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In a hole in the ground there lived...


TLoO: Chapter 4

Posted by Tolkien , in Okotoan Language, linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Feb 12 2015 · 537 views

The Language of Okoto

Chapter 4


That’ll do for the names Ekimu and Makuta for the time being. Now let’s turn to another part of the dataset, one word in particular: Toa. I’ve already hinted at how I intend to incorporate this term into the sketch of the Okotoan Language, so might as well get on with it:

Assumption: The term toa translates to “master” or “hero”.

Where do we go from here? Because we only have one term to look at, there isn’t quite the same opportunity for comparative reconstruction that we’ve had previously. However, we can still apply some of the knowledge we’ve pieced together related to phonological rules.

Observation: In all other instances of two-vowel sequences, phonological rules have reduced the sequence to a single vowel, so we would expect /oa/ to be subject to a similar rule (for example, /oa/ becoming /a/ at the ends of words, /o/ elsewhere). However, no such reduction applies in this case.

It could, of course, be that /oa/ is simply “immune” to this class of sound changes...but that’s a bit of a dead-end if our aim is to actually make progress in constructing the Okotoan Language. So, instead, here’s another option to consider:

Proposal: Reduction does apply to /oa/, but in a different way: The sequence /oa/ derives from an older sequence /oua/, which is indeed subject to phonological reduction, but in such a way that it results in the modern sequence /oa/. This means that the term toa derives from an older stage *toua.

Phonological Rule 3:
Subpart 3a: /ou/ > /u/ word-finally.
Subpart 3b: /ou/ > /o/ elsewhere. Example: /toua/ > /toa/.

Once again, we are able to use the exact same pattern of sound change that applies to sequences like /au/ and /ui/, this time affecting a postulated sequence /ou/ in such a way that it results in the preservation of a two-vowel sequence in the modern form of a word.


- We’ve assigned the meaning “master” or “hero” to the word toa, and also reconstructed an older form of this word, *toua, based on observations about the occurrence of postulated two-vowel sequences elsewhere in the language.
- Along the way, we’ve derived a third phonological rule affecting the vowel-sequence /ou/ (> /u/ word-finally, /o/ elsewhere).

Current Glossary:

e “?making, ?creating”
eki “maker” (< *ekui)
ekimu “mask maker”
ki “agent” (< *kui)
kuta “hoarder” (< *kuita)
makuta “mask hoarder”
mu “mask” (< *mau)
ta “?hoarding, ?grouping”
toa “master, hero” (< *toua)


TLoO: Chapter 3

Posted by Tolkien , in Okotoan Language, linguistics, Bionicle, Language and Etymology Feb 10 2015 · 652 views

The Language of Okoto

Chapter 3


Now that we’ve taken the first step in breaking down the dataset, it’s time to go a bit further. Recall that, thus far, we’ve decomposed the names ekimu and makuta into eki “maker” plus *mau “mask” (“mask maker”) and *mau “mask” plus kuta “hoarder” (“mask hoarder”). For this post, let’s focus on these newly-derived elements eki and kuta and try to break them down even further.

First of all, consider their meanings: “maker” and “hoarder”. Both of these constitute “agentive” nouns, indicated by the English suffix -er. This common element of agentivity can easily provide us with a point of comparison, in the same way that we used the common element of “mask” in the previous post. Therefore:

Assumption: The words eki and kuta both incorporate a morpheme corresponding to “agent”.

And from there we can move immediately to an observation:

Observation: There is a common sequence /k+vowel/ in both words, /e-ki/ and /ku-ta/.

The variation between /ki/ and /ku/ presents us with a situation that is almost identical with the situation involving /ma/ ~ /mu/ in the previous post, in which case, to keep things maximally simple, we can apply the exact same methodology in order to derive /ki/ ~ /ku/ from a common etymological source, parallel to the derivation of /ma/ ~ /mu/ from the reconstructed *mau.

Proposal 1: The sequence /ki/ in /eki/ and the sequence /ku/ in /kuta/ can both be traced back to an older common form *kui “agent”. Furthermore, the vowel-sequence /ui/ is affected by the following phonological rule, which has two subparts:

Phonological Rule 2:
Subpart 2a: /ui/ becomes /i/ word-finally. Example: /ekui/ > /eki/.
Subpart 2b: /ui/ becomes /u/ elsewhere. Example: /kuita/ > /kuta/.

This phonological rule is modeled on the first phonological rule affecting /au/ and operates according to the exact same principles, i.e. the first vowel in a sequence of two vowels is deleted in word-final position, while the second vowel deletes elsewhere. This kind of rule-based simplicity is desirable, I would say, on grounds of parsimony, so it’s fortunate that we can take advantage of it once again!

Now that we’ve extracted *kui “agent” from eki and kuta, we are left with the challenge of assigning appropriate meanings to the remnants of these terms: e- on the one hand and -ta on the other. First, let’s consider the meanings of eki and kuta in relation to our new assumption about *kui “agent”: The term eki “maker” would derive from the complex e-kui, translating to something like “?agent of making; make-er”, while the term kuta would derive from kui-ta, translating to something like “?agent of hoarding; hoard-er”, in which case we can assign rough meanings to our remaining elements, e “?making” and ta “?hoarding”.

