, the greatest powers throughout most of the history of Belkondíl, and when an Old Olgish Koiné was formed to be used in church and historiography, it was mostly based on these idioms. Later migrations of the Olgs spread their language further, first north into the Reknayan mountains as they were conquered, and later into the Olgish colonies in the east and the northwest; but as large numbers of their armies and settlers were Sosks, the most widely spoken language in nearly all Olgish colonies was some dialect of Western Soskish, and the old Olgish tongue remained spoken only by the most dignified nobles and in church services. When in L. R. 539, Ésôrin the Wise declared Lécaronian Soskish the official language of the empire that covered almost all of Elondor, Olgish had already ceded most of its territory to the new vernacular, and by the time of the Empire’s collapse, it had almost come extinct, a sacred language used only in history and science.
The second branch, the Aribelian languages, separated form Proto-Ortûlékian with the migration of the Genes north. They would remain in the Ilathw Valley and the adjacent Geranian Heath for more than a millennium, until increasing pressure from surrounding peoples drove them even further north into the largely uninhabited marsh- and forestland in the north-western corner of Elondor. They split into two groups: the Aribelians would remain in their new environment, become known as sailors, merchants, and, most notably, philosophers and scientists, whose unified state was among the few which, although greatly diminished, never ceased to resist Lécaronian aggressions, and whose literary language, High Aribelian, persisted and thrived in their academies long after Olgish had been banned to the bookshelves; the Celsondach, on the other hand, crossed the mountains of the Mibar-Hûrind to the east and settled in the vast plains of Celsond, in the west forming a fierce rider culture feared by their Aribelian neighbours, in the east taking on a semi-pastoralist lifestyle and living in harmony with nature, much like the local Erenians. The languages formed two dialect continua and differed strongly from the vernacular of Aribel; they together with the dialects of the Erenians formed the Celsond Sprachbund.
The Auls, finally, remained undisturbed by history for a long time, living in peace upon the shores of the Gulf of Iilimurh, variously under Soskish, Olgish, and finally their own protection. It was only in the aftermath of the collapse of the powerful Middle Bronze-Age Mikoshi Empire that the small nation saw their time of greatness come. Within two centuries, diplomacy, politically cunning, and conquest had brought all of the Gulf under control of the Aulish League. The culture had long merged with that of their neighbours, the Mikoshi, the Parians, and the Eastern Sosks, and so had their languages, forming Iilish, a curious mixture of Ortûlékian, Besokian, and Avalian. The official language of the short-lived Iilish Empire, it was constantly spoken all over the Gulf and in the Iilish heartland extending to the north into Amasia. All attempts of Lécaronian authorities to replace it with more ‘imperial’ languages failed thoroughly, Iilish remaining the main language of these areas even into Lécaronian times and seeing an even stronger revival during the Iilish independence movement in the early 8th century.
Proto-Ortûlékian grammar seems to have been fairly complex, with near-oligosynthetic verbal morphology comprising at least seven affixational slots on the verbal root and double marking of cases on both nouns and verbs. Most overt coding has been lost into Olgish, where only few morphological categories remain; but the intricate verbal morphology has been at least partly preserved into Aribelian and Aulish. One phenomenon shared by all three branched (and presumably Noldorinian) and potentially facilitated by the original double marking is the possibility to use any inflectional affix on any lexical category, such as forming the superlative of nouns (MOlg. relnir-un ‘high king’, lit. ‘the most king’) or coding tense on adjectives (HArb. arohil-et ‘formerly different’). Word order is almost invariably SVO, in some languages with free variation among objects, the order of which is coordinated by the complementational coding on the verb. Ortûlékian languages are largely head-initial, albeit with a relatively large freedom in individual cases, and allow pro-dropping in most contexts.
A relatively large phoneme inventory can be reconstructed for Pre-Proto-Ortûlékian, with at least eight series of plosives (Mediae, Mediae Aspiratae, Tenues, Aspiratae, and a prenasalized variant of each) and plosive clusters common. These were incompletely merged in Proto-Ortûlékian, giving rise to a large number of diphthongs as clusters were resolved by lenition and creating the classical system of eight plosives (Mediae, Aspiratae, the glottal stop, and the single Tenuis /k/), which was fully preserved into Old Olgish and partly into Old Aribelian. Environmental interactions with nasals and prenasalized sounds shifted many vowels into a contrastive lax position and expanding the Ortûlékian vowel inventory to up to 22 phonemes in Olgish.