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Advanced Thieves' Cant

Introduction   |   Advanced English-to-Cant   |   Advanced Cant-to-English

An Introduction

The Advanced Thieves' Cant, is a complex language used by master thieves and high thieves' guild officials. The language takes time and practice to learn the extensive vocabulary and the process of forming sentences. As stated on other pages, the advanced form of the Thieves' Cant is used by the elite - common thieves are either too stupid, or impatient to learn the intricacies, and some do not even know of the languages existance. This language is a tool of secrecy and is very rarely found in written form. To learn it, a thief must be taught by a high level guild official - the language is so rarely used, that it is often impossible to "figure out" the language him/herself.

Alternatively, there is a simpler form of the Thieves' Cant:
Simple Thieves' Cant Dictionary:   English-to-Cant   |   Cant-to-English
Return to the Thieves' Cant Main Page

Pronunciation

Vowel sounds in Cant are sounded the same way as in these English words: "a" as in bad; "e" as in bed; "i" as in bid; "o" as in lone; "u" as in suit; and "y" as in sly. Optionally, for easier pronunciation by those accustomed to English, "i" can be sounded like the "e" in see when the "i" appears in the middle or at the end of a word, and the "y" sound is shortened to sound like an "i" if the resulting syllable or word is easier to pronounce that way.

Vowel combinations such as "ai" or "oe" are pronounced by sounding each vowel separately. For instance, the Cant word "laimbo" (twenty) is pronounced la-im-bo and not laym-bo. In speaking the language, all words in Cant are stressed primarily on the first syllable. Many words of four or more syllables will be secondarily stressed on the other odd-numbered syllables if such accenting makes the word more easily distinguished or easier to pronounce.

There is no specific Cant alphabet, because Cant is only rarely encountered in written form. For the purpose of this introduction to the language, the written conventions of the English language are used to "spell" the Cant words. Note that many letters of the English alphabet have no representation in Cant; "c" and "d" are two noteworthy examples.

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Nouns

Nouns are words that represent things: inanimate objects, living things, or concepts. Articles (a, an, the in English) do not exist in Cant. All Cant nouns are given in the singular form, and plural forms of those nouns are produced by simply doubling the word.

     Example:
     English Cant
        box = kal
        boxes = kalkal

     Literal translation
        (a, the) box
        (the) box-box

Modifiers are words that describe other words. In English, these words are called adjectives and adverbs. Those types do not exist as such in Cant. Instead, any modifier can modify either a noun or a verb, depending on its location within the sentence and with respect to the words around it. In the examples below, note the location of the modifiers and how their placement affects the meaning of the sentences, even though both example sentences contain the same words:

     English: The fast man runs slowly.
     Cant: Obok sen koma ark.
     Literal translation: Slowness run speed man.

     English: The slow man runs quickly.
     Cant: Koma sen obok ark.
     Literal translation: Speed run slowness man.

Numbers

Many numbers, including 0 through 10 and some higher numbers, are included in the accompanying dictionary as separate entries. To create other numbers, simply "add" two or more "number words" together. For example, "seventeen" is imboula, or "10" (imbo) plus "7" (ula); and "seventy" is ulaimbo, which translates as "seven tens."

Ordinal numbers, to show the order of an item in a succession of items, are formed by adding the suffix "nk" to the cardinal number (or "ink," if the number ends in a consonant). Thus, bi (one) + nk = bink (first); lim (five) + ink = limink (fifth). Fractions are formed by adding the prefix "ob" (which literally means "opposite") to the appropriate number: ob + la (two) = obla (one half); ob + lim (five) = oblim (one fifth).

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Pronouns

Pronouns are words used to represent nouns. The following pronouns exist in Cant: First person singular, o (l, me); second person singular, e (you); third person singular, i (he, she, it, him, her). First person plural (including the person spoken to), oeo (us, we and you); second person plural, oe (you); third person plural, ii (they, them). First person plural (excluding the person spoken to), oo (us, we but not you).

The word oo is a pronoun form peculiar to Cant, used when the speaker means "us" or "we" to include everyone but the person(s) being spoken to. It has been observed that this pronoun is most often employed in discussions pertaining to the division of treasure.

When a pronoun is used with a verb, it is generally attached to the end of the verb form: ken means "to steal"; keno is "I steal"; kene is "you steal," and so forth.

When a pronoun precedes a verb (sometimes done for clarity or emphasis) or stands by itself, a "t" is placed before the simple form of the pronoun: Ti ken kal means "He steals (is stealing) the box"; keni kal means essentially the same thing, but with less emphasis placed on the "he" and more emphasis on what "he" is doing.

A relative pronoun introduces a clause that describes a noun. In English, these are words such as "which," "who," and "that." The Cant language has only two relative pronouns: nita, used to refer to persons, and om, used for animals or objects. Examples:

     English: The man who has the helmet is running.
     Cant: Sen ark nita tyn tif.
     Literal translation: Run man who has helmet.

     English: The dog that has the helmet is running.
     Cant: Sen simar om tyn tif.
     Literal translation: Run dog that has helmet.

