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A Slice of Matoran Etymology


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#1 Offline Tolkien

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Posted Mar 02 2014 - 02:26 AM

1. Introduction

 

Over the years, I’ve messed around with a few ideas about the languages of Bionicle, the Matoran Language especially. While messing around, I’ve happened to stumble across certain patterns in the pool of Matoran words that we have access to – patterns that consistently stand out as meaningful. This topic is about one of those patterns, and a pretty minor one at that. Here, let me throw some words atcha:

 

crast, keras, carapar, kardas

 

What a mish-mash! The Kanohi Crast, Mask of Repulsion; Keras, a species of Rahi crab; Carapar, a Barraki warlord; and the Kardas Dragon, a...well...it’s a dragon. What's all this? Seems kind of random, right? On the surface, maybe so, but my hope is that by the time you reach the end of this post, you’ll see that things might not be as random as they look.

 

Put simply, these words look/sound alike in some ways, and I think that, if we do some informed guesswork, we can also postulate a common thread of meaning, thereby tying together these seemingly disconnected points of data into a coherent whole. That’s the purpose of this topic: to put forward a proposal to derive elements of (at least) these four Matoran words from a common etymological source. And hey, if we can do that, who knows what further insights we might gain into Matoran etymology? Gotta start somewhere. Let’s begin.

 

2. Analysis: Initial Proposal

 

First, some preliminaries: Do you want to take Matoran etymology seriously? Hey, me too! Isn’t it great? But what does "taking it seriously" mean? It pretty much just means that whatever theory we propose must be acceptable within already-established Bionicle canon, and we must make the fewest unfounded assumptions possible, or try to, at least. Those’re the rules. Alright, so where do we start? Let’s start with the facts. We actually have a lot of facts to work with:

  • First, there are the words themselves, from which we can identify patterns and (surface) similarities. In this case, I’ve started by saying crast looks/sounds kinda like keras, which looks/sounds kinda like carapar, kardas, and so on. Deep thinking here.
  • Second, we have official translations for some of the words. In this case, we know the meaning of precisely one of the words under analysis: crast "repulsion". One down!
  • Third, we can draw upon general knowledge about the in-universe context of these words, including the ones for which there is no official translation. In spite of the absence of a translation, we can usually make some pretty well-educated guesses based on the entities to which these words are assigned in the Bionicle world.

So those are the guiding principles. Pretty straightforward, no? I’ve already noted the surface similarities between the different words and the fact that we have a translation for one of them, so the third point bears some further explanation. What is the in-universe context of the words that we don’t have translations for, these being keras, carapar, and kardas? Here are my ideas as to what’s relevant:

 

Starting with Keras: It’s a species of Rahi crab, plain and simple. What defines crabs? Shells? Claws? Eye-stalks? Gangly legs? Keeping in mind the analogy with crast, let’s go with the first choice, shells. Is it plausible that the Matoran name of a species of crab might reference the fact that these crabs have shells? Crabs are creatures with shells, and shells could be said to repulse or resist outside threats. Interesting.

 

Next up, Carapar: A Barraki warlord, pretty rough character...eventually mutated into a crab-like form, complete with shell and claws. Irony? Destiny? In addition, if we break the fourth wall for a moment here, the name is pretty obviously taken from "carapace". Even so, would it be that much of a stretch considering Carapar’s background and personality (to the extent that he had one) to theorize that his name might’ve had a metaphorical connection to something like "repulsion"? Think "resistance" or "obstinancy". There are lots of options, but these seem reasonable to me.

 

Moving on, the last item on the list is Kardas: A Rahi dragon, a pretty powerful beast, whose defining ability is the power to emit blasts of "concussive force". I don’t think that much needs to be said there, actually. The connection between "concussive force" and "repulsion" shouldn’t be too hard to make. Let’s run with it. Time to try formulating a proposal:

 

Initial Proposal: Based on their surface similarity to each other and the word crast, as well as some minimal assumptions about the in-universe entities that these words refer to, I propose that the words keras, carapar, and kardas all incorporate a meaning within a semantic domain that includes "repulsion".

