Gunamayi, 'little tiger', an ethnic Charyan child.
A Denden manuscript from the collection of the British Library
Islam Akhun as photographed by Sir Aurel Stein
text © 1999 Boudewijn Rempt
A Grammar of the Denden Language
This an incomplete work (although I'm progressing nicely). Very soon I hope to be able to produce a postscript or pdf version suitable for printing. The first part of the grammar was written using Word 2; the second part using Word 97 and then converted to HTML using StarWriter 3. The rest I've just done straight into HTML, using Nedit. At the end of June it became apparent that the 50kb html file was getting a bit too large to edit conveniently, and I've had to split it.
Denden is the common language spoken on the Northern Hemisphere of Andal, within the area delineated by the former boundaries of the Charyan empire. In the Charyan Empire a considerable linguistic diversity reigned from the beginning, but a lingua franca soon sprang up. This lingua franca was Denden, which however did not supplant the other languages.
Denden never was a prestigious literary language, that place was taken by Classical Charyan, Den'Wenray, which also served as the common language of the imperial bureaucracy. In religious matters Archaic Charyan, Den'Harulon, reigned supreme. Elegant poetry was written in Old Charyan, Den'yunilai, actually an archaizing form of an eastern dialect of Denden. On stage the Broian stage language, Den'fenqar, was used. And of course, in every direction of the compass a local language was spoken, often termed Den'poim, or Peoples' Tongue. All these languages were related to each other, and apart from these related languages, an almost countless number of unrelated, indigenous languages were spoken.
The function of Denden within this linguistic area was to serve as a common language for the common people. Travellers could make themselves understood almost everywhere. Cheap literature was written in Denden and could be read by everyone who knew his letters. Denden literature actually enjoyed some popularity whenever the power of the emperor was at low-tide, as it was during the reign of Emperor Rordal In larger cities, with their varied ethnic make-up, Denden was used even in conversation between neighbours. A servant from the north would be commanded in Denden by her southern master.
This grammar tries to pin down the language synchronically, as it was used during the reign of emperor Rordal, around 1846. In that period, a large amount of Denden literature was written, presumably because the weak position of the emperor meant a corresponding weak position for Classical Charyan, while the division of the empire meant less contact with the east, the home of the poetic language, Old Charyan.
This is a descriptive grammar, and as such does not concern itself overmuch with formal theory. What I try to follow is what Dixon (1997) calls the 'Basic Theory', and which every linguist will be able to understand.
I've been able to use two sources: first and foremost the Denden manuscripts from the collection in the British Museum, which were obtained in the 19th century by Dr. George Macartney from Islam Akhun in the Tarim basin (Hopkirk 1986: 98-104). The Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg has a number of highly important manuscripts, obtained by the intrepid Russian explorer Nikolai Petrovsky from the same source, amongst which the only known indigenous grammar. The manuscript data is especially important because the documents span nearly fourteen centuries and all mentioned Charyan languages, and a few other languages from Andal.
Secondly, in the cellar of Duke of Islingtons library at Twincaster University, a sack filled with a large number of untitled tapes was found. Upon examination, it turned out that these tapes contain recordings of spoken Denden, Southern Colloquial, Northern Colloquial and a few other, as yet unidentified languages. Unfortunately, it is not known who made the recordings, when they were made, and exactly how and when they appeared in the library.
Of course, the theory has been advanced that these tapes are a hoax, meant to support the oft-doubted claims of the Akhun manuscripts. But the material is far to extensive and consistent to allow of this interpretation, and the only conclusion can be that, no matter how mysterious the origin, all Denden material is genuine and must be studied.
The previous standard grammar of Denden (Rempt 1992), was published in 1992 and attempts a full description of Denden in all its facets. The present work attempts to provide a guide to the spoken Denden of Broi and the literary Denden as written during the reign of emperor Rordal. An earlier work is Astis (Astio 1881).