Systems of Deixis in Rawang Ata: Version

Whether version ought really to be considered deictic is debateable; nonetheless, it does have deictic characteristics, and so we include it here. Version is a characteristic of nouns that has deictic, anaphoric and descriptive uses. There are three ‘versions’ – primary, secondary and tertiary. These are marked with the suffixes -(a)wi, -(i)ri and -(a)jna respectively, although common nouns need not be marked for primary, nor local nouns for tertiary.

Verbs inflect to agree with the version of their heads – the suffixes -ir and –ajn are applied between the root (or person agreement, in the case of feminine verbs) and the ition suffix.

Version and Control

One of the most important aspects of version is its role in denoting control by the speaker. Common (i.e. not local) nouns by default have primary version – marking them instead for secondary version indicates that the object in question is under the control of the speaker. “Control”, however, takes a number of forms. Physical contact with the object, having the object within one’s sphere of influence, being able to influence the object’s actions, ownership of the object, creation of the object, and taking responsibility over the object can all be considered forms of control. Referring to any object with an ostensive makes control clear (and ostensives, used pronominally, have secondary version in all cases), while referring to something with an oblate eliminates control.


“My stone” or “this stone here”

Version, Topics, Influence, and Agency

Nouns with secondary version are considered deictic pronominals to the extent that they are not ordinarily topicalised, and topicalising one gives it a position of influence over the events of the clause.

Relatedly, and in relation to control, when a noun with secondary version appears as a non-agent subject, there is a suggestion that the speaker has a degree of agenthood.

Version and Distinction

When two objects referred to by the same noun need to be distinguished, version is one way to do so. There are two scenarios – alternation (where an interlocutor introduces a new object) and progression (where the speaker introduces a second object). In alternation, each speaker refers to the object they mentioned with secondary version – as though claiming control. In progression, the speaker assigns the new object a new version – secondary if the first was primary, or tertiary if the first was secondary. The interlocutor will then follow this order. If they wish to raise a primary version noun to secondary (by claiming control), the noun that was in secondary will be raised to tertiary – the first speaker will then follow the new order (if being polite).

As confusion may arise, it is not unusual to use adjectives (descriptive or deictic) to make these assignments clear, at least on first introduction. In particular, the contrastive deictics are of great use when the objects are actually to hand.

Version and Locality

Local nouns are by default of tertiary version, and giving a common noun tertiary version will promote them to local nouns – unless it is done clearly for reasons of distinction, as above.

Local nouns have meaning similar to common nouns, but refer to particular objects, defined by the community of speakers; they are called local nouns because they refer to objects in the locality of a discourse. Often they occur in doublets with common nouns. For instance, tamussì and byala both mean “mountain”, but the former is common and the latter is deictic – that is, in each community there will be a ‘mountain’ (or more often simply a high point) referred to as byala, and this will differ between communities. The section on positional deixis already explored the implications for this on the anchors of positionals. Some nouns, however, occur only as local nouns, with no common equivalent: baryōng, “house” is a local noun referring to the house of the speaker and interlocutor. Where there is no commonality of local nouns, the noun must be made non-local by altering its version to primary or secondary. Thus:


“our house”


“my house”


“your house/their house”

Version and Dependent Nouns

Like local nouns, dependent nouns rely on something else for their meaning – but where local nouns are essentially deictic, dependent nouns are essentially anaphoric. A good example would be the word , meaning “male relative on mother’s side without power relation” (i.e. brothers, cousins, uncles, but not the patriarch), or sometimes “male sibling or half-sibling”. This word by itself does not refer to a specific person – only the context of the sentence can do this. Each dependent noun has a ‘subject’ that gives it its specific reference – in this case, the subject tells us who the brother is a brother of. Normally, with primary version, the subject of a dependent noun is the topic; however, when a dependent noun has secondary version, its subject is, generally, the speaker. Dependent nouns can never be given tertiary version.

Version and Person

Non-directive pronouns used with first-person semantics are often considered to have secondary version, and verbs agree accordingly, even though deictic pronouns do not inflect for version:

dattaya rahanta

“the sailor threw something”


dattariya rahantira

“I threw something” (spoken by a sailor).

This use of version is not compulsory, and generally occurs to avoid ambiguity.


Nothing of importance to say -just to comment on my strangely good day of writing my novel. Around 2,300 words today, and hopefully more to come (taking time out for food at the moment). Whereas most days recently I’ve been struggling to make myself write a couple of hundred.

I think the main change is that I’m on to a chapter where nothing happens – it’s just a conversation. I like these chapters. Don’t get me wrong – I can’t do dialogue. It’s just I’m worse at writing action. And here I can feel free to just let the conversation go as it ought to, instead of having to keep hauling myself in saying ‘no, she’s got to shut up now, some action has to happen’.

