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In a hole in the ground there lived...



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The Legend

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Apr 19 2014 · 50 views
matanuyamajai, amatanuzai, etc

MATANUYAMAJAI

-

THE LEGEND

 

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.

 

Enjoy.




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star power

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Apr 12 2014 · 109 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..."
 
Notes:
- 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.
 
end


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breaking up

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Apr 09 2014 · 174 views
gotcha
[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.


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ya for verbs

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Apr 06 2014 · 104 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)
 


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Treatise: Translating the Avohkii, pt. 4

Posted by Tolkien , in Language and Etymology, Matoran Language, Bionicle, Long Entries, linguistics Mar 14 2014 · 127 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.


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somebody help

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Mar 08 2014 · 244 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. ._.
 
JRRT



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Treatise: Translating the Avohkii, pt.3

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Long Entries, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Feb 16 2014 · 174 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.


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Treatise: Translating the Avohkii, pt. 2

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Long Entries, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Feb 11 2014 · 172 views

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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.


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Treatise: Translating the Avohkii, pt. 1

Posted by Tolkien , in linguistics, Movies, Long Entries, Bionicle, Matoran Language, Language and Etymology Nov 29 2013 · 386 views

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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[?]

 
Notes:
- ' 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.

 






Chapter I

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A Short Bio of the...Author?

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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 graduate student and teaching associate at his university, currently working toward a Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Composition, and Linguistics.

His primary interests include such -ologies as mythology, philology, etymology, syntax, and phonology, along with a healthy passion for historical linguistics binding all these bewildering fields together. Some less academic hobbies include reading classical literature and mythology, high and epic fantasy, science fiction, and the occasional Tolkien biography, as well as attempting (and mostly failing) to write fiction modeled after these genres.

In addition to these things, he also harbors the deep-set enjoyment of the Bionicle sets and storyline essential to any hapless LEGO geek who has made the decision to become a member of the BZPower community. Without it, he obviously wouldn't be here writing this, and you wouldn't be reading it. This fact is, in part, what inspired his lasting interest in the art of pixeling, a skill that he apparently isn't all that bad at, although you might never know it, seeing as his severe lack of motivation and excess of procrastination usually prevents him from producing anything much at all.
 

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