The Kiitra language (hirajna Kiitra) is a constructed language featured in the science fiction novel Lamikorda by D. R. Merrill. Kiitra is the principal language of the Alplai, the avianoid species in the book. With a lexicon of over 4200 entries including colloquialisms and highly technical terminology, it is perhaps one of the largest and most functional of recent conlangs.
Merrill created Kiitra while writing Lamikorda "to give greater verisimilitude to the novel," but also with the hope that others would "study, utilize, and even offer suggestions as to its continued development", and has continued to expand its lexicon. The fictional backstory was that the Kiitra region of the planet Alplaa was inhabited by eight ethnolinguistic groups allied in a confederation; when the confederation government formed a commission to recommend how to deal with this multilingualism, the commission drew upon common elements of these closely related languages to construct a new Kiitra language. While intended for use in trade and government administration within the Kiitra Union, it would become the primary language of the region, as the different ethnicities melded into a common "Kiitra" identity. Because of its relative simplicity and regularity, other Alplai chose to make Kiitra their default auxiliary language, much like the similar role of English on Earth. The fiction of Kiitra being constructed and regulated by an appointed government commission provides a rationale for Kiitra’s relatively regular structure.
Merrill devised a highly regular phonology for Kiitra, with both its own orthography (including punctuation) and a simple Romanization standard.
Kiitra uses eight vowels and two dipthongs:
- a as in Alpha = /æ/
- aa as in Spa = /ä/ or /ɑ/
- ai as in Eye = /aɪ/
- e as in Echo = /ɛ/
- ei as in Ray = /eɪ/
- i as in India = /ɪ/
- ii as in India = /i/
- o as in Oscar = /ɔ/ or /ɒ/
- u as in Uncle = /ʌ/
- uu as in Room = /u/
With the exception of the ai and ei dipthongs, vowels are never "blended"; they are separated either by consonants or a glottal stop.
Two of the trickiest elements of pronunciation is when words end with a single a or o, as English speakers will tend to say these like "ah" and "oh" respectively. In the novel’s "Preface on pronouncing Kiitra" the author recommends:
- For a at the end of words: "say with mouth open and lips pulled back."
- For o at the end of words: "keep lips rounded and jaw still."
Kiitra employs nineteen consonants and a glottal stop marker; Alplai linguistics, however, regard the "h" sound and glottal stop as a distinct intermediary category, called leidvona in Kiitra.
- b as in Bravo = /b/
- d as in Delta = /d/
- f as in Foxtrot = /f/
- g as in Golf = /g/
- h as in Hotel = /h/
- j as in Juliet = /d͡ʒ/ or /ʒ/
- k as in Kilo = /k/
- kh as in Loch or Nacht = /x/
- l as in Lima = /l/ or /ɫ/
- m as in Mike = /m/
- n as in November = /n/
- p as in Papa = /p/|
- r as in Romeo = /ɹ/ or /ɾ/
- rh = trilled "r" = /r/ or /ʀ/
- s as in Sierra = /s/
- sh as in Share = /ʃ/
- t as in Tango = /t/
- v as in Victor = /v/
- z as in Zulu = /z/
- ‘ as in uh-oh = /ʔ/ (glottal stop)
Notable by their absence is the w consonant, the /tʃ/ sound represented by the English digraph ch, and the two dental fricatives both represented in English by th. In the novel, this leads to the Alplai making approximations of these sounds when attempting to speak English (the principal "Terai" language), such as ii’uu for w.
Stress and cadence
Syllabic stress is variable in Kiitra, and is the primary feature distinguishing various dialects and accents. It is thus left to particular groups of speakers to employ whatever cadence feels natural to them. As human instructors of Kiitra in Lamikorda would say: "Don’t stress about stresses!"
Kiitra grammar follows a basic subject-verb-object typology. Additionally, many words may serve multiple functions – nouns, adjectives, and/or adverbs – thus making word order extremely important; adjectival modifiers, for example, precede the subject of a noun (e.g., vroza adra vrokajiit = "quick he run[past]" = "he ran quickly").
