RSS Feed
Dec 9

Barsoomian Familial Relationships

Posted on Friday, December 9, 2011 in Books, Conlanging

Last time we looked at Barsoomian numbers. This time, we’re going to examine how relationships (mostly father to child) are stated in the language of Barsoom.

To begin with, anyone who has read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories knows that a good number of characters have names of the form X son of Y. There are some interesting variations, however, and these can be used as clues for some new vocabulary. It will be easiest to simply provide examples first and then explain their significance. To highlight the relationships a little clearer, let’s turn the names around:

  • Kantos Kan, father of Djor Kantos (a son) (of Helium)
  • Vas Kor, father of Hal Vas (a son) (of Dusor)
  • Than Kosis, father of Sab Than (a son) (of Zodanga)
  • Had Urtur, father of Tan Hadron (a son) (of Hastor)
  • Tardos Mors, father of Mors Kajak (a son) (of Helium)
  • John Carter, father of Carthoris (a son) (of Helium and Earth)
  • Tor Hatan, father of Sanoma Tora (a daughter) (of Helium)
  • Thuvan Dihn, father of Thuvia (a daughter) (of Ptarth)
  • Kal Tavan, father of Tavia (a daughter) (of Tjanath)

Notice that the majority of male children take their father’s first name (in some form) as their last name. Daughters, on the other hand, take their father’s first name (for most part) and change it. (Could Kal be a title in Kal Tavan?) Leaving aside Carthoris (although the syllables in his name follow the royal Heliumite pattern set by Tardos Mors and his son Mors Kajak), four of the five father-son pairs show no variation when the sons’ names are formed. However, Tan Hadron shows the pattern Had + ron: ron then would seem to be a suffix like “-son”. So, Tan Hadron is Tan “Had-son”. My contention is we add ron “son” to our Barsoomian vocabulary.

I find it interesting that most of these names follow the pattern X Y, father of Z X except for those of the Heliumite royal family. It’s even more interesting that John Carter follows this pattern with his son.

Daughters names are a little trickier (evidently). Here we see the suffix -a (e.g., Tora from Tor + a) as well as -ia (e.g., Thuvia from Thuv + ia derived from the father’s Thuvan minus the -an suffix. Same goes for Tavia). My contention is that ia does not represent two distinct vowels but rather a glide and a vowel and is pronounced something like “ya” [ja]: Thuvia [“TUv.ja].

It could be rationalized that -ia and -a are simply variations of the same suffix. We have other female names that end in these: Thuria (Phobos the moon, *daughter of Thuran?), Uthia, Llana, Valla Dia (daughter of Kor San). I’m not ready to say ia means “daughter”, but it must have some lexical significance. It’s interesting that John Carter could be seen as following this as well: His last name could be broken down as Car and Ter (Tar?) and his daughter’s name if Tara (Tar + a).

Next time, we’ll look at one more possible familial relationship using the Barsoomian word Hekkador, title of Matai Shang. Stay tuned…

Dec 1

“Dotar Sojat” does not mean “My Right Hand”

Posted on Thursday, December 1, 2011 in Books, Film, Rant

Okay, the newest John Carter movie trailer is out. As I’ve stated before, I’m a big fan of the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burrough (ERB). When I heard there was finally going to be a movie, I was skeptical but cautiously optimistic. After all, I was very pleased with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and my Tolkien hurdle is much, much higher than my ERB one. That being said, when I heard that Andrew Stanton was directing, my heart sank. I love Pixar and who can argue with Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and all the rest. But John Carter? It just didn’t seem to fit.

Well, now that two trailers are out…I’m very cautiously optimistic that the movie won’t stink. How’s that for hedging my bets? The visuals look kind of cool although the tusks on the Green Men seem a little out of place. They’re described as coming from the lower jaw. And I’m a little unsure of Woola’s look. But, I’m willing to give it a shot even with those caveats and the superfluous wardrobe department on the set. If nothing else, maybe it’ll be a rollicking space adventure.

