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Now remember, children, with true names comes true responsibility.

"[The wizard] jumped down, and started waving his arms around while he went to speaking and squealing in one of those languages wizards use so the rest of us will think there is something terribly strange and mystical about what they do, kind of like lawyers."
Murgen, The Black Company

A version of Functional Magic where spells are cast by speaking in a particular language. This tongue typically works by possessing a quality or metaphysical importance everyday communication doesn't. In some cases it's the setting's Primordial Tongue, or the language of the gods, or the metaphysical equivalent of the universe's programming language, or anything else of this sort. It may also consist of the true names of every thing and action in the universe, allowing it control the things it names or cause effects by speaking them into existence.

Black Magic is often paired with Black Speech, White Magic is often in Angel song. In works set on Earth, the language may be a real-but-now-dead one, such as Latin. The words are often written in the Old Norse runic alphabet; Hermetic Magic can use a number of real-life occult alphabets, such as Enochian or Paracelsus' Alphabet of the Magi, instead.

Latin Is Magic, Words Can Break My Bones, Runic Magic and I Know Your True Name are subtropes. May be the backbone of a Magical Incantation. If consistently SUNG to make it magic, that's Magic Music. Works using this trope will often discuss The Power of Language itself.

Words Can Break My Bones examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Saga: The horned denizens of the moon Wreath speak in a language that is both their native tongue and the means of using magic. This language is always represented in text in a light blue font and is literally called "Blue" (as opposed to "Language"). It's actually Esperanto, which usefully is just about comprehensible to English readers, without being too obvious.

    Fan Works 
  • The Apprentice, the Student, and the Charlatan has two instances.
    • First is a precursor to modern Equestrian magic, where magic was spoken through spellwords. It functions as a Shout-Out to The Inheritance Cycle as the language in question is referred to as "an ancient language" and the one word we see used is lifted directly from it.
    • The second, which appears to be the "written" form of the above, is the language of spells, used to arrange traps or other enchantments. It doesn't have a script, but the characters all treat such spells as though they had a language of their own that could be manipulated to do what they want.
  • Fairy Dance Of Death: the author went to the extreme of making up an entire Conlang, Majutsugo, to construct all the incantations in a consistent way. The one character that studies this, Sasha, becomes one of the most powerful mages in the game as a result of her work.

  • In the Slayers light novels, magical incantations are performed in Chaos Words. A spell typically takes the form of a poem, which names the entity or force being invoked, and a description of the caster's intent.
  • The elven language in Inheritance Cycle. Want a big fire or an explosive arrow? Just yell "Brisingr!" and you're all done. The name of the language itself allows one to control how it is used. At one point, a Mr. Exposition character explained that back in the beginning of the world, magic was purely based on intent and no words were attached. But the "Grey People" did some epic thing that permanently tied the magic of Alagaesia to words, in order to make magic more controllable. It's still possible to cast magic without words (and indeed dragons are unique in that they can only cast magic in this way) but it's very difficult to master and very easy to mess up (dragons are only able to cast magic under times of often great emotional stress on an instinctive level, and they can't even control what happens when they do).
  • The Speech in the Young Wizards series. A spell consists of talking to the Universe using the Speech, first saying what you want to happen and then saying how you want it to be accomplished. The Speech can also be used as Translator Microbes, but not the most convenient type — people who don't know the Speech will automatically hear their first language when it's spoken, so, for example, a European wizard working in Africa might surprise Muggles when he not only appears to be speaking several languages he shouldn't know, but also speaking all of them simultaneously.
  • In the Earthsea series, magic works exactly like this. On the negative side, screwing up can result in The End of the World as We Know It fairly easily. That's why wizards avoid doing anything as much as possible. The language of magic is also the language of dragons. The True Speech is a Language of Truth to humans, but dragons can lie in it. From ''A Wizard of Earthsea":
    Although use of the Old Speech binds a man to truth, this is not so with dragons. It is their own language, and they can lie in it...
    • The way in which it is a language of truth is not that one cannot lie in it, but rather that reality changes to make the statement true (with devastating effects, since everything—every pebble, every twig, every drop of water—has a name, which it might share with other things)... The dragons' ability to lie in it thus has more to do with their deep knowledge of the language than any specific power they have.
  • The Divine Language in Fate/stay night, spoken by Servant Caster, which allows her to summon plague winds or 'rains of light' (read: lasers) with a single word. Represented by Ancient Greek, but supposedly, it's cannot be pronounced by modern humans (which was probably a problem when they were making the voiced edition). Later expansion reveals that Caster's Divine Words are taken from one of many separate Divine Languages, each one belonging to a separate pantheon, hers being Greek. The Fairy Letters written on Excalibur also count.
    • Also from the Nasuverse, the Unified Language, which was 'spoken' to another plane altogether; it allows for the retrieval of a soul's 'recordings', essentially giving access to all knowledge possessed by every human being in existence.
  • In the Kate Daniels universe, once a word of power is acquired, the mage can command other people and objects just by saying the word, which translate to such things as "Release" and "Obey". However, words of power are acquired by having a contest of wills with the word, and most mages die rather than mastering its power. At the end of Magic Bites, the Big Bad reveals himself to be fluent in the language from which all words of power were taken.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows In The Moonlight", Olivia dreams that the incantation "Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!" is used by a Physical God to transform his son's murderers to statues. (It appears harmless when recited by a parrot, though.)
  • The Dresden Files: Inverted. Practitioners use ancient languages as verbal foci for their magic in order to dissociate themselves from the meaning of the words they're using — magic is born from emotion, and as such works best when the tools used to wield it have strong emotional or symbolic meanings to the user. A language you're fluent in, and especially one you use habitually, is too familiar and well-known to "feel" right, while one that you're only half-familiar with and especially one with a sense of history to can more easily be assigned mystic and symbolic weight. Harry uses a bastardized Latin (which would be bad for him if he ever actually learned Latin properly — which he's supposed to because it's the common language of wizards), although others have used Egyptian dialects and Oriental languages, among others. Harry and other "low-level" wizards also have to actually vocalize. When members of the Senior Council use magic, they don't say a word, and it's extremely creepy.
  • In Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, the Martian language works sort of like this. Knowing fully (grokking) the language allows powers like telekinesis, total annihilation of people, and stuff.
  • In Rick Cook's Wizardry series, the Language of Magic is a programming language. The Language is equivalent to a genetic code in which spells naturally self-assemble, evolve, and at higher levels of complexity assume physical incarnations and utilize lower-level beings the way we contain our own flora and fauna. Likewise, things of magic respond to human activities to varying degrees of complexity. The key realization was that a specific set of enzyme-equivalents have predictable behavior (most don't) and which can combine to form logic gates, allowing spells to be constructed using programming techniques rather than lethal trial-and-error or bargaining with magical creatures. Most of the human-usable Language of Magic is not suitable for programming in, and it's noted repeatedly how different constructed spells feel from the natural variety.
  • In The Broken Crescent, all magic takes place via the Language of the Gods. Speaking or writing in this language intrinsically causes magical effects. Nick Black, the hero, is able to perform great feats of magic once he deciphers the syntax and structure of it.
  • N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy: The language of the Gods is one — for the Gods themselves, it's just an extension of their Reality Warping power, but mortals can learn the language to draw on a trickle of divine magic. However, it's so complex that any human who tried to speak a spell would probably die by Magic Misfire, so they mostly access it in Geometric Magic form by "scrivening" spells.
  • The Language in The Invisible Library series. Known only to Librarians, it forces your will onto reality, so that whatever you describe as happening, happens. Or tries to; there's pushback based on how unlikely it is that it would have happened anyway, and while you can control people with it temporarily, human minds have a tendency to second-guess themselves at the best of times. The other interesting thing about it is that every non-Librarian hears it as whatever their native language is.
  • In The Faraway Paladin, the Words of Creation are words that when spoken can produce magical effects when pronounced properly. According to Gus, everything has a name, and it is through these names that people and gods define the world around them. As such, invoking and layering Words of Creation are what produce the phenomenon known as "magic". To the reader, these Words of Creation read like Latin.

