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In a hole in the ground there lived...


Don’t Follow the Pixels

Posted by Tolkien , in Life, Bionicle, Art, BZPower Mar 17 2014 · 287 views

If you’re someone who remembers BZPower back before the archive deletion and downtimes (I confess, I’m getting murky) and roughly prior to '08-'09, you might know me as a different person. I mostly lurked 'round this little forum called Artwork II, which was the place where all the shops and "sprite kits" were safely hidden from the world. Back then, most of my contribution to BZP came in the form of pixel art. Yeah, it was a different time.
Well, I haven’t done any pixel art for quite a while—nothing worth posting, at least. Even so, I get the hankering every now and then. And in fact, for a long time I’ve been wanting to start something long-term: a project to fiddle with in my spare time. Pixel art is quite cathartic, I find, and it’s actually a great stress-reliever. Go figure.
Unfortunately I haven’t really had that much spare time lately. That is, until last week. It was spring break...for students, at least. =P Even so, in between the grading, I did find a few moments to get creative:
Posted Image
Posted Image
The project is a roughly to-scale isometric map of the island of Mata Nui; 1 pixel = ~.25 kio (these images are at about x3 magnification). I find landscapes to be very enjoyable to do, and isometric pixeling suits that pretty well. The images above should be kinda familiar: the Mangai Volcano and the southern tip of the island coast. This is only a few hours’ work, so it’s absurdly rough, but you should get the general idea.
So yeah, the plan is to keep messing around with it, and maybe post some updates as things progress. I confess, even now I’m still pretty much an amateur at this, but I hope I can do it justice. =P


Treatise: Translating the Avohkii, pt. 4

Posted by Tolkien , in Language and Etymology, Matoran Language, Bionicle, Long Entries, linguistics Mar 14 2014 · 218 views

[tumblr ya]

Treatise: Translating the Avohkii

: Part 4 :

Whoa, hold on! It’s dangerous to go alone! First, read this, then this, then this. All done? Good – let’s get moving. Here’s the full transcription of the Avohkii-text once again:

mapaku ke-whenu-ka kitu ak-ila ahano nano atuana makuta taka

The bolded part of the transcription has already been translated in the previous posts. To recap:
Mapaku ke-whenu-ka kitu ak-ila ...
“Reader, seek out an individual originating from within a secret underground (place)”
This portion of the passage seems reasonably self-sufficient, and I have chosen to analyze it as an independent clause: it contains a verb, its arguments, and their modifiers. If we start from that assumption, it stands to reason that the rest of the passage will form its own unit/clause, separate from the first clause but presumably still related in meaning. 
We can start by identifying already-familiar terms in this portion of the inscription. We actually have an easier time of it than before. Makuta is pretty self-evident, as is taka. The relevant entries are as follows:
makuta  |n.cmpd.|  1. master of knowledge; 2. higher knowledge [mult. potential etymologies; one proposed etymology is makuta < ma-akuta, from ma(t) “mastery, control” and akuta “knowledge”; another proposed etymology is makuta < mai-akuta, from mai “up, upward, above” (variant of mi, see entry) and akuta “knowledge”]
taka  |n.|  firelight, torchlight, illumination; heat [taka < ta-ka, from ta “elemental fire” and ka “power, force, ability”, yielding a sense of “light cast by fire/torch; light that leads the way”]
Alright, now that we’ve identified some familiar terms, let’s continue with the same line of reasoning we used for the first clause: if this section of the passage is a clause in itself, we’d expect there to be a verb and some individual(s) involved in the action of the verb (subject, object, etc.).
How do we go about identifying the verb? Well, one aspect of Matoran syntax that hasn’t come up much yet in this discussion (but probably should) is the fact that, according to the only example of a clausal-unit that we have, it appears that verbs in Matoran stand as the final element in a sentence. The example that we have is the phrase Manas zya, translating to "Attack the monster!" The verb is zya "(to) attack", while the object is manas "monster". This is an imperative (command) clause, so technically we can only determine that verbs appear in final position in simple imperative constructions – other clause-types might be different for all we know. Then again, for all we know, the verb-final pattern might be a strict rule for independent clauses in Matoran. For what it’s worth, verb-final patterns show up in ~40% of human languages, so Matoran wouldn’t be all that strange as a non-human language. Well...let’s see where the verb-final logic leads us:
Based on its clause-final position, we might assume that taka is the verb. Does this make sense? Hm...taka doesn’t necessarily look like the only example of an actual verb that we have – zya "attack" – but of course morphophonological similarity isn’t a requirement, even if that’s pretty much the only thing we have to go on. It really depends on the categorial status of taka. Do we know anything about that? Possibly, yes. Taka shows up in Takanuva. Nuva means "new". It’s clearly an adjective in its other uses (Tahu Nuva, Gali Nuva, etc.). If we assume that nuva is generally an adjective, that would imply that taka is not verbal, but nounal. Then again, an argument could be made that nuva can modify nouns or verbs, or that Takanuva is an exception based on the fact that nuva appears to be morphologically incorporated into taka, rather than a syntactic modifier as in the other cases. All of these arguments are equally legitimate.
This is kind of a sticky situation. On one hand, we’d rather not violate the only potential syntactic rule we know of by looking elsewhere for the verb. On the other hand, it’s iffy to just define taka as a verb. How to decide?
Ultimately, the decision should be made based on its overall consequences. If we decide to redefine taka as a verb, that will entail making a variety of alterations to our understanding of Matoran etymology (how modifiers work, the categorial status of nouns and verbs, etc.). These are things that, to some extent, are already "established". In contrast, if we assume that Matoran is not strictly verb-final, we aren’t actually violating any established rule, since we’re simply postulating that there’s more syntactic variation than the single piece of evidence we have suggests. The second option is far more appealing to me, so I’ll run with it. Taka is not the verb – something else is.
Where do we go from here? Let’s look at the other candidates for verbhood: We can probably cross out makuta, since that has a pretty well-established nounal status. That leaves ahano, nano, and atuana. Previously, I’ve already hinted that I think atuana contains a variant of toa, so I’ll cross that off as well. That leaves nano and ahano. Hm...time for some more educated guesswork.
If Matoran is not verb-final, are there any syntactic patterns that we can observe at all? I’d rather not jump to the conclusion that Matoran word-order is completely free, since that would leave us without any direction whatsoever. Instead, we might come to the more conservative position that Matoran is verb-final in independent imperative clauses. Think about it: Manas zya is an independent imperative clause and the verb is in final position. Furthermore, I’ve also translated the first part of the Avohkii passage as an independent imperative clause, and the verb happens to be in final position there. That’s a convenient match, go figure!
So if we say that the verb-final syntactic pattern is restricted (at the very least) to these types of clauses, we are free to postulate a different pattern for other clause-types. Specifically, I will propose that the clause under discussion (the second half of the passage) is not independent, but is instead dependent upon (or "subordinate to") the first clause. This is because of the status of the first clause as a command or instruction: do X. If the first clause is defined in this way, what is its relationship to the second clause? It makes sense that the second clause would describe something about how/why the command of the first clause must be performed. For example, we might interpret the relation as cause-effect: do X so that Y.
Alright, so the second clause is subordinate. How do we apply this to the translation? Well, if Matoran is verb-final in independent imperative clauses, a simple pattern that could be used to mark dependency is to reverse the standard order, i.e. to place the verb at the beginning of the clause: verb-initial. This is actually pretty milquetoast when it comes to human languages – different syntactic patterns are used to mark dependency-status all the time, so I don’t have many qualms about postulating it for Matoran.
However, this does lead us to a specific conclusion with respect to choosing between candidates for the verb: ahano is the first word in the clause. If we adopt the assumption about syntactic patterns above, ahano would be the verb. This is progress! Very small progress, but progress nonetheless.
Even so, this post has been really wordy, and it’s getting a bit too long at this point, so for now, I’ll leave you with a recap of the translation. It’s a slow crawl, but hopefully worth it by the end:
Mapaku, ke-whenu-ka kitu ak-ila ...
“Reader, seek out an individual originating from within a secret underground (place)”
... ahano nano atuana makuta taka.
"(so that) VERB ... [smthg. related to Toa] Makuta light/illumination."
Still on the to-do list is determining a translation for ahano, as well as nano and atuana, and we also have to flesh out the relations between these elements and makuta and taka. It’s a daunting task, but I think we’ll make it.
Next time.


