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Hek, Shahek, Ron, Phai: All in the Barsoomian Family

Posted on Saturday, December 10, 2011 in Books, Conlanging

Okay, since this is installment three of my Barsoomian escapade, I think it would be prudent to state very clearly that I am under absolutely no illusions that what I come up with (now that we’re going to be veering into uncharted and unattested waters more and more) is in any way remotely like what Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) had in mind when he created the words used to describe native Barsoomian customs, titles, names, etc., etc. I’m sure that ERB had a solid idea of what he wanted names to sound like, obviously keeping morphemes like mad “human, man, person”, kadar “guard”, dwar “captain”, in mind; but ERB was a storyteller not a conlanger. With names from Aaanthor to Zodanga and everything in between, ERB’s primary desire was to make his characters and locations sound “exotic” (at least as it was defined in the early 20th century). And that’s cool! I’m obviously a fan, and my point is that he’s provided just enough vocabulary that a conlanger has a nearly blank slate to play around on. Which is what I’m doing. Other conlangers would be able to use the same source material and come up with completely different rationalizations, but these are the ones that I’ve developed in trying to stay as true to the original as possible…and to have some conlinguistical fun in the process.

Last time, I promised some explanation of hekkador, the title of “Father of Therns” Matai Shang. Okay, here’s where we really start to go off the beaten path, so stick with me. It might be a bumpy ride…

  • The Valley of Dor is consistently referred to as the Valley of “Heaven” (“This is the valley of love and peace and rest… This, John Carter, is Heaven” – Tars Tarkas, The Gods of Mars). My contention is that dor itself means “heaven, love, peace, rest”.
  • Keep in mind that there is a strong telepathic component to Barsoomian language. The spoken word may be Dor, but the concept communicated to John Carter can be “heaven” or “love” or “peace” as the specific case requires. To alleviate the cognitive dissonance between spoken and telepathic Barsoomian, John Carter records phrases like these alternatively with their Barsoomian and English equivalents: The Valley of Dor = The Valley of Heaven.
  • Now we turn our attention to hekkador which has the morpheme dor. It appears that hekkador has some equivalence to “Father of Therns”. Well, obviously the Barsoomian word thern is not present so what about dor. We know the therns are often referred to as the “holy” therns. My contention (granted on flimsy evidence and wishful thinking, I realize) is that dor along with ka- as a prefix comes up with a word meaning “holy ones (i.e., ones associated with heaven)”. I’m not sure how exactly I see ka- functioning, but we’ll revisit that later.
  • So, if we have hek then left over, what could it mean? hek-“holy ones”. The title means something like “Father of Therns”. My choice is that it means “father”: hekkador “Holy Father” (like the Pope) or “Father of the Holy Ones”.
  • Do we have any other terms or phrases where the modifier follows the head of the word? Actually, we do: “I could see Tars Tarkas explaining something to the principal chieftain, whose name, by the way, was, as nearly as I can translate it into English, Lorquas Ptomel, Jed; jed being his title.” – A Princess of Mars. The comma between Ptomel and Jed is merely a convenience of the English translation. The Thark’s name is evidently Lorquas Ptomel Jed with jed functioning kind of like a modifier. At least that’s my argument and I’m sticking to it.

I can also rationalize the dor “heaven, peace, etc.” in Shador, too. Shador is the prison island on the Omean Sea. In this case, prison has an absence of peace and rest, it’s not heaven. In fact, it’s the opposite of heaven. So… sha in this case signifies the opposite or negation of something else: Shador “Anti-heaven; Not-heaven”. What about the hekkador‘s daughter Phaidor? Read on…

So, along with *ron “son” we now have *hek “father”. Can we come up with “daughter”. My loosely-connected neurons say “Yes”.

  • Matai Shang had a daughter, “Phaidor, daughter of the Holy Hekkador.” Again, we encounter dor “heaven”. My choice this time is that phaidor (note without the ka-) means “daughter (of) heaven” or “heaven’s daughter”. Given the ability to add specific meaning telepathically, I could even add phai means “daughter, maiden, girl”, and, using that line of reasoning *ron would mean “son, youth, boy”.

So, there you have it. Five new morphemes in our (Neo-)Barsoomian vocabulary:

  • *hek “father”
  • *phai “daughter, maiden, girl”
  • *ka- prefix meaning to be determined
  • *sha “opposite, negation, absence of”

We could also extrapolate a word for mother: *shahek “opposite of father”.Going back to our second installment, we could “say” something like Tardos Mors hek Mors Kajak and Dejah Thoris phai Mors Kajak. Granted, we’re not translating the International Declaration of Human Rights, but it’s a start. Next time, we’ll begin to dissect some of the titles of Barsoom and see how we can extrapolate a few words from those.

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