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In a hole in the ground there lived...


Naming the Toa Mata

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Dec 12 2014 · 216 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 · 229 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 · 251 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..."


Nuparu and the Dakhi-Na Vahki / The Six Commandments of the Law

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology, Writing?? Nov 12 2014 · 288 views

Nuparu and the Dakhi-Na Vahki / The Six Commandments of the Law

[also there]

The Onu-Matoran engineer-inventor Nuparu is well-known as the creator of the last generation of law-enforcement automatons to be implemented in the city of Metru Nui prior to the Great Cataclysm. This was the culmination of a series of attempts to control crime-rates and unrest spanning the period after the tragic events of the Matoran Civil War.

While it is true that Nuparu was primarily responsible for the conception and mechanical design of these automatons, he also played a role in articulating the socio-political philosophy behind their implementation. In the aftermath of the Civil War, many leaders sought to implement safeguards to prevent any future uprisings in the city—not simply because they desired to control the population, but because they also wished to prevent the reoccurrence of a state of affairs where the bloody intervention of the Makuta once again was threatened.

Various schools of thought arose, all centered around the concept of Vahki – "the Law" – and its application. Accordingly, Nuparu named his creations the Vahki. Furthermore, he consulted the Ko-Matoran Scholar and Historian Ihu about the history of Matoran legal systems. The oldest codified set of laws, said to have been transmitted directly from Mata Nui, was the Dakhi-Na Vahki "Six Commandments of the Law" (dakhi "(a) law, rule, commandment"), which articulated many of the basic principles of Matoran ethics.

vahki |n.| (the) Law; lit. "measurement of limitations" [vahki < vahiki < vdahiki < fata-hiki, from fata "restriction, limitation " and hiki "measurement"]
dakhi |n.| (a) law, rule, commandment; lit. "component of order" [dakhi < dakihi < zdakihi < zata-kihi, from zata "order" (see entry da) and kihi "part, component"]

Each of the six individual laws was eventually characterized by a single lexical compound, which stood as the "name" of the law. Drawing upon this historical material, Nuparu created six variations on the original Vahki-design, each specifically tailored to the enforcement of one of the Dakhi-Na and equipped with corresponding abilities. The laws are as follows:

I - Zadakh: "Thou shalt follow the plan."
zadakh |n.cmpd.| (the) law of schematic [zadakh < zadakhi < za-zatakhi, from za "schematic, structure, plan" and zatakhi "(a) law, rule, commandment" (see entry dakhi)]

II - Bordakh: "Thou shalt not betray life-integrity."
bordakh |n.cmpd.| (the) law against decay/failure/betrayal/disloyalty [bordakh < bordakhi < borzdakhi < bor-zatakhi, from bor "decay, failure; lit. 'opposite of growing/living/remaining'" (< bo-ur) and zatakhi "(a) law, rule, commandment" (see entry dakhi)]

III - Vorzakh: "Thou shalt not obstruct movement/vital-energy."
vorzakh |n.cmpd.| (the) law against obstruction of movement/energy [vorzakh < vorzakhi < vorzdakhi < vor-zatakhi, from vor "obstruction (of movement/energy); lit. 'opposite of movement/transmission'" (< vo-ur) and zatakhi "law, rule, commandment" (see entry dakhi)]

IV - Rorzakh: "Thou shalt not be idle/cease communication."
rorzakh |n.cmpd.| (the) law against idleness/non-communication [rorzakh < rorzakhi < rorzdakhi < ror-zatakhi, from ror "idleness, non-communication; lit. 'opposite of unit/word'" (< ro-ur) and zatakhi "law, rule, commandment" (see entry dakhi)]

V - Keerakh: "Thou shalt not injure/disassemble."
keerakh |n.cmpd.| (the) law against injury/disassembly [keerakh < keerzdakhi < keer-zatakhi, from keer "injury, disassembly; lit. 'opposite of unity-of-parts'" (< kee-ur) and zatakhi "law, rule, commandment" (see entry dakhi)]

VI - Nuurakh: "Thou shalt not forget."
nuurakh |n.cmpd.| (the) law against forgetfulness [nuurakh < nuurzdakhi < nuur-zatakhi, from nuur "forgetfulness; lit. 'opposite of memory'" (< nu-ur) and zatakhi "law, rule, commandment" (see entry dakhi)]

In addition to the choice of name for each Vahki, Nuparu also equipped each Vahki-type with abilities appropriate for the enforcement of the individual laws they represented:

- The Zadakh were equipped with Staffs of Suggestion, allowing them to enforce the commandment that Matoran should follow the plan or programming provided.