This once again leaves the question of the syntactic/semantic difference between the two terms. In both cases, the primary element is *kui “agent”, with e “?making” placed as a modifier before *kui and ta “?hoarding” placed as a modifier after *kui. Here’s how these facts play out:

e-kui = “agent with an abstract/indirect relation to making”, i.e. not a “direct” maker (creating things from nothing), but a builder or someone who makes things out of materials (one step removed from the initial process of creation)

kui-ta = “agent with concrete relation to hoards/groups”, i.e. someone who directly/physically collects objects into definable groups.


- We have decomposed the words eki “maker” and kuta “hoarder” into the reconstructed element *kui “agent”, modified in the former case by the element e “?making, ?creating” and in the latter case by the element ta “?hoarding, ?grouping”.
- Along the way, we’ve derived a second phonological rule affecting the vowel-sequence /ui/ (> /i/ word-finally, /u/ elsewhere).

Current Glossary:

e “?making, ?creating”
eki “maker” (< *ekui)
ekimu “mask maker”
*kui “agent” (would become ki in the modern form of Okotoan)
kuta “hoarder” (< *kuita)
makuta “mask hoarder”
mu “mask” (< *mau)
ta “?hoarding, ?grouping”


TLoO: Chapter 2

Posted by Tolkien , in Okotoan Language, linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Feb 08 2015 · 776 views

The Language of Okoto

Chapter 2


(Note that the material in this post is basically a culled-down/revised version of this post.)

Now that we’ve collected a dataset, the next step in the project to construct an Okotoan Language is to take a part of that dataset and attempt to break it down into smaller units. The best way to do this is to assign some reasonable meanings to a few of the terms available and then use a bit of comparative methodology and some etymological know-how to decompose the words.

Ekimu is referred to by the title of “Mask Maker”, while Makuta is referred to by the title of “Mask Hoarder”. As suggested in the original topic, these titles could work well as the meanings of the names Ekimu and Makuta, and I will adopt this idea in order to proceed:

Assumption: The names Ekimu and Makuta translate, respectively, to “Mask Maker” and “Mask Hoarder”.

The advantage to this assumption is that it provides us with a basis for comparing the names. Both titles contain a meaning-element (or “morpheme”) signifying “mask”, so by comparing the two Okotoan names, we should be able to identify and isolate the common element.

Observations: There is a common sequence /m+vowel/ in both names, /eki-mu/ and /ma-kuta/. Both names also contain a sequence of /k/ between vowels, /eki-mu/ in the first case and /m-aku-ta/ in the second.

Both of these options could work, although they both come with a different set of assumptions/consequences. In the first case, we’d have to postulate that the sequences /-mu/ and /ma-/ both map to the morpheme “mask”, and the remaining portions of these words—/eki-/ and /-kuta/—map to the meanings “maker” and “hoarder”, respectively. In the second case, “mask” would be signified by the sequences /eki-/ and /-aku-/, with the morphemes for “maker” and “hoarder” represented by the sequences /-mu/ and /m-...-ta/.

I believe the first option is preferable on the following grounds:

First, splitting the names into /eki-mu/ and /ma-kuta/ is, in general, more uniform than splitting them into /eki-mu/ and /m-aku-ta/, because it results in both names being reduced to two clear morphemic elements (/eki+mu/ and /ma+kuta/), matching the assumed English translations (“mask+maker” and “mask+hoarder”) in a straightforward manner. This contrasts with the second option, which would reduce one name to two morphemic units (/eki+mu/), but the second name to (at least) three (/m+aku+ta/), unless we make some further hypotheses about the composition of these names (e.g. /ekimu/ should be divided into /eki+m+u/ to mirror /m+aku+ta/). On grounds of parsimony (i.e. simplicity), therefore, I believe the first option is better.

Second, assuming that the sequences /mu/ and /ma/ are connected requires only one unified phonological rule affecting a single vowel, such that the vowels /u/ (in /mu/) and /a/ (in /ma/) both originate from a common source. In contrast, assuming that /eki/ and /aku/ are etymologically connected requires at least two rules, since two vowels are involved: /e/ and /a/ must trace back to one common source, and /i/ and /u/ trace back to another. Therefore, I believe that the first option wins out once again on grounds of parsimony (i.e. wanting to assume the minimum number of rules).

With that said, here is how the first option would play out:

Proposal 1: The sequence /mu/ in /ekimu/ and the sequence /ma/ in /makuta/ can both be traced back to an older common form *mau “mask” (the asterisk denotes a reconstructed form). Furthermore, the vowel-sequence /au/ is affected by the following phonological rule, which has two subparts:

Phonological Rule 1:
Subpart 1a: /au/ becomes /u/ at the ends of words (“word-finally”). Example: /ekimau/ > /ekimu/.
Subpart 1b: /au/ becomes /a/ everywhere else (“elsewhere”). Example: /maukuta/ > /makuta/.

