A picture of Mars from orbit


The Language Of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars

Word Sets

Site by Jeffrey Henning

Picture Credit: NASA,Viking Project


John Carter was the first human in history to visit Mars. His travels and those of his compatriots have been recorded in Edgar Rice Burrough's 11 volumes about Barsoom, as the natives call the Red Planet. These books include:

  1. A Princess Of Mars
  2. The Gods Of Mars
  3. The Warlord Of Mars
  4. Thuvia, Maid Of Mars
  5. The Chessmen Of Mars
  6. The Mastermind Of Mars
  7. Fighting Man Of Mars
  8. Swords Of Mars
  9. Synthetic Men Of Mars
  10. Llana Of Gathol
  11. John Carter Of Mars

The following descriptions of the Barsoomian language were recorded by Captain John Carter in A Princess Of Mars:

"This power [telepathy] is wonderfully developed in all Martians, and accounts largely for the simplicity of their language and the relatively few spoken words exchanged even in long conversations. It is the universal language of Mars, through the medium of which the higher and lower animals of this world of paradoxes are able to communicate to a greater or less extent, depending upon the intellectual sphere of the species and the development of the individual."
"The Martian language, as I have said, is extremely simple, and in a week I could make all my wants known and understand nearly everything that was said to me. Likewise, under Sola's tutelage, I developed my telepathic powers so that I shortly could sense practically everything that went on around me."
"'In the name of my first ancestor, then,' she continued, 'where may you be from? You are like unto my people, and yet so unlike. You speak my language, and yet I heard you tell Tars Tarkas that you had but learned it recently. All Barsoomians speak the same tongue from the ice-clad south to the ice-clad north, though their written languages differ. Only in the valley Dor, where the river Iss empties into the lost sea of Korus, is there supposed to be a different language spoken, and, except in the legends of our ancestors, there is no record of a Barsoomian returning up the river Iss.'"

These excerpts, excepting a few others that repeat information shown in these, are all the direct comments we have concerning the nature of Barsoomian. Captain Carter's failure to explore these matters in more depth indicates his lack of linguistic background; he did not realize how unusual Barsoomian was compared to Earth languages. Barsoomian differs in the following main ways:

Phonology And Orthography

Because the only field notes we have for Barsoomian came from a soldier who was untrained in linguistics, we do not have an accurate understanding of how Barsoomian is pronounced. To further complicate things, John Carter's manuscript used hieroglyphics to represent Barsoomian words; Edgar Rice Burroughs, who prepared John Carter's manuscripts for publication, then spelled these words as he heard John Carter pronounce them. For instance, in a footnote discussed the use of the word radium in A Princess Of Mars, Burroughs writes, "In Captain Carter's manuscript it [radium] is mentioned always by the name used in the written language of Helium and is spelled in hieroglyphics, which it would be difficult and useless to reproduce."

Burroughs transcribed all words as if they were English words; thus zode, for instance, is probably pronounced with a silent 'e' (to rhyme with lode), but we cannot be sure.

Burroughs used the following vowel symbols: A, AI, E, EE, I, O, OO, U.

He used the following consonant symbols and digraphs: B, C, D, DJ, DW, F, G, K, L, LL, M, N, NG, PT, QU, R, S, SK, ST, SS, T, TH, TZ, V, X. Two digraphs are used only in dialects - LL is used only in Okarian, while SS is used only in the valley Dor.

The exact sounds of all of these symbols are currently unknown. For instance, without further field study, we cannot know whether 'th' was voiced or unvoiced, whether 'dj' was pronounced [dy] or [dzh].

The following consonant clusters may be treated as single consonants in the morphology: DJ, DW, PT, QU, SK and ST. This is still being investigated.

