Trade Speech Sounds

  1. Phonology
    1. Imperial
    2. Shayanan
  2. Orthography
    1. Imperial
    2. Shayanan
Return to Cherani Home Page
Return to main language page
Copyright © 2003 Elyse M. Grasso


Return to main language page
Return to top


Imperials evolved from medium-sized feathery dinosaurish creatures. They have teeth and lips, not beaks, but their lips aren't mammal-style sucking lips. (Females feed the young, but the young don't suckle. They may do something like pigeon-milk.) Their sound-production mechanisms have something in common with those of parrots as well as those of humans.


Return to main language page
Return to top

Imperials recognize 27 consonants. There are 4 articulation points in standard Imperial.

Short unvoiced stopsptkx (glottal stop)
Long unvoiced stops ppttkkxx
Short voiced stops bdgq
Long voiced stops bbddggqq
Aspirated -unvoiced (long) phthkhxh
Nasalized (short) mn~g~q
Long and short sibilantssss


Return to main language page
Return to top

There are 5 short vowels, 5 long vowels, and 2 diphtongs.

iîshort i as in bit, long î sounds like the vowel in beet
eêshort e as in bet, long ê, sounds sort of like the ai in affair, but with less glide at the end
oôshort o as in cot, long ô sounds like the sound in caught
uûlong û followed by a short u sound in mudder
aâshort a in adept, long â in father
diphthongsoj, ejoj as oy in boy and ej as ey in hey (count as long)

Adjacent vowels are separate syllables. Unaccented vowels do not change shape. Short 'u' does not occur in monosyllables.

Syllables, stress and poetry

Return to main language page
Return to top

Syllable structure is CVC, VC or CV. Naked vowels are considered degenerate, and words ending in vowels are considered 'weak'. Most basic words are one or two syllables. Longer words are generally compounds.

Consonant clusters only occur at syllable boundaries, bearing in mind that most of them need two characters (counted as one) when written Roman script. (Real life is a little messier: the written form plays games with short u, y and the dipthongs to make things look 'right'. 'Poetry for speaking' and song lyrics reflect the real stress patterns.)

Non-compound bisyllables do not contain adjacent long stops and usually don't contain a voiced next to an unvoiced stop. In adjacent compounds, the consonant from the less-stressed syllable will tend to shift to match the voiced-ness of its neighbor.

Short u, which is almost a schwa, does not occur in monosyllables, nor in both syllables of a bisyllable.

Stressed syllables always begin with a long consonant or contain (or begin with) a long vowel, but syllables meeting these criteria are not always stressed (usually an indication of historical compounding). A long consonant preceding a CVC syllable is usually shortened. Behavior of aspirated consonants preceding another consonant depends on the nature of the adjacent consonant and the etymological history of the word.

For purposes of poetry, word spaces are considered short, sentence spaces are considered long. Poetic meter proper is patterns of longs and shorts, some of which can be quite complex. Doing things with stress or rhyme or alliteration (at the same time as the length meter is happening) are characteristics of different styles of poetry. Non-quantitative Poetry is very avant garde and deprecated by all respectable people.


Return to main language page
Return to top

Shayanans have very complicated mouths. From a distance their faces look somewhat like South American monkeys, but this is misleading: the apparent 'nostrils' are shallow sensory pits without airway connections. There are small vestigial gill openings along the throat, which seem to be a neotenous reversion to facilitate speech: they do not occur in related, non-speaking species. The mouth is 'T'-shaped, with a cleft in the lower lip, and the point of the lower jaw is cartilage or ligament: something stretchier than bone. The air passage is located below the tongue: it does not intersect with the digestive passage. Also located beneath the tongue proper are checmical receptors (equivalent to our sense of smell, an extensible stinger, and several venom sacks. The lips are quite flexible: they suckle their young in pouches.

The primary organ used for speech articulation is the stinger rather than the tongue, though the tongue also plays a role. When the venom sacks fill, the shape of the oral cavity changes, and Shayanans can use tongue position to enhance or minimize the effects, or to imitate them in the case of reported speech.


