Belter Creole

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Belter Creole
lang Belta
Created byNick Farmer
Setting and usageThe Expanse
Purpose
Latin script
Official status
Regulated byNick Farmer
Language codes
ISO 639-3None (mis)
GlottologNone
IETFnone
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Belter Creole, also simply known as Belter,[a] is the constructed language developed by a linguist and polyglot Nick Farmer for The Expanse television series. In the universe, it was spoken by Belters, inhabitants of asteroid belt and outer planets of the Solar System.[1]

Farmer was commissioned to create the language during the productions of the first season of the show, between 2014 and 2015. While developing the language, he had modeled it as a creole based on English, with influence of other languages from all around the world, including Romance languages such as Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian, Germanic languages such as German and Swedish, Slavic languages such as Polish, Russian and Ukrainian, as well as Japanese, Chinese, Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, Zulu and others.[1][2][3] As the result of his work, Farmer had created over 1000 words for his language, adding more to the list if requested by show's producers and fans.[1]

The concept of the language had appeared for the first time in the 2011 book Leviathan Wakes, published under the pen name James S. A. Corey, used by the collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Following that, Belter Creole had appeared in the next books from The Expanse series. The language presented in the books greatly varied from the one later developed by Nick Farmer. It lacked developed vocabulary as well as grammar, phonological and orthographic systems. It was a mix of words taken from various languages and was mostly presented as a dialect mixed in the English dialogue.[2] The vocabulary used in the books was chosen by authors on the basis of aesthetics and wasn't supposed to form a real language. As the language was later developed for television series, novel writers had discouraged fans from learning their version of the language in favor of the television one.[4]

Development[edit]

The concept of the language had appeared for the first time in the 2011 book Leviathan Wakes, published under the pen name James S. A. Corey, used by the collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Following that, Belter Creole had appeared in the next books from The Expanse series. The language presented in the books greatly varied from the one later developed by Nick Farmer. It lacked developed vocabulary as well as grammar, phonological and orthographic systems. It was a mix of words taken from various languages and was mostly presented as a dialect mixed in the English dialogue.[2] The vocabulary used in the books was chosen by authors on the basis of aesthetics and wasn't supposed to form a real language. As the language was later developed for The Expanse television series, novel writers had discouraged fans from learning their version of the language in favor of the television one.[4]

Nick Farmer, a linguist and a polyglot, was commissioned to develop the constructed language for the television series, during the production of its first season between 2014 and 2015. Farmer was recommended for the job by Ty Franck, a co-author of the series of books that the TV series was based on, as both had worked together before.[1][5]

Inside the universe of The Expanse set around 200 years in the future,[2] the language is used by Belters, the inhabitants of the asteroid belt and outer planets of the Solar System. The language had developed during the colonization of the Asteroid Belt, firstly starting as the pidgin spoken by people who came to the colonies from Earth speaking in various languages from all around the world. With next generations, the language had developed into the creole.[1] The language had various dialects and accents, that would vary from one location to another. According to Farmer, the vocabulary and grammar rules, present in the show, and revealed by the author himself, were a dialect used on Ceres.[6]

Developing the language, Fermer had modeled it as a creole based on English, with influence of other languages from all around the world, including Romance languages such as Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian, Germanic languages such as German and Swedish, Slavic languages such as Polish, Russian and Ukrainian, as well as Japanese, Chinese, Persian, Hindi, Arabic, Hebrew, Zulu and others.[1][2][3] As the result of his work, Farmer had created over 1000 words for his language, adding more to the list if requested by show's producers and fans.[1]

The pronunciation of the language was developed by Nick Farmer and Eric Armstrong, a dialect coach. During the development, language's pronunciation had become too similar to Jamaican English. Due to that, Eric had suggested Farmer changes to give the language more global and multicultural characteristics. To achieve that, they mixed together elements from various accents and encouraged actors to use various accents, as well, as asked producers to cast actors with various accents.[2][3]

