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Narn dictionary I've been working on

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  • Narn dictionary I've been working on

    Hi, I just joined because I've been working on a Narn dictionary, and I wondered the following:
    • is there already a substantial Narn language dictionary anywhere that my googling didn't turn up?
    • would anyone here be interested in commenting on the work I've done so far? My work so far is below - and I'm specifically interested in canon uses that contradict a meaning I have given, or words and terms that I have missed out.

    It's not, I rather regret now, all complete with Wikipedia-esque sources for each word: I began this as a casual intertest, and most of it was put together over many bored hours from numerous online sources, many I think referencing the RPG manuals, which I don't have, and other published works of that kind. I only have the 9 Boxtree series tie-in novels, and DVDs of the series.

    But none of the words have been made up completely by me, and the meanings have been attached because they seem correct in at least one context elsewhere.

    To backtrack on every meaning and find the source would take this from the realm of "fun hobby" into "painful chore" - so I'm hoping if I've got something there that contradicts a canon interpretation elsewhere, someone will point that out, as opposed to me being able to demonstrate my sources for each word. This is a flaw, and I'm posting here before I compound it any further.


    Anouri û a precious metal
    Bas û warrior, soldier
    Bin - sneaky
    Bok û fields, fertile land
    Breen û meatballs
    Burella û wind catcher (used to trap moisture û they rot quickly)
    Chur û physical enjoyment
    DÆ û female, mistress, matriarch, first
    Dag û carrying, carrier
    Dak - middling, progressing towards, in progress
    Dakka û cowlike animal
    Dar û sky, canopy, covering, tent-like
    Darka û righteous, obligation
    Dath û acceptance, pacifism, weakness, surrender
    Davu - sorry - apology
    Deyr û bringer
    Dru û lost, mad, bereft of virtue
    Du û night
    Dul - sleep, dream
    Eth û essence of, smoke
    Fitlop û goatlike animal, eaten on feast days
    Frazi û lightning, storms
    GÆ û Divine, godhood, godhead (in personal names, indicates person follows a religion)
    Geketh û chesslike strategy game, escalating take of pieces by skill and stealth
    Gorith û righteous force
    Goth û legion, army
    Halak - compassion, just treatment
    Ini û kill
    Ja û home (specific to a person's own house)
    Jak û head of a household
    Jareth - defender
    Ka û body
    Kal û strong
    Kan - war
    Kar û oath (taken in relation to the People) from root Kha
    Karith - guardian
    Karn û art, artist, entertainer
    Kha û the People, aka Narns
    Kini - killer, one who kills
    Ko û no, denial, not, resistance
    Kos û rule of law, justice
    Lan û life
    Lon - spirit (of a thing or person)
    Lorn û joy, ecstacy, heaven
    Loth - proceed
    Lukrol û meaty stew
    Makur û knives, daggers
    Mitlop û tripe dessert with berries
    N' - male, father, final
    Na û honour of, honourable, proud
    Ni û strong, strength
    Nic û hammer, strong tool
    Nok - patriarch
    On û solitary ferocious animal
    Pa û death
    Phroomis û ritual dish of your enemyÆs skin
    Q' - world, realm of, material being of
    Quan û the divine/Kha interface, like the state of transfiguration in Earther theology
    Ri û exchange, payment, service, duty, what is owed
    Ree û water, also in metaphors of water-like
    Ron û eliminate, decimate, destroy utterly
    Ryddi û sherry-like drink
    Sha û warrior, righteous killer
    Sho û drawer of blood
    Shon û blood in an honour situation
    Shrack û expletive - anger, disgust, surprise
    Shtag - shut up
    Silsop û cake-like bread
    Sol - leader
    Stat û barracks
    Suk û beginner, new
    TÆ û rising strength, growth, progress
    Ta û highest, best
    Tagro û sweetish alcoholic drink
    Tak û very, excess, superlative
    Tar û life
    Taree û strong liquor, analagous to whiskey
    Tchot û be silent, caution*
    Tehn û explore
    Tesh û map, mapmaker
    Thalen û type of tradition
    Thenta û many
    Thentus - allied
    This - hireling
    Tok û fight, battle
    Tokti û martial art
    Tol û literally, stopper û used for soldiers
    Toleth - knot
    Toth û eternal, order of things, order of society
    Tyrpa û frozen dessert
    Tza û actual blood, gore, wounds
    Uarthonn û disease
    VÆ - soul
    Val û piglike animal, meaning often servant, "animal of", not always derogatory
    Var - wanderer
    Vin û of
    Vopa û skilled, right way, excellent
    YÆ û eternal
    Zhen û sir/maÆam, addressing a superior*

    *Jan, re your script notes on this in the post below, I'm staying with this one - see the edit on my post below.



