Chants of Sennaar.

I don’t do computer games (haven’t touched one since I was bored waiting for someone and played a round of Leisure Suit Larry back in the ’80s), but how can I not post about Chants of Sennaar? To quote the description by Fizz at MetaFilter, where I learned about it:

Chants of Sennaar is a language-based puzzle game based on the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. In this retelling, your character makes their way through five floors of a tower, each of which is home to a different community with a different language. Using a pictorial journal, you assign every word you find to a picture, slowly piecing together each language as you go. You use the words you learn to solve other puzzles, navigate the tower, and understand what others are saying. All this is made possible through decoding language — and I can’t overstate how fun the process is.

I’m not actually going to play it, but I celebrate its existence! (Sennaar is the Septuagint’s Σενναάρ, an alternate form of Shinar.)


  1. Random fun fact(s): the LXX’s Σενναάρ became “Senaar” in the Vulgate, omitting one “n” but keeping the doubled “a.” But then earlyish translations from the Vulgate into English (first Wycliffe, and then the Douay-Rheims) restored the lost “n” and came out “Sennaar.” Tyndale’s first attempt yielded “Synear.” The Geneva Bible may have been the first to come up with “Shinar.”

  2. The languages are not real.

    On the one hand, inventing them is definitely fun.
    On the other hand, when I thought about such games (both ways: 1. when I discovered that people love Duolingo and the site is very popular and was disappointed with it and was teaching Russian to someone, I thought that a video-game would be a natural idea 2. just adding langauges to normal games), I thought about languages that actually exist.

    Leisure Suti Larry is one of…even ther first game, localised by the studio Taralej & Jabocrak (early funny translations of video-games. Later when localisation became normal, translations were not funny at all, and I avoided them. Recently a freind of my freind complaiend that after reaching nothing in a long debate with Steam (who insisted that as a Russian customer he MUST use the Russlian version of… was it the new Harry Potter game?) he asked someone from Europe to buy it for him)

  3. Sennaar is in Sudan. I guess the Tower of Babel must be one of those Kushite pyramids.

  4. As we discussed earlier, on medieval European maps it was in Egypt. Presumably because one of towns (not sure which one) that would later form Cairo was known in Europe as Babylon, after a roman fortress.

    But the Richat structure is more impressive.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    I had a vague idea that the Biblical name was connected with “Sumer”, but apparently not (though it does refer to the same area.) I didn’t know that there are related Egyptian and Hittite names, but it seems so:

  6. “Richat structure”

    “In the local dialect, rīšāt means feathers and it also is known locally in Arabic as tagense. Tagense refers to the circular opening of the leather pouch used to draw water from local wells.[1]

    [1] Richard-Molard, J. (1952). “The Pseudo-boutonniers of Richat”. Gouvernement Général de l’Afrique Occidentale Française Bulletin de la Direction des Mines. 15 (2): 391–401.”

    Tagense (Taguenze elsewhere) must be Berber, I suppose…

  7. The Sudanese city Lameen adverted to that wikipedia spells “Sennar” is the location of the university whose English website gives its name as the “University of Sinnar.” Meanwhile, wikipedia also suggests that “Sannār” would be a cromulent transliteration of the Arabic name سنار.

    I suspect Sudan has so many serious social/economic crises and dysfunctions that reaching consensus on romanization of toponyms etc. should not be very high on the list …

  8. Tagense (Taguenze elsewhere) must be Berber, I suppose…

    Yep. I don’t have a Hassaniyya dictionary handy, but:

    Korandje (Algeria): tsagənza “mouth of a skin bucket (waterbag)”
    Zenaga (Mauritania): tägänẕ̌äh “tour du delou, cercle en bois du delou sur lequel on fixe les cordes”

    Tamasheq (Burkina Faso): tăganze “bow”

    Unspecified Berber (Morocco): tagnza “small drum”

    Some fun semantic shifts there – at least the shape seems to stay constant…

  9. What’s the etymology? Something like “stretch, span out”?

  10. Lameen, wow, thanks.

    “….in Arabic as tagense” (and the title “The Pseudo-boutonniers of Richat”) made me jump at first, then I realised that local Arabic has a substrate (and found La pseudo-buttonière du Richat)”

    Google Books has a tail of an entry in Naït-Zerrad’s root dictionary (which I don’t have):

    V10 W zeggenzew [zeggenzu] “donner la forme d’un arc à, aequer” //N1 aggenzu
    Voir Prasse 1969:103

    The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters does have a free pdf of A propos de l’origine de ‘h’ touareg (tahaggart), Karl-G Prasse, København 1969 (link) but it does not have 103 pages.