somebody help

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Mar 08 2014 · 350 views
kidding, but hey and 1 more...
bionicle  |n.cmpd.|  biological chronicle; lit. "chronicle of biology ('the all-living') [bionicle < boyanikul < boya-nai-akul, from boya "biology" (nominalized from bo-ya "to grow, live", see also bo "elemental plant-life; living, growing"), nai "all", and akul "chronicle; lit. "(that which is) seen/known" (< aku-li, from aku "sight, vision" and the adjectival particle -li)]
This has gone too far. ._.


That was special

Posted by Tolkien , in Life, LEGO Feb 24 2014 · 181 views

I just got back from seeing The Lego Movie and...Oh childhood, I've missed you. sniff


Treatise: Translating the Avohkii, pt.3

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Long Entries, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Feb 16 2014 · 283 views

[oh a tumblr what]

Treatise: Translating the Avohkii

: Part 3 :

Take a stroll through the previous posts for all the juicy, juicy previous details. For now, here’s where we’re at in the translation process:

mapaku ke-whenu-ka kitu ak-ila ahano nano atuana makuta taka

The bolded parts have been translated as follows:
The string ke-whenu-ka consists of the word whenu(a) "hidden/secret underground" modified by two particles: the basic locative particle manifesting as ke- "in/at/on" and the origin particle manifesting as -ka "from, out of". The entire complex therefore translates, roughly, to "from within (a) secret underground (place)".
The string ak-ila consists of an imperative (command) form of the verb il-ya (< el-ya) "to seek out", modified by the 3rd-singular object pronoun particle ak- "him/her/it". The entire complex translates to "seek out him/her/it".
Combined, these yield an (incomplete) meaning of “Seek out (a thing/person) originating from within a secret underground (place)”.
Now that you’re up to speed, for the first half of the inscription, all that’s left is mapaku and kitu. We also still need to identify the thing that ke-whenu-ka describes and the thing that must be sought out. Let’s start with kitu: because of its position between ke-whenu-ka and ak-ila, it seems reasonable to group kitu into the same syntactic/semantic unit with them, and also to take kitu as a candidate for the thing modified by ke-whenu-ka and the overt object of ak-ila. Whatever the meaning of kitu, I’d therefore expect it to incorporate some notion of “thing”, “type”, “kind”, “person”, etc., if we want to stay consistent with the previously-translated material. Unfortunately, there’s no ready-to-hand dictionary entry to help us out, and the deciphering of kitu will, therefore, be a matter of reconstruction. Here’s what I propose:
kitu  |n.|  individual, individuality; lit. “spirit (that is) part (of a whole)” [kitu < kī-tu, from the particle “part, piece, portion of” and tu “spirit/essence; result of process”]
Both of these elements, and tu, are (I think) pretty well-motivated in Matoran etymology, so I don’t feel too bad about applying them here to create a previously unattested term. Even so, tying everything together once again, we have:
... ke-whenu-ka kitu ak-ila “Seek out an individual originating from within a secret underground (place)”
This leaves only mapaku. A surface glance brings up possibilities using ma(t) “mastery, control”, pa “elemental stone”, and perhaps aku “sight, vision”, but no cohesive translation—partly because there are a thousand different ways we could go with this one. Let’s try a slightly different tack: returning to the actual audio from MoL. If we can rely on Nokama’s pronunciation to some extent, there may be something significant to be found within the actual spoken data. And in fact, I believe there is: In the audio, there is a distinct pause after Nokama pronounces mapaku—almost as if this term is an introductory word—and the rest of the inscription seems to occupy its own intonational unit as well. On those grounds, I will choose to analyze mapaku as something disconnected from the rest of the clause—something used, say, to indicate the start of the text. Does that get us any further? Might not seem like it, but it’s a start. After some really arbitrary reconstructive etymology, here’s the proposal:
mapaku  |n.|  (archaic) reader; lit. "master(y) of reading/letters" [mapaku < ma-paku, from ma(t) "mastery, control" and the stem-compound paku “reading; lit. ‘sight/vision of carvings’”. Frequently appears in inscriptions as a vocative element introducing a command or exhortation for the reader of a text]
And here’s the original source for paku, as reference:
paku |stm.cmpd|  reading; lit. "sight/vision of carvings" [paku < pe-aku, from pe “carve, chip; carving, sculpting, paring down” and aku “sight, vision", yielding an original sense of “to see carvings; to look at carved letters”]
Okay, let’s put the final nail in the coffin for this half of the inscription:
Mapaku ke-whenu-ka kitu ak-ila
“Reader, seek out an individual originating from within a secret underground (place)”
Whew. We’re only halfway there, but at this point we can make some comments on the relevance of this translation to the overall context of the Bionicle storyline. As hinted in the previous posts, I do indeed have an ulterior motive for following this particular path of translation: We must consider who inscribed this text on the Avohkii and why they did it. I have so far theorized that the inscription contains some kind of instructions for someone who might possess the Avohkii at a future point after its creation. We’ve already noted that the mask was made in Artakha, and that its purpose was to counteract a rebellious Brotherhood of Makuta should that ever become a reality.
Therefore, the Avohkii was always meant to be the catalyst for the creation of a Toa of Light, and so it makes sense that it was intended to be used on an Av-Matoran. Where did the vast majority of the Av-Matoran in the MU originally live? That’s right: in secret underground cities beneath the surface of the Southern Continent.
Thus, the phrase ke-whenu-ka kitu would literally be a stand-in for Av-Matoran: an individual who originates from a secret underground place. Really, the only reason I latched onto this particular avenue as a guide for the translation was because I originally translated whenua as "secret underground (place)" all those years ago. Happy coincidence, I guess. Who would’ve thought? And if all of this crazy theorizing is to be believed, the inscription seems to take on the form of a riddle. Who knows? In my own headcanon, I’ve imagined a chuckling Velika scratching these letters into the otherwise-flawless surface of the mask. But the extent of the riddle-making is yet to be seen. The other half of the inscription still needs translating!
Next time.


Treatise: Translating the Avohkii, pt. 2

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Long Entries, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Feb 11 2014 · 316 views

[hey look a tumblr]

Treatise: Translating the Avohkii

: Part 2 :

Check out the previous post for the full lead-in. Here’s a summary: There is an inscription written on the Mask of Light. The Mask of Light film novelization provides the “text” of this inscription, while the Mask of Light film itself has a sequence of actual dialogue where the inscription is pronounced. The two versions are different, but are clearly related. Starting with the version transcribed from the film, I will attempt to arrive at a translation of the inscription that (1) works within the (mostly non-canon) version of Matoran grammar and etymology outlined extensively on this blog and (2) makes (some degree of) sense within the larger context of the Bionicle storyline.
In the upcoming analysis, therefore, I will be drawing heavily upon the entries found in the Matoran Dictionary (Vols. 1-8), as well as upon the various bits and pieces of Matoran grammar that I have developed in the Learning Matoran series, Lessons 1-8 (e.g., grammatical particles for nouns and verbs—locative and subject/object particles, pronouns, etc.). In addition, the analysis of the text will be informed by some theorizing about the in-universe context of the Avohkii’s creation and purpose.
Time to delve into the nitty-gritty details. Here’s the transcription that I arrived at in Part 1:

