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In a hole in the ground there lived...



Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Holidays, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Jul 04 2014 · 404 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 · 1,638 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 · 2,231 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 · 1,175 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".


riddles in the

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology May 02 2014 · 508 views


akuhi umakha,



i'o ki?


With eyes,

I cover eyes,

but cannot see,

without sight.

What am I?


The Prophecy

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Apr 27 2014 · 448 views





I'akua, taka-kui rayaku.

Amaja lhikai-na rokha:

Toa Mata Nui haya.

Ivaha, nga roraga-rhui.


Still, all hope was not lost.

Legends tell of six mighty heroes, the Toa,

Who would arrive to save Mata Nui.

Time would reveal that these were not simply myths...




Toa imahra voya, kouya,

Ceura, aku-rhui.

Mata Nui'ai Matoroi

Ikraaka hau takaya.


For the Toa would appear on the shores of the island, it was said.

They would arrive with no memory, no knowledge of one another –

But they would pledge to defend Mata Nui

And its people against the darkness.




Tahuwaha, Onuwaha,

Galuwaha, Lewaha,

Puahatau, Kuahapaka,

Wahata ika'a-nui, inaka voya.


Tahu, Toa of Fire. Onua, Toa of Earth.

Gali, Toa of Water. Lewa, Toa of Air.

Pohatu, Toa of Stone. And Kopaka, Toa of Ice.

Great warriors with great power, drawn from the very elements themselves.




Ikaita'a, maita-na

Ivaita-nga: Makuta zya,

Mata Nui haya.

Nga ro amaja.


Together, they were six heroes with one destiny:

To defeat Makuta,

And save Mata Nui.

This is their story.




Na suvaha



This is the way

Of the Bionicle.


The Legend

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Apr 19 2014 · 342 views
matanuyamajai, amatanuzai, etc





Ivaha vahai,

Mata Nui ini-wahi uvoya;

Nohi-artakhai akoa,

Matoran roya, karaya.


In the time before time,

The Great Spirit descended from the heavens,

Carrying us, the ones called the Matoran,

To this island paradise...




Oa kaitura, maitura;

Mata Nui i-Haua-Ngavongu,

Kaita, Maita, Vaita,

Oai takaya.


We were separate and without purpose,

So the Great Spirit illuminated us

With the Three Virtues:

Unity, Duty, and Destiny...




Oa i-Hau kouya;         

Ihahla, oa Mata Nui   

Inohi-reahi rokha;      

Nga i’Amana rohi.      


We embraced these gifts,

And in gratitude,

We named our island home Mata Nui,

After the Great Spirit himself...




Oa-hahli rhourakha:

Mata Nui-ro, nga Makuta,

Suva vorakha, akai guurakha.

Makuta ikouka Mata Nui zya.


But our happiness was not to last.

Mata Nui's brother, the Makuta,

Was jealous of these honors and betrayed him.

Makuta cast a spell over Mata Nui, who fell into a deep slumber...




Makutaka nohi maya,

Itaua bo-wahi jutlamoya,

Avotaka kokha,

Hau-raga ceuraya.


Makuta's power dominated the land,

As fields withered away,

Sunlight grew cold,

And ancient values were forgotten...




This was originally posted via tumblr over the space of a few weeks, and now that it's complete, I thought I'd share it here. It's a rough translation of the Legend of Mata Nui, and if you've been following along with the last three posts, you may recognize a few things. I'm considering posting a full gloss once I find the time. Currently, a continuation is in progress: The Prophecy (of the Toa), the first few passages of which have already found their way online.




