The Language of Okoto
Let’s continue with the breakdown of the word toa (< *toua). In order to delve a bit deeper, we will need a point of comparison, and I think this can be provided by bringing in the remaining reliably-native word Okoto. Connecting these two terms—one a title and the other the name of an island—might seem tenuous, but with the background we’ve already set up, I’m confident we can make some important headway.
However, unlike the previous instances where we were able to use comparison, this time we aren’t able to compare the meaning of these terms, since one of them (Okoto) doesn’t have a meaning (nor any clear indications as to what it could mean…yet!). So instead of starting with a comparison of meaning, we’ll have to start with a comparison of the surface form of these words only, and go from there:
Observation: The reconstructed term *toua (and its modern derivative toa) exhibits a sequence /to/. The word okoto also exhibits this sequence in isolation.
Based on these facts, we could conclude that there is a discrete unit to which is combined in various ways. This would imply that *toua is to be separated into at least two parts: *to-ua. Now, a further observation about the surface form of another word which has been previously assigned a meaning:
Observation: The reconstructed term *mau “mask” incorporates /u/.
Adding this into the mix, we might assume that -u in itself constitutes a separable element in both *mau and *toua, hence *ma-u and *to-u-a. As a consequence, this could further lead us to assume that the sequence /ma/ in *ma-u and the sequence /a/ in *to-u-a also constitute separable elements. Here’s a list of all the discrete units (whether they are independent words or some kind of affix) that we can derive, according to these assumptions:
tou- (in *tou-a)
to (in *to-u, oko-to)
ma (in *ma-u)
u (in *to-u, *ma-u)
a (in *tou-a)
Now at last we have a (tenuous) point of comparison in the form of the reconstructed elements *mau “mask” and *tou “???”, which forms a subpart of *tou-a “master, hero”. Using this comparison, we may be able to derive a meaning for each of the distinct elements, with a little creativity.
For this, we’ll have to consider some aspects of Okotoan culture in order to come to a conclusion on what the concepts of “mask” and “master, hero” might have in common. First, let’s consider the concept of masks on Okoto. They are clearly special, but in a somewhat different way than the Kanohi of the Matoran were. Okotoan masks have power, but they are also clearly valuable as products of artistry and skill, as evidenced by the prestige of the Mask Makers. Next, let’s think about the meaning of *toua “master, hero”. It’s pretty uncontroversial to say that a “master” is someone who is maximally skillful at whatever it is they do. At this point, you may already see where I’m going with this, so let’s codify it into a proposal:
Proposal 1: The element u translates roughly to “skill” or “ability”.
Alright, now let’s see how this would apply to *ma-u and *to-u-a. In the first case, it seems reasonable to assume that u would be a modifier indicating that the mask-object (represented by ma) is a product of (the Mask Maker’s) skill or ability. This works quite well, since u is placed second, giving it a direct/concrete interpretation:
ma-u = “a ?mask/object/ma with a direct/concrete relation to skill/ability”, i.e. something that is physically characterized by the application of skillfulness.
As for *to-u-a, we still don’t have meanings for to- or -a, so it’s a bit more difficult to characterize the function of u here. At the same time, we know that the result should be a term meaning “master, hero”, and this might lead us to assume that u “skill, ability”, in this case, is actually the primary element, with to- and -a being modifiers of some kind that intensify the meaning of “skill” (i.e. to “great skill, mastery”) and add the meaning of “an individual” to the word (“an individual with great skill/mastery; a master”). It should be noted that we already have the word ta “?hoarding, ?grouping” available as a comparison for to, and we could, in a preliminary way, assume that to expresses “greatness” in some sense, since ta seems to be related to concepts of groups or plurality (I’ll leave that to explore in a later post). That just leaves -a, and here’s the proposal:
Proposal 2: -a indicates a general noun (thing, object, person).
So bringing everything together, the complex form to-u would, at this stage in our analysis, translate roughly to “skill of ?greatness” (u “skill, ability” is the primary element, modified by to “?greatness” with an indirect/abstract interpretation), and in combination with -a “general noun (thing, object, person)”, that would yield:
tou-a = “a person/thing characterized by great skill/mastery; mastery-person”, i.e. a “master”.
At this point, I am tempted to continue and apply this conception of -a to the element ma, which has thus far only been defined as “mask/object”. Let’s go for it! Here’s the proposal:
Proposal 3: The element ma generally translates to “covering, mask”, and can be decomposed into the stem-element m- “covering” and the general noun marker -a.
- Using comparative methodology, we have broken down the reconstructed terms *mau and *toua into the units ma, to, u and a, and then we have made an attempt to furnish these units with meanings. In particular, u is translated as “skill, ability”, -a is translated as a general noun-marker for persons/things, and ma is translated as “covering, mask” (derived from a basic stem m- “covering” combined with -a), whereas to has been assigned the intermediate definition “?greatness” to be fleshed out later.
-a “general noun (thing, object, person)”
e “?making, ?creating”
eki “maker” (< *ekui)
ekimu “mask maker”
ki “agent” (< *kui)
kuta “hoarder” (< *kuita)
m- “covering” (basic stem)
ma “covering, mask”
makuta “mask hoarder”
mu “mask” (< *mau)
ta “?hoarding, ?grouping”
to “?greatness” (unclear)
toa “master, hero” (< *toua)
*tou “skill of ?greatness; mastery” (unclear; would become tu in the modern form of Okotoan)
u “skill, ability”