The show producers had emphasized that they did not want to use subtitles for the Belter Creole, and wanted the audience to be able to still comprehend the dialogue. Due to that, for most of its appearances, the language was presented only as various words mixed in the English dialogue. During the show production, Farmer would always make 3 versions of the lines for the script, one entirely in the Belter, one with medium Belter influence, and one with light usage of the Belter. Then, actors would learn and shoot all 3 variants of the scenes, after that, the producers would choose which version they wanted to use.[2][3]

The language had appeared for the first time in "Dulcinea", the first episode of the first season of The Expanse, that premiered in 2015, and since then has been regularly appearing in the show throughout its 5 seasons.[7]

As the language gained popularity, Nick Farmer had started regularly revealing new words and grammar functions on his Twitter account.[2] He also had given language lessons to the fans during meet-ups.[8]

Phonology[edit]

Orthography and pronunciation[edit]

According to language creator, Nick Farmer, in the universe of The Expanse, there's no standardized orthography of the language, with various variants being used in different parts of the asteroid belt and the outer planets.[9] Additionally, although so far all Farmer's posts, and language appearances in the TV series, included in being written in the Latin script, according to Farmer, Belter Creole could be written with various writing systems, such as Cyrillic, Greek, Devanagari, Katakana, Hebrew, Arabic, Hangul, etc.[10]

Standard alphabet used by Nick Farmer to write down Belter Creole in TV series script and his Twitter posts include 23 letters of Latin script. The aforementioned letters are:

Nick Farmer's alphabet
Uppercase letters A B C D E F G I K L M N O P R S T U V W X Y Z
Lowercase letters a b c d e f g i k l m n o p r s t u v w x y z

Additionally, Farmer's script include 5 digraphs that are: Ch, Ng, Ny, Ow, and Sh, as well as one trigraph, which is Dzh. Letters C and H are present only in the digraph Ch and trigraph Dzh, while J and Q, are present only in the loanwords

Farmer also uses the turned alpha (capital: Ɒ, lowercase: ɒ), as an alternative spelling of the digraph Ow, which is used to represent the open back rounded vowel sound. For example, the alternative spelling of the word owkwa, which means water, would be ɒkwa.[11]

Pronouciation
Letter Pronouciation Belter example
(translation)
English example Notes Source
A /æ/ kuxaku
(space, vacuum)
cat (US) [12]
à /æ̃/ shãsa
(chance)
Simlar to English an in chance
B /b/ beratna
(brother)
aback
Ch /t͡ʃ/ chek
(to check)
chew
D /d/ dansa
(to dance)
dash
Dzh /d͡ʒ/ nadzhush
(tired)
jump
E /e/ teki
(technology)
may [13]
/ẽ/ Kdzhi
(Kenji)
Simlar to English en in Kenya
F /f/ fut
(food)
fill
G /g/ gova
(head)
globe
I /i/ lit
(to read)
machine
K /k/ lek
(leg, foot)
kiss
L /l/ lang
(language)
let
M /m/ mang
(person)
him
N /n/ nada
(zero)
month
Ng /ŋ/ nating
(nothing)
sing
Ny /ɲ/ xunyam
(to study, learn)
Simlar to Ny in English canyon
O /o/ ora
(hour)
yawn
Ow /ɒ/ owkwa
(water)
not (RP)
thought (US)
[11]
ɒkwa
(water)
Rarer variant spelling
P /p/ pelésh
(place)
pack
R /ɾ/ retnet
(network)
better (US)
S /s/ salta
(leap, jump)
sand
Sh /ʃ/ seteshang
(station)
sheep
T /t/ tenye
(to own)
touble
U /u/ unte
(and)
boot
V /v/ livit
(life)
very
W /w/ wit weep
X /x/ xiya
(here)
loch (Scottish) Simlar to H in English here [12]
Y /j/ ya
(yes)
yes
Z /z/ zakong
(law)
zoo

The acute accent placed above the letters A, E, O and U is used to indicate different than usual stress in the word pronouciation.[14] Example of such are Á in ámolof (/'æmolof/) which means love, É in idzhifobék (/id͡ʒifo'bek/) which means weak, Ó in belówt (/be'lɒt/) which means blood, and Ú in gútegow (/'guttegɒ/) which means ready.