star power

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Apr 12 2014 · 734 views

This post, I'm gonna to talk about some ideas related to other potential affixes, one in particular that I think can be quite straightforwardly derived using some comparative evidence centered around the following word:
inika "energies of a star"
Note that the translation we are given for this word is unique in that it is apparently a compound of two semantic units: "energy" and "star". That's different from the single-word definitions we usually get, and it also provides us with an example of what may be a noun+noun compound. Normally, we only get noun+adjective or adjective+noun sequences (e.g. mata+nui, kofo+jaga). In contrast, the word inika is apparently an example of two nominal units combined into a single lexical unit. Fascinating. I think we can take advantage of this.
Alright, let's try to break down inika into its constituent parts (assuming we can). As stated in the previous post, I define ka as "power, energy, ability". This provides us with some immediate insight into the composition of inika: the unit ini must encode the meaning "of (a) star".  Now, as it stands, we don't really have a way to separate whatever encodes "star" from whatever encodes "of", if they are even separable at all. We'll have to do some guesswork in order to move forward here.
The first issue to be addressed is whether or not we should even assume that a meaning like "of" is even encoded here. We might easily assume that ini is "star", ka is "energy", and the combination is to be translated straightforwardly as "star-energy". We could do that, of course, and that would be the end of it. Blog post over! However, my purpose here is explicitly to consider places where we might be able to postulate affixes and, by implication, units with functional/grammatical meanings exactly like "of". The word inika provides us with the opportunity to derive just that: a morpheme encoding "of". Because of this, I will choose not to set it aside.
Now that we've got that out of the way, let's try to break ini down further. First off, are there any other words that might provide clues on how to analyze ini? A quick search of the available Matoran lexicon gives a few exact matches – akil-ini, iru-ini, kav-ini-ka, k-ini – although none of these have canon translations except for kini "temple", which certainly doesn't reference stars overtly. Furthermore, if we relax the search parameters a bit, there are also numerous words containing elements like in and ni.
As a side note, we may also observe that the phonetic structure of ini is a little odd in comparison to the overall patterns of Matoran syllable-structure. Most syllables in Matoran are of the form consonant+vowel, CV, but the first syllable of ini (i-ni) violates this pattern. That's interesting, and it's also interesting that this initial i- pattern shows up in a few other places as well: i-carax, i-den, i-dris, i-gnika, and i-hu.
Alright, taking everything into account, does this help us at all? I think it does, actually. Here’s how: Among the various words containing variants of ini, I'd like to draw your attention to one in particular: nixie. Nixie is the name of a Ga-Matoran astrologer – a Matoran who studies the stars and their prophecies. Wouldn’t it make sense for an astrologer's name to reference the stars? I think it would.
This leads me to the following proposal: Based on the fact that nixie clearly shows ni, I propose to analyze ini as a complex i-ni: ni "star" with a prefix i- "of, from".
Are there any further advantages to this analysis? Well, let's consider the status of this newly-postulated affix i- and compare it with the other affix that's been defined thus far, that being the verbal marker -ya. One immediate contrast presents itself: -ya is a derivative affix, meaning that it is used to derive one type of word from another. In this case, -ya would derive verbs from non-verbs (stems, nouns, whatever).
On the other hand, i- is not derivative—it is what might be called a functional or grammatical affix, meaning that it adds on to the meaning of the word to which it is applied, rather than creating a completely new word, as -ya would. In this case, i- is being applied to ni "star", which is presumably a noun, and the affix contributes the meaning "of" to the original meaning of the noun, hence "of (a) star".
So that's one difference right off the bat. Do these affixes have anything in common though? Here are a couple of ideas: Recall from the last post that I've proposed that -ya can technically be dissolved into two units, i-a, and this becomes clear when -ya is split into its circumfixal form a-...-i. So we can say that -ya is to be reconstructed as *-ia. No problem. On a different but related note: elsewhere in Matoran etymology, I've made use of a particular phonological shift whereby a sequence <ai> changes to <i>, <e>, or <a> (presumably with an intermediate <ii> stage). The advantage of this postulated sound-change is that it allows us to tie together elements of words like miru, midak, damek, and madu, as well as even metru and matau.
Alright, back to *-ia: If *-ia is the original verbal marker, we could postulate that there are other affixes constructed from the same building blocks, but simply applied in a different way (e.g. affixes that are applied to nouns as grammatical/functional affixes instead of derivative affixes). Combining this with the phonological rule described above, we may have a plausible origin for the affix i-. Here's the proposal:
The prefix i- "of, from" derives from an older form *ai-, which can also be dissolved into two units a-i.
Okay, I think we've stretched the available data about as far as we can, so here’s a disclaimer: At this point I’m entering the realm of pure speculation and invention. Follow along if you dare!
Ultimately, I would like us to have a few more grammatical/functional affixes at our disposal in order to be able to translate texts into the Matoran Language. I will propose two such affixes based on the known prefix i-, hopefully with as little invention-work as possible.
First off, we already have an affix meaning "of", which, in this case, we could also paraphrase as "from" (as in "originating from") or even "after", if we want to think in temporal terms (originating from a point in time, i.e. after a point in time?). What's the opposite of "of, from"? How about "to, toward"? Alright, what kind of affix could we use to represent this? Since this affix will express a meaning that is opposite to i-, it might make sense for that opposition to be reflected in the form of the affix itself, as follows:
Proposal 1: There is a suffix -i which derives from older *-ai and expresses a meaning "to, toward" or "(temporally) before".
So that's one more grammatical/functional affix to work with, and we've managed to derive it simply as a reversal of i-. Excellent! What else can we do? At this point I'd like to turn your attention to a Matoran narrative device that should be familiar:
"In the time before time..."
This phrase seems to be used to introduce Matoran legends/mythohistory. Note that it makes use of grammatical/functional units like "in" and "before". There's a reason I have proposed that -i expresses a meaning like "to, toward; before". We now have a means of translating part of this phrase. But what about the remaining "in"? My second proposal will provide us with a means of expressing this concept, as follows:
The concept of "in the time" can be more accurately paraphrased as "during the time". This concept of "in, during" seems to fall somewhere between "from" and "to". Based on that observation, we might postulate that a corresponding grammatical/functional affix would reflect this in-between status in the same way that -i "to, toward" reflected its opposition to i- "of, from":
Proposal 2: There is a circumfix i-...-a which is derived as a split variant of the older affixes *-ai and *ai- and expresses a meaning "in" or "(temporally) during".
This leaves us with three grammatical/functional affixes to use on nouns in Matoran, as follows:
1. i-, ai- "of, from; after"
2. i-...-a "in; during"
3. -i, -ai "to, toward; before"
To conclude, I'll make use of the second and third affixes in translating the classic phrase "In the time before time...", using vahi as a stand-in for both instances of "time" (even though technically they represent different concepts: period of time vs. time as an abstract concept):
i-vahi-a "in/during (the) time"
vahi-ai "before time"
Ivaha vahai...
"In the time before time..."
- I've reduced i-vahi-a to ivaha as a general rule. Technically we could represent it in a different way: ivahia, ivahi'a, etc.
- For vahai, I've used the older -ai form of the third affix when it's applied to a word already ending in -i and reduced vahi-ai to vahai. This is simply to make it clear which affix is present. Again, this could be represented differently: vahii, vahiai, etc.


