The Languages of Tékumel

The Languages of Tékumel


More than 40 years after the release of Empire of the Petal Throne (EPT), why do we still love Tékumel?  For me, it’s the deep mystery.  In other words: figuring it all out.  And nothing is more fun to figure out than the detailed invented languages and linguistic histories.

Languages were what most interested Barker himself about Tékumel from a young age.  In a 1984 interview published in The Space Gamer magazine, he said he first became interested in inventing languages when, as a child in St. Marie, Idaho, he played with Basque children who kept secrets in their native language, a rare isolate unrelated to other tongues. Barker had invented the Tsolyáni script by age 12, before learning any other languages.  He said he could not consciously remember any real-world influences on Tsolyáni and that the knowledge of his invented languages had “just come.”

The first Tékumel RPG work, EPT, included elaborately drawn inscriptions in Tsolyáni (and one snippet of Classical Tsolyáni), allusions to the modern and classical languages of all the five empires, a pronunciation guide to Tsolyáni, and a guide to the Tsolyáni script. Tsolyáni (and other) language texts and proper names also appeared in later source material, magazine articles, and short language studies. In all, Barker published grammars and word lists for five invented languages: Tsolyáni, Yan Koryáni, Livyáni, Engsvanyáli, and Sunúz.  In addition, he published articles on the scripts of six other Tekumel languages: Mu’ugalavyáni, Salarvyáni, Classical Tsolyáni, Bednálljan, Llyáni, and Thu’úsa. A few scattered words of these latter six languages appear in the Tékumel canon (e.g. EPT includes the Salarvyáni book title “Guppíshsha Hrakkúq Mazhzhátl” translated as the “The Book of the Fragrant Garden”), but no extensive word lists. Barker also published an article on the ideographic kázhra ve ngakóme script, which I have not read.


A language book was an early Tékumel product. Barker in 1977 self-published a detailed two-volume, 120-page grammar, phrasebook, and dictionary of Tsolyáni, which is now collectible. The Imperium Publishing Co., which we discussed in our last post, advertised “The Tsolyáni Language” in late 1977 and Brett Slocum’s excellent index of published Tékumel works lists the self-published version and an Imperium version separately.  However, I have never seen a version marked “Imperium Publishing Company” and I believe that Imperium simply sold the self-published version, which has a plain turquoise cover and is marked “Richfield Printing.”

Dave Arneson’s Adventure Games reprinted the two volumes of the language book in 1981.  Some (or maybe all?) of these were sold with an audio cassette. The interior pages of the Adventure Games edition are identical to the self-published version. The only differences were that the new version had a well-drawn but stupid cover, some slight differences in the front matter, and an advertisement in the back of each volume for a few Tékumel products published by Adventure Games. Carl Brodt’s Tita’s House of Games reprinted the books in 1999 along with a CD version of the audio cassette.

The language guide is a wonderful window into Tsolyáni culture.  Even if you have no interest in the Tsolyáni language per se, reading through the phrasebook provides excellent background.

A version of the audio file originally included with the Adventure Games edition is still available on Brett Slocum’s site.  In addition an audio file available on Youtube contains a rendition of chanted Tsolyáni poetry and music.  I do not know whether Barker ever visited Indonesia but the chant and music sounds closely  resembles the music and monologue of a Javanese shadow puppet show.  Compare for example this Youtube audio of the epic “Birth of Gatotkaca.”

Summary: The Tsolyáni Language
Publisher: Self-published (Richfield Printing)
Date: 1978
Author: M.A.R. Barker
Artists: NA
Size: Two 5 7/8” x 9” volumes of 64 pages each.
Original Price: $8.75
Number published: Unknown
Rarity: Very Rare.
Value: Few sold but I’d estimate $80-$100
Collecting Notes: The self-published edition with a blue cover rarely comes up for sale. This version was also sold by The Imperium Publishing Company.