- The Bordakh were equipped with Staffs of Loyalty, enforcing the commandment against decay, failure, or betrayal by generating a strong sense of loyalty in the target.

- The Vorzakh were equipped with Staffs of Erasing, which inhibited higher mental function, enforcing the commandment against the obstruction of movement or transmission of energy by causing Matoran-units to revert to base-programming.

- The Rorzakh were equipped with Staffs of Presence, allowing the Vahki to monitor the senses of subversive individuals and enforce the commandment against idleness (not performing a particular labor for some reason) or non-communication (i.e. withholding information).

- The Keerakh were equipped with Staffs of Confusion, allowing them to enforce the commandment against injury (of another unit) or disassembly (of some structure) by disorienting and subduing the offender.

- Lastly, the Nuurakh were equipped with Staffs of Command, allowing them to enforce the commandment against forgetting or abandoning some task or purpose by directly forcing a command-directive upon a target and imposing obedience.

While Nuparu originally intended for the Vahki to represent the Unity of the Law (Vahki Kaita) by working as a whole throughout the city of Metru Nui, they were not implemented as such. Instead, each of the six Vahki-types became separately associated with one Metru and were largely restricted to working within that Metru, subverting Nuparu's original ideal.

Accordingly, as the role of the Vahki became more and more oppressive under the increasingly totalitarian leadership of Turaga Dume, Nuparu came to believe that, in spite of his good intentions for bringing about a final age of peace for his city, he had ultimately failed, and the revelation that Turaga Dume was in fact the Makuta Teridax in disguise only reinforced that belief. Despite the efforts of those who strove to establish the rule of law in Metru Nui, in the end, history repeated itself with the intervention of the Makuta, and the universe suffered the consequences...

Etymological Notes:

Five of the words listed above are derived via a common pattern: stem+ur+zatakhi. After standard processes of phonological reduction have applied – namely -urzata- > -rzada- > -rzda- – this results in a triconsonantal cluster [rzd]. This cluster is further reduced according to the application of three different phonological rules, as follows:

- Rule 1: [rzd] > [rd] / V__
This means that, when the cluster [rzd] is preceded by a short vowel, it reduces to [rd]. This rule applies in the word bordakh (< borzdakhi).

- Rule 2: [rzd] > [rz] / C[+cont]V__
This means that, when the cluster [rzd] is preceded by a short vowel and a consonant which is a continuant, it reduces to [rz] (i.e. instead of [rd], as in Rule 1). This rule applies in the words vorzakh (< vorzdakhi, [v] = continuant consonant) and rorzakh (< rorzdakhi, [r] = continuant consonant).

- Rule 3: [rzd] > [r] / V:__
This means that, when the cluster [rzd] is preceded by a long vowel, it reduces to [r] (most likely with an intermediate stage [rd] or [rz]). This rule applies in the words keerakh (< keerdakhi < keerzdakhi) and nuurakh (< nuurzakhi < nuurzdakhi).


Ik(h)ukravai: The Night of Life and Death

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Oct 31 2014 · 175 views


rakha-su-hakha |idm.| trick or treat [From rakha "to trick; lit. 'make smthg. system-abnormal'", su "or (conj.)", and hakha "to treat; lit. 'make smthg. system-normal"]


The origin of this phrase can be found in the development of a relatively recent Matoran holiday, originally celebrated in Metru Nui and later transplanted into the Matoran-Agori culture of Spherus Magna. The holiday began as a memorial marking one of the greatest losses of life that occurred during the Toa-Dark Hunter War in Metru Nui: "The Night of Life and Death", popularly termed the Ikukravai or alternately Ikhukravai.

The variation in the name of the holiday is actually an intentional pun: i-ku-kravai translates as "night of life/living-things" (i- "of, from", ku "life(-process), spirit", kravai < kravahi "night"), whereas i-khu-kravai translates as "night of death/dead-things" (khu "separation", related to kaukhu "death; lit. 'separation from life'").

