The D'ni language (pronounced [dəˈni:]) was the language spoken by the D'ni, as presented in various games and novels of the Myst franchise. The language was created by Richard A. Watson. At the beginning of the Riven game, for instance, a native known as Cho will try to talk to you in rather broken and simple D'ni. This differs from the earlier Myst game, in which English was used for clues.
In the fictional worlds, the people of D'ni, who are said to live in an underground city located in a cavern in New Mexico, have a rich and tragic history.
Though the D'ni language is not directly based on any real languages, it shows aspects taken from many individual languages. The characters appear to be styled after Hebrew and Arabic Calligraphy. The setup of the characters is modeled after the Romance Languages, with characters written in the order in which they are pronounced, and with each producing a sound instead of a syllable. The language is completely phonetic, a concept found throughout the world; thus, the written language could loosely be applied to most spoken languages.
Several online D'Ni dictionaries have been developed as part of the ongoing fan-based culture associated with the game.
The D'ni alphabet
- The D'ni alphabet consists of 24 standard and 11 accented characters, combining to a total of 35 letters (11 vowels, 24 consonants).
- D'ni alphabetical order is as follows (note that accented characters are not counted as unique):
- The sounds of the alphabet are as follows in D'ni alphabetical order:
/v/ (v) as in "victory"
/t/ (t) as in "take"
/s/ (s) as in "snake"
/dʒ/ (j) as in "joke"
/j/ (y) as in "year"
/x/ (kh) as in the 'CH' in the German "Bach" or Scottish "loch"
/ɑː/ (ah) as in "far"
/f/ (f) as in "funny"
/ɪ/ (ih) as in "lit"
/ɛ/ (eh) as in "red"
/ɾ/ (r) as in the 'R' in Spanish "arbol" (a single-trill or flipped 'R')
/m/ (m) as in "mother"
/θ/ (th) as in "thin", "thorn" and "with"
/ð/ (dh) as in the 'TH' in "then", "the" or "there"
/h/ (h) as in "hat"
/əʊ/ (o) as in "own"
/tʃ/ (ch) as in "cheat"
/w/ (w) as in "weed"
/ʌ/ (uh) as in "but"
/ts/ (ts) as in "puts"
/l/ (l) as in "leaf"
/æ/ (a) as in "and"
/z/ (z) as in "zero"
/n/ (n) as in "no"
/b/ (b) as in "ball"
/ʃ/ (sh) as in "shoot"
/g/ (g) as in "grab"
/k/ (k) as in "king"
/aɪ/ (i) as in "ice"
/p/ (p) as in "pun"
/i:/ (ee) as in "feet"
/eɪ/ (ai) as in "maid"
/d/ (d) as in "dog"
/ɔɪ/ (oy) as in "boy"
/u:/ (oo) as in "shoot"
When transcribing D'ni using the Latin alphabet
, two different standards are used.
Old Transliteration Standard (OTS)
The Old Transliteration Standard transcribes the sounds of D'ni using Roman characters, allowing readers unfamiliar with the D'ni writing system to read D'ni texts. It was devised by Cyan, and perhaps specifically by RAWA
. This method of transliteration
is used in the Myst novels
and in the D'ni Language Guide included in the European Collector's Edition of Myst V
This standard uses the system described above to transliterate D'ni text ('ah', 'kh', 'ih' etc.). The system makes use of digraphs to clarify the pronunciation of vowels and some consonants. The value assignments are based on English pronunciation. General rules of the OTS include:
- 'h', in vowels, distinguishes English short vowels from long vowels, as in 'eh' /ɛ/ ("red") and 'ee' /i/ ("reed").
- 'h', in consonants, creates digraphs for fricatives and affricates that cannot be represented by a single letter, as in 'ch' /tʃ/ and 'th' /θ/.
- 'y' (or 'i') indicates a final /ɪ/ in a diphthong, as in 'oy' /oɪ/ ("boy").
- Users vary in how they distinguish /aɪ/ ("rye") from /eɪ/ ("ray"). The latter is usually represented as 'ay', following the rules of English pronunciation, but leaving no convenient representation for the former. The long i sound of /aɪ/ may be represented with a capital 'I', although some fans have replaced this with other symbols for aesthetic reasons.
- 'å' is sometimes used for 'a' /æ/, which could be otherwise indistinguishable from 'ah' /a/ if the 'h' is dropped (see below).
An 'h' can be removed after a vowel when the vowel would be pronounced the same with or without it. For instance, "kehnehn" can be written "kenen". The 'h' of 'ah' is also frequently dropped, even though the vowel might then be indistinguishable from /æ/. This is permissible because /æ/ occurs infrequently in D'ni words, so the pronunciation problems caused by the ambiguity are also infrequent. However, an 'h' cannot be removed when it represents the consonant 'h' /h/ (as in "hevtee") or when it is part of a digraph that represents a consonant (as in "chev" or "shokhoo").
