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"[The wizard] jumped down, and started waving his arms around while he went to speaking and squealing in one of those languages wizards use so the rest of us will think there is something terribly strange and mystical about what they do, kind of like lawyers."

A version of Functional Magic where spells are cast by speaking in a particular language. Can be Words Can Break My Bones or I Know Your True Name taken to the Nth degree, where every word in the language is a "true name", but this need not be the case for it to be a language of magic.

Black Magic is often paired with Black Speech, White Magic is often in Angel song. In works set on Earth, the language may be a real-but-now-dead one, such as Latin. The words are often written in the Old Norse runic alphabet.

Words Can Break My Bones and I Know Your True Name are subtropes. May be the backbone of a Magical Incantation. If consistently SUNG to make it magic, that's Magic Music.



Words Can Break My Bones examples:

Comics

  The Furies: Gryphon, you are old. Your flesh is meat, and the meat is decaying. Your bones are dry and brittle. Within you now, lion and eagle abandon their battle for dominance and surrender to time and to the grave.

    • That's probably not magic language, that's beings more powerful than gods declaring what shall be, and then watching it happen.

Literature

  • The elven language in The Inheritance Cycle. Want a big fire or an explosive arrow? Just yell "Brisingr!" and you're all done. The name of the language itself allows one to control how it is used.
    • At one point, a Mr. Exposition character explained that back in the beginning of the world, magic was purely based on intent and no words were attached. But the "Grey People" did some epic thing that permanently tied the magic of Alagaesia to words, in order to make magic more controllable.
    • There is a handy dictionary in the back of the book that lets people try to speak it: the ancient language does not at all roll off the tongue. Kinda makes it much weirder when we learn that the entire elven race speaks it on a daily basis.
    • The language isn't that hard if your native tongue is Swedish or Norwegian. Also, Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian get an easy ride, though they pronounce the words differently.
    • Subverted in that the elves use this language for normal conversation. See, if you don't actively put any magic behind the words, then its only power is being a Language of Truth.
  • The Speech in the Young Wizards series. A spell consists of talking to the Universe using the Speech, first saying what you want to happen and then saying how you want it to be accomplished. The Speech can also be used as Translator Microbes, but not the most convenient type -- people who don't know the Speech will automatically hear their first language when it's spoken, so, for example, a European wizard working in Africa might surprise Muggles when he not only appears to be speaking several languages he shouldn't know, but also speaking all of them simultaneously.
  • In the Earthsea Trilogy, magic works exactly like this. On the negative side, screwing up can result in The End of the World as We Know It fairly easily. That's why wizards avoid doing anything as much as possible. Language of magic is also the language of dragons (somehow, they avoid reshaping reality every time they lie).

  Although use of the Old Speech binds a man to truth, this is not so with dragons. It is their own language, and they can lie in it...

  • The Divine Language in Fate/stay night, spoken by Servant Caster, which allows her to summon plague winds or 'rains of light' (read: lasers) with a single word. Represented by Ancient Greek, but supposedly, it's cannot be pronounced by modern humans (which was probably a problem when they were making the voiced edition). The Fairy Letters written on Excalibur also count.
    • Also from Nasuverse, the Unified Language, which was 'spoken' to another plane altogether; it allows for the retrieval of a soul's 'recordings', essentially giving access to all knowledge possessed by every human being in existence.
  • In the Kate Daniels universe, once a word of power is acquired, the mage can command other people and objects just by saying the word, which translate to such things as "Release" and "Obey". However, words of power are acquired by having a contest of wills with the word, and most mages die rather than mastering its power. At the end of Magic Bites, the Big Bad reveals himself to be fluent in the language from which all words of power were taken.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows in The Moonlight", Olivia dreams that the incantation "Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!" is used by a Physical God to transform his son's murderers to statues. (It appears harmless when recited by a parrot, though.)

Video Games

  • In Skyrim, the language used by dragons works this way. A loading screen factoid helpfully explains that when two dragons use their breath weapons against each other, they're actually having an intense philosophical debate.
    • Extending from this are the Words of Power, which you learn and string together to create magical "Shouts". It is later revealed that every true dragon's name is a three word Shout.

