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Adventures in Barsoomian Continued…

Posted on Monday, December 19, 2011 in Books, Conlanging

I went back and re-read that recent NY Times article on conlanging and realized it mentions that Paul Frommer (of Na'vi fame) has been hired “to develop a Martian language called Barsoomian for ‘John Carter,’ a science-fiction movie to arrive in March.” That gave me some hope! If that is the case, it’s even more unfortunate that they included the Martian “Decoder” and Martian Translator on the movie’s official site. Why not start promoting Barsoomian now? Build some buzz? I also had the thought that, even though Dr. Frommer is a “professional” language creator, any Barsoomian he comes up with will be no more canonical than something I or anyone else devises. The only Barsoomian canon (from my perspective) would be that devised (or sanctioned by) Edgar Rice Burroughs (or, I suppose, his estate). So, with that in mind, let’s continue on our own little adventure into the speech of the Red Planet.

Last time out, we gained some new vocabulary and could say things like Hek dar ron “The father guards his son” with articles, tense, and pronouns supplied telepathically (or by context). This time, we’ll turn to measurements and see what we can puzzle out…

According to ERB, we have on Barsoom the sofad, ad, haad, and karad measurements with the following relationships:

  • 10 sofad = 1 ad
  • 200 ad = 1 haad
  • 100 haad = 1 karad = 1 degree of Barsoomian longitude
  • 360 karad = circumference of Barsoom at the equator

So, the ad is the basic unit of measurement. This means the prefixes sof, ha, and kar must impart some meaning to the basic term ad. Judging by my previous post, it doesn’t appear that these three are numerical. It would seem strange (even for Barsoom) for sof to mean something like “1/10”. Unfortunately, sof does not appear in any other Barsoomian name. On the other hand, both ha and kar do appear: Haja (princess of Gathol), Tor Hatan (Odwar of the
91st Umak), Okar (a city), Kar Komak (odwar of Lothar), Torkar Bar (Kaolian noble). How do reconcile these different uses? My suggestion: sof means something like “small, minor, lesser” and ha “bigger, major, greater”. Kar, on the other hand, since it refers to measurement “around” the planet could mean something like “long, lengthy, extended” and by extension in the vertical plane “tall, high”. I could even go so far as to say that kar is the final comparative degree: “biggest, greatest”. You may remember we also had -dak (< jeddak) and -dara (< jeddara) as superlative markers. A better term for these two might be an augmentative (i.e., the opposite of the “-y” or “-ie” in names like “Tommy” and “Susie”). This would give us degrees of comparison (smaller, original, bigger). That means then that we have:

  • sof “small”
  • ha “bigger”
  • kar “biggest”

We could even use these in the opposite direction and get:

  • sof “small”
  • hasof “smaller”
  • karsof “smallest”

I could see Kar Komak‘s first name meaning something like “The High” (as in “your highness”). Sure, why not? We’re also saying that modifiers come after the word they modify. So…

  • Calot ha dar phai karsof jeddak “[The] larger calot guards [the] jeddak’s youngest (i.e., smallest) daughter”
  • Darseen sof banth “[A] darseen [is] smaller [than a] banth”

And finally…

  • John Carter sof Tars Tarkas than-dak “John Carter [is] smaller [than] Tars Tarkas, [but he is a] great fighter” (Once again, taking advantage of the telepathic component of Barsoomian)

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more…