    * I've made a few leaps on the meanings for some words - though none I think fly in the face of credibility. I love B5 and have over the years come up with a few theories about Narn psychology, culture & worldview, and I've used those to inform my choices where meaning was otherwise ambiguous.

    * I've left out, for the most part, the endless apostrophes that seem to be all over alien words in all sci-fi, as they don't represent actual glottal stops in most cases, which is what they're meant to be. There is to my mind no more need for an apostrophe in Kha Ri as spoken by characters in the series than there is for the Earther term car wash. They're only truly correct in my opinion (open for rebuttal) for single letters such as G', N' and so on.

    * One single site I found says that Kha Ri (Narn governing council) means "the voicing", when my interpretation of it as kha = "the People" (aka Narns) ri = "contract, duty" fits better with the fact the resistance leaders after the first occupation called themselves the Kha Ri - "the People doing their duty/giving payback" (firstly to the Centauri, then later to their citizens)...

    And also my meaning doesn't utterly contradict "the voicing" (think of the Earther term "Spokesman" which we all know means more than a man who speaks) - I did also at some point find a few places that backed my own interpretation, but again, sadly didn't think to note them at the time I began this.

    * I found scripts online at but Narn words don't seem to be rendered, such as the scene in S1 "Midnight on the Firing Line" where G'Kar and the Narn weapons advisor have a brief exchange in their own language, so I've worked phonetically there (such as the last entry, Zhen, which is how the advisor seems to address G'Kar).

    * For the rest, I've either disassembled names taken from Narn military terms found online and cross-referenced them with what I had already, extrapolated from names used in the series and books (not by relating them just to characters in the series, which would be ridiculously limiting - but which seems popular on some sites...) or generally tried to untangle implied meanings found elsewhere.

    If you've read this far, thank you! - and any constructive comments or criticism would be most welcome!

    Last edited by RedEyeSky; 02-18-2010, 01:28 AM.
    "Chance favors the warrior."

  • #2
    Interesting. If there’s college courses on Kilingon, then why not a Narn dictionary.!? ; )

    I imagine Jan, or one of the others, has a better memory than me when it comes to something like this.

    Didn’t jms hint at one point (very early on) that there was a chance he’d get some type of linguistic experts in to design alphabets and key words for some of the races. I’ve no idea if that happened or how far it got.

    And, (I can’t remember his name off hand) someone working on the show had put together a document detailing the history and culture of the main races, there was talk of it possibly being published at some point.

    I also vaguely remember someone talking about a Minbari dictionary.

    I also vaguly remember there was something else about messages or jokes being typed up in the alien languages that appeared on props used in the show.!!??

    Sorry, I can't provide much more than vague memories. . . . . . . . . getting old! ; )
    Last edited by Triple F; 02-17-2010, 02:55 AM.


    • #3
      Hi RedEyeSky, welcome!

      I'm amazed. I never thought there was so much of the Narn language available anywhere. Nice work!

      If your terms were in the actual episodes, I'd be happy to look them up in the scripts. A few things right off:

      In Deathwalker, Na'Toth declared "It is Chon-Kar. The Blood Oath."
      The words from "Midnight" are "Zhen davu" (narnish apology) and "Shtag" (shut up). The parentheticals are in the script to give the actors the subtext of what they're saying.

      The 'scripts' you found don't seem to be any more than rips of the closed captioning.

      I've never heard of the linguistics experts that TripleF refers to but there were some concept art samples of (at least) Minbari that appeared in some of the script books. The one on-screen joke I know of was also Minbari where the 'ceremonial' shirt that Vir wore once when he was returning from Minbar had "Aloha" written on it in Minbari.

      Larry DiTillio did compile a document about the cultures of the various League races and it appeared in one of the 'Other Voices' script books. I don't remember much in the way of language notes but I'll take another look if you want.

      And finally, when you're dealing with B5, the question of canon will always come up. I understand what you mean about it being a chore, but you might want to develop a quick key to denote the sources of some of your terms.

      If you can point to the examples you want checked by episode, I'll check the scripts for you.

      "As empathy spreads, civilization spreads. As empathy contracts, civilization we're seeing now.