mapaku ke whenu ka kitu akila ahano nano atuana makuta taka

Some general thoughts: Notice that the word makuta is clearly present, and the word taka also appears. Full disclosure, once again: the taka in this transcription is a “correction” I have made from tak[?], where the final syllable was indistinct in the film. Although the version of the text from the novelization seems to have a corresponding tahkee instead (cf. makuta-tahkee), I believe that the correction to taka will be justified in the end. Another familiar term is (what I have spelled as) whenu—very close to whenua. Furthermore, in comparison with the novel-version, the term a-tua-na could contain a variation of toa; the novel-version yields an equivalent toa-nak, in fact.
These initial observations aside, let’s start by focusing on the first few words: ...mapaku ke whenu ka. As noted, a good place to start in the translation might be whenu, which resembles whenua. Here’s the relevant entry:
whenua  |n.cmpd.|  hidden/secret underground [whenua < whe-nua, from whe “underground” and nua “hidden, unseen, secret”]
Is this a good place to start though? Is it well-motivated if we want a translation that is as close to canon as a non-canon translation can get? In reality, that depends on the authenticity of the etymology of whenua. If I, as the translator, want to argue that whenua (or any other word encountered) is a legitimate candidate for incorporation in this translation, I have to be able to defend the etymologies that I’ve come up with. Alright, so let’s (try to) do that. Whenua is a compound of whe "underground" and nua "hidden, unseen, secret":
whe  |n.|  underground [whe < uw-hī, from uw “under, lower, below” and the particle “thing, object, place”]
Although I’ve used the postulated stem uw “under, lower, below” (variants w-, u, -a) in various other etymologies, it is probably the least well-attested of the elements at play here. There are two pieces of "evidence" that I can bring in its support, the first from the etymology for us "steed; lit. ‘under-thing’" and the second from the etymology of mangaia "under mangai". In the interest of time, I won’t go into the specifics, but suffice it to say that I believe the postulation of a stem element corresponding to uw "under, lower, below" (with variants) is reasonable. The second element, "thing, object, place" is much easier to defend, cf. my decomposition of kanohi, keahi, rahi, rahk-shi, mahi, etc.
nua  |adj.|  hidden, unseen, secret [etymology uncertain; Variant forms: na, nu, ny]
The defense of nua is more a matter of comparing the likely semantic domains of words in which (I claim) the element appears, viz. huna, nynrah, nuju, kranua, odina. My claim is that the common semantic element of these terms is in the range of "hidden, unseen, secret". The first two terms, hu-na and ny-nrah provide a certain amount of grounding for this meaning, regardless of its actual realization as na, ny (or elsewhere as nua).
Alright, so that’s the rationale behind whenua. Whether or not it’s reasonable is certainly up to debate, but I will continue under the assumption that it is reasonable.
So if we translate whenu as "hidden/secret underground", where does that leave us? It certainly gives us a direction to go in fleshing out the context of the rest of the inscription. Let’s see what else can we get from the surrounding text: Note that whenu is flanked by two monosyllables, ke and ka, that might be analyzed as separate words or grammatical particles, perhaps—the former at the very least. One correlation that quickly presented itself to me was the split-form of the basic locative particle -oki:
-oki  |p.|  in, on, at; during (basic locative particle) [Variant form: ki/ke...o (splitting+displacement) - FD: LM#8]
I won’t spend nearly as much time attempting to defend this translation choice, since there isn’t very much that can be defended: the "particles" (locative, objective, etc.) that I have introduced into Matoran etymology are, for the most part, of my own creation. However, I have found them extremely useful in deriving some rather tricky etymologies, and have been able to "retroactively" provide some evidence for them (cf. kiro, pouks for -oki).
Regardless, as listed in the entry, this locative particle can be split into a circumfixal variant with initial ke- and final -o. If the ke in the inscription is in fact the locative particle, that would shift the meaning of ke-whenu to “in/on/at [locative] (a) secret underground (place)”. The -o element could easily become the victim of assimilation: ke-whenua-o > ke-whenuo > ke-whenu.
This leaves ka. Continuing with the particle analysis, there is another locative particle that might prove to be a good candidate: the origin particle -ha (cf. arta-kha, mo-a, pek-ka, amay-a):
-ha  |p.|  from, out of (origin particle) [Variant forms: -ga (after /n/), -ka (after consonants), -ka/-kha/-a (after vowels) - FD: LM#8]
This particle manifests as -ka or -kha when it follows a vowel (beware: semi-arbitrary phonological rule!). If ka is the origin particle, this would further modify the meaning of ke-whenu-ka to “from [origin] within [locative] a secret underground (place)”, and we would have an example of two different particles modifying the same noun: ke-whenua-o-ka > ke-whenu-ka.
How does this tie in to a relevant translation of the inscription on the Avohkii? Let’s translate a little further. We need to identify two things: (1) some kind of action or event—a verb?—within which to orient this concept of a thing “from within a secret-underground (place)” and (2) the thing itself that originates from the secret underground location—that is, the thing that ke-whenu-ka modifies or describes. The next few words may provide some insight: ke-whenu-ka kitu akila ...
At first glance, there are no real distinguishing features that we can use to categorize these words. The same could be said looking back at mapaku. There are many directions that we could go here...too many, in fact. Whatever steps are taken after this, they are bound to be arbitrary and subjective to some degree. With this in mind: what follows is my own opinion to a much greater extent than the previous passages, so take it with that sizeable grain of salt:
To accomplish a complete and coherent translation, I will choose to draw upon my own descriptions of Matoran verbal morphology, as represented in the Learning Matoran lesson (Lesson #6, in particular). I have proposed, minimally, that verbs in Matoran may take a pronominal particle/prefix to indicate either their subject or object. One of these is the third-person singular subject-pronoun ai- “s/he/it” (which may be contracted to a-) and another is the third-person singular object pronoun akai- “him/her/it” (which may be contracted to ak-).
So if an a- or ak- prefix betrays a verb, we may have a candidate in akila: a-kila or ak-ila. How to decide? The answer may be somewhat straightforward: In a standard declarative sentence, it seems reasonable to assume that the verb would take a pronoun marking the subject. In a non-declarative—specifically, an imperative sentence (i.e. a command, “Throw the disk!”, “Kill the Rahi!”, etc.)—the subject (“you”) is generally implied (in human languages, at least), and so, if the verb is marked at all, it might be a reasonable for it to take a pronoun marking the object instead of the subject. Furthermore, the ending of akila does not show clear evidence of a verbal particle (e.g., -ya), so a further step would be to analyze akila as an imperative taking a third-person singular object pronoun: ak-ila.
On a less grammar-oriented note, I believe the decision to analyze akila as an imperative can also be supported by assumptions about the context of the Avohkii-inscription: This is something that was written on a powerful Kanohi mask, presumably (my presumption) to inform others about its nature or function. I think it’d reasonable to assume that whatever is written on the Avohkii could take the form of instructions—commands.
Continuing on: while imperative command-forms of verbs are generally assumed to be identical to the standard citation form (compare zya in the well-known Manas zya! “Attack the monster!”), it is no stretch to allow that imperative verb-forms could undergo minor reduction. As such, the closest candidate for a verb that would reduce to an imperative form ila might be something like il-ya. Looking at already-established (i.e. already sort-of-made-up!) verbs in the Dictionary, the following appears to be a promising option:
el-ya  |v.|  to seek out [From the stem el “seeking/searching; detection, sense” and the verbal particle ya. Basically synonymous with el-ma “to seek, search”]
If we define ak-ila in this way, the resulting meaning is “Seek out him/her/it”. Presto—we have satisfied task (1) above! We have identified an action/event—and it happens that the action/event can actually be interpreted as a command, a set of instructions. Interesting, no? Combined with the earlier ke-whenu-ka, we get the following:
... ke-whenu-ka ... ak-ila “Seek out (a thing/person) originating from within a secret underground (place)”
It strikes me that this would be a significant thing for someone to write as instructions on a Kanohi that was meant for a particular type of Matoran—a type of Matoran that just so happens to originate from a very particular place within the MU…Hmm. I promise I’ll stop being so vague once we get a little farther along, though it may be obvious to you by now what direction I’m taking. We’ll see...
Next time.