Return to main language page
Return to top

Inner Coastal Trade Speech never met a consonant it didn't like until the Imperials arrived. There are two articulation points for voiced and unvoiced stops: one before the venom sacks, which corresponds roughly to dental or alveolar articulation in humans, and one behind the venom sacks, which corresponds roughly to velar or uvular articulation in humans. (There are other articulation points in other Shayanan languages, and other points used in Trade speech for fricatives. ) There are lots of fricatives and affricates used in Trade Speech, both alone and in clusters. There are drones pronounced with the gills open(they can't be nasals without noses). There are approximants, and there are trills. Some of the consonants occur mainly in borrowings from specific sources.

voiced stopsd g
unvoiced stopst k
voiced fricativesv dh z zh x (German ch)
unvoiced fricativesf th s sh h
affricatesch j tth dth ts dz kh gx
dronesm n nn ng
trillsll rr tl dl kl gl hr wl
approximantsr l w y

The 'm' is very rare in Pre-Invasion Inner Coastal Trade Speech and is usually a sign of a borrowing from Polar. It tends to be lisped: pronounced 'mf' rather than a clean 'm'.

The distinction between 'n' and 'nn' came in from the North Mountain Market-Language with the Canticles, and tends to be found in theological terms, words related to traditional mining technology, and descriptions or names of features of the Mountain ecosystem and geology. Initial 'Nn' only occurs in citations of North Mountain words as foreign terms, and a few proper names: the borrowed forms are usually spelled with initial 'N'.

Different Shayanan regions followed slightly different patterns for adapting the pronunciation of the Imperial consonant sounds. Trade Speech speakers generally pronounced the Imperial consonants fairly consistently, but in Cherani Trade Speech there are a few cases where a single Imperial word has come in more than once with different pronunciations and slightly different meanings.

Short unvoiced stopsp and x (glottal stop)f and h
Long unvoiced stopspp and xx (p)f and x
Short voiced stopsb and qv and r
Long voiced stopsbb and qq(b)v and rr
Aspirated -unvoiced (long)ph, th, kh, and xhf, tth, kh, and hr
Nasalized (short)m, n, ~g, and ~qm(f), n, nn, ng


Return to main language page
Return to top

Shayanans have many vowels sounds, but most of the differences are considered expressive rather than phonemic. They are very good at hearing and interpreting the subtle sound changes that occur as the oral cavity changes shape due to the filling and relaxation of the venom sacks. There are 6 phonemic vowels recognized in Inner Coastal Trade Speech, along with a number of diphthongs.

The vowels are 'a', 'e', 'i', and 'o', which center around their Spanish values, and 'u' (unrounded and close to a schwa) and ü (rounded). There are diphthongs in both 'ü' and ' i'.

Imperial long vowels tend to be adapted as diphthongs, especially in non-stressed syllables.

Syllables and poetry

Return to main language page
Return to top

For purposes of syllable production and poetry, there are seven classes of phones:

V[1]ü and the u diphthongsü, ou, au, eu
V[2]i and the i diphthongsi, oi, ai, ei
V[3]the other vowels u, o, a, e
C[1]the pure trillsll and rr
C[2]the drones or nasalsn, nn, ng, m
C[3]the flapped approximantsr, l,
C[4]the trilled affricatestl, dl, kl, gl, hr, wl
C[5]the other consonantst, d; g, k; f, v; th, dh; s, z; sh, zh; h, x; ch, j; tth, dth; ts, dz; kh, gx
C[6]the glides w, y

Monosyllables can consist of:


(Each V or C in a formula indicates one phoneme of that type, with the values in the brackets indicating limitations, if any. Where * means all classes of a category, ',' separates individual classes, and '-' joins the ends of a range of classes. )

Consonant clusters tend to reduce at multi-syllable boundaries in old roots. More recent compounds show less reduction.

