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As extracted from the Yog-Sothoth Forums.

An unofficial guide to R'lyehian (sometimes called Cthuvian)

R'lyehian to English Dictionary

The works of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and his proteges, collectively known as the "Cthulhu Mythos," often contain fragments of an alien language. HPL himself never gave this language a name, but fan consensus has settled on "R'lyehian" or "Cthuvian", for the purposes of this article we will focus on the former.

HPL also provided translations of several fragments. Intrigued, I set out to learn more about R'lyehian, woefully unprepared for the sanity-blasting ordeal I faced. Fortune smiled, however, and the small lexicon below is the fruit of my efforts. For more information about the Mythos, please visit the newsgroup alt.horror.cthulhu, or search for "Cthulhu Mythos" on the Web. You'll find more and better information than I can provide here.

A Note about Grammar: Unlike Earthly languages, R'lyehian makes no distinction between nouns, verbs, adjectives, and other parts of speech. Pronouns may or may not appear. Verbs have only two tenses: present and not-present, since the Old Ones experience time in a non-linear fashion. Taken out of context, any fragment's translation is nothing more than guesswork.

Vocabulary List

R'lyehian Word / Root English

  • - agl-(suffix) place
  • ah-generic action, e.g. greet, eat, do
  • 'ai-speak / call
  • athg-sign (contract) / agree to
  • 'bthnk-body / essence
  • bug-go
  • c--(prefix) we / our
  • ch' -cross over / travel
  • chtenff-brotherhood / society
  • ebumna-pit
  • ee-answers
  • ehye-cohesion / integrity
  • ep-after; with hai, later / then
  • f'- -(prefix) they / their
  • 'fhalma-mother
  • fhtagn-wait / sleep
  • fm'latgh-burn
  • ftaghu-skin/ boundary
  • geb-here
  • gnaiih-father
  • gof'nn-children
  • goka-grant
  • gotha-wish
  • grah'n-lost one / larva
  • h'--(prefix) it / its
  • hafh'drn-priest / summoner
  • hai-now
  • hlirgh-heretic
  • hrii-followers
  • hupadgh-born of
  • ilyaa-expect / await
  • k'yarnak-share / exchange
  • kadishtu-understand / know
  • kn'a-question
  • li'hee-on pain of
  • llll-at / beside
  • lloig-mind / psyche
  • lw'nafh-dream / transmit
  • mg-(conjunction) yet
  • mnahn' -worthless
  • n'gha-death
  • n'ghft-darkness
  • na- -(prefix) (contraction of nafl-)
  • nafl--(prefix) not / (not-present tense)
  • ng- -(prefix) (conjunction) and / then
  • nglui-threshold
  • nilgh'ri-anything / everything
  • nnn--(prefix) watch / protect
  • nog-come
  • nw-head / place
  • -nyth-(suffix) servant of
  • -og-(suffix) (emphatic)
  • ooboshu-visit
  • -or-(suffix) force from / aspect of
  • orr'e-soul / spirit
  • -oth-(suffix) native of
  • ph' - (prefix) over / beyond
  • phlegeth-realm of information
  • r'luh-secret / hidden
  • ron-religion / cult
  • s'uhn-pact
  • sgn'wahl-share space
  • shagg-realm of dreams
  • shogg-realm of darkness
  • shtunggli-notify / contact
  • shugg-realm of Earth
  • sll'ha-invite
  • stell'bsna-ask / pray for
  • syha'h-eternity
  • tharanak-promise / bring
  • throd-tremble
  • uaaah-(finish spell)
  • uh'e-people / crowd
  • uln-call /summon
  • vulgtlagln-pray to
  • vulgtm-prayer
  • wgah'n-reside in / control
  • y'hah-amen
  • y--(prefix) I / my
  • ya-I
  • -yar-(suffix) time of / moment
  • zhro-(lift spell)

Language Function

An example

The best-known R'lyehian fragment comes from HPL's story, "The Call of Cthulhu:"

ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

HPL translates this as, "In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu lies dreaming." Using this dictionary, however, a more literal translation is, "Dead, yet dreaming, Cthulhu waits in his palace in R'lyeh."

Today's offering is a pair of fragments from Bloch's "The Unspeakable Betrothal," and some intriguing implications of these. Both start in English and finish in R'lyehian. You'd think, with an English lead-in, such fragments would be easier to translate, but noooo.

"They would carry her ulnagr Yuggoth Farnomi ilyaa..."