Web Original

  • The language of the Sidhe seems to be this in the Whateley Universe, although it's hard to tell since the Sidhe were wiped out millennia ago. (It looks like they're getting better.)
  • An unusual example in Trinton Chronicles is that there are true and half-dragons who learn to speak two different languages, one for magic and one for everyday speech. The magic one is so ancient in fact that even they don't fully know what it means. Most magic users (who we presume were taught by dragons in the distant past and then passed it along) utilize this language to cast spells and call to the universe to change reality in some way. The language has not been written down in the story to keep it's sounds a mystery but is mentioned whenever someone starts to cast spells. Interestingly some magic uses speak their spells in an odd language that only works when adding the word "manu mea" at the start of each casting.

Other examples:

Anime and Manga

  • In The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya, Yuki casts spells by chanting SQL queries sped up and played backwards.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima, every western mage has a personal magic release key. Most western spells are spoken in Latin, though some of the higher level ones are done in Ancient Greek. Specifically, the main body of your spell must be an actual phrase in Latin (or Ancient Greek), but the aforementioned "key" can be any random string of sounds that tickles your fancy.
    • In addition; the Big Bad has an ability called "Code of the Lifemaker: Rewrite", which literally allows him and his minions to rewrite the reality of the magic world at will. Seeing as he may have created it to begin with, it makes sense that he can modify it as he pleases.
    • The only divine magic we've seen so far was in ancient Japanese.
    • By contrast, most Eastern magic is based on Sanskrit letters, who have individual meaning but are combined in ways that do not form proper words.

Comics

  • The Golden Age hero Zatara cast spells by speaking backwards. His daughter Zatanna casts spells the same way.
  • Most magic spells in DC Comics work this way, at least when used by The Phantom Stranger and his supporting cast.
  • Editor Girl, also known as Kris Simon from the Shadowline-Image comic imprint. Actually, she can't use her own voice, but she has to use a magic pen to edit whatever her opponent is saying (Leaning on the Fourth Wall, that's usually portrayed as Editor Girl correcting people's speech bubbles with her pen). The revised edition of her opponent taunt becomes reality: for example, editing "You'll face my gun, Editor Girl" in "You'll take my gun, Editor Girl" results in Kris' opponent getting the urge to surrender his weapon.
  • Zigzagged with Doctor Strange, who can cast spells with simple English commands, lengthy rhyming English invocations, or words and phrases which are definitely not English. Of course, he's also master of the mystic arts.

