Ornate 'T'alhallan Standard Esperanto:


The languages of the "Pandora's Box" series are based on real languages. Valhallan Standard Esperanto, however, does deserve some explanation - to the surprise (and dismay) of many readers, it is not simply a rote imitation of Modern Esperanto (called "Traditional Esperanto" in the fourth book, Steel and Dreams). However, as the author, I felt it was unreasonable to assume that the variety of Esperanto spoken by the Valhallans would remain perfectly stable and unchanging over the millenia. Given that part of their history is that unlike the other human colonies, the Valhallans didn't have AI helping them keep the language stable. As such, the language has undergone quite a bit of change in all the centuries the Valhallans have been using it, just like any other human language has (and will). Some of this is hinted at in earlier books - but, it's only in the fourth book, Steel and Dreams, where a full explanation is given. Here is the explanation Caligostro gives Medea in the book:

    "I told you before, Reverend Bard, what little Esperanto I know is what I learned in High School, and I never did master Valhallan Standard Esperanto. Most of my missions have been ordinary diplomatic relays between Confederacy planets."

    "Well, I suppose now is as good a time as any to begin helping you in that regard, Medea. After all, we've little to do until the ship lands on Mars, and we can catch a transfer-ship to Valhalla. Would you like me to begin?"

    "I suppose," I replied sourly.

    "Well, Medea, the first thing to keep in mind about Valhallan Standard Esperanto is that it only really became 'Standardized' after the introduction of AI to their society. In their society, just as in ours, AI form the largest part of the stabilizing elements that keep their language from drifting from generation to generation. The way we speak the language only changes when we wish it to - and though slang may develop in each new generation that arises, it rarely enters the mainstream of usage."

    "I see," I replied. "But the Valhallans didn't have AI in their society until nearly a century after their first contact with the Martians."

    "Exactly. And, lacking a regulatory organization similar to the ancient 'Akademio de Esperanto', the early Valhallan colonists introduced a great deal of slang into their language in the first century or two of their history. This was inadvertently helped along by the Artist's alteration of the naming conventions used in Esperanto. Once one rule was broken, the rest eventually fell by the wayside, lacking any organization to help keep any kind of standards. And, of course, as time passed, some of the longer, more cumbersome words were clipped to shorter forms, or slang words adopted to replace more cumbersome Esperanto negatives. As an example of clipped words, the Traditional Esperanto greeting of Bonan Matenon or 'Good Morning' is clipped to bona mateno - and, similarly, bona tago, bona vespo, and the simple "bon'ven!" for 'welcome!' For slang, chipa means 'cheap' or 'inexpensive', and is used rather than the more cumbersome malmultekosta of Traditional Esperanto - and, from their viewpoint, a word meaning "cheap" or "inexpensive", with connotations of "small" and "trivial" should have less vowels than it's antonym. Note, however, that the older form is occasionally used in poetry and song in Valhallan Standard Esperanto when the rhyming scansion is more suited for it."

    "Well, it does make sense, I suppose, yes."

    "Good. Now, while some parts got clipped, other parts were simplified - the accusative, dative and oblique cases, for the most part, vanished. They were replaced by a more generic 'objective case.' But, as one might expect with human language, there were idiomatic exceptions, and words which still retained accusative, dative and oblique case usages. With spelling, all the 'breve' letters disappeared after they standardized their text formats with Mars and the rest of the Alliance, though all the words and suffixes that used them still retain their original pronunciations. Meanwhile, they gained 'acute' letters for some spellings, notably á and ó, due to the influence of various regional dialects in their dome clusters in the early days of the colony, and they gained the apostrophe, double-I and double-A in some words thanks to the Artist's altering of their family and female naming conventions. Likely they would have gained the double-K, double-N and double-R conventions from male names if their males had survived, but they didn't, so there we are, as the Valhallans say. Noun conventions managed to last the longest, but had been broken by fifty years after the Admiral's death due to the influence of female suffixes on many common nouns. Thereafter, many nouns that were ending in vowels other than O slowly began to appear, particularly loanwords and dialectic nouns that were originally onomatopoeic adjectives or verbs such as wonká, all of which have varying rules regarding pluralization, possessive suffixes, etcetera. Today, these idiomatic words are called the Vorunitoj, and they form a list of about one thousand nine hundred and eight special-case words and several dozen prefixes and suffixes which defy the rules that apply to the rest of their language. They do not, however, necessarily follow the more 'correct' methods employed by Traditional Esperanto - many are entirely unique. Some are formal, some are informal, some are loan-words from other languages, some are mere slang, jargon or dialect that gained common coinage, and some are flat out profanity - and Valhallan profanity is often quite eloquent, and sometimes surprisingly lengthy in syllables."