Summary: The Tsolyáni Language
Publisher: Adventure Games
Date: 1981
Author: M.A.R. Barker
Artists: Kathy Marschall (cover)
Size: Two 5 7/8” x 9” volumes of 64 pages each.
Original Price: $12.95
Number published: Unknown
Rarity: Uncommon
Value: Frequently listed but rarely sold, I’d estimate $30-40.
Collecting Notes: The language booklet appears nearly continuously on ebay but usually with an unrealistic asking price. The tapes seem to have gotten lost or broken over the years and I have never seen the tape included in a recent sale.

Summary: The Tsolyáni Language
Publisher: Tita’s House of Games
Date: 2001
Author: M.A.R. Barker
Artists: Kathy Marschall
Size: ? (I don’t have this one)
Original Price: $29.95
Number published: Unknown
Rarity: Uncommon.
Value: Few sold but I’d estimate $30
Collecting Notes: This version and CD may actually be rarer than the Adventure Games edition.  I have never seen the CD for sale on the secondary market.

Later works on language will be discussed in future posts but here is a brief summary:

  • The Tékumel Journal published “The Tsolyáni Primer” by Curtis Scott (1982). A PDF version of the primer later appeared on the Blue Room website. Tita’s House of Games in 2000 republished the primer in hard copy.
  • The Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol III No. 2 (1982) included an article on the kazhrá ve ngakóme script. (Note: I don’t own and have never read this article.)
  • The Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol III No. 3 (1982) included an article on the Classical Tsolyáni script.
  • The Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol III No. 4 (1982) included an article on the Mu’ugalavyáni script.
  • The Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol III No. 5 (1983) included an article on the ancient Llyáni script.
  • The Swords & Glory (S&G) Sourcebook published by Gamescience (1983) included extensive descriptions of the languages of the Five Empires (i.e. Tsolyáni, Mu’ugalavyáni, Yan Koryáni, Salarvyáni, and Livyáni) and briefer mentions of many others.
  • The novel Man of Gold (1984) included notes about languages, especially Llyáni.
  • The grammars of Engsvanyáli, Sunúz, Livyáni, and Yan Koryáni were published as PDFs on the old Blue Room website in 1994 (not collectible).
  • I am not clear when the descriptions of Thu’úsa and Bednálljan scripts first appeared but they are marked copyright 2006 and were made available on the RPGNow website that year (also not collectible).
  • Brief language references appear in other source material, e.g. Joe Saul’s Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne (2005), but as Barker got older he stopped creating new languages from whole cloth. There is also a perception among the latter-day Tékumel community that the languages are off-putting to new players.  The latest Tékumel RPG does not included a chart of the Tsolyáni script.

(Some Diacritic Vowels Written with the Consonant “B”)

The Languages

I will not recapitulate here all of Barker’s descriptions of the languages of Tékumel.  Briefly, the languages of the five empires all are in the Khíshan language family, which derives proximately from Engsvanyáli, which in turn descends from Bednálljan, which is a child language of Llyáni which may have a relation to a “dubiously identified” tongue of the Three States of the Triangle.  Ghatóni, Pecháni, Hijajái, Tsoléi’i, and Milumanayáni are all Khíshan languages as well. Barker wrote that the Khíshan languages largely share the same “phonemic inventory.”

To say that an entire family of languages shares basically the same sounds but comprises wildly varying scripts might seem strange to a student of Western languages (or Chinese), which have many sounds but few scripts (thanks to empires).  However, the Indic languages , which were Barker’s academic focus, share many sounds but have been written in many varying scripts and are a better basis of comparison.  And in any case, Barker probably underestimated the variety of sounds that  would accumulate as the corpus of published languages grew.

In addition to Khíshan, there are two other major families represented on the portion of the globe well mapped in canon Tékumel: the Nlü’ársh family, which includes Pijenáni and the language of the N’lüss and descends from the tongue of the Dragon Warriors; and the tonal Aom family, which includes Saá Allaqiyáni and some other northeastern languages.  Some of the latter are written in the ideographic kázhra ve ngakóme script.

