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Here’s A Stab At Why Elvhen Sounds So Different Depending on Location

Yaroh Adiche, Staff Writer at Culture Collective

A recent push to discontinue use of the title High Elvhen for the language spoken by Ancient Elves has ignited the curiosity of linguistic scholars and Elves around Thedas.

Some have suggested True Elvhen, others have recommended simply calling it Elvhen and naming variants of the language based on location. As a child of the Dalish myself, I’m wondering why no one has thought to use “Old Elvhen”.

I am from one of the few clans in Rivain. Rivain has a reputation for being a weird country (some have called it the Melting Pot, a moniker that Rivain bears with pride, despite its somewhat inaccurate nature—see my article on life as a Dalish elf in Rivain here) in that it has consistently granted more freedoms to historically oppressed groups. Every year, my fellows and I would arrive at the Free Marches Arlathvhen and face immediate friendly ridicule over our bizarre accents. Why did we say “baba agba” when we meant “hahren”? Why did we use Common where some lengthy Elvhen word would take the place of an entire sentence? The revival of Elvhen was a difficult and arduous process, so our fellow Dalish are forever confused by our apparent determination to butcher what was lost.

Indeed, jokes at the expense of Rivaini Dalish are popular within online Elvhen circles:


[An embedded tweet.]

Gorby @flatear
yo why the fuck rivaini elves speak elvhen like they got a time limit. calm down lethallan i just wanted to say hello 😭

280 retweets 300 likes


[An embedded Twitter thread.]


Hyeli @woahwoahwoah
There’s this cute Hahren from Rivain that works at my favorite cafe and he always has a pastry for me on my way to class but every time he speaks to me it takes me forever to process it and I’m just like:


 14,324 retweets 12,225 likes

Hyeli @woahwoahwoah

He: o da abo! Ihopeyouhavesafewalk da’omo! Hrma;sdkgasgh!

Me: thank u hahren.........

12,655 retweets 10,845 likes


Brelein @bigliketiatamera
as;dlkfjwoiefh3984yrqk[wenasdlfkj i fucking hate this bc my grandparents are riviani dales and it rly sound like they be chewing cotton sometimes.

685 retweets 453 llikes



[Screenshot of a Fadeblr post from user mythalstiddies that reads:

Me at Arlathvhen: Aneth’ara!

Rivaini Dalish, hugging me: jdjdidbegsiekebrbtltpfnd? Jjalksdjf;askdjfamsdf!!!! Basdfkhwiehfnsdfhf!!!!horgyborgy Common Words hdirlebehue Single Perfectly Enunciated Elvhen Word!!!!!!!! :)))))

Me: Haha Yeah !]

[Another Fadeblr post, this time by user alasniraltarlan. There is a gif of a young Elvhen woman. She peeks from behind a door, and then gleefully slams it open before prancing down a brightly lit runway with bags in hand. The caption reads: Rivaini Hahren about to deliver an unintelligible lecture to innocent Elf Kids ]

I consulted with a scholar of linguistics, Dr. Ellana Lavellan, about Elvhen and its various forms.

She explained to me that Rivaini Dalish speak what linguists call a Creole—a language developed from a mixture of different languages at a fairly sudden point in time. Its foundation is Elvhen, and it is structurally more similar to Old Elvhen than most modern variants (Dr. Lavellan believes this is due to Rivain’s aforementioned laxness towards minority groups) but it is heavy with Rivene loan words, and “Common words, when neither of the two base languages has a word that fits.”

For example, there is a word in Elvhen for most complex feelings, like yearning for a specific activity from one’s youth. Similarly, Rivene has several words for describing the hubris of children, a reflection of the nation’s communal nature. But neither languages were made to accommodate for our world’s growing technology, so there is no for word smartphone. A smartphone is just “smartphone”, though my Keeper likes to think of them as handheld Eluvians and calls them as such.

Ferelden Dalish constitute the second largest population of Elvhen speakers on Thedas, and their variant is the standardized version taught in schools today. It is different from Old Elvhen in that it is more utilitarian in nature: the complex words I spoke of are nearly nonexistent, and aside from greetings, it is straightforward and about as unmusical as Elvhen can be. This is likely a direct reflection of Ferelden’s chilly conditions: it is a land that rears a hardy people, and its Elvhen citizens are no different.

Most flowery of them all is the Elvhen spoken by the Elves who were found in the Temple of Mythal discovered by Orlesian archaeologists ten years ago today. Their presence has done much to further the efforts to save the Elvhen language after years of oppression, but their tongue’s stark difference from modern Elvhen have had linguistic scholars scratching their heads.