We do not know why John Carter chose to use the letter 'c' instead of 'k'; perhaps this was colored by the knowledge of one of the Barsoomian writing systems. Barsoomian races had many different methods of writing, ranging from pictographs to ideographs and perhaps even to consonantal alphabets. More likely, this was simply an arbitrary decision of John Carter's part. Our analysis of the vocabulary shows no instances where Carter's use of 'c' or 'k' distinguishes two words (e.g., there is no word kalot as distinct from calot). Therefore, we feel that 'c' and 'k' both represent the same underlying sound /k/. (The only words using 'c' are calot and three proper nouns: Bar Comas, Carthoris and Sarcoja.)


Phonotactics is the sequential arrangements of phonemes that are possible in a language. The Barsoomian system of phonotactics is still under study.


Little is known about Barsoomian grammar, though it must have been a comparatively simple grammar for John Carter to have been able to learn it so quickly. The following are all hypotheses about the grammar:

Word Sets

This section looks at word sets such as proper names, numbers and military terms.

Proper Names

Naming practices differ significantly from culture to culture on Barsoom. In many culture's, a father's name is often incorporated into the name of his son, either as the first or second element:

Among the green men, once a green Martian kills his first warrior, he takes that warrior's second name as his own. John Carter, when he lived among the green men, earned the name Dotar Sojat by slaying two warriors.


"Another subject of interest is that of Barsoomian numbers. Little information is available, our main source being those hormads created by Ras Thavas, who were identified by number (in Synthetic Men of Mars). This has helped in drawing up a table, but unfortunately only five hormads are so designated: Tor-dur-bar = four million eight (SMM/4), Teeaytan-ov = eleven hundred seven (SMM/4), Ay-mad = one man (SMM/11), Il-dur-en = ? million ? (SMM/11), Dur-dan = million ? (SMM/15).
"Even here we have three unknowns: il, en and dan. Assuming they are primary numbers, they could be any of the primary numbers two, three, five, six and nine."
- Roy, John Flint. A Guide To Barsoom, pp. 122-124. 1976. New York: Del Rey.

The following table is an expansion of Roy's table, with unattested forms marked and with more hypothetical forms proposed.

NumberBarsoomian Source
1ayay-mad, "one man" (SMM/chapter 11)
4tortor-dur-bar, "four million eight" (SMM/4)
7ovteeaytan-ov, "eleven hundred seven" (SMM/4)
8bartor-dur-bar, "four million eight" (SMM/4)
10teeteepi, "ten money-units" (LG/2-11)
11teeayteeaytan-ov, "eleven hundred seven" (SMM/4)
14*teetor[assumed on analogy with teeay]
17*teeov[assumed on analogy with teeay]
18*teebar[assumed on analogy with teeay]
100tantanpi, "100 money-units" (LG/2-11)
400*tortan[assumed on analogy with teeaytan]
700*ovtan[assumed on analogy with teeaytan]
800*bartan[assumed on analogy with teeaytan]
1,000*dardar, "a military unit with 1,000 men"
1,000*teetan[assumed on analogy with teeaytan]
1,100teeaytan teeaytan-ov, "eleven hundred seven" (SMM/4)
1,400*teetortan [assumed on analogy with teeaytan]
1,700*teeovtan [assumed on analogy with teeaytan]
1,800*teebartan [assumed on analogy with teeaytan]
10,000*makback-formation from umak, "a military unit with 10,000 men", on analogy with utan, "a military unit with 100 men"
1,000,000durtor-dur-bar, "four million eight" (SMM/4)

Military Titles & Units

The military titles are all attested, but most of the names of military units are conjecture. But if we assume that *u- [< utan and umak] is a prefix meaning "military unit" joined to a number word (tan and mak are both attested), we can interpolate *utee and *udur (where dur is "million", used figuratively). The term dar is assumed to have the following etymology: < *udar < *u- and dar, "ten thousand". The *ujed and *ujeddak terms are pure conjecture.