Now that we’ve accounted for the phonological differences between the manifestations of the morpheme *mau “mask” in the two names, one task remains: explaining the syntactic difference between the combination of elements in each name. In the case of /ekimu/, the element *mau is placed second (/eki-mau/), while in the case of /makuta/, *mau is placed first (/mau-kuta/). Why is this? Does it matter? Ideally, I think we should have an explanation available, and towards that end, I’ll put forward a proposal inspired in part by the rules which apply to how adjectives modify nouns in the Matoran Language. First, the proposal; then, an explanation:

Proposal 2: A modifying element placed before the element it modifies receives an indirect/abstract/non-physical interpretation, while a modifying element placed after another element receives a direct/concrete/physical interpretation.

Note that, while this rule of syntactic/semantic composition matches the rules of the Matoran Language in principle (i.e. in that the syntactic position of modifiers influences their interpretation), in application it’s actually the opposite! In Matoran, adjectives received concrete interpretations when placed before nouns and abstract interpretations when placed after. In Okotoan, the situation is reversed: before = abstract, after = concrete. Don’t worry: this decision wasn’t made on a whim, luckily. It was the result of some intense thought as to the appropriate characterization of the meanings of the names Ekimu and Makuta, as well as a few other names/terms (which will be discussed in later posts). Furthermore, this proposal is a reversal of the proposal I made in the original post, which matched up with Matoran exactly. Ideas change. Pay it no mind! =P And anyways, it feels a bit more appropriate to have a distinct difference between Okotoan and Matoran, rather than having Okotoan be an exact replica.

Now, let’s see how these ideas apply to the composition of our two names:

First of all, we need to determine for both names what is the modifying element and what is the “primary” element (the “head”) in order to determine the interpretation (indirect/abstract vs. direct/concrete). In both cases, the elements representing “maker” (eki) and “hoarder” (kuta) are clearly the primary elements, meaning that the element *mau “mask” is the modifier for both terms. Here’s how this plays out:

eki-mau = “maker with concrete/direct relation to masks” (the modifier *mau is placed after the primary element eki)

mau-kuta = “hoarder with abstract/indirect relation to masks” (the modifier *mau is placed before the primary element kuta)


- We have assumed that the names Ekimu and Makuta translate to “Mask Maker” and “Mask Hoarder”, respectively.
- We have decomposed the names Ekimu and Makuta into the elements eki “maker” and kuta “hoarder”, both modified by the reconstructed element *mau “mask”.
- Along the way, we’ve derived one phonological rule affecting the vowel-sequence /au/ (> /u/ word-finally, /a/ elsewhere), as well as a rule of syntactic/semantic composition (modifiers are interpreted as indirect/abstract when placed before the thing they modify, direct/concrete when placed after).

Current Glossary:

eki “maker”
ekimu “mask maker”
kuta “hoarder”
makuta “mask hoarder”
*mau “mask” (would become mu in the modern form of Okotoan)


The Language of Okoto: Chapter 1

Posted by Tolkien , in Okotoan Language, Language and Etymology, Matoran Language, Bionicle, linguistics Feb 07 2015 · 638 views
here we go again

The Language of Okoto


I’m afraid I have indeed succumbed to the secret vice once again. It was probably inevitable, even though the linguistic material incorporated into Generation 2 of Bionicle is admittedly quite a bit less than the material that was available in Generation 1. Ultimately, however, I decided that the lack of material shouldn’t deter creativity, and so this series of posts has grown and expanded to a pretty decent size (roughly 10 posts) over the past month or so.

Before getting to the issue at hand, I’ll note that I am indebted to this topic for some of the inspiration, so credit where credit is due! I posted a first sketch of these ideas in that topic, and I encourage others to join in on the conversation there. The reason I’ve decided to splinter this off into a series of blog posts is...well, there’s a lot of material here, and I have no desire to squash other people’s creativity, which this material would threaten to do if I just flooded the topic with it. Instead, consider this my personal take on the language of the inhabitants of Okoto. These posts will proceed in a series of stages or “chapters”, each building on the proposals and conclusions of the last, and they will continue for as long as I feel like I have something to say. Also, as usual, I’ll be cross-posting everything on my other blog for the perusal of the tumblr community. Alright, enough chit-chat. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

Let’s start with a brief discussion of the data that is available for the language of the Okotoans. First, there is the name of the island itself, Okoto. Secondly, there are the names of the two brothers Ekimu and Makuta. These three names/terms are presented as authentically Okotoan in all G2 media sources, even though Makuta clearly mirrors the Matoran term from G1. For our purposes here, let’s assume that the match-up between the Matoran Language and the Okotoan Language when it comes to Makuta’s name is an homage/coincidence.