Word Order

Word order is extremely rigid in Cant, since only by its position in a sentence can the function or relationship of a word be determined. The following word-order rules apply to clauses, phrases, and complete sentences.

Standard word order:
time+verb+subject+place+indirect object+direct object
(Note: Nouns used to modify or explain other nouns always precede the word they modify.)

     English: You stole the box yesterday.
     Cant: Labne kene kal.
     Literal translation: Yesterday steal-you box.

Question word order:
question particle+question word+standard word order
(The question particle ste serves as a verbal question mark and is always used to introduce an interrogative sentence.)

     English: Who stole the box yesterday?
     Cant: Ste tehel labne ken kal.
     Literal translation: ? Who yesterday steal box

Command word order:
subject+verb+time+place+manner+indirect obj.+direct obj.

     English: Steal a box!
     Cant: Te ken kal!
     Literal translation: You steal box!

Verb Tense

The basic (infinitive) form of a verb in Cant ends in the letter "n." (Note that some words that end in "n" are not verbs.) The basic form does not change, except for the possible addition of a trailing pronoun. Tenses are indicated by placing a time expression at the front of the sentence. Indefinite past and future can be indicated by using the word for future (kar) or past (bir) in front of the sentence. Verbs used without accompanying time indicators are in the present tense. Examples:

     English: I went yesterday.
     Cant: Labne bano.
     Literal translation: Yesterday go-I.

     English: I will go. (indefinite future)
     Cant: Kar bano.
     Literal translation: Future go-I.

Modal auxiliaries: These are verbs used with other verbs to form expressions of mood, such as the words "can," "may," "might," and "should" in English. Modal auxiliaries in Cant are placed before the main verb.

The Cant word sib (may) expresses permission to do something. Miban (must) expresses compulsion; it may also be used like the word "should" would be used in English. Beben (can) expresses the ability to do something.

Kutin (might) is used differently from sib (may). Kutin expresses conditional action: something that can be done if something else is done first. Example:

      English: I might go if it rains. Cant: Kutin bano beti mublini.
      Literal translation: Might go-I if rain-it.

Takin (would) is not necessarily related to will or desire. It is used to express determination to do something in a conditional sentence. Example:

     English: If he had a boat, I would go.
     Cant: Beti tyni barbo, takin bano.
     Literal translation: If have-he boat, would go-l.

The verb Mon: This word is loosely equivalent to the verb "is" or "to be" in English. Its primary use is as a helping verb in passive sentences. Passive sentences differ from active sentences in that in the former, the action is performed on the subject. In the latter, the subject performs the action. Examples:

Labne keno fuid translates as "I stole the crown yesterday."

This is an active sentence. The subject (I) is doing the stealing. Labne mon keno fuid translates as "The crown was stolen yesterday." This is a passive sentence. The person or thing responsible for the action is not indicated; instead, the sentence indicates that the action was performed on the crown. Mon is also used to denote equivalency between two nouns and/or pronouns: Mone kawabi translates as "You are a cleric." Mon is never used to express the possession of a quality or location. Instead, tyn (to have) and bilin (to stand) are used, respectively, for these purposes: Tyni sio literally translates as "Have-he tallness," and its English equivalent is "He is tall." Ly lakat bilini translates literally as "In book stand-it," and its English equivalent is "It is in the book."

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Negatives Construction

Cant uses the single word hibni to express negation. The word negates an entire sentence when it is placed at the beginning: Hibni bano literally means "No go-I" or "Not go-I," and its English equivalent is "I am not going."

To negate individual parts of a sentence, hibni is placed before the word it negates: Keno urtel moky hibni kanab means "I am stealing the diamond but not the chest."

Hibni may also be used to negate an entire clause by placing it at the beginning of the clause: Labne bano moky hibni burono means "I went yesterday but I didn't stay."

Prepositions

Prepositions are words that show relationships between objects. Unless specified otherwise, Cant prepositions are used as in English.

Ro (of) is used to show possession only: I means "(the) book of (the) man," or "the man's book."

Ka (on) is used with horizontal surfaces, while li (on) is used with vertical surfaces, such as a wall, upon which things are hung or affixed: Bilin lakat ka ruba means "The book is on the table"; Bilin likob li liki ro obark means "The necklace is on the woman's neck."

Word Formations

New words may be formed in Cant by combining two or more simpler words, trimming letters from one word or another if such a shortening does not cause misinterpretation and makes the resulting word easier to pronounce: hunar (death) + hin (room) = hunarhin (crypt), which is shortened to hunahin. Forming a noun from a verb is usually done by simply drop-ping the final "n," and possibly the vowel that precedes it, from the verb form: hunaran (to die) becomes hunar (death); asefan (to drink) becomes asefa (drink).

The opposite of a word can be formed by attaching the prefix ob to the front of the word: ob + ark (man) = obark (woman); ob + ine (day) = obine (night).

Word Formations

For the Advanced Dictionary, English to Cant, click here.
For the Advanced Dictionary, Cant to English, click here.

If you are looking for a simpler form of the thieve's cant, check out the simple thieves' cant:
Simple Thieve's Cant:   English-to-Cant   |   Cant-to-English

 

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