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Thread: Analyzing Khalani (the protoss' fake language)

  1. #1

    Default Analyzing Khalani (the protoss' fake language)

    Blizzard did not hire a linguist to devise Khalani, so as a result it is not a functional language. The vocabulary and grammar is not consistent and individual terms have implausible translations.

    For example, the original manual gives the important terms xel’naga, protoss, khaydarin, Khala, and Dae’Uhl. These are given implausibly long and precise translations. Without a real grammar it is impossible to analyze any of these, but I will try.

    The term xel’naga, depending on source, translates to “first ones” (’96 website), “wanderers from afar” (manual), or nothing at all (SC2). If we assume agglutinate grammar it is plausible that xel’naga could literally translate to something like “first person” or “far wander.” In SC2 this was their name in their own language, and their Khalani name was ihan-rii (“great teachers”).

    Using Latin as an example (since the ’98 Templar Census uses Latin phrases), it could be translated in a few ways. (Pardon my Latin since I do not speak it.)

    An idiomatic translation of “wanderers from afar” would be nomadēs remōtō (literally “the nomads [from] far off”).

    An idiomatic translation of “first ones” would be prīmāria (literally “the first ranked [ones]”). This was historically used as a title at universities, thereby including the meaning of ihan-rii. Real languages have intriguing baggage like that.

    By comparison, an idiomatic translation of protoss (“first-born,” from Ancient Greek prôtos, “first,” or prōtótokos, “first-born”) would be prīmōgenita (literally “the first-born [ones]”). (For reference, Latin has many loan words and calques from Ancient Greek.)

    The term khaydarin has the translation “focuser of the heart,” which is plausible as an idiomatic translation if not a literal one. Given how short the term is, it probably means something closer to “heart focus.” The vocabulary isn’t consistent, since Ni Monn Adun officially translates to “Heart of Adun.”

    There is no possible way that Khala and Dae’Uhl could translate to “Path of Ascension” and “Great Stewardship,” respectively. “Path of Ascension” has no less than five morphemes (path, of, a-, scan, -ion) and “Great Stewardship” has no less than four morphemes (great, sty, ward, -ship). (A morpheme is the smallest unit of recognizable semantic meaning in a language.) They make sense as abbreviations of longer phrases, but the lore gives the impression of accurate translations which clearly isn’t the case to anyone with the most basic understanding of linguistics.

    The words themselves are spelled to look cool rather than to accurately express how they are pronounced. (For reference, English is one of the few languages where spelling does not correspond to pronunciation.) If they were real words, then Khala, Dae’Uhl and khaydarin would be pronounced something like (in broad linguistic transcription) /kʰa.la/, /dae̯.u.hl̩/ and /kʰay̑.da.rin/.

    In fact, it doesn’t make sense for the protoss to have an audible language if they communicate telepathically. They never had mouths or vocal cords, so there is no period in their history when they could have developed vocal speech. But that’s a whole other can of worms since the zerg have the same problem: despite communicating telepathically, they have names pronounceable by humans. It’s best not to think too hard about how the setting makes no sense, as that way lies madness.

    As I said in another thread:
    Quote Originally Posted by Mislagnissa View Post
    Here is another example from Magic's commentary on the Brood War script:

    That is the sort of thing that could be added under the trivia subheadings of the articles about those characters. Which reminds me...

    Looking at the known cerebrate names: Araq, Auza, Daggoth, Gorn, Kagg, Kaloth, Nargil, Zargil, Zasz. Although if you wanted a strict correspondence between spelling and sound it would be best to render some of these as Daggoθ, Kaloθ, and Zaß. They seem to be loosely based on Mesopotamian languages such as Sumerian and the Semitic languages, but {th} or /θ/ is Greek and {sz} is... not English, but here apparently stands for /s/ (I think?). Or they might be based on the names of 80s cartoon villains like Zarkon in Voltron. The maximal syllable structure is apparently CVGCC and almost all consonants are voiced except /θ/, /k/, /q/ and /s/.

    Contrast that with Protoss names, which are generally limited to CVC syllable structure and have few voiced consonants. The {kh} digraph pops up a lot, probably as a simple weird fantasy spelling, but in real languages {kh} could indicate aspiration /kʰ/ or a fricative /x/ a la Greek chi.