    Other Sites 
  • SCP Foundation, SCP-1220 ("Logos"). The individual words and phrases in the language SCP-1220 can affect reality within 10 meters or so of the speaker. For example, if someone says the word "fire" in that language, something nearby will catch on fire. If the word "rain" is spoken, then rain will begin to fall.

    Video Games 
  • The Elder Scrolls: The Thu'um, in a nutshell. You speak in the language of dragons and learn to yell reality into submission.
    • Nirn's dragons are the divine children of the chief deity of the Nine Divines Pantheon, Akataosh, the Dragon God of Time. (They also may be fragments of his actual being, and serve a role similar to being very destructive angels.) They inherently speak a Language Of Magic which gives them small-scale Reality Warping powers. Essentially, they "make real" whatever they speak in this language. For example, the dragons' famous Breath Weapon isn't breathing fire, it's speaking fire in Dovahzul (Yol Toor Shull, which translates to 'fire inferno sun'), which makes fire happen. Fights between dragons are essentially very violent debates where claws and biting are allowed.
    • In the ancient past, the dragons and their Dragon Cults took over much of Skyrim. Seeking a way to defeat the Dragons and their Cults, the ancient Proud Warrior Race Nords prayed to the Divines for aid. Their prayers were answered and they were taught how to use the language of the Dragons themselves, which they called the Thu'um (or the "Voice"). Led by the Tongues, masters of the Thu'um, the ancient Nord armies vanquished the dragons and their Cults, then forged an Empire that covered nearly all of north Tamriel. A succession crisis would eventually tear it apart, and then the use of the Thu'um as a weapon of war dropped dramatically after their defeat at the Battle of Red Mountain, following which one of those Tongues (Jurgen Windcaller) founded the "Way of the Voice" to use the Thu'um only honor the gods.
    • In modern times, the Greybeards continue to follow Windcaller's "Way of the Voice." They live in a monastery known as High Hrothgar near the top of the Throat of the World, the tallest mountain in Tamriel. So powerful is their Thu'um that they are usually sworn to silence in order to not destroy everything around them simply by talking. Even their faintest whispers are known to shake the mountain on which they live. The Greybeards accept anyone who wishes to learn the Thu'um and follow the Way of the Voice. It is explained that anyone can learn to use Thu'um, but it takes a great deal of training, mostly to learn the true meaning of the words in the shout. Anyone can hold a normal conversation in Dovahzul (hence why the dragons don't accidentally devastate their surroundings when chatting with each other), but you've got to put your soul into the words if you want the magic to happen.
    • Skyrim is the first game in the series in which the Thu'um is seen in action. The Player Character is a legendary Dragonborn (or Dovahkiin), a rare mortal blessed by Akatosh with the immortal Aedric soul of a dragon. Akatosh creates those who are Dragonborn to be the natural predators of the Dragons, being capable of ending their Resurrective Immortality by absorbing their souls and using those souls to increase their mastery of the Thu'um. After being revealed as a Dragonborn, he/she will be summoned by the Greybeards to High Hrothgar for training. When they call for the Dragonborn, all of Skyrim can hear it.
    • Others in Skyrim are revealed to be able to use the Thu'um as well. Ulfric Stormcloak, leader of the Stormcloak rebellion, studied with the Greybeards and used the Thu'um to win his duel with High King Torygg, kickstarting the Skyrim Civil War. Additionally, many of the Draugr Elite Mooks (the ones with the words "death," "over," or "lord" somewhere in their names) were the leaders of the ancient Dragon Cults and can use the Thu'um as well. Miraak, the first Dragonborn and Big Bad of the Dragonborn DLC as well as the Optional Boss Ebony Warrior can also use the Thu'um.
    • Online introduces Daedric Titans, dragons who have been corrupted by Molag Bal, the Daedric Prince of Domination and Corruption. While stated to be only a "crude imitation" of the "true" Thu'um, Titans possess the ability to speak a spell of flaming essence-drain that can debilitate an opponent with a single word.
  • The Correspondence in Fallen London, Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies is the language of eldritch gods that shape reality. Several of the enemies you face in the Unterzee over the course of Sunless Sea, most notably Mt Nomad and Lorn-Flukes, can sink your ship by yelling at it with the Correspondence (and, should you encounter Mt Nomad at the wrong time, probably will). It's so potent that even if you don't use it correctly it has interesting effects. Most of the time that effect is setting you (or the lead plaques they're inscribed on) on fire, but it can also do things like actively destroy your mind. Some of the sigils are even living.
    • There's a second language called The Discordance. Where The Correspondence is fire, The Discordance is ice. Not much has been revealed about it beyond it being created as a counterpart to The Correspondence. Near the end of the Great Hellbound Railway storyline, in the Endgame, there is one storyline dedicated to studying the Discordance, but details are kept deliberately scarce other than the literally chilling effects upon the area, the horrible impact it can have on beings that read it, and that studying it hurts.