But, as always, this is a conlanging blog, and the bone I have to pick with the film is conlinguistical. First of all, take another look at Tars Tarkas. Take a look at the descriptive paragraph. It’s okay, I’ll wait….Oh, you’re back. Notice that it says, “Tars gives Carter the Thark name Dotar Sojat, which translates to ‘my right hand.'” Uh, no. Dotar and Sojat were the names of the two warriors slain by John Carter upon his arrival on Barsoom. Unless one was named “My Right” and other was named “Hand”, that “translation” doesn’t work. Plus, Dotar Sojat isn’t just a Thark name. All inhabitants of Barsoom speak the same language, so “Tars gives Carter the Barsoomian name” would have at least been more accurate.

But that’s not the worst on the official site. Take a look at these: A Martian “Decoder” and a Martian Translator. Uh, once again, that’s not “translating” that’s what’s called a “code” (or “cipher” if you want to get fancy), Disney. What’s worse, the “Decoder” has every letter of the Roman alphabet! Couldn’t they have even put the letters C and K together or something! This is like something you’d get on the back of a cereal box or inside a Cracker Jack prize. Disney obviously told their art department to come up with some nifty designs, and, oh hey!, there’s 26 of them, let’s call them the “Martian language.” Tah dah!

With the inventiveness of ERB’s Barsoomian naming language, I had hoped there was some effort to pay lip service to the language (no pun intended). I’m still hoping there’s something in the final film, some small scene where Carter has to learn the language of Barsoom and then use English as the stand-in for it (a la The 13th Warrior). If not, it just seems like a lost opportunity. Sigh…

Nov 25

Maphead: A Mini-Review

Posted on Friday, November 25, 2011 in Books, Review

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you by Ken Jennings is a very enjoyable read that might get you to take a second look at maps.

For conlangers and conworlders, there is one entire chapter (“Legend”) that deals with imaginary worlds, from Austin Tappan Wright‘s Islandia to the works of Brandon Sanderson (a college friend of Jennings). Maphead is written in a friendly, very-accessible tone and looks at everything geographical from GPS games (like Geocaching) to discussions of Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “On Exactitude in Science” and its relation to Google Earth.

Some may recognize Ken Jennings from his record-breaking 2004 performance on the TV game show Jeopardy as well as his previous book, Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs. Maphead is a fascinating, humorous, down-to-earth (pun intended) book and should be on the reading list for all those with even a passing interest in cartography and geography.

Nov 19

Shapes for Sounds (and an upcoming review)

Posted on Saturday, November 19, 2011 in Books, Review

Howdy, loyal readers! (We need an English dual plural for that word “readers” in that sentence.) It’s been some time since I updated the blog and The Conlanger’s Library. Our hosting service changed the access method for the Library, and I haven’t had the time to explore the new method (Thanks for the suggestions though, David!) of updating the pages. I’m going to do it, especially since we can include the links to Amazon now (again). I’ll get around to it. Promise.

In the meantime, I do have a new book to share. Also, on the books front, be sure to check out the Fiat Lingua online journal in December for my extensive review of the new book from Oxford University Press, From Elvish to Klingon.

The one I’d like to share today is Shapes for Sounds (cowhouse) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you by Timothy Donaldson. Donaldson is obviously a student of Edward Tufte‘s work and Shapes for Sounds is an exquisite piece of work because of it. The book traces the development of every letter of the Roman alphabet in beautiful charts, one for each letter. There are also extensive textual parts to the book explaining the differences among the various historical fonts like carolingian, uncial, insular, blackletter, etc., etc., etc. Irish ogham even makes an appearance! The (cowhouse) in the title comes from the original names of the first two letters: aleph “cow” and beth “house”. For conlangers, Shapes for Sounds is full of inspiration for con-scripts as well as an enjoyable book to peruse just for the graphics.

There are several reviews online for Shapes for Sounds including this one and this one that have some great images from inside it. So check for it at your local library or local bookstore. It’s well worth the hunt.

(Added 11/25/2011) P.S. Donaldson’s book has one section directly relevant to conlangers and con-scripters. He has created three “conjectural” alphabets (Appendices 26, 27, and 28), actually three alternative miniscule (i.e., lower-case letters), based on three different majuscules (i.e., upper-case) of existing typefaces. The development of each of these alternative miniscules is included in each letter’s individual chart. They’re a very intriguing alternative view of what the Roman miniscules could have been like.