    "So what you're telling me is their language is a mish-mash of idiomatic words and phrases invented by the early colonists that will take me a lifetime to figure out," I replied, making a moue'.

    "Not quite. First, there are definable rules to the Vorunitoj, they're just internal. For example, Fornalda is a loan-word they snagged with roots in ancient Swedish, intended to reflect well on the theme of the Valkyrie Ethic having it's ultimate reward. It follows the 'A-set noun' rules of the Vorunitoj, in that the plural is Fornaldoj, a singular recipient is a Fornaldina, plural is Fornaldinoj, etcetera. Secondly, in many ways, the changes were similar to that which happened to the English language over the centuries - a comparison I am not alone in making, the Valhallans note it themselves in their own histories. Over time, English grew more and more divergent from it's origins, some parts becoming simpler, while other parts altered to fit changing technological and sociological trends. Words, spellings and pronunciations from other languages were absorbed, and in the middle of all of this, a vowel-shift happened. Yet, there was an entire body of words and idiomatic expressions in English that retained archaic spellings and usages centuries after the remainder of the language had streamlined - many of which we still retain in Ganglic, today. With Valhallan Esperanto, even during Admiral D'Shan's first lifetime the language had changed dramatically from that spoken by the first generation of colonists - and subsequent to her time, new words were added, rules were made and broken, and a vowel-shift happened. Today, some parts have become simpler, others have become idiomatic, while still others have become more complicated - for example, they have five noun genders, now."

    I blinked. "Five genders?! How?! They only have one biological gender in their people, themselves!"

    "Technically, they have two, counting their AI. However, that's not how they look at it. The way the Valhallans see it, there are five genders: Neuter or 'Genderless', noted by and -oj in the plural, is the default case. Male gender, which also doubles for male inorganic, is noted with -só and -soj in the plural. Then there's the three female genders; female mother, female other, and female inorganic."

    "Lovely," I muttered, but Caligostro carried on, ignoring me.

    "Female Mother is noted with -ini, and inii in the plural-"

    "Wait, wait! That's the same!"

    "No, it's not. Listen again. Patrini, Patrinii. In the singular form, the emphasis is on the first 'eee', while the plural form holds the second 'eee' sound longer, and places the emphasis on it."

    "How could you possibly spot that in ordinary speech?!"

    "Well, Valhallan Standard Esperanto is a very rhythmic language. Words are spoken to a beat established by the speaker when they begin speaking, and based on traditional conventions of speech. For example, take this sentence: Chu vi parolas Esperanton? Meaning, of course, 'Do you speak Esperanto?' Notice the rhythm - Chu vi parolas Esperanton? Ba-da ba-dada dadada-da? Now, an ordinary organic citizen of their society might reply Jes, me parolas Esperanton. However, an AI who was trying to be humorous might say this: Jes, me estas Esperantini. 'Yes, I am a mother of Esperanto.' Notice the shift from the expected 'ba-da ba-dada dadada-da' response pattern to 'ba-da bada badaba-BA-da.' The rhythm, timing, inflection, pitch and the -ini suffix note the sentence as both being declarative, and humorous."

    "That's humorous?" I asked, an eyebrow raised.

    "For them, yes. The -ini ending is the 'Female Mother' gender suffix, and is normally only used in referring to an organic female who has given birth. AI can't give birth - well, some Martian AI can, but Valhallan AI can't. But, they do maintain the standards of the language, and in essence 'mother' their language over time. You've heard of thought-rhyme?"


    "Well, so have the Valhallans, the Artist filled their Bible with endless reams of psalms in metered thought-rhyme. And they've expanded on the concept quite a bit - spoken by an AI of Valhalla, Jes, me estas Esperantini is what they call a thought-pun. Now, to explain the plural: That same AI might point to a fellow AI standing next to her, and say 'Jen! Witoti estas Esperantinii!' or 'Behold! We're all mothers of Esperanto!'"

    "Ummm... 'Witoti?'"

