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Surnibur

Also known as: the language of the séroni, the language of the sorns
Spoken in: the highlands of Malacandra
Sources: Out of the Silent Planet (osp) and Perelandra (p)

Contents

History

While he was on Malacandra, Ransom was informed by the pfifltrigg Kanakaberaka that the three species inhabiting the planet, the hrossa, séroni and pfifltriggi had originally each possessed their own language, but that, eventually, the language of the hrossa became predominant.

Much later, however, Ransom discovered that this was not entirely correct: Hressa-Hlab, the language of the hrossa, was more properly called Hlab-Eribol-ef-Cordi, the language of the Fields of Arbol, a language which had, possibly, existed since the beginning of time. Surnibur and the language of the pfifltriggi, he decided, were actually much more recent developments, having developed (presumably from Hlab-Eribol-ef-Cordi itself) around the time which is on Earth known as the Cambrian Period.

It would seem, then, that the development of the languages was so ancient, even in Malacandrian terms, that it had been completely forgotten that Hlab-Eribol-ef-Cordi was the original tongue of all three of the races living on the planet and that it was anything but the “language of the hrossa”.

The Corpus

Rather unfortunately, the attested corpus of Surnibur is small, making it difficult to learn anything definite about the language.

Words

*bur
\’bur\1 n. : possibly “language”
[origin unknown]
nau2
\’now\ n. : a sentient being; actual meaning unknown
[Old Solar hnau]
*obor, *orob or *robo
\’ôb · ôr\, \’ôr · ôb\ or \’rô · bô\ adj. : possibly “red”
[origin unknown]
sorn3
\’sôrn\ n., pl. séroni (\’se · rô · nê\) : one of the race of the séroni; actual meaning unknown
adj. *surn \’surn\, pl. *surni \· ê\
[origin unknown]
soroborn
\sô · ’rô · bôrn\ n., pl. *séroborni or *séro’oborni (\’se · rô · bôr · nê\ or \·· ô ·\) : a subrace of the séroni; may mean “red sorn”
[possibly sorn + *orob, *robo or *obor]

Proper Nouns

Arkal
\’ark · al\ per. n. : name of a sorn of unknown gender; meaning unknown
[origin unknown]
Augray
\’ow · grâ\ per. n. : name of a male sorn; meaning unknown
[origin unknown]
Belmo
\’bel · mô\ per. n. : name of a sorn of unknown gender; meaning unknown
[origin unknown]
Falmay
\’fal · mâ\ per. n. : name of a sorn of unknown gender; meaning unknown
[origin unknown]
Surnibur
\sur · ’nê · bur\ lang. n. : the language of the séroni; possibly means “language of the séroni”
[possibly *surn + *bur]

Other

sorns
\’sôrnz\ n. : séroni
[Anglicization]
Ren-soom
\’ren · sûm\ per. n. : a sorn’s attempted pronunciation of the English word “Ransom”
[English Ransom]

Phonology

Consonants
  ploshive fricative approximate nasal
labial - b f - - - - m
alveolar - - s - - r - n
alveolar-velar - - - - - l - -
velar k g - - - - - -
Vowels
  front central back
high i - oo
lax high - - u
closed ay - o
open e - -
low - - a
u diphthongs - - au

Sounds

Surnibur is attested as having a only few sounds; however, given the small size of the corpus, not to mention the fact that several of the words are related to one another, it is probable that more sounds exist that we simply have no way of knowing about.

For consonants, the language is known to have three ploshives, b, k and g, two fricatives, f and s, two approximates, r and l and two nasals, m and n. Although we have no way of knowing for sure, it seems reasonable to suppose that, since the language was first written in our alphabet by an English-speaking human, all these letters sound similar to how they do in English.

As for vowels, we know of five: a, e, i, o and u. These probably sound like the a of father, the e of men, the ê of me, the ô of no and the u of sun. There are also three known diphthongs, ay, au and oo (admittedly, however, that last may not be a ‘typical’ Surnibur sound, occuring only, as it does, in the “word” Ren-soom); these are probably pronounced as the â of may, the ow of now and the oo of moon.

Stress

It is not entirely clear which syllable, if any, is normally stressed in Surnibur. However, using the few clues available, it is possible to make a few sound deductions. The only major clue we have is that if the word séroni were stressed normally, the first syllable would not be stressed. Unfotunately, since the word has three syllables, it is not clear which would be if the word were written without the accent.