“It’s not unlike the way the old language of Starkhaven was recovered. It took time and study, and information was hard to find because of governmental suppression. Now that we have some of the originators to speak to—and thankfully most of them are agreeable—there are a lot of changes to be made.”

I asked Dr. Lavellan her thoughts on names for Elvhen’s different forms.

“I think it’s as simple as referring to its form based on which location impacted it the most—‘Ferelden Elvhen’, Orlesian Elvhen’ or something similar. I agree with your idea for Old Elvhen, or maybe we could call it Ancient Elvhen. I personally dislike the notion that the way we speak now is any less important than what it began as. That discounts the hard work the People have put into staying surviving and thriving.”

This week, I will be completing more pieces on Elvhen culture and history. Tune in tomorrow for a talk on the Dalish and magic.


Developing Competence in Elvhen Relations in Social Work

By Helena Birdsong

Free Marches Social Work Digest

Vol. 24 No. 8 P. 11
As Thedas changes, and sweeping reform for Elvhen rights advance, it has become increasingly vital to train social workers who are equipped to serve individuals in the Elvhen community. The Free Marches Association of Social Work, as a division of the Thedas Association of Social Work, operates under the universal code of ethics. This code of ethics has been routinely updated as our world shifts to accommodate growing cultures and conventions, but has recently come under fire for the discrepancy between treatment of nonhumans and standards on nonhuman care.

The University of Ansburg, once notorious for its elitist attitudes, is preparing its social work program to undertake research that Elvhen communities can use to tailor their social programs to their communities. The department is considering two research proposals. One is a needs assessment of working Elvhen parents in Ansburg that will be implemented by the Spring 9:25 Semester, and the other is a potential survey of the resources Dalish clans are using to educate themselves on laws concerning Dalish settlements and citizenship status for nomadic clans.

“Our faculty hail from all of the Free Marches’ city-states, some of them are from Alienages and Clans, and they are all at least master’s-level social workers, so they have experience and have been working in the field long enough to develop vital understandings,” says Andrew Trevelyan, director of Ansburg’s social work program. “They can synthesize their experience with the knowledge we’re trying to share.”

However, while bringing more Elvhen social workers into the field will absolutely benefit Elvhen communities, it is important to note that non-elves should not be deterred from working in such communities. Although non-elves will have more to learn about community practices and culture, they are still capable of developing effective clinical relationships with Elvhen clients.




Thedas Times

Ideas (Elvhen)

Even Among Growing Unity, It Seems as though the Divide between Dalish and Non Dalish Will Never Go Away. Why?
“We’ve learned Elvhen, we practice the ways as best we can, now. We have our own temples and we welcome the People. And still, they call us flat ears.” Hahren Valendrian, of Denerim. Academics across disciplines and races weigh in on the silent divide between a culture that has struggled for survival.

In Conversation with Abelas, of the Temple of Mythal
The Sentinels of Mythal’s Temple still move with unnatural grace, but the loss of their hoods and the addition of casual clothing both softens their appearance and points towards smoother assimilation into modern times.

Elvhen Magics are Nearly Dead. Here’s How One Small Orlesian Clan Hopes to Keep It Alive
Scholars from the University of Orlais have teamed up with a small Dalish clan in the hopes of studying Dalish magics passed down from keeper to keeper. They are hoping to entice a Sentinel onto their team, but for now, here are the readings from scientific scans of Elvhen magics, and how they differ from other schools.

While You Weren’t Watching, an Ancient Elf By the name of Solas has been Making A Name For Himself Online
“I have learned how to make a smiling face,” one of his earliest tweets, with nearly a million likes, reads, “ :0) “. Last week, he tweeted, “Had the chance to attend Ferelden’s Arlathvhen last week. Enjoyed speaking with Keepers and Hahrens from Alienages. My thanks for your fascinating questions and endless kindness.” Now, on Fadeblr, he has begun to answer questions that historians have been asking for decades, including those on differences in the Fade and clarifications about the Elvhen language that could not be wrested from the more solitary ancient elves.

The Hero Of Ferelden’s Death Was A Terrible Loss. Two Years Later, The City of Redcliffe Joins to Remember Mahariel’s Rescue
Bann Teagan’s face is professionally blank, but it is hard not to miss the redness of his eyes as he watches his townsfolk light a ceremonial pyre by the statue erected in Warden Mahariel’s honor. Famously, Redcliffe fell victim to a powerful demon’s machinations while Fereleden’s government was occupied with suppressing word of the Blight. Warden Mahariel, who was only fifteen years old when he joined the order, recruited the help of the Circle of Magi to banish the powerful demon that terrorized the port city.