I don’t know if these chapters will be better to read – hopefully they’ll not be too bad, as the conversation does move the plot along and raise some (I think) interesting questions and possibilities to be resolved later – but they’re infinitely easier to write.

Anyway, just got to finish up this chapter and write one more and I’ve completed my Part Two. Alas, Part Three will be about as long as Part One and Part Two put together, if not longer. And then I’ve got Part Four and Part Five to do. So one more chapter and I’ll hopefully be about a third of the way through. Except that none of its very good, and it’ll all have to be rewritten at some point even to meet my own mediocre standards. But I’m planning to put that off for a while, or else I’ll never get anywhere with this…

EDIT: c. 4,300! Overall, one of the most productive days I’ve had while working on this novel. Yes, said chapter is now extremely long, and even though it is a fairly important chapter I think the current version is going to have to be cut down. And I’ve no idea how to do that. But still. Productive is good.

Personal Deixis is Rawang Ata

1. Deictic pronouns

Unlike many languages, Rawàng Ata does not have a single set of pronouns – aside from the ostensives, oblates and positionals with pronominal uses, there are also sets of deictic, anaphoric and directive pronouns. In many, if not most, cases, no pronoun will be used at all, with “pseudo-pronouns” preferred. Here, however, we will concern ourselves only with deictic pronouns.

Deictic pronouns refer to members of classes that are present at hand during discourse – normally physically, but occasionally only metaphorically. All deictic pronouns are considered to be third person animate for purposes of animacy and agreement. Deictic pronouns inflect for plural number. Below, the forms will be listed in the order [singular, plural].

The deictic pronouns relating to women (tàniko, mahikò and kanihā) are:

īkana,īkanāi – adult woman

kīkana, (no plural) – old or powerful woman (respectful)

īkaròi, īkarotan – young girl

kīkaròi (no plural usually, sometimes kīkarotan) – young aristocratic girl (or beloved girl)

īkòi, īkomā – young serf girl

kīkòi, (no plural) – adult serf woman (used in formal contexts; otherwise īkana)

īkodo, ikomā – vagabond, outlaw, foreigner, or ‘masculine’ woman (also term of affection for kanihā)

ikōro, ikōromā – woman of importance but not accorded respect

suata, susata – old woman (not respectful, though not always insulting)

akīkana, akīkanāi – younger sister of discourse participant (sometime not literally)

The deictic prouns relating to men:

bāna, bānako – man

bāoi, bāoko – serf man, or non-serf boy

nùko, nùnuko – serf boy

babā, bābamā – old man

For neuters:

akàina, akàināi – kimyō

ortu, orotu – ortu

The pronouns for women trigger feminine agreement; the others do not.

2. Syntactic/Semantic Functions of Personal Deixis

Deictic pronouns have a range of pragmatic and syntactic functions. Syntactically, their chief importance is their animacy, which interacts with the transitivity of verbs:

kimyōya rasileta kòman

“The kimyō kissed the girl”

As the animacy of subject and object is the same, the verb is intransitive, and the subject is marked with the ergative. This, however, prevents certain information from being present – information about other failures of transitivity.

akàina rasileta kòman

“The kimyō kissed the girl”

Here, the pronoun has a higher animacy than the object, and so the verb is transitive and does not have to be in the ergative. This allows us to create a contrasting sentence:

akàinaya rasileta kòman

“The kimyō kissed the girl”

Here, the subject is in the ergative, indicating that the verb is not transitive. Yet this cannot be due to inherent animacy, as the subject does indeed outrank the object. Hence we can conclude that either the subject lacked volition or the action was not entirely successful.

The opposite effect can also be employed:

kimyōya rasileta īkaròim

“The kimyō kissed the girl”

Technically, no more is implied than this than by the first sentence, but the intentional choice of a pronoun draws attention to the lack of animacy, and strongly suggests that this is the reason for the lack of transitivity – and thus that the action was both intentional and successful.

Deictic pronouns, whether personal, ostensive, positional or oblate, are never ordinarily topics; topicalising them is thus highly marked, and generally indicates control of influence:

īkaròim kimyōya rasileta

“The girl was kissed by the kimyō”

As in the previous case, this is strongly suggested to be voluntary on the part of the kimyō, but the undue topicalising of the pronoun implies that the girl has helped bring this situation about.

[For a willing girl and an unwilling kimyō, the construction would be: īkaròi kimyōya rasileta nàm. This employs the deictic pronoun as a non-subject agent and introduces an anaphoric pronoun for the object.]

Finally, the interaction of deictic pronouns with the anchors of positional deictics has been explained in an earlier section.