The tilde placed above the letters A and E is used to indicate the nasal vowel. Examples of such are Ã, pronounced as nasalized near-open front unrounded vowel ([æ̃]) sound, for example in shãsa which means chance, and , pronounced as nasalized close-mid front unrounded vowel ([ẽ]) sound, for example in Kẽdzhi, Belter rendition of the name Kenji.

Letters with diacritics
Uppercase letters Á Ã É Ó Ú
Lowercase letters á ã é ó ú

Epenthesis and elision[edit]

When forming compounds, epenthetic vowels are sometimes added to the words. Such vowels are a and, less commonly, e. Examples of such changes are:

  • bek + da + bushbekedabúsh
  • na + kang + pensanakangepensa
  • tung + tingtúngeting
  • im + lowdaimalowda

Consonants at the morpheme boundary can be also elided instead. Examples of such changes are:

  • kowl + mangkowmang
  • zakong + mangzákomang

Stress[edit]

In most cases the primary stress falls on the penultimate syllable of a word. For example in:

  • showxa (/'ʃɒxæ/)
  • seteshang (/se'teʃæŋ/)
  • gufovedi (/gufo'vedi/)

If the stress for a particular word is on a different syllable, this is indicated with an addition of the acute accent above the letters A, E, O and U. Examples of such words are:

  • ámolof (/'æmolof/)
  • idzhifobék (/id͡ʒifo'bek/)
  • belówt (/be'lɒt/)

When forming compound words, the stress often remains on the head of the compound, which sometimes requires the addition of an accent mark:

  • zakong (/'zakoŋ/) → zákomang (/'zako.mæŋ/)
  • gut (/gut/) → gútegow (/'guttegɒ/)
  • tung (/tuŋ/) → túngeting (/'tuŋetiŋ/)

Grammar[edit]

Nouns and adjectives[edit]

Nouns do not specify the quantity of the objects and do not have different versions for singular and plural versions. For example, mang can mean both a person and people. The quantity is instead determined by the presence of the quantifiers, numerals, or inferred from context. For example wang mang means one person and tu mang means two people. The plural can be in some worlds defined by the suffix -lowda, for example in the Beltalowda, meaning Belters. The exception are the pronouns, which have both singular and plural forms.[15]

Nouns may be used attributively to modify other nouns, forming a compound noun. Unlike in English, where the modifier typically precedes the word being modified, in Belter the head noun goes first and the one modifying it follows afterward. For example, diye beref, which mean birthday, is formed from the words diye, meaning day, and beref, meaning birth.

Adjectives are placed after the nouns they modify, for example in: setara mali, which means little star.

Articles[edit]

Belter Creole has 2 articles, indefined wa, which corresponds to English a and an, and defined da, which corresponds to English the.[16][17]

An indefinite article wa is used to mark an indefinite noun phrase. Indefinite articles are those, which do not refer to a specific identifiable entity. For example in the sentence: tenye wa diye beref gut, which means have a happy birthday.[16]

A defined article da is used to mark a definite noun phrase.[17] Definite articles are used to refer to a particular member of a group. For example in the sentence: kepelésh da imbobo kaka?, which means where is the barthroom?. When a noun is marked with da, any attributive nouns or adjectives applied to that noun must also be so marked with it. For example, in the sentence: da setara da mali, which means the little star.[18] The definite article is also sometimes also used before a person's name, for example da Naomi for name Naomi.[19]

Pronouns[edit]

The language has 2 sets of 3 pronouns, each having singular and plural forms. All pronouns in the Belter are gender-neutral. Plural pronouns are formed by adding the suffix -lowda to singular pronouns.