Andrastian Elves Are Having A Hard Time Breaking Into the Clergy. We Spoke A Dalish-born Lay Sister of the Haven Chantry
Sister Eowyn seems an odd sight in her robes. She wears the typical vestments of any new addition to the chantry, but the iconic Andrastian headwear is absent. “My ears don’t fit, not without hurting,” she explains, sheepishly. “I don’t suppose they ever thought to accommodate those.” In a sea of plain human faces, her dark hair and tattooed face stands out.



My (24F) newest work friend (????M) is an ancient elf. He is struggling to understand social conventions and gets into arguments often. Can anyone give me advice?

Posted u/snowyinhinterlands 3 hours ago

8.9k Comments Share Save Give Gold Hide Report

Hi guys. I have crossposted this to r/elves, but I thought I’d post it here too because I’m not exactly sure I’m allowed to be posting in r/elves anyways?

Right. I work at an independent rune-crafting guild. I’m pretty much the lead assistant, so I organize jobs and events around the office. Recently, my boss hired one of the elves from the Temple of Mythal—for some reason he can fold lyrium as safely as any dwarf, and he’s fast, too, so he was hired pretty quickly.

Guys, he’s so friendly. He’s always carrying things for people, and opening doors, and bringing practical gifts. He’s always got a wise word or something uplifting to say. But here’s the thing: he has no concept of personal space or impropriety.

When I met him for the first time, he reached out, touched my ears, and said, “I’m sorry! It’s just that they’re so round!”

He explained that he’d seen round ears up close when he and his clan (? should I call them that? They all have the same vallaslin) first left Mythal’s temple, but since their leader—yes, that Abelas—was in charge of serving as a liaison between them and the outside world, he had never been allowed to have long conversations with non-elves. In that same vein, he will often play with people’s hair, or adjust their clothes without asking.

Even worse, he asks deeply personal questions all the time. It usually makes people feel defensive so they start arguing with him. He feels attacked and argues back, and usually calls the person da’len. If you took, like, one year of High School Elvhen you know what that means, so people get angry and then it becomes a whole big thing.

It’s driving people in the guild crazy. It was kind of novel at first, this tall ass elf who’s like, older than the Frostbacks being amazed by things that seem so little to us now. But now people keep coming to me and complaining because they know he’s fond of me (He has said as much, often and loudly, Andraste save him). My boss doesn’t want to fire him because he does good work, and when he’s not causing a fuss we really do get good work done. I don’t want to hurt his feelings by telling him to stop being himself. It’s also hard to remember that we’re pretty much the only contact he has with the outer world. Someone from his clan drives him to work and picks him up, and he says he’s not allowed to hang around much.

My boss has sort of banished him into a room to do his work, and whenever I visit him he looks so sad. He always perks up when I come in and asks if “everyone has forgiven him yet.” I never know what to say, so I just started bringing him lunch. He started telling me interesting stories about the Temple. He’s really not so bad. He’s an oddball and he talks a lot, but I think he gets a bad wrap.

TL;DR: I’m friends with an overly friendly ancient elf who doesn’t get out much, and I don’t want to upset my coworkers, hurt his feelings, or anger his extremely protective clan. What should I do?



Top 200 Comments
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[-] SolasHarellan 88.2 k points 3 hours ago
You might consider explaining to him that things have changed, and he must adjust if he hopes to make friends in this world. Ancient Elves are a sentimental lot—an appeal to his emotions may help you. Whenever he engages in behavior that you deem invasive, gently reprimand him and give him a clear explanation of why it is not proper.

I hope it is not an overstep for me to say your coworkers need to review their sensitivity training. I understand that your friend’s actions may seem bizarre and even invasive to them, but the elves of old had nothing but time and unlimited contact with spirits, who are at best nonsensical and driven by concepts and impulses. He has a lot to learn, and has not been exposed to the world at large. Abelas is deeply protective of the servants of Mythal.

It is good that you are patient with him. I think it will take an extension of that patience to arrive at the results you are looking for.

[-] snowyinhinterlands 2568 points
Holy shit, thanks. I didn’t expect an ancient elf to give me an answer. I really really
appreciate your advice, and your educational stuff! And yeah, I agree. I understand
being uncomfortable, but I feel like a lot of people have been overreacting. He’s trying
his best. :(

[-] SolasHarellan 2345 points
It is no trouble. I appreciate that you are kind to your friend. Please let me know if your
situation improves. I have not lived in Abelas’ care for some time, but I worry for him and
the rest all the same.
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[-] okaybabeys 6483 points 3 hours ago
Okay first of all, I need proof. Second of all, if this is all true, you absolutely have to host an AMA for your friend. You know you can’t just drop something like that in the subreddit like it’s casual.

