In The Canon:- Edit
The Duchy of Quirm is Ankh-Morpork's nearest neighbour, an independent city-state which at its nearest point is about twenty-five miles away. (Although the route is overland with no convenient bödy of water seperating the two). There is a clear distinction between Quirm the city and Quirm the country. The Duchy has a ruling family, the Rodleys, who would appear to be absentee landlords living in Ankh-Morpork. There is a permanent standing army of at least two infantry and one cavalry regiments, which are named in the canon. The Quirm Academy for Young Ladies is based in or just outside the city, and the Fools Guild (Societe des Joyeux du Quirm) maintains a training school at La Sorbumme. It is unclear as to wheter La Sorbumme is a district of the city or a smaller town in the Duchy. Quirm is viewed as an attractìve place to retire to, by people who have tended to live eventful and interesting lives, and they generally tend to vow, on retiring to Quirm, that nothing eventful nor exciting shall ever happen here.
The problem of QuirmEdit
For a place that has been part of the Discworld canon almost since the beginning, Quirm is scrappily and inconsistently written. It will be a long time, for instance, before Stephen Briggs gets round to drawing up a "Streets of Quirm" map. At first, it is a quiet backwater town with its best days behind it, to which afluent Morporkians tend to retire and spend their remaining days in peace and quiet. This is how the place is depicted as far late in the series as Moving Pictures and Soul Music. but after this, a distinctly Gallic vibe starts to creep in, and the noticeable point is received that Quirm is now becoming the Discworld analogue of France and all things French. By Hogfather, a Quirmian language has appeared which is very suspiciously like French. This refines itself by Making Money into Aimsbury's gramattically correct plaint about being made mock of by the Gods. So how can these two contradictory impressions - a rural backwater shire town in "England", and a form of "Paris-au-Disquemonde" be reconciled?
Resolving Quirm: the Pessimal Hypothesis:-Edit
After a lot of thought, A.A. Pessimal reasoned thusly concerning Quirm.
It has always been the Discworld analogue of France. (and according to unwritten law in these manners, its depiction of “France” and “The French” must therefore be France with all the knobs turned up to at least eleven).
But the back-story of Quirm/France on the Discworld is necessarily different to that of France on Roundworld. Here, Ankh-Morpork has always been the dominant power on the central continent. Any of the struggling for dominance between England, later Britain, and France, which took at least seven centuries to resolve on our world, will be a long, long, way in the past, and Ankh-Morpork has clearly won by a country mile. (Apologies to my friends on VadeMecum…). In this world, France was still a major world power and a great influence on the development of the whole world. In some telling ways she remains a world power. But on the Discworld, Quirm was eliminated as a superpower player a long time ago. The country still has some influence: Vetinari is on record as saying that Quirmian is the language of international diplomacy, The language is clearly that of high-class cooking and the culinary årts (witness the restaurant menus in Hogfather and Aimsbury’s grammatically correct outburst in Making Money, concerning why the gods have singled him out to be the punchline of their joke.) Opera, classical music and ballet may be conducted in Quirmian, and Rosemary Palm regards it as the language of negotiated affection. And of course its people are renowned for Gallic tenacity, pride and self-respect. (Or bloody-minded Froggy chauvinism.)
So even allowing for immigration from Morporkian-speaking retirees, there would still be a significant proportion of the population who would speak Quirmian as a first language.
To dwell on the idea of a retirement community: look at the way so many affluent older British people are drawn to France because of lower property prices and a more forgiving climate. Witness Peter Mayne’s rather self-satisfied books about moving to France – A Year in Provence and its successors. And of course, Morporkians do not have an inconvenient sea channel to cross – the route to Quirm is overland. The French people are beginning to grumble about English enclaves living among them who socialise only with each other and who cannot or will not seek to learn French. This perhaps is human nature – look at the way North Welsh people have always worried about English immigrants coming in, drawn by comparatively cheap property, whilst their young Welsh-speaking people are driven out in search of jobs elsewhere. As Quirmian will have nowhere near the same status on the Disc that French does on Earth, could Quirmian be a minority language like Welsh on our world?
However, we also have to bear in mind the Discworld fact that thousands of miles away, the riparian culture of the river Vieux, and to a certain extent that of the city-state of Genua, is also a Quirmian-speaking one. A colony? Evidence that Quirmian was once spoken over a far greater range?
A working model for Quirm might not be in metropolitan France – for the city of Quirm, look to Montreal in Canada, a genuinely cosmopolitan city where English is as likely to be heard as French, despite the fact Montreal is in the heart of militantly French-speaking Quebec. Yet leave the city, go out into the Quebecois backwoods, and try to speak English. You will be met with hostility and bloody-minded seeming incomprehension until you give up and start to speak a civilised language. I suspect it will be the same in the Duchy of Quirm.
Quirm – landscape and geography:-Edit
- · The River Inseine
La belle langue quirmienne:-Edit
The spread of spoken Quirmian points to a far greater geographical range in times past, or perhaps to the same sort of pressures to emigrate that led Ankh-Morporkians to Fourecks and the Foggy Islands, While Sto Kerrigians migrated en masse to .Howondaland. Quirmian, by historical accident, is the first language of half the people of Sto Lat (the other half speak a dialect of Kerrigian). Quirmian is also spoken as first language in Genua, and in a significant chunk of Aceria, as well as in some tropical islands - including the Brown Islands - towards the Rim of the Discworld. This is beleived to have been because of all the bloody artists who went out there to paint because they thought the light was better.