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.

The Final Paragraph of Epiphany

So, after 54 chapters and one cultural primer on the systems of gender in the country Tveshė, Epiphany: The Story of a Heartbeat is done.

And Epiphany ended with a paragraph written in Narahji. Let’s talk about it.

Axopatomsa Eråsis glabdesu. Dof tëæmlaek mamgukofa mosjefenga. T’eikniphaomæ klesælịru kul makra dåmịmla av sanmoksuösaịru omnibh. Glabdeml mök lịbånibhæ̈ paänxa, dokusa kubhu tazai radåmfæva länglabdeml? Hjenähjas oxikanælaeroneu ịkur besu. Murhjas rịbhælaịrruịr. Ku fædeis murhjas oxikanælaịrru. Axopatomsa Eråsis glabdesu. Kækyåv moru glabdesu.

This paragraph begins with the use of two names, Axopatomsa and Eråsiswhich are the informal and formal names respectively of Salus’ younger daughter. In addition, Salus addresses lim as Toma in the entry itself, a common nickname for someone named Axopatomsa. Any verb with glabde in it is a form of the verb eklab, an irregular infinitive.

You will also see a lot of words with the root of nibh, which translates to well-oiled. The word is also used to mean good and is extremely versatile. Oils are very prized in Narahja, where they are used to condition hair, skin, and wooden objects, in addition to their use in temples for icon anointing, scented oil offering lamps, and purificatory baths.

The entire passage translates to:

I am Axopatomsa Eråsis. This is where my mother’s journal ends. The print pages have been placed online, and I have read it faithfully. Isn’t it strangely impressive what, in the end, le decided needed to be said? People before lim wouldn’t have done it. Le dedicated this to me and gave me this choice. I am Axopatomsa Eråsis. I am ler daughter.

That, of course, is an idiomatic translation.

Eiknipha is the word for datastream or the Internet, which is meant in a loose sense because the way online infrastructure works there is very different. I translated dåmịmla loosely, as the more literal translation would be handed, in the sense of something produced via hand. The particle æ̈ (a rough-breathed æ) is a suffix attached to the word in a simple yes/no question that is under scrutiny, in this case the impressiveness of Salus’ entries.

Speaking in Narahji is very hard because the stress system is so different from English, my native language. It has more vowels and a few consonant clusters that are not very intuitive. I don’t want to say how many takes of that paragraph I needed, but my actual podcast notes looked like this:

Ax.op.at.omˈsa E.råsˈis ˈglab.de.su. Dof të.ˈæ.ml.a.ek mam.gu.ko.ˈfa mo.sje.fen.ˈga.
T’eik.ni.ˈpha.om.æ ˈkles.æl.ịru kul mak.ˈra dåm.ịm.ˈla av san.mok.su.ˈö.sa.ịru om.ˈnibh.
ˈGlab.de.ml mök lị.bå.ˈnibh.æ̈ pa.än.ˈxa,
do.ku.ˈsa ku.ˈbhu ta.ˈzai ra.dåm.fæ.ˈva län.ˈglab.de.ml?
Hje.ˈnä.hjas o.xi.ˈkan.æ.la.er.o.neu ị.ˈkur be.ˈsu.
ˈMur.hjas ˈrịbh.æ.la.ịrr.u.ịr.
Ku fæ.ˈdeis ˈmur.hjas o.xi.ˈkan.æl.a.ịrr.u.
Ax.op.at.omˈsa E.råsˈis ˈglab.de.su.
Kæ.ˈkyåv mo.ˈru ˈglab.de.su.

I did takes until I was confident that how I said it was the best I could do. Please keep in mind if you listen to that entry that my American English accent is vey present. I didn’t invent Narahji to be easy.

There was also a sentence that didn’t make it in, which I feel sad about — I was copying and pasting a lot of things into my audio notes.

The missing sentence: Tsemanok! I nexus lịrnibh kul tsünas åtsu bivosafbelo. Tsemanok! Through this good path by means of your dice I hope that I walk. Or, simply, I hope that Tsemanok has taken me down the correct path.

Tsemanok is a god much like Hermes, Eshu, or Ganesh, and Toma’s sentiment is something I share.


Happy Winter Solstice! (… and Lexember #17-21)

First off, Happy Winter Solstice to everyone! ☀️🌃

In Tveshi, that would be Keshehio Oinnuporåsėo mesah! — You.DAT Winter Solstice.CAUS solidarity/hello/salutations. Indirect objects come before direct objects.

In Narahji, Ku tsukgenahaitsi raerås domozmbe. A/the Winter Solstice memorable have.IMPERATIVE you.PL.

Second, I published a poem in Eternal Haunted Summer called “What Remains in the Ruins.” There’s a lot of great stuff in the Winter Solstice issue from many talented people.