    (Naït-Zerrad also refers to Prasse 1969:145, Prasse 1969:293 and Prasse 1969:25, 26, 622 within the volume, so I’m at a loss)


    “Drum” is a common source of metaphors for cylindrical objects in Eurupe…. Maybe it could work for Richat too. “The circular opening of the leather pouch used to draw water from local wells” should work even better and can be just as natural a comparison for those who deal with them,

    “Tagnza” pleasantly generates numerous google hits (including Jebel Taguinza and a play of Awa theatre: “Tagnza warns of the problem of sexual abuse within the marriage from a poetic perspective.”)

  11. Prasse 1969:103

    This refers to number 103 (found on page 42) in the numbered list of words in Prasse 1969.

  12. Oh, thanks! I’m stupid!


    ġuñhət «ê. en forme d’arceau» √gnzh, dénom. de tăġañhe/tiġañhiwîn «arc»? √gnz (√gnzh?) W: taganzəy, –ž– (AB); Y: taganze (JNic), takənzi (AB); Gh: taganhi (AB; emprunt à H ?)

    (h < z)
    T : touareg en général ; H: tăhaggart (dial, du Hoggar, de l’Ajjer et des Taytoq)
    N : tănəsləmt (dial, des Idjellad, région de Timbuktu) ; W : tăwləmmət (dial, des Iwllemmeden)
    D : tadγaq (dial, de l’Adghagh des Ifoghas) ; Y : tăyrt (dial, de l’Ayr et des Kel-Geres)
    Gh. : dialecte de Ghat (et de Djanet) ; Ghad. : parlers de Ghadamès et d’Awdjila
    BN: berbère du Nord (hors des dialectes ci-dessus)

    (AB) Notes de voyage inédites d’André Basset (1933-1935).
    (JNic) Johannes Nicolaisen: Ecology and Culture of the Pastoral Tuareg – Nationalmuseets Skrifter, Etnografisk Række IX (1963).

  13. Not at all! Thank you for scaring up that PDF of Prasse!

  14. scaring up that PDF of Prasse!

    I’m guessing that “scare up” originally referred to driving fowl/foxes etc out of their hiding places ?

  15. PlasticPaddy says

    This seems correct. Wiktionary has ex. US 1846, but the British Newspaper Archive has “Why Tim Kyan[Ryan?] who had been going same pace and chaunting the same ditty ever since sunrise scaring up the plovers and stone curlews.” from 1842 (the article seems to be in faux-Hiberno-English, and if this is a correct cite, I suspect the expression to be existing West Country slang/dialect). Are there plovers and curlews in the US?

  16. Yes to both, including those curlews whose common name is whimbrel < whimper plus the same suffix as in runnel, shovel. Plover does get a spelling pronunciation with GOAT here, though; I don’t know if this is one of those divides between ornithologists/birders and Gen. Pop. Shorebirds seem to be much the same everywhere, with exceptions like the Sahara and the Atacama where the desert comes right down to the sea.

  17. Here in DC far too many people use a spelling pronunciation for Glover Park. I don’t expect they do any better with “plover” if they ever encounter it.

  18. I have always rhymed plover and clover, not knowing any better.

    Now I have that awful song, “Take the L out of lover and it’s over” in my head.

  19. I have always rhymed plover and clover, not knowing any better.

    Curses, foiled again ! I should have done some adult birding. In El Paso there were only sparrows and pigeons, if those.

  20. NGL, the idea of you playing Leisure Suit Larry gave me a much needed chuckle. I will give Sennaar a shot, although after the thorough disappointment that was Heaven’s Vault, I will keep expectations low.

  21. I suspect Sudan has so many serious social/economic crises and dysfunctions that reaching consensus on romanization of toponyms etc. should not be very high on the list …

    At least from Russian perspective, English habit of retaining original spelling of foreing names that use Latin script is very strange* and we use Cyrillic anyway, so the consensus on romanisation of out toponims is what English speakers, French speakers, Czech speakers etc should reach among themselves…
    Accordingly, there is some variation in romanisations created by Russains for use by foreigners.
    *Unless someone in the government has already decided to take an example from China. When I learned about Pinyin and how CCP imposed it on English users, that also sounded weird to me.