Treatise: Translating the Avohkii, pt. 1

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Movies, Long Entries, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Nov 29 2013 · 592 views

[also hey look a tumblr]

Treatise: Translating the Avohkii

: Part 1 :

It has come to my attention that the novelization of the Mask of Light film includes the following passage:


mapaku una-kanokee wehnua-hakeeta ah-keelahe hanoni rahun-ahk toa-nak panokeeta makuta-tahkee ohnah-koo

This is supposed to be Nokama’s reading of the inscription found on the Avohkii. Interesting, no? Even if the novelization is only semi-canon, this could provide material for expanding our (admittedly completely made-up) knowledge of the Matoran language. Where to begin?
I began by seeking out the scene from the film itself where Nokama translates the inscription. I remember watching this years ago and hearing her utter some gibberish, but it never occurred to me that it might have been meaningful gibberish. Unfortunately for linguists attempting to reconstruct Matoran, the comparison of the film and the text from the novelization raises some problems. The bad news: The passages aren’t completely identical. The film-version is definitely truncated. The good news: While the film-version is shorter, it actually shares many elements with the novel-version. Both of these passages clearly come from the same source, and it appears that the film-version may be a pared-down form of the version presented in the book.
So which one do we use? Maybe we can use both. First off, however, we need a transcription of the passage from the film. Here’s mine:


ma'paku <break> [??] ke'wenuka'kit[?] <break> 'akila <break> [?]'hano <break> 'nano <break> 'atuana <break> ma'kuta'tak[?]

- ' indicates stress on the following syllable. This won’t play a huge role, but it does help in determining some of the word breaks.
- <break> indicates a brief pause, which I take to indicate a word-break in most cases.
- ? in brackets [?] indicates an indistinct sound. The first [??] indicates that there may have been something within the break, but it was indecipherable.
If we compare this transcription with the text from the novelization, we can further refine the analysis to include the more well-motivated word-breaks:


mapaku [?]ke wenu-kakit[?] akila [?]hano nano atuana makuta tak[?]

I’ve put a dash between wenu and kakit[?] based on the orthography of the novel-version (wehnua-hakeeta). Likewise, for now I’ve kept [?]ke separate from wenu based on ...kanokee wehnua...
[Real world intrusion here—this strikes me as very Maori, and I would not be surprised if we were dealing with a non-phonetic version of Maori text in the novelization, with the actress who voiced Nokama in the film just reading it off the script phonetically (hence the extreme reduction). That doesn’t work for everything, of course, since the novel-version includes words that don’t seem likely to be completely lost through pure phonological reduction: rahun-akh, panokeeta, etc.]
Anyways, now that we’ve compared both versions a bit, the next question is: Which one is canon? As far as I know, the novelization is only semi-canon, while the film is full-canon, at least when it comes to events. It would be easy to just drop the novel-version, but then we’d lose a significant piece of potential data. Ideally, we should be able to come up with an analysis that accounts for and is informed by both.
So here’s the plan: I will start with the film-version, taking it at face value, rather than as a truncation of the “full” version in the novelization. If we can come up with a bare-bones translation for that, the translation of the novel-version should come easily. With that in mind, I’ll revise the transcription from the film:


mapaku ke whenu ka kitu akila ahano nano atuana makuta taka

Full disclosure: In anticipation of the final analysis below, I’ve filled in the [?]-gaps from the original in a way that I think is plausible (kit[?] > kitu, [?]hano > ahano, tak[?] > taka). I’ve also modified the spelling slightly (wenu > whenu). There is definitely some potential for error here, and there will be a few more modifications before we’re finished, but this should work for now.

