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Piatland -- An Invisible Country

Piat is a conlang devised by John Cowan, for a tiny, but still fictional country in central Europe. It was originally intended as a Chinese-Finnish hybrid but got sidetracked. The phonology was first prescribed in 1996, while the grammar came about some years later, in 2004. It is conjectured by some that Ill Bethisad (IB) and the Livagian World (LW) coexist in some fashion. The precise relationship might involve insubstantial substances and Histories that Never Actually Happened. Somewhere in this mix is the tiny Eastern European country of Piatland. It's official language is Court Gothic, though there is a populist movement to make Piat the official language.

Some Old Correspondence

Subject: Re: Borrowing from other conlangs 
From: John Cowan [CONLANG]
Date: Thu, 5 Mar 1998 13:37:07 -0500 

And Rosta scripsit:

> 3. Piat probably exists in Livagia's world (LW).

Livagia, I hasten to add, exists in Piat's world, which also contains
the Triune Monarchy (Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania) of which Piatland
is sometimes a part.  The T.M. dissolved after World War I.

A fortiori, Tsxunrcaa also coexists with Piat.

The official language of the Republic (formerly the People's Republic)
of Piatland is still Court-Gothic (the "court" in question being
the Triune Monarchy's), but there is an effort underway to change
the official language to Piat.  The objection is the expense of
translating all the official documents.

> 9. It remains to be seen whether Kemr exists in LW, and Livagia in
>    Kemr's. Probably they can, but the matter requires further
>    investigation, into the respective histories of the two nations.

My view is that Livagia, Kemr, and Piat are co-necessary (all
exist in the same world), but I am willing to be contradicted.

Subject: Re: conlangs' worlds (was: Back!)
From: John Cowan [CONLANG]
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 1999 11:07:18 -0400

A Rosta wrote:

> Piat belongs with the alternative histories,
> but with the details left ruritanianly vague.

Ruritanian perhaps, but not vague.  Piat was a part of the
Triune Monarchy of Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania, which came to
an end (like its much larger neighbor Austria-Hungary) at the
end of the WW II.  Piatland was one of the smallest of the
successor states.

N.B. I did not invent the Triune Monarchy:
Avram Davidson did in his alternate-history work _The Enquiries
of Doctor Eszterhazy_, which contains a most realistic-looking map
of the T.M.  If I have not settled just where Piatland is on this
map, it is out of sheer laziness, not an attempt to be vague on

Subject: Piat (was: Another NatLang i like)
From: John Cowan <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Wed, 14 Jul 1999 12:49:05 -0400

A Rosta wrote:

> I'm sure this is the first time we have been told anything about Piat
> phonology. Are we going to hear more?

Here's what I posted back in June 1996:

Piat is a fictional language spoken in a fictional country somewhere
in Central Europe.  It is probably a language isolate.

The orthography of Piat was established in 1819 through the efforts
of Dzozip Fyrac, who also wrote the definitive grammar and dictionary.
Before that, Piat was written only in a mish-mosh of scribal
traditions deriving from the late Middle Ages.  Fyrac, who may have
been over-educated, but made up for it by being intensely overworked,
went personally from printer to printer until his version of the
orthography was nailed down tight.  Luckily for him, there have been
only a few minor changes since then, so the orthography maps the
phonology rather well.  In consequence, the language will be represented
in its own orthography rather than in IPA or other phonetic notation
once the orthography is explained.  The standard pronunciation of
Piat is based on that of the so-called Central dialect group.

Piat has the following vowels:

        "a", a low central vowel, like "a" in English "father";
        "e", a mid-open front vowel, like "e" in English "bet";
        "o", a mid-open back vowel, like "aw" in English "law" but shorter;
        "i", a high front unrounded vowel, like "i" in English "machine";
        "u", a high front rounded vowel, like "u" in French "lune";
        "w", a high back rounded vowel, like "oo" in English "room";
        "y", a mid central schwa-like vowel, often rounded.

However, the letters "i" and "w" are also used to indicate palatalization
and labialization of the preceding consonants.  In word-final position,
the "i" vowel is written "ii", as in Romanian.  Piat has no diphthongs,
which were shifted to pure vowels and palatalized/labialized consonants
around 1400.

Piat has the following consonants:

        "b", a voiced labial stop;
        "p", an unvoiced labial stop;
        "d", a voiced dental stop;
        "t", an unvoiced dental stop;
        "g", a voiced velar stop;
        "c", an unvoiced velar stop
                (written "k" in international words like "kilometre",
                pronounced "cilometwe");
        "f", an unvoiced labio-dental fricative
                (written "v" in international words like "Novembre",
                pronounced "nofembe");
        "s", an unvoiced alveolar fricative
                (but voiced in word-initial position);
        "z", an unvoiced dental affricate, like "ts" in English "cats";
        "dz", a voiced dental affricate, like "ds" in English "gods";
        "ch", an unvoiced velar fricative;
        "h", an unvoiced glottal fricative;
        "m", a labial nasal;
        "n", a dental nasal;
        "nn", a velar nasal, like "ng" in English "sing";
        "l", a dental lateral;
        "r", an alveolar trill (but "r" is used orthographically
                as an alternative labialization marker
                in international words);

All of these except "z", "dz", "ch" can appear palatalized.  Syllables
beginning with palatalized consonants are written "CiV", where V can only
be "a", "e", "o", or "u"; or simply "Ci", where "i" is both a palatalization
marker and the vowel.  For example, "piat" is a monosyllable with palatalized

In addition, "d", "t", "f", "ch", "n" can be labialized (pronounced with
rounded lips), written "CwV" where V can only be "a", "e", or "o"; or simply
"Cw" where "w" is both a labialization marker and the vowel.  The labial
consonants "b", "p", "m" are always pronounced with lip-rounding unless
palatalized, a fact not represented in the orthography.

Syllables may end in a vowel or in one of the restricted consonant set
"p", "t", "c", "m", "n", "nn", or with palatalized "pi", "ti", "ci".  It is
important to remember that this final "i" does not mark a syllable, but only
palatalization.  Full "i" vocalism is transcribed "ii", but this only appears
at the end of a word.  The syllable types are V, CV, CVC.

Stress is usually on the last syllable of a word, but is quite weak in Piat.
Piat is not tonal; its sentence-level intonation patterns are not well-understood
at this time, except that rising pitch followed by a sharp fall indicates a

Dialectal variation:  The Western dialects are losing palatalization.  At the
current time (end of 20th century) it is common to hear speakers who pronounce
all initial palatalized consonants as vocalic glides, thus pronouncing the
name of their language [pjat] rather than [p'at].  Foreigners usually find this
pronunciation easier.  Palatalized consonants that are syllable-final are
better preserved.  The North-East dialect group, on the other hand, has lost
labialization, and pronounces labial consonants as consonant clusters with [v],
a sound not occurring in standard Piat.  This is considered rustic/comic,
and probably accounts for the label >doize< 'cockroaches, vermin' often applied
to North-Easterners.  Some Eastern and North-Eastern speakers pronounce "g"
more like "ch", which usually confuses speakers of the standard language.

Relay #9

Piat Text

Dwo Pitii de Fiatwnwe

Dwo pitii de fiatwnwe,

Li giann-giann mieso puhio

De fwo de nann de zatchwe.

Dwo pitii de fiatwnwe,

Moc senutii tasom-som

Zi mim-mim de siabe de.

Dwo pitii de fiatwnwe,

Siotom fwasii de ranne

Kon dwt de chii de adwe.

A! Roza pizonn-zonn

Dyc-dyc i fwe-fwe giu,

Ta-ta swpwp i bonn

Sycby usafia lym.

Mim-mim wma de sop

Dzoc lupii de det fiu,

Fitti-ti rw i fop

Mim-mim de dzatro lym.


a 'ah, oh, alas, how remarkable!'
adwe 'eagle' < German _Adler_
bonn 'bring, carry, bear'
bonn sycby 'recall, remember'
chii '(finger)nail, claw'
de 'of, marks end of relative clause'
det 'give'
dwo 'fall (verb)'
dwt 'mouth'
dyc 'boy'
dzatro 'death'
dzoc 'the Sun'
fiatwnwe 'season'
fitti 'flower'
fiu 'life'
fop 'hide'
fwasii 'mercy, pity'
fwe 'girl'
fwo 'be old'
giu 'play (verb)'
i 'and, but, so that (general conjunction)'
kon 'bird'
ligiann 'bear (noun)'
lupii 'happens, occurs'
lym 'house, home, nest'
mieso 'catch'
mim 'I, me'
moc 'dirt, earth, soil'
nann 'be young'
pitii 'leaf'
pizonn 'world'
puhio 'be ill' (imitative)
ranne 'hunt (verb)'
roza 'all, the whole of'
rw 'increase, grow (in number)'
senutii 'grow, develop (of living things)'
siabe 'food'
siotom 'lack, be without'
sop 'dance'
swpwp 'make, create, build, cause to be'
sycby 'soul, mind, personality'
ta 'he, she'
tasom 'plant'
usafia 'winter'
wma 'now, at present'
zatchwe 'animal' < zat 'beast' + chwe 'bird'
zi 'is (copula)'

Grammar Notes

Piat is an SVO and isolating language. Most constructions are paractactic: the language favors "and ... and ... and ..." rather than subordinating conjunctions like "so that" or "because" or "therefore", and allows these "logical" semantics to be filled in by context.

Relative clauses are important, however: they appear before the noun (or sometimes the verb) and are suffixed by the particle "de" (which I stole from Chinese). This is also used between nouns to indicate possession: "A de B" means "A's B" or "the B of A".

Nouns are made plural by reduplication; a two-syllable noun reduplicates only the second syllable.

The detailed phonology can be found in the conlang archives at http://listserv.brown.edu/archives/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind9907C&L=conlang&P=R470. The only significant points for the prosody is that -ii is just /i/, since -i marks final palatalization (not used in this text, as it happens), and that w and y are both vowels (though i and w are also palatalization and labialization markers respectively).

The first three stanzas use 7-syllable lines, the last two use 6-syllable lines. Stress is not significant, but the patterns of rhyme are.

English translation

In leaf-falling season,

Bears catch sick

And old and young animals.

In leaf-falling season,

The dirt grows plants

Which are our food.

In leaf-falling season,

The merciless hunt

of the eagle's beak and claw.

In all the worlds

boys and girls play;

They make us think of

The winter home.

Now we dance,

So that the sun gives life;

The flowers grow and hide

Our graves.

Thus spake Zarathustra