Literature

  • Generally speaking, one does not need a special language to work magic in Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe. However, the most powerful spells are written in "old Thak," the dead language of a Vestigial Empire, and there are also "Words of Power" which are generally unpronounceable and only pulled out for very special occasions.
  • In the Harry Potter series the vast majority of spells consist of Latin words, and it would seem that knowing Latin makes it easier to develop certain types of spells. However, there's little mentioned about where spells come from or how they're made.
    • The Hindi version translated it as classical Sanskrit.
      • Strangely in book 4 there's a passing reference to Hermione inventing a spell whose incantation is in English.
    • Every spell has an incantation, most of which are in Dog Latin, others in some distortion of English, Hebrew, or Arabic. While a talented wizard needn't say the incantation aloud to cast the spell, he certainly needs to know it. It's unknown how spells become connected to their incantations, however.
  • In The Elenium and The Tamuli trilogies by David Eddings the language used in the worship of the pagan gods is the Language of Magic, since magic is asking the gods to do things for you.
    • This ends up humorous several times. Once, a group is trying to fool peasants with "magic". One character asks the magical instructor what language it is, to which the tutor replies, gibberish. He then asks where Gibbers are from.
    • Another instance involved one of the characters speaking directly, in his native tongue, to his patron goddess for light. She chides him for not doing it right, but provides it anyway.
    • Finally, one of the members of the primary church muses that they did not need to go outside their own religion for magical assistance, to the horror and chagrin of the other members present.
  • Harry Dresden doesn't really need to use the fruits of his Latin correspondence course for his incantations,since his magic works via focus of intent. In fact In the Dresden universe, it isn't a specific language that's important, but what the words mean to the wizard saying them. magic words are in a language foreign to the user to insulate their mind from the power. The spell languages are in a language that means something to the user but is still unknown enough to insulate the wizard from his or her own power.
    • Another reason why foreign or nonsense words are used: you don't want to create a raging inferno by just saying "fire."
  • Ian Watson's novel Queenmagic, Kingmagic is set in a fantasy world based on the game of chess, with black and white kingdoms eternally at war. So it's not entirely surprising that, instead of the usual Latin, the magical language in which their spells are cast turns out to be Russian.
  • In Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos, magic works much more effectively if the caster uses an esoteric language -- esoteric to his/her culture, that is (the hero at one point creates a minor but effective spell in Pig Latin). So student mages come to the U.S. from Africa or Asia to learn spells in American street slang. Simple law of similarity, obviously. You can not expect to get extraordinary results from ordinary language.
  • In Patricia C. Wrede's Magician's Ward, it's insanely dangerous to try casting a spell in your native tongue, for reasons partly related to the Harry Dresden example above.
    • The amount of danger increases the further along you get in your magic studies. A first-year student casting a spell in their native language isn't likely to have results that are too awful, mostly because they are not yet able to use that much power. A third-tear student casting a spell in their native language may be dealing with the consequences for weeks.
  • In Dan Abnett's Ravenor Returned, when Kys infilitrates a decoding process, even the partial decoded stuff is enough to make her ill and betray her. It also lets her learn a "word" that kills men; she uses it to escape. This proves to be Enuncia -- an immensely powerful Reality Warper.
  • In John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos this is one technique of magic.
  • Magic in the Second Apocalypse series by R. Scott Bakker uses an original variation on this; the trick to magic is not just speaking in another language, but in saying one string of words while simultaneously thinking a second and different string (not as easy as it sounds; try it). To make it worse, you have to simultaneously understand the meanings of both phrases; the reason being that the meaning of each phrase somehow clarifies and precisely limits the meaning of the other, creating sufficient mental precision to bring about the desired magical effect. (What happens to sorcerers who screw this up -- whether nothing happens or something exceedingly bad and unintended happens -- isn't specified.)
    • It can probably be inferred that nothing happens. If something very bad happened from flubbing a spell, it's unlikely any sorcerers would survive their apprenticeships.
  • In Discworld we never actually hear any magic words after the first book, The Colour of Magic, in which they sound vaguely Arabic mystical-cum-Lovecraft. Later books just cut around the spell scenes. However the Animated Adaptation of Soul Music uses bad Dog Latin, probably in reference to all the other settings that use it. "Ovum Krakkus, Totalé Knackus!" (as he breaks the egg).
    • There's a tradition of bad Dog Latin in Discworld with two examples of it being considered "wizard talk", although neither character was actually casting a spell.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf uses Elvish words when "casting spells", but this is not anything specific to the language itself: being an Ainu, one of the angelic order who sung the world into existence, it makes sense he can change the nature of reality with his voice. Also seen with Tom Bombadil and Lúthien (who was half Ainurin).
    • Sauron, also an Ainu, does much the same thing, using an incantation in the Black Speech which he had invented to imbue the One Ring with his power.
  • The Weirdstone of Brisingamen uses Latin.
  • In Ysabeau Wilce's Flora series, all magick is performed through the language of Grammatica, which also has its own alphabet that readers aren't supposed to understand how to pronounce. Get your grammatica wrong, you get the spell (well, the term used in the books is sigil) wrong. Very skilled adepts (magick users) don't need to actually speak the words out loud...Lord Axacaya is the primary example of this as of Flora's Dare.
  • The magic system in The Long Price Quartet is based on language. Poets use language to bind their andats, which are abstract concepts made flesh. They use an extremely intricate custom built language to describe the idea they want to capture. They have to describe it perfectly, with absolutely no ambiguity or imprecision, and then hold that definition in mind for the rest of their lives. Failure to be precise enough tends to be extremely painful. To further complicate matters, once an andat has been bound and subsequently escape, it has to be described in a completely different way to be bound again.
  • The Old Speech in Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series, spoken by those of both the Light and the Dark.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows in the Moonlight", a sample from a talking parrot:

 Abruptly the bird spread its flaming wings and, soaring from its perch, cried out harshly: "Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!"

