Syldavian

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Syldavian
Зйлдав, Zyldav
Pronunciation /zɪldav/
Created by Hergé
Date 1939
Setting and usage The Adventures of Tintin
Ethnicity Syldavian people
Users 642,000 (1939) (fictional)
Purpose
Cyrillic
Latin
Sources Dutch language
Official status
Official language in
Syldavia
Regulated by unknown
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)

Syldavian is a fictional West Germanic language created by Hergé as the national language of Syldavia, a small fictional Balkan kingdom that serves as a major setting in many of The Adventures of Tintin stories. Hergé modeled the language on Marols, a dialect of Dutch spoken in and around Brussels. The entire corpus of the language has been analyzed by Mark Rosenfelder.

Characteristics[edit]

As presented in the Tintin books, Syldavian resembles a Slavic language due to its orthography. It is most commonly written in the Cyrillic alphabet, albeit with the Latin alphabet by the royal court. It shares numerous orthographic features found in various Eastern European languages, most notably the "sz" and "cz" of Polish. However, the language is clearly a Germanic language. Its vocabulary and grammar resembles that of Dutch and German and has little in common with any Slavic languages. The language also appears to have been influenced by Bordurian, Slavic languages and Turkish. The Syldavians often bear names of Slavic origin, such as Wladimir; the dish szlaszeck that Tintin encountered also appears to be a borrowing (szaszłyk is the Polish word for "shish kebab", borrowed in turn from Turkish). Many words are based on common French slangs. For examples, "clebcz" is constructed on the French Parisian slang "clebs" meaning "dog".

This language, which is Germanic but bears a great resemblance to Polish, may be likened to the artificial Romance language Wenedyk, or to the endangered Wymysorys language.

Phonology[edit]

Syldavian boasts a rich range of sounds.

Vowels[edit]

In addition to the diacritical marks shown in the chart below, there are acute and grave accents that may indicate stress.

Front Back
unrounded rounded
Close i i y ü u u
Near-close ɪ y ʊ û
Close-mid e e ø ö o o
Open-mid æ~ɛ ä ɔ ô
Near-open
Open a a

In addition to these letters, Syldavian also contains several digraphs and letters for which the pronunciation is uncertain:

  • â - uncertain
  • ï - uncertain. Likely a diaeresis indicating to pronounce as syllabic /i/ rather than /j/, or for the benefit of French-speakers so they don't mispronounce ai as /ɛː/ instead of the correct /aj/.
  • oe - /ø/
  • ou - /ou/
  • eu - uncertain: perhaps the vowel /œ/ or /ø/, perhaps a diphthong /eu/ or /ɛu/. It is only seen in one word: teuïh ("door").
  • ei - /ei/

Consonants[edit]

Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m m n n
Plosive p p
b b
t t
d d
k k
ɡ g
Fricative
β v
f f
v w
s s
z z
ʃ sz
ʒ zs
x kh
ɣ gh
h h
Affricate t͡s tz
d͡z dz
t͡ʃ cz
d͡ʒ dj
Trill r r
rz
Approximant l l j j

Note: As in Czech, the letter r can be syllabic, as seen in names such as Staszrvitch and Dbrnouk.

There are some additional digraphs and trigraphs, including tch (used in names and pronounced with /t͡ʃ/, the apparent Syldavian version of the common Serbo-Croatian/Balkan surname ending -ić), chz (uncertain, but may be an alternative form of cz /t͡ʃ/), and th /t/. These demonstrate that the Latin-based orthography has a number of irregularities, or else these are old inconsistent spellings that have been preserved in family names but are no longer used in the standard orthography (as in Hungarian).

Grammar[edit]

Plurals[edit]

  • Native words are pluralized with -en: klebczen - "dogs"; fläszen - "bottles"
  • Loanwords are pluralized with -es: zigarettes - "cigarettes"

Definite articles[edit]

Unlike Marols, but like German (shown in italics in the table), Syldavian definite articles are extensively inflected.

Masc./Fem. Neut. Plural
Nom. dze
der/die
dascz
das
dzoe
die
Acc. dzem
den/die
dascz
das
dzoe
die
Dat. dze
dem/der
dza
dem
dzem
den
Gen. doscz
des/der
doscz
des
doscz
der

Indefinite articles[edit]

  • Singular: on - "a"
  • Plural: onegh - "some"

Adjectives[edit]

Pronouns[edit]

Personal pronouns[edit]

Sub. Obj. Poss.
1 sing. ek ma mejn
2 sing. dûs da dejn
3 sing. eih itd yhzer
3 sing. zsoe irz yhzer
1 plur. vei ohmz ohmz
2 plur.
3 plur. zsoe khon khon

Note: "yhzer" may be an inflected form, with the base form being "yhz". The second person plural forms are unknown, and the sound correspondences with Dutch and German are irregular enough to make reconstructing them impossible, although one possibility would be "jei", "jou", "öhz".

Demonstrative pronouns[edit]

czei - this
tot - that

Verbs[edit]

Adverbs[edit]

Most adverbs tend to be identical to adjectives in form.

Interjections[edit]

szplug - a curse word, perhaps equivalent to "damn". (Not found in original French edition, only English translation.)

szplitz on szplug- a more extreme form of szplug

Syntax[edit]

Historical changes[edit]

Samples of Syldavian from only two periods - the 14th century and the 20th century - are available to us. But even with such a small sample, some changes can be seen in the language over a 600 year period:

  • pho became vüh ("for")

Sample text[edit]

From a 14th-century manuscript, Noble Deeds of Ottokar IV:

Pir Ottokar, dûs pollsz ez könikstz, dan tronn eszt pho mâ. Czeillâ czäídâ ön eltcâr alpû, kzommetz pakkeho lapzâda. Könikstz itd o alpû klöppz Staszrvitchz erom szûbel ö. Dâzsbíck fällta öpp o cârrö.

English translation:

"Father Ottokar, thou falsely art king; the throne is for me." This one said thus to the other, "Come seize the sceptre." The king thus hit him, Staszrvitch, on his head. The villain fell onto the floor."

More examples[edit]

Czesztot on klebcz. - "That's a dog."

Hamaïh! - "Wow!"

Kzommet micz omhz, noh dascz gendarmaskaïa. - "Come with us to the Police Station." ("politzski" in the English translation.) Note that because gendarmaskaïa is a borrowing from French gendarme, it is likely pronounced closer to [ʒandarmaskaja] than *[gendarmaskaja]. The suffix -skaïa is also apparently borrowed from the Russian feminine adjective ending -ская.

On fläsz Klowaswa vüh dzapeih... Eih döszt! - "A bottle of Klow water for this guy... He's thirsty!" (cf. Swedish törst, "thirst". Note: It's unclear why it isn't something like *eih dösztigh, which is what one might expect from the other Germanic languages. döszt is a verb: Swedish "han törstar", English "he thirsteth/him thirsteth", German "ihn dürstet", in Dutch: hij dorstig (he thirsty).

Czesztot wzryzkar nietz on waghabontz! Czesztot bätczer yhzer kzömmetz noh dascz gendarmaskaïa? - "That's surely not a tramp! Isn't it better for him to come to the police station?" (Lit. probably "Is it better [that] he comes to the police station?")

Rapp! Noh dzem buthsz!-"Quick! Into the boat!" (cognate literally to German Nach dem Boot!, "after the boat!" although in German, Ins Boot! would be used instead)

References[edit]

See also[edit]