3. Pragmatic Functions of Personal Deixis

Deictic pronouns are used for people who can be ‘pointed to’ – present to the senses, or recently present to the senses, or perhaps present to the imagination, or anticipated to be present to the senses. In all these cases, there must be a feasible contact with the speaker and/or listener.

However, deictic pronouns are not always used in these cases, primarily because of register concerns. It sounds informal and imprecise to avoid deictic pronouns when they can be used, while never avoiding them sounds stilted and precise. They are thus more common in formal contexts. However, it is also impolite to over-use them for participants in a discourse (including listeners), even in formal contexts. Yet at the same time, when used with specifically first- and second-person semantics, pseudo-pronouns can sound overly casual, and deictic pronouns used when there is a serious purpose.

To summarise then, in general:

–         for first and second person, deictic pronouns are used to demonstrate seriousness, unless directive pronouns are called for

–         for third-person participants, deictic pronouns are only used when being extremely formal

–         for third-person non-participants, deictic pronouns are used in formal or precise contexts

This is only a general picture, and it is usual for a variety of pronouns to be used in the course of a discourse – in particular, using a deictic pronoun on each occasion would be extremely stilted.

However, all the above is altered by power relations. Those in positions of power, authority or status over their interlocutors may use deictic pronouns when they would not otherwise be used, and so their use can enforce claims of superiority; however, it should be noted that politeness is considered a virtue even in the powerful, and excessive use of deictics should thus only be used in establishing or calling to mind a legitimate power relation when it is in question, not as a continual means of self-elevation.

Contrariwise, those in weaker positions are unlikely to ever use deictic pronouns for their superiors.

Finally, due to the difficulties sometimes in finding an appropriate pseudo-pronoun for all members of a group, the plural forms of the deictics are used rather more frequently than the singulars.

Whether it is these pragmatic concerns or the syntactic and semantic concerns addressed above that influences word choice is very much a matter for context. In general, specific syntactic motivations trump these general pragmatic considerations – although in cases where social status and politeness are particularly salient, these may move to the forefront.

Isle of the Dead

No relation to anything: one of my favourite pieces of music is The Isle of the Dead, by Rachmaninov. It seems a sadly-neglected little piece, which I never used to hear played or mentioned often back when I listened to the radio regularly. I hope that that’s changed, but I doubt it. There’s an impression, not entirely ill-founded, that Rachmaninov was only a piano composer – solo piano or piano and orchestra; but Isle confutes this utterly.

The Isle of the Dead is a symphonic tone poem, about twenty minutes long, dealing with the journey over the Styx to the Elysian fields (or a Romantic equivalent). For those who don’t know, a tone poem is a romantic form of music in which the notes attempt to paint an image, or describe an event – often inspired by poems, or, as in this case, by paintings. Accordingly, we hear what can be interpreted as numerous mimicries – oars in the water, the swell, the waves crashing against the shore, the gentler lapping of the water in the streams on the island, the violins and flutes of spirits of the dead, and so on.

In its larger form, too, there is the image of the water – the music is essentially a series of slow crescendos and decrescendos, like a series of waves washing over us. Througout, there is a battle between the primary theme of the water and the oars and the secondary themes, which we may associate with the life of the spirits of the dead – the one dark, brooding, relentless, the others straining, struggling, complicated, with glimpses of beauty, but always bittersweet and unsuccessful.

The poem is a masterpiece of Romantic craft – the orchestration lush and soft for the recurring water theme, but not afraid of brass and discord for the dramatic moments. It is perhaps an early glimpse of minimalism – the water theme is an incredibly simple 5/8 rhythm churning relentlessly throughout at least half of the music, and even when it is not present, there is always (with the exception of a few agonisingly tense lulls to silence) the threat, or promise of its return, as it interacts organically with the chaotic themes of life. At several points it seems to be less waves or oars and more heavy, laboured, agonised breathing, as though the piece were really a rather dark poem about life itself – death ever-present, beating in every breath, always struggled against, always inevitable. The music, though it grabs a few moments of serenity along the way, is always driven by the oars, and sinks down again and again into the darkness of the water, until finally the boatman rows out of sight of the island.

Technically, there’s really nothing to complain about. The orchestration is sophisticated, the melodies are affecting (the main theme memorable), the composition is impeccable in its balance and symmetry, the development is always logical and never jarring. The 5/8 rhythm, and it’s driving, inescapable insistence, are powerfully modern. It’s really the high point of late Romantic ability. If it has a flaw it’s that, as with most tone poems, it is a little light, a little showy, a little two balanced in form and a little too little developed – as we might expect from a form of such brevity, and where the music is forced to make sacrifices to the image it is to convey. It is one of the best tone poems, in my opinion, because for once there seems no conflict between the form and the music – the music genuinely does suggest the mental image that is intended, and the structure the image produces is conducive to a symmetrical piece.

