Study Guide

A Wizard of Earthsea Language

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In A Wizard of Earthsea, language is power. We don't mean that in some metaphorical way, like, if you're good with language, you can convince people to do what you want them to do. We mean that language is magical power: in order to cast a spell, you need to know the true names of things and you need to know how to speak the right language. But there's something odd about this. Language is usually a very social thing, right? It's something you use to talk to other people. But magical language is often a secret thing, with the wizards guarding their secret spells and everyone guarding their secret name.

Questions About Language

  1. There are a few scenes where people discuss their secret true names – Ged, Estarriol, Yevaud, etc. Are there any similarities between these scenes? If not, why are they different?
  2. Are there any words that are difficult to understand in this book? For instance, does Le Guin use words that are totally invented or old-fashioned? If so, where does she use difficult words? If not, why do you think she avoids difficult words?
  3. Why does the text refer to Ged so often as Ged, his true name, while it refers to Vetch mostly as Vetch (rather than as Estarriol, which is his true name)? We also never learn some characters' true names, including Ogion. How does this impact the way you read the book?
  4. Think about the times when Ged can't speak with other characters. For instance, Ged can't talk to the exiled Kargad royalty because he doesn't speak their language. Are there other instances of language differences? Are these episodes significant?
  5. Why do you think Le Guin made language and names the basis of her system of magic?

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