The phrase rakha-su-hakha is connected to the events of Ik(h)ukravai as follows: During the various nighttime ceasefires that were established throughout the course of the war, the sentries guarding Toa-controlled portions of Metru Nui would routinely use the phrase rakha-su-hakha as a watch-word, equivalent to "Are you friend or foe?" or "Do you intend us good (hakha) or ill (rakha)?"

On the night of the Ik(h)ukravai, a substantial force of Dark Hunters broke the ceasefire by ambushing sentries along the western edge of Ta-Metru and making an incursion toward the Colisseum. Initially caught off-guard, the forces of the Toa eventually rallied and managed to repel the invaders, but not without sustaining massive casualties, including many Matoran. According to legend, the twin moons of Metru Nui – referred to superstitiously as "the eyes of Mata Nui" – dimmed to blackness in the aftermath of the carnage, and it is said that the spirits of slain Toa and Matoran wandered the ruined streets for a time, clutching their broken masks, until an ominous Red Star appeared briefly in the sky where the moons had shone.

Historians count the Ik(h)ukravai as one of the culminating battles of the war, which precipitated the final resolution of the conflict. In modern times, however, the holiday has shifted to become a festival celebrating spiritual horror and the Matoran concept of the macabre, as well as the mystery of Matoran death. Participants traditionally wear specially-crafted Kanohi which are forged to appear broken or ruined in some way, and continue to greet each other with the phrase rakha-su-hakha. Tradition prescribes that if someone you do not know greets you with rakha-su-hakha, you must exchange masks with them temporarily, in order to "ward off the Red Star" ("initoi hauya")...


Roots & Stems

Posted by Tolkien , in Language and Etymology, Matoran Language, Bionicle, linguistics Aug 31 2014 · 285 views

Oh hi. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? At least, it’s been a while since I posted anything of substance here. I’ve actually been pretty freakishly active on my tumblr blog over the last couple of months, although not so much in recent weeks. That’s due to the fact that the academic year has once again begun, and my time is now mostly consumed by a combination of teaching and coursework. woo
But, in spite of that, I have managed to eke out something that might be of interest to the Matoran language enthusiasts that still lurk hither. It’s something that has been in development for a long time, and it’s bound to continue developing in future, as usual, but I felt like it had reach a sufficient stage of maturation to post. So here it is:


One of the most difficult (and yet, most satisfying) parts of thinking about Matoran etymology is seeing just how far we can reduce the set of original root-stems that might have formed the lexical inventory of the Matoran language in its most ancient state (i.e. the state of the language as programmed by the Great Beings). This has pretty much been a constant preoccupation of mine, since every additional stem that we have to posit in order to sufficiently derive all known Matoran words is technically an additional departure from the canon. Ideally, we’d be able to derive every Matoran word by relying solely on a small pool of well-motivated stems which are combined in consistent and logical ways to create the complex forms we see. Over the past several years, this pool has fluctuated wildly, but overall I’m happy to say that it has grown consistently smaller. In fact, at this point in the project, I can say with pretty good certainty that it is possible to derive every known Matoran word from a pool of stems consisting of about 16 elemental stems (ta, ga, le, (o)nu, po/pa, ko, vo, fa, bo, de, fe, ce, su, ba, av, kra, no/na) plus roughly 16 additional stems with varying semantic values. An entire lexicon and grammatical system derived from the combination of ~32 primitive items? Seems like a pretty good result to me! =p
And that finally brings me to the point of this entry: a provisional list of the ~32 stems coupled with the semantic domains that they (supposedly) cover. I won’t attempt to provide any justification for these other than to direct you (as always) to the Matoran Dictionary and the Matoran Grammar, where most, if not all, of these stems manifest in one form or another.


