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Ay, Ra, Co… Counting in Barsoomian!

Posted on Thursday, December 8, 2011 in Conlanging

As mentioned in my last blog post, I’m really hoping for some Barsoomian language in the upcoming John Carter of Mars movie. In that post, I whined about the lack of any conlinguistical features in the movie promos thus far (and the presence of the Martian “Decoder” and Martian Translator.)

Well, I’ve decided to go back to the source material (i.e., the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB)) and try my own hand at puzzling out some basic vocabulary and grammar. This has already been done (most astutely by Jeffrey Henning and David Bruce Bozarth), but I felt there was such a goldmine of opportunity that I couldn’t resist wading in.

I’ve tried to stay as true to the vocabulary provided by ERB as possible, but, truthfully, there really isn’t a lot to go on since he didn’t define a lot of terms. I did take the word lists at Bozarth’s site and broke all the names, places, vocabulary, planets, etc., etc., down into their constituent syllables to get a feel for the sounds. I came up with 329 distinct syllables (and I’m not completely satisfied with them), with over 200 having either an initial stop or a fricative. I’m planning on several posts outlining my work on this. For the most part, it’s just a fun little conlang exercise. I am neither a linguist nor an ERB expert, but I think I can justify and/or rationalize all my choices. Bear with me and enjoy the ride. This first post is going to “teach” you how to count from one to ten and beyond in Barsoomian:

The Barsoomian page at has a run-down of possible numbers, but Henning stays very cautious in his interpretation. I’m going to throw caution out the window and say, “Here is how to count in Barsoomian…”

(Using * in the traditional “this is an unattested form”)

Many of these will look identical to since we’re using the identical source material. Ay is from Ay-mad “first man”. Ov is from the name of the hormad Teeaytan-ov “synthetic man Eleven-hundred-seven”. On the other hand, I have filled in more holes. Let me explain why. As has been pointed out, the bar in Barsoom (ERB’s name for Mars) means “eight”. We also have names for five planets, all ending in soom. I posit that soom means “a body of the solar system” and (at least) the planets (except Jupiter – more on that later) are simply Rasoom “2nd planetary body (Mercury) (the Sun is *Ay-soom “first body of the solar system”), Cosoom “3rd body of the solar system”, Jasoom “5th body of the solar system” (The moons get counted first!, so our Luna could be *Torsoom since tor is attested from Tor-dur-bar “Four-million-eight”), and, and finally Barsoom “8th solar body” (counting Cluros “Deimos” and Thuria “Phobos” as 6 and 7, respectively).

So, that gets us a good ways to filling up the numbers. The hormad names give us 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 100, and a million. The names Il-dur-en and Dur-dan give us pause. What to do with il, en, and dan? My rationalization is that the final syllables in both Teeaytan-ov and Tor-dur-bar are single digits. Il could conceivably be a single digit, but we do have teeay “11” in Teeaytan-ov. Therefore, purely by chance and with no other reason, I decided that en and dan should be 6 and 9 and simply took a 50/50 chance and assigned them.

Now, what do with il? ERB gives us terms for 10 (tee), 100 (tan), 1,000 (dar), 10,000 (mak from umak “a fighting force of 10,000” – compare to utan “a fighting force of 100 soldiers”). So, we’re obviously dealing with some sort of base 10 system with names for pivotal numbers. So, what to do with il? I decided (again, on a whim and flimsy rationalization) to assign il a value of 50. I got the idea simply from Roman numeral L… il, “L”? You be the judge. We can then continue our counting…


We could then provide the current year in the language: ra-dar-teeay “two-thousand-eleven”. A Zodangan or Heliumite may not understand it, but at least it’s internally logically consistent (for the most part).

There you have it! The first installment of my interpretation of what Barsoomian may be like! Stay tuned for more…