I had to make a lot of my wintertime vocabulary for Tveshi today — a really weird oversight considering that the culture has its roots in a high-latitude region of Ameisa. I had words for snow and cold in Narahji despite the warm climate, for a quick contrast. In my Tveshi lexicon work, I’m happy with the word for ice — jiashei, literally water-glass. Ice frozen on surfaces is called khereshei(ć)water-tile(s). North Tvaji continent winters are icy rather than snowy. To get truly snowy winters, one would need to travel across the ocean to the Amur region.

Day 17

Ho /hoʊ̯/ n.  Meat. Adjective hohi /ˈhoʊ̯.çi/, meaty, umami-filled, filling, satisfying. Verb ahohit /ʌ.ˈhoʊ̯.çit̪/, to raise livestock for meat. Annolisho /ʌ̃ð.oʊ.ˈli.ʃoʊ̯/, meat animal.

Vegetarianism/veganism is not prevalent in Sabaji parts of Tveshė and is typically associated with social classes that cannot afford as much meat. The Sabaji Tveshi eat what is prepared by their families. Various priesthoods and shrines have their own ritual purity standards that might limit food groups. Meat, however, is very socially sought.

Among the Ịgzarhjenya, vegetarianism/veganism is a mourning diet practiced 1-3 years after the death of close family members, marked by the phrase ärrgorrophontis ñudssa.

Day 18

Innodå /ĩð.ˈoʊ̯.dɔ/ n. Library, archive. Innodåkouri /ĩð.oʊ̯.dɔ.ˈkʼou̯.ɾi/, a librarian or archivist. Unnodå /ũð.ˈoʊ̯.dɔ/, archive. Oinnodå /ɔĩ̯ð.ˈoʊ̯.dɔ/, library.

Irå /ˈi.ɾɔ/ n. Translation. Aråhit /ʌ.ˈɾɔ.çit̪/, to translate. Another term for to translate is

ahakhit modayuić jeihi
ʌ.ˈhɑ.ʀit̪ moʊ̯.ˈdɑ.yui̯tʃ ˈʒeɪ̯.çi
to twist through collected words

On Twitter, I then deviated into plausible dystopian scenarios involving books that occasionally happen in my writing:

Mė khanem akouanait åssekać jinnahio.
I forced people to burn books.

Mė khanem peimu innodåkouri.
I forced the librarian away.

Mė khanem fem peimu innodåkouri.
I forced the librarian away from ler place.

In my lexicon, the above sentences actually illustrate how the word pei (place) is used. The base word, when used with suffixes like -mu, can indicate directionality. To emphasize that you do mean a place, the article needs to appear before any indirect use of pei, as in fem peimu.

Day 19

Khaña (DN) /ˈʀɑ.ɲʌ/ n. Center. Khañi /ˈʀɑ.ɲi/, central. Akhañit /ʌ.ˈʀɑ.ɲit̪/, to center, to put at the midpoint.

Lioć henekhañi /lioʊ̯tʃ hə.nə.ˈʀɑ.ɲi/, centerless circles, a common way to describe gods in philosophy and mysticism.


Day 20

Khia /ʀiɑ̯/ n. Light, in the sense of illumination on the electromagnetic spectrum. A different word is used for light pigments. Khiai /ʀi͡ɑi/, lit. Akhiai /ˈɑ.ʀi͡ɑi/, well-lit. Akhiait /ˈɑ.ʀi͡ɑit̪/, to light.

Day 21

Onnuneporå /oʊ̯̃ð.u.nə.ˈpoʊ̯.rɔ/ n. Solstice. This is a generic term used for either of the two solstices. The Winter Solstice is called Oinnuporå /o͡ʊið.u.ˈpoʊ̯.rɔ/, from oihonnuneporå. The Summer Solstice is called Iyonnuporå /ij.oʊ̯ð.u.ˈpoʊ̯.rɔ/.

Notes on Epiphany: Oratory in Ịgzarhjenya Languages (and Iturji)

When I was reading the 56 Hikol piece about Tehjen, I did not render Narahji in the IPA — although retrospectively, that would have been easier. I would have needed way fewer takes than I had to do to get this right!

That piece is written in pre-reform Narahji, which you can tell because the possessive word is mosmur instead of momuThe prefix mos- is used to indicate possessiveness, and mur is the first person singular indirect object pronoun. People in Narahja practice diglossia up until 1897, when the language is course-corrected.

My words bring horror. People call me Desertion.
My skin is the color of cliff-rock, and it flakes like cliffrock.
The Great Canyon dark devours my soul.
My body becomes it, and the Canyon-Dark becomes my mind.
It rips my brain into small pieces that are the Canyon’s rivers,
And my blood is the soil that nourishes the people with fruit.
Such is my fate to serve for all time:
I revolted against our ways, the Karatha, the Tesekhaira, the ruler!
I chose to be alone, and what a mistake! I am no more.