Pronouns
Singular Plural
1st mi
(I)
milowda
(we)
2nd to
(you)
tolowda
(you)
3rd im
(they/it)
imalowda, imim
(they)

Tenses and aspects[edit]

The language has 3 basic tenses which are the past, the present, and the future. Sentences without tense indicators are in the present tense. For example: mi showxa, which means I speak. The past tense is indicated by adding ta after the pronoun. For example: mi ta showxa, which means I spoke. The future tense is indicated by adding gonya after the pronoun. For example: mi gonya showxa, which means I will speak.[20][21][22]

It also has 3 grammatical aspects, which are the continuous, the habitual, and the perfective.[20] The continuous aspect specifies incomplete action or state in progress at a specific time. It is indicated by adding ando after the pronoun. For example: mi ando showxa, which means I am speaking.[20] The habitual aspect specifies an action as occurring habitually. It is indicated by adding tili after the pronoun. For exampe: mi tili showxa, which means I regularly speak.[21] The perfective aspect specifies an action viewed as a simple whole. It is indicated by adding finyish after the pronoun. For example, mi finyish showxa, which means I have/had spoken.[22]

When indicators of both tense and aspect are present in the sentence, the tense indicator is put before the aspect's one. For example: mi ta ando showxa, which means, I was speaking.[21]

Sentence structure[edit]

The sentence structure of Belter Creole is subject–verb–object, which means that the subject comes first, the verb second, and the object third. It also has the zero copula, the phenomenon where the subject is joined to the predicate without overt marking of this relationship. For example in the sentence: mi nadzhush, which means, I am tired, but in the literal translation would mean I tired.

Forming questions[edit]

The questions are formed by adding the word ke at the end of the statement sentence. For example, the sentence "To showxa lang Belta", which means You speak Belter Creole, after transforming it into the "To showxa lang Belta, ke?", will mean "Do you speak Belter language?".

When asking a question, on which both speakers agree, keyá, meaning isn't it, is used instead. For example, sentence "To showxa lang Belta, keyá?" means "You speak Belter Creole, don't you?".

The questions containing interrogatives do not require the addition of the word ke. Aforementioned words are:

  • kemang = who
  • kepelésh = where
  • ketim = when
  • keting = what
  • kewe = how
  • kéweting = what kind/type
  • kéradzhang = why, for what reason
  • kédawang = which
  • kelowda = how many/much

An example of such sentence is "Kepelésh shapu to?" which means "Where's your hat?".

Vocabulary[edit]

Example words[edit]

Belter English Etymology
owkwa water Italian aqua, water; Spanish agua, water
ereluf air English air + German Luft, air
losh light Spanish luz, light; Italian luce, light
nalosh dark English no + Spanish luz, light; Italian luce, light
beratna brother
sésata sister
mang person English man
kopeng friends French copain, friend; Mandarin Chinese 朋友 (péngyou), friend
xante hand English hand
lek leg, foot English leg
gova head Polish głowa
sasa to know Spanish saber, to know
pensa to think, to believe Spanish pensar, to think
ámolof love Spanish amo, to love + English love
imbobo hole, apartment, room Zulu imbobo, hole
ya yes English yes, yeah; German ja, yes
na no English no
unte and German und, and
oye hello Spanish oye, hey
oyedeng goodbye
taki taki thank you Swedish tack, thank you; Norwegian Takk; Danish tak, thanks; Mandarin Chinese 谢谢 (xièxiè), thank you

Numbers[edit]

Belter numbers
Number Belter word Number Belter word Number Belter word
0 nada
1 wang 10 teng 100 xanya
2 tu 20 tuteng 200 túxanya
3 serí 30 seriteng 300 seríxanya
4 fu 40 futeng 400 fúxanya
5 faf 50 fáveteng 500 fávexanya
6 sikesh 60 síkeseteng 600 síkesexanya
7 seng 70 séngeteng 700 séngexanya
8 et 80 éteteng 800 étexanya
9 nang 90 nángeteng 900 nángexanya

Numbers with values in both tens and ones are formed by combining ones number with tens number, and joining them with affix -un-. For example:

  • 18 = et-un-teng ("eight and ten")
  • 81 = wang-un-éteteng ("one and eight tens")

When forming a number with hundreds place, the hundreds number is placed at the beginning of the number, then followed by the one and ten numbers format. For example:

  • 281 = túxanya wang-un-éteteng ("two hundred one and eight tens")

When used attributively, numbers come before the noun they count, for example in the sentence serí buk, which means three books.