    Web Original 
  • Impractical Magic is a Magic School where each court has a different magic system. The Autumn Court speaks in a language of magic that determines what their spells will do. The Summer Court writes in a strict series of runes that dictate the flow of energy and changing of states in the equivalent of a magic programing language.
  • The language of the Sidhe seems to be this in the Whateley Universe, although it's hard to tell since the Sidhe were wiped out millennia ago. (It looks like they're getting better.)
  • An unusual example in Trinton Chronicles is that there are true and half-dragons who learn to speak two different languages, one for magic and one for everyday speech. The magic one is so ancient in fact that even they don't fully know what it means. Most magic users (who we presume were taught by dragons in the distant past and then passed it along) utilize this language to cast spells and call to the universe to change reality in some way. The language has not been written down in the story to keep its sounds a mystery but is mentioned whenever someone starts to cast spells. Interestingly some magic users speak their spells in an odd language that only works when adding the word "manu mea" at the start of each casting.
  • Ancient phaetonian primal in Phaeton is like this, and the more descriptive you are the more powerful the spell.
  • In Curse Words, more volatile spells are frequently trained to respond to activation words with specific effects to prevent them from triggering accidentally. There's a push to train everything to Ido and turn it into a Language of Magic, but at present trigger words can be in any language.

Other examples:

    Anime and Manga 
  • In The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya, Yuki casts spells by chanting SQL queries sped up and played backwards.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi: Every western mage has a personal magic release key. Most western spells are spoken in Latin, though some of the higher level ones are done in Ancient Greek. Specifically, the main body of your spell must be an actual phrase in Latin (or Ancient Greek), but the aforementioned "key" can be any random string of sounds that tickles your fancy.
    • In addition; the Big Bad has an ability called "Code of the Lifemaker: Rewrite", which literally allows him and his minions to rewrite the reality of the magic world at will. Seeing as he may have created it to begin with, it makes sense that he can modify it as he pleases.
    • The only divine magic we've seen so far was in ancient Japanese.
    • By contrast, most Eastern magic is based on Sanskrit letters, who have individual meaning but are combined in ways that do not form proper words.
    • However, the magic writing in the series is in the relatively (and sadly) obscure Armenian language.
  • Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid crosses this over with Formulaic Magic and E.T. Gave Us Wi-Fi when it was revealed that the programming laguage used as Kobayashi's workplace was created by wizards who migrated to Earth and modeled it off of their magic system. Coding doesn't have any magical effects though, since Earth doesn't have enough ambient mana for spells to be cast.

    Comic Books 
  • The Golden Age hero Zatara, and later his daughter Zatanna, cast spells by speaking backwards. More specifically, the individual words are spoken backwards, but the sentence structure is still spoken forward.
  • Most magic spells in DC Comics work this way, at least when used by The Phantom Stranger and his supporting cast.
  • Editor Girl, also known as Kris Simon from the Shadowline-Image comic imprint. Actually, she can't use her own voice, but she has to use a magic pen to edit whatever her opponent is saying (Leaning on the Fourth Wall, that's usually portrayed as Editor Girl correcting people's speech bubbles with her pen). The revised edition of her opponent taunt becomes reality: for example, editing "You'll face my gun, Editor Girl" in "You'll take my gun, Editor Girl" results in Kris' opponent getting the urge to surrender his weapon.

    Fan Works 
  • The Parselmouth of Gryffindor: Ancient Runes (the exact nature of which is ambiguous in the canon novels) are shown to be a variation of this — a hieroglyph-like writing system that was designed specifically to be very efficient at writing down magic. Apparently, the incantation, pronunciation, wand movement, and effect of a spell can all be coded into a single Runic sentence.
  • Intelligence Factor: Mismagius exclusively speak a language called Arcanos, and everything they say affects the world around them.
  • I Woke Up As a Dungeon, Now What? has High Druidic, said to be the language that the druids and the planet spoke to each other when establishing the dungeon system. Most spells seem to be petitions either to the spirits or to the planet itself in High Druidic, asking for a specific effect in exchange for mana or other sacrifices.