TitleUnit Size of Unit
padwar*utee 10 soldiers
dwarutan 100 soldiers
teedwardar 1,000 soldiers
odwarumak 10,000 soldiers
jedwar*udur army
jed*ujed armies of country or principality
jeddak*ujeddak armies of empire



The following lexicon has been adapted from the glossary at the end of Thuvia, Maid Of Mars. We are working on adding additional entries, and will also be providing the etymologies of words, where we can determine them. Unfortunately for those trying to translate texts, most of the lexicon consists of proper nouns.

The lexicon lists the Barsoomian term, an educated guess of its division into syllables, its meaning, and the book it was first mentioned in, using the following abbreviations:

  1. A Princess Of Mars (APOM)
  2. The Gods Of Mars (TGOM)
  3. The Warlord Of Mars (TWOM)
  4. Thuvia, Maid Of Mars (TMOM)

The lexicon is currently only up to the first four books of the series and will be expanded. We welcome your help here.

Lexical Entries

Aaanthor - AA AN THOR
A dead city of ancient Mars. - TMOMg
Aisle of Hope
An aisle leading to the court-room in Helium. - TMOMg
apt - APT
An Arctic monster. A huge, white-furred creature with six limbs, four of which, short and heavy, carry it over the snow and ice; the other two, which grow forward from its shoulders on either side of its long, powerful neck, terminate in white, hairless hands with which it seizes and holds its prey. Its head and mouth are similar in appearance to those of a hippopotamus, except that from the sides of the lower jawbone two mighty horns curve slightly downward toward the front. Its two huge eyes extend in two vast oval patches from the center of the top of the cranium down either side of the head to below the roots of the horns, so that these weapons really grow out from the lower part of the eyes, which are composed of several thousand ocelli each. Each ocellus is furnished with its own lid, and the apt can, at will, close as many of the facets of his huge eyes as he chooses. - TMOM
Astok - AS TOK
Prince of Dusar. - TMOMg
Avenue of Ancestors
A street in Helium. - TMOMg
banth - BANTH
Barsoomian lion. A fierce beast of prey that roams the low hills surrounding the dead seas of ancient Mars. It is almost hairless, having only a great, bristly mane about its thick neck. Its long, lithe body is supported by ten powerful legs, its enormous jaws are equipped with several rows of long needle-like fangs, and its mouth reaches to a point far back of its tiny ears. It has enormous protruding eyes of green. - TGOM
Bar Comas - BAR KOM AS
Jeddak of Warhoon. - APOM
Barsoom - BAR SOOM
Mars - APOM
Black pirates of Barsoom
Men six feet and over in height. Have clear-cut and handsome features; their eyes are well set and large, though a slight narrowness lends them a crafty appearance. The iris is extremely black while the eyeball itself is quite white and clear. Their skin has the appearance of polished ebony. - TMOMg
calot - KA LOT
A dog. About the size of a Shetland pony and has ten short legs. The head bears a slight resemblance to that of a frog, except that the jaws are equipped with three rows of long, sharp tusks. Also used as an insult. - APOM
Carter, John
Warlord of Mars. - TMOMg
Carthoris of Helium - KAR THOR IS
Son of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, his name a combination of theirs. - TGOM
Dak Kova - DAK KOV A
Jed among the Warhoons (later jeddak). - APOM
darseen - DAR SEEN
