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The so-called "Counter-Earth," which is hidden on the opposite side of the Sun from our Earth, came originally from outside the Solar System. It is inhabited by several more or less humanoid species, of whom the dominant called themselves the P'o-nya, or 'Great Race', and called their planet Hla-tur, which means simply 'The World'. Their language they called Hla-kyi, which means 'The Speech'; it is no longer a living language, and is now called Tho-kyi, or 'High Speech'.

After they brought their planet here and parked it in its present orbit (by a technology now lost), the Great Race fought a great war, whose origins and course are now the stuff of legend, for it resulted in the near-complete collapse of their spacefaring civilization. In the end they were divided into two peoples, who continue to war intermittently against each other, and against the lesser peoples of Hla-tur. Over the course of time, the speech of these two peoples diverged into separate languages, called Po'-qi and KÚl-yi, 'West-Speech' and 'East-Speech' (< Poko-kyi, K'ola-kyi). These are the major languages of the Contraterran language-family.


Tho-kyi has a series of stops with four points of articulation: p t k '. All but the glottal stop have five variants: simple (p t k), aspirate (ph th kh), glottal (p' t' k'), palatal (py ty ky), and labial (pw tw kw). There is no phonemic voice distinction, but intervocalic consonants are voiced allophones: which is to say that the k in Tho-kyi was actually pronounced like g, but the original speakers of it couldn't tell the difference.

There are two liquids, l r, with five variants, similar to the stops: l r, hl hr, 'l 'r, ly ry, lw rw. There is one nasal, of which m n ng are allophones: m before p, ng before k ' h.

There is one sibilant with five variants: s hs s' sy sw, and the intervocalic allophone z. Hs is a difficult sound for English-speakers: try pronouncing h and s at the same time. For convenience, it may be approximated as sh in 'shush' (which is how all but the most pedantic Contraterrans now pronounce it). The glottal fricative h has variants hy hw and the allophone [x] after vowels: thus loh 'beam of an energy-weapon' is pronounced like 'loch'.

Finally, there are the two semivowels, y w, and five vowels i e a o u. The vowels vary allophonically, so that (for example) the o in ho (an interjection used to introduce a request or suggestion) is pronounced more like the o in 'hoe' than the o in loh; but again, it's not a difference that native speakers could discern.

Tho-kyi has a nonphonemic pitch accent which is pronounced high on the vowels, rising-falling on diphthongs (as in wi 'squeak', wiy 'creak'). These may be marked with an acute accent or circumflex respectively. Accent marks were only introduced when the language changed and they became necessary to distinguish words that were otherwise identical in sound.

The Contraterran writing-system has only 12 distinct letters: p t k l n r s i e a o u; ' h w y are represented by diacritic marks. Voicing (e.g., the difference between p and b) became meaningfully contrastive in post-classical Contraterran, and is also represented by diacritics. Morpheme-boundaries are marked by a dot and words are separated by a sign like a comma. In transliteration, hyphens and spaces are used.


The noun itself is fairly simple and straightforward. The definite singular article ('the one') is hla-, and the definite plural article ('the many') is na-. The indefinite plural article is 'a- ('some, any'). The indefinite singular ('a[n]') is unmarked.

The basic form of a noun, which is unmarked, is used (1) for the name of a person or thing (e.g., 'doctor'), (2) to address a person or thing (e.g., "Hello, Doctor!"), and (3) when the person or thing is the subject of an intransitive verb (e.g., "the doctor is in"). Other cases are marked by particles that are suffixed to the noun.

ergative -tyay
accusative -hsa
dative -nis

The ergative case is used when the subject is acting on an object, so it is always in accordance with the accusative and/or dative -- i.e., the cases of the direct and indirect objects. So, to say "John robbed Peter to pay Paul," one would have to decline the three names thus: John-tyay, Peter-hsa, Paul-nis.

The genitive ('of') is combined with the other three cases, so there are six particles in all:

nominative/vocative/ergative + genitive -tyaw
accusative + genitive -hsun
dative + genitive -sya

So, for instance, if you kick your own dog, it would take the particle -tyaw (note that the dog is not in the accusative case, as one would expect); if you kick your neighbor's dog, it would take the particle -hsun; and if you give a bone to your neighbor's dog, the dog would take the particle -sya and the bone would take the particle -hsa. Note that possession is marked on the thing possessed, not the possessor: so that instead of saying "he kissed her [genitive] hand" one would say "he kissed her [accusative] hand [accusative + genitive]."

The pronominal system is even more strange and complicated. There are only two true pronouns, hu 'I' and p'a 'you [singular]'. There is also a third-person marker 'i-, meaning 'he, she, it, they' (yes, all of that), which never exists as a separate word.

To form third-person pronouns, 'i- is prefixed to demonstrative particles and/or case-markers; so, to say 'he (or she or they) give(s) it (or them) to him (or her or them)' you would say 'i-tyay gives 'i-hsa to 'i-nis. The only way to tell the number and gender would be from context. Some added clarity is possible through reference-switching, which is done by putting 'i on the end; this creates the meaning 'the other (of two)'. So, he ('i-tyay) pinches her (hsun-'i) bottom, and then she (tyay-'i) slaps his ('i-hsun) face.

All other pronouns are formed by combinations of the two true pronouns and the third-person marker, which provides a range of pronouns inconceivable in English: hu-'i 'I + he/she/it/they'; hu-p'a 'I + you (singular)'; hu-p'a-'i 'I + you + he/she/it/they'; p'a-'i 'you + he/she/it/they'.

There several demonstrative particles. Taken by themselves, they serve as adjectives; with markers for person or number, they form pronouns, and are declined with the same suffixes as nouns.

koy 'nearby, in plain sight'
teke 'all around us'
khu 'over there, in the distance'
t'e 'somewhere, out of sight'
hyah 'on one's person or in one's hand'

Thus, for example: 'i-koy 'this one', 'a-koy 'someone/something here', na-koy 'these ones'.

The verb is inflected with suffixes for several tenses:

-kwa 'sometime, anytime'
-ni 'at that time (previously specified)'
-yo 'always and everywhere'
-thi 'before a given time'
-ren 'during a given time'
-nu 'after a given time'.

These last three roughly correspond to the past, present, and future tenses, which is what they turned into in both Po'-qi and KÚl-yi. In Tho-kyi, however, -thi can be used to say that you had gone or will have gone (for instance), as well as that you went. Context is all-important.

Adjectives and adverbs are simple and largely interchangeable. Degree is marked by prefixes: le- 'very', s'o- 'slightly'. Normally, these prefixes are reduplicated for 'most' and 'least'. There are two words for 'no(t)': he, which applies to adjectives and nouns, and t'a, which applies to verbs and adverbs.

By using the case markers, the elements of a sentence can be rearranged to emphasize one or another, but the usual order is subject--direct object--indirect object--verb. Modifiers, without exception, precede the words they modify.

© 2000 by Karl Jahn

The Babel Text in Tho-kyi