It is also one of my favourite pieces because of its unusual tone. It is extremely dark, and not afraid of the lower octaves – but it is a sort of darkness that is rare. Many dark pieces, particularly modern ones, try to sear the soul; others aim at a sorrowful but resilient beauty, such as one finds in the great slow movements. Others drive forward relentlessly, chasing you on to the next movement. Because this is a tone poem, there is nowhere to go, and yet the music is not passive – this is not ‘slow movement’ music. So it simply rises and falls, atmospherically. The darkness is not painful, it is at worst brooding, perhaps a little menacing, occassionally a little chilling. It’s not something I find often.

It is, yes, a little melodramatically gothic. It’s the sort of music teenagers could listen to repeatedly to persuade themselves they’re depressed – but it’s a little too light to let them succede. It isn’t great art – but for what it is, it’s wonderfully done.

Anyway, my main conclusion from revisiting it (I used to listen to it frequently as a teenager, and then lost track of the CD for several years), is that I really need to go and give his symphonies another go. I seem to recall them being quite dull, but perhaps I just wasn’t ready for them.

A Canticle for Leibowitz: Reaction, Part I.

This is not a review blog. But it is a blog where I intend to give some thoughts on things I read. I intended the below to be a short preface to some thoughts inspired by a book, but it turned into a rather longer review. I’ll eventually write the actual thoughts as a Part II to this.

The below contains a few spoilers for the book, but I’ve endeavoured to write for people who haven’t read the book yet. If you like your books pristine, don’t read this. If you don’t mind reading the back cover of your novels before you start them, the levels of spoilers here shouldn’t prove a problem.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is an unusual book. On first perusal, it appears to be that rare creation: a Catholic science fiction novel. Catholicism is not unusual among genre novelists: Tolkien in Fantasy and Wolfe in Science Fiction (or is it Fantasy again?) are both devout Catholics. Indeed, Catholicism plays a major role in both their work: in Tolkien, mostly through analogy, seen in undisguised form only in his private notes and letters (his comparisons between the Valar and the angels, his agonised deliberations over the theological ramifications of, and his ultimate rejection for Catholic reasons of “an evil species”, the orcs); in Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, Catholicism intermingles with Borges and Kabbalah to form the intellectual and thematic heart of the work. But Leibowitz is Catholic in an altogether different way – one might almost call it not only Catholic science fiction but Catholic Science Fiction. It’s characters are Catholic, its setting is Catholic, and most of the book is devoted to discussions of Catholic theology.

This probably isn’t selling it very well. It’s undeniably true that Leibowitz is an unpopular thing in today’s world, an “ideas novel” that seems more suited to sit alongside Dostoevsky than on a modern genre shelf. Yet just as Dostoevsky survives, so too should Leibowitz survive – a book that will not attract too many readers, but a book that will gain a place in the hearts of many of those who do read it. And there are three reasons for this: a strain of light humour on dark topics, excellent prose and characterisation, and the fact that on further reflection it is not entirely Catholic after all. It’s unfashionable to look at the author for clues about the book, but in this case the influences are clear: Walter Miller, an atheist, helped destroy the monastery at Monte Cassino, converted to Catholicism at the age of 25, lived briefly with a former Marxist-Zionist Jew, wrestled with his faith and his devotion for the rest of his life, became a recluse, turned to bitterness against his religion, and finally killed himself in 1997. His novel is set in a Catholic monastery, a religious setting interrupted at intervals by a reclusive Jew, and is preoccupied with issues of responsibility, and in particular with suicide. It would be wrong to link Miller’s eventual rejection of Catholicism too closely to a work composed four decades earlier – but perhaps it should prepare us for a novel that does not merely lecture at us in a Catholic tone, but that is eager to debate with us on Catholic issues. It is never in doubt that the various monks and abbots of the novel have powerful positions, and that their opponent’s views and actions are far from unimpeachable; but it is also often unclear whether the monks are wholly correct. The book therefore fulfils the first requirement of a successful ‘ideas novel’ – it ruminates rather than rants.

Leibowitz is so full of ideas, both explicitly in argument and implicitly in themes and events, that one could talk for days about it without coming to any conclusion. I do indeed intend to discuss a few of the themes later, for those who are interested (and who have not read the book, or who do not mind being spoiled). First, however, there is a more basic question: how good is it?