Next, we have to consider the names of the G2 Toa/Masters: Tahu, Gali, Lewa, Kopaka, Onua, and Pohatu. These are also definitively Matoran names, but they could be included as authentic Okotoan names via the same criteria by which Makuta can be included (i.e. coincidence). However, there is one problem: we don’t yet know anything about the connection that these Toa have—if any—with the Toa Mata of the G1 universe. If the G2 universe is indeed somehow connected to the G1 universe (which remains a possibility given the hints about the Mask of Time), and, hence, the Masters are actually the same beings as the G1 Toa Mata, then this poses a problem for the inclusion of these names as native to the Okotoan Language, since they would still be Matoran in origin—simply transferred from one universe to another.

It has, of course, been noted that the Protectors clearly gave the Masters their names shortly after the Masters crashlanded, and this might be seen as an argument for the native-status of these names. Then again, it could also very easily be that these names have been passed down to the Protectors in connection with Ekimu’s Prophecy of Heroes (or some other prophecy); hence still non-native. Only time will tell, in this case.

The last thing to consider is the term Toa itself. To me, this word seems to fall more-or-less under the same criteria as Makuta’s name, but that’s mainly because the title of Toa seems to already have a uniquely Okotoan meaning of “Master” (note: seems to—not necessarily confirmed, but I think it’s a pretty solid hypthesis).

Okay, with that out of the way, here is the dataset that is available to us and from which we can begin to assemble a language:

Native terms:


Possibly native terms (unconfirmed):



The Glyphs of Okoto

Posted by Tolkien , in 2015, linguistics, Art, Bionicle Jan 04 2015 · 1,804 views

Since the release of the Bionicle 2015 media, various people have taken note of the system of symbols or glyphs that consistently appear throughout the island of Okoto. They show up in nearly every one of the story animations--on ruins, statues, the Temple of Time...even the Mask of Creation is covered in them. This has, unsurprisingly, generated questions about whether or not these symbols are purely decorative or if they in fact constitute a functioning writing system, along the lines of the G1 Matoran Alphabet. After a good deal of discussion, however, the consensus (which I agree with) appears to be that these symbols are purely aesthetic and do not carry any linguistic significance.

But even so, using a bit of creativity, it may still be possible to derive something meaningful from these symbols for use by Bionicle fans. My goal here is not to construct a complete "Okotoan Alphabet", but instead to simply take a first step in that direction and see where it leads; hopefully inspiring the creativity of others along the way. With that said, let's begin:

There are two main sources from which I will draw examples of the relevant symbols: those found on the Mask of Creation and those found in the Temple of Time. This is because these sources provide very clear and consistent examples of the glyphs, without heavy modification due to, e.g. the simplified style of the animations, and also because the primary string of symbols that can be derived from these sources shows up only in bits and pieces elsewhere (sometimes partly obscured), rather than being attested in full, as it is in these two contexts.

So, first, here is a facsimile of the symbols found on the Mask of Creation (click here for a hi-res version of the original picture).

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Next, a facsimile of the block of symbols found on the interior of the Temple of Time (see this image--specifically the symbols on the left side of the temple, middle row, far right column). The lefthand vertical column of this block is a full 180-degree rotation of the righthand vertical column, and the righthand column partially matches the central vertical crest on the MoCr.

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It’s pretty clear at this point that there is actually only one string of symbols involved in both cases. This string is modified/truncated/mirrored/rotated in various ways to fit whatever space is required. Here is the primary string in isolation (basically identical to the righthand column of the Temple of Time version, but mirrored horizontally to match that on the MoCr):

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Next, let’s focus on how this string is implemented on the Mask of Creation, since the MoCr provides good examples of repetition of specific sequences of glyphs and truncation of the primary sequence. My goal is to use whatever patterns of repetition/omition that can be found in order to decompose the primary string into individual units, which might then serve as independent “letters” (or graphemes). Here we go:

- The central vertical crest exhibits the full primary string, plus a partial repetition. I have coded the repeated segment in blue, the non-repeated segment in green:

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- The two lesser vertical crests exhibit a non-repeating version of the full string which is nevertheless truncated via removal of the largest symbol (marked in red on the original string). Note that the left crest is oriented identically to the central crest, and the right crest is a horizontal mirror of the left.

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- The two internal vertical sequences on the “forehead” of the mask include the entire segment that is repeated twice on the central vertical crest, plus one additional symbol. I have preserved the blue-green coloring from (4) to illustrate this.

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- The four horizontal crests on the lower edges of the mask all make use of the primary sequence rotated 90 degrees, but with nearly half the sequence omitted. The upper horizontal crests have one glyph more than the lower horizontal crests, which are also flipped vertically. Once again, I have preserved the blue-green color-coding to better illustrate the extent to which certain sequences are preserved and/or omitted.

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With these observations in place, here is an updated version of the full schematic of the MoCr with blue-green color-coding.