The primary value of the list of phonic classes is in defining/describing the rules for the rather complex alliterative poetry in the "Account of the Tale of the RopeMiller" and the "Canticles of Light".



Return to main language page
Return to top

The Imperial orthographic system uses very angular characters which are written from right to left, with rows progressing down the page. It is descended from a writing system in the Early Paleotechnic period which used a chisel shaped implement to make pictographic marks. Symbols were built up from dots (which were square), short and long lines (which were horizontal and thick) and short and long stems (which were vertical and thin).

Over time, lines and dots were occasionally merged, or turned into each other, and stems were frequently changed or lost altogether. For example: formal numbers are derived from diagrams of abacuses. They are always surrounded by square brackets, and the original duodecimal separator was a tall stem with a short line crossing it in the middle and longer lines crossing at the top and bottom. Zero within a number was and is a raised, centered dot. Zero standing alone was originally a raised dot between square brackets (all in a single character space), but by the Late Pre-Automation period it had been reduced to a stack of three lines with the middle one shorter. In the Early Automation period, partly due to the limitations of initial dot matrix and OCR representations, the duodecimal lost its center stem and the same character was used as the standalone zero (which also saved a code point).

In hardcopy documents it is impossible to change any digit into any other digit without erasing something (this was handy for OCR). It is impossible to change the marked brackets used for negative numbers into positive brackets or move the duodecimal mark without erasures.

Imperial vowels are diacritical marks with delusions of grandeur. When they were made into letters in their own right they were given a long line to rest above, called the 'bench', which extends to the extreme edges of the character space. Initial vowels have an upward short stem at the beginning of the bench. Short vowels are marked with a dot (called the 'knife') below the bench.

Two of the short consonants, short s and short q, use the sigil for their long partner with knives added. The glottal stop (~) is an independently derived character. It was regularized to look more like an 'r' with a knife sometime in the Late Pre-Automation period.

Each character inhabits a square space. Spaces between words have the same width as other characters and contain a raised dot (same codepoint as numerical zero) or a punctuation mark. There is no white space per se in a column of Imperial text except at the ends of paragraphs, which are marked at the beginning rather than indented. Headings are set off by printers' rules and usually set in larger type. Line breaks can happen anywhere in a word: the word is not complete until the dot is reached.

There is a special character that stands for the current Emperor, whose personal name is never mentioned during his reign.

Twelve is Qqôqott. 144 is Xxappêkk

Code PointDescriptionNameX-SAMPAGlyph
00-0F Control characters
10 Zero/wordspacer ~Qêtpâqq
11 One Ppâqq
12 Two Ttêgg
13 Three Ddîxx
14 Four Exxîpp
15 Five BBûkk
16 Six Kkôqq
17 SevenPaggôqq
18 Eight Teggôqq
19 Nine Diggôqq
1A Ten Exiggôqq
1B Eleven Buggôqq
1C Right Positive Bracket
1D Left Positive Bracket
1E Right Negative Bracket
1F Left Negative Bracket
20 Emperor Ppâssûkk
21 Long P Ppô/p:/
22 Short D /d/
23 PH Phô /p_h/
24 Long T Ttô /t:/
25 ~Q ~Qô /N\/
26 Short K /k/
27 Long S Ssô /s:/
28 Short P /p/
29 Short T /d/
2A ~G ~Gô /N\/
2B KH Khô /k_h/
2C Long BBbô /b:/
2D Long X Xxô /q:/
2E Equal
2F Printer's rule (underbar)
30 Back stop( X) /q/
31 N /n/
32 Long K Kkô /k:/
33 TH Thô /t_h/
34 Long G Ggô /g:/
35 M /m/
36 Long Q Qqô /G\:/
37 B /b/
38 XH Xhô/q_h/
39 Long D Ddô /d:/
3A Short G /g/
3B Y /j/
3C Short Q /G\/
3D Short S /s/
3E Paragraph
3F Sentence
40 Long Initial I Îqq Ppâqq/I:/
41 Long Initial E Êqq Ppâqq /E:/
42 Long Initial U Ûqq Ppâqq /U:/
43 Long Initial O Ôqq Ppâqq/V:/
44 Long Initial A Â,qq Ppâqq /A:/
45 Long Initial EJ Ejqq Ppâqq /e_i/
46 Long Initial OJ Ojqq Ppâqq /o_i/
47 Short Initial I Iqq Ppâqq Tax/I/
48 Short Initial E Eqq Ppâqq Tax /E/
49 Short Initial U iKuqq Ppâqq Tax/U/
4A Short Initial O Oqq Ppâqq Tax/V/
4B Short Initial A Aqq Ppâqq Tax /A/
4C Zero/Duodecimal separator
4D Square root of -1
4E Plus
4F Subtraction
50 Long I Îqq /I:/
51 Long E Êqq/E:/
52 Long U Ûqq /U:/
53 Long O Ôqq/V:/
54 Long A Â,qq/A:/
55 EJ Ejqq/e_i/
56 OJ Ojqq /o_i/
57 Short I Iqq Tax /I/
58 Short E Eqq Tax /E/
59 Short U Ikuqq Tax/U/
5A Short O Oqq Tax /V/
5B Short A Aqq Tax /A/
5C Multiplication
5D Division
5E Circular unit (2*144*144/pi)
5F Pi
60-7E Punctuation and Math
7F Control Character