Barker also mentions two isolated families unrelated to the three families above: Qùótl, which is spoken in the jungles to the west of Mu’ugalavyá, including M’mórcha; and Pe’é which is spoken in the Nyémesel Isles. He also makes many scattered references to other languages and argots throughout the canon.

For many more details, see the S&G Sourcebook.

Barker’s Real-World Influences

How did Barker dream up this extensive material and what real-world roots can we detect in these languages? To consider this question, it would be useful to examine the languages Barker spoke himself.

Barker said he invented Tsolyáni “by age 12.”  Though this precise year may be an exaggeration or inaccurate recollection, it’s fairly clear that Barker had largely completed the Tsolyáni script before he went to college.  (Based on circumstantial evidence, I also speculate below that Barker might have invented Yan Koryáni before Tsolyáni, but there isn’t enough evidence to establish this firmly.)  Though Barker denied any influences from real-world languages, there are enough traces of real-world influence in Tsolyáni to establish that Barker must have read some books on ancient languages as a child.

Jeff Berry has documented that Barker owned the following books:
— Ancient Egyptian Religion by H. Frankfort (signed and dated by Barker “1948”)
— Egyptian Grammar by Alan H. Gardiner (signed and dated by Barker “June 7, 1945)
— Assyrian Grammar by A.H. Sayce (signed and dated by Barker “September 5, 1948”)
— The Book of the Dead by E.A. Wallis Budge (No date shown)
— Digging in Yucatan by Ann Axtell Morris (signed/dated by Barker “November 14, 1943)
— The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind by David Dirringer (No date shown)

Barker’s book collection was sold to an educational institution in Malaysia, but it would be interesting if someone had a catalogue of the books sold and what other pre-1948 titles were among them.

In any case, some of the Tékumel languages that Barker later invented do show obvious influences from the languages and linguistics that Barker, an amazing polyglot, learned later in life.  Barker studied anthropology at the University of Washington at Seattle, where his advisor was a linguist who had studied Chinook.  Barker published his graduate dissertation on the Northwestern Native American language of Klamath and this work was the basis of three volumes on Klamath that he later published. He studied Hindi and Urdu (mutually intelligible languages written in different scripts) while on a Fulbright in India and later wrote several books on teaching Urdu and a book on Urdu poetry (some of which was drawn from his extensive personal collection of old Urdu manuscripts).  He wrote a book on Baluchi as well, while at a university in India. I speculate that his knowledge of Baluchi gave him some familiarity with Farsi and Old Persian.  He taught for 14 years at the Institute of Islamic studies at McGill where it would have been de rigeur to know Arabic and internal evidence in Barker’s writings gives ample evidence of this knowledge. He had also studied Mayan and constructed a database of Mayan inscriptions and his writings indicate that he had knowledge of Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) as well. Internal evidence also makes it clear Barker could read Sanskrit and we’ll see below that he must have been familiar with some other ancient scripts, including Indian scripts, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and cuneiform.

According to first-hand reports, Barker was an astounding polyglot who spoke or read languages in addition to those above.  I hope any of Barker’s associates who read this blog can share what they know about other languages that Barker knew.

Despite Barker’s claim that Tsolyáni had “just come” to him, some aspects of Tékumel languages do show the direct influence of the Terran languages and linguistic theory that Barker learned as an adult.

Barker wrote in EPT that all the languages on Tékumel were descended from the “Tamil-Mayan-Arabic argot which served as the lingua franca of humanspace” but I suspect this was just a bit of color rather than a real linguistic signpost.  While there are some Arabic and Mayan cognates in Tsolyáni (see below), it’s not clear that Barker even spoke Tamil, which is a Dravidian language unrelated to Hindi, Urdu, and Baluchi.  However, the agglutinative grammar of Tsolyáni is similar to Tamil (and some other languages), so maybe I am wrong.  And in any case, Barker claimed he had invented Tsolyáni, before he knew other languages, though this cannot be completely true.