  • The Dragonlance series has wizards who, like standard Dungeons and Dragons characters, speak magical words in order to activate their spells. However, unlike most verbal components, Dragonlance wizards can use their magical language in actual conversation. According to Word of God, the examples used in the books are based on a kind of proto-Indonesian language structure, though the words themselves have no real world equivalent.
    • Raistlin Majere, in fact, learned the activation word to the light spell in his staff through extensive trial and error. Finally, in frustration, he blurted out "Shirak, damen du!", which translates as "Light, damn you!". After the staff lit up, he went back and realized that "Shirak" (light) was the keyword, while "Dulak" (dark) was used to cancel the spell.
  • Subverted in Awakening, the magic system from Warbreaker. While speaking aloud is essential for Awakening, Commands (aka spells) only work if given in the Awakener's own native language. So any language is potentially magical, as long as you grew up speaking it.
  • Played with in Mordant's Need - the Imagers all use a specific chant when summoning a manifestation from their magic mirrors, but it turns out that the chant is just a load of meaningless syllables; however, the effort of remembering it puts your mind into the correct Zenlike state to allow the magic to work through you.

Live Action Television

  • Magic in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel tends to simply be a description of the spell in an ancient language (usually Latin). Apparently, in writing the scripts, writers would write a simple command, such as "open the door," and then mark it with "In Latin."
    • However, Latin does not appear to be vital to spellcasting; a sufficiently powerful witch can skip it. See in particular the seventh season episode "Get It Done," in which Willow struggles for a while with a Latin incantation. She finally gives up and yells in English, "Screw it! Mighty Forces, I suck at Latin, okay? But that's not the issue! I'm the one in charge, and I'm telling you, open a portal, now!"
      • Spoofed in one episode where Xander thinks that there's more to magic than just saying things in Latin, but accidentally sets a book on fire when he tries it himself.

 Giles: Xander, don't speak Latin in front of the books.

  • Merlin seems to use Old English for this purpose. This is weird, given that Old English would have been the language of the Saxon invaders that King Arthur fought against. Chalk it up to Translation Convention.
    • However, probably due to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter examples above, quite a few fans have mistaken it for Latin and written their fanfiction accordingly. Despite the fact that the two languages don't sound at all similar.
    • It was probably picked for the part because it's throaty and rhotic language, and thus sounds sufficiently mystical and alien to the modern Anglophone audience, whereas just about everybody knows approximately what Latin sounds like.
    • The one exception is when he's in Dragonlord mode. It's indicated he uses the dragon language then. Which also appears to count for this trope.

Tabletop Games

  • In Dungeons and Dragons most spells have "Verbal Components" that most be uttered to cast spells. The exact form of these "components" is unspecified, and appears to change depending on the spell - indeed, several spells (most notably the Power Word spells) are just their verbal components, so that the words themselves are magical. It's implied that the language of dragons, Draconic, plays a part.
    • Words of Creation and Darkspeech are more literal languages of magic. Mortals require a special feat to be able to even say a few words of them, and they have distinct magical properties. Darkspeech, for example, can be used to reduce the hardness value of an object, while words of creation can be used to aid in item creation.
      • There's also Truespeech: Speaking directly to the universe to tell it how things should be, to which it generally obliges, temporarily.
  • Enochian (the language of angels devised by John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I's court magician) pops up in this context often, usually in roleplaying games with a focus on the divine (like In Nomine or Demon: the Fallen).
  • Mage: the Awakening has the High Speech. It's not necessary for magic, but it does give it a nice boost.
    • Mage: The Ascension, similarly, had Enochian, but because magic works the way you believe it does, Latin or other ancient languages will work. For that matter, so will the jargon of contract law. However, some seem to be better than others; one sourcebook includes a young mage worrying about an older mage whose house he's broken into using Latin, but the older mage tells him it's Sumerian that should concern him.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has the Lingua Praestantia, Daemonic, and Arcane Eltharin, all used exclusively for casting spells.
  • Syntactic Magic from GURPS: Thaumatology is an in depth version of this with several examples provided.