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Now, as stated previously, my goal here is to figure out which symbols are independent and separable and which symbols form “blocks” with each other in order to dissolve the primary string into its constituent units. The patterns of omition on the MoCr give some good clues about this. For example, the fact that a symbol can be omitted from the primary string on the lesser vertical crests (the symbol marked red in (5) above) shows that this symbol is a separable glyph. Likewise, the individual glyphs that are added to fill space on the internal vertical crests (see (6)) and the horizontal crests (see (7)) show that these specific glyphs are also independent and separable. All of these observations lead to the following:

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And now, to bring us full circle, we can apply the color-coding to the primary string only, as follows:

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As can be seen, my assumption here is that the glyphs that are colored identically form a unit with one another, and based on this assumption, I have broken up the primary string into 8 separate units. Note that the decision to separate 1 and 2 was my own, since, if these symbols had been combined, it would make for a very complex symbol indeed. In addition, the decision to include the single horizontal line as a part of symbol 2, rather than a separate symbol, was made based on the observation that (1) these two components are never separated, and (2) that the two components are clearly printed as a single unit on the lesser vertical crests of the MoCr.

Now the question is, where to go from here? I don’t really know. As a fun creative exercise, we could, of course, assign an alphabetic value to each of the eight “letters” represented here—preferably values that together form some significant eight-letter word without any repeating letters (assuming that this is an alphabetic writing system, similar to the G1 Matoran alphabet). A couple of ideas occur to me:

First, there is the word CREATION. It has eight letters, non-repeating. If we do the value-assignment as suggested, that would make our primary string spell out as follows (Note that, because we have no indications as to which way to read the glyphs (upwards or downwards), either way could work, and so I have provided both up-down and down-up value-assignments):

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Secondly—and perhaps more interestingly—there is the word BIONICLE, which is also eight letters, but has a repetition of the letter <i>, which makes it not quite as practical if we want to maximize the number of letters we have at our disposal. However, this problem can be partly resolved by the following observation: The word does have a repetition of the letter <i>, but both occurences have completely different phonetic values, i.e. the first <i> is the sound in “bite”, while the second is the sound in “bit”. If we can withstand this slight complication, this version might very well work.

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I will leave it at that. I hope you enjoyed this detour into possible Okotoan orthography, and I also hope that the ideas sketched out here--legitimate or not--serve to generate further creativity on the subject. Have fun.



Auld Lang Syne / Ivaha Vahai

Posted by Tolkien , in BZPower, linguistics, Bionicle, Life, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Dec 31 2014 · 753 views

[don't forget]

I wanted to do one final Matoran Language translation for the year, and what better text to translate than "Auld Lang Syne"? In fact, the theme of the song feels doubly appropriate for the Bionicle fandom this year, with the final closure of the original line and the exciting rise of the new generation of sets and story. With that in mind, I decided to translate the titular Scots refrain Auld Lang Syne "Days of Long Ago" using the familiar Matoran phrase Ivaha Vahai "In the Time Before Time".

May it always be remembered.

“Auld Lang Syne” / “Ivaha Vahai”


Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

and auld lang syne?

o vau-aiye inuuryaska,


o vau-aiye inuuryaska,

no ivaha vahai?


For auld lang syne, my jo,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

ta ivaha vahai, ro'o,

ta ivaha vahai,

o ilahi-vano kyako,

ta ivaha vahai.


And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!

and surely I’ll be mine!

And we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

ou vano'u wijeyako

no o anga rodai!

no o ilahi-vano kyako,

ta ivaha vahai.


We twa hae run about the braes,

and pou’d the gowans fine;

But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,

sin' auld lang syne.

o-anga numu aodyanu,

no boki kyanu-lai

va jaui-odhi-na vyanu,

nu ivaha vahai.


We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,

frae morning sun till dine;

But seas between us braid hae roar’d

sin' auld lang syne.

o-anga igava vyanu

avahi kravahai;

va mahri omu dekyanu

nu ivaha vahai.


And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!

and gie's a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll tak' a right gude-willie waught,

for auld lang syne.

hiki maki'o, pauhi'o

ouhi 'ko kya-angai!

o gahi-laui voryako,

ta ivaha vahai.


The Prophecy of Heroes

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Art, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Dec 16 2014 · 490 views
2015, so much yes

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The Prophecy of Heroes

Hear now, my son, what the prophecy says:

When times are dark and all hope seems lost,

The Protectors must unite, one from each tribe.

Evoke the power of past and future,

And look to the skies for an answer.

When the stars align, six comets will bring timeless heroes

To claim the Masks of Power and find the Mask Maker.

United, the elements hold the power to defeat evil…

United, but not one.

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Ro’o, akai deya ki vakamaja roya:

Vahi kraui-ika no taka rayase

Mangai kaitayasu, ikoronga,

Vuna no vaka naya

No ivanto-akee akuya

Ni kaitaya-ika, duni-na Toa-vahikhu kyako

Ta ai Kanohi kyase, ta ai Ekimu eleyase

Kaita, nahi vuata ki rawa maya huya…

Kaita, va nga-ru.

