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Matoran Grammar: A Primer

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology May 20 2014 · 2,583 views

nuts and bolts cogs and gears widgets whatev
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

==============================

Spoiler


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.

Examples:

(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

Examples:

(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).

Examples:

(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"

Examples:

(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"

Examples:

(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"

Examples:

(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

Examples:

(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

Examples:

(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

Examples:

(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

Examples:

(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"

  • 2



Fantastic, as always.
 
All your translations have inspired me to mess around with Matoran a bit, and I thought I'd start with "You cannot defeat me, for I am nothing":
 
Ou ako zya-ko-rhu, [because] o naiur [am].
 
(naiur = "nothing" from nai "all" + -ur)
 
As you can see, I've run into a bit of a stumbling block... I've looked at some of your other stuff but haven't been able to figure out the words for "because" or "to be." Hopefully this isn't too off-base, but if you could help fill those in that'd be awesome.  :D

    • 2

Fantastic, as always.
 
All your translations have inspired me to mess around with Matoran a bit, and I thought I'd start with "You cannot defeat me, for I am nothing":
 
Ou ako zya-ko-rhu, [because] o naiur [am].
 
(naiur = "nothing" from nai "all" + -ur)
 
As you can see, I've run into a bit of a stumbling block... I've looked at some of your other stuff but haven't been able to figure out the words for "because" or "to be." Hopefully this isn't too off-base, but if you could help fill those in that'd be awesome.  :D

Not far off-base at all! Your translation of the first clause looks totally fine to me. As for your questions, first, here are some preliminary answers:

 

1. I don't have a ready-to-hand correlate for something like "for" or "because" at the moment, and that's mainly due to the fact that the topic of subordinating elements (and subordinate clauses) is still a pretty sketchy part of the grammar.

 

2. Great question about "to be"! I'm glad you brought it up actually, because I totally forgot to include anything about it in the overview, in spite of the fact that it's kind of an important thing. I have added a subsection and several examples to Section 2 to resolve this problem. Here it is, as reference:

 

- "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).
 
Examples:
 
(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?"

 

==========

 

Alright, those are the preliminary answers. Now I'll speculate a bit on how to improve the translation of the second clause.

 

On the issue of "for/because", I'd actually be tempted to just split "You cannot destroy me, for I am nothing" into two independent clauses: "You cannot destroy me. I am nothing." That'd be the easy way out, since it would avoid the problem of pinning down a subordinating conjunction, in which case the translation would be:

 

Ou ako zya-ko-rhu. O naiur.

 

However, if we wanna get speculative, one idea that I've toyed around with for subordinating elements is using an elemental stem like ta, which I've also construed as encoding a meaning related to "causation". Thus, ta could stand in for a word like "for" or "because", since it would introduce the motivating reason behind the claim of the first clause. That'd make the translation:

 

Ou ako zya-ko-rhu, ta o naiur.

 

Lastly, I also have a suggestion related to the noun you've used to denote "nothing". I like the approach with nai+ur, although it seems like a combination like that would yield something closer to a quantifier "none" ("opposite of all"). Another possibility that came to mind was a term incorporating no "protodermis; substance, matter". Thus, no-ur > nour "opposite of substance". From that we could get a noun like nourhi, nouri (< nour-hi) "nothing, void", in which case the final translation would be:

 

Ou ako zya-ko-rhu, ta o nouri.

 

=========

 

Fun stuff. Thanks for the response!

 

JRRT

    • 1
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Makuta Luroka
May 24 2014 02:27 PM
Now im curious about dependent clauses and prepositions
    • 2

I don’t have much solid info to give on those aspects of the grammar, unfortunately, but I have added a chunk of stuff on possessive forms of pronouns (and possession in general) to tide you over! =p Here’s what’s been added:

 

- 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"

 

==========

 

As I mentioned, ideas on dependent clauses are very much in flux currently. I have, however, been using a particle ki (taken from a stem ki “part, piece”) as a subordinator basically equivalent to English “that, which” in relative clauses. So “the Toa [that I saw]” would be: toa [ki o akuyanu]. There’s also the possibility of ta as a conjunction “for” or subordinator “because” for clauses, as I suggested in the last post.

 

As for prepositions, the closest equivalent would be the nominal affixes in Section 4. Those all pretty much encode concepts encoded by prepositions in English ("to", "of", "from", "under", "over", etc.).

 

JRRT

    • 1
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Makuta Luroka
May 25 2014 10:36 PM

Ta seems to work well as "for, because," and ki as "that, which." I like that we now have one of the seven major conjunctions translated into matoran. I have no clue how "and" or "but" would be rendered in matoran, however.

    • 0

Hi again! I'm working on a MOC and was thinking I'd name it "magnetic ore" in Matoran. I liked the sound of pofaru (po fa ru - "stone magnetism oriented toward"), but do you think that's a valid way to order the morphemes or would pofaru mean something else?

 

Edit: Never mind, I think I've figured it out--pofaru means more "oriented toward magnetic ore," which I think will also work.

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