The Language of “Ammalee”

**Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t read In The Name of Ammalee, you can read here**

When writing In the Name of Ammalee, I knew I had to deal with different languages—sort of. It follows characters that speak the “same” language, but separated by thousands of years—which means they don’t really speak the same language at all. One of the key components is the changing of names over time. For example, “Jesus” could just as easily be translated from the original language as “Joshua,” and for all those Christians in the room, this is crazy, right? Imagine if all the “In the name of Jesus” songs were about a guy named Josh? Blasphemous!? No, that’s just how language works.

Well, something similar happens in this story, and I needed a made-up name to match a relatively normal contemporary name, and I had set my heart on the starting name “Ammalee”—for no reason other than I liked it.

This is when I reached out to my brother, John, who is a genius when it comes to these things (he has his masters in languages stuff). After some text messages and questions and a few days to think about it, he sent me this:

(Please note this was in a text, which makes it even more impressive, and explains its brevity and punctuation at times but if you are fascinated by language, read it all.)

I think Jamie Lynn would work for your story – the sound changes. over time would be: yamie/zhamie leyn –; hamma leen –; amma.lee

N getting lost behind a long vowel is something that happened in English – (that’s why spider isn’t spinder, and Teeth isn’t teenth)

Some consonant y sounds in the past were j-like sounds (like the s in pleasure). Y becoming h isn’t impossible, though i don’t have an example, and h-dropping is common (as in “honor”)

The y could be shifted towards the long e sound due to I-mutation because it comes close to the -ie of jamie

If the y in Lynn (essentially a short e or i) shifted to the same vowel as the a in Jamie (a Latin e sound, or what we call a “long a”), it’d make sense that one would shift to a different sound to make it easier to say.

The -ie sound (a Latin I, it what we call a “long e”) being reduced to just a schwa sound (like the e in enough) could easily happen during normal speech when talking fast, especially if it was followed by Leen, and could be perceived as correct once people forgot what the original words were or meant

John Graves

I took that and came up with this brief explanation in the short story:

He went on to explain how it all worked. How the name, Ammalee, used to be Hamma Leen—because the n got lost behind the long e, and the H was dropped from their alphabet entirely. Before that, Hamma Leen used to be Yamie Leyn, the a shifting to an ie as a cultural preference. And Yamie Leyn was a short step away from Jamie Lynn, since J’s and Y’s were often interchangeable between the two languages. He explained all of this just like his dad had explained it to him. “They are the same. Don’t you see?”

In the Name of Ammalee

I love writing fiction, but I also love it when they can be rooted in best practices and the expertise of people way smarter than me. Thanks John!

You can follow him on instagram here:

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