A chameleon-like reptile, that can change its color. - APOM
dator - DA TOR
Tile for chief or prince of the First Born. - TGOM
Dejah Thoris - DE JAH THOR IS
Princess of Helium, daughter of Mors Kajak of Helium. - APOM
Djor Kantos - DJOR KAN TOS
Son of Kantos Kan; padwar of the Fifth Utan. - TGOM
Dor - DOR
Valley of Heaven, river valley of Iss. - APOM
Dotar Sojat - DO TAR SO JAT
John Carter's Martian name, from the surnames of the first two warrior chieftains he killed. - APOM
Dusar - DU SAR
A Martian kingdom. - TMOMg
dwar - DWAR
A captain, leader of a utan. - TGOM
A kind of stone. - TMOMg
Father of Therns
High Priest of religious cult. - TMOMg
First Born
Black race; black pirates. - TMOMg
Gate of Jeddaks
A gate in Helium. - TMOMg
Gozava - GO ZA VA
Tars Tarkas' dead wife. - APOM
Gur Tus - GUR TUS
Dwar of the tenth utan. - TGOM
haad - HAAD
Martian mile. - TMOMg
Hal Vas - HAL VAS
Son of Vas Kor the Dusarian noble. - TMOMg
Hastor - HAS TOR
A city of Helium. - TGOM
Hekkador - HEK KA DOR
Holy Hekkador, title of Father of Therns (Matai Shang). - TGOM
Helium - HE LI UM
The empire of the grandfather of Dejah Thoris. A leading nation of red men. - TMOMg
Holy Therns
See thern. - TGOM
Hor Vastus - HOR VAS TUS
Padwar in the navy of Helium. - TMOMg
Hortan Gur - HOR TAN GUR
Jeddak of Torquas. - TMOMg
Horz - HORZ
Deserted city; Barsoomian Greenwich for time. - TMOMg
Illall - ILL ALL
The most remote city of Okar. - TMOM
Iss - ISS
River of Death. A sacred river. - TMOM
Issus - ISS US
Goddess of Death, whose abode is upon the banks of the Lost Sea of Korus. - TMOM
Jav - JAV
A Lotharian. - TMOMg
jed - JED
King. - TMOMg
jeddak - JED DAK
Emperor. - TMOMg
Kab Kadja - KAB KAD JA
Jeddak of the Warhoons of the south. - TMOMg
Kadabra - KA DA BRA
Capitol city of Okar. - TMOMg
kadar - KA DAR
Guard. - TMOMg
Kalksus - KALK SUS
Cruiser; transport under Vas Kor. - TMOMg
Kantos Kan - KAN TOS KAN
Padwar in the Helium navy. - TMOMg
Kaol - KA OL
A Martian kingdom in the eastern hemisphere. Isolated and surrounded by Japan. - TMOM
The greeting used principally by red Martians - TGOM
Kar Komak - KAR KO MAK
Odwar of Lotharian bowmen. - TMOMg
karad - KAR AD
Martian degree. - TMOMg
Komal - KO MAL
The Lotharian god; a huge banth. - TMOMg
Korad - KOR AD
A dead city of ancient Mars. - TMOMg
Korus - KOR US
The Lost Sea of Dor. - TMOMg
Kulan Tith - KU LAN TITH
Jeddak of Kaol. - TMOMg
Lakor - LA KOR
A thern. - TWOM
Larok - LAR OK
A Dusarian warrior; artificer. - TMOMg
Lorquas Ptomel - LOR QUAS PTOM EL
Jed among the Tharks. - TMOMg
Lothar - LO THAR
The forgotten city. - TMOMg
Marentina - MAR EN TIN A
A principality of Okar. - TMOMg
Matai Shang - MAT AI SHANG
Father of Therns. - TGOM
Mors Kajak - MORS KA JAK
A jed of lesser Helium, son of Tardos Mors of Helium. - APOM
Notan - NO TAN
Royal Psychologist of Zodanga. - APOM
Nutus - NUT US
Jeddak of Dusar. - TMOMg
Od - OD
Martian foot. - TMOMg
Odwar - O DWAR
A commander, or general. - TMOMg
Okar - O KAR
Land of the yellow men. - TWOM
Omad - O MAD
Man with one name. - TMOMg
Omean - O ME AN
The buried sea. - TGOM
Orluk - OR LUK
A black and yellow striped Arctic monster. Its hide is used for fur. - TWOM
Otz Mountains - OTZ
Mountains near Iss, surrounding the Valley Dor and the Lost Sea of Korus. - TGOM
Padwar - PA DWAR
Lieutenant. - APOM
Panthan - PAN THAN
Panthan - PAN THAN
A soldier of fortune. - TMOMg
Parthak - PAR THAK
The Zodangan prison guard who brought food to John Carter in the pits of Zat Arras. - TGOM