  • Chronicles of Chaos: This is one technique of magic.
  • The Dark is Rising: The Old Speech, spoken by those of both the Light and the Dark.
  • Discworld: We never actually hear any magic words after the first book, The Colour of Magic, in which they sound vaguely Arabic mystical-cum-Lovecraft. Later books just cut around the spell scenes. However, the Animated Adaptation of Soul Music uses bad Dog Latin, probably in reference to all the other settings that use it. "Ovum Krakkus, Totalé Knackus!" (as he breaks the egg).
    • There's a tradition of bad Dog Latin in Discworld with two examples of it being considered "wizard talk", although neither character was actually casting a spell.
  • The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden doesn't really need to use the fruits of his Latin correspondence course for his incantations, since his magic works via focus of intent. In fact, in the Dresden universe, it isn't a specific language that's important, but what the words mean to the wizard saying them. Magic words are in a language foreign to the user to insulate their mind from the power. The spell languages are in a language that means something to the user but is still unknown enough to insulate the wizard from his or her own power. You don't want to create a raging inferno by just saying "fire." note 
  • The Elenium and Tamuli: Subverted. The Church Knights use incantations in the Styric language, complete with the threat of Magic Misfire from poor word choice. It's later revealed that their magic comes from a deal with the Styric pantheon and the incantations are just the agreed-upon format for requesting power, not anything supernatural about the language itself.
  • Flora Segunda: All magick is performed through the language of Grammatica, which also has its own alphabet that readers aren't supposed to understand how to pronounce. Get your grammatica wrong, you get the spell (well, the term used in the books is sigil) wrong. Very skilled adepts (magick users) don't need to actually speak the words out loud...Lord Axacaya is the primary example of this as of Flora's Dare.
  • Harry Potter: The vast majority of spells are cast using pseudo-Latin words, so it might be assumed that knowing Latin would make it easier to work spells in general. However, it's rarely mentioned where individual spells come from or how they're created, and despite a seemingly straightforward casting method, enough exceptions exist to prove that it's not as simple a process as some might believe.
    • Every spell has an incantation, which if not in Latin, appears as some distortion of English, Hebrew, or Arabic. While a talented wizard needn't say the incantation aloud to cast the spell, they certainly need to know it. While it's unknown how spells become connected to their specific incantations, it is known is that new spells are still being invented. This requires substantial magical talent to accomplish, so it's not as simple as picking a word to describe the effect you want.
      • In Goblet of Fire, we learn about the "four-point spell". By speaking the English incantation "Point Me", the user's wand will point due north.
      • The Hindi translation of the books swaps the Latin incantations for classical Sanskrit. This makes sense in a cultural context, as Sanskrit has parallels with Latin as a "dead language" — no longer commonly used as everyday speech, but remains prominent in religious texts and rituals.
    • Witches and wizards can perform some magic through sheer force of will, without words or wands, though the practice can be very imprecise. Interestingly, this aspect also has cultural connotations that effect the process. Uagadou is a large wizarding school located in Uganda, and according to Rowling's expansive writings, African wizards generally use wands much less frequently than their European counterparts, preferring to cast spells with finger points or other hand gestures.
    • The intent or mood of the caster is a also factor in some wand-cast spells. Because of this, some fans have theorized that the words of spells are just a method to help the caster focus their will and that a caster could theoretically cast spells in any language of their choice. However, the books strongly suggest that the specific word will always cast (or attempt to cast) its assigned spell, regardless of the caster's will. In Half-Blood Prince, for instance, Harry successfully casts one spell without speaking the incantation AND without knowing what it did beforehand, based solely on its word. In Philosopher's Stone, it's noted that accidental mispronunciations of spells can produce entirely unintended effects.
      Prof. Flitwick: And saying the magic words properly is very important too — never forget Wizard Baruffio, who said "s" instead of "f" and found himself on the floor with a buffalo on his chest.
  • The Long Price Quartet: The magic system is based on language. Poets use language to bind their andats, which are abstract concepts made flesh. They use an extremely intricate custom-built language to describe the idea they want to capture. They have to describe it perfectly, with absolutely no ambiguity or imprecision, and then hold that definition in mind for the rest of their lives. Failure to be precise enough tends to be extremely painful. To further complicate matters, once an andat has been bound and subsequently escape, it has to be described in a completely different way to be bound again.
  • The Lord of the Rings
    • Gandalf uses Elvish words when "casting spells", but this is not anything specific to the language itself: As an Ainu, one of the angelic beings who sung the world into existence, it makes sense he can change the nature of reality with his voice.
      • It's also important to note that some of the 'spells' cast in Lord of the Rings are not actually spells in the strictest sense of the word: Rather, the characters are speaking to a spirit. For example, when the Fellowship is suffering under dangerous snowy conditions on the mountain Caradhras, it's because Saruman is telling the spirit of the mountain to crush the Fellowship. Gandalf's 'counter-spell' is him telling the mountain spirit to calm down.
    • Sauron, also an Ainu, uses an incantation in Black Speech — a language which he had invented — to imbue the One Ring with his power.
    • Within the broader world of Tolkien's Legendarium, characters who can "cast spells" with language include the elf Lúthien (who's mother was an Ainu) and the mysterious Tom Bombadil.
  • Magician's Ward: In Patricia C. Wrede's novel, it's insanely dangerous to try casting a spell in your native tongue, for reasons partly related to the Harry Dresden example above. The amount of danger increases the further along you get in your magic studies. A first-year student casting a spell in their native language isn't likely to have results that are too awful, mostly because they are not yet able to use that much power. A third-year student casting a spell in their native language may be dealing with the consequences for weeks.
  • Operation Chaos: In Poul Anderson's work, magic works much more effectively if the caster uses an esoteric language — esoteric to his/her culture, that is (the hero at one point creates a minor but effective spell in Pig Latin). So student mages come to the U.S. from Africa or Asia to learn spells in American street slang. Simple Law of Similarity, obviously. You can not expect to get extraordinary results from ordinary language.
  • Queenmagic, Kingmagic: Ian Watson's novel is set in a fantasy world based on the game of chess, with black and white kingdoms eternally at war. So it's not entirely surprising that, instead of the usual Latin, the magical language in which their spells are cast turns out to be Russian.
  • Ravenor Returned: When Kys infiltrates a decoding process, even the partially decoded stuff is enough to make her ill and betray her. It also lets her learn a "word" that kills men; she uses it to escape. This proves to be Enuncia — an immensely powerful Reality Warper.
    • In Bequin, Enucia is used to test Beta.
  • Second Apocalypse: Magic uses an original variation on this; the trick to magic is not just speaking in another language, but in saying one string of words while simultaneously thinking a second and different string (not as easy as it sounds; try it). To make it worse, you have to simultaneously understand the meanings of both phrases; the reason being that the meaning of each phrase somehow clarifies and precisely limits the meaning of the other, creating sufficient mental precision to bring about the desired magical effect.
  • Tortall Universe: Generally speaking, one does not need a special language to work magic. However, the most powerful spells are written in "old Thak," the dead language of a Vestigial Empire, and there are also "Words of Power" which are generally unpronounceable and only pulled out for very special occasions.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows in the Moonlight", a sample from a talking parrot:
    Abruptly the bird spread its flaming wings and, soaring from its perch, cried out harshly: "Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!"
  • The Dragonlance series has wizards who, like standard Dungeons & Dragons characters, speak magical words in order to activate their spells. However, unlike most verbal components, Dragonlance wizards can use their magical language in actual conversation. According to Word of God, the examples used in the books are based on a kind of proto-Indonesian language structure, though the words themselves have no real-world equivalent.
    • Raistlin Majere, in fact, learned the activation word to the light spell in his staff through extensive trial and error. Finally, in frustration, he blurted out "Shirak, damen du!", which translates as "Light, damn you!". After the staff lit up, he went back and realized that "Shirak" (light) was the keyword, while "Dulak" (dark) was used to cancel the spell.
  • Subverted in Awakening, the magic system from Warbreaker. While speaking aloud is essential for Awakening, Commands (aka spells) only work if given in the Awakener's own native language. So any language is potentially magical, as long as you grew up speaking it.
  • Played with in Mordant's Need - the Imagers all use a specific chant when summoning a manifestation from their magic mirrors, but it turns out that the chant is just a load of meaningless syllables; however, the effort of remembering it puts your mind into the correct Zenlike state to allow the magic to work through you.
  • A running gag in the Rivers of London series is that Peter finds learning Latin harder than actually learning the magic. The words are simply a release of a pattern you hold in your mind. They're in Latin because that was the language Isaac Newton used for important works, and nobody's sure what would happen if they started messing around with it.
  • In the Mairelon the Magician novels, at a basic level it doesn't matter what language a spell is cast in, but casting a spell in one's native tongue can cause the spell to be overpowered (Since you have to think about what you're saying when speaking in a second language, even if you're fluent, you also have to think how much power you're putting into the spell). As a result, spells written by the Greeks tended to be in Latin, and spells written by the Romans tended to be written in Greek, forcing modern magicians to learn both languages (As well as a bit of Hebrew) in order to use magic. It's also mentioned that with really complex spells, the exact meaning of a word does impact the effect, meaning it will matter what language the spell is cast in.
  • The Laundry Files uses Enochian as the language of magic. It tends to work best when assembled not as spoken language, but as programming language.
  • Mages in Mithgar use a special language for their spellcasting. The spellcasting language of mainstream Mage society is represented as Latin, and the language used for the related-but-distinct rituals of the Black Mages is Ancient Greek, though Word of God explicitly states that the languages are not actually Latin or Greek, which were substitutions he used to give a modern English-speaker a feel for how the actual Mage languages sound and relate to each other.