Next step: What could this possibly mean? We never get a straightforward translation. Here’s what Nokama says after translating the passage (taken directly from MoL): “This is the great Kanohi Mask of Light. A mask to be worn by a seventh Toa...A Toa of Light.”
That’s pretty much it. Main points: The inscription may identify the mask as the Mask of Light, but then again, it may not, since the Turaga already knew what it was—they were the ones who hid it, after all. Likewise, the fact that it can only be worn by a “Seventh Toa” wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense in the inscription, since a seventh Toa isn’t all that special—there were hundreds (more on that later!). I think it’s likely that most of the dialogue related to the inscription was, in fact, theatrics. The Turaga simply revealed to the Matoran that the mask was the MoL and that there would be a “seventh” Toa—all of which the Turaga knew beforehand.
Instead, in attempting to translate this inscription, it may be more useful to look at the origins of the MoL itself. Who wrote this inscription and why? The MoL was made on Artakha, and it was created for the specific purpose of combatting the Brotherhood of Makuta should they ever leave the straight and narrow. Artakha himself may have been the one to write the inscription, but regardless, the mask had a purpose from the beginning, and it would make sense for the inscription to pertain to that purpose: If the Makuta ever go bad, take this mask and find an Av-Matoran. I think it makes sense, at least! But we won’t know until we’ve got a translation, will we? This post has set the stage for just such an endeavor...
Next time.



Dear all

Posted by Tolkien , in Matoran Language, Life, Blog-related, BZPower Nov 25 2013 · 389 views

You people have brought many a smile to my face the past few days. After the time invested in the Matoran Dictionary project over the last several years, the sudden boost in exposure and overall positive response—both on BZP (thx news!) and off—means a lot. I’m glad to see so many people delving into it and having fun. In the end, that was the impetus for this project: my own personal enjoyment and enjoyment for other members of the Bionicle fandom. It’s all very satisfying. Heartfelt thanks.


A Matoran Dictionary - Second Edition - Volume VIII

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Long Entries, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Nov 17 2013 · 1,445 views
the end