The appearance of the Rehevkor in Myst IV indicates that this standard was first developed (in-universe) by Ti'ana, Gehn, or Atrus, the first persons to speak both English and D'ni. Cyan may have adopted this system from their journals. In the alternate history presented by the Myst universe, if the system originated with bilingual speakers of D'ni and English, this would explain why the transliteration scheme is based on English. Others believe that the Rehevkor in the game is just artistic license and the OTS was developed by Cyan after the discovery of the journals, which also would explain the influence of English on the system.
A common objection to the OTS is that the system is based on English spelling and is therefore not transparent to speakers of languages other than English. The use of digraphs in the OTS has also been criticized, as has the variability of spellings in this system. Nevertheless, Cyan continues to use the OTS in its own work, as do many fans.
New Transliteration Standard (NTS)
The New Transliteration Standard was created by fans to avoid using too much Latin letters according to the English spelling
to transcribe a single D'ni character. For example, the D'ni word 'behlehtsahrah' uses 13 Latin letters when transcribed using the OTS, although it only has 8 letters in the D'ni alphabet. In the NTS, the word would be written as 'belecara', with 8 letters.
The NTS attempts to be a letter-by-letter correspodence to the original D'ni alphabet and uses the following characters for OTS representations:
- 'a' for 'ah'
- 'á' for 'I'
- 'i' for 'ih'
- 'í' for 'ee'
- 'e' for 'eh'
- 'é' for 'ay'
- 'ó' for 'oy'
- 'ú' for 'oo'
- 'c' for 'ts'
- 'æ' for 'a' or 'å'
- 'þ' for 'th'
- 'ð' for 'dh'
- 'š' for 'sh'
- 'ç' for 'ch'
- 'x' for 'kh'
NTS accented/unaccented vowels follow the D'ni accent pattern: vowels that share the same base form in D'ni also share the same base letter in the NTS.
A common objection to the NTS is that it is difficult to type, because of its frequent use of special characters. It is also criticized for assigning non-intuitive values to letters, which critics say makes it difficult to determine the intended pronunciation for those not trained with D'ni phonology. However, the NTS is still in use among fans, and it is common for students of the language to familiarize with both the old and new transliteration standards.
The Letters and the Numerals
The Dni letters and numerals
have similar shapes. The numeral to which each letter corresponds determines the order of the letter in the alphabet. (For the purposes of this comparison, accented characters are ignored. Accented characters immediately follow their unaccented counterparts in the alphabetic order.)
When the outer boxes are removed from the numerals, the remaining shapes are similar to the forms of the letters. This suggests that the letter forms may be cursive forms derived from the numerals, or that the numerals are straightened forms of the letters.
- Punctuation is placed at the beginning of sentence.
- Sentences are written from left to right.
- Prepositions, the conjunction "gah," and the article "reh" are commonly contracted (shortened with an apostrophe and attached to the front of the modified word); excepting "reh," the full word can alternatively be detached and used separately from the modified word. When prepositions and "gah" are appended in front of the article "reh" the apostrophe is also dropped.
- In some cases, converting suffixes may be used to change a word into a different part of speech.
- Prefixes that are attached to verbs always indicate tense (past, present, future, and perfect and progressive within each time); suffixes that are attached to verbs can indicate actor (person and number), mood, and passive/active.
- Modifiers and modifying phrases generally come after the word/s that is/are being modified.
- D'ni sentence structure is as follows:
noun/adjective/tense prefix-verb-actor suffix/verb object/adverb
The parts of speech
- The definite article is the prefix "reh-". The indefinite article is the prefix "ehrth-". The same articles are used for singular and plural nouns. Example: the book = rehkor; a book = ehrthkor
- To make a noun plural, add the suffix "-tee". Example: city = pahts; cities = pahtstee
- The converting suffix "-ehts" makes a noun into an adjective. Example: rock = prad; rocky = pradehts
- The basic form, or 'stem' of the verb is the same as the first person singular, present tense of the verb, which has no prefixes or suffixes. Example, I speak = mees
- The infinitive is formed by adding the prefix "b'-" (meaning "to") to the stem of the verb. Example, to write = b'sehl
- The actor is determined by the suffix attached to the verb. Since the subject is inscribed in the verb suffix, there are no subject pronouns in the D'ni language. Example, to flow = b'rehm, so: it flows = rehmehn, BUT: the stream flows = rehkooahn rehmehn
|| English Verb
|| D'ni Verb |
| 1st sing.
|| (no suffix)
|| I start
|| glo |
| 2nd sing.
|| You start
|| gloehm |
| 3rd sing.
|| He/She/It starts
|| gloehn |
| 1st pl.
|| We start
|| gloeht |
| 2nd pl.
|| You-plural start
|| glotee |
| 3rd pl.
|| They start
|| gloeet |
- Other tenses can be achieved by attaching certain prefixes to a verb. example, to find = b'hoor, so: he found = kohoorehn
|| English Verb
|| D'ni Verb |
| Simple Present
|| (no prefix)
|| I start
|| glo |
| Simple Past
|| I started
|| koglo |
| Simple Future
|| I will start
|| boglo |
| Present Progressive
|| I am starting
|| doglo |
| Past Progressive
|| I was starting
|| kodoglo |
| Future Progressive
|| I will be starting
|| bodoglo |
| Present Perfect
|| I have started
|| lehglo |
| Past Perfect
|| I had started
|| kolglo |
| Future Perfect
|| I will have started
|| bokoglo |
- Converting Suffixes for verbs:
- "-tahv" changes a verb into a common noun. Ex: speech = meestahv
- "-tahn" changes a verb into a solidary noun, i.e., one that performs the verb. Ex: speaker = meestahn
- "-ahl" forms the present participle (-ing) form of the verb ONLY when it is used as an adjective. Ex: speaking = meesahl (as in "the speaking man," not "Speaking quickly...")
