The Prince’s Lessons in Language

A tale of an Elven prince, his tutor and the difficult task of learning a new language

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By Satori Minamoto
Translated by Hamish Smith

* * *

This story is from a time when the lands of the world were divided. The peoples of the world only formed lands with members of their own race. The Elves lived in the land of the Elves and the Dwarves lived in land of the Dwarves.

Those from different lands despised each other and were forever quarrelling. Occasionally a member of a different race would appear, wanting to form friendships, but they were always the ones who had been outcast by their own people. It is said that the most well read book of this time was “The Compendium of Racial Insults” published in the Land of the Elves in the the year 7037. It was a well known book in that time of racial hostility and its use was widespread among the peasants.

* * *

One day a middle-aged Elf went to see a young Elven prince. The prince hated studying, and was a well known hater of Dwarves. No one who worked in the castle would say it, but they resented the proud and spiteful prince. The king, who was anxious over how the prince would turn out, employed the help of a tutor.

“’Tis a pleasure to meet you, my prince. Starting today, I shall be your private tutor,” the tutor greeted the prince in a very respectful manner. The prince returned the gesture with a glare.

“Hmph. I’m already clever enough as it is. I don’t need a tutor.” The prince puffed up his nostrils as he spoke. The tutor turned to the prince and smiled.

“But of course, my prince. I am however a little different from your average tutor.”
“Really? Tell me how you’re different.”
“I’m the tutor with the dirtiest mouth in the world, and I’m here to teach you the ‘Secrets of Swearing’. I will teach you the best ways to abuse those dwarves you so hate.”
“…and that’s all in this book?” The prince was pointing to the third volume of “The Compendium of Racial Insults”, the volume on Dwarves. The tutor nodded at the prince, brimming with self confidence.

“But of course, my prince. If you take my lessons, this book will pose no challenge at all.”

There was a sparkle in the prince’s eyes as the tutor spoke. The prince decided to let the tutor come and visit him.

* * *

The prince soon had his first lesson. He was excited to see what his tutor would teach him first.

“Diputs, hsiloof, yllis,” said the tutor. The prince tilted his head to the side in confusion.

“What did you say? Was that Dwarfish you spoke just now?”
“But of course, my prince. I just swore at you in Dwarfish. For this lesson, why don’t we pretend that you are one of those Dwarves you so hate. Tell me, my prince, did you get offended just now?”

The prince thought for a moment before answering

“No, not really. My father who speaks Dwarfish, or some other diplomat might have, I but I can’t speak Dwarfish, so it doesn’t bother me.”

The tutor gave the prince a nod of satisfaction.

“Well then, my prince, does this mean that you intend to abuse Dwarves in Elven?”

The prince was a little surprised at the tutor’s words.

“I see. So I need to learn Dwarfish in order to cuss out those Dwarves?”

“But of course, my prince.” The tutor gave the child a grin.

“Well then, let’s just say that I’m a Dwarf, and I have learnt some Elven to insult you. This time I will insult you, my prince, in Elven. ‘The prince is sturdy of body and a clear of mind’. Tell me, my prince, how did that make you feel? Are you insulted?”

The prince thought for a moment.

“Didn’t you praise me just now?”
“Indeed. However I meant to say that the prince is ‘violent and cruel’. I’ve only just started learning Elven so I don’t know the finer details of the language.”
“Well even if you were trying to insult me, all you did was end up embarrassing yourself. Huh. So basically, to give the Dwarves a decent insult, you need to learn the finer details of the language.”

The tutor gave the prince a nod of satisfaction.

“Well then, my prince, are you able to do that?”
“Naturally. I’m pretty smart, you know.”
“But of course, my prince.” The tutor gave the young prince a smile.

From that day forward the young prince threw himself into learning Dwarfish. The boy studied so hard it was almost as if he had become a different person, and it sent waves of surprise though the castle.

* * *

Soon a week had passed and it was time for his second lesson.