General Linguistic Observations

The alphabet chart and the partial Swadesh list (adapted for a science fiction RPG!) above show a few things.  Clearly the Tsolyáni and Mu’ugalavyáni scripts are the most closely related, with Livyáni also showing similarities.  All three of these scripts show some resemblance to Engsvanyáli. Classical Tsolyáni was written in the “Bednálljan Monumental” script obviously related to Bednálljan Salarvyáni, though the latter was written in a much more ornate script influenced by the Irzákh language of the Dragon Warriors.  (Barker’s various descriptions of Bednálljan are confusing – see below.)  The other scripts all look sui generis.  Barker said that Yan Koryáni had been modeled on Llyáni, but that is hard to see, unless he meant “stimulus borrowing” similar to the way Persian cuneiform was inspired by but not copied from Sumerian cuneiform.

The limited word lists that exist also reveal some relationships.  The few words of Mu’ugalavyáni in the canon mostly resemble Tsolyáni.  Yan Koryáni has many correspondences with Tsolyáni as well.  Livyáni is not as similar.  All four languages show relationship to Engsvanyáli.  Sunúz, as Barker notes in the grammar booklet, is unlike other languages, though Sunúz “tü\l” might correspond to Tsolyáni “tuléng” (sun) and Sunúz “khet” might be related to Tsolyáni “khátunikh” (name).

Comparing the grammars of the various Tékumel languages is beyond the scope of this post.

Káshtri Variants


Tsolyáni is so fully developed that I once believed that it must be largely based on a Terran language.  There are indeed some cognates. For example, “korún,” the root word for “book” in Tsolyáni comes from Arabic, as does “kábar” (“story” in Tsolyáni and “news” in Arabic). The Tsolyáni and Arabic words for “menstruation” are both “haid.”  The word for tongue is “lussán” in Tsolyáni and “lissan” in Arabic.  The name of the ruling dynasty of Tsolyánu is “Tlakotáni,” clearly derived from “tlatoani,” which is the Nahuatl word for “ruler.” The “tla-“ prefix that marks the accusative case in Tsolyáni also corresponds to Nahuatl. The Sákbe roads of Tsolyánu are cognate with the Mayans’ “Sacbe” roads.

That is all I have found.  While others will spot more cognates, in sum the evidence indicates that Barker invented most of the words of Tsolyáni rather than borrowed or transformed them from existing languages.

Cham Script

The Tsolyáni script also does not seem closely modeled on that of any Terran language.  The script is written right to left and uses vowel diacritics, like Arabic (and many other languages) but that’s a thin parallel. One might also detect resemblances to some descendants of ancient Indic scripts (e.g. Cham and Dives Akuru), but very faint.

Tsolyáni has alternative forms for some consonants (the Káshtri variants). He attributed the differences to regional variation but I assume this was a device that Barker used to reconcile some of his older manuscripts with the final form he decided for the script.

Grammatically, Tsolyáni has agglutinative noun formation that resembles many real-world languages, but is very different from English.  Similarly, prefixes and affixes lend aspect, tense and other meanings to verbs.  Pronouns are quite elaborate. I cannot judge whether Tsolyáni’s grammar particularly resembles that of any real-world language living or extinct, though ancient semitic languages were agglutinative and Javanese (a Sanskrit descendant) has separate vocabularies based on politeness level that faintly recall Tsolyáni’s many words for you.

There are many examples of Tsolyáni inscriptions in canon Tékumel, including an illuminated citizenship document and the Tsolyáni texts accompanying several Barker drawings.


As noted above, Mu’ugalavyáni is the Khíshan language that most resembles Tsolyáni. The script was illustrated in an article in The Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol. III No. 4 (1982).  The script, and accompanying description, also appeared in the S&G Sourcebook. The Sourcebook version has a few differences with the article, including the Sourcebook’s inclusion of a “rare” glyph for the “ng” consonant and some differences in the list of determinative glyphs.

