An Introduction to Zharranh

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Tluĵa xa žar (Lesson One): Pronunciation; the verb "to be"

Zharranh [ˈʒaraɲ] is a language of the Kireethin (kiriŧen), furry aliens around four to five feet tall, who are hybrids of Zireen (zirinen) and Sangari (sɛņkaren). Although Kireethin are rare, and you are unlikely to meet one, their language is important as the most commonly recognized language of the former slaves of the recently liberated Nikta world Tallivar, and as the original language of Kireethin sacred literature and fiction. Unfortunately, books in human languages for learning Zharranh are as rare as the Kireethin themselves, and contain many contradictions and probable errors. This guide is based on the language notes in the published stories of Kaza Zikos and Zazik Siprit, considered the most reliable source of Kireethin information by most experts. As new information is uncovered, it may become necessary to revise these notes.

Zharranh has six vowels and 27 consonants. The actual phonetic values of the sounds vary depending on context, but the variation is predictable. Here are the basic sounds of the six Zharranh vowels: a ɛ i o u e. Notice that the sound written "ɛ" is a low-mid front vowel [ɛ], and "e" is a high-mid front vowel [e]. In other contexts, "e" can be pronounced like an English short "i" [ɪ], or a high central vowel [ɨ]. The sound of "o" ranges from a low-mid central vowel [ə] to a low-mid rounded back vowel [ɔ], and "u" is a high central vowel that is only partly rounded [ʉ]. In certain contexts next to retroflex consonants, the vowels are pronounced with a rhotacized, or "r-colored" quality: ʈa ʈɛ ʈi ʈo ʈu ʈe.

Many Zharranh consonants are unlike the sounds found in English. In particular, there are three voiceless stops pronounced with the tip of the tongue, and it is difficult to learn to distinguish them. The interdental consonants "ŧ" [t̪] and "đ" [d̪] are pronounced with the tip of the tongue between the teeth, and often have a slight "fronting" effect on the surrounding vowels. In non-initial positions, these sounds are pronounced as fricatives, like the English "th" sounds [θ], [ð]. On the other hand, the retroflex stop "ʈ" [ʈ] ([ɖ] between vowels) is pronounced with the tongue curled back, and has an "r-coloring" effect on the surrounding vowels.

In addition to the retroflex sounds, there is a series of palatal sounds (ķ, ç, ĵ, ņ, ļ), which are pronounced with the tongue in the same position as English "y". The letter "ķ" represents a palatal stop [c] ([ɟ] between vowels), which sometimes has a brief "y" glide after it, so that it sounds like the "c" in "cute". The letters "ç" and "ĵ" both have a fricative sound, like German ch in "ich" [ç], and the voiced equivalent [ʝ].

The sound written "q" is pronounced like "kw" in some environments, and "p" in others. Generally speaking, the rule is that "q" is pronounced "p" before another consonant, or an r-colored vowel, or at the end of a syllable, and "kw" everywhere else.

Here is an audio sample of all 27 Zharranh consonant sounds: qa va ma wa ŧa đa ta da sa za na ra la ša ža ʈa ʂa ʐa ɳa ɭa ķa ça ĵa ņa ļa ka xa.


Many Zharranh words make distinctions that are not made in English. One of the most important of these distinctions is deciding how to translate the English verb "to be". One common translation is "ta x ĵa y", meaning "x and y refer to the same thing". This "double verb" construction in Zharranh is common in situations where the English equivalent doesn't have an active subject. For example, in the sentence "that is the question", neither "that" nor "the question" is actually doing anything. The sentence is merely stating that "that" and "the question" refer to the same thing. Therefore, the appropriate Zharranh translation of "that is the question" is ta ŧu ĵa drazna [ta ˈt̪y ʝa ˈdrazna].