As soon as the prince looked at his teacher he said “Diputs, hsiloof, yllis”. The prince spoke in Dwarfish swears. The tutor gave the prince a smile.

“You’re Dwarfish pronunciation has improved quite a bit, hasn’t it.”

“Naturally. I’m quite smart you know.” Being praised made the prince feel proud.

“But of course, my prince. By the way, I, the dwarf you want to swear at so much, has gotten quite good at Elven. My next insult is ‘You bed-wetting prince!”. So how was that? Do you feel offended?”

The prince thought for a moment before answering.

“Well, it doesn’t feel very nice, but I don’t feel offended. I have wet the bed before, that much is true. But that was when I was really little. I don’t do it any more. And besides, don’t all little children wet their beds anyway?”
“But of course, my prince. It’s not true. Insulting someone based on things that aren’t really true is not an effective method.”
“So you mean that in order to really insult a Dwarf properly, you have to learn about how the Dwarves really are?”

The tutor gave the prince a nod of satisfaction.

“But of course, my prince. Well then, Now I’ll pretend that I’m one step ahead of you in learning Elven and give you another insult. ‘You root-chewing bastard!’ So, are you offended?”

The prince thought for a moment before answering.

“Well, maybe a little offended. But not really. I know that some of the other races call the burdock plant a root. But burdock is a delicacy in these lands, and I love them. Actually, I kind of feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t know how tasty burdock is.”
“But I don’t know that. Remember, I’m being a Dwarf who has never eaten burdock before. While I do know that Elves eat Burdock, I just think that the Elves are an odd bunch for munching on roots.”
“Huh… Just looking at things on the surface and judging it by your own standards is a long way from understanding it. So, in order for me to really insult the Dwarves, I have to know what they think is normal, I will need to really understand how they live.”

The tutor gave the young prince a smile.

“But of course, my prince. That is what we call ‘culture’.”
“Culture, huh…. Alright, I’m going to learn the culture of the dwarves.”
“You will have to read some very difficult books, you know. Are you able?”
“Naturally. I’m smart, you know.”

The tutor gave the prince a nod of satisfaction.

From then on the price lost himself in the castle library. The people of the castle looked at him as if he was a different person.

* * *

A week later they had their third lesson.
The tutor entered the price’s chambers.

“Rehcaet ym emoclew,” said the prince. The prince sat up straight and placed his fist over his heart as he spoke. The tutor gave the prince a smile.

“I see you’ve already memorized a Dwarfish greeting.”
“Naturally. I’m pretty smart, you know.”

The tutor gave the prince a smile.

“But of course, my prince. However, I – one of the dwarves that you wish to insult so much – unfortunately can’t quite grasp the culture of the Elves. So I will have to find a different way to insult you, my prince. Do you understand? Just calm down and listen”

The prince tilted his head to the side and looked at his tutor, who for the first time had spoken down to the prince.

“I’m always calm. Go ahead and say it.”
“Alright then, ‘Your mother is swine excrement!’”

The prince looked astonished for just a moment.

“How dare you! Insulting my mother! That woman risked her life and gave birth to me! I’ll have you put to death!” Cried the prince, red in the face. The tutor said nothing, he only gazed at the young prince as he ranted. The prince finally calmed down.

“…I see now, that’s how it is. Anyone would get angry if you talk badly about their family and friends, be it an Elf or a Dwarf. So this means that there is a way to insult someone without understanding their language or culture.”
“But of course, my prince. I was just speaking as an example, so please forgive my remarks about your mother.”
“…It’s fine. You’re here to teach. But just don’t do it again.”
“Certainly. Well then, my prince, I think you understand just how effective insulting one’s family can be. However you won’t be doing that.”

The prince again tilted his head to the side.

“Why not? If it’s effective then it should be used, right?”
“But my prince, why do you think I insulted your mother?”
“To insult me?”
“So why do you think that abusing your mother would be insulting to you?”
“Because, it’s an insult that can work on almost anyone.”