Mu’ugalavyáni has largely the same sounds as Tsolyáni, though it includes glyphs for some additional diphthongs and consonant combinations.  Mu’ugalavyáni also includes glyphs for some rare vestigial aspirated consonants, which occur in spelling but are not pronounced as aspirated in modern Mu’ugalavyáni.  Many vowels are doubled with intervening glottal stops in Mu’ugalavyáni and the script has special symbols for these doubled vowels

Mu’ugalavyáni’s determinatives are one feature that has a clear Terran antecedent.  Mu’ugalavyáni determinative glyphs resemble cuneiform in function, because they are occasional and specific, as well as unpronounced.  However, they sometimes more resemble Egyptian determinatives in form.  For example, the Egyptian determinative glyph for “city” resembles Mu’ugalavyáni.


Barker never wrote a grammar or vocabulary list for Mu’ugalavyáni.  Scattered Mu’ugalavyáni words that appear in the canon often resemble Tsolyáni with some consonant mutation and vowel doubling.  For example, “death” is “missúm” in Tsolyáni and “mssomü’u” in Mu’ugalavyáni.  The root words for “man” are “básrim” and “vozru’um” in Mu’ugalavyáni.

I am not aware of any inscriptions or Mu’ugalavyáni text in the Tékumel canon.

Yan Koryáni

Yan Koryáni is one of the five languages that receive the full treatment of a grammar booklet, though unlike the other grammar booklets the Yan Koryani grammar does not include a vocabulary list.  Phonetically, Yan Koryáni has a wider range of vowel and consonant sounds than Tsolyáni.  The script has glyphs representing these extra sounds and more glyphs representing consonant clusters, diphthongs, and even three-vowel combinations.  The blocky script looks very different from the flowing curved scripts of Tsolyáni, Mu’ugalaváni, Livyáni, and Engsvanyáli.  The systematic shapes do not resemble any real-world language and, in fact, of all the Tékumel languages, most openly resemble a constructed language.

Grammatically, Yan Koryáni is very alien to an English speaker but straightforward.  Nouns are formed by from stems modified by a structured system of prefixes.  Verbs are stems with a structured system of suffixes.  Again, the rigidly systematic style of the grammar more openly resembles a constructed language than some other Tékumel languages.  I speculate that Barker invented Yan Koryáni first as a child, before moving on to the greater complexities and detailed texture of Tsolyáni.

Barker notes that modern Yan Koryáni is also sometimes written in the ancient Tsaqw script in formal documents and in the city of Hlíkku, where Tsaqw is still spoken.  No examples of Tsaqw exist in the canon.  He also writes that the Yan Koryáni script is used for some other northeastern languages, including Milumanayáni, Lo’orunánkh, Pijenáni, and Sa’á Allaqiyáni.  The S&G Sourcebook gives the subscript diacritics used to accommodate some unique sounds in the latter two languages.

Barker created an illuminated “travel pass” written in Yan Koryáni.  The cover of the S&G Source Booklet has letters resembling Yan Koryáni but I think this is not intelligible writing.


Barker says that Livyáni is “on the periphery” of the Khíshan languages and that linguistically it less resembles Engsvanyáli than Tsolyáni or Mu’ugalavyáni.  However, he also writes that of all the child languages, the modern Livyáni script most closely resembles that of Engsvanyáli.  This is a little strange since Livyánu was never occupied by the Priestkings and, historically, Livyáni was written in the semi-ideographic Durúob script. (There are no examples of Durúob in the canon.)

In any case, Livyáni looks like it would be easy for a Tsolyáni to learn.  Though the glyphs are different, roughly the same sounds, numerals, and punctuation are spoken and represented in the script.  Well, it would be easy, except that Barker notes the paranoid Livyáni love to obscure their language with cyphers. Even a native speaker, he writes, might have difficulty understanding a document written by another temple, government department, clan, or business because of the coded substitutions and other intentional obscurantism.

Barker’s Livyáni grammar focuses on verbs.  He describes 17 classes of verbs and a system of proclitics and enclitics that mark tense and aspect, among other things.  Other parts of speech are described more briefly.