TA -- fire; courage/bravery; essence, being; cause/initiation, inception
GA -- water; purity; progression
LE -- air; cohesiveness, accuracy; habituality
(O)NU -- earth; firmness, steadfastness; past-orientation, memory
PO/PA -- stone; strength, stolidness; reliability, friendliness; present-orientation
KO -- ice; clarity, knowledge, sight; foresight, future-orientation
VO -- lightning; energy; movement, conduction/transmission; ability

FA -- magnetism; field, range, limitation; perfectivity
BO -- plant-life; permanence; patience, stativity
DE -- sonics; ?sensitivity, ?precision

FE -- iron; metal; invention, innovation
CE -- psionics; mind; (epistemic) possibility
SU -- plasma; consumption, conversion; (deontic) necessity
BA -- gravity; weight, balance
AV -- light; enlightenment, ?revelation
KRA -- shadow; obscurity
NO/NA -- protodermis, substance, matter; the protodermic Elements


KA -- unity; power, energy, potential; ?system-normality (?> HA)
MA -- duty; control, use, mastery
VA -- destiny; time
HA -- system-normality; ?activity, process (?> HU)
HI -- thing, object (> hi); part (> ki); intensive (> -k)
HU -- activity, process
RO -- unit, individuation
ZA -- schematic, plan, structure
AR -- affirmation, presence, realis (ar-); application, realization (> ­-ar)
UR -- negation, absence, irealis (ur-); antonymy (> -ur)
WA -- mass, quantity, magnitude; ?relation, property
AI -- basis of deictic grammatical affixes (> ai-, -ai, i-...-a; > ai-ai > i-ai > yai > YI)
IA -- basis of non-deictic derivative affixes (> -ya, a-...-i; -a-wa-i > -aui > -ui)
YI -- contact, connection, together(ness) (< AI+AI)
?LA -- positivity, goodness (?< LE)
?NI -- ?being, star (?< NO/NA)
?SI -- possibility, variation (?< CE)



Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Holidays, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Jul 04 2014 · 230 views

July 4th? Independence Day? This seemed appropriate:

"The Star-Spangled Banner" (first verse)

O say can you see / by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed / at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars / through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, / were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, / the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night / that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Matoran Translation:

"Ni'uma Runa"

Ou avahima / ki i'akuyaka,
Ki o maui ilo- / -ma'a-ngu akuyanu,
Wairho ni-avaui / raui-i'azaia
Akuwi-maikoro, / akakui movyaganu?
Koradak-toiavka / ile'a krayaga,
Akramu ki akya / ki runa'o boya,
'ko-rya, ni'uma-runa ivyaka-lei
Rokua-miwahi no roaki-mirei?

Time to go eat good food and watch some fireworks with the fam. Happy 4th.


Matoran Grammar: A Primer

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology May 20 2014 · 933 views
nuts and bolts, cogs and gears and 2 more...
I've posted a few examples of texts in the Matoran language on this blog so far, and if you lurk elsewhere on the internet, you may have seen quite a few more. Most of these translations make use of a particular model of Matoran grammar, one that has undergone many alterations over the years. At this point, I thought it might be useful/interesting to share that grammar in its current state. So here's a basic overview—a cheatsheet, if you will. Have fun with it.


Matoran Grammar: A Primer



1. Syntax I:

Before getting into the nitty-gritty details of nouns, verbs, inflections/affixes, etc., here are some general principles governing how words are organized syntactically in Matoran. Keep these rules in mind as you encounter examples of clauses and other syntactic units in the following sections!

- Rules for clauses

#1: The verb goes last. That's basically the only rigid rule.
#2: The subject goes first.
#3: Object(s) go after the subject (but before the verb).

The combination of these three rules yields the following overall syntactic pattern for clauses in Matoran: Subject – Object – Verb (SOV).

- Other rules

#4: A modifier (an adjective/adverb) that is placed before the unit it modifies will yield a concrete/physical meaning:

nui – jaga "big scorpion"
kofo – jaga "small scorpion"
nui – rama "big flying-insect"

#5: A modifier (an adjective/adverb) placed after the thing it modifies will yield an abstract/evaluative meaning:

mata – nui "great spirit"
rahi – nui "great Rahi"
mana – ko "silent/still monster"


2. Verbs:

Verbs are generally distinguished by the presence of a derivative suffix -ya or -kha attached to the stem. All other inflections are added after this suffix. Verbs are inflected for tense and negation, as well as aspect/mood (not discussed here). This section will also provide information on the formation of interrogative clauses (questions).