Leibowitz was not conceived originally as a novel – its material was written as three independent novellas, later modified for combination into a single novel. This tripartite structure is at once a flaw and a strength. On the one hand, the story likely could not have been composed at all without it – both due to the massive scope of the tale and due to the author’s own limitations (a prolific short story writer, Miller never finished another novel, and the posthumously-completed sequel to this book, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, is by all accounts a far inferior work). On the other hand, the three distinct sections, almost totally disjoined in both characters and (primary) themes, are jarring, and damage the integrity of the work. In particular, the end of the first section struck me unprepared, and quite deterred me. In the event, I read the entire novel in one day, because I was travelling and had little else to do – but between the long passages of theological and ethical debate and the brick walls of the two section ends, I can easily see why many people would put down this book at some point and not return to it.

The three sections are named, respectively, Fiat Homo, Fiat Lux, and Fiat Voluntia Tua, and each examines in turn three time-periods following a nuclear apocalypse, roughly corresponding to the historical Dark Ages, Renaissance, and Modernity, as seen through the eyes of the monks of the Leibowitzian Order of St Albert – an order devoted to maintaining the few shreds of knowledge that have been passed down from the pre-Apocalyptic world (our 1960’s), at their remote abbey in the wilds of Utah. In the first section, the founder of the order, the Blessed Leibowitz, is coming close to being declared a saint when a young novice, Francis Gerard, discovers a cache of holy relics, with the aid of a mysterious passing stranger. He is elated by the find – blueprints and shopping lists and a skull with a golden tooth – but his Abbot is not so sanguine: will the discovery be seen as too serendipitous, as convenient enough to discredit the order in their quest to have their founder canonised? As events unfold, we see Francis’ life in the monastery, and piece together an understanding of the events that led to the current mutant-infested age of illiteracy and chaos. Some time later, in the second section, as powerful states arise nearby and education is at last available outside the church, we follow an abbot, Dom Paulo, as he welcomes an unusual visitor: the most famous scholar in the world, come to study their holy Memorabilia for clues to advance his own scientific knowledge. Yet the scholar is linked by marriage to a powerful ruler whose plans for pan-American domination bring him into conflict with the new Papacy. Finally, in the third section, we relive the expectant terror of the Cold War as a new civilisation, with nuclear arms and interstellar ambitions, prepares to annihilate itself; the abbot of the monastery, now on the outskirts of a major city, battles with humanitarian doctors on the issue of euthanasia, his battle to save the life of a despairing young Catholic widow and her baby mirroring the global battle to save mankind from fear and despair, while the Papacy concocts a plan to save the knowledge of the age for a future generation.

Personally, I found the first section the weakest of the three, and the second the strongest; a perusal of views on the internet shows me that every possible order exists in some person’s opinion, so I can only conclude that preferences here are strictly a matter of taste. Certainly Fiat Homo comes closest to a conventional story, with a clear objective for the plot to head to, and it also has the strongest vein of humour of the three. The second and third sections are more concerned with ideas – Fiat Lux is a leisurely sort of vignette, with strong characters and numerous interludes, while Fiat Voluntia Tua is tenser, tauter, as the doomsday clock ticks down very close to midnight, though the problems discussed seem the most intractable of the entire novel.

Do not read this book for excitement – though certainly tense at times, particularly in the third section, it is far from barn-storming. Do not read it for laughs, either – though it is certainly funny in places, it is not a funny book, and its humour is strictly the sugar to make the rest of the book go down. Numerous reviews and synopses, including the back of my copy, focus on the absurdity of the naïve priest discovering The Sacred Shopping List – but though the book does not shy away from observing absurdity, it does not take that absurdity to be a refutation, as many satires do. Leibowitz is not a satire – it is simply a book that deals with a subject so dark and absurd that some amount of satire is essential for the sanity of both author and reader.

However, do not turn away from the book because you aren’t looking for a book about the Cold War. There were a great many books written once upon a time about the impending nuclear holocaust, and most of them now longer feel relevant. Leibowitz transcends its moment by not treating the Apocalypse as an event that happens to the world, but as an integral part of man’s history in his pessimistically cyclical view of the world, something that lies both behind and ahead. Because the first two sections deal with a distant future that for all purposes is located in our own distant past (and in particular Fiat Homo, for all that it is set in the far future, is one of the best depictions of the world of our dark ages that I have seen), it does not matter that the third section is set in a world that would have seemed current or futuristic to Miller but that now seems a tad passé to us – it is simply another time that we have passed by, and another time that is, if we believe Miller, waiting for us. It is worth noting that Miller’s fatalism is not as naively pessimistic as that of many other writers of such fiction – while it is true that he (appears to) set his first “Flame Deluge” in our 1960s, shortly after the development of nuclear weapons, the crisis that we see in Fiat Voluntia Tua is explicitly not the first such crisis of that age. The people of that time develop nukes, and back away from using them long enough to get out into space. But the serpent, once born, is undying – the people of FVT refer to the nuclear threat as “Lucifer”, an obvious enough code, but one that to us should suggest the image of the ultimate weapon as a sort of serpent in our Eden, that whispers to us whenever things get bad. No matter how many times we fight off the temptation, we only have to give in once – and so where other authors look naïve, Miller continues to act as a warning, saying to us “you’ve survived it this time, but it’s still there – don’t get too complacent”.