  • Journey to Chaos: Some mages, like Dengel, pretended to know a special, magical, language to impress clients. It's actually gibberish. A mage of Dengel's standing didn't need to say anything at all.
  • The Flaw In All Magic: The lingua magica is an artificial language designed to have each word have one meaning, and each word have a single rune representing it. Tane explains that you could technically use any language for magic, but it's a terrible idea due to connotative meanings, synonyms, and all sorts of other ridiculousness that comes from a language that has arisen naturally.
  • Akata Witch: Zig-zagged — juju can be worked perfectly well in the user's native language, but the language Nsibidi is powerfully magical and in some sense alive. The Archmage Sugar Cream is an oddity for having learned to work juju through Nsibidi rather than with a juju knife.
  • Wizard of Yurt: Wizards speak in the Hidden Language to work magic (out loud or in their minds).
  • The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: One of these, often though not always also synonymous with the Old Tongue, is used for casting spells.
  • Cradle Series: Played with. Runes used to control madra are called "script", and can do many incredible things. It's mentioned early on that while script is often described much like a language, with reading and writing it, it's not actually some mystical language that forces the universe to conform to your will. It is the physical shape of the individual runes that shapes how the madra flows and thus is more like plumbing than language.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Bewitched: The words "zolda, prancan, kopek, lum" are used to cast simple spells. When Maurice gives Darrin warlock powers, this is the first thing he teaches him, pointing out that you can just think the words, you don't have to say them out loud each time. Aunt Hagatha uses these words to float her teacup to herself, and Clara tries to but mispronounces them slightly and her cup falls and breaks (Hagatha repairs it). Interestingly, when Samantha encourages Adam to float objects in one of the last shows, she does not teach him those words.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Magic in this series and its spinoff Angel tends to simply be a description of the spell in an ancient language (usually Latin). Apparently, in writing the scripts, writers would write a simple command, such as "open the door," and then mark it with "In Latin." However, Latin does not appear to be vital to spellcasting; a sufficiently powerful witch can skip it. See in particular the seventh season episode "Get It Done," in which Willow struggles for a while with a Latin incantation. She finally gives up and yells in English, "Screw it! Mighty Forces, I suck at Latin, okay? But that's not the issue! I'm the one in charge, and I'm telling you, open a portal, now!" Spoofed in one episode where Xander thinks that there's more to magic than just saying things in Latin, but accidentally sets a book on fire when he tries it himself.
    Giles: Xander, don't speak Latin in front of the books.
  • Game of Thrones / House of the Dragon: Arguably inverted with High Valyrian. Although this is the language used to train and command dragons - creatures whose very presence causes magic to manifest in the world - there doesn't seem to be anything inherently magical about the language itself. More likely it stems from the fact that ancient Valyrians were the first people to ever train dragons, so their native tongue was simply the one dragons originally learned to respond to.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: The Stranger, revealed to be one of the Istari, is chanting spells several times by using worlds like "Á keuta" (Restore, renew, refresh), "Á envinyata" (Heal), "Lótë" (Flower), "Á kuita" (Live) from he Elven language of Quenya.
  • Lovecraft Country: The Language of Adam in which the people chant their spells, which is (naturally) said to be the original human language which Adam spoke, and presumably has magical power given this (perhaps by coming directly from God).
  • Merlin (2008):
    • The show seems to use Old English for this purpose. This is weird, given that Old English would have been the language of the Saxon invaders that King Arthur fought against. Chalk it up to Translation Convention.
    • However, quite a few fans have mistaken it for Latin and written their fanfiction accordingly. Despite the fact that the two languages don't sound at all similar.
    • It was probably picked for the part because it's throaty and rhotic language, and thus sounds sufficiently mystical and alien to the modern Anglophone audience, whereas just about everybody knows approximately what Latin sounds like.
    • The one exception is when he's in Dragonlord mode. It's indicated he uses the dragon language then, which is represented by Homeric Greek. The Sidhe use Old Irish.
  • Supernatural: Enochian, Latin, and other ancient languages are used for incantations, exorcisms, and other rituals.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ars Magica:
    • The Order of Hermes uses Latin for magical writings and incantations. Justified because Latin is the dominant scholarly language in Medieval Europe, and became entrenched enough in the Order's teachings that any magus would need to make a major effort to adjust to a different tongue.
    • Some factions within the Order use different languages for magic out of tradition. The Tribunal of Thebes uses Classic Greek, as opposed to Romaic Greek, and the mystery cult of House Bjornaer uses Gothic in deference to its roots in Germanic witchcraft.
    • Outside the order, the Gruagachan hedge wizards use Pictish for magical purposes. For them, it's a sacred liturgical tongue that's as important to their practices as Magic Theory is for Hermetic magi.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Most spells have "Verbal Components" that must be uttered to cast spells. The exact form of these "components" is unspecified, and appears to change depending on the spell - indeed, several spells (most notably the Power Word spells) are just their verbal components, so the words themselves are magical. It's implied that the language of dragons, Draconic, plays a part.
    • Words of Creation and Darkspeech are more literal languages of magic. Mortals require a special feat to be able to even say a few words of them, and they have distinct magical properties. Darkspeech, for example, can be used to reduce the hardness value of an object, while words of creation can be used to aid in item creation.
    • Truespeech involves speaking directly to the universe itself to affect change, if temporarily. Recitations are applied uses of your own truename to remind the universe how you should be, removing negative effects or augmenting yourself for a time. Utterances from the Lexicon of the Evolving Mind affect a single creature, and uniquely can be reversed to have an opposite effect — said one way, an utterance can heal wounds or help someone move freely, while reversed the same utterance could inflict wounds or impede someone. The Lexicon of the Crafted Tool affects individual objects, while the Lexicon of the Perfected Map rearranges reality in an area around the truenamer.
    • The Illumian race (introduced in the 3.5th edition supplement Races of Destiny) are a Human Subspecies created when a linguist named Tarmuid devised a language from the shared magical phraseology of countless other tongues, then transformed himself and his followers through the Ritual of Words Made Flesh. Illumians look human save for a circle of softly-glowing runes orbiting their heads, which they can suppress with some effort, but doing so robs them of the runes' effects — each Illumian is particularly attuned to one sigil at 1st level and picks up another at 2nd level, which grant them minor bonus to corresponding ability score checks, and interact in ways that encourage multiclassing. For example, combining uur ("grace") and naen ("mind") allows an Illumian to forgo preparing a spell in exchange for bonus on sneak attack rolls, while aesh ("vigor") and hoon ("life") lets an Illumian give up a Turn Undead attempt to deal bonus damage with a weapon. As the physical embodiments of a magical language, Illumians interact strangely with spells like glyph of warding or explosive runes, and will either have a penalty to their saving throw if the spell's caster was stronger, or the Illumian's resonance will No-Sell the effect. And when they die, Illumians give a "Final Utterance" that is mostly gibberish, but occasionally prophetic phrases.
  • Earthdawn supplement Dragons. Dragonspeech is a form of telepathy that allows dragons to communicate with other creatures without speaking. The great dragon Vasdenjas says that dragonspeech can be used to communicate with the Universe itself and cause any pattern desired to be expressed in astral space, thus casting a spell.
  • Exalted Sorcery is this. While anyone can use magic by performing thaumaturgical rituals, and any being with awakened Essence can channel their power in accordance with their nature, Sorcery is (according to second edition metaphysics) actually the "language" (if one can call it that) which the Primordials used to communicate concepts in order to create the world.
    • Syntactic Magic from GURPS Thaumatology is an in-depth version of this with several examples provided.
    • GURPS Dragons: In one of the sample settings in this book, human beings can perform magical effects when they speak the dragon language. Interestingly, dragons cannot perform magic by doing so, but they can train mortals to become sorcerers.
  • Hunter: The Vigil: The Rmoahals, a pre-human race of giants, spoke a language that described things and concepts with such precision that, in essence, a statement was the thing it described, and altering it altered the thing as well. The Rmoahals themselves did not possess imagination or the ability to conceive of things that do not exist, but humans can use it to alter reality and work magic.
  • Mage: The Ascension has Enochian, but, because magic works the way you believe it does, Latin or other ancient languages will work. For that matter, so will the jargon of contract law. However, some seem to be better than others; one sourcebook includes a young mage worrying about an older mage whose house he's broken into using Latin, but the older mage tells him it's Sumerian that should concern him.
  • Mage: The Awakening has the High Speech. It's not necessary for magic, but it does give it a nice boost. It's also seemingly impossible to communicate in it outside of the short bits used to empower spells — attempts to learn it to the point of fluency always fail. Scholarly mages have theorized that the same event that birthed the Abyss "broke" High Speech so that it cannot be learned in full.
  • Powers And Perils: As an optional rule, each type of spell has a supernatural language associated with it. Using a supernatural language to cast an associated spell increases the chance of success and the power of the spell if it succeeds.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: The Lingua Praestantia, Daemonic, and Arcane Eltharin are languages designed to describe and channel the Winds of Magic. They are all used exclusively for casting spells and aren't intended for communication.
  • Warhammer 40,000 has the language of the Adeptus Mechanicus, Binary, which Depending on the Writer is a secret trade language the priesthood uses that the Inquisition's Ordo Dialogos still hasn't cracked yet, the mystic ritual tongue used to placate "machine-spirits," or literally binary code communicated through modems.
  • World of Synnibarr: Venderant Nalaberong is a language that was used by the Elder Gods to create the Centiverse. Anyone who knows how to speak it can perform ultra-powerful magical spells that are the strongest force in the Centiverse and can't be stopped by any other power.

