Oaonan is the sole extant langauge of the Nk’Kaan, an advanced space-faring race from the industrialized planet Yhkary. It is a hybrid between a character and a phonetic language. There are exactly 99 glyphs in Oaonan, each of which represents a word unto itself, but which can also be combined to form longer words in the language.
I created Oaonan initially as part of a world-building exercise related to the science fiction manuscript I’m working on. I eventually found I enjoyed working on this language as much as I enjoyed working on the novel itself, and as a result started writing the Rhdj’brya Byadra (the Byra Caverns Manuscript), a found poetry document that represents the origin myth and scriptures of the Nk’Kaan as a people.
Oaonan is still a work in progress, the dictionary growing as I complete more poems, translate more works, and find more words.
The glyphs in Oaonan each have exactly one way that they can be spoken, and are pronounced separately from each other, with no diphthongs or blurring together of the involved sounds. The Nk’Kaan are a reptilian species and have sounds in their language that can’t be recreated by human vocal chords (buzzing, clicking, etc). A basic list of all the glyphs and their respective pronunciations is shown below:
Nk’Kaan writing starts in the upper left corner of the page (same as English) but the words are written in lines of three vertical columns. Words longer than three glyphs are broken into two columns by an apostrophe. Words of one or two glyphs can be placed at any position within the three spaces of the given column, though creative typesetting of this kind is typically reserved for artistic writing.
The Nk’Kaan have color-shifting skin similar to that of a chameleon, and this is the primary means through which they express emotion. Because of this, written text is often lacking in the shades of subtext and meaning that its spoken equivalent would have. When possible, verb tenses are shown by changing the color of the affected glyphs to approximate the color change that would occur in the Nk’Kaan’s forehead ridges when those tenses are spoken. The color can be on the glyph, highlighting the glyph, or both in some combination. Variants in hue are considered poetic license and acceptable, except in the most official of writings, which have a codified system.
Because shades of meaning and intent are largely dictated by non-verbal cues, the written language of Oaonan is relatively streamlined. Articles are only used when needing to differentiate from other items (e.g. this book versus that book) and there is no plural form of nouns. The words also do not change when they become different parts of speech. Fear, to fear, and afraid are all represented by the same glyph (ha) with the specific meaning denoted by its location in the sentence structure.
The Oaonan language features minimal punctuation. Parts of sentences are separated by a backslash (/) and ends of sentences by a double backslash (//). Aside from these, the only punctuation is a quotation mark, which looks like an apostrophe but on both the top and bottom of the space.
The verb comes first in an Oaonan sentence. Modifiers are placed after the word they affect, whether that’s a verb or noun (there’s no distinction in Oaonan between adverbs and adjectives). The verb and subject come before the slash; if there’s an object, it comes after. More complicated sentences are constructed using various arrangements of sentence fragments. Repeated verbs and subjects can be omitted in long chains.
The following are some familiar phrases translated into Oaonan. First is given the original text, with a phonetic translation underneath, followed by the full text as written in glyphs.
Space: the final frontier.
Po pt/ rhrayc vaan//
These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.
Po ptnypo/ ozpo ny Zoky//
Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
Po rybo ntad/ rhra yh yp ynka// / zoahph no yp ad karh yp// / nypo nacr rhap poavyt nypo npca//
The Litany Against Fear (Dune)
Rapyvy’by avdy ha
I must not fear.
Adty avyt popo/ ha//
Fear is the mind-killer.
Jyba ha/ poap//
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
Po/ jy oj// Nypoor/ jynt ryan//
I will face my fear.
Apap popo/ ha//
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
Nata popo/ krktap popo//
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Dara odbyot ha/ abaz popo pjph ojra by// Pjph joph ojra/ pynknk dy ha//
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Rhap nypo ha/ po dj// Odryno ozokdj/ popo//