A Matoran Dictionary

2nd Edition



 |stm.|  1. (abstract) time; 2. timeline, progression, advance, headway [Variant forms: (ā > ō / __#), vah-]
vahi  |n.|  (Kanohi) lit. “time-thing” [vahi < vā-hī, from “(abstract) time” and the particle “thing, object, place”]
vahki  |n.|  judge, law-keeper; lit. “measurer of limits” [vahki < fā-hiki, from fā(n) “limit, barrier, restriction; roof/ceiling, sky” and hik “measurement, extent” (see entry) - FD: MN#3]
vakama  |n.cmpd.|  (the) future; lit. “movement of time” [vakama < vā-kama, from “time” and ka-ma “to move”]
vako  |n.|  species of Rahi-bull; lit. “part of stampede/charge” [vako < va-kī-ō, from “time; timeline, progression, advance, headway”, the particle “part, piece, portion of” and the nounal particle ō. The term is applied in reference to the behavior of vako herds]
valma  |vn.|  awaiting; lit. “seeking (a particular) time” [valma < vā-elma, from “time” and el-ma “to seek, search”]
valmai  |n.|  (archaic) place of awaiting; cursed place [valmai < valma-hī, from valma “awaiting” and the particle “thing, object, place”]
vamprah  |n.cmpd.|  always feeding/devouring; lit. “continuously made strong/satiated thing” [vamprah < vamu-pra-hī, from vamu “always, continuously”, the stem pra “strengthened, made strong” (variant of par, see entry), and the particle “thing, object, place”]
vamu  |adv.|  always, continuously [vamu < vā-amu, an adverb grammaticalized from the nounal complex vā-amu, from “time; progression, advance” and the particle amu “through, by (transitional-instrumental)”]
varian  |n.|  1. time-struggler; lit. “one who strives against time”; 2. prisoner; lit. “one who strives against bonds/limits” [mult. potential etymologies; one proposed etymology is varian < vā-ari-ān, from “time”, ari “striving, struggling; climbing” (variant of , see entry), and ān “being, individual”; another proposed etymology is varian < fā-ari-ān, from fā(n) “limit, barrier, restriction; roof/ceiling”, ari “striving, struggling; climbing” (variant of see entry), and ān “being, individual”]
vatuka  |n.|  (Rahi-) limited will-power [vatuka < fa-atu-ka, from fā(n) “limit, barrier, restriction; roof/ceiling”, atu “mind, will”, and ka “power, force, ability”. Applied to the elemental vatuka rock-creatures, in reference to their apparently half-sentient nature]
veli  1.  |vn./adj.| (archaic) awaiting, abiding; 2. |n.| (modern) riddle, secret knowledge [veli < vel-ī, from vel-, a contraction of earlier valma “awaiting” (vel- < vā-el- < vā-el-ma) and the nounal particle ī]
velika  |n.cmpd.|  1. powerful abiding/awaiting one; 2. riddler, keeper of secret knowledge [velika < veli-ka, from veli “awaiting, abiding; riddle, secret knowledge” and ka “power(ful), force, ability”]
vezo  |n./adj.|  double, twofold [etymology uncertain]
vezok  |n.|  duplicity, treachery; lit. “very two-faced” [vezok < vezo-ak, from vezo “double, twofold” and the intensive particle -ak]
vezon  |n.|  double, twin, doppleganger [vezon < vezo-ān, from vezo “double, twofold” and  ān “being, individual”]
vhiso  |n.|  scholar; lit. “desiring subtle-things/facts” [vhiso < fi-hī-sā, from fi “subtle, fine, cunning; web”, the particle “thing, object, place”, and the primeval stem “hungering, desiring”]
vhisola  |n.cmpd.|  excellent scholar [vhisola < vhiso-la, from vhiso “scholar” and the modifying particle -la “good, excellent”]
vika  |n.cmpd.|  cunning power/ability [vika < fi-ka, from the stem fi “subtle, fine, cunning; web” and ka “power, force, ability”. Variant form: vica]
vikan  |n.cmpd.|  one with cunning ability [vican < vika-ān, from vika “cunning power/ability” and ān “being, individual”. Variant form: vican]
vira  |n.|  1. wildly cunning; 2. sprawling web [vira < fi-ra, from fi ”subtle, fine, cunning; web” and ra “wild(ness), untamed”]
vis  |n.|  Rahi-spider; lit. “web-creature” [vis < fi-s, from fi “subtle, fine, cunning; web” and the Rahi-designation affix -s]
viso  |n.|  poison; lit. “spider-substance” [viso < vis-ō, from vis “spider” and the nounal particle ō]
visorak  |n.cmpd.|  poisonous scourge, menace [visorak < visou-rak, from visou “poisonous” and rak “extreme wildness, lawlessness, violence; menace, scourge”]
visou  |adj.|  poisonous [visou < viso-u, from viso “poison” and the adjectival particle u]
