Inventing Vocabulary

The best part about being fluent in a language – you’re allowed to decimate it.

It’s terrible, though, isn’t it? You spend your whole life trying to get a firm grasp of the language you converse in, and then as soon as you’re judged fluent enough, you can break the language apart and ruin it. Which, I guess is okay because that’s how our language grows, right? We’ve gained a lot of words through invention.

But the child-buyer ignores Mother. His footsteps come closer, and they’re…strange. Damaya can sess footsteps. Most people can’t; they sess big things, shakes and whatnot, but not anything so delicate as a footfall. (She has known this about herself all her life but only recently realized it was a warning.) It’s harder to perceive when she’s out of direct contact with the ground… (Jemisin 27)

When I think about sess, I think about sense. And I’m sure it’s not a coincident that these two words are so close to each other. But, I think the idea with sense is that the sensation itself must be a physical experience, especially when you’re talking about the five senses.

And with sess, I think Jemisin was going for something more sensual, something more spiritual, less physical. Which is Damaya she did not have to be in direct contact with the ground to “sess” footsteps.

This is a good word for this book when the characters work with a skill/sense that is not available to the whole population, where it’s not a true physical sensation but another “muscle” you use when manipulating rock material. Which is why, looking back, it seems necessary that a word was invented for this purpose.

When you’re building a world, where the laws of physics aren’t always 1-to-1, there is almost a requirement for you to invent a language, or to redefine it. Which is why Jemisin invents so much. In fact, books that do this usually contain a glossary at the end, just like Jemisin does. I don’t think that’s necessary, but it’s nice for the readers who idolize perfect comprehension.

Jemisin, N.K. Fifth Season. New York, NY: Orbit, 2015. Print.


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