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Naming the Toa Mata

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Dec 12 2014 · 681 views

Naming the Toa Mata

[over there]

Assumption #1: The names of the Toa Mata were constructed at the very beginning of the Matoran Universe and have preserved their forms throughout history; hence, they provide a window on the form of the Matoran Language in its earliest stages.

Assumption #2: The names of the Toa Mata should be subjected to only the most limited of sound changes (if any), in contrast to other Bionicle names/terms, which are more likely to have been systematically altered in the course of linguistic history.

tahu |n.| fire (substance); combustion; lit. “process/activity of fire” [tahu < ta-hu, from ta “fire” and hu “process, activity”]

gali |n.| water (substance); ocean, tide; lit. “repetition/pervasiveness of water” [gali < ga-li, from ga “water” and li “repetition, habituality, pervasiveness”]

Etymologically, the names given to Tahu and Gali form a natural class in that both indicate relatively straightforward manifestations of their respective elements: the natural activity of fire (with hu “activity, process”) and the natural activity of water or liquid protodermis (with li “repetition, pervasiveness”): ta-hu “fire, combustion” and ga-li “water, ocean”.

lewa |n.| air, wind (substance); atmosphere; lit. “mass/quantity of air” [lewa < le-wa, from le “air” and wa “mass, quantity”]

onua |n.| earth, ground (substance); lit. “mass/quantity of earth” [onua < onu-wa, from onu “earth” and wa “mass, quantity”]

The names given to Lewa and Onua also form a natural class, as they are both derived in an identical manner via the stem wa “mass, quantity”, which is used primarily to form nouns indicating physical/abstract substances: le-wa “air (substance)” and onu-wa “earth (substance)”.

pohatu |n.| stone, rock (substance); foundation; lit. “uniformity/constancy of stone” [pohatu < po-hatu, from po “stone” and hatu “uniformity, constancy, homogeneity”]

kopaka |n.| ice (substance); glacier; lit. “steadfastness/coherence of ice” [kopaka < ko-paka, from ko “ice” and paka “steadfastness”]

The names given to Pohatu and Kopaka likewise form a natural class, but for different reasons than the previous names: They are slightly more complex and abstract, one being derived by compounding with hatu “uniformity, constancy” and the other with paka “steadfastness, coherence”:

hatu |n.| uniformity, constancy, homogeneity; lit. “essence of system-normality” [hatu < ha-atu, from ha “system-normality” and atu “will, intention; essence”]

paka |n.| steadfastness, coherence, solidity; lit. “energy of stone” [paka < pa-ka, from pa “stone” (see entry po) and ka “power, energy, fundamental aspect”]

Semantically, however, both of these words indicate very similar concepts (solidity, steadfastness, reliability, etc.), which serve to characterize the physical manifestations of both of the respective elements: po-hatu “stone, foundation” and ko-paka “ice, glacier”.



Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Dec 10 2014 · 861 views
ATTN:, do not canonize
[it must be cleaned]

The Bohrok have remained shrouded in mystery since the earliest stages of Matoran history, their origin and purpose the subject of much superstition. The first Bohrok nests were discovered by Onu-Matoran mining beneath the city of Metru Nui in the period shortly after the Coming of Mata Nui . The nests were already quite ancient and were at first assumed to be the tombs of the original founders of the City of Legends (It would be another hundred thousand years before this initial hypothesis was shown to be much closer to the truth than anyone suspected).

During the initial phases of exploration, the nests were mapped extensively and a wealth of archaeological information was recovered, including the distinctions between the six Bohrok-types and various revealing inscriptions, such as the original engraving b-h-r-k (reconstructed variously as as bo-ha-ro-k or ba-ha-ro-k "unit of system-normality of life/balance", construed by historical linguists as "life-cleansing unit" or "unit of restoring balance”.

Investigation of the nests continued for several centuries, until the discovery of even deeper vaults containing what appeared to be purely organic protodermic organisms, all held in stasis. The revelation that organic protodermic life could exist independent of a mechanical component changed the Matoran understanding of biology significantly, and the similarity that the organisms bore to Kanohi masks generated questions about the origins of these creatures, especially in light of the inscriptions which labelled the stasis chambers: k-r-n-h, reconstructed as ka-r-no-hu "hidden/internal application of power", construed as "internal controller; brain" (later kranohu > kranau > krana), paralleling the oldest inscribed forms of the word kanohi itself, (k-n-h).

Researchers managed to successfully exhume many of the Bohrok-units from their pods, and they made similar progress with freeing Krana from stasis. Unfortunately, in the ensuing period of experimentation, a series of incidents occurred which eventually led to the nests being declared off-limits and sealed by the authorities of Metru Nui. Among these incidents were several occasions where artificially-powered Bohrok were united with Krana and responded with violent and erratic behavior, some reacting by flinging their Krana at nearby researchers. In two cases, the Bohrok managed to dislodge a researcher’s Kanohi and replace it with a Krana. In these instances, before the Krana could be removed, the victims became completely unresponsive and instead began to compulsively repeat a distinctive set of phrases: "ta-hya. Hya-ta." The phrases were clearly archaic, but could be translated as "clean (the) essence (of smthg.)" (ta hya) and "make (it) clean" (hya-ta).