[This topic, incidentally, illustrates the paradoxes at the heart of Leibowitz. Lucifer, the Bomb, is a serpent like the serpent of suicide that whispers to the young widow, and Miller seems to consider nuclear holocaust as a sort of suicide of humanity. But the serpent in the Bible implores us to eat from the Tree of Knowledge – and such images are frequent in the second section, Fiat Lux. The metaphor is reinforced by the choice of ‘Lucifer’ rather than ‘Satan’ or any other name – Lucifer is the Bringer of Light, which makes Fiat Lux the story of the triumph of the Devil. The quest for knowledge brings us to destruction, a common theme in both FL and FVT – not a rare suggestion in SF from this age, but here made more psychological, in accordance with the Platonism that underlies Catholicism. And that reduction, that move away from the contingencies of science to the underlying essence, brings us a radical idea: the quest for knowledge is in essence the desire for suicide. But Lucifer is not the only bringer of light: ‘fiat lux’ is a quotation from God, just as the electrical light of the story is created not by the scholar but by the monk – and the preservation of Knowledge is the very purpose of the Leibowitzian Order, while the parlous state of the world in FH is as much due to the anti-intellectual destruction of knowledge as to the knowledge-driven apocalypse that preceded it. This conflict between knowledge as death and knowledge as life is one of the central paradoxes of the novel, and in particular of Fiat Lux.]

The book does have its flaws, and not only the scene breaks mentioned above. Once or twice it seems to stack the deck in favour of its heroes – in particular, Pfardentrott’s new theory of history in FL is introduced with far too little justification, which makes Dom Paulo’s response too easy to really be effective. It may well be claimed that Miller is too enamoured of our own history, and makes his future too closely resemble our past, even in details. It seems as though the only religion to have survived the Flame Deluge is Catholicism, though certainly others arise later – while it’s reasonable to assume that Catholicism is at an advantage (through education, monasticism, and a strong organisational structure that has dragged it through bad times before), it seems strained to imagine that no other religion at all has made it, at least in North America. Not impossible, to be sure – but a strain. And of course like many novels that are filled with both intellectual debate and deep symbolism, there are moments when Leibowitz moves beyond taxing and into bewildering, in particular in the cases of the outsider-characters, Lazarus and Rachel. If you don’t like not being able to work out what something is meant to represent, you might find this infuriating from time to time. Likewise if you don’t like your novels to force you, at gunpoint, to think about the nature of science, or about euthanasia.

I didn’t find these obstacles. The bewildering moments are small enough that I can cope with them; indeed, they added to the book. In a book you do not trust, the incomprehensible is suspect. In a book you trust, the incomprehensible is reassuring, a sign that things are more than superficial. (Hence my reference to Wolfe above). And I found the ethics fascinating. In particular, I’m from a Catholic background but am more attracted to hedonism of the Epicurean variety – so when a book is shown from the point of view of Catholics who mostly believe that hedonism is Satan incarnate, I’m inclined to listen. In the end, I think that both Catholicism and Hedonism stagger out of this book badly bloodied.

Finally, however, a cry for tolerance: despite any appearance to the contrary, Leibowitz is not a ‘difficult’ book. It’s a book that everyone can get something out of – especially in FH, and to a lesser extent in FL. It is very, very well written. Characters are believable and sympathetic – moreover, even the intellectual antagonists of the two later sections, Pfardentrott and Cors, are portrayed sympathetically and understandably. A good thing, as I imagine most readers will instinctively side with them over the monks. The accounts of painful illness in FL are, in particular, deeply affecting, as is the desperation of the main character in FVT. It’s very far from being a dry book.

I think that A Canticle for Leibowitz is a great book – mostly because several weeks after reading it it’s still haunting. I sat down and tried to make a list of things in it that I’d like to make a few comments on – and quickly found that I was running out of electrons, and that the longer I thought the more quickly I thought of more things that I wanted to talk about. When the book ends, it seems to end fully and completely, and so it can be swallowed like a pearl – but on digestion it opens up an unending array of petals.

It is not, however, one of the greatest books. I put this down, again, to its structure. Though the characters are painted vividly, none are in the book long enough to really engage with fully – and the intellectual ruminations further distance us from the people and events. Both of these, alas, are inalienable parts of the book – it sacrifices its chance at glory in order to attempt something perhaps less powerful, but in a way just as valuable due to its rarity. And so my reaction is to have it rolling around in the back of my head, stinging me occasionally – while the greatest books have the power to reduce me to my knees. It is not without emotion, to be sure – it is more affecting than most books you will read – but it is not as affecting as the best books of all.