Novel language[edit]

The concept of the language had appeared for the first time in the 2011 book Leviathan Wakes, published under the pen name James S. A. Corey, used by the collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Following that, Belter Creole had appeared in the next books from The Expanse series. The language presented in the books greatly varied from the one later developed by Nick Farmer. It lacked developed vocabulary as well as grammar, phonological and orthographic systems. It was a mix of words taken from various languages and was mostly presented as a dialect mixed in the English dialogue.[2] The vocabulary used in the books was chosen by authors on the basis of aesthetics and wasn't supposed to form a real language. The languages used as a basis of the language vocabulary include: English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Estonian, Esperanto, French, Korean, Chinese, Hungarian, Japanese, Polish, Dutch, Arabic, Catalan, Italian, Serbo-Croatian, Russian, Turkish. Authors kept the original spellings of borrowed words or made a modified version of them. The language was inconsistent and on many occasions used different words for the same meaning. For example words laa and la from Arabic لا (laa, meaning no), na from English nah and ne from Serbo-Croatian ne/не, all meant no, while both gato from Japanese ありがとう (arigatō) and aituma from Estonian aitäh ment thank you.

Tu run spin, pow, Schlauch tu way acima and ido.
Go spinward to the tube station, which will take you back to the docks.

— Example of the Belter language and its translation in Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

As the language was later developed for The Expanse television series, novel writers had discouraged fans from learning their version of the language in favor of the television one.[4] Though the novel and television versions of the language are meant to not be related, some words from the novel version appear in the television version, for example both novel sa-sa and television sasa mean to know.

In popular culture[edit]

A few songs were written in Belter Creole, which include covers of the "Tighten Up", "Highway Star", and "All by Myself", renamed to "I'm All Alone". The covers were commissioned for The Expanse television series and had their lyrics adjusted to fit the Expanse universe setting and rewritten in the mix of Belter Creole and English. The song respectively were used in the first and third seasons of the show, premiering in 2015 and 2018.[7][23] The full versions of the songs were later placed on the The Collector's Edition version of the TV series soundtrack, which was realized on 13 December 2019.[24]

The cover of "Tighten Up", originally by The Black Keys, was performed by Justin Young. It was used in the first episode of the first season, titled "Dulcinea", that had premiered in 2015.[7][24]

The cover of the "Highway Star", originally by Deep Purple, was performed by Cory Todd. Additionally, as the song was adjusted to the setting of the universe, the references to the car from the original song were replaced with the spaceship.[25] The cover of "All by Myself", originally by Eric Carmen, was renamed to "I'm All Alone", and performed by Ghian Wright. Both songs were used in the episode of the third season, titled "Delta-V", that had premiered in 2018.[23][24]

Additionally, the song "Seteshang Anderson" performed by Chris Kiley from The Moldy Filters, and written by Pirate, has lyrics written in Belter Creole. It was released on 13 April 2019. The song focuses on the fictionalized difficulties of lives of Belter workers, under the regime of Earth and Mars, as well as the events of protests on the titular Anderson Station, which were featured in the 2011 science fiction short novel The Butcher of Anderson Station by James S. A. Corey, and later, in 2015 episode "Back to the Butcher" of The Expanse series.[26]

Example text[edit]

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article I:

Belter Creole
Kowl mang fong beref im im ferí unte eka [...]. Imalowda pensa unte sensa we gut unte we mal. Unte im mogut fo manting du wit sif asilik beratna unte sésata.

English

All human beings are born free and equal [...]. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Citations[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Belter Creole: lang Belta