Pedestal of Truth
Within the courtroom of Helium. - TMOMg
Phaidor - PHAI DOR
Daughter of Matai Shang. - TGOM
pimalia - PIM AL I A
Gorgeous flowering plant. - TGOM
Plant men of Barsoom
A race inhabiting the Valley Dor. They are ten or twelve feet in height when standing erect; their arms are very short and fashioned after the manner of an elephant's trunk, being sinuous; the body is hairless and ghoulish blue except for a broad band of white which encircles the protruding, single eye, the pupil, iris and ball of which are dead white. The nose is a ragged, inflamed, circular hole in the centre of the blank face, resembling a fresh bullet wound which has not yet commenced to bleed. There is no mouth in the head. With the exception of the face, the head is covered by a tangled mass of jet-black hair some eight or ten inches in length. Each hair is about the thickness of a large angleworm. The body, legs and feet are of human shape but of monstrous proportions, the feet being fully three feet long and very flat and broad. The method of feeding consists in running their odd hands over the surface of the turf, cropping off the tender vegetation with razor-like talons and sucking it up from two mouths, which lie one in the palm of each hand. They are equipped with a massive tail about six feet long, quite round where it joins the body, but tapering to a flat, thin blade toward the end, which trails at right angles to the ground. - TMOMg
Prince Soran - SOR AN
Overlord of the navy of Ptarth. - TMOMg
Ptarth - PTARTH
A Martian kingdom of red men. - TGOM
Ptor - PTOR
Family name of three Zodangan brothers. - APOM
Sab Than - SAB THAN
Prince of Zodanga. A jed of Zodanga, son of Than Khosis. - APOM
safad - SAF AD
A Martian inch. - TMOMg
sak - SAK
To jump, to leap. - APOM
Salensus Oll - SA LEN SUS OLL
Jeddak of Jeddaks, ruler of Okar. - TWOM
Saran Tal - SAR AN TAL
Carthoris' major-domo. - TMOMg
Sarcoja - SAR KO JA
A green Martian woman. - APOM
Sator Throg - SA TOR THROG
A Holy Thern of the Tenth Cycle. - TGOM
Shador - SHA DOR
An isle on northern shore of Sea of Omean used as a prison. - TGOM
silian - SIL I AN
Slimy reptiles inhabiting the Sea of Korus. - TGOM
sith - SITH
Hornet-like flying monster that dwells in Kaolian jungle. Bald-faced and about the size of a Hereford bull. Has frightful jaws in front and mighty poisoned sting behind. The eyes, of myriad facets, cover three-fourths of the head, permitting the creature to see in all directions at one and the same time. - TWOM
skeel - SKEEL
A Martian polishable hardwood, used for the deck of an airship. - TGOM
Sola - SO LA
A young green Martian woman. Of Thark. - APOM
Solan - SO LAN
An official of the palace. A man of secrets, in Kadabra. - TWOM
sompus - SOM PUS
A kind of tree.? - TMOMg
A little pet animal among the red Martian women, about the size of a cat. Used as an insult. - APOM
sorapus - SOR A PUS
A Martian hardwood used for ship cabins; has large succulent fruits. - TGOM
Sorav - SOR AV
An officer of Salensus Oll. Commander of the forces of the palace of Kadabra. - TWOM
tal - TAL
A Martian second. One 200th of a xat (unit of measuring time). - TGOM
Tal Hajus - TAL HA JUS
Jeddak of Thark. - APOM
Talu - TAL U
Rebel Prince of Marentina. - TWOM
Tan Gama - TAN GA MA
Warhoon warrior. - TGOM
Tardos Mors - TAR DOS MORS
Grandfather of Dejah Thoris and Jeddak of Helium. - APOM
Tario - TAR I O
Jeddak of Lothar. - TMOMg
Tars Tarkas - