Welcome to The Hall of Blue Illumination, the podcast dedicated to the world of M.A.R. Barker’s Tékumel. In this episode, our hosts discuss “you.” That’s “you” the pronoun, and not “you” the listener, although I’m certain you’re very interesting in your own right. Tsolyáni has around twenty different words for the second person pronoun, and their proper use is determined by the relative social and cultural context of the speaker and addressee.
This is followed by Victor’s report of Tékumel activities at the recently-held North Texas RPG Con, which leads into a broader discussion about the differences between Tékumel underworlds and traditional D&D dungeons.
[00:00:40] “It’s all about you.” Today, we’re talking about Tsolyáni second-person pronouns, i.e., “you.”
[00:01:33] English does native English-speakers no favors here; modern English doesn’t even distinguish between the singular and plural “you.” This also reflects our culture, and the lack of hierarchy in social forms of address. But the Tsolyáni place an unusual degree of emphasis on their relative places in the social hierarchy.
[00:02:47] The generic Tsolyáni word for “you”, /túsmi/ is mostly a stem. The various forms of “you” can be found on pages 16-17 of The Tsolyáni Language (§3.313).
[00:03:10] There are around twenty words for “you” in Tsolyáni. Victor and James work through the six “ordinary” forms of “you.”
[00:05:01] Even within families (who are presumably the same class), different forms of “you” might be used to reflect the relative status of elders versus youth.
[00:08:55] Victor and James work through the different “special” forms.
[00:10:05] Let’s say that a Tsolyáni wanted to give offense; would they use an inappropriate form of “you”, or would they use one of the “special” forms that show contempt, such as /tlòshuntsám/? Victor says it would depend on who they’re talking to.
[00:14:12] Victor gives an example from the Man of Gold. There, a Livyáni noble who is traveling among the Tsolyáni is in a romantic relationship with his female bodyguard. In public, he may refer to her as /tùsmikáng/ (“the ‘you’ of martial victory”), but in private he would probably use /tsámmeri/, (“the ‘you’ of heart’s desire”).
[00:15:17] Do the other languages of Tékumel have these distinctions? Victor suspects the Mu’ugalavyáni have them, and use them proscriptively, based on what else we know about their language. He suspects the Yán Koryáni have fewer forms, since their culture is much less stratified. In Salarvyá, he posits that these forms of address would be mediated by the Salarvyáni attention given to feudal relationships.
[00:16:35] James notes that Engsvanyáli has a much simpler pronoun system. These distinctions evolved later. (see Tsolyáni Language, p. 16, §3.313).
[00:20:00] You have to pay attention to the minor distictions in the language, e.g., /tùsmichán/ and /tùsmishán/. Victor gives an example from Lords of Tsámra, where a character makes a false assumption about similar-sounding words being related, despite having distinct origins. (see Lords of Tsámra, ch. 2)
[00:21:56] Victor notes /tùsmikrú/ which is used when addressing a nonhuman. But what if the nonhuman has integrated into the human culture of Tsolyánu? Then a Tsolyáni might use another term, depending on what relationship seems more predominant. Victor gives another example from The Man of Gold. James notes the Clan of Blue Clouds of Joy, a Hláka-only clan in Béy Sǘ.
[00:23:30] Victor notes the “Dialogues of the Emperor Dúrumu.” This Emperor engaged in discussions with all of the nonhuman races to determine their place in society. Because the Ahoggyá professed to have no gods, he determined that they were less than equal, and so only taxed them at half the rate of humans.
[00:28:20] Even slaves have a specific lineage-name, /hiSháhad/. It’s used by the Master of the Tólek Kána Pits in Man of Gold. (see Man of Gold, ch. 15).
[00:35:25] How well known are all of these pronouns by the average Tsolyáni? They probably don’t know all of them. Victor gives another example from Man of Gold. (see Man of Gold, ch. 41).
[00:36:35] Thomas asks, “How would you refer to a god?” Victor and James are both stumped, but Victor ultimately guesses that it would not be grammatically possible to address a god as “you”, that instead the Tsolyáni would use circumlocutions.