The morphology of Kiitra is highly agglutinative, with adjectival modifiers typically prefixed to a root noun. There are exceptions, however:
- Numbers and quantifying adjectives precede the noun as a separate word.
- Ethnic, geographic, linguistic and/or religious descriptors, as well as possessive pronouns, follow the noun as a separate word.
- There are also instances of rather long agglutinative constructions being shortened into more easily pronounceable forms (e.g., the word for a portable videophone or "smartphone" evolving from orpabejafaaz to orbefaaz).
Verbs follow simple and regular rules:
- Past tense is indicated by adding the suffix -iit.
- Future tense is indicated by adding the suffix -iis.
- All verbs end in consonants, both to facilitate addition of temporal tense suffices, and to distinguish them from "descriptor" (noun/adjective/adverb) forms (e.g., kaaj [to move], kaja [motion, movement, moving]).
Aspect, mood and evidentiality for verbs is indicated via modal auxiliaries, as in many Germanic languages.
The verb g’boz (to have, to possess) is a frequent copula verb when use to describe emotions and other attributes; thus the English sentence "she is happy" would more literally translate as "she has/possesses happiness/pleasure" (avra g’boz nonsha). Similar forms exist using such basic verbs as giron (to bring about, to cause, to make happen), kher (to do), ren (to get, receive something given), and ton (to give).
Some features of Kiitra personal pronouns include:
- No distinction between subjective and objective forms.
- Use of the suffix -luu to create possessive pronoun forms.
- A gender-blind/gender-neutral third-person singular form.
- The evolution of formal forms, as Kiitra and Alplai society became more egalitarian, to becoming used only in reference to deities or as a respectful reference to someone deceased.
Interrogative words typically begin with f’t-; their non-interrogative forms replace f with p. Polar questions are created by placing the interrogative particle f’taa in front of a declarative sentence:
- inra hoshiis drof Marif = we will be traveling to Marif
- f’taa inra hoshiis drof Marif? = will we be travling to Marif?
F’taa? by itself serves the same function as "Huh?" in English, and when combined with the Kiitra word for "please" (f’taa miirvan?) is equivalent to saying "Pardon?" or "Come again?" in reaction to something not clearly heard or understood.
Kiitra uses a multi-form system for saying "yes" and "no", dependent primarily on strength of certainty:
- Generic forms include:
- shaa for yes in response to a positive question
- sheina for yes in response to a negative question
- naa for no in response to any question
- Definitive forms, indicating stronger certainty:
- shasha for the affirmative; also used as an intensifier, like "very" in English
- neija for the negative
- Dubitative forms, indicating weaker certainty:
- shipaa for the affirmative
- nipaa for the negative
- shipaanipaa for complete uncertainty
Articles and demonstratives
Kiitra has no indefinite article, and its definite article suffix id’- is restricted to things which are unique (e.g., id’hiirha = the Universe). The demonstrative prefix eja’- is heavily used, and may mean "this", "that", "these" or "those" depending upon whether the root noun is singular or plural, and whether it is follow by ega (here) or efa (there).
Other Alplai languages
Merrill also includes fragments of other Alplai languages (Baija, Konarai, Krishkarha and Saakh), both in the novel and the website. There are also examples of a global "Alplai Sign Language" (heijajna), used by the Alplai deaf community.
Alplai’s alien culture and Kiitra
Emphasizing the alien culture of the Alplai, Merrill constructed some distinct idioms in Kiitra:
- davna baaj, murkhtosh taaj = "storm above, maelstrom below"; a dilemma, equivalent to "between a rock and a hard place".
- egiirh okh bada beil eja’farg = "only one leaf on that tree"; insignificant contribution, equivalent to saying "only a drop in the bucket".
- lobel frem gopshii aira = "to repair the door between them"; indicating reconciliation, similar to "mending fences".
Kiitra also includes distinct words to describe such elements of Alplai society and culture as political parties (gajanaat, diirdeznaat, belugaat, etc.) and religions (Shalranai, Sadroshai, etc.)