I was going to leave this here (actually, I was going to cut away to some ruminations of my own, but I’ll leave those to Part Two), but while I’m here perhaps I ought to actually have some sort of rating system for things I review. So, my system (first draft):

–         there shall be ratings on the basis of Adrenaline, Emotion, Thought, Beauty, Craft, Endearingness, and Originality; and finally an overall score.

–         Adrenaline shall indicate how page-turning it is

–         Emotion shall indicate how much affective impact it has

–         Thought shall indicate how thought-provoking it is, and how coherent its ideas

–         Beauty shall indicate the strength of the aesthetic response I have to it

–         Craft shall indicate how admirable its construction is – the lack of plot-holes, the convincingness of details, the disguise on plot twists, and so forth

–         Endearingness recognises the fact that two books otherwise equal can differ in how likeable they are. This is mostly here as my ‘guilty pleasures’ excuse for books that are heartwarming or silly or funny or otherwise… endearing.

–         Originality shall indicate how ingenious and unique it appears to me, and how hard it would have been for me to have thought of the same ideas

–         Overall will not be calculated from the other scores, but me my own independent valuation. The other scores will be there to indicate the reasons for the final score, not to produce it.

Overall scores out of seven: physically painful, bad, bad with some redeeming features, not bad really, good, great, and incredible.

Individual scores will only be out of five, since they are more indicative.

So, Leibowitz:

Adrenaline: 3/5. Large parts happen without excitement, but there are real moments of tension, too. So average.

Emotion: 3/5. Some affective sections, particularly in the third part, but that’s not really the point of it.

Thought: 5/5. Packed with food for the brain. This isn’t meant to indicate perfection, though – these are very broad scores. This is more “can’t expect more”, not “no book can offer more”.

Beauty: 4/5. Some beautiful bits of prose, some beautiful images, but overall too fussy to be stunning.

Craft: 4/5. As I say, there are structural flaws and occasional missteps, but by and large the quality of both vision and prose is distinctly above average.

Endearingness: 3/5. Too much death and ignorance and despair to be a real book to cuddle up to, but the humour is touching, particularly in the first section, so I can’t mark it down on that.

Originality: 4/5. It is  a Cold War “We’re All Going To Die Isn’t It Terrible” novel. But it does also go beyond that, and its consideration of religion is nuanced and detailed enough to make it a book you’re unlikely to find a twin of.

Overall: 6/7. As I say, perhaps it is a tad too cold, a touch too stilted, to really be one of the uppermost echelon of books. But I’ve no doubt that this sits on the rung just below that tier. This is a better book than most good books, and one not forgotten quickly. It certainly deserves to be considered one of the greatest Science Fiction works of all time.

NB. Further, and more spoilerific, thoughts on the book can be found in Part Two, HERE.

Rawang Ata: Ostension Deixis

Ostension deixis is a limited form of deixis used almost only with physical ostension – that is, a physical action designed to call attention to an object. There are five ostensives:

to            – “this in my hand”

–            “that, that I’m pointing at”

ū            – “this that I’m throwing to you”

kilu            – “this that I’m standing on or kicking”

ko            – “this that I’m tapping”

Ko is now rare, archaic or patronising, with its meaning largely transferred to kilu. To can also be used with items that are part of the body of the speaker if the speaker is pointing to them.

The ostensives are used almost exclusively in this precise physical situations. Occassionally, however, they may be used metaphorically, when something has been pointed out with such overwhelming directness and obviousness that it is considered analogous to a physical gesture. In these cases, the ostensive is often accompanied by a form of its appropriate gesture even if there is no object present to be gestured to. In these metaphorical cases, the ostensives are all more or less interchangeable in meaning.

Ostensives are adjectival particles, preceding the noun like positionals (although they typically move to follow the noun if there are other particles preceding the noun). Unlike positionals, oblates and relationals, ostensives inflect for number – singular, dual, plural and perplural. The inflection is irregular, though singular is always unmarked. In the order [singular-dual-plural-perplural] the inflection is as follows:

to            –            toko            –            tomā            –            totan

nù            –            nuài            –            nuko            –            nùmā

ū            –            ūai            –            ūko            –            ūtan

kilu            –            kiluko            –            kilukilu            –            kilukilu

ko            –            koko            –            komā            –            koko

In practice, the colloquial kilu inflects differently:

kilu            –            koko            –            komā            –            koko

However, the ostensives do not inflect to agree in gender.