- Tense

Tense is marked on verbs by a series of suffixes added to the verbal complex, as follows:

Past: -nu
Present: -pa/-po (optional)
Future: -ko

Examples (check Section 6 for a glossary with full definitions—all words used in examples are marked with * in the wordlist):

(1) Matoran voya-nu. "The Matoran went/travelled."
(2) Toa zya(-pa). "The Toa attacks."
(3) Turaga akuya-ko. "The Turaga will see (it)."

**Note: You can also form imperative constructions (i.e. commands) by using the basic, uninflected form of the stem: Manas zya! "Attack the monster!"

- Negation

Negation (English "not") is marked on verbs by adding the suffix -rhu (can be reduced to -ru) to the verbal complex after all other suffixes have been added.


(4) Matoran voya-nu-rhu. "The Matoran did not go/travel."
(5) Toa zya-rhu. "The Toa does not attack"
(6) Turaga akuya-ko-rhu. "The Turaga will not see (it)."

- Questions

Three types of questions are distinguished in Matoran. Two of them correspond to "information questions" (or "wh-questions" in English); they are used to question the subject (Who did that?) and object (She did what?) of a verb, respectively. The remaining question-type is the standard yes/no-question ("Did you do that?").

Info-Q Subject: ke-
Info-Q Object: -ki, -kai
Yes/No-Q: i-...-ka


(7) Rahi ke-zyanu? "Who/what attacked the Rahi?"
(8) Toa zyanu-ki? "Who/what did the Toa attack? / The Toa attacked who/what?"
(9) Toa i-zyanu-ka? "Did the Toa attack?"

- "To be" (the copula verb)

There is no Matoran equivalent of the English verb "to be"! Instead, English constructions such as "X is Y" or "Y is X" (basic equative or copula constructions) are simply expressed as "X Y" or "Y X" in Matoran. Such constructions can involve a noun and an adjective (N+A), two adjectives (A+A), or two nouns (N+N).

But if there's no overt verb corresponding to "to be", you might ask, how is tense (or negation, or a question) marked in such constructions? Simply put, the necessary affixes (tense, negation, etc.) are attached to whichever element (N or A) is placed in final position (where the verb would normally go).


(10) Matoran kofo. "The Matoran [is] small." (N+A)
(11) Nui kofo. "Big [is] small." (A+A)
(12) Rahi jaga. "The Rahi [is] a scorpion." (N+N)
(13) Toa matoran-nu. "The Toa was a Matoran."
(14) Manas rahi-pa. "The Manas is a Rahi."
(15) Matoran toa-ko-rhu. "The Matoran will not be a Toa."
(16) Ke-matoran-nu? "Who was the Matoran?"
(17) Toa-pa-ki? "Who is the Toa? / The Toa is who?"
(18) Toa i-matoran-nu-ka? "Was the Toa a Matoran?"


3. Pronouns:

Pronouns stand in for full nouns. They come in three different flavors: first person, second person, and third person. Number (i.e. singular vs. plural) is not marked. Pronouns are inflected according to their function in the clause, subject or object:

- Subject form

1st o, oa "I, we"
2nd ou "you, you all"
3rd ai, oi "she/he/it, they"


(1) o voya. "I/we go/travel."
(2) ou zya. "You/you all attack."
(3) ai akuya. "She/he/it/they sees."

- Object form

1st ako, akoa "me, us"
2nd akou "you, you all"
3rd akai "her/him/it, them"


(4) Matoran ako zyanu. "The Matoran attacked me/us."
(5) Toa akou zyanu. "The Toa attacked you/you all."
(6) Turaga akai zyanu. "The Turaga attacked her/him/it/them."

- Possessive form

Pronouns are also used to denote possession relationships, in which case they are suffixed to the noun that is possessed.

**The third person affix -ai/-oi can also be used to indicate possession when a full noun possesses another full noun. In such a case, it is suffixed to the noun which is possessed, and the possessor noun is usually placed directly before the possessed noun (see examples 10 and 11).

1st -o, -oa "my, our"
2nd -ou "your"
3rd -ai, -oi "her/his/its, their"


(7) ni-o "my/our star"
(8) koro-ou "your village"
(9) madu-ai "her/his/its/their tree"
(10) Toa rahi-ai "the Toa's Rahi; lit. 'The Toa, her/his/their-Rahi"
(11) Matoran koro-ai "the Matoran's village; lit. 'The Matoran, her/his/their-village"


4. Nouns:

Nouns come in many different forms! They can be modified by adjectives (see Section 1) as well as by an array of different affixes. Affixes can be suffixes (attached to the end of the noun-stem), prefixes (attached to the beginning of the noun-stem), or circumfixes (attached "around" the noun-stem, basically a combination of a prefix and a suffix). I include four different categories of affixes, containing twelve affixes total.