Sep 11


Posted on Sunday, September 11, 2011 in Books

Nome Gods Bearing Offerings

During my recent birthday, I decided to take the day off work and celebrate linguistically. My primary trip was to the Egyptian Gallery of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Recently beginning to study J.P. Allen’s Middle Egyptian (for the 2nd time through), I really wanted to try my hand at understanding some of the inscriptions there. I spent two hours taking photos, writing notes, looking up words in my Middle Egyptian dictionary. It was quite a rush to be able to pick out the names of Ditamenpaankh, Horwedja, Senbi, Shemai, and others. Being able to actually read the names Nebmaatre and Amenhotep III on the stela depicting the gods of the various nomes bearing offerings (plus a good chunk of the sentences, too) was very cool as well. A detail of that stela is to the right.

I rarely get to spend that much time in one gallery, so it was a very enjoyable early afternoon. Plus it definitely made me want to continue my studies in Allen’s book. If you’re interested at all in being able to read (or simply understand) Egyptian hieroglyphs, Allen’s book is an excellent introduction.

On my way home from the museum, I stopped at Half Price Books and ended up purchasing a copy of Lyle Campbell’s Historical Linguistics. Paying just a little over $14.00, I think I got a good price. I’ve just started perusing it but already see tons of useful information to apply to conlanging efforts. I still want to create a series of sister languages and Campbell’s book just might give me the ability to do it. Once again… in my spare time.

There were a number of things I didn’t get to do (e.g., work on The Conlanger’s Library site, work on more Dritok webpages, mow the grass, get my hair cut), but sometimes you have to make choices and, heck, one’s birthday only rolls around once per year. I’m hoping to begin posting some Dritok pages in the not-too-distant future. My goal is to have something ready for St. Hildegard’s Day this year. If not, that’s going to be my St. Hildegard’s Day Resolution: Get some Dritok details up on the web before St. Hildegard’s Day 2012!

So, I had a great little jamōla jÄ«stelon (in KÄ“len) and “Asshekhqoyi vezhvena” to me (in Dothraki).

Aug 7

Some Recent Books…

Posted on Sunday, August 7, 2011 in Books, Conlanging, Library Additions, Review

Okay, not recent in the sense of recently published but recent in the sense of “I just recently checked them out of my local library.” I thought I’d get them on the record with some links and brief reviews:

  • Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach by Henry Rogers (2005) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you
  • Case (2nd ed., Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics) by Barry J. Blake (2001) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you
  • English Verb Classes and Alternations: A Preliminary Investigation by Beth Levin (1993) Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore Find at a library near you

The icons link to places you can either purchase the books Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide Buy online from an indie bookstore or look for them at your local library through WorldCat Find at a library near you. These icons have also begun to be incorporated into the entries in The Conlanger’s Library as well.

Writing Systems (part of the Blackwell Textbooks in Linguistics series) covers a wide range of ancient and modern scripts and should serve as a good source of inspiration for conlangers developing “native” writing systems for their conlangs. While not exhaustive in its coverage, it does provide enough detail on the scripts to give the aspiring con-scripter the ability either to work directly from the information from the book or to begin to dig deeper on the Internet or databases for additional in-depth details on a writing system of interest. Personally, I really liked Rogers’ information in the sections on “Cuneiform”, “Semitic”, “Indian Abugida and Other Asian Writing”, and “Other Writing Systems”.

Blake’s Case is typical of the Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics (e.g., cover, layout, etc.). The abundant interlinear translations provide excellent examples of each topic covered. Lots of good inspiration for going beyond the “usual” case systems. The “Language Index” references well over 150 languages used as illustrative examples, from Abaza to Zoque.

Levin’s English Verb Classes has been recommended by none other than David J. Peterson at LCC4. The book is a tour-de-force of (no surprise) English verb classes and their alternations. As David suggested, this is a great source for developing a con-vocabulary.

None of these are cheap. If you can’t afford adding them to your personal conlanging bookshelf, they are well worth checking out at your local (public or academic) library. If they don’t have them on the shelf, don’t forget to request them through the interlibrary loan service. Most libraries will borrow items for you from outside the local area.