    Video Games 
  • Bayonetta games have angels speaking Enochian, incantations written on various in-game props, and magic users (Bayonetta, Jeanne, Balder) use spells in Enochian for summons.
  • Everquest included the requirement to learn Dragon languages to master higher-level spells.
  • World of Warcraft: Inverted. The warlock ability "Curse of Tongues" forces the target to speak in Demonic, thus making them take longer to cast spells. Confusingly, said curse also works on monsters of the Demon type...
  • In Fire Emblem 9 and 10 spells are recorded as simple pieces of ancient tongue (such as "The light of life! Shine a ray upon my path and... strike my enemy!" or "O light, gather. Open my path...") that are said as part of the casting process.
  • In Treasure of the Rudra, the magic system is based on a Language of Magic, and you can create custom spells by stringing the right syllables together.
    • The base syllables are: IG for Fire, AQU for Water, TOU for Electricity, TEO for Wind, SOA for Light, SERE for Dark, PRA for Earth, and NIHI for Void.
  • In the EXA_PICO series, all magic is cast through songs. However, not just any language will do: you have to sing in a language encoded in and recognized by the local "magic server". The original magic language, Ar Ciela, cannot be pronounced by humans, so various derivatives of it, most commonly Hymmnos, are the languages through which magic is cast. Others include Carmena Foreluna, Emotional Song Pact, and REON-4132.
  • In Enchanted Folk And the School of Wizardry/Magician's Quest Mysterious Times, a magic language is used to cast spells, incantations, and communicate with various magical creatures (though it can also be used when interacting with other players).
  • All Ultima games mention magical incantations of some kind (usually something Latin-sounding in the first games) but starting with the fifth installment mages in the Ultima universe started using a standardized set of short words to form their incantations - for example, "In Lor" (literally "create light") illuminates your surroundings, and "An Nox" ("negate poison") cures poisoned characters.
  • Magic works this way in Tyranny. All spells have a core, an expression, and an optional number of flourishes that represent their being. The difficulty of casting a spell determines the Lore skill check required to cast it. Magic is explained this way, with ranks in Lore representing the character's understanding of the exact pronunciation required to produce the desired effect. Spell icons are represented as colored runes.
    • Kyros' signature ability that they used to conquer the known world works more explicitly as language. Kyros' Edicts are essentially binding laws enforced by reality itself. The plot explores how they can be exploited by a clever Rules Lawyer in multiple instances, starting with the very first mission. For example, said mission declares that the player and Kyros' two feuding armies will suffer grave consequences if they haven't accomplished their objective by a specific date, 8 days after the game starts. But it does not specify a year. So if the player rests for 8 days before proclaiming the Edict, they'll have a year—until the next time that day comes around—instead of a week.