**All of the affixes discussed in this section can also be added to pronouns!

- Basic location/direction

#1 - of, from; after: i-, ai-
#2 - in, on, at; during: i-...-a
#3 - to, toward; before: -i, -ai


(1) i-ni "of/from a star"
(2) i-koro-a "in/at a village"
(3) madu-i "toward a tree"

- Upward orientation

#4 - up away from (motion): mi-, mai-
#5 - up at (location): i-...-ma
#6 - up toward (motion): -ma, -mai


(4) mi-ni "upward, away from a star"
(5) i-koro-ma "up at a village"
(6) madu-ma "upward, toward a tree"

- Downward orientation

#7 - down away from (motion): u-, au-
#8 - down, under, below (location): u-...-a
#9 - down toward (motion): -a, -au


(7) u-ni "downward, away from a star"
(8) u-koro-a "under/below a village"
(9) madu-a "downward, toward a tree"

- Transitional/instrumental

#10 - through away from (motion): mo-, mua-
#11 - through, via (location): a-...-mu
#12 - through toward (motion): -mua


(10) mo-ni "through, away from a star"
(11) a-koro-mu "through/via a village"
(12) madu-mua "through, toward a tree"


5. Syntax II:

Now that you've got a sense of the possibilities for nouns and verbs, we can get a bit more detailed on how to put them together. While SOV is the standard word order for clauses in Matoran, the order of subject and object (Rules 2 and 3 from Section 1 above) can be subverted. For example, if you want to put the object first, you can add one of the affixes from section 4 to explicitly mark it as the object. This makes for a lot of potential variation. We'll start with the following standard sentence:

(1) Toa rahi zyanu. "The Toa attacked the Rahi."

Now, if we wanted to switch this sentence up by placing the object first, we might add an affix like #3, -i "to, toward", to the object:

(2) Rahi-i toa zyanu. "The Toa struck at/toward the Rahi."

From the paraphrase you can see how this alteration might subtly change the meaning of the sentence as a whole. Let's try some other affixes, such as #4, -mi "upward (movement)", #8, u-...-a "down, down on (location)", or #9, -a "downward (movement)".

(3) Rahi-mi toa zyanu. "The Toa struck upward at the Rahi."
(4) Rahi-a toa zyanu. "The Toa struck downward toward the Rahi."
(5) U-rahi-a toa zyanu. "The Toa bore down on the Rahi."

**Final note: All of these variations with nominal affixes could also be expressed using the standard SOV order! An object-first ordering could, however, be used to emphasize the object.


6. Glossary:

This glossary should provide you with a basic vocabulary to start with. Check out the volumes of the Matoran Dictionary for a (slightly) wider selection.

**All of the words used in the examples above are marked with *!

- Verbs

akuya* "to see, sense; know"
aruya "to take"
boya "to grow, live; remain"
haya "to protect, maintain systems-normality"
kokha "to cool (smthg.), calm (smthg.) down; clarify"
kya "to do, act, take initiative"
mya "to control, use"
orukha "to build, construct"
oruya "to work, labor"
pakuya "to read; lit. 'to see carvings'"
peya "to carve"
rokha "to speak (to)"
roya "to determine, single out; name"
s(a)uya "to consume, convert"
seya "to think"
takha "to make, craft; forge"
v(a)ukha "to conduct, transmit"
vokha "to empower, energize"
voya* "to go, journey, travel"
zya* "to attack, strike; plan, scheme"