      • #4
        JMSNews is an archive of messages posted by J. Michael Straczynski (JMS)

        Re: the coat of's a little tidbit...we had to
        make up an entire alphabet for most of our major races (and I've been
        gradually building up a dictionary here and there for languages). So
        they came and asked if they could embroider something in Minbari on the
        shirt Vir's wearing when he comes back. I said sure. Did I have
        anything in mind? No, not really.

        So I'm on the set that day, and I see the embroidered shirt, and
        I ask what these five letters spell, since I don't offhand read Minbari
        yet. He looked up at me and smiled. "It spells out ALOHA."
        Does hint that a dictionary (of sorts) was maybe partially put together as words cropped up in the show. Wonder if he kept it at all.

        As for and early mention of getting someone in to design the alphabets. Might have noticed it in an interview, though itÆs equally likely that I just imagined it. Though IÆm pretty sure *somone* mentioned that things like hall signs did translate to locations in the station, etc. (like the Aloha thing above). Bugger knows û to much reading to late at night. ; )


        • #5
          And let's not forget our Narn Opera from Parilament of Dreams

          I'm thinking of thinking of calling her right
          after my afternoon nap.
          I'm thinking of thinking of sending her flowers,
          right after Bonnie gets back.
          So many fishies left in the sea,
          so many fishies - but no-one for me...
          I'm thinking of thinking of hooking a love,
          soon after supper is done.

          Any idea how to say it in Narnish?

          (Narnish sounds very Tolkien - kinda like Rangers)


          • #6
            welcome RedEye,

            I would definitely welcome a B5 linguistic of any type. Narn would be definitely interesting as would a Minbari. We did get some Pak'ma'ra in the show..though that would be a problematic translation.
            I would definitely get into a audio version of your Narn, and have some contacts that could possibly do a podcast of it when you get to that point....if your interested that is..

            Good work
            There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against such power, governments, and kingdoms, and conquerors cannot stand.
            WE WILL BE FREE!


            • #7

              This is all excellent and helpful, thank you all VERY much - it's nice to know other people are interested, because when I looked around online the main focus appeared to be on the Minbari, and their culture.

              I don't have the script books, and won't be likely to be getting them any time soon, so yes if it's okay I'll take away what's new here and make amendments, and (I can't put a time-frame on it) try to hunt down some of the other stuff, which I found online, and also spy out Narn words and names from the books I do have.

              Jan, I don't THINK there are any other scenes with spoken Narn in them - except that I ran across a mention online that at the end of By Any Means Necessary, during the G'Quan Eth ritual, G'Kar speaks a few words in Narn after the prayer we hear - is that factual? (Also, from the scripts - is it G'Quan or G'Quon, again I've seen both, and I'm pretty sure one of the books has the spelling G'Kwan - just to add to the fun?!)

              Regarding canonicity, I'd like to run an idea by you good people - I found that the Boxtree books already contradicted some things in the series (I'll need to re-read the relevant ones to be able to list them all) so I'd vote for a 3-level grading:

              1. being from the movies or TV series scripts - gold standard, so to speak;

              2. being identified as from the books, RPG material and comics (if anyone identifies any of these, or mentions any new material from them, that is);

              3. being found online, so possibly from some published B5 material that no-one who's posted here has seen, and also significant enough (eg filling a needed gap, or well-thought out) to be worthy of inclusion.

              I don't see me spending the time needed to backtrack all the words I found on the web (especially where they are a 2 or 3 letter word, which even with careful search terms is still going to be a pain in the pouch) though I'll give it a punt when I get the odd few minutes - as I said, the stuff I have so far that's from the web was found over what was probably many hours, wandering about while also doing other stuff, kinda like the google spider.

              It's going to be literally impossible to please everyone with a project like this (even JMS couldn't please everyone with every ep) so I'm starting as I mean to go on: I'll work hard on an area while it's an interesting challenge, and call it done when I've got bored with it, pending someone else turning up with a nice canon clarification, complete with sourse (as for example Jan did with Shtag).

              Also, one example of where problems will clearly arise regarding online research is the example below: Jan, you give Chon-Kar as the spelling for the blood oath, from the script (level 1 canonicity) - but in the Boxtree book Blood Oath it's spelled Shon Kar (p2, about two-thirds down the page), and that's the spelling that's been erroneously repeated all over the web.

              And I won't get into the differences between the apostrophes and dashes inserted willy nilly into words!