 

That seems like a lot of words for not much of a proposal, and it is. Gotta make sure this thing is iron-clad, if possible. Baby steps!

 

3. Analysis: Revised Proposal

 

The logical progression from the proposal above would be to see if we can identify precisely what part of crast, keras, carapar, and kardas encodes the meaning of "repulsion", and, even more theoretically, if we can use comparative reconstruction to come up with  a "basic stem" from which these words descend historically. The first step isn’t all that hard. What are the common elements amongst these words?

 

crast < cra-st

keras < ker-as or kera-s

carapar < car-apar or cara-par

kardas < kar-das

 

The results are in: cra, ker(a), car(a), and kar all appear to be potential candidates for "repulsion" (or some broader, related meaning) within their respective words. Alright, next, we actually have some spelling variation going on with <c> vs. <k>. Let’s normalize that, shall we? That gives us kra, ker(a), and kar(a), and we’ve easily reduced the options by one, merging car(a) and kar. Putting forward another conjecture, it is possible that the ker(a)/kar(a) contrast could just be a matter of phonological variation (or even another spelling difference). Of course, the distinction could actually be significant, but for now let’s take the leap and merge those two as well. That leaves us with two options: kra and kar(a).

 

Can we go any further? Well, for human language, these forms kra and kar(a) could easily be descended from a common root. For example, if we take *kar as the original form (the * indicates a reconstructed stem), it could undergo a process of "metathesis", which is a fancy word for "the sounds get switched", and end up as kra. On the other hand, we might postulate *kara as the original, with simple reduction of the first syllable: kara > kra. Either way works, and at this point we could safely leave it as is.

 

We could...but you know what? Let’s not. Let’s go one tiny step further and pin down *kar(a) as our final reconstructed form, for no other reason than that it covers both possible reconstructions. Minor point. Whew!

 

Alright, after all that, here’s the official revised proposal, incorporating an expanded version of the first proposal:

 

Revised Proposal:

(a) The four variants, namely cra (< cra-st), car(a) (< cara-par), ker(a) (< kera-s), and kar (< kar-das), all derive from one common stem, which I propose to reconstruct as *kar(a).

(b) Based on their surface similarity to each other and the already-translated word crast, as well as some minimal assumptions about the in-universe references of these words, I further propose that the stem *kar(a) covers a semantic domain containing abstract concepts such as "repulsion" or "resistance", as well as potentially more concrete meanings such as "shell, barrier" or even "concussive force; (destructive?) application of power".

 

4. Final Remarks

 

And that’s the gist of it, folks. Before I conclude though, here are some suggestions for future research. The following is a short list of words whose analyses, I believe, become immediately accessible to us if the etymology proposed above holds true. In no particular order:

 

karda "heart" < kar-da (repulsion...concussive force/energy...engine?)

karzahni < kar-zahni (a being who rejected his original purpose?)

krekka < kre-kka? (brute force, anyone?)

pakari "strength" < pa-kar-i (leaning more towards "application of power", perhaps?)

cordak "desolation" < cor-dak (bit of a stretch, perhaps)

icarax < i-cara-x, i-car-ax?

krana < kra-na

parakrekks < para-kre-kks? (cf. krekk-a)

 

I’ll leave it at that. Comments are welcome. Have fun with it.

 

JRRT

 

P.S. If you're interested in a more uninhibited (but also somewhat outdated) interpretation of the proposal sketched here, check it out, yo.


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#2 Offline Katuko

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Posted Mar 02 2014 - 07:57 AM

While I doubt the story team ever put this much effort into it beyond basing certain Matoran words on other English or foreign words, it's noticeable that they used harsher sounds such as KRA, KRE, KAR, EKK, DAK, RAX, etc. for words and names which are somewhat violent or brutish. I don't think all these words are meant to be related directly in etymology, though it is a fun thought exercise to attempt to derive meaning from them. I'd be interested in seeing a similar deconstruction of other Matoran words and phrases. :)

The Kanohi Krakhaan is another name which uses KRA, by the way. It's image is a source of fear and mistrust among Matoran. You could say it repulses them. :P


I am not certain, but I believe Krana may derive from "cranium", given the way they reside in the Bohrok's head and latches onto other beings' faces. A cranium is of course another thing that is meant to be a shell against outside harm.