As for advice: Tell your friend that not everyone is going to be as open towards him as you seem to be. He’s probably getting so many mixed signals from the world around him.

[-] snowyinhinterlands 47.3k points 3 hours ago
[The images are a series of selfies and photos of an Elvhen man and a human woman.
In one image, the Elvhen man is sitting on a stool and smiling broadly at the camera,
long red hair thrown over his shoulder. His face is tattooed with the full vallaslin honoring
Mythal. The tattoos do not not end at his face--they continue down his neck and along
his collarbones, and some branching designs decorate his arms. The logo on his shirt is
pixelated for privacy. Another photo shows the Elvhen man standing next to a short
human woman of Rivaini decent. His arm is wrapped securely around her waist, and
his other hand rests on her shoulder. He is bent at the waist so that his face is level with
hers. In the next photo, he is kissing her cheek as she playfully pushes at his shoulders.]

He had…. So many questions about my afro. Some of them were asked with his hands. We had to have a conversation about that!

[-] frauja 6485 points 3 hours ago
HOLY SHIT, I recognize him. He was the elf who kept waving at the camera when they
did that little special for the Thedas Times on the second anniversary of their release
from the Temple of Mythal. You totally weren’t lying, and I agree that you guys need to
host an AMA asap, or record a video.

[-] snowyinhinterlands 4723 points 3 hours ago
Yes, I tease him about that sometimes! It’s kinda weird, but it puts things into perspective
for me even more now. Like, I was sixteen when that special came out. He looks exactly
the same. They really are immortal. I don’t know how I feel about a video, but I’ll
consider an AMA. Either one would mean telling him I made this post, which I’m not
really looking forward to lol

[-] borgy 2761 points 3 hours ago
Damn, he’s gorgeous. And you are so cute! How tall are you? He’s like bent in half in
that second photo
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[-] NilaNaan 4112 points 3 hours ago
Dalish First, here. I’ve been to a few Arlathvhen with some of the Sentinels present. They act a little weird, even to us! Hahren Solas is right—they are very emotional. They feel quite deeply, so I would suggest talking to your boss about having your coworkers try to understand where he’s coming from. I’m not saying what he’s doing is right, but you’ve got to understand that to the Sentinels, this is normal. They have been living together for thousands of years, and before they underwent the Waking Sleep, theirs was a culture wildly different from all of ours. Maybe your guild could host a meeting, where you guys can explain how much the differences are impacting them, and maybe some apologies can be voiced. Good luck!

[-] HelloWorld 1882 points 3 hours ago
Maker, you guys have got to show up in some Ask Reddits and AMAs. The last thing I
expected from r/relationships today was some juicy Elvhen history and culture lessons.
What is Arlathvhen like with them there, if you don’t mind me asking?

[-] NilaNaan 9k points 3 hours ago
It’s like having the cool relative that everyone wants to talk to at the family reunion. A
lot of the academic folks want to grill them for questions. Sometimes we host impromptu
Q&A sessions, and when the Sentinels say something the elders don’t want to hear,
there are arguments. Honestly, the children get their attention more than any other
group, because they love children. So it has become a kind of competition to bribe
the children with sweets or something so you can have them write down questions
you want them to ask a Sentinel. Also the clans who got to host some of them on their
land will spend an annoying amount of time humble-bragging about it.

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Anonymous asked: Why are you harellan?

A Keeper called me this at the first Arlathvhen I ever attended. He wasn’t happy about some of the misconceptions I tried to dispel. I have since used it as both a joke and a reminder to myself—I must be careful with my words.


Anonymous asked: Hahren, what are some things that surprise you the most about the world today? What do you miss, what do you dislike, and what are you glad about?

The strength of the veil surprises me most of all. Some chantry scholars have asserted that the Fade is not separate from our waking world in the way it is spoken of today. They would be amazed by the world of old—what we call the Fade now was as an intrinsic part of the world as the states of matter, and spirits roamed freely. It was a different time. I suppose the advent of restrictions regarding magic use lead to Thedas’ divide from the Fade.

I am also surprised by how powerful technology is. I have learned how to use most of it with efficiency, but it seems as though I regularly encounter something that is entirely foreign to me. Are you young people aware that your phones have a machine that will speak to you if you call its name? Astonishing. In my day, a spirit of Study would have taken the role of this machine. It is interesting to see how the world accommodated for its weakened connection to the Fade.