That is this in English — but in Narahji, it becomes:

I mukro bezurælotek kul magdu mosmur xai Tehjenan manlịdgu.
I neä ruaịgzærmobæ glabdeml i blesgị mosmur xai lagịgzæla.
Ku klazæxub mosmur gleglælaben ku Narahjịgz lịbịmị̈nobæ.
Kusanglabdemlben omdag ku glịklazæ mosmur; radag kusanglabdemlben ku kovta.
ku koværna belæla kul ösyosnosyosjab xai kul bizar ragazị glabdæl bakus
Xai i ëiza glabdeml i ịtö, ku sjenä i hjenganas nokla i ëiza.
I dom mosmur glabdeml lexai fubä, gåmịtit kolborị:
Ku tsærgbị mosbyur, Katatyan, Kerosyan, ñæ Deimolan natzssaịtrun!
Tselvit bladeissaịtrun, xai ku narlị glabdeml kolborị! Boglabdesunuakba.

The text exists somewhere between a poem and prose — it’s not in a formal metric style. This is quite common in Narahji because oratory and poems are recited differently from ordinary speech. Certain vowels, such as iou, and a, are lengthened and have a higher pitch even when they are not stressed. It produces an extremely stylized form of speech. Below is the text I actually worked from while doing the reading, which contains both the lengthened vowels and the original word stresses.

Ī mūkrṓ bezū́rælōtek kūl magdū́ mosmū́r xai Tehjénān manlịdgū́.
Ī nehā́ rūaịgzærmobæ glābdéml i blesgị́ mosmū́r xai lāgị́gzæla.
Kū klāzæxū́b mosmū́r gléglælaben kū Nārāhjị́gz lịbịmhịnōbæ.
Kūsānglābdémlben ōmdāg kū glịklāzǽ mōsmū́r; rādā́g kūsānglābdémlben kū kōvtā́.
kū kōværnā́ bélæla kūl hōsyōsnōsyṓsjāb xai kūl bīzā́r rāgāzị́ glā́bdæl bākū́s
Xai ī heizā́ glabdéml ī ịtthṓ, kū sjenhā́ i hjengānā́s nōklā́ ī heizā́.
Ī dōm mōsmū́r glābdéml lexai fūbhā́, gåmịtī́t kōlbōrị:
Kū tsærgbị́ mōsbyū́r, Kātātyā́n, Kerōsyā́n, ñæ Deimṓlān nā́tzssāịtrūn!
Tselvī́t blādéissāịtrūn, xai kū nārlị́ glābdéml kōlbōrị! Bōglābdésūnūakbā.

I had to make a decision with characters like Karatau Meiyenesi (Kurutimi) in the audio. As an Iturji upper-class person of the jomela gender who has extensive training in oratory and politics, Kurutimi would speak in Tveshi, Iturji, and Narahji using an affected oratorical style. The Iturji follow the Ịgzarhjenya (Khessi, Narahji, &c.) in that. It’s a sign of status. I tried out some of ler sentences in English using oratory-like diction, and it was over-the-top. I compromised on that.

This recitation is thus one of the few places where the oratorical style actually comes out and bites the reader.

Linguistic Beauty Can Be Hard to Podcast

To conclude, we believe views about the beauty and ugliness of languages and dialects are built on cultural norms, pressures and social connotations. […] Most listeners know of linguistic varieties that they do not like, but we should appreciate that these feelings are highly subjective and have no basis in social scientific fact.

From Giles, H. & Niedzielsky, N (1998). Italian is beautiful, German is Ugly. In: Bauer, L & Trudgill, P (Eds)., Language myths. London: Penguin, pp.92.

This was going around on Tumblr a while ago, via original quote-poster linguisten.

As part of my efforts to move over interesting stuff about constructed languages to Pangrammatike, here’s what went through my head when I was making Narahji — what I posted in response to the thread when it went through my Tumblr feed. I’ve added a bit to it because this is no longer on Tumblr:

Narahji can be very consonant-clustered, and it’s actually very hard for me as an English-speaker to do a sentence in Epiphany in that language on a first take. Not only do I need to speak an intact, decently-pronounced Narahji sentence, but I need to rapidly switch from English to Narahji and back again. It’s really hard. Narahji has a regular stress on final syllables, except not. It stresses the final consonant sans suffix, except for personal name suffixes, which are stressed. Here’s a set of examples where stress appears. I’m simplifying it by marking stress with an acute accent.

    • Manbezúrozaịrruịts. You yourself brought me.
    • Manbezúrozaịrra. You will bring me.
    • Fyúrbas manbezúrozaịrra. You will bring me accompanied by them.
    • Rúrbas manbezúrozaịrra. You will bring me accompanied by lim (note lack of gender in third person singular).
    • Ku sabí bezúrovịrra. We (inclusive) will bring potable water.
    • Ku sabí bezúrovịrrakịb. We (inclusive to the listener) will bring ourselves potable water. Could also mean, We (inclusive to the listener) will ourselves bring potable water.
    • Ku sabí kị́rhjas bezúrovịrra. We (inclusive to the listener) will bring ourselves potable water. An alternative way to do that sentence.