Edited by Katuko, Mar 02 2014 - 07:58 AM.

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#3 Offline Tolkien

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Posted Mar 03 2014 - 01:51 PM

While I doubt the story team ever put this much effort into it beyond basing certain Matoran words on other English or foreign words,

 

Personally, I don't have any doubts. We know that the story-team didn't put this much effort into it. =P But I'd like to. It's fun to (attempt to) bring order to what was original disordered.

 

I'd be interested in seeing a similar deconstruction of other Matoran words and phrases. :)

Me too, man. Me too.

 

The Kanohi Krakhaan is another name which uses KRA, by the way. It's image is a source of fear and mistrust among Matoran. You could say it repulses them. :P

 

Well, let's see what we have to work with: the Kraahkan is the Mask of Shadows, and we also have kra- as a confirmed elemental-prefix for "shadow". Now, on a surface glance, it seems like a bit of a stretch (to me) to connect "shadow" with "repulsion" or "concussive force" or whatever. Although considering what we know about the effects of elemental shadow, it's not completely impossible. But in the end, my intuition is that we might not have to make that direct of a linkage. My suggestion is that the kra- of crast derives (via one phonological process or another) from an older form *kar(a), which then shows up in at least the words keras, carapar, and kardas. The kra- of kraahkan needn't derive from exactly the same source, especially given that we already have kra- "elemental shadow" as an independent word-form with an independent meaning. Even so, there could easily be indirect influences between the two. Interesting suggestion!

 

JRRT


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#4 Offline Aanchir

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Posted Mar 03 2014 - 02:45 PM

I have never really liked attempting to analyze Matoran linguistics heavily from an in-universe perspective. If the Matoran language and all Matoran names were devised as pure gibberish, then I'd have no problem with trying to re-interpret them as something that makes sense in-universe, but as it is, a lot of the names came from words in real languages, and for me, trying to come up with artificial, "in-universe" meanings for the words somewhat diminishes the magic of their actual meanings/origins. Of course, the official story was no better, occasionally assigning in-universe meanings for species or place names that were completely unrelated to their word construction.

The most I've ever done of this kind of analysis is connecting "Gukko" and "Goko-Kahu", which could very well have been where the real-life rename came from, so it's not a very extreme example. Otherwise, I much prefer thinking of Matoran etymology in terms of the words' real-world origins rather than in terms of fabricated in-universe derivations.

Nevertheless, I can't help but admire the amount of thought, analysis, time, and dedication you put into the Matoran language. I'm certainly in no place to tell you to stop doing what is one of the most creative and deliberate BIONICLE projects in the fan community today. It might cause me some trouble on occasion when I have to remind people that no, these etymologies were not a factor in the actual development of official BIONICLE character, species, and place names, but if it enriches the enjoyment of the BIONICLE franchise for you and others, by all means, continue!

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#5 Offline bonesiii

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Posted Mar 03 2014 - 03:37 PM

I think the loose connection between Shadow and repulsion can work -- the main reason to doubt it is that Shadow wasn't originally meant to be evil, and this kind of basic root would probably be intended by the GBs, so admittedly it's unlikely the Matoran would have named these "repelling" things because of evil shadow being repelling (or vice versa; naming Shadow because of being repelling).

But why I think it can still work is that the GBs very well might think of the element itself of shadow as being emotionally repulsive to some extent. They do value "enlightenment" and after all inventing in the dark might be tricky lol. It might help add to the explanations for why they opted not to have Matoran of that element normally (with inner light/shadow balances). (The inventing in the dark point admittedly makes it harder to see why they'd give it to the Makuta, but I think it's enough that its disturbing nature might help the Makuta deal with some kinds of experimental daytime Rahi that might get out of hand.)