The Livyáni grammar booklet includes a love poem written by Márya of Tsámra (the only cultural figure in Livyáni history described in the canon).  Other than this poem, I am not aware of any Livyáni inscriptions in the canon.


The Salarvyáni script is well described in the S&G Sourcebook. The script is one of the most attractive of the Tékumel languages with pleasing ligatures.  It distinguishes “big letter” consonants and “small letter” consonants used in affixes.

Barker said several times in the Blue Room forum and on Yahoo! Groups that he “should write out” what he knew about Salarvyáni, but that he blanched at describing the language’s difficult grammar.  For example, the S&G Sourcebook alludes to Salarvyáni’s “52nd conjugation.”  For whatever reason, no grammar or vocabulary of Salarváni ever appeared.  Few Salarvyáni words can be found in the canon.

Some of the shapes of the Salarvyáni script are reminiscent of Egyptian determinatives and logograms, but the Salarvyáni language as a whole does not much resemble Egyptian.

S&G Sourcebook Cover

Classical Tsolyáni

The Classical Tsolyáni script was first described in The Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol III No. 3 (1982).  No grammar is described in the Tékumel canon and I am only aware of two unique Classical Tsolyáni words (which appear in an EPT book title): Chnéshaq = (modern Tsolyáni) Chnéshna = mystery and khy = hi = of.  Classical Tsolyáni is written in the Bednálljan “Monumental Script” and resembles the ornate Irzakh script of “Bednálljan Salarvyáni.” The script is an abugida and each consonant includes an inherent “i” vowel unless accompanied by another vowel diacritic or a “silencer.”  (Tamil is an example of a Terran language where consonants have an inherent vowel and that uses a silencer.)

EPT includes one classical Tsolyáni inscription in the illustration of two Sárku priests summoning the fire demon Jneksha’a.  The Inscription, which Barker calls “Monumental Bednálljan” rather than “Classical Tsolyáni,” reads “Sárku Mítlan Kólumel” (“Sarku God Emperor”).  Note that the “i” in “Mitlan” is omitted per the rules described above.  The front cover of the S&G Sourcebook also has a short Classical Tsolyáni inscription reading “Riüulkoi,” which is an erroneous attempt at “Riyúlkoi,” which means “the Worm of Sárku.” The error stems from mistaking the glyph for the vowel “y” (which later was transliterated as ü) for the glyph for the consonant “y.”  The illustration seems to depict fighting against troops of the usurper (and Sárku worshipper) Dhich’úne, who apparently has already redecorated. 


Barker’s descriptions of Bednálljan are confusing.  In EPT, Barker referred to “Bednálljan Monumental Script,” but this script is used exclusively for the Classical Tsolyáni language.  References to what Barker called “Bednálljan Salarvyáni” appear in EPT and other early works, but the script was first illustrated and described in a 2006 PDF article.  Barker says the script was influenced by the Dragon Warriors’ Irzákh script, which is also confusing since Bednálljan is a Khíshan language and the language of the Dragon Warriors was part of the unrelated Nlüarsh family.

In any case, the script is the most ornate and artistic of all the scripts. The grammar and vocabulary of Bednálljan are thinly described.  No inscriptions exist in the canon.  The only known words of Bednálljan appear in EPT: “Púrohlan Znamríshsha Kagékte” = “The Book of the Unnamed God.”

The ornate script does not resemble any Terran script that I have seen. 


After Tsolyáni, Engsvanyáli receives the most detailed treatment of any language in the Tékumel canon.  It has many features that do not exist in Tsolyáni, including vowel harmonization, inflected verbs, complex tenses, and use of a definite article.  The PDF article on Engsvanyáli grammar also contains a long vocabulary list.

As discussed above, Engsvanyáli has many correspondences with its modern child languages.  Correspondences to Terran languages are elusive, as they are with Tsolyáni.