- "-ihn" forms the past participle (commonly -ed) form of the verb ONLY when it is used as an adjective. Ex: spoken = meesihn (as in "the spoken word," not "Speak when spoken to")
"-ah" indicates the imperative when attached after the actor suffix of a verb. Ex: speak! = meesehmah
- The adjective is always placed after the noun it modifies. Example, great = gahro, so: the great tree = rehtehr gahro
- Possessive pronouns are suffixes attached to the end of the possessed noun.
|| English Noun
|| D'ni Noun |
| 1st sing.
|| My book
|| koroy |
| 2nd sing.
|| Your book
|| korom |
| 3rd sing.
|| His/Her/Its book
|| koron |
| 1st pl.
|| Our book
|| korot |
| 2nd pl.
|| Your-plural book
|| [unknown] |
| 3rd pl.
|| Their book
|| koros |
- Converting Suffixes for Adjectives:
- "-(eh)th" changes an adjective into a noun, sometimes used as an honorary title. Ex: greatness/Great One = gahroth
- "-(eh)sh" changes an adjective into an adverb. Ex: greatly = gahrosh
- Many D'ni prepositions are one syllable words which consist of one or two consonants and the vowel "eh." Example: to = beh, on/upon = feh, from = kheh
- A prepositions of this sort are often contracted (the vowel replaced with an apostrophe) and attached to its antecedent (object). When the antecedent begins with "reh-", the apostrophe is also dropped. Example: in cities = t'pahtstee, from the city = khrehpahts
- The D'ni language has multiple forms of 'of' that are used in specific situations:
- "okh" is used when possession is direct and personal. It attached as a suffix to the noun it possesses when that noun is not modified. Ex: Gehn's book (the book of Gehn) = rehkorohk Gehn, Gehn's small book = rehkor prihn okh Gehn
- "tso" is used to express properties and characteristics. Ex: the death of an Age = rehmahnshootahv tso ehrthsehv
- "teh" is used to express membership. Ex: one of the group = fah t'rehtehs
- "meh" is used to indicate composition. Ex: the house of rock (the house made from rocks) = rehtomahn meh prad
- The three main D'ni conjunctions are "gah", "roob", and "pahm". They mean "and", "but", and "or" respectively.
- Like many prepositions, the conjunction "gah" can be contracted/prefixed as "g'-"; if the affected word is noun with a definite article, the apostrophe is dropped. Example: and the people = grehrovtee
- D'ni numbers can be written in a cardinal fashion (one, two, three), or an ordinal fashion (first, second, third), or symbolically (1, 2, 3). In these forms, D'ni numbers are adjectival. Example: three books: kortee sehn, the third age: rehsehv sehnehts
- When cardinal numbers are prefixed by "b'-", they can be used as adverbs to give express degree or extent. These constructions are called Quantifiers. Example: I am very brave = kehn kerah b'rihsh, I am a little brave = ken kerah b'vaht
- The number indicates, on a scale of 1-25, the degree of emphasis. b'fahsee = to the greatest extent; literally, "to twenty-five". b'fah = to the least extent; literally, "to one".
- To express a hyperbolic extent or amount, a number higher than 25 is used (usually 30).
- For additional information about D'ni numbers, see the D'ni numerals article.
Similarity to surface languages
The D'ni language has many similarities to many surface languages including Semitic languages like Hebrew and Arabic, Germanic languages like German, Slavic languages like Russian, and Romance languages like French, Spanish, etc. Many find striking resemblances between D'ni and English. Some have noted similarities to Native American dialects as well.
Since the D'ni have lived on Earth for nearly 10,000 years, some have speculated that our modern surface languages have been influenced by people from D'ni who ventured to the surface in ancient times. This is somewhat unlikely however, since most of the D'ni never reached the surface. They "found solace in the dark [of the cavern]," according to Yeesha, a descendant of the D'ni people.
Rehevkor or the Hevkor (literally, "the word book") was the 'official' dictionary of the D'ni, and is mentioned in The Book of Ti'ana and The Book of Atrus. According to The Book of Atrus (adapted from Catherine's journals), the hevkor consists of double-page spreads that are filled with detailed diagrams of how to write a certain D'ni word. The diagrams show which penstrokes must be used and in what order. Since no known copies of the hevkor have been found (or at least revealed to the public), our knowledge of the D'ni vocabulary is extremely limited. For known word lists and dictionaries, check the external links.
There are several D'ni script fonts available: