The Zirien Language (Zirienka)

Now with MP3 sound samples

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Lin: Zayi! (Hello!) We're here to tell you a little bit about the Zirien language. First, let's introduce ourselves. I'm Lin Mie (the one on the left)....

Sie: And I'm Sie Nar (the one on the right).

Lin: The first thing you need to know is the spelling system we'll be using for this lesson. Zirienka has fourteen consonants, and many of them don't have English equivalents, so you should follow the spoken examples.

Sie: If you can't hear the spoken examples, the sounds are described phonetically in the notes below. Listen and repeat after me: cài (darkness) jài (wet) kai (joy) lái (ear) mâi (ocean) nài (to have) rai (smooth) sâi (tail) shái (to be happy) tai (to like) vai (there) xài (gold) yái (to spin) zâi (Mizarian).

Lin: Did you notice a difference in the vowels?

Sie: Zirienka is a tonal language; there are eight different tones. Sometimes two different words sound alike except for the tone.

Lin: For example, kai means "joy", but kâi means "tree rat". Two words distinguished only by their tone are called kàisî:.

Sie: Not to be confused with kai si:, "the joy of hugging"! :*)

Lin: Right. Sometimes there are three words in the set, distinguished only by tone, like rei "pretty", réi "fruit", and rêi "to stare" (not a threatening kind of stare, but a kind of stare like when you and I admire each other's eyes, Sie).

Sie: You have marvelous eyes, Lin. Sé:nài syá xi:nâ:, senàrân sî:rêi.

Lin: Ínsezî:. When someone gives you a compliment, as Sie with his equally wonderful eyes just did, you thank them by saying ínsezî: (don't leave out the imperfective prefix ín-!), which means "I am enjoying it" (the compliment).

Sie: Or invite them to hug you!

Lin: Yes; most Zirien appreciate such invitations. A polite way to express an interest in hugging is su sé:tài si:, without a verb prefix. The listener could interpret it either as "do you like hugs?" or "would you like a hug?", according to their feelings.

Sie. Be very careful to say si: and not xí:!

Lin: That would be a mistake! Xí: is a general term for one of the things Senator Exon and the Christian Coalition don't want you talking about or drawing pictures of. Don't ever say su sé:tài xí: to a Zirien unless you're willing to follow through with your offer!

Sie: And if you want to compliment someone's eyes, don't say they're xìnâ: (evil) when you mean xi:nâ: (absolutely beautiful)! Tones are extremely important in Zirienka.

Lin: What's worse is that some verbs undergo tone mutations depending on the tone of the prefix. For example, tai (to like) also occurs as tái (i:tái he/she likes you) or tài (sé:tài you like him/her/it)!

Sie: Don't confuse that word with tâi, another word for activities Exon doesn't want you to talk about!

Lin: You don't need to use the tone mutations yourself; many Zirien speakers don't, but you need to recognize them when they occur.

Sie: Can you think of a set of kàisî: with all eight tones?

Lin: Uta:zá:n.... Not with all eight, but with seven.

Sie: Okay, with seven.

Lin. myself, ki -ing, that, kí: yourself, kî: song, ki: tree, kì: ... what's English for kì:?

Sie: "To have a sexual preference for a particular species, population, age, or gender".

Lin: They don't have one word for that in English?

Sie: No. Considering all they talk about it, you'd think they would, but....

Lin: But it would be against the CDA if they did have one, wouldn't it?

Sie: Probably so. Anyway, is "-ing" really a word?

Lin: I suppose not. But it's important to distinguish, say, kisha:l "talking" from kísha:l "I talk to myself"!

Sie: And the only difference between kísà:m "I lick my lips" and kí:sà:m "you lick your lips" is the length of the vowel!

Lin: Zirienka has many other words that don't translate well into English. For example, lí:t means "to walk around watching the local wildlife", while zàix means "to sit in one place watching the local wildlife".

Sie: And of course, there are dozens of Zirien words that refer in explicit detail to sexual activities and organs, but someone might see the English translations of these words as patently offensive, so I won't bother listing them.

Lin: Many English words are difficult to translate into Zirien as well. The shortest Zirien translation of "law" is a rather cumbersome phrase, kîsarnê: yèva:sái meza:lù:, and its meaning fails to capture the true meaning of the English word.

Sie: To adequately communicate the meaning of the phrase "decency act" would require a very lengthy paragraph!

Lin: Indeed! Now for some grammar. Let's say that you point to a cat and ask a simple question: tá:, "what is that?" I want to say "That is a cat". Zirien verbs, such as zâ: "to be", usually have a verbal prefix or a pronoun, in this case "that". Kìzâ: izá "that is a cat".

Sie: Zirienka is subject-verb-object, just like English: izá ínàkît zà:l "A cat is hunting a mouse". You can see that ínàkît has two prefixes: ín- the imperfective aspect, and à- the generic third-person pronoun. Adjectives follow nouns, so if a black cat is hunting a gray mouse, it would be izá cú ínàkît zà:l xèi.

Lin: Adverbs also follow verbs: uxé: vai "see over there". A fairy (any kind) is tâin, but a tree-fairy is tâin ki:, and a beautiful tree-fairy is tâin ki: xi:. So the Zirien for "see the beautiful tree-fairy over there" is uxé: vai tâin ki: xi:.

Sie: Note the relation between xi: "beautiful" and xi:nâ: "absolutely beautiful". Many Zirien words come in related pairs (normal and superlative) or sets of three (diminutive, normal, superlative). Another example is vî:r "fun", vî:ra: "lots of fun". Words that don't have a superlative use tâ: "very".