Return to main language page
Return to top

Some Shayanan languages have writing systems that work much like those on Earth, but the writing systems most commonly used with Trade Speech evolved from a recording technique using beads and knotted string -- rather like a cross between quipu and macramé -- which could be used by both land-dwelling and sea-dwelling merchants. A pen and paper document in the system is essentially a diagram or picture of what the beads-and-string (tadth) representation would be. The verbs reflect this: a document can be 'tied', which can involve paper or string or a computer screen, or it can be 'drawn' on paper or a computer display. Individual characters and words are always 'tied', even when they belong to writing systems thay don't involve string.

Beads and String

Aquatic Shayanans in the Narrow Oceans Shallows tend to have life-styles that remind humans of sea otters and beavers and seals. They are not under the surface or in the water all the time, but nothing around them is going to stay dry or salt-free. The most useful fiber for use in sea water is an off-white color, and vary difficult to dye, so they could not use color to label their number strings as Incan quipu does. Instead, they began to knot objects into the strings to indicate what the numbers referred to.

Originally many different kinds of objects were used for the labels in record-keeping, but they needed to be standardized in order for the strings to be useful for communication as well as mnemonics. There also needed to be adequate supplies of the objects used and they needed to be durable and easy to add to a record cord. Eventually, a few kinds of shapes became standard for use in addition to the knots:

  1. 'flats', which were center-drilled disks (generally made from shell)
  2. 'teeth', which were triangular or conical (but also often made from shell)
  3. 'claws', were long, narrow, and could be straight or curved, (often the shells left after eating crustacean legs, but sometimes seashells)
  4. 'solids' were roughly squashed cylinders, sometimes stones

Fish vertebrae were often used as 'solids', since they came conveniently pre-drilled, have similar shapes, and have identifiable protuberances that could be marked or removed to identify them. 'Record eels' are farmed partly because they are very tasty and partly because they have lots of conveniently sized vertebrae.

Land-dwellers often used seed pods and other plant materials instead of shells, especially when the documents were not likely to be immersed.

One very early extant document is an inventory. (Or possibly an invoice or bill of lading.) It consists of a base cord with a number of subsidiary cords hanging from it. Each subsidiary cord has a series of knots along its length and at least one bead at the end farthest from the base cord.


Modern numbers are still represented in the old forms.

There is a placeholder knot that is used for zero in formal documents (such as checks). It is pronounced "sae", related to the negative particle. Negative numbers are 'inverted' numbers. Irrational numbers like pi are 'flying' numbers, because they don't settle down. Imaginary numbers are 'inside-out' numbers.