Enjoy! And happy conlanging!

(P.S. I almost forgot to add that Sylvia Sotomayor was instrumental in helping me get those icons incorporated into the Library. She did coding and was exceptionally patient in guiding me through the updates needed. lelāñ, Sylvia!)

Jul 10

The Half-Made World

Posted on Sunday, July 10, 2011 in Books, Review

I recently finished a novel by Felix Gilman entitled The Half-Made World. It features an extremely well-constructed world with just enough ambiguity to add some mystery to the whole thing. The setting is an interesting combination of Old West meets Steampunk, we are presented with an on-going conflict between the forces of the Gun and the Line. Those two monosyllabic words are invested with deeper meaning as the story progresses.

But this being a conlanging blog, let me discuss the use of language in Gilman’s work. To provide some background, the Gun are spirits that inhabit weapons which give their bearers powers to heal themselves of wounds but also to be even better at raining down death on others. Of course this power comes at a cost, most prominently in the Gun being able go use the Goad on its servants. The Line are also powerful spirits inhabiting machinery and industry. They are manifest, not as weapons but might sprawling Engines that crisscross the landscape pulling more and more land under their influence.

As you might guess from that last paragraph, Gilman makes good use of capitalization: the Gun, the Line, the Goad, the Engines. The voice of the Gun, heard inside one of the main character’s heads is “like metal scraping, like powder sparking, like steel chambers falling heavily into place.” The Song of the Line is like the hum of machinery or the throbbing of an engine.

There is some conlangery at work in the novel, albeit at a very rudimentary level in connection with the mysterious Hillfolk. When the hospital director speaks about the Hillfolk, we get an inkling of their phonology: “He barked, ‘Ek-Ek-Kor! Kek-Rek-Gok!’…Their names, insofar as it is meaningful to name them, were Kek-Kek, Kur-Kur, Kona-Kona.” When Creedmoor calls out to the Hillfolk, we get a list of other languages existing in the half-made world: “He spoke again, in a different language, guttural and choking; and again, in a deeper and harsher tongue that Liv recognized as Dhravian, and he boomed out the words yet again in the nasal Kees-tongue.” We also discover that the female spirit’s names Ku Koyrik which looks like it means “hound of the border”. She was the wife of Kan-Kuk, the Hillfolk companion of the General.

In the end, not a lot of conlanging in The Half-Made World, but the I found the novel a page-turner and well worth the read. There’s a sequel in the works, and I’m very curious to continue to discover what the Gun and the Line have in store.

May 1

The Stone Dance of the Chameleon

Posted on Sunday, May 1, 2011 in Books, Review, World-building

Opening lines of the Song of the Earth

I’ve mentioned Pinto’s trilogy previously on this blog but felt it was appropriate to revisit since I’ve now finished the third volume, The Third God.

First of all, check out the front cover of The Third God at Pinto’s website. Great artwork! In fact, someone I showed the book to even said, “I want to read it just from that!” Those huimur with their flame-pipes a-blazing look very cool. In fact, Pinto has a section on his site devoted to some concept art by Jim Burns who painted the covers for the most recent editions of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon trilogy.

As a world-builder, Pinto has created a complex, fully-developed world. The level of detail is absolutely stunning and can be glimpsed throughout his work. His website gives some glimpse into the background he created in which to situate his characters and is well worth exploring. Here’s a link to the Sitemap of the Stone Dance material. I would easily put Pinto up there in the pantheon of world-builders. He’s not Tolkien, but he’s provided a world almost as detailed as Middle-earth.

Not that I’d want to visit Pinto’s world. Middle-earth would be an interesting place to visit, and one (okay, I) could fantasize about rummaging through the archives of Minas Tirith or Rivendell, taking metallurgy classes from the Dwarves in the Glittering Caves or the restored Khazad-dum, or lifting a pint in the Prancing Pony or The Green Dragon.