The only other thing that can be said for certain is that in virtually all of the words, the stress seems to “naturally” fall upon the the second-to-last syllable (even if that syllable is the first). Of course, although that is the method we have tenatively adopted in the Surnibur pronunciations, we have no idea whether it, rooted as it is in human phonology and psychology, is correct.

Word Structure

Surnibur seems to have a fairly loose word structure. Words can begin and end in either consonants or vowels. As in English, consonants seem to outnumber vowels, but, also as in English, there do not appear to be many large clusters of consonants.

Only a few consonant clusters are attested: it would appear that [stop]+[approximate], [approximate]+[stop] and [approximate]+[nasal] can occur medially; [approximate]+[nasal] is also attested finally. Given the small size of the corpus, however, there is no way to determine with any large degree of confidence what rules govern the formation of such clusters.

Grammar

Nouns

Given the abundance of nouns in the attested corpus of Surnibur, one might think that we would have much to say, but, unfortunately, all we have is a single pluralization rule, a possible possessive case and a lot of questions.

Pluralization

Surnibur pluralization rules
rule example
1. Start with singular noun sorn
2. Replace vowel with é **sérn
3. Move replaced vowel **séron
4. Add -i to finish séroni
Thus sorn becomes séroni

One noun, sorn, has an attested plural, séroni (although the Anglicization sorns seems to be slightly more common). From this, we can see that the pluralization of a Surinbur noun occurs thus: the (first? stressed?) vowel becomes é, the vowel replaced by the é moves past the consonant which used to follow it (splitting a cluster if necessary) and a final -i is added.

Several questions still remain. The first can be demonstrated with an example: how would the word soroborn be pluralized? Performing steps 1 and 3, we obtain **séroborni, but what do we do with the o that was replaced by the é? Does it replace the o that already exists, making *séroborni the plural? Or does it coëxist with the already-existing o, making the plural *séro’oborni the plural? (Here I have arbitrarily added the to make it clear that the two o’s do not produce one sound).

Another question concerns nouns which end with a vowel. Is the -i added after the vowel? Does it replace the final vowel? Or does Surnibur, like Old Solar have a multitude of possible plural formations?

Possessive Case

Surnibur noun cases
(examples)
  singular plural
nominative4 sorn séroni
possessive5 surn surni

There is one possible attested possessive formation in Surnibur (stress possible, since it might also be an adjective).

The possible possessive is *surn(i), attested in the word Surnibur. If it truely is a possessive of sorn, then it would appear that to say “X’s Y” or “Y of X” in Surnibur, one says “X Y”, where “X” is in the possessive case.

The possessive case appears to be formed by changing the (first? stressed?) vowel to (u? a different vowel depending on the original vowel?). Thus, surn would mean, roughly, “sorn’s”.

Also, in order to pluralize a possessive-case noun, it would seem that one merely adds -i. Thus, surni would mean “sorns’” and Surnibur would mean “sorns’ language” or “language of the sorns”.

Adjectives

We know of a few, hypothetical, Surnibur adjectives, but, ultimately, we can say little about them.

Formation of Adjectives

One possible adjective, *surni, appears to be formed from an attested noun, sorn. (However, it must be noted that it is also possible that *surni is a possessive form of sorn). If this is the case, it would seem that the (first? stressed?) vowel mutates to (u? a different vowel depending on what vowel it was originally?). An -i is also added. Once sorn undergoes such transformations, the resulting surni would translate roughly as “sornish”.

Position of Adjectives

We can say little about the position of adjectives in a sentance, since we never actually see one used with a noun. We do, however, have two examples of adjectives being combined with nouns to form new words (and, of course, it is possible that that is the normal position of adjectives in Surnibur).

The first example is Surnibur which might actually be a possessive formation, as mentioned above. If it is, however, the adjective meaning “sornish”, it has been prefixed to the noun meaning (apparently) “language”.

The second example almost certainly involves an adjective: the word soroborn, “red sorn”, has had an adjective meaning “red” infixed to the word sorn. Unfortunately, since it is not entirely clear if the word for “red” is *obor, *orob or *robo, we cannot be sure where in a word an adjective is infixed to make a compound.

1 – please see the Guide to Pronunciation; also note that the placement of primary stress is highly hypothetical.
2 – it must be noted that this may actually be an Old Solar word spoken with a Surinbur accent.
3 – there exists a possibility that this (along with virtually all the other words on the list) is an Old Solar word and that the séroni had a different name for themselves in their own language; we will operate, however, under the assumption that sorn is, in fact, a Surnibur word which has been adopted into common Old Solar usage.
4 – assuming that Surnibur is not an absolutive-ergative language
5 – unless, of course, these are actually adjectives.

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