  • In Elf Blood, most magic-casting characters use a symbolic language called Eldarin when reciting a spell. It's actually just a very simple direct substitution code. Some fans can read it fluently.
    • Gipsy is not an actual spellcaster: She manipulates reality through what can only be summed up as 'true mathematics'. Although recently her 'spells' resemble C-like function calls more than mathematical formulae.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Japanese fills this role for special techniques when practicing "anime-style martial arts".
  • In Jupiter-Men, all of the spells in Arrio's Spell Book are written in Spanish. Unfortunately, Arrio is flunking Spanish, making it difficult for him to learn how to use his powers.
  • In xkcd, computer programming languages occasionally fill this role. A recent guest strip by Bill Amend of FoxTrot fame demonstrates the power of Unix.
  • Draconic in Nahast: Lands of Strife, though it doesn't seem to be necessary once you're skilled enough.
  • In Sluggy Freelance most magical spells are written using a bizarre alphabet straight out of Pete Abrams's imagination (as seen here). How they're pronounced is anyone's guess.
  • In Sorcery 101, spells are cast by giving one's aura verbal instructions, generally using Latin. Not because there's something special about Latin, but because it's easier to learn magic when you don't actually know what you're saying.
  • In Wapsi Square, knowledge of the Lanthian language gives a person certain powers, and it can be used to command many Lantian artifacts.
  • In Bob and George, the Author uses it to revive Dr. Light.
  • Also the language of the Contract in But I'm a Cat Person, and the focus of much of the research at Cohen's Being-research division.
  • Penny Blackfeather has vaguely Asian/Persian writing that represents the language of magic. Ara speaks it for mundane purposes, though.
  • In Unsounded the Khert is a Background Magic Field that understands the Old Tainish language, so a spell is any correctly worded set of instructions beginning with "Heed me, Great Khert." Spell Composers are always on the lookout for lost Old Tainish words that can be used in spellwork. Meanwhile, asking too many questions about why the Gods would design the infrastructure of reality to answer to the language of one specific, remote ancient tribe is a good way to get on the bad side of both the Gefendur and Ssaelit faiths.
  • Most wizards in Sneaky Goblins speak magic words when casting.