- Nouns

aki "valor, courage, initiative"
bohi "plant; form of vegetation"
dau "direction, extension; route"
dehi "mouth; lit. 'sound-thing'"
fani "sky; lit. 'star-field'"
gadu "pool (of water/liquid)"
gura "disintegration, disruption"
hahi "shield; guardian"
hau "shielding, protection"
hiki "measurement; deception, trickery"
jaga* "(Rahi) scorpion"
ka "power, energy"
kanohi "mask; lit. 'object-of-power/energy'"
kau "breath, spirit; lit. 'life-process'"
kini "temple"
koro* "village"
kua "(Rahi) bird; freedom"
kura "anger, rage"
ledu "wind, breeze"
lera "poison, toxicity"
madu* "tree"
mana(s)* "monster"
mata* "spirit; lit. 'master-spirit'"
matoran* "Matoran-unit; lit. 'builder/worker-of-Mata'"
mehi "head, skull"
metru "city"
ni* "star"
nohi "object (of protodermis)"
paka "strength, sturdiness"
panura "fragmentation"
peki "shard, fragment, pebble"
rahi* "wildlife, beast"
rama* "(Rahi) flying-insect"
ro "unit, individual; name; (honorific) sister/brother/comrade"
rua "wisdom"
tahi "flame (substance); spirit"
taka "light, illumination"
taki "spark, ember; lit. 'part-of-fire'"
toa* "hero, protector"
tura "fear, cowardice"
turaga* "elder"
vahi "time"
vora "hunger, energy-draining"
wahi "region, place"

- Adjectives

baui "measured, balanced"
gaui "blue, watery; calm, peaceful"
kofo* "small, little; lesser"
koui "white, icy; silent, clear"
laui "good, positive, happy"
leui "green, airy; light, cheerful"
noui "black, earthy; deep, secret, hidden"
nui* "large; great"
nuva "new, original"
paui "brown, stony; strong, firm"
taui "red, fiery; spirited, lively, living"


A Matoran Dictionary - 2nd Ed. - List of Volumes

Posted by Tolkien , in Language and Etymology, Matoran Language, linguistics May 20 2014 · 1,266 views

[Should've posted a reference-list like this a long time ago. Better late than never!]


A Matoran Dictionary

2nd Edition






Volume I :: A-D


Volume II :: E-J


Volume III :: K


Volume IV :: L-M


Volume V :: N-P


Volume VI :: R-S


Volume VII :: T-U


Volume VIII :: V-Z




Battle Chant of the Toa

Posted by Tolkien , in Language and Etymology, Matoran Language, Bionicle, Music, linguistics May 08 2014 · 620 views

(starts at ~0:47)


"Battle Chant of the Toa (Prayer to Mata Nui)"






Literal Translation:
1. Protect us from deception;
2. You will save us from deception.
3. Make us safe from deception;
4. You are a protector against deception.
Note: I've been a bit fast-and-loose with constructing vocabulary here--you won't find most of these words in the Dictionary.
o   |pron.|  I, we (first person)
ou  |pron.|  you, you-all (2nd person)
hiki  |n.|  deception
hahi  |n.|  protector
-i |aff.|  to, toward
i- |aff.|  from, against
hoi-ha  |v.|  to protect, defend against [hoiha < ha-yi-ha, from ha "protection", yi "together, unified", and the verbal affix -ha]
ha-ha  |v.|  to protect, save, cleanse [ha-ha, from ha "protection" and the verbal affix -ha]
haui-ha  |v.|  to defend, make safe [haui-ha, from haui "safe, protected" and the verbal affix -ha]
Line-by-line explanation:
1. The verb hoi-ha appears in this line in the imperative (command) form, taking the objects o-i "to-us" and hiki "deception", with an implied subject "you" (Mata Nui). Literal gloss: "to-us deception protect".
2. The verb ha-ha is inflected for future tense with the suffix -ko, thus: haha-ko > hahko "will protect/save/cleanse". The subject is ou "you". The noun hiki also appears here with the affix i- "from, against" (i-hiki "against deception"). Literal gloss: "you against-deception protect-will".
3. The verb haui-ha also appears in the imperative here, with objects o-i and hiki, identical to line 1. Literal gloss: "to-us deception make-safe"
4. This line contains the elements ou "you", i-hiki "against deception" (same as line 3), and hahi "protector". There is no overt verb, but it is understood to be "be", thus the literal gloss: "you [are] against-deception protector".

Chapter I

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"Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a blog-hole, and that means comfort."


A Short Bio of the...Author?



The author of this blog currently resides in the rather dry, bare, sandy climate of the southwest United States. He is a grad-student and teaching associate at his university, currently working toward a Ph.D. in rhetoric/composition and linguistics.


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