Anyways, the basic theory seems completely plausible to me (with the appropriate cautions that this would most likely have to be an improvement over original intent rather than a theory of what was thought of, though you never know). :) In fact, so much so that although I usually don't do this for theories that are on such a small scale, I'm going to break out the ole:
 

bonesiii_gold_key_to_nongu_award.png


Disclaimer: The Gold Key to Nongu Award does not certify theory accuracy. The sponsor of the Gold Key to Nongu Award does not neccessarily endorse and/or oppose said theory. The sponsor of the Gold Key to Nongu Award remains ignorant of the exact meaning of the word "Nongu." The originator of the term "Nongu" may or may not be insane. Not available in some domes, void where prohibited.


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#6 Offline Tolkien

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Posted Mar 06 2014 - 06:20 PM

@Aanchir: No prob--basic difference of opinion, I suppose. Thanks for the kind words tho. =P I promise to leave off the search for the etymology of aanchir

 

@bones: Cool beans, thanks.

 

And since you mention it, here’s my take on the (possible) negative connotations of *kar(a) and kra. I agree that a loose connection is plausible—in fact, likely. However, the idea can be significantly sharpened based on what we know about Bionicle chronology.

 

Before that though: Your point about the intent of the GBs is important. I don’t actually think we should assume that either *kar(a) OR kra started off with negative connotations. This is because of the fact that the GBs didn’t create the Matoran/etc. with sentience. Sentience was a "glitch" (sigh) in the system. Thus, we shouldn’t (I think) expect concepts like "negative emotion" or "moral judgment" to even play a role in the pre-history of the Matoran language. Anything related to moral/emotional evaluation in semantic domains would have to be acquired after the advent of Matoran culture, i.e. as a result of emerging Matoran perspectives on the world, not necessarily on GB perspectives.

 

With that background in mind: We do know that both *kar(a) "repulsion, etc." and kra "shadow" eventually acquired some negative connotations. When did this happen and why?

 

1. *kar(a):

 

As noted in the main post, I think the name kar-zahni is a pretty good candidate for *kar(a). Furthermore, I think it’s pretty clear that Karzahni’s actions are, in essence, the first definitive MU-wide example of something "going wrong". Karzahni didn’t start out bad – he clearly began with a GB-commissioned purpose in the MU – but he went off track, and the Matoran made a "moral" evaluation of that. So I’d make the claim that, as a consequence of his actions, Karzahni’s name (and its subcomponents, namely kar- < *kar(a)) was associated with his "rejection" of his original purpose.

 

That’s actually the reason why I’ve proposed additional meanings for *kar(a), e.g. "application of power". If this represents the "original" meaning of the term, then Karzahni’s name would have initially involved something like "application of power [toward some goal?]".

 

2. kra

 

It’s not unlikely that kra acquired negative connotations as a natural consequence of its meaning once Matoran sentience developed. Matoran obviously have very human reactions to shadow/darkness: They feel fear, etc., and, in Matoran culture, darkness is pretty clearly associated with things like fear/unknown, and potentially "evil".

 

If there is a connection between kra and *kar(a), however, I would expect it to be based on the semantic shift discussed above. The term *kar(a) first acquires negative connotations, and later on, based on the surface similarity, kra begins to acquire similar connotations. Pretty simple.

 

------

 

The last point I’ll make is about the individual etymologies of *kar(a) and kra. Due to the aforementioned surface-similarity, and the loose connection in meaning, it might be attractive to say that these two words come from basically the same source. However, I’m more inclined to keep both the meanings and etymologies of these terms separate. Here’s why:

 

If *kar(a) and kra have a common source, and if the claim about the semantic shift of *kar(a) due to Karzahni’s actions holds, we would have to characterize the path of development in one of two ways:

 

(1) start with one and derive the other, e.g. "application of power" > "shadow", or vice versa, or

(2) have both meanings exist in the same semantic domain from the beginning, "application of power; shadow".