    The interesting thing is that the protoss language ("Khalani") takes a number of terms from Roman Latin, such as "templar." This is shown in "khassar de templari" meaning "justice comes from order"... except that khassar means "order" and templari means "justice" near as I can tell, so de is essentially the grammatical opposite of the Latin ex. Unfortunately Khalani is not a real language so the grammar varies by the writer: while some writers seem to use a fusional (or rarely synthetic) grammar, the quotes in Starcraft 2 that I was able to find a translation for (a number of units say the same phrase in English and Khalani) were a substitution cipher of English grammar (which is highly analytical). On the templar census from the beta website (which I should have recently archived and linked to elsewhere), the human translator mentioned that the protoss still used ancient tribal languages and rendered these in Latin (presumably to give the same feel that protoss would get from reading it) while the modern language was translated in English.

    I am really disappointed by Blizzard's lazy approach to the protoss language. I would have preferred if they hired a linguist to design it, or just used Latin instead as a translation convention. For example, in Latin the khala ("path of ascension") would be via ascēnsiōnis, khaydarin ("focuser of the heart") would be focus cordis, dae'uhl ("great stewardship") would be vīlicātiō magna, and "khala's law" (a phrase from the manual) would be lēx ascēnsiōnis ("law of ascension"). In Chinese, "path of ascension" would be translated as 提升之路 tíshēng zhī lù (I googled this to make sure and it is a real turn of phrase). You will notice that protoss words and phrases, at least those invented early in the lore's development, are much shorter than the equivalent in human languages. In fact, more than a few key concepts were never actually given Khalani translations, such as the "Chain of Ascension" (in Latin vinculum ascēnsiōnis).

    Honestly, the word "khala" itself has become overused and refers to multiple distinct concepts. It refers to the protoss' telepathic/empathic communication method or whatever it is called since there is no consistent terminology for it (which was never really explained in much detail, not distinguished from regular telepathy), a power source for psychic powers (possibly a conflation or confusion with the psi matrix), a scientific theory for harnessing psychic power, a declaration of a caste system, a religion and law system for enforcing its use, an internet, an afterlife, etc.
    Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Analyzing Khalani (the protoss' fake language)

    An addendum:

    I mentioned before that the translation of Khala is implausible. The same goes for its founder. Although khas has only one syllable, it supposedly means “he who brings order.” There is no language on Earth which could convey all that in one syllable. The word khassar appears in a number of phrases (“Khassar de templari!” “Darai de khassar” “Khessar”) and appears to mean “order” (the opposite of chaos). Clearly, it is derived from the same root as khas.

    Realistically, it should be the other way around. The word khas makes sense as a root meaning “order” (in a number of real languages it is one or two syllables) and khassar makes sense as very loosely translating to “he who brings order.” More likely is that khassar inflects the root word khas to make it a verb and then an agent noun, so it would literally translate to “orderer” (by analogy with actor, baker, editor).

    On the protoss webpage from ’96, the exposition mentions that the protoss are aligned with “Order” and enemies of “Chaos” (both capitalized in the original text). This brings the cosmic balance of the Elric multiverse to mind, which probably influenced the writers at the time. I’m pretty sure this is what eventually mutated into the Khala.

    Speaking of which, I think it makes more sense for the templar religion to be the Path of Order, not Ascension. Firstly, the original terms were so poorly devised that it makes perfect sense for Khas and the Khala he founded to share the same root. Secondly, in SC2 the Forged follow a “Chain of Ascension” which is never given a Khalani translation (though I suspect it would either rhyme with Khala or be completely different). Thirdly, the term Khala has diverged from its original meaning of “Path of Ascension” and now refers to the protoss’ mental link; even in the manual and the SC1 campaign the distinct phrase “Khala’s Law” comes up. (This wouldn't be the first time the writers are inconsistent within the same text.)

  3. #3

    Default Re: Analyzing Khalani (the protoss' fake language)

    How dare you speak so ill of the BEAUTIFUL Protoss language so much as to call it "fake"!

    Blasphemy.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Analyzing Khalani (the protoss' fake language)

    This is absolute magic from you! I have never seen a more wonderful than this one. have a look

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