Another use of the English verb "to be" is in describing qualities or conditions of things: "roses are red". It would be wrong to say *ta zirɛk ĵa ser, unless we really want to say that "roses and red refer to the same thing". We need to use the "đa x ĵɛ y" construction, which means "x has the property/attribute/quality/condition of y": đa zirɛk ĵɛ ser [d̪a ˈziræk jæ ˈser]. Although in English we can say "red are the roses", if we were to translate this as đa ser ĵɛ zirɛk it would mean "the color red is like roses". The correct translation uses a reversal of the "dha ... je" construction: ĵɛ ser đa zirɛk. Note that "dha ... je" is also used to translate conditions that use the verb "to have" in English, such as "The child has a fever" (đa xiru ĵɛ kražda [d̪a ˈxiru ʝæ ˈkraʒda]). It is even used after verbs like žeska "to make" (in the sense "cause to become"), in a triple-verb construction: žeskak đar ĵɛ reņa [ˈʒeskak d̪ar ʝæ ˈreɲa]: it makes me happy.

English also uses the verb "to be" in classification: "a mouse is an animal". Kireethin don't have words for mice, but they do have a word for a mouse-like fairy that lives on Tallivar: zaku. (You might also hear it pronounced zagu [ˈzaɣʉ], but this dialectal variation will be explained later.) Zharranh uses the "mi ... ka" construction, which means "is a kind of", to translate this sentence: mi zaku ka telaŧ [mi ˈzakʉ ka ˈtelaθ] (a mouse-fairy is an animal). Note that *ta zaku ĵa telaŧ would imply that all animals are mouse-fairies, which is wrong, and that *đa zaku ĵɛ telaŧ only means that a mouse-fairy has some characteristics of an animal, not that it is one.

Another use of the verb "to be" in English is as an auxiliary verb: "my friend is reading a book". This kind of construction is translated by using the Zharranh imperfective aspect, expressed by adding a suffix (-z in this case) to the verb: razlaz miviš lɛm tliki [ˈrazlaz ˈmiviʃ læm ˈɬiki]. Since this sentence does have an active subject ("friend"), the word for "friend" (mivi) is put into the ergative case, by adding the suffix . (Also note that, in an initial position, the consonant cluster "tl" is pronounced as a single sound, a voiceless lateral fricative [ɬ].)

L̢ikasta ka tluĵa xa žar (vocabulary for Lesson One)

drazna [ˈdrazna]    question
dʐoli [ˈɖʐɔli]      blue
đa ... ĵɛ [d̪a ʝæ]   to be; have the attribute/condition of
ĵɛ [ʝæ]             of, having the attribute/condition of
ka [ka]             of, belonging to, part of
kiriŧ [ˈkiriθ]      Kireethin (a hybrid of Zirien and Sangari)
kražda [ˈkraʒda]    fever
lašon [ˈlaʃən]      ribbon, band, tape
lɛm [læm]           my
ɭikasta [ɭi˞ˈkasta] vocabulary
mi ... ka [mi ka]   is a kind of
min [min]           of, associated with
mivi [ˈmivi]        friend
nitsa [ˈnitsa]      to join, become a member of
razla [ˈrazla]      to read
reņa [ˈreɲa]        happy
sɛņkar [ˈsɛŋkar]    Sangari (a furry alien slightly shorter on average than a human)
ser [ˈser]          red
šemla [ˈʃemla]      campaign
ta ... ĵa [ta ʝa]   to be; refer to the same thing
telaŧ [ˈtelaθ]      animal
tliki [ˈɬiki]       book
tluĵa [ˈɬuʝa]       lesson
trawaļa [traˈwaʎa]  to censor, expurgate
ŧu [ˈt̪y]            that
xa [xa]             designated as
xiru [ˈxirʉ]        child (pre-adolescent individual, older than an infant)
zaku (zagu) [ˈzakʉ] mouse-fairy (pl. zavik)
zira [ˈzira]        rose (flower) (pl. zirrek)
zirin [ˈzirin]      Zireen (a small furry alien)
zu [zʉ]             against
žar [ˈʒar]          one
žaraņ [ˈʒaraɲ]      the Zharranh language
žeska [ˈʒeska]      to make, cause to become