The prince looked up at the tutor as if he had just realised something. The tutor gave the prince a nod of satisfaction.

“So, if I abused your mother, you would get angry.”
“But of course, my prince. It’s common for a person to subconsciously think that they don’t want to be attacked themselves when they attack someone else. However, this gives us a parrot’s reply.”
“So what you’re saying is, if I were to go up to some dwarves and insult their mothers, they would just insult my mother. And if that happened, that would mean that the dwarves could insult me, without knowing the culture of the Elves… So I would try to attack them, but would only expose my own weakness. Or, more like, it would be the same as insulting my own mother.”
“But of course, my prince.”

The tutor gave the prince a nod of satisfaction.

The prince thought for a moment before speaking.

“I see what you’re trying to say. It’s best to avoid the easy attacks.”
“So, my prince, how do you want t insult the dwarves?”
“Hmm. Something I can say to the Dwarves that will insult them, but won’t insult me if they say it back. I will have to search for the right words. It isn’t enough just to know the language and the culture of the dwarves. I will have to learn all the words and the culture of the Elves as well, and find the differences.”

The tutor gave the prince the biggest nod of approval yet.

“But of course, my prince. That’s why I gave you the “Compendium of Racial Insults”. If you can effectively use the ‘secrets of swearing’, you will be the greatest king of all. Can you promise me that you will?”
“Naturally. I’m pretty smart, you know.

And so, the tutor who had taught the prince all about the ‘secrets of swearing’ left the castle. The king of the Elves and prince both tried to stop the tutor, but he was adamant to quit.

* * *

Several hundred years passed. The king died and the once young prince ascended to the throne. This day was a public holiday for the people. It was a day when all the people gathered in the castle grounds and greeted the king.

Since then, the prince had earnestly put the “The Compendium of Racial Insults” into practice. It hadn’t taken long for the prince to learn about all kinds of different cultures, including the Trolls, the Orcs and even the Kobolds. The more he knew, the more thought about the differences between all the different races in “The Compendium of Racial Insults”. Like his tutor had taught him, the ‘secrets of swearing’ had proved to be much more useful than that book.

The prince had studied hard and had come to much more than anyone else, and everyone knew this. That prince that everyone despised, who himself hated to study, was no where to be found.

The prince, who had now become a king, stood in the balcony of the palace and slowly looked over all the people who walked past. Everyone had sparkling eyes as they gazed at their young king with looks of anticipation. The king cleared his throat and spoke in a loud voice to all the people walking by.

“Ladies! Countrymen! How happy I am that the day to greet you all has come!”

The Elves let out a jovial cheer at the words of their king. The the king stood up straight, and held his fist over his chest.

“Sedarmoc ym lla era uoy!”

The people let our a cheer just a loud as the first. And this time the Dwarves cheered as well.

The king continued to greet the people in various languages, Tollish, Orcish, Kobold and Sylphish, one by one. A great cheer came from the crowd each time.

“Well done.”

The prince had finished and returned to his chambers. The greeting had come from an old man. The old man dropped himself down on a fancy chair and let out a long, low sigh.

“You, did you know things would turn out this way?”

The prince asked the old man. The old man didn’t answer, just looked at the king in silence.

“…well, let me just say this. When I was young I really did hate the dwarves.”
“I know. You wouldn’t have been able to master the ‘secrets of swearing’ had you not.”
“But, this was the result. You fooled me, completely.

The king spoke in an accusing manner and the old man just smiled.

“I guess it’s a little late now, but that was a very nice greeting you gave.  You’ve become a great king, unsurpassable by anyone, just as you promised that day. ”

At the encouragement from the old man, the King let out an innocent and prideful laugh, like a boy.

“Naturally. I’m pretty smart, you know.”

“But of course, my king.”

English translation © 2015 Hamish Smith. All rights reserved.