              So that's how I'd like to go on with this myself: I have a couple of questions if I may, if anyone here has a few spare minutes and wants to work on this with me?

              If anyone has any B5 stuff and remembers where there's a scene with Narn ships, or Narn characters outside the ones in the 5-season series and Boxtree novels, please if you get a mo could you post the names up, with a VERY quick context?

              And if there's a significant scene in anything outside the Boxtree books/series with any mentions of a Narn cultural or social custom, could you please give me a quick description, along with your opinion on its canonicity/credibility?

              As an example, Blood Oath mentions that it used to be the custom for Narn widows to commit suicide when their husbands died (about which, I keep changing my mind about the credibility) and has quite a lot of other - I almost hesitate to say information - about Narn culture, some of which feels right, some of which doesn't.

              And the comics Duet for Human & Narn In C Sharp/Coda~B Flat - of which I've only read the Lurker's synopsis - have some other points which seem a bit lame: I note that JMS's comment on the Lurker's page seems a little lukewarm as well.

              The only thing they have to offer of value is a change on the rather monotonous naming convention seen elsewhere - as far as I'm aware, only General Balashar (Blood Oath) and Greegil (in the comic) have managed to avoid the ubiquitous apostrophes...

              And to digress a bit more, I find that the convention of Narn names falls into the old bad habit of giving aliens a monolithic culture, with a single language and single naming convention - but that's as far as I'm going down that route.

              @Macbeth, we know that very often the series shows us people talking in their own language, and we hear it as being English: well, if you read some of the Narn words so far, even the 100% canon ones, it's not inconceivable that G'Kar's song when heard by human ears closely resembles the one-note howling in the Narn opera heard in Geometry of Shadows?

              If you listen to human opera, you'll hear that notes and phrases are carried for distorted lengths of time, and with spoken Narn hardly being a musical language in the first place (unlike Centuari) it's possible that sans translation, that musical little interlude sounds like cats with their tails caught in rusty trapdoors!


              Edit to add, having watched the scene in Midnight again:

              I'm going to stay with my meaning for Zhen, going by the inflection heard in the guy's voice when he addresses G'Kar: he goes on his knees, says "Zhen", then reaches out as he clearly pauses and then says "davu" - at which point G'Kar cuts him short. It's probably just the way the actor presented it: nonetheless his tone sounds more like, "Sir," (pause) "sorry-" than a single apology.

              The other possibility from the way he says it is some form of exclamation, along the lines a human might say, "Christ, SORRY!" (or even at a stretch if "Zhen" is the Narn word for "It was a terrible cock-up," pause, "sorry") - but by this point we're getting into hair-splitting: unless this was all written from a dictionary, I think the actor just had the two words, and presented them as someone would who was on a secretive mission, neck-deep in trouble - and then been dragged before a very annoyed senior member of his own government, by a bunch of angry aliens.

              Also... having just watched this scene a half-dozen times, I'm loathe to say this because it's 100% NOT intended as an argument (one can hardly argue with a book, anyway ) but, I also don't think that what G'Kar says actually SOUNDS like "Shtag" despite the script.

              The single word he says seems to end with either a "t", "d" or "s" sound, and the vowel sound is more like the "o" in "not"... which adds a further level to the issue of canonicity - of what are (to step completely out of universe for a mo) completely nonsense sounds, performed by actors on the day, as compared to the nonsense words put in by the scriptwriters - and then dissected and examined 16 years later, and probably held up to a scrutiny they were almost certainly not designed to withstand.

              Am I bailing on this one? Opinions welcome, I can't tell, if there is or ever was a Narn dictionary of even the roughest sort before this scene was written and shot, then we'd have more to go on: for now I'm staying with this and going to leave "Tchot" (what G'Kar sounds to me to be saying, on several replays) and ADD "Shtag", as that's equally canon.

              I can understand if and why people have a problem with that: nonetheless, I can't hear anything like "Shtag", so if anyone has a mo and can listen to that scene (34m36s in) I'd appreciate outside input, on what the word spoken by G'Kar sounds like in the recording. I've got to leave it at this for now, if anyone can expand on it then please do.
              Last edited by RedEyeSky; 02-18-2010, 01:27 AM.
              "Chance favors the warrior."


              • #8
                I just fired up "Midnight" and whatever it is that G'Kar says, it's *not* "Shtag"! Sounds more like "Drosht" to me.

                "As empathy spreads, civilization spreads. As empathy contracts, civilization we're seeing now.