Lin: Saxí: sivî:ra:!! Which means....

Sie: Lin! Have you forgotten all about the Adult Conspiracy?

Lin: Sorry. ;*) But notice that vî:ra: has a verbal prefix; it's actually a verb! All adjectives in Zirienka are really verbs without prefixes. To say "the cat is gray", you just need to add the definite prefix to the verb: izá kìxèi.

Sie: You can also string verbs together, giving each one its own verbal prefix: xasetai ínta:lí:t, "I'd like to be walking around watching the local wildlife".

Lin: Or senàrân sî:rêi, "I love to stare into your eyes". Syánî: kyá: sixi:nâ: zè têi, yé: sí:!

Sie: Ínsezî: lín, su sé:tài xí:?

Lin: Lî:, ilê!!



Zirienka has four vowels (a, e, i, u) and fourteen consonants (c, j, k, l, m, n, r, s, sh, t, v, x, y, z). The small size of the Zirien, and the slightly different shape of the Zirien vocal tract, makes it difficult for humans to imitate Zirien sounds exactly, but the following is a close approximation:

Bilabial (m). Similar to English m.
Labiodental (v). Similar to English v.
Alveolar (t, s, z, l, n). These are similar to the English sounds. Note that t is unaspirated.
Alveolo-palatal (x, j). These are the "soft" equivalents of s and z. Zirien x is somewhat similar to Chinese x, and j is the voiced equivalent. English speakers can approximate x by attempting to say s and y simultaneously.
Palatal (c, y). No English equivalent; c is the German ch in ich, and y is the voiced equivalent.
Retroflex (sh, r). Produced by curling the tip of the tongue backwards and trying to pronounce a sound similar to English sh.
Velar (k). Like English k, but without aspiration.
Vowels: Approximately as in English far, they, ski, rule.
Tones: (short) high rising á, high falling â, low rising a, low falling à, (long) á: â: a: à:

Pronouns and verbal prefixes:

ta:       I
le:       me
kí        myself
nî:       you (subj.)
sí:       you ... me
i:        you (obj.)
sî:       I ... you
kí:       yourself
nâ:       we; you and I
núi       we; you and I ... each other
yú        this
kì        that
si        he/she/it/they
à         him/her/it/them
se        I ... him/her/it/them
sé:       you ... him/her/it/them
kà        himself/herself/itself/themselves
kú:       we; he/she/it/they and I
xi        we; he/she/it and I ... each other
zi        you and he/she/it ... each other
va        they ... each other
lè        perfective
ín        imperfective
u         imperative
zé        can
xa        would
ní        may
ku        should
lâ:       must
ki        active participle
tì        passive participle
sa        verbal noun
cài       darkness
cêi       a speaking animal
cèi       to sleep
cú        black
ilê       absolutely
í:yé      purple
izá       cat
jài       wet
jàr       tongue
jê:k      rough
ká        speech, language
kâ        no
kai       joy
kâi       tree rat
kàisî:    words distinguished only by tone
kattâi    will
ke        and (connects verbs)
kè        with, using
kei       cloth
két       flute
kì        that
kî:       song
ki:       tree
kît       to hunt
kú:       we, he/she/it/they and I; our, ours
kúi       ritual mask
klâr      dry
kli:      game
kyá:      blue
là        and (conects nouns)
lái       ear
lî:       yes
lí:t      to walk around watching the local wildlife
lic       to kiss
lín       Lin (name)
lir       way
lù:       to be unhappy, sad
mâi       ocean
mí:       Mie (name)
nâ:       we, you and I; our, ours
ná:lù:    wrong
nài       to have
nàr       Nar (name)
nàrân     to love
nécla     human
nê:xái    Neyasai
nî:       you, your, yours
ník       Zirien eating utensil
nyâ:      dragon
rai       smooth
réi       fruit
rei       pretty
rêi       to stare (lovingly)
rel       to watch
rét       green
rùi       brown
sà:m      to lick one's lips
sâi       tail
saré      right, proper
shâ:k     book
sha:l     to speak, talk
shái      to be happy
shíklà    absolutely not
shú       harp
si        he/she/it/they, his/her(s)/its/their(s)
si:       hug
sí:       Sie (name)
slûi      sick, ill
syá       eye
tâ:       very
tá:       what is that?
ta:       I, my, mine
tai       to like
tâin      fairy
têi       sky
téica     elf
tí:       light
tílma     logic
tîm       a non-speaking animal
tizâi     image, picture
trâ:      hand
túi       not
tûi       ugly
tye:n     red
tyí:      white
vai       there
vé:li     good
vei       food
vî:r      fun
vî:ra:    absolute fun
xá:n      to sing
xài       gold
xê:       to join
xé:       to see
xèi       gray
xi:       beautiful
xi:nâ:    absolutely beautiful
xík       dragon's egg
xìnâ:     evil
xixé:     to admire
xúi       empathy
yà:       goodbye
yái       to spin
yár       magic
yaxí      discord, imbalance
yé:       friend
yî:       here
yú        this
zâ:       to be
zà:l      mouse
za:n      to think
zâi       Mizarian
zàix      to sit in one place watching the local wildlife
záyi:     hello
zè        like, as
zî:       to enjoy
zírí:n    Zirien
zírí:nká  the Zirien language

New: Zirien Expletives.
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