Glyph of the word 'favatu'.


  • (n.) rule(s), ruleset, instruction(s), guideline(s)

Fe’a’u favatu ti ia oi’i…
“You know the rules and so do I…”

Notes: Continuing with my translation of Rick Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”, we have a word derived from another word I just recently posted (fancy that! It usually works the other way around…). In case you’re curious about how a partial reduplication of “number” can get us to “rules”, it comes from the sense of fatu that means “orderly” and “obedient”. The favatu are what you’re supposed to do or follow. If you do, you’re fatu.

One thing that a number of conlangers (myself included) are having trouble with when it comes to translating this song is keeping with the meter. The problem has nothing to do with the conlangers, but could have something to do with our native language(s). English (and German as well) have a lot of content words that are monosyllabic. One thing I’ve noticed is that many of us conlangers who have a Germanic language as our first language tend to create languages that are just the opposite. Take Latin, for example. You can count the number of monosyllabic content words on two hands and a foot—and even those aren’t always monosyllabic (rex, “king”, is monosyllabic, but put that word anywhere in a sentence other than subject position, and there it goes!). It’s this type of language, it seems to me, that Germanic-speaking conlangers go for; there aren’t many like English or Chinese.

So think about the first part of the line above: “You know the rules.” Without even knowing the exact words, I can look at that clause and tell you that it will be six syllables at the minimum in Kamakawi. Why? Because there are three content words: “you”, “know” and “rules”. There are fewer than 40 content words that are monosyllabic in Kamakawi, and I pretty much have them memorized, which means that each of these words will be at least two syllables long, giving us at least six syllables—and probably more. That’s two more syllables than the English line already, and we haven’t even gotten to the “and so do I” part.

Rather than try to translate it piece by piece, then, I changed the line to get as close to the meter as possible. I changed it, essentially, to “The rules are known by you and me.” Passivizing eats up a syllable, true, and “rules” turns out to be three syllables. But getting rid of a verb in the second half of the clause really frees things up. For an eight syllable line, then, I cut it down to twelve in Kamakawi, which itself can be cut down to ten in singing by cramming a couple things together (ti ia can become tia), and those extra two syllables can be throw in during a second or two when there’s no singing.

While I’m translating the song, I’m going to link to some of my favorite Rick Roll stuff online. Today, I’ll link to my favorite Rick Roll video: The Muppets’ Rick Roll Video. Enjoy! :D

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2 Responses to “Favatu”

  1. Ka kavaka Ember Nickel ti:

    Hmm, interesting point about English/German speaking conlangers gravitating towards longer conlangs. Could it be luck of the draw (i.e. is a random language likely to have longer words than English anyway, subconscious motivation or not?) When I try to mentally translate English and Spanish, this discrepancy becomes very clear…

  2. Ka kavaka David J. Peterson ti:

    Huh. Never thought of that. I think probably. There are other factors that come into play, though, such as pro-drop, incorporation, lack of articles, etc., that might balance things out. So another natlang might have longer lexemes than English, on average, but due to the structure of the language, the actual length of an utterance might average out.

    Definitely not for Inuktitut, though. Man, it takes forever to say anything in that! (Atanarjuat is a good movie, though.)

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