  22. David Marjanović says

    The Cyrillic custom is to invent new letters as needed, and to transcribe everyone else’s. The Latin custom is to use diacritics or digraphs, and to keep everyone else’s; the exceptions become more numerous as you approach Russia geographically.

  23. Yes, I chose not to generalise, because I don’t remember what langauges do what.

  24. @David Marjanović: There is also a strong strain in Latin-derived orthography of dropping foreign diacritical marks when transliterating. I suspect that it may not be as strong now as it once was, but it is still entirely respectable. That is the practice I follow when writing in English (except for personal names). Despite what the “upgraded” spell-checker on my browser insists, a cardboard animal you whack to get at the candy inside is a “pinata.”

  25. Uh, also “Feliz ano nuevo”?

  26. wikipedia also suggests that “Sannār” would be a cromulent transliteration of the Arabic name سنار.

    San̄aar (the revenge of drasvi to macronists*)

    *makes all the more sense, given that Arabs do denote gemination with a diacritic ـــــّــــ

  27. David Marjanović says

    There is also a strong strain in Latin-derived orthography of dropping foreign diacritical marks when transliterating.

    The curse of the typewriter and the specially designed newspaper fonts.

    That’s also what kept most accents off French capital letters for a good century.

  28. J.W. Brewer says

    I like the radicalism of drasvi’s approach and its defiance of macronic conformity, except that my mind automatically wants to read an n-with-macron as an n-with-tilde (probably because of the comparative high frequency of Spanish orthography in the U.S. compared to most other non-English orthographies). So I’m not getting gemination but /nj/.

  29. Consonant macronism is workable for a few cases like m̄, n̄, ŋ̄, p̄, r̄, s̄ but alas becomes a typographic nightmare fast for those with ascenders like b̄, f̄, k̄, l̄, t̄. I’ve seen printed works where the macron ends up low enough to turn into a high strikethru and which take heavy squinting to distinguish pairs like b̄ / ɓ, d̄ / đ, at its worst even just l̄ / t. Trouble also whenever you might need a different diacritic too: š̄, ś̄, indeed perhaps ñ̄?

  30. The standard typographic trick is to use an underbar as a variant, so p̄ but ḇ.

  31. No, I am of course fine with the normal spelling.

    But I think -aa- and -a- with macron are two ways to represent a long vowel, and the former works better for Arabic. It is easier to arrive from a female name rijm or riim to diminutive rajuma than from i with macron. Meanwhile a with macron is preferred because… It is kinda classical!

  32. Trond Engen says

    For somebody brought up with Norwegian orthography, it’s clear that the only natural way to write a short vowel is by doubling the consonant.

  33. John Cowan says

    Even in monosyllables?

  34. Takk!

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    The Shadow of the Ormulum (my forthcoming grimdark sword-and-spellcraft epic.) Game of Thrones, nothing.

  36. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Monosyllables: That’s the most eye-catching difference between Danish and Swedish/Norwegian orthography. Danish doesn’t do geminate/long consonants, but has kept the double writing of consonants that would be long by the NGer syllable balance rule. Except at the ends of words and before other consonants. en tak, takken, but taknemmelig (= ‘thankful’, Sw tacksam).

  37. personally, i’m a big fan of the arabizi approach to transliteration (especially as used for mizrakhi hebrew).

    yiddish has tended to use di/tri-graphs in nonce ways, though people who’re more systematically inclined – alexander harkavy, in particular – have come up with ways (aligned with earlier models of stretching the aramaic alphabet for other jewish languages) to use dagesh and rafe.

  38. David Marjanović says

    Arabizi: a wide array of approaches to transcription.

  39. That’s an odd article. The third paragraph starts: “Because of their widespread use, including in public advertisements by large multinational companies, large players in the online industry like Google and Microsoft have introduced tools that convert text written in Arabish to Arabic…” But the term “Arabish” has not been mentioned to that point, is only used one other time, and is never defined.

  40. David Marjanović says

    I noticed. It’s typical of overedited text (many authors, no copyeditors, that is).

  41. I think two entries in “See also” must be renamed:

    Finglish (does not sound as Persian)
    Maltese (must be changed to Maltiz[i])

  42. @rozele, yes, I simply think that
    – the chat alphabet used by Arab teenagers is a good transliteration
    – the transliteration used by European scholars is bad.

    Also there is strict library transliteration.

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