 

Addressing (1): kra is a word for one of the elements of the MU, and as such, it’s pretty important. It seems likely that the GBs would’ve given Shadow a distinct designation alongside the other elements (ta, ga, ko, etc.). In fact, if true, this would completely rule out "application of power" > "shadow", since "shadow" would necessarily have to exist alongside "application of power" at the start. The opposite development ("shadow" > "application of power") also doesn’t appear plausible in the context of Karzahni’s name—would it make more sense for kar-zahni to incorporate "shadow" or "application of power" originally? I think the latter.

 

Addressing (2): Incorporating "shadow" with "application of power" seems problematic due to apparent incompatibility of meaning—it’s tough to draw a connection, even metaphorical, between these two meanings, especially considering that "shadow" would’ve had to be very distinct as an elemental designation from the get-go. Furthermore, the only semantic reason we have to assume these terms derive from the same source is the common negative connotations of their modern forms (e.g. crast "repulsion"). But, as I’ve argued above, it’s more likely that these connotations were acquired, independently or not, at later stages in history – hence, the original semantic connection between kra and *kar(a) doesn’t even fit anymore.

 

This leaves the surface similarity between the two words as the only real argument for a common source. I’ll stop there. =P Thanks for the replies, ppl.

 

JRRT


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#7 Offline bonesiii

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Posted Mar 06 2014 - 06:46 PM

You're welcome. :)

 

I don’t actually think we should assume that either *kar(a) OR kra started off with negative connotations. This is because of the fact that the GBs didn’t create the Matoran/etc. with sentience. Sentience was a "glitch" (sigh) in the system. Thus, we shouldn’t (I think) expect concepts like "negative emotion" or "moral judgment" to even play a role in the pre-history of the Matoran language.

Actually, this is a common misconception. See my recent clarification here (but this has been known for years now):

 

http://www.bzpower.c...u-nui/?p=648863

 

I say apparent because "sapient" is commonly called "sentient" among non-Bionicle story franchises, but it's not really the best use of the term and it makes sense to stick to the Bionicle proper one. More importantly, partial sapience was intended.

 

And to your point, emotions were probably intended. There's no evidence emotions are the result of a "glitch" -- (and glitch isn't really the best word for it; that's comic-book lingo for "the GBs didn't believe they could actually attain fully sapient AI"). If anything is a glitch it is likely breaking out of programmed barriers and applying those emotions and intentional innovative abilities to develop their own cultures, seen by Angonce as the proof that they were fully sapient. But we have no evidence to say that this was a later event that occurred universe-wide; rather it was part of the original design and it's just that events didn't make it obvious until later (at first they were all very busy continuing to build the finishing touches of the interior of the giant robot).

 

Anyways, it really is irrelevant to the line of speculation I had been going along -- that was more how the GBs might see things. :shrugs:

 

Make of this what you will. :) You could be right about that, but there's no actual clear evidence for it; it seems the opposite is the case. (But negative emotions were programmed, as well as morals. At least originally.)

 

 

I should add, though, that the assumption that GBs wouldn't like shadows is actually kind of contradictory on my part, since I'm the very one who thinks of them as always appearing in shadowy rooms whenever they speak with non-GBs. :lol: Still, it's probably basic living-being nature to have some repulsion to normal darkness, for simple practical reasons. Except for things like bats of course. The GBs use shadows (IMO) for that very reason (although this is somewhat based on an alternate dimension version of them, but seems consistent with the shadowy hoods and all), for psychological effect.

 

And I didn't really mean it as "negative" outright, but that even for practical reasons alone there are many times you need light, so a non-emotional, logical version of "repelling" (as in identifying it and staying away) would still make sense IMO. Lacking emotions doesn't mean you stumble through a dark room with stuff littered all over the floor as if the lights were on. :P That's more lacking intelligence. :shrugs:

 

This is even consistent with what you said in the original post about the carapace meaning; it's not repelling in an emotional sense (per se, anyways), but physically repels objects.