Please note that the PDF article “The Grammar of Engsvanyáli” contains a serious error.  The PDF describes the font as reversed but the font as depicted on the font map is in fact correct.  The sample text, however, has been mistakenly flipped. This is clear by looking at the Engsvanyáli inscription in the Book of Ebon Bindings and also by comparing the Engsvanyáli glyphs with analogous glyphs in the child languages. For example, compare the Engsvanyáli “m” and “t” glyphs with Tsolyáni.  Clearly, those letters are correct as written in the font map unreversed.


Barker’s article on the Sunúz language is an amazing piece that combines a fantasy theory of semiotics with a mystical text rolled up with a language treatise.  The whole Sunúz article deserves a separate post, but Sunúz as a language has several interesting features, including post-postions, verbal modalities, verabl infixes, a distributive suffix (modeled after Klamath, I believe), and classifiers somewhat similar to Chinese unit words.

Sunúz is not a Khíshan language and only a rare word here and there shows any relation to other Tékumel languages (e.g. Sunúz “léngba” is related to Engsvanyáli and Tsolyáni “otulengba” = “hail”).

The script of Sunúz also does not resemble other Tékumel languages.  However, it strongly recalls the Terran Siddham script (see below).  Siddham is an ancient Indic script with which Barker was certainly familiar.

Siddham Script

Ancient Llyáni

Ancient Llyáni is mentioned in EPT and other source material. A Llyáni inscription appears in an illustration in The Book of Ebon Bindings first published by Imperium Publishing in 1978. The script was first comprehensively illustrated in a crudely drawn version in the back pages of The Journal of Tékumel Affairs Vol III No. 5 (1983).  However, no grammar or vocabulary list was ever published.  The glyphs in the table above were (poorly) hand-drawn by me based on the article.  No nicely produced font exists.  Note that the font in the Journal of Tékumel Affairs includes a second character for “t,” which is not used in the Book of Ebon Bindings inscription and seems to be an error.  Also, the inscription uses a glyph for words with initial vowel sounds that is not listed in the table of glyphs.

Linear Elamite

The Llyáni script is vaguely reminiscent of the real-world undeciphered Elamite linear script.  


Thu’úsa is first mentioned in the S&G Sourcebook and described as a secret argot of the Gods of Stability (Tlomitlányal) based on a language once spoken in the Kurt Hills.  A 2006 PDF article provided the Thu’úsa script, but Thu’úsa is the most thinly described language in the Tékumel canon.  No inscriptions exist and I am not aware of a single Thu’úsa word that has been mentioned in canon works.

Oirat Clear Script

Thu’úsa has the faintest of resemblances to the Terran vertical Mongolic scripts like Traditional Mongolian and Oirat Clear Script.

Glyphs from Prince of Skulls

Remaining Mysteries

This slapdash post is a little short on details and there is a lot of research remaining to be done.  A list of all Tékumel language words that appear in the canon would be useful.  A list and translations of all inscriptions would be helpful as well.

Glyphs from Nyélmu Illustration in S&G Sourcebook

One intriguing loose end is the inscription at the end of the novel Prince of Skulls.  From context it would appear that this must be modern N’lüss but I am not aware of any other description of modern N’lüss in canon Tékumel.  The glyphs in the drawing “Nyélmu Gazing Upon Princess Ma’ín” are also intriguing.  I have not been able to make them out.  They maybe the canon’s only example of Duruob or they might be just squiggles.  Similarly, the four glyphs in the EPT drawing of Queen Nayári remain undeciphered.

Glyphs from Queen Nayári Illustration in EPT

Jeff Berry says that many so far undescribed Tekumel scripts were in the Professor’s files.  Those would be cool to see!

2 thoughts on “The Languages of Tékumel

  1. Seems difficult to understand why so much time was spent on completely imaginary languages when there are so many wonderful human languages around. However,
    the effort to understand them is not wasted.
    These languages and their grammatical laws could be very useful if one wanted to create a code that could not easily be read. This was the case with the Basque children that Baker knew as a child, and also with the “Code talkers” in WWII, who could transmit in the clear because there was little chance that any interception could make out the message.
    Should a potential enemy want to have access to all native languages, they now have Baker to contend with along with the thousands of native human languages.

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