Video Games

  • Ever Quest included the requirement to learn Dragon languages to master higher level spells.
  • Inverted in World of Warcraft, where the warlock ability "Curse of Tongues" forces the target to speak in Demonic, thus making them take longer to cast spells.
    • Confusingly, said curse also works on monsters of the Demon type...
  • In Fire Emblem 9 and 10 spells are recored as simple pieces of ancient tongue (such as "The light of life! Shine a ray upon my path and...strike my enemy!" or "O light, gather. Open my path...") that are said as part of the casting process.
  • In Treasure of the Rudras, the magic system is based on a Language of Magic, and you can create custom spells by stringing the right syllables together.
    • The base syllables are: IG for Fire, AQU for Water, TOU for Electricity, TEO for Wind, SOA for Light, SERE for Dark, PRA for Earth, and NIHI for Void.
  • In the Ar tonelico series, all magic uses the Hymmnos language, which most of the time is sung rather then spoken.
  • In Enchanted Folk And the School of Wizardry/Magician's Quest Mysterious Times, a magic language is used to cast spells, incantations, and communicate with various magical creatures (though it can also be used when interacting with other players).
  • All Ultima games mention magical incantations of some kind (usually something Latin-sounding in the first games), but starting with the fifth installment mages in the Ultima universe started using a standardized set of short words to form their incantations - for example, "In Lor" (literally "create light") illuminates your surroundings, and "An Nox" ("negate poison") cures poisoned characters.
  • The Thu'um in Skyrim. It is the language of the godlike Dragons, which they use to bend reality at a whim. Mortals can learn the Thu'um as well, though they need to devote their entire lives to mastering it and most can never speak normally when they reach that point. The Dragonborn doesn't have this problem since he/she is technically a Dragon too. Interestingly, mortals were able to invent a Shout that embodies concepts that are wholly alien to Dragons "Mortal, Finite, Temporary". Yes, mortals invented words in the Dragons' language that the Dragons themselves don't know.
    • The Dragons likely knew those words but cannot truly understand the meaning of them. It's similar to a human trying to wholly understand the concepts of Immortality, Infinity, and Permanency.

Web Comics

  • In Sluggy Freelance most magical spells are written using a bizarre alphabet straight out of Pete Abrams's imagination (as seen here). How they're pronounced is anyone's guess.
  • In Xkcd, computer programming languages occasionally fill this role. A recent guest strip by Bill Amend of FoxTrot fame demonstrates the power of UNIX.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Japanese fills this role for special techniques when practicing "anime-style martial arts".
  • In Sorcery 101, spells are cast by giving one's aura verbal instructions, generally using Latin. Not because there's something special about Latin, but because it's easier to learn magic when you don't actually know what you're saying.
  • In Elf Blood, most magic-casting characters use a symbolic language called Eldarin when reciting a spell. It's actually just a very simple direct substitution code. Some fans can read it fluently.
    • Gipsy is not an actual spellcaster: She manipulates reality through what can only be summed up as 'true mathematics'. Although recently her 'spells' resemble C-like function calls more than mathematical formulae.
  • Draconic in Nahast: Lands of Strife, though it doesn't seem to be necessary once you're skilled enough.
  • In Wapsi Square, knowledge of the Lanthian language gives a person certain powers, and it can be used to command many Lantian artifacts.

Web Original

  • It's "science", not magic, but the fact remains that in Fine Structure, fluency in Eka gives a number of scientists Reality Warper powers.

Western Animation

  • Latin is used as a magical language in Gargoyles, although the comics reveal that knowledge of Latin is not sufficient to cast spells.
    • Word of God states that older languages are better suited to spellcasting -- while it's theoretically possible to cast a spell in English, it would take more than just a direct translation. In the episode "Golem", the spell to awaken the eponymous creature is in Ancient Hebrew.
      • Not just theoretically possible: The Magus managed it in "Avalon," although it severely exhausted him. Of course, he was drawing power directly from Avalon itself, which was explicitly different from his normal magic.
  • In Teen Titans, Raven apparently uses one of these; normally all we hear is "Azarath, metrion, zinthos!" the mantra she uses to focus her will so she can safely use her inborn magical abilities, but on occasion (most notably in "The Prophecy") she'll go into an extended incantation in what sounds like the same language.

Real Life

  • Various dead languages are used for ritual purposes by new religious movements and practitioners of "magick", such as Latin, Hebrew, Sanskrit etc. Sometimes ConLangs are used, ranging from unimaginative letter substitutions to sophisticated creations like the Voynich manuscript (which has never been deciphered).
    • A notable example being Enochian, the so-called angelic language invented by John Dee.
  • Programming languages are essentially this trope made real.
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