vo  |n./stm.|  elemental lightning [vo < vō, from the primeval elemental stem “elemental lightning”. Variant forms: vo-, vol (l-modified)]
vohi  |n.|  spark; discharge [vohi < vo-hī, from vo “elemental lightning” and the particle “thing, object, place”]
voho  |n.|  static, static charge [voho < vohi-ō, from vohi “spark; discharge” and the nounal particle ō]
vohon  |n.|  static/charged being [vohon < voho-ān, from voho “static, static charge” and ān “being, individual”]
vohta  |n.|  discharging/aggressive/volatile spirit [vohta < vohi-ta, from vohi “spark; discharge” and ta “elemental fire; spirit, being, essence”]
vohtarak  |n.cmpd.|  lit. “volatile/aggressive menace” [vohtarak < vohta-rak, from vohta “discharging/aggressive/volatile spirit” and rak “menace, scourge”]
voli  |adj.|  flickering, flashing, wavering [voli < vo-li, from vo “elemental lightning” and the primeval modifying particle li]
volitak  |n.cmpd.|  (Kanohi-) stealth; lit, “flickering/wavering spirit” [volitak < voli-ta-ak, from voli “flickering, flashing, wavering”, ta “elemental fire; spirit, being, essence”, and the intensive particle -ak]
volo  |n.|  vitality, energy (substance) [volo < vol-ō, from the l-modified elemental stem vol “elemental lightning” and the nounal particle ō]
vopo  |n.|  time-passing, age, erosion, entropy [vopo < vapo-, from “time” and “elemental stone” (with final ā > ō vowel shift), yielding a sense of “time’s effect on stone; erosion”]
voporak  |n.cmpd.|  lit. “scourge of time/entropy” [voporak < vopo-rak, from vopo “time-passing, age, erosion, entropy” and rak “menace, scourge”]
vor  |n.|  hunger, energy-draining [vor < vō-ūr, from vo “elemental lightning” and the particle ūr(u) “un-, negative, not” - FD: MN#1]
vorahk  |n.cmpd.|  lit. “devouring wild thing; devourer” [vorahk < vor-rahk, from vor “hunger, energy-draining” and rahk “wild/untamable thing” - FD: MN#1]
voriki  |n.cmpd.| (a) lightning bolt, shaft of lightning [voriki < vo-rī-kī, from vo “elemental lightning”, “wild, uncontrolled, violent”, and “part, piece, portion of”]
vorzakh  |n.cmpd.|  lit. “great restricting judge/law-keeper” [vorzakh < vor-zatahki-ak, from vor (< fā-oro, a compound of fā(n) “limit, barrier, restriction” and oro “word, unit of communication” in imitation of boh-oro, see entry bohrok), zatahki “judge, law-keeper” (an earlier form of dahki, see entry), and the intensive particle -ak - FD: MN#3]
vo-ya  |v.|  to conduct energy, flow (along), journey [From vo “elemental lightning” and the verbal particle ya]
voya-nui  |n.cmpd.|  great journey [From voya “journey, current” (nominalized from the verbal complex vo-ya) and nui “great, significant”]
vua  |n.|  great energy; power-reservoir [vua < vo-wa, from vo “elemental lightning” and wa “wide, great, large”]
vuata  |n.|  power source; lit. “essence of great energy” [vuata < vua-ta, from vua “great energy” and ta “elemental fire; spirit, being, essence”]
vuata-maca  |n.cmpd.|  power source and power distributor [From vuata “power source” and maca “power distributor”]
vultraz  |n.cmpd.|  bird of prey; lit. “predatory sky-wing” [vultraz < fultriazi < faol-tiri-azi, from the stem faol “sky, ceiling” (u/l-modified from fā(n)), tiri “wing, flat appendage”, and azi “violence, predatory” (variant of, see entry)]
wa  |adj./stm.|  wide, great, large
wahi  |n.|  region, place [wahi < wa-hī, from wa “wide, great, large” and the particle “thing, object, place”]
wai-  |p.|  possessive particle [wai < *uai, originally denoting an object as being possessed (by something). Variant form: -ui (see entry) - FD: MN#7]
waikiru  |n.|  (Rahi) possessing tusks [waikiru < wai-kiru, from the possessive particle wai (originally denoting possession of the object) and kiru “tusk, tooth”]
wairuha  |n.|  possessing wisdom [wairuha < wai-ruha, from the possessive particle wai (originally denoting possession of the object) and ruha “contemplation, stillness; wisdom” (variant of rua, see entry)]
whe  |n.|  underground [whe < uw-hī, from uw “under, lower, below” and the particle “thing, object, place”]
whenua  |n.cmpd.|  hidden/secret underground [whenua < whe-nua, from whe “underground” and nua “hidden, unseen, secret”]
-ya  |p.|  verbal particle [Variant forms: i...a, a...i (splitting+displacement)]
