In the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, magic is controlled on the basis of knowing its true name in the Ancient Language.

There are many words which are forgotten, which are too new to have had a name in the time (for example, people), or otherwise not known.

How does one go about learning words which have been forgotten?

  • Do you mean just in-universe or in general as well? – apoorv020 Aug 19 '11 at 13:50
  • @apoorv020: In-universe. – PearsonArtPhoto Aug 19 '11 at 13:58
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    Ask Daniel Jackson? – Jeff Aug 19 '11 at 14:31
  • A language that is forgotten is LOST, especially if there are no written works to support it's memory. Every day on Earth, languages disappear never to be heard again because they are not been codified and written down with sufficient information to learn to speak them again if someone wished. If there is no one willing to codifiy a language and create a resource to reconstruct that language and its grammar, then once the last person who truly knows it dies, it is gone. Fragments may remain, popular phrases may persist but the grammar, syntax and vocabulary are gone. – Thaddeus Howze Jul 17 '13 at 17:41

Ok, haven't read Paolini in quite a while but I remember most of the stuff. So there seem to be several ways people learn new words :

  • Learn from somebody else
  • Learn from a written source
  • Through some obscure magical processes.

As an example of the last, Eragon "learns" Brisingr on his own. More words are probably discovered by people similar to how they learn their own names. This would probably be the way people would learn forgotten words too.

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    It's the obscure magical process that I'm interested in, really. – PearsonArtPhoto Aug 19 '11 at 19:38
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    Eragon doesn't "learn" brisingr on his own, he hears Brom use it to light a fire. Whether he instinctively knew it was a magical word is never stated, but he heard Brom "curse" using the word early in Eragon – Jon Story Dec 18 '14 at 12:27
  • I though that he learnt Brisngr from Brom who used it as a sort of Swear/Curse ? – GamerGypps Jul 25 '18 at 12:59

The ancient language is just the mechanism for invoking magic and just because it's ancient doesn't mean it's complete and set in stone. Magic appears to be its own entity that permeates all of reality and changes and evolves right along with the world. So it's not far fetched to say the language also changes and evolves. Examples of this change are even referenced by the fact that a person's true name can change over time.

I always thought that learning a word previously unknown or forgotten took a similar process to how one learns their own true name. It comes about through intense study and understanding of the innate nature of whatever you are trying to name in the ancient language. Once you completely understand something the word just sort of comes to you by instinct and "feels right". The ultimate authority is whether or not magic itself/reality responds to the word. So yes if you think about it magic kind of comes of as having some form of sentience and that "right feeling" you get is essentially you feeling the magic responding to your complete understanding.

There are several instances of learning a word/name I recall from the book that come from the result of intense study

1) As mentioned in the other answer Eragon learns the name of the sword Brisingr. Since he was involved in every aspect of it's creation it's only natural he'd have a complete understanding of it.

2) Eragon also figures out the true name of Sloan while reflecting on him and his motivations for being the way he is. This came in part because Sloan is a very simple and straight forward person at his core so he was easy to understand once you got down to it.

3) All the separate instances of people in the story learning their own true names, there are many. Eragon learning his own true name is obviously the most detailed example.

I would also wager that you could use the name of the ancient language itself to create a new word but I don't remember any overt examples of this.

  • A good answer, although remember that, as stated in the book, Brisingr is not the true name of Eragon's sword: Brisingr is the true name of Fire. There is apparently some other link between the sword and Brisingr, which is never fully explored. – Jon Story Dec 18 '14 at 12:28
  • Eragon did use the word for the ancient language to name a few new animals he found on that island where the Riders used to live. I remember that he named those grubs, but I'm not sure what. – Mary ML Mar 11 '15 at 7:07
  • I don't think we actually learn the new names he gives to things. Also it is strongly implied that the language is incomplete, lacking names for some things, but that to grant those things a name requires changing the ancient language, which in turn requires knowing the language's name. – Darael Nov 8 '16 at 13:06

Philology: Taken literally means the love of words; in practice it deals with the historical development of languages. One could find the true name of a word by delving into the history of that word and how it and other words have changed over time in various languages.

Notably, J.R.R. Tolkien was a Philologist. There is a fascinating episode of the Tolkien Professor podcast (#56 I think) with Professor Michael Drout on Philology.

  • Understood that it's not an in-universe explanation... But one would think that the same principles apply... – TGnat Aug 19 '11 at 14:07
  • I'll think on it a bit... – PearsonArtPhoto Aug 19 '11 at 14:36

When The ancient language is used it affect that which it represents so it isn't too out there to think they do it through trial and error. Changing words in subtle or big ways to see their effects.

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