Afterward, the victims suffered debilitating psychological effects and obsessive behavior, many times carving the phrase ta-hya hya-ta into walls and surfaces. It was for these and other reasons that active experimentation on Bohrok and Krana was shut down and the nests were sealed off. Nevertheless, some researchers persisted. Most notably, a Ce-Matoran linguist named Roaku became interested in studying the vocal systems of the Bohrok-specimens that had since been transferred to the Onu-Metru Archives. Roaku noted that, when active, Bohrok made a particular repetitive utterance, which was originally thought to be simply a meaningless mechanical reflex (transcribed as chikt or chkt in the literature).

She hypothesized, however, that this utterance might in fact bear meaning and also that there might be a connection between this repetitive Bohrok-utterance and the utterances made by Matoran under the influence of Krana. After extensive study of Bohrok anatomy, she concluded that the Bohrok vocal tract reflected a design similar to that of the Matoran, but with a much smaller articulatory range.

Roaku then performed a series of experiments: She meticulously replicated Bohrok vocal organs and fed streams of recorded Matoran speech through the fabricated system. Results were inconclusive initially, until Roaku finally perfected the design. The culminating experiment occurred when Roaku fed the original utterance made by Krana-controlled Matoran – ta-hya hya-ta – through the system. The result astounded her: The translation through the Bohrok vocal-tract had the effect of applying a series of phonological reduction-rules whereby the input speech was heavily (but systematically) modified and truncated. The input and output speech is represented informally as follows:

Input: ta-hya hya-ta
Reduction: tahyahyata > tǝhyǝhyǝt > tǝkshǝkshǝt > t'kshǝksh't > tshǝkt
Output: chikt, chkt

Roaku formalized the following set of rules to describe the phonological reduction from Matoran to Bohrok:

Original Matoran: ta-hya hya-ta
Phonetic transcription: [ta.hya.hya.ta]*
Rule 1: Vowel reduction of [a] > [ǝ] and final vowel deletion: [ta.hya.hya.ta] > [tǝ.hyǝ.hyǝt]
Rule 2: Frication/phonetic reinforcement of [hy] to [kS]**: [tǝ.hyǝ.hyǝt] > [tǝ.kSǝ.kSǝt]
Rule 3: Deletion of unstressed vowels: [tǝ.'kSǝ.kSǝt] > [tkSǝkSt]
Rule 4a: Reduction of [kS] to [S] after [t]: [tkSǝkSt] > [tSǝkSt]
Rule 4b: Reduction of [kS] to [k] before [t]: [tSǝkSt] > [tSǝkt]
Spelling: [tS] = <ch>, [ǝ] = <i>
Final form: chikt, ch'kt/chkt

*[y] here signifies the equivalent of [j], i.e. a palatal glide or approximant in human articulatory terms.
**[S] signifies the equivalent of a palatal fricative in human articulatory terms, while [tS] is the equivalent of an alveopalatal affricate.

Roaku brought her results before the leading council of Metru Nui: the Bohrok were somehow connected to the Matoran, not only anatomically, but also in that the Krana which served as the minds of the Bohrok were clearly imbued with some communicative ability, in particular an ancient form of the Matoran Language which was conveyed (though imperfectly) through Bohrok vocalizations.

She implored the council to lift the ban on further archaeological research, arguing that the Bohrok might shed light on areas of Matoran history that had long been forgotten, including the origins of Matoran prior to the Coming of Mata Nui. Sadly, the council rejected Roaku's request, and much of her work was deemed classified.

However, one quote remains from Roaku’s initial public appeal to the council, in which she condemned plans that had been put forward by others to destroy or otherwise interfere with the Bohrok nests. After denouncing these intentions as immoral, she concluded her speech with the following phrase:

Ai ro'o-pa . . . no o akai zakihukya-su-rhu ki o akai urhaya!

Translated: “They are our brothers (ro’o, lit. ‘our comrades/sisters/brothers’) . . . and we dare not oppose them! (akai urhaya (> Modern raya), lit. ‘cause them system-abnormality’)”

Although her primary appeal to the council was rejected, Roaku’s initial condemnation of any destructive interference with the Bohrok was instrumental in the council’s decision to reject such plans. Instead, the nests were simply sealed off to the public, and information about them was restricted.

Little did Roaku know that her words would echo the sentiments expressed by the Bahrag Queens themselves nearly 70 millenia later in their initial battle with the Toa Mata (as recounted by Toa Gali):

Bahrag: Ou akai zakihukya-nu ki ou ro'ou urhaya!


“You dared to oppose your brothers!”


Irnakk the Fearsome: As real as pain and death

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Long Entries, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology, Writing?? Nov 23 2014 · 858 views

Irnakk the Fearsome: As real as pain and death


Although Matoran culture doubtless remains the most widely recognized and influential of the cultural systems which arose within the Matoran Universe, it was not the only culture to exist. The various non-Matoran races created by the Great Beings eventually formed their own individual cultural variations, although the imprint of Matoran culture remained. One interesting example of this interplay between cultural concepts – especially an interplay represented in language – can be identified in the earliest stages of Skakdian society.