In addition to their adjectival use, ostensives can also be converted into pronouns (with the same meanings) through the use of the suffix -i, although the inflection then works somewhat differently:

toi            –            tokoi            –            toitoi            –            totani

nùi            –            nùkoi            –            nùinùi            –            nùimā

ūi            –            ūkoi            –            ūiko            –            ulūi

kilui            –            kilukoi            –            kiluiko            –            kiluikilu

ko            –            kokoi            –            koikoi            –            kotani

It should be noted that these ‘pronouns’ retain an underlying adjectival quality, and the number of the pronouns depends not only on the number of items pointed at but also on the grammatical number of the noun that they semantically relate to. For example, somebody holding a pair of scissors would refer to them as tokoi, not toitoi.

Systems of Deixis in Rawang Ata: Relation Deixis

Whereas positionals define locations within a frame of reference, relations define the locations of frames of reference in space and time. They can be used adverbially or pronominally.

  1. Adverbial use of relationals

The relationals of time are as follows:

kontomorrow (after sunset tonight)


ruo yesterday (before sunset last night)

kon kala –            tonight

meta kalalast night

ruo kala the night before last

nahā this year

naruo last year

nakonnext year

halaokowithin this generation

foyā in the next generation

fotuangu in the last generation

It should be noted that kon, meta and ruo can all refer to a “day” in the sense either of a 24-hour period or of a period of daylight.

These can all stand as adverbs describing the temporal location of an event. The anchor for these relationals is by default the time of the discourse, but the use of any topics with temporal-adverbial semantics causes the anchor to shift to this new time. The anchor is only reset by a new temporal-adverbial topic, or by the use of directive syntax. Within directive syntax, relationals are always anchored to the discourse itself.

For example:

Rahànta yuinù. Kon to rahànta yuinù.

“I am throwing a stone. Tomorrow I will throw a stone again.”

Samù āng, rahànta yuinù. Kon to rahànta yuinù

“At the wedding, I threw a stone. The day after, I threw a stone again.”

Samù āng, rahànta yuinù. Kon to bahànta yuinù

“At the wedding, I threw a stone. Tomorrow I will throw a stone again.”

[The use of the first-person agreement indicates directive syntax]

In a similar manner, there are a number of spatial relationals as well:


ùi ‘upstream’

dahi east

dahi ao west

ohoramasu south

ohoramasu aonorth

nyoa                            – nearby

dàfan a day’s walk from

uminu in the region of

The ‘upstream’/’downstream’ relationals have similar semantic extension to the upstream/downstream positionals, ao and uli, to which they are clearly related. Dàfan has an extended meaning, ‘at the next location’, on the analogy of the next resting place on a journey of many days. The anchors of the spatial relationals operate in the same manner as those of the temporal relationals.

2. Adrelationals

Relationals can be modified by a number of particles we will term ‘adrelationals’. The most important four magnify the ‘amplitude’ of the relation, by one of four degrees. The order of the amplitudinal adrelationals is as follows: wa, ya, yò, ku. The first of these relates to fractional distances; the remaining three relate to concepts of ‘handful’, ‘heap’ and ‘mountain’. Taking kon as our base relational, this gives us:

wa kon                        – ‘less than a day from now’

ya kon             – ‘several days from now’

kon             – ‘many days from now’

ku kon             – ‘a huge number of days from now’.

The same effect operates on the two spatial relations of distance:

wa uminu  – ‘more than a day away, but far from not being in the same region as’

ya dàfan   – ‘a handful of days’ walk from’

The remaining spatial relationals, and the temporal relational meta cannot be modified by these adrelationals.

In addition to the amplitudinal adrelationals are two ‘peripheral’ adrelationals, bana and nisi, and two ‘segmental’ adrelationals, riu and bià. The peripheral adrelationals convey the meanings ‘at or near the limit of’ and ‘just beyond the limit of’; the segmental adrelationals, ‘in the near part of’ and ‘in the far part of’:

bià kon                  – ‘late tomorrow’

bià ruo                        – ‘early yesterday’

riu ruo             – ‘late yesterday’

bana kon      – ‘dusk tomorrow’

nisi dàfan   – ‘a little more than a day’s walk’

bià uminu  – ‘in the farther parts of the region’

Finally, there is a peculiar adrelational , with the meaning ‘everywhere within’. With definite verbs, the idea is of duration or wide extent, while with indefinite verbs it is of iteration and variance in place:

dàfan   – ‘everywhere within a day’s walk’

meta                – ‘all today’

3. Adjectival use of relationals

The relationals can also be used with adjectival meanings, in which case they follow the noun like oblates, rather than preceding them like positionals. Where there is semantic overlap between an adjectival positional and an adjectival relational (eg. ā vs. ao), the relational is usually used in cases of greater distance – and the rules for determining the anchor are also different, as explained above.

samù āng kon

“the wedding tomorrow”

kubirko nisi dàfan

“the bridge a little more than a day’s walk from here”