breaking up

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Apr 09 2014 · 791 views
[tumblr it up]
If you've ever browsed through the entries of the Matoran Dictionary or been brave enough to delve into those old Learning Matoran lessons, you may have run into a concept that goes under the (pretty obtuse) name of "splitting+displacement" or (even worse) "variable placement". It's usually applied to things called "particles" or "affixes", and usually very little explanation is provided for what it is and where it comes from. Sorry.
In this post, I’ll attempt to add some flesh to the bones of this concept, which applies to grammatical affixes in the etymologies of Matoran words and involves breaking these units apart and moving them around for various purposes. The idea itself is of my own fabrication, and therefore has no real basis in the canon, so I won't really spend much time making a case that it "exists". However, I will make a case that the concept, even if non-canon, is really, really useful if applied systematically, so why not use it?
First, some terminology: I will for the most part dispense with the "splitting+displacement" label. The right word is actually circumfix. What is a circumfix? It's basically just another kind of affix, alongside prefixes (affixes attached at the beginning of a word), suffixes (affixes attached at the end of a word), and even infixes (affixes attached inside of a word).
Circumfixes are attached "around" a word, so they are technically like a prefix that is added along with a suffix. We clear? Great.
Jumping right in, here's my proposal for affixes in Matoran: I have found that it is useful to assume that some of the prefixes and suffixes postulated in Matoran etymology can be converted into a circumfix-form for various reasons--mostly deriving new words from old ones. This would look something like the following, using a postulated verb kya (Recall from the last post that -ya is assumed to be an affix in this case, so that's what will be undergoing modification):
Step 1: kya = kia (ya consists of two units, -i- and -a)
Step 2: k-i-a > a-k-i (the -a unit is displaced as a prefix before the stem k-, leaving -i behind as a suffix)
Step 3: aki
Pretty simple, no? The same process can easily be applied to other affixes/particles: as long as we can split the original affix/particle into two discrete units (in this case, -ya > i-, -a), we can displace the second unit as a prefix on the stem. And there are a couple of further variations that might be possible as well. We'll stick to the basics for now though.
Anyways, what could this kind of circumfixal variant be used for? Well, think about it: The splitting and displacement of the original affix technically obliterates the affix as a discrete unit. We could easily associate this kind of change with, say, a change in meaning—perhaps a change in word category? I have done just this: When the verbal affix -ya is split into a circumfixal variant, this corresponds to a change in the category of the stem from verb to (deverbal) noun.
At this point, you may be able to glimpse some possible applications of this system. Consider this: We just derived a word aki, presumably a noun, from a postulated verb kya. Aki happens to be the name of the Kanohi Mask of Valor. Technically, this is backwards: When I first came up with this system, I started with aki and reverse-engineered it to kya. Either way, it works. Let's see how else we can apply this.
Sticking with aki for the moment, there's another word that is closely associated with it: Akamai, the name of the Toa Kaita (the "Spirit of Valor") who is the wearer of the Kanohi Aki. In-universe, there is clearly a relationship between Akamai and Aki, and the nature of this relationship is further strengthened if we look at another example of a Toa Kaita: Wairuha, the "Spirit of Wisdom" who wears the Kanohi Rua. Even more parallels? So the names of the Toa Kaita are related in some way to the names of their Kanohi masks. Focusing on aki/akamai, let's do some more reverse-engineering:
Note that akamai exhibits the same a-...-i pattern that results from the splitting+displacement of -ya, as already exemplified by a-k-i. If we assume that akamai is derived via the same verb > noun process as aki, we can easily trace back through the steps:
Step 3: akamai
Step 2: a-kama-i > kama-i-a
Step 1: kamaia = kamaya
Presto! We have derived akamai from an original verb kamaya. What could this verb mean? In order to find out, let's return to aki for a moment. According to canon, aki means "valor". Thus far, I have postulated that aki is derived from a verb kya, which I would further derive from an older form *ka-ya. For numerous reasons, I define ka as "power, energy, ability", hence, I translate kya (roughly) as "to do, act, take initiative", and based on these assumptions, aki could easily be translated as "(taking) action, initiative", later construed as "courage, valor".
That takes care of aki. Now on to akamai: If kya originates from ka, according to the same pattern, kamaya would clearly originate from kama. I define ma as "mastery, control". Keeping with the definition of ka above, ka-ma would mean roughly "mastery of power/energy/ability", while the verbal form kamaya would end up as "to master doing/acting/taking initiative". According to the same process of construal applied to aki above, this means that akamai could eventually be translated "master of courage/valor". In all, I think that fits pretty darn well.
So the upshot of this post is that I've (hopefully) illustrated some of the potential applications of the "circumfix-variant" idea in the form of providing some (I think) very appropriate, interrelated etymologies for the words Aki and Akamai. All in a day's work.