We already know Yuggoth is the planet Pluto. "Ulnagr" might be a preposition, except that Cthuvian doesn't seem to have any free-standing prepositions - they're mostly implied. Suppose, then, that "agr" sounds a lot like "agl," a suffix which denotes a location. The girl is being summoned, so "uln" is a verb for "call" or "summon." "Farnomi" might be a location, or an entity, or a group of entities, on Yuggoth. Assuming it's the entity to whom the girl will be taken, we can guess that "ilyaa" means "expecting" or "awaiting." So this phrase might be translated: "they would carry her [from] the summoning place [to] Yuggoth [where] Farnomi awaits [her]."

And the other fragment:

Only perception is limited ch'yar ul'nyar shaggornyth Here's "uln" again (sort of), but now it's not a place but a time. That means "ch'" is also a verb, and the other action involved is travelling to Yuggoth, so "ch'" means "travel." "Shaggor" sounds like a cross between "lloigor" and "shoggoth," so let's run with this. "Shagg" is different from "shogg." The girl is attacked through her dreams, so let's say "shagg" refers to the Dreamlands. A "shaggor" is not an inhabitant of the Dreamlands (that would be "shaggoth") so it's more like an aspect of some force, or a manifestation. Finally the suffix "nyth" could mean "servitor of." So a "shaggornyth" is a servant of a dream force - I nominate the Nightgaunts. And the translation: "only perception is limited [at] the moment of departure, [at] the moment of summoning, [the] Nightgaunt... [incomplete]." We've already defined "shoggoth" as "inhabitant of the Pit." The suffix "oth" indicates a native of some place or realm. We can extend this to Azathoth, and define "Azath" as the realm of nuclear chaos. At the moment, though, I can't define "Yog-Soth." The suffix "or" tells us that "lloig" means mind or psyche, since the lloigor are mental constructs. These names give us some insight into the cosmology of the Great Old Ones. There are separate words for the world below (shogg), the world of dreams (shagg), and the world of the mind (lloig), and no doubt others will appear. They can operate in any of these worlds at will. Even though their physical bodies are imprisoned, they can influence their servants (and psychically sensitive people) through mental sendings and dreams.

A minor note: plurals in Cthuvian are usually formed by repeating the final letter. Hence, "gof'n" means "child," while "gof'nn" means "children." It makes a twisted kind of sense... so it's probably wrong. To get caught up, we need a new definition of "mglw'nafh" to decipher the famous phrase in "The Call of Cthulhu." We propose keeping the original assumption that "mg" is a prefix denoting a juxtaposition of opposites, like "sino" in Spanish. Suppose we call "lw'nafh" a verb meaning "lives" or "acts." The revised translation is then: "Dead (beyond the threshold) yet alive (working), Cthulhu [in Its] palace at R'lyeh sleeps/waits/dreams." We are now ready to tackle a phrase from Derleth's "The Return of Hastur:" Iä Hastur cf'ayak'vulgtmm, vugtlagln vulgtmm In this case, we need to guess at the meaning of this phrase before tackling individual words. Suppose it means something like this: "Hosanna, Hastur, we offer up our prayers to thee, we beseech thee with prayer." "Iä" doesn't really require translation, but it seems to have the same function as "Hosanna" (Aramaic for "glory," right?). We've already seen a pronoun represented as a prefix (Y, see above), so we'll say that the prefix C denotes the first person plural, i.e. "we" or "our." For reasons which will shortly become apparent, this prefix softens a following consonant, so the root verb is "fhayak," meaning "send" or "offer up" or "place before." "Vulgtm" thus means "prayer" (plural here, denoted by the second M). We've guessed that "vugtlagln" means "beseech" or "respond to." So, a more literal translation is: "Glory [to] Hastur! [We] send prayers [to thee], answer [our] prayers." The final fragment from "The Return of Hastur" is "Hastur cf'tagn." Here again we see the prefix C, which reverses the normal sense of this verb: "Hastur, we wait [for thee], we dream [of thee]." We can now turn to other fragments with some confidence. From Price's "Beneath the Tombstone," we have: mglw'nafh fhthagn-ngah cf'ayak 'vulgtmm vugtlag'n We can handily translate it as, "...yet living, [It] sleeps/waits and then acts, we send [our] prayers [to thee], answer [us]!" Or this, from Carter's "Dead of Night:" ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthugha Fomalhaut n'gha-ghaa naf'lthagn Glossing over some typos, we have, "Gone but not forgotten, Cthugha sleeps/waits at Fomalhaut, [promising] death to one and all." Comments, as always, are welcome.