    "Yes, an old slang contraction meaning "We all", but closer to the Late English we'uns, in that it's slang. Again, it's humorous - in fact, that sentence, spoken by an AI of Valhalla without preamble, would cause an ordinary Valhallan to burst into laughter."

    I blinked again. "It would?!"

    "Yes. It's a dreadfully funny juxtaposition of a formal mode and informal slang with a pattern of direct declaration combined with a humorous counter-beat; Da! Ba-dada DA-da dadadada-DA!"

    "Ummm... Okay..."

    "The point, however, is that the answer to your question is that you tell the difference in the homonymic suffixes by rhythm, or failing that, by context. It's easy to spot when written, however, so don't worry. With me so far?"

    "Ummm... I think so," I replied, trying not to look too confused.

    "Good. To continue: Female Mother is noted with -ini, and inii in the plural. Similarly, Female Other is noted with -ina and -inaa in the plural, and female inorganic is noted with -inó and -inój in the plural. Note, however, that -ó, -ój, -inó and -inój also play a role as suffixes in several older terms that are part of the Vorunitoj, particularly military ranks, and the profanities hundinó, bastardó, and a few others."

    I shook my head, then sighed. "I'll never get it. I barely passed Traditional Esperanto in High School, and Valhallan Esperanto has so many exceptions and differences, I'll never figure it out."

    "Try to have a bit more faith in yourself than that. A lot of it makes more sense than you think. Hypothetical example: You see a little Valhallan toddler walking around in a diaper and crying. It looks at you and says "Ama!" What does it want?"

    "Well, it wants it's mother, obviously."

    "Exactly correct. But note that the Traditional Esperanto term for 'mama' is and always has been 'panjo.'"

    "Err... Panjo?"

    "Yes. As an artificial language, one of the largest things that prevented Esperanto from being accepted by human cultures back on Earth was that it was an artificial language - it lacked the organic elements of language that come from early language development in infancy because it was never taught to infants as their first language. It was a language only learned as a second language later in life. Word choices were forced, as the original designer refused to allow homonyms. This is why you have 'birdo' for 'bird' in Traditional Esperanto - Zamenhof had already picked 'avo' for 'grandfather', he had to have something for 'bird' and he refused to have homonyms. But, in the overwhelming majority of human historical languages, 'mama' is a cognate, and in the rest, there are homonyms that are cognates. Human brains work a specific way, they make specific sounds as infants, and they learn language a specific way as they grow. As such, no matter where it comes from in time or space, if any human toddler looks at you and says 'mama?' or 'ama?' or 'maman?', you know what it's asking. However, the Traditional Esperanto term for 'mama' is 'panjo' - and as you can tell just speaking it, that term doesn't roll trippingly off the tongue when one is an infant first learning language. In Valhallan Standard Esperanto, the term they use is 'ama' - and, again, if any Valhallan toddler looks at you and says 'ama?', you know what they're asking you because the term is so basic to the human experience of language. For similar reasons, the word for 'bird' in Valhallan Standard Esperanto is 'avio,' not 'birdo,' their word for aircraft is flugmasino, and their word for a starship is stelasipo."

    I nodded grudgingly. "Alright, I can see that..."

    "Basically, Medea, Traditional Esperanto was an extremely strict and formalized artificial language that made no allotments for the way humans actually learn and use language as children, or how they use it as adults in ordinary informal conversation. Valhallan Standard Esperanto is that language after humans had several centuries to walk around with it, argue with it, beat each other over the head with it, sing, dance, cry, and roll around in the mud with it. It's not as neat and clean as it was when Esperanto was invented in the 19th century by Zamenhof, but like an old pair of comfortable shoes, it fits the Valhallans well. It's a lot more complicated and it has a lot of odd eccentricities compared to Traditional Esperanto, yes. But, it's also a very rhythmic, musical language that lends itself well to poetry, song, and literature."


Further explanations of differences between Valhallan Standard Esperanto and Traditional Esperanto are also given in the stories, particularly explantions of their profanities and other minor things. However, Calogostro's explanation to Medea pretty much covers the basics - the language the Valhallans speak is not Modern Esperanto, because they literally have had many centuries of growth and change in their society, and their language has evolved to suit this. For more details on the Valhallans, their society, and other societies and cultures of the Pandora's Box universe, you may find Steel and Dreams an enjoyable read.


Jim Farris,
Published Professional Author and Composer