When a Librarian Writes Conlangs

I saw a question on Twitter that was posted on Metafilter about words for librarian in “geek languages,” which was retweeted with a #conlang hashtag. Right now, I’m not sure if the original poster intended this to be mentioned in the conlang communities. I mean, there are popular geek conlangs, and then there is the vast ecosystem of conlang work happening … but it’s my birthday, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Classical Atarahi

Earlier this year, I drafted a novella about a librarian on Atara, so it’s about library science in a far-future setting. Classical Atarahi is the international prestige language on Atara. I do have a rich vocabulary to describe librarians because I needed to develop some poetic-sounding metaphors for what librarians in that society do.

As a secondary concern, I want the novella to fight back against tropes and misunderstandings about librarianship in a broad sense. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me occasionally get angry about novelettes, novellas, and other stories that conflate libraries and archives or that place library science in a dusty realm of books. (And there is some great historical fiction about librarians, but that still leaves those of us in the profession after about 1970 out of pop culture’s conception of what a librarian is.) As an academic science librarian in 2018, the only time I routinely touch books is when I read them on my lunch break. A librarian working in 1918 couldn’t do my job without training and vice-versa just due to how much the professional skillset has shifted.

So what does this mean about far-future library science? Well.

The Classical Atarahi word for librarian is derived from the word for datum (the singular form of data). Atarahi societies have always had computing infrastructure. They have always had some level of AI processing. Librarians in Atarahi society work in tandem with AI routines, human archivists, and other information professionals to deliver information services. They are a public service for everyone, from firms and companies to private citizens and families, with a complex referral system.

Amil is the word for datum in Atarahi, pronounced /ˈä.mil/. The plural form is amilenta, /ˈä.mil.ən.ˌtɑ/. The formal word for librarian comes from the term amiyī hekwakabī, data-plunger. Library science on Atara is filled with metaphors about diving, plunging, and immersing, much like the surviving esoteric text from Greco-Roman Egypt called The Book of Thoth, which makes allusions to hunting and trapping for scribal work. The commonly-used Classical Atarahi word for librarian, amiyas, /ˈä.mi.ˌjɑs/, is the word amil put in the same adjective-as-noun form that is used for personal names.

Note that the vocabulary above doesn’t include archivists. Library-archive hybrid places typically use amiyas to describe their employees. Archivists are called something else.


Classical Atarahi is not the only language for which I have developed this vocabulary. Narahji, an Ịgzarhjenya language, has separate language to describe its data flows (which includes both fiction and nonfiction scrolls/books, maps, poetry in various media, qualitative/quantitative data, et cetera) from its archival information. The terminology related to archives and archivists is related to the Narahji verb for to remember. The terminology related to librarians is related instead to words describing datastreams, information flows, and discovery systems.

Niphtora /ni.pʰtoʊ.ˈrɑ/ is library science. A librarian is a niphtorakri /ni.pʰtoʊ.ˈrɑ.kʼri/, and a library is kisaiga lịniphtora /kʼi.sa͡ɪ.ˈgɑ lɪ.ni.pʰtoʊ.ˈrɑ/, library building. The prefix lị- changes depending on whether kisaiga is a subject or direct/indirect object. In pre-conquest Narahja, while city libraries often contained archives, most archival content was found in specific archival institutions or museums. The exceptions were national libraries, which had strong archival collections.


Finally, the Tveshi language actually collapses librarians and archivists together into a single term. (I talked about this in #Lexember, too.) A library or archive is called an innodå /ĩð.ˈoʊ̯.dɔ/. A librarian or archivist is an innodåkouri /ĩð.oʊ̯.dɔ.ˈkʼou̯.ɾi/.

Unnodå /ũð.ˈoʊ̯.dɔ/ is the word for an archive if one wants to be specific, and it can be suffixed with -kouri to make it clear one is talking about an archival professional. Oinnodå /ɔĩ̯ð.ˈoʊ̯.dɔ/, library, can be suffixed in much the same way. The reason for this is that the national libraries in Tveshė are also the country’s archives, so while a library campus may (and often does) include multiple buildings, they all organizationally fall under the same bureaucratic structures.