I wanted a language where consonants clustered like grapes caught in the mouth. When I learned that many conlangs spoken by villains (e.g., in Tolkien) had that clustering and strong agglutination, I took that as a challenge. I wanted to make a language that did it — a language not for villains. I clustered consonants a lot in Narahji, and I made it OVS — object, verb, subject.

Its earlier versions were more clustered than the one I decided on, and it has a lot of fricatives and vowel aspiration. It doesn’t actually sound that harsh now, I think — but I love the sound of Narahji, so I’m a bit biased.

I learned a while after I created Narahji that Klingon is also OVS with some consonants that also sound harsh to American English speakers. So I went in that direction while thinking, “I’m so fed up with you people who say languages like this are ideal for orcs and villains,” and (apparently) the creators of Klingon were like, “Let’s make something super alien and harsh because Klingons.”

Perceptions of beautiful dialects/languages are biased, just as Giles & Niedzielsky said. I actually think that Narahji is quite beautiful when it appears in sentences.

Insults in Narahji: The Noun Class Edition

(A partial repost from Tumblr with some new content.)

The Narahji spoken in Epiphany is not always internally consistent because it’s the Narahji of a changing time. Salus is navigating a complex world of formal, standardized Narahji and informal Narahji. In 1865 Standard Count, the year Epiphany takes place, language activists are working hard on a referendum that won’t make headway until the 1880s to recalibrate official Narahji based on outside-of-the-office usage.

When I say “Narahji,” I also mean the Narahji that is taught in schools — this is a canyon region over a thousand kilometers across and several hundred kilometers top to bottom on a map, so there are a lot of small dialects and regional languages.

Kati and Salus have an exchange in Entry 39 in which Salus is offended by Kati’s use of slang for the word family. In pre-reform Narahji, the word is ku bvyadö, a noun in the animate class. It will become ku pho, the slang term Salus dislikes, once reform takes hold. Ler distaste for the slang term mirrors common discomfort among speakers who feel ownership of a language when that language changes. Like many speakers, Salus is complicated — le also picks and chooses which linguistic innovations le’s comfortable using in writing.

Regardless of whether one uses ku bvyadö or ku pho, I’d like to talk about the noun class system, AKA the linguistic gender applied to nouns in Narahji. When I developed the disrespect system in Narahji, I had an exciting opportunity to apply something I found interesting in Aikhenvald’s How Gender Shapes the World. Outside of Indo-European languages, many will employ gender inversions when disparaging a noun or the thing the noun represents.

This is the pronoun system for modern Narahji. The most important bits of it are the animate/inanimate pronouns.

Refl./Emph. Subject Direct Object Indirect Object Possessive
1s -ịm man- mur momu
1pincl. -kịb kịn- kịr åskị
1pexcl. -bė byan- byur åbhi
2s -ịts tsan- tsur åtsu
2p -kė kyan- kyur åku
3s -ịr ran- rur moru
3sanim -kus san- sur mosu
3sinanim -ron nan- rur årur
3p -fė fyan- fyur mosfu
3panim -kyus syan- syur åsyu
3pinanim -lyon ñan- ñur moñu

Note that this is post-1880s Narahji — the slang possessive pronouns have been adopted into the official grammars taught in schools, whereas before there was a prefix, mos-, that glommed onto the indirect object pronoun.

Narahji, as part of the Ịgzarhjenya language family, divides the non-human world into animate and inanimate noun classes. All animals and plants take the animate class, as do things that are considered living things. Inanimate things will often be referred to using the inanimate class. Nouns that denote abstract ideas and concepts, such as families, mistakes, honor, &c., have irregular noun classes that need to be memorized by nonnative speakers. The articles used are ku (animate) and i (inanimate).

Native speakers may refer to things in the inanimate class with the animate class article when emphasizing the noun’s importance. This usually only happens once in the sentence, after which the native speaker will revert to the accepted noun class.

Thus, to say, A (goddamn) fire burned lim. It (emphatic) happened at the dock, one might say, Rankunælaịrru ku besun. I febiyxoho gådzælaịrruron. Fire, i besun, is transformed into ku besun. The speaker uses the correct pronoun suffix, -ron, for inanimate nouns in the second sentence.

The opposite might happen for nouns classed as animates. This is one way to code disrespect in Narahji.

Ogekowælaịrrabæn i pho åbhi. Our (shitty) family will not cooperate. A listener might respond, Ogekowælaịrrabænsæ̈ ku pho aku? That is a yes/no query that correctly uses ku pho.