It is now over ten years since Loris Sankey’s ardent historical nostalgia and the unfortunate title of his magnum opus ensnared him in the farce we call the Chamberlain’s Office Affair. We need not remind the educated reader of the events surrounding the uncovering of a cabal of old-guard retainers of the Chamber and their inept planning towards a coup attempt against Queen Erica. Sankey, although a colleague of these reactionaries and indeed, a sympathiser of their mindset, was never a part of their plotting. Charges were never laid against his name, and his questioning by the Palace Guard was the interrogation of a witness, not the inquisition of a criminal. It is a matter for the Chamberlain’s own conscience that Sankey’s services were dispensed with after the affair and he was rusticated among his kinsmen, the Chantris, in a distant Shadow.

It is unfortunate that through these unhappy connections, Sankey’s excellent research has developed a bad odour among historians. I concede his central thesis, that Thari has become a ‘debased’ language, is out of fashion and even wrong. I concede that his half-baked ideas towards ‘purifying’ the language by deliberately replacing words and sounds with analogues patterned on Ur-Thari roots are risible. I even concede that Sankey’s language when describing tongues other than Thari can be condescending, even insulting. I do not concede, however, that Sankey’s research is lacking, that it is blind, or that it has been done better by others. In his profound love of his mother tongue, Sankey has perhaps betrayed his own biases and ‘told it as it is’.

In archiving Sankey’s papers I read everything in Sankey’s hand surrounding the writing of ‘Bandit Queen’. This included drafts of course, but also references, blind alleys, and correspondence with other historians in Amber and across the Golden Circle. It is in a letter from one Illustra Jacinth of Olk (whom I suspect may have been a paramour of Sankey’s, the old dog!), I see the phrase ‘The Bandit Queen’ used for the first time: perhaps twenty years before the Affair. It was used ironically by the Illustra, and as expanded on by Sankey in his preface, is a metaphor for Thari’s ready assimilation of vocabulary, literature and even grammatical devices, from the languages of its new allies. The Illustra teased Sankey in calling these things ‘theft with menaces’. Obviously the image took Sankey’s fancy, although apparently she, after all, did not: she is not credited in the published version of ‘Bandit Queen’ at all.

In preparing this pamphlet I have not been fortunate enough to interview Sankey. I fondly imagine him sitting placidly with his pen and diary on a pleasant tropical beach, writing philological notes on the local jargons near the Chantris depot to which he has been retired. As an amateur philologist I raise my brandy glass to him, and hope he raises in return to me one of those cocktails made in a hollowed-out pineapple.

Erlrig anCaoth
Senior Archivist, Chamberlain’s Office

The Bandit Queen of Amber

A survey of the roots, historical changes and nature of Thari, her dialects and neighbours

By Loris Sankey
Chamberlain’s Office
1999 AR

  • Introduction
  • Prehistory—origins
  • Ur-Thari
  • Old High Thari after Vèn Wé
  • Middle Thari
  • Modern Thari
Loris Sankey's chart of the evolution of Thari.
Loris Sankey’s chart of the evolution of Thari.

Placement of the tongues shows degree of similarity. Thus, Karm dialect is closer to standard Thari than Baylic dialect is, and the original languages of the Venway and Chantris have pretty much vanished into mainstream (City/Palace) Thari.

Width of the shapes shows number of speakers.

Old (Ur-)Thari was the language Oberon, Dworkin and their heroically small band of followers brought to the Four Lands. It sounded sort of Old Norse.

The languages of the Four Lands were related and sound kind of Celtic (Tenga = Irish; Laodh = Breton; Rabh = Welsh; Mabh = Cornish). Formaic, the language of the proto-Bayle, is also related to these but more distantly (Gallo-Latin).

I’m suggesting there is a more distant relationship between Thari and the languages of the Four Lands (since in our world Old Norse and the Celtic languages are all Indo-European languages).

Wégua is the Venway tongue, now extinct except for its relict vocabulary in Church Thari. It sounds kinda Chinese, and is unrelated to the others. Its influence on Thari extends to City/Palace and less well to Karm dialect, but not a heck of a lot into Bayle dialect.

Buntak is the pidgin used by the Chantis trade confederation (and then refugees). Its vocabularly began infiltrating Middle Thari a long time before Chantris joined Amber. It is less related to Thari and the Four Lands than Formaic was.

The natives of Caoranach have held onto their ‘Feldanic’ languages as primary—they speak Thari as a second language. There are two cultural-linguistic sub-groups: the Oyez, relatively sedentary and established, and the Carth, who are more nomadic and opportunistic (even banditish).

Aisling, spoken in Tir nAn Og’th by an indefinite (but probably small) number of speakers, is probably descended from a regular language related to the others of the Four Lands. It is vastly changed from its origins, however, in enigmatic and unexpected ways—much like the Tir inhabitants themselves. Most Tir inhabitants also seem to natively speak the language of any visitor they talk to, which is weird.

A comparison of common words between the root languages

Modern Thari Ur-Thari Wégua Tenga Laodth Rabh Mabh Buntak Formoic
One ejn yan unan un huni iyn unus
Two twé lai dha daou dau dew dwa duo
Three thrí san trí tri tri teyr tri trius
Four fjó shí céthre peder pedwar pajar por quatro
Five fiw cuig pemp pump pemp vijf chinque
Unicorn Hejligdyr Shen Lü Eynadharca Anacourant Mwystfil Sentebelvest Hornhengst Sanctacorna
Sun sjolen tai ghrian heol haul howl zon soleus
Moon mjónen gelach loar ileud loor mahn luna
Father far ather tad tad sira vard patrus
Mother mather mamm mam dama mohm matra
Sword swédh jan cleve clezh cleddyf kledha zwahd spatha
Magic galder mo xí-dé dríchte sord hud pystri magie incantatia

A comparison of common words between the modern dialects

Modern Thari Karm dialect Baylic dialect Oyez Carth Rebman Aisling
One yan una yan hyan erte
Two tan dua tan tyan or
Three tethra tray tethera tother sami
Four meth(er)ra quatra fethera fother otkh
Five pick chinqua pip fan khutj
Unicorn Annacorn Unicorn Annacurran Annacorrer Zets’ashi
Sun sunna sola hela sheler mza
Moon munna luna lorna lorner mutvare
Father tad sire tad tad mama
Mother ma dam mam ma deda
Sword claymore spade claymer cleaver kmalhi
Magic dree magica shree sorder otsneba