ya for verbs

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Apr 06 2014 · 758 views

[and tumblr too]
This post, we're taking a brief detour from other projects to talk about something slightly more mundane: Is there something in the Matoran Language that marks verbs as verbs and distinguishes them from non-verbs? I would like to propose that there is at least one verb-marker expressed as a suffix (or "derivative particle") -ya.
What's the evidence? Admittedly, there is only one canon piece of evidence, since we have only one confirmed verb in Matoran: zya "to attack". This verb occurs in the phrase Manas zya! "Attack the monster!" The verb is technically in the imperative (command) form, and so one might argue that it is a special form and shouldn’t be representative of what verbs in Matoran look like overall. However, making use of some insights from human language, this argument may be countered:
Imperative verb-forms frequently represent the basic, unmodified state of verbal-morphology (witness English "Go!" same as present tense "They go" and infinitival "to go"). It stands to reason that the Matoran Language could follow the same pattern for purely functional reasons (e.g. commands must be transmitted quickly and efficiently). For this reason, I will assume that zya does in fact reflect the basic form of the Matoran verb.
Back to the proposal: How can we apply the postulated verb-marker -ya elsewhere? Does it provide us with any insights? Enter voya:
voya "journey" (cf. Voya Nui "Great Journey")
This word is presented as a noun; however, it isn't unreasonable to allow the possibility that voya could be a deverbal noun derived from an older verb vo-ya. This is indeed what I propose, as exemplified by the following entries from the Matoran Dictionary:
vo-ya  |v.|  to conduct energy, flow (along); to journey [From vo “elemental lightning” and the verb-marker -ya]
voya-nui  |n.|  great journey [From voya “journey, current” (nominalized from the verbal complex vo-ya) and nui “great, significant”]
So, the application of -ya in this case has provided us with some interesting insights into the history of voya (notice the fortuitous incorporation of the elemental stem vo "elemental lightning/electricity"). Where else can we go with this? For the purposes of this post, I will simply list several sets of words that might provide further support for the -ya proposal, with comments:
amaya (a Ga-Matoran)
maglya (a Ta-Matoran)
zemya (an Onu-Matoran)
Based on the proposal, all of these words could also be analyzed as verbs (or deverbal nouns derived from older verbs). Check out their respective dictionary entries for some possible etymologies.
The words in the next set do not directly exhibit -ya, but could potentially contain a spelling variant -ia (once again, see corresponding dictionary entries for proposals):
pelagia (a Ga-Matoran)
zaria (a Toa of Iron)
xia (a placename for the island inhabited by the Vortixx species)
daxia (a placename for the island where the Order of Mata Nui has its primary base)
The words in this final set all contain ia word-internally (either in stressed or unstressed position), but because of other factors the possibility that this is an example of -ya is even more remote. Hopefully they are helpful as reference:
radiak (a Shadow Matoran, formerly Av-Matoran)
spiriah (a Makuta)
varian (a Toa of Psionics)
chiara (a Toa of Lightning)
niazesk (an swarming insect-Rahi)
piatra (a Po-Matoran)

Chapter I

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