 

 

Several of your other points seem good. Of course, we're all ignoring the glaring possibility that these etymological nuances already existed in Agori and were just adapted into Matoran by the GBs. Your point about Karzahni seems especially sound though. Note that there seem to have been strong emotions already about the original total-darkness of the Matoran Universe prior to their work getting the lights to turn on. That was likely there from the start, though it wouldn't quite have been about evil yet.


Edited by bonesiii, Mar 06 2014 - 06:50 PM.

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#8 Offline Tolkien

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Posted Mar 09 2014 - 08:21 PM

Hm...alright, even taking initial "sapience" into account, I still think that, based on what we known about the GBs' intentions for the Matoran, and based on the fact that the Matoran Language was specifically constructed to serve a purpose in the MU, we shouldn’t make the assumption that the GBs would've encoded moral or emotional value-judgments into the initial state of the language—neither would they have mixed in arbitrary semantic distinctions from Agori without a functional reason (unless they were just goofing around).

 

Let’s think about it: The GBs clearly didn’t intend for the Matoran to have emotion/morality in the "human" sense. Angonce’s reaction to the emergent behavior of the Matoran demonstrates that. But if, based on other elements of the story (e.g. the Toa Mata flashback), we are led to believe that the Matoran started with "simple" emotion (which I think is what you’re claiming?)...okay, what form would that take? Because of the fact that these elements of cognition presumably would’ve fulfilled a purpose in the original design, I think we could define "simple" emotion in a very specific, almost deterministic way, based on its potential function. For example, "fear" might consist of a value-judgment based on a pre-coded category [safe] or [not-safe]. A Matoran who assigned an object or circumstance to the category [not-safe] would technically "fear" said object/circumstance. I could see that as a potential way to characterize "simple" emotion, since it would make sense as a functional element of GB-design: Matoran would need access to that kind of metric in order to work in a non-uniform environment.

 

So the question becomes: What kinds of value-judgements would the GBs have encoded (if any) in the initial state of the Matoran language? In the case of *kar(a), it seems pretty solid to assume that there was no initial value-judgment ("neutral", as you mentioned). As for kra, it's a little less clear. Shadow could easily be associated with [not-safe] (later "fear") due to practical/functional concerns, e.g. "can’t see to function". But is that a part of the original GB-encoded meaning or is it a value-judgment made by the Matoran later on? Either way, I think we all agree that the conflation of kra with a complex moral concept like "evil" would’ve had to happen later, once such concepts fully emerged.

 

Interestingly, this also ties in to language change. If the Matoran Language was originally designed as a system of pure functional-efficiency (e.g. as a means of conveying precise information/instructions between units without interference), we wouldn’t expect it to change at all, since that would negate its long-term usefulness. In spite of this, we know that the Matoran Language has been subject to changes that appear similar to human language ("archaic" words, dialectal variation, arbitrary assignment of reference, etc.), and that’s really interesting, since it’d be a departure from pure functional-efficiency (as initially programmed by the GBs). In fact, it’d be easy to postulate that the appearance of diachronic variation is a direct result of the eventual cognitive shift to full-blown creative self-awareness (or full-sapience, or free will, or whatever your favorite term is). Fun stuff.

 

JRRT


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#9 Offline bonesiii

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Posted Mar 09 2014 - 11:31 PM

I think I agree with most of that, yeah. It's possible shadow being seen as evil was a re-emergence of an idea originally in Agori culture, though. But I would agree the GBs likely didn't intend the Matoran to see it that way, even if some Agori might have previously. Still, I doubt they would necessarily purge Matoran of all possible etymological connections that don't have a practical value. That might need the GBs to be smarter than they really were. So, it's possible the Matoran later gleaned more nuance from the linguistic leftovers from Agori than the GBs assumed they were capable of, and could re-live some of the same cultural patterns due to those language artifacts.


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