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Annalee Newitz; Cyrus Farivar (22 December 2019). "Nick Farmer knows dozens of languages, so he invented one for The Expanse". arstechnica.com. Retrieved 10 August 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Emily Dreyfuss (5 April 2017). "That Cool Dialect on The Expanse Mashes Up 6 Languages". Wired.
  3. ^ a b c d Armstrong, Eric (September 2015). "Designing the Belter accent for The Expanse". The VASTA Voice. Vol. 10 no. 4. Archived from the original on 2016-02-06.
  4. ^ a b c "Sasa ke Belter Creole?". 12 February 2017. Daniel Abraham: "For serious students, I strongly recommend focusing on the Belter creole from Nick Farmer and not putting too much credence on the stuff in the books. Nick is a professional linguist with a deeply rooted understanding of the project. What we're doing in the book is less rigorous and done with a very different set of constraints and goals."
    BerserkHaggis: I was at your book signing/talk at Powell's Bookstore in Portland a couple years back right after Cibola Burn came out, (you two were amazing) and I asked about the thought process that went into the Belter Creole. Ty replied "We picked shit that sounded cool" and you said "Yup!" :-D"
    Daniel Abraham: "WE could pretend otherwise, but.... :)"
  5. ^ Steve LeVine (6 May 2016). "A Silicon Valley linguist invented a new sci-fi language and it's catching on here on Earth".
  6. ^ Nick Farmer (24 February 2017). "Post". twitter.com. Yes. What I'm giving you guys can be considered the Ceres dialect.
  7. ^ a b c Terry McDonough (director) Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby (writers). "Dulcinea". The Expanse. Season 1. Episode 1. November 23, 2015. Syfy.
  8. ^ Cyrus Farivar (31 January 2016). "Calling all Bay Area Belters: come hang out with fellow fans of The Expanse!".
  9. ^ Nick Farmer (26 May 2018). "Post". twitter.com. Belter doesn't have a standard orthography. It's reasonable to assume that in different parts of the Belt, it is written in the script most familiar to those speakers. Many Belters are trilingual+. Belter, English, and whatever their grandparents spoke.
  10. ^ Nick Farmer (26 May 2018). "Post". twitter.com. So, you could write Belter in the Roman alphabet, or Cyrillic, Greek, Devanagari, Katakana, Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, Hangul, Cherokee, whatever you'd like.
  11. ^ a b Nick Farmer. "Post". twitter.com. The only sound that can't be represented by the Roman alphabet with one character is the vowel "ow." On Twitter I've used the digraph, but sometimes on the show you'll see the symbol "ɒ," borrowed from the international phonetic alphabet.
  12. ^ a b Nick Farmer (28 January 2016). "Post". twitter. The a is pronounced as near-open front unrounded vowel
  13. ^ Nick Farmer (25 January 2016). "Post". twitter.com. every e in Belter is pronounced like é in French
  14. ^ Nick Farmer (28 January 2016). "Post". twitter.com. Stress in #Belter is always on the penultimate syllable unless otherwise marked with an accent
  15. ^ Nick Farmer. "Post". twitter.com. Nope, no pluralizer for nouns. Have to tell from context.
  16. ^ a b Nick Farmer (16 May 2017). http://twitter.com/Nfarmerlinguist/status/842449556117757952. tenye wa diye beref gut Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. ^ a b Nick Farmer (10 March 2017). "Post". twitter.com. Dedawang = that. Da = the
  18. ^ Nick Farmer (8 March 2016). "Post". twitter.com. Kowmang da setara da mali fo wamang.
  19. ^ Nick Farmer (21 February 2016). "Post". twitter.com. In Belter, like Greek and Catalan, you need the definite article before a person's name
  20. ^ a b c Nick Farmer (23 February 2017). "Post". twitter.com. ando is the continuous aspect marker (like the gerund). du just makes a noun into a verb
  21. ^ a b c Nick Farmer (14 February 2017). twitter.com http://twitter.com/nfarmerlinguist/status/831602438801022976. habitual "tili" + tenye. Mi tenye kapawu = I have a ship. Mi tili tenye kapawu = I own a ship. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. ^ a b Nick Farmer (14 February 2016). "Post". twitter.com. finyish - perfective marker used to indicate the completion of an action
  23. ^ a b Ken Fink (director), Naren Shankar (writer), "Delta-V", The Expanse, May 23, 2018, Syfy
  24. ^ a b c "The Expanse - The Collector's Edition". Open.spotify.com. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  25. ^ Cory Todd (12 December 2019). "Highway Star (Belter Version)". youtube.com.
  26. ^ The Moldy Filters. "Seteshang Anderson". bandcamp.com.