yi  |adv./stm.|  together, combined
yi-ya  |v.|  to collect, gather, bring together [From the stem yi “together, combined” and the verbal particle ya]
za  |n./stm.|  planning, tactic [etymology uncertain; undoubtedly related to the set of stem-forms zī, zē, zai “strategy, planning, scheming; violence; predatory” (see entry ). Variant form: xa]
zadakh  |n.cmpd.|  lit. “great judge/law-keeper” [zadakh < zatahki-ak, from zatahki “judge, law-keeper” (an earlier form of dahki, see entry) and the intensive particle -ak - FD: MN#3]
zahi  |n.|  plan, schematic, strategy [zahi < za-hī, za “planning, tactics” and the particle “thing, object, place”]
zakaz  |n.|  war-zone, extreme violence; lit. “violence of violence” [zakaz < zai-ak-azi, from zai “violence” (variant of , see entry), the intensive particle -ak, and azi “violence, predatory” (variant of , see entry)]
zakta  |n.|  very cunning spirit; lit. “spirit of great strategy/tactics” [zakta < za-ak-ta, from za “planning, tactic”, the intensive particle -ak, and ta “elemental fire; spirit, being, essence”]
zaktan  |n.|  lit. “one with a very sly/cunning spirit” [zaktan < zakta-ān, from zakta “very cunning spirit” and ān “being, individual”]
zali  |n.|  foreboding, premonition, sense of danger [zali < zai-el-ī, from zai “strategy, planning, scheming; violence; predatory” (variant of , see entry), the stem el “seeking/searching; detection, sense”, and the nounal particle ī]
zamor  |n.|  sphere [etymology uncertain; one proposed etymology attributes the development of zamor to a rarely-attested primeval form sferu (sferu > sefur > zevor > zamor), frequently appearing as part of a compound sferu-makna. The meaning of this term is uncertain, although it is found exclusively in texts related to the Great Beings. It does not appear to be Matoran in origin]
zaria  |vn.|  retaliation; counterattacking, counter-strategy [From the verbal complex zari-ya “to retaliate, counterattack”]
zari-ya  |v.|  to retaliate, counterattack [zari-ya < za-ari-ya, from za “planning, tactics”, ari “striving, struggling; climbing” (variant of, see entry), and the verbal particle ya]
zatth  |n.cmpd.|  (Kanohi-) summoning; lit “mind/will of authority” [zatth < zata-ath, from a primeval compound za-ta (later da) “authority, order” and ath, a heavily reduced form of atu “mind, will”]
ze  |adj./stm.|  empty, emptied out, drained [Variant forms: zi, se]
zemi  |n.|  absence, excavation; lit. “increasing emptiness” [zemi < ze-mi, from ze “empty, emptied out, drained” and mi “up, upward, rising”]
zem-ya  |v.|  to excavate, empty/hollow out [zem-ya < zemi-ya, from zemi “absence, excavation” and the verbal particle ya]
 |n./stm.|  strategy, planning, scheming; violence; predatory [Variant forms: zai, zē, zy, xi, azi]
zia  |vn.|  planning, schematic, engineering [From the verbal complex zī-ya “to strategize”. Variant form: xia]
zivon  |n.|  creature of violent energy [zivon < zī-vo-ān, from “strategy, planning, scheming; violence; predatory”, vo “elemental lightning; energy”, and ān “being, individual”]
zu  |adj.|  tactical [zu < za-u, from za “planning, tactics” and the adjectival particle u]
zya  |v.|  (archaic) to strategize, attack [zya < zī-ya, from “strategy, planning, scheming; violence; predatory” and the verbal particle ya]
zyglak  |n.cmpd.|  lit. “extremely treacherous/traitorous power” [zyglak < zy-kal-ak, from zy “strategy, planning, scheming; violence; predatory” (a variant of , see entry), the modified stem kal “power, force, ability”, and the intensive particle -ak]
|adj.| - Adjective
|adj.cmpd.| - Adjective Compound
|adv.| - Adverb
|aff.| - Affix
|n.| - Noun
|n.cmpd.| - Noun Compound
|p.| - Particle
|p.cmpd.| - Particle Compound
|pro.| - Pronoun
|stm.| - Stem
|v.| - Verb
|vn.| - Verbal Noun
|vn.cmpd.| - Verbal Noun Compound
Some entries are marked with FD “Further Discussion”, followed by a reference to a blog entry containing more explanatory content related to that etymology. The references are as follows:

NM - “Nameless Masks”

MN#1-X... - “Meaningless Names #1-X...”
LM#1-X - “Learning Matoran, Lesson 1-X...”

Chapter I

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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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