There are specific knots that mean 1, 2, and 4 that are used in the positional notation: the symbols for the digits from 1 to 15 are built from them in traditional sequences, though it is not incorrect to use them in simple additive order. The traditional tying orders for the numerals are:

32, 1
54, 1
64, 2
74, 1, 2
84, 4
94, 1, 4
104, 4, 2
114, 2, 1, 4
124, 4, 4,
134, 4, 1, 4
144, 1, 4, 1, 4
154, 1, 4, 2, 4

There are also a few round number abbreviation knots which are not used in the normal positional notation, only in narrative or as numbers standing alone. They stand for 16, 64, 256, and 32 and 370 (4+16+64+256, pronounced 'trader-count'). There were some mathematicians, engineers and scientists who were experimenting with using the 16, 64 and even 256 glyphs to condense the representations of very large numbers that needed to be reported exactly, but then the Imperials showed up. 32 and 370 come from different way of counting on fingers and tails. 370 is a traditional quantity for batches of small items that are sold by the count rather than by weight, volume, etc. 370 is also an idiomatic term for 'lots'.


Tying knots takes longer than scribbling on paper, even when using a writing hook (like a crochet hook) and when the knots have been optimised for rapid production. The string form of record-keeping has a lot of optional abbreviation techniques that can be used to speed things up. There are optional special symbols for many of the class specifier particles, and it is customary to use the declined specifier with the initial letter or letters and syllable count to abbreviate a longer word. Deciphering a note between people who both know the topic under discussion can be like using a game of charades to solve a crossword puzzle. In this mode, q1M 3 oil c2U @ $2 could mean [one syllable unit of measure beginning with q][ 3] [2 syllable modifier describing use]= 3 quarts of cooking oil at a price of 2 dollars... or possibly something completely different.

Prepositions and particles that were multisyllabic in parent languages are often monosyllabic in Trade Speech because of the tendency to abbreviate and because so many people who learned it as a second language tended to speak it as it was written. Circumpositions, which are not common in any of the parent languages, may be a result of people speaking the punctuation.

The strictly alphabetic portion of the orthography, the minimum necessary to tie Trade Speech unambiguously, includes 36 consonant signs, a marker that turns i and ü into consonants/dipthong componants, 6 full vowel signs, 6 medial vowel signs, and a separator that indicates glyph and word boundaries where the connection provided by the string might make things ambiguous. Vowels and the glide marker have beadless forms that are used in CVC syllables and affixes, and beaded forms used elsewhere. The separator is beadless. The glide marker may be attached to other consonants to transliterate foreign or alien languages. 'M' has been in the list for a long time, but it is still a glide-marked 'N'.

There is a beaded marker corresponding to a paragraph sign that is mandatory at the start of a tied message. Other punctuation marks are beadless and optional and are bracketing except that redundant marks can be omitted: /sentence// another sentence/ can be written as /sentence/another sentence/, but /third sentence/|fourth sentence| should keep all its marks. The neutral sentence marker is omitted at the paragraph mark.

Tabular material generally uses the old approach of short strings attached to a base string. Longer narrative material may be written in very long strands, which are wound on spools or reels to keep them from getting tangled.

There have been at least 5 copies of the Canticles tied in fine gold chain and jewels. Three are located in major settlements in the Shallows. One was sent to the Pole for safekeeping when the Imperials invaded. The fifth was successfully hidden by people who died out, and is now a legendary lost treasure on Shayana.

There have been two known copies of the Account in gold and jewels. One was captured by the Imperials and may have been broken up and melted down. The other set is the property of the position of the Hasri and is on public display at Ofrilla-Hasri. The reels, which are ornate dinosaur scrimshaw, are turned to reveal different parts of the stories every day, and readings are done by famous voice artists at holidays. The readings are done in Trade Speech, though the main language of Ofrilla-Hasri is, naturally, Modern Hasrian.