While the Skakdi were equipped with their own individual language, they were also competent to communicate in Matoran, and as such there was extensive language contact during the millenia preceding the arrival of Makuta Spiriah on the Skakdian home-island of Zakaz, after which Skakdian society underwent a series of drastic changes, as has been recorded elsewhere.

One of the core principles that characterized Matoran behavior and values – perhaps on par with the Three Virtues – was the concept of "system-normality", expressed in the Matoran language by the morpheme ha. This concept constituted an important lynchpin of early Matoran morality, and it was opposed by an antonymic concept of "system-abnormality", expressed by the complex morpheme ur-ha "not-system-normal" (ur- "negative, not"; ur-ha > rha > ra). This moral binary has observable correlates in most non-Matoran cultures throughout the Matoran Universe, including the Skakdi.

However, the Skakdian variation of ha was slightly different: Some of the central values of early Skakdian society lay in concepts of "power", "strength", and "physical/mental prowess", rather than the more general category of "system-normality". Accordingly, the Skakdi co-opted the Matoran stem na "elemental power/energy" as their own equivalent of Matoran ha-system-normality, with a correspondingly antonymic concept expressed by the complex ur-na (parallel to ur-ha): "powerlessness, wrongness, weakness, fear".

Interestingly, the word-form urna ultimately passed into Skakdi vernacular as the word irna (with unrounding and fronting of Matoran [u] to [i ] in accordance with Skakdi dialects), more commonly as a constituent of a word irnakk "creature of irna" (irnakk < irna-ki "lit. 'component of powerlessness/weakness/fear'", from irna and the Matoran morpheme ki "piece, part"). Initially, irnakk was used as a general term for "wrongdoer/criminal", "coward", or "dangerous ('fearsome') one". However, after Makuta Spiriah initiated his program of experimental mutation on the inhabitants of Zakaz and Skakdian society quickly dissolved into savagery, the term irnakk took on a different significance as part of a newly-innovated mythology:

Although few historical records survive, it is known that Skakdian rulers developed an extensive mythological tradition designed to enforce a modicum of order and maintain their authority over the populace, primarily through fear of punishment. At the center of this mythology was the figure of (the) Irnakk, a monstrous embodiment of all anti-Skakdian ideals, including "weakness" and "loss of strength/power", but even more centrally, archetypal fear and terror. In some sense, therefore, Irnakk is an etymological parallel to the Matoran word Rahi: rahi < ur-ha-hi "thing of system-abnormality; 'not us'" vs. irnakk < ur-na-ki "thing of fear; 'not us'" (-ki and -hi both originating as noun-markers from a similar source), and as such, Irnakk came to hold a significant place in the Skakdian psyche: a nightmarish reminder of the fate suffered by those who exhibited weakness or succumbed to fear.

A final point of interest comes in the form of a folk-etymology that arose in the period after the Irnakk-myth had been fully established. It involved an almost ritualistic phrase which was used as an imprecation to silence and condemn any Skakdi who expressed doubt about the existence of Irnakk: Ei iradi irai na kho, literally "He is as real as pain and death". Given the brutal societal conditions faced by most Skakdi, concepts of pain and death were familiar and naturally effective as a means of quelling any disbelief, since the expression carried with it an unspoken threat of punishment. Translated into Standard Matoran, the phrase would be glossed as follows:

ai e-rode e-rahu no khu
he as-real as-pain and death
"He (is) as real as pain-and-death."

The folk-etymology is based on the claim that the name irnakk is actually a contraction of the latter portion of this phrase: Matoran e-rahu-no-khu, Skakdi irai-na-kho "(as) pain and death" > iranako > irnakk. Interpreted in this sense, the malediction takes on further dread significance, as it is essentially the equivalent of responding to someone who doubts the existence of Irnakk by saying "He (Irnakk) is as real (as) irnakk".

It is fitting, therefore, that the only eyewitness account of Irnakk – as a manifestation created to test the six Skakdi known as Piraka in the labyrinth beneath Mt. Valmai – reports the following exchange between the creature and the Skakdi Thok and Avak, in which Irnakk symbolically invokes himself as a means of rebuking the Skakdi's expression of unbelief (as witnessed by Toa Matoro and recounted afterward by his surviving comrades):

Dialogue: Skino ei-si? Na skai akoka ski skiro Irnakk-ro!
Translation: "How can this be? Everyone knows there's no such thing as Irnakk!"

Dialogue: Skai roka. Ai skai akokasi ski ei-ro.
Translation: "Tell it that. Maybe you can get it to agree that it doesn't exist."

Dialogue: Skiro, ai roka? Iradi irai na kho, a roka…
Translation: "No such thing, says you? As real as pain and death, says I..."

Chapter I

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