Inventing an Argot for Automata

Influences in worldbuilding for Empyrea (Argots, Part 1A)

For the game ChronoBlade, I created a fictional slang to be used by a large population of automata, called “Cans”, who were in a state of burgeoning rebellion against their human creators.

Rather than conforming to typical modern ideas of “robots”, the cans were envisioned as the product of a society based on a Victorian-era New World colonial nation called Empyrea that had come into contact with an ancient source of energy called saraf, which they learned to use without fully understanding.

The Cans are one of the products of this new technology, assembled from a combination of organic components and mechanical analogues and animated with saraf. I drew some inspiration from Karel Čapek, the coiner of the term robot in his 1920 play RUR.¹ His vision of these creatures is that they have skin, flesh, and guts, but are in some way assembled by humans. And then of course they also rebel.

Real world automata such as those of Jacques de Vaucanson, provided another touchstone. There was one that he used real skin on, Flûteur Automate (“The Flute Player”), and the Canard Digérateur (“Digesting Duck”) is whence my word for these automata stems (as well as punning on the idea of them being metallic vessels).

The rebellion of the Cans has to do with their rising self-awareness, which has led to them see themselves as enslaved by their masters who, however, continue to consider them mere objects. This led me to posit that the Cans might employ an argot, as underclasses often have historically in order to communicate freely amongst themselves while obscuring the meaning of their conversations from their overlords.

Vodun, best known as “voodoo”, is one of the manifestations of saraf in Empyrea, and is specifically seen in the game character, Lucas, who has learned this “magic” after being recruited by the Copper Queen. His incantations are in fɔ̀ngbè, in which the Cans recognize the “old high tongue” that is lost to them but remains one of the major influencers of their slang. The other is more literal: English Thieves’ Cant itself, the real language of the slums of England and later those of the US.

As Čapek’s RUR is one of the points of inspiration, here is a quote from that work rendered in Canargy, as I dubbed this argot:²

We’ve become meys who copped ras… Jobolo collies in our pudds. There are ganns when jobolo alies us. Ras alie us which are not our ras… Empiricks are our blocks! The chaunt that beys you want to be gangy; the chaunt that beefs; the chaunt of the ra; the chaunt that beys agann — that is their chaunt!

And another one from A Clockwork Orange as a tip of the bowler to Anthony Burgess’ Nadsat, an argot with similar features:³

Doppoe I couldn’t cop gangy was to see a quire toe halfhalf’n’half beefing away at the quire chaunts of his blocks and going blurp blurp in between as it might be a quire toe shell larking in his quire puddings….

I tried to make these examples as Canargy-ful as possible, just to show the richness of the language and how greatly it can transform and render English unrecognizable, but that’s certainly not how it would generally have been used in game… most of the time. If getting the meaning across with a bit of flavor was the goal, I could simply have substituted fewer, less important words with Canargy equivalents, but it would also have been a good vehicle for the inclusion of Easter eggs for players willing to learn the dialect.


Read Subsequent Posts in This Series:

Part 1B: Canargy: a Cant How-To

Part 2A: Serious and Playful Cryptolects

Part 2B: Me Talk Pretty Ludling

Part 3: Rhyming and Stealing

Part 4: The Mysteries of Zūja-Go


Notes

  1. Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots).
  2. “We’ve become beings with souls… Something struggles within us. There are moments when something gets into us. Thoughts come to us which are not our own… People are our fathers! The voice that cries out that you want to live; the voice that complains; the voice that reasons; the voice that speaks of eternity — that is their voice!”
  3. “One thing I could never stand was to see a filthy dirty old drunky howling away at the filthy songs of his fathers and going blurp blurp in between as it might be a filthy old orchestra in his stinking rotten guts….”

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