Pen and paper

Return to main language page
Return to top

Due to the Imperial invasion, the technology availble to Shayanans jumped directly from printing presses, windmills and cuckoo clocks to advanced microelectronics, so their writing systems were never affected by low display resolutions or storage limitations.

When drawn on a flat surface like a piece of paper or a computer screen, Trade Speech may be written from right to left, left to right, top to bottom, bottom to top or in any of the 4 flavors of boustrophedon, with spiral and labyrinthine layouts occasionally seen in poetic and ritual manuscript texts. Layouts with the strings of glyphs intersecting have not been reported, however.

Tabular information is never written boustrophedon. Bottom-up layouts (of characters or rows) are not very common. They are especially rare in business and technical documents except that things like one-page invoices are often written from one direction (e.g beginning at the bottom with the list of items) but intended to be read from the other direction (in the same example: starting at the top with the total, followed by the subtotals).

Facing pages usually have matching or symmetrical layouts, but layout shifts are sometimes used to emphasize chapter boundaries. Unless the designer/writer is being deliberately cryptic or the layout pattern is the same as on the previous page, the first character on a page is usually ornamented to identify its location and indicate the direction of text flow. In non-boustrophedon texts there is a rule down one of the sidesof the page to indicate the 'base cord'.

When people are being formal, they draw the text boustrophedon. When they are being very formal, they use beads and strings with minimal abbreviations.

Printers' fonts traditionally include ligatures for W, Y, and the diphthongs that include them.

Computers screens, being designs acquired from the Imperials, are most commonly non-boustrophedon, right to left, with rows progressing down the page. The resulting text is considered ugly and boring, so alternatives are appearing. [Shayanans would like the motto of the Perl programming language "there's more than one way to do it", but they might consider the language itself too prescriptive.]

Glyph Tables

Return to main language page
Return to top

Besides knots and string, the following markers are used in the concrete form of the symbol system. Plain Tooth, Marked Tooth, Plain Flat, Marked Flat, Double marked Flat, Crossed Flat, Circled Flat, Plain Claw, Marked Claw, Banded Claw, Plain Solid, One mark Solid, Cis Solid, Trans Solid, and Banded Solid. Each of these may appear alone or with a companion bead. If partnered, they may be held on the same loop of string, or separated. This provides 15 single beads and 240 double beads even before knotted diacritics are added. The text-start token contains 4 beads, one of each shape.

Numbers, most punctuation and math symbols, and medial vowels are shaped without beads. The text-end marker is tassle or knot without beads.

Code PointDescriptionNameX-SAMPAGlyphBeads
00-0FControl chars
20Start TextAsrrï
23Medial OO Chet/O/
27Medial AuAu Chet/a_u/
2EMedial ÜÜ Chet/u/
33Medial EiEi Chet/e_i/
3AMedial ÏÏ Chet/i/
3FMedial OiOi Chet/o_i/
41Medial Ou Ou Chet/o_u/
46Medial AiAi Chet/a_i/
49Medial AA Chet/a/
4DMedial EuEu Chet/e_u/
50Medial EE Chet/E/
57Medial UU Chet/@/
5CMedial II Chet/I/
60MNad Hethlen/F/
61Word link
64Abbreviation mark
65Specifier mark
6BDelim 1
6CDelim 2
6DDelim 3
6ENeutral delim
73Sqr Rt -1
75E (log)
7BCircular unit
7CFraction separator
7DHexadecimal separator
7EOrdinal mark
7FText EndWültu

Specifier tokens have a special extra half-knot, that shows they are acting as a specifier, not something else. Standard abbreviations of other common terms are marked with a half knot that twists the other way. It is always correct to spell out words in ordinary text (scientific and mathematical formulas are another matter), but there are about 64 logograms that are considered necessary to know for ordinary daily activities, and clusters of others that are used by specific industries, professions, etc.

Specifiers & Abbreviations
Return to main language page
Return to top