[00:38:05] Con Report: North Texas RPG Con.
[00:38:56] They almost had a Tékumel-track. Rob Smith and Scott McKinley rode up from Austin, Tx to run two miniatures games. Victor ran two sessions involving exploring the Jakállan underworld.
[00:39:37] The experience of running the underworld was illuminating. Victor realized how different it was from running a traditional D&D dungeon. One of the differences is that the underworld is a living place, with a lot of things actively going on there. Some of the players seemed to have trouble adjusting to this.
[00:43:00] At the end of the first session, the party had discovered the inner shrine of a temple of Dlamélish and triggered the guardian of the temple by trying to take a statue of one of the goddess’s aspects.
[00:43:25] During the next session, the party investigated the tomb of a Bednálljan governor, and decided in a moment of convention bravado to go through a nexus point. It ended badly. Convention scenarios can be interesting, since players are usually more reckless.
[00:47:10] Activities in the underworld are often a reflection of what’s going on in the world above. Various factions will have a presence there, and religious factions can fight one another in the underworld, which is usually forbidden on the surface. The underworld might even serve as a “social safety valve.”
[00:49:10] In James campaign, one of the things that comes up often is whether his players are going to loot tombs in the underworld. As Sárku or Durritlámish worshipers, they really shouldn’t do that, but it’s also really tempting.
[00:53:50] What makes Tékumel underworlds stand apart is how connected they are to the setting’s social and cultural context. Could D&D learn from this? James recalls Victor’s anecdote about Prof. Barker’s first encounter with D&D: “Where’s the society? Where’s the wider world?”
[00:55:05] James says he’s learned a lot about playing D&D through Tékumel. Thomas supplies an anecdote about his first game of Tékumel. Coming from D&D, he assumed he should attack two undead guards. But another player stopped him, guessing that they were there for a reason.
[00:56:12] Victor forces me to open Man of Gold again, where, while traveling through the underworld, there’s a passing encounter with priests of Ksárul. (Man of Gold, ch. 20).
[00:59:02] “Social context means everything.” There are still consequences to your actions in the underworld.
[01:01:10] Can “murder hobo” parties occur in Tékumel? It’s possible, but probably not, given how well-ingrained the social rules are in Tèkumeláni society. Victor suggests that impalement stakes can serve as a useful check on murder hoboism.
Hosts: James Maliszewski and Victor J. Raymond.
Producer: Thomas Tiggleman
The Tsolyáni Language was originally published in two volumes beginning in 1978. It is intended to be a complete guide to the language, and includes a pronunciation guide, an extensive grammar, a script, and English-Tsolyáni and Tsolyáni-English vocabularies. It is available for purchase on DriveThruRPG as a PDF.
On the subject of “you”, listeners who are fluent in Tsolyáni can also consult Atlésudhàliyal hiDaritsánsadhàli hiKolumébabàr by the incomparable Tu’únme hiChakotlékka. Just take your nearest nexus point to the Temple of Thúmis in Tumíssa – I’m sure they’ll have a copy.
Tékumel Products Referenced:
The Ever-Glorious Empire: Éngsvan hlá Gánga was written by M.A.R. Barker and released as a netbook in 1996. It is available for purchase as a PDF at DriveThruRPG. It details the history of the Empire of the Priest-Kings of Gánga.
The Tongue of Those Who Journey Beyond: Sunúz was originally published in 1994 by Prof. Barker. You can purchase the PDF from DriveThruRPG.
Lords of Tsámra, Prince of Skulls, and A Death of Kings are the last three of Prof. Barker’s Tékumel novels. They were originally published by Zottola Publishing between 2002 and 2003. They are currently out-of-print, and can only be obtained at significant cost from third-party resellers. The Tékumel Foundation plans to reissue them in print and electronic versions in the future.
North Texas RPG Con is an annual RPG convention held in the Dallas area that focuses on classic RPGs published prior to 1999, along with retro-clones of the same.
Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist who practically created the modern science of sociology. The “anomie” Victor mentions is a term Durkheim uses to describe a lack of social mores.