Notes on the Kzinti Language
by Arthur T. Saxtorph
The Kzinti, our spacefaring rat-cat neighbors, have not been studied in any detail from a linguistic or even generally cognitive point of view. We have been, until the recent treaty, much too busy finding ways of killing them to worry with more intellectual pursuits. Now, though, the situation has changed, and we have a chance to consider the Kzinti and their language, and what that tells us about the workings of their minds, and in turn perhaps the workings of our own minds. Very little ground work has been done, and so much yet remains to be accomplished; but here I will try to summarize the knowledge that we have gained so far, to aid future researchers. Much of the basic work consists of phonetics and phonology. The representations used here are the closest IPA representations available. Though the actual acoustic properties of Kzinti sounds vary from those of the prototypical sounds of earth languages, researchers should nonetheless be able to recognize the phonemes in actual speech which correspond to the symbols used here. Perhaps soon phoneticians will be forced to introduce a new InterGalactic Phonetic Association symbol system.
The Kzinti orthography is very utilitarian and almost completely phonetic. The original Circular Script (CS), the "commas and dots" described by the first to encounter the Kzinti, is probably designed for inscribing messages into the flesh of defeated adversaries with a Kzin claw. The more utilitarian Linear Script (LS) is more commonly used today for writing with utensils, and for labelling starship controls, for example. The sounds of Kzinti are as follows:
This is the apparent Kzin vowel space. It is difficult to be sure of the extent or the range of Kzin pronunciation abilities since there is only a single Kzin language under the Patriarch. The whine is left off of this chart, as it is the equivalent of falsetto in human languages.
The is used only in a few 'low-status' words such as /x/ 'prey' and /ɹ/ 'please', which is a word a full grown Kzin uses rarely if ever. Notice that velars and voiceless sounds predominate. A reasonable hypothesis is that the velar excess is a byproduct of Kzin physiology. Niven supposes that the lack of voiced sounds is due to their agitating affect on the Kzinti. It also appears that the /g/ sound in the /g/+/r,R,ɹ/ combinations is underlyingly a /k/ that has assimilated in voicing. This is supported by the fact that there is no /g/ in isolation, and that /kz/ contains a partially devoiced /z/, demonstrating another voicing assimilation.
The Kzinti plural morpheme is realized as follows:
- /i/ after consonants except /n/
- /ti/ after /n/
[an exception to this rule is 'men': ma̙nn + > ma̙nnɪ, apparently a form of disdain]
- /nti/ after vowels.
Below is an example of the Kzinti scripts, and a rather free translation of the first verse of the Kzinti war cry:
The Kzin-Man Wars: A War Cry of the Kzin
Mighty Heroes, vengeful & enraged hunt our new prey: men the weak foes, animals to cage
||Progress Report #5--The Center for Proactive Neurolinguistics
||Indo-European Crossword Puzzle No. 1--Donald Reindl
||SpecGram Vol CXLVII, No 2 Contents