    Web Original 
  • Common to the works of Sam Hughes:
    "Spells form a sort of API for requesting magical services. Spells are localised and for the most part take effect at the point in space where they are spoken. Simply speaking the words is not sufficient. The words serve as a mantra for the person speaking them, and it is the process of mentally jumping through various 'hoops' which actually causes the invocation to occur."

    Western Animation 
  • Latin is used as a magical language in Gargoyles, although the comics reveal that knowledge of Latin is not sufficient to cast spells.
    • Word of God states that older languages are better suited to spellcasting because the spells were written in those languages in the first place — while it's theoretically possible to cast a spell in English, it would take more than just a direct translation. In the episode "Golem", the spell to awaken the eponymous creature is in Ancient Hebrew.
      • Not just theoretically possible: The Magus managed it in "Avalon," although it severely exhausted him. Of course, he was drawing power directly from Avalon itself, which was explicitly different from his normal magic.
  • In Teen Titans (2003), Raven apparently uses one of these; normally all we hear is "Azarath, metrion, zinthos!" the mantra she uses to focus her will so she can safely use her inborn magical abilities, but on occasion (most notably in "The Prophecy") she'll go into an extended incantation in what sounds like the same language. The episode "Spellbound" also has Raven learn other spells with different incantations, but she refrains from using these after that episode because she can't control them.
    • The Recursive Adaptation Teen Titans Go!! explains this a bit more in an issue where the team's powers are swapped around between them. Beast Boy ends up with Raven's powers, but when her usual incantation does nothing for him, she explains that it's because the words don't mean anything to him. Keep in mind, also, that the first word, Azarath, is the name of Raven's home dimension.
  • In The Real Ghostbusters, when an episode needs to bust out the truly powerful ancient spells, it's almost always Sumerian that the spells are written in. One episode comments that only three people in the entire world can read these kinds of spells, and Egon is one of those three.
    • Subverted in an episode involving a ritual to summon the Old Ones.
      Ree-kah, rah-kah, firecracker, sis-boom-bah, old ones, old ones, rah-rah-rah.
    • In another episode, summoning an Artifact of Doom required the Ring Inscription.
  • In Ewoks, most of Logray's spells contain an unknown language, as well as the one he performs with Teebo in order the tie the rocks chasing the Jindas in The Curse of the Jindas.
  • The Young Justice (2010) version of Zatanna uses backwards words to cast spells, much like her classic comics counterpart.

    Real Life 
  • The Enochian language is used by many real-life magic practitioners, particularly those of Thelemite, Rosicrucian, and Hermetic traditions. The Enochian Magick is known as the Enochian System. The Church of Satan (no relationship with other Esoteric groups) uses a "satanized" version of Enochian developed by Anton LaVey in their magical rituals and ceremonies.
  • Some Wiccans and other Neo-Pagan users of Magick prefer the use of ancient languages in their spells. Mostly languages related to their Pagan tradition like Gaelic for Celtic Wicca and Neo-Druidism, Latin for Nova Roma, Greek for Hellenistics, etc.
  • Mantras are generally spoken in ancient dead languages like Sanskrit, and considering that a lot of Hindu and Buddhist mantras are meant to be something similar in concept to spells (as they are, in many cases, recited to attract good luck, blessings and health, repel enemies and evil spirits and even to cure the sick) they could be considered a case of "language of magic".
  • Hebrew was reckoned to be the "language of creation" for many years, mainly because The Bible (at least the Old Testament) was written in the language, and hence viewed as the language God used to create the world. Through the Kabbalistic tradition, it seems that Hebrew letters and language still is believed to be more potent than other languages.

Alternative Title(s): Magical Language