I do not understand the restrictions placed on mages, but I suppose the rights we are given is an improvement from the way things were a century ago. You must understand that there was no such thing as “mages” in my time. Everyone had magic, and there was no such thing as a person who solely practiced magic. The People were trained in weaponry, music, arts, history, and the like. The need for training in magic was about as important as a piano lesson. To me the idea of sequestering a people away because of something that is natural is quite strange.

I miss my home above all, but I am glad that the People remained strong and kept our language alive when so much else has been lost.


Anonymous asked: Thank you for being so patient with our questions! Is there any way we can donate to you?

I thank you for your kindness and curiosity. I have no need of coin. You might consider donating to your nearest alienage or Dalish compound instead.


Anonymous asked: Why did you leave Abelas’ care? Where are your vallaslin?

I left Abelas’ care because of disagreements related to those very vallaslin. I care for him and the others, do not doubt it, but I will not be seen into the service of any Creator.


Anonymous asked: Why do ancient elves always seem so preoccupied with kids?

In the days of old, Elvhen of all classes lived for incredibly long amounts of time, and were quickly sorted into different roles that were vital for the operation of Elvhen society. Children were rare, so they were cherished. It is something of a novel to see so many.


Anonymous asked: What do you guys have against shoes?!

Elves are resistant to pests and other nature-related inflictions, if that is what you are asking.


YucatanFryer asked: Solas did you have the chance to meet any Rivaini Dalish at your last Arlathvhen? What did you think of how it sounds? They’ve been the butt of so many jokes online because of their unique accent!

Unfortunately I have not had the pleasure of attending the Free Marches Arlathvhen, but I have seen some videos on Rivaini Dalish.

How fascinating that Elvhen survived in so many different forms! I would like to learn Rivene so that I might communicate with them. Initially, I thought it would be easier for me to understand the Elvhen spoken by Rivaini Dalish than almost all other forms. It is very similar to the Elvhen I speak—some words that other Elvhen speakers naturally altered over time have remained the same, and its spelling is similar. However, when Rivene words take the place of others, it becomes difficult to decipher. Common is not so difficult a language, if oddly structured. Rivaini Dalish Creole remains a puzzle to be solved. And yes, their accent is strange, but I find it pleasantly musical.


Irina asked: :0)



Monongehela asked: What are your thoughts on Elf-blooded children, Hahren?

Elf-blooded children are of the People.

You will permit me a story? I felt very sad for Elf-Blooded children when I first learned of them. You must understand, my fellows and I were raised in an entirely different way than modern Elves. I have made many a faux pas, as the Orlesians would say, and half of it was due to my own ignorance. I spent much of my early life not having met a single human, and when I did meet them, it seemed as though all they could do was incite chaos among my people.

During the very first Arlathvhen I attended, a Keeper became so angry with me that he called me harellan and forbade me from speaking to members of his clan. City elves were delighted by my lack of vallaslin, and then saddened by my thoughts on the Creators. When I saw a human child at Arlathvhen, I spoke to the child, thinking he was lost. His mother soon found us, and I asked her if perhaps the child was adopted. Rightfully, I was quickly and harshly corrected. Though my memory of that day is vivid, I remember this conversation with the strongest amount of emotion. I spent the rest of that day ruminating on the changes the world has experienced, and when I returned home, I spent a lot of time researching the elf-blooded children of today. I could not understand what would push an Elf to have children with a human, or any other race.

The tale of an Elf-blooded child trying to succeed in modern Thedas is one that is tried and true now. It would have been completely unheard of in my time. I imagine it is difficult to maintain a connection to one’s culture while trying to fight invisibility. For if you are raised as one of the People--if you are one by blood, despite appearances--and yet strangers assume you are something completely different, how will you cope?

Anonymous asked: Have you ever seen a griffon? What were they called in your time?

I have seen one only once, and regretted it immediately, for it attacked me and left me injured. To the elves of old, griffons were omens of chaos. They were wild, untameable things, prone to destruction and fearfulness. It is a wonder that Grey Wardens were able to tame them. Perhaps this is related to the Veil’s strength after the fall of the Elvhen?

The Elvhen word for griffon is “eanvheraan.” In the Common it transliterates as “iron bird.”


Anonymous asked: Would you consider hosting a live and answering some questions?
That is a good idea, though I much prefer the convenience of this website. It is easy to archive information, and if people would like something to refer to, they can search my tags instead of asking the same questions over and over. Still, it is something to consider.


RevasGurl asked: What are your hopes for the future?
It is my hope that the people will continue moving forward. I would like to have a hand in restoring them to their former power. I want to continue my role as a guiding force, with your trust.