Visiting The Three Lands (as the Masters call their world in Pinto’s work) on the other hand would not, in all likelihood be a pleasant experience. Astonishing, awe-inspiring, and intriguing; but also harsh, brutal, and (in all likelihood) fatal. One false move or a glimpse of an unmasked Master and – boom – you’re dead. Hanging out with the Ochre or one of the other Earthsky tribes – boom – you’re conscripted into the legions or part of the flesh-tithe. Enslaved within Osrakum – boom – chances are your eyes are gouged out and replaced by precious stones. Hmm, given those choices, I’ll stick with Gaffer Gamgee at The Ivy Bush, even with the lush detail of The Three Lands.

You may have noticed I haven’t much mentioned the plot and characters of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon. Let me say that, as a novelist, Pinto is a first-class world-builder. He’s obviously in love with and proud of his creation (and for good reason). However, we are repeatedly encouraged to gaze in wonder at the details of his world within the story. While his characters are interesting and his plot is wide-ranging; there seemed to be a number of themes that seemed to be repeated throughout. A couple plot twists were never explained (at least to my satisfaction). I found myself (unfortunately) skipping entire paragraphs near the end of The Third God to keep up with the story and find out what happens to Carnie, Osidian, Poppy, Fern, and the rest of the cast. I’m still not sure about the ending, but I won’t give it away for those who may have not read the trilogy.

I recommend Pinto’s trilogy highly with the caveat that the plot of the books themselves take some slogging through at times. That being said, The Three Lands is an absolutely amazing location and well worth exploring. I was just hoping for some Appendices. Pinto’s website obviously just provides a tantalizing glimpse of the details of the world of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon.

Apr 22

I Love Library Booksales

Posted on Friday, April 22, 2011 in Books

I have the good fortune to work in a major public library, and our booksales always have a linguistic treasure or two. This season’s booksale just finished, and I picked up two books on Swahili (one a dictionary, one a “Teach Yourself” title) and a dictionary of German synonyms.

At other booksales, I’ve picked up books on learning languages and, a number of years ago, one outlining all the similarities between Scandinavian languages and Native American ones (trying to “prove” that Eastern Native American languages were directly related to the Viking settlers of North America, if I remember correctly).

There have been some ones I’ve kicked myself for not buying. I’m thinking especially of last year when I saw a complete set of The Lord of the Rings in a Russian translation. Saw it lying on a table and thought, “Oh, I need to stop back around and pick that up.” By the time I came back, they were gone. I even remember looking through them a the time and thinking, “Ah, no translation of the Appendices.”

Oh, well, I can curl up with my German synonyms, and see how I can create some vocabulary. Sure, I could have used a Roget’s, but synonyms in another language than English seemed a more interesting way to go.

Anyone willing to share any finds they’ve come across at library booksales?

Apr 2

A Little Lexical Inspiration

Posted on Saturday, April 2, 2011 in Books, Conlanging, Natural Languages, Nonfiction

I recently picked up the book Pacific Languages: An Introduction by John Lynch from the library and was leafing through it. Lots and lots of food for thought from languages from Adzera to Yukulta. This evening, as I was looking over Chapter 11 (Language, Society and Culture in the Pacific), and found some good lexical inspiration. I’ve read a number of times on various conlanging listservs and boards about looking for different ways to split up concepts that may be lumped together in one’s own language. Well, from this book, it appears Yidiny does a good job of illustrating this:

dalmba – sound of cutting
mida – the noise of a person clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth, or the noise of an eel hitting the water
maral – the noise of hands being clapped together
nyurrugu – the noise of talking heard a long way off when the words cannot quite be made out
yuyurunggul – the noise of a snake sliding through the grass
gangga – the noise of some person approaching, for example, the sound of his feet on leaves or through the grass — or even the sound of a walking stick being dragged across the ground

I for one would not have thought of assigning lexemes to those concepts.

Additionally, Pacific Languages: An Introduction provides a reminder that even different stages of a coconut’s growth can be assigned different words: a coconut fruit bud (iapwas), young coconut before meat has begun to form (tafa), nut with hard well-developed meat (kahimaregi), etc., etc., etc.

Hmmm, all these languages have me thinking about my own Elasin after a looong hiatus. Might be time to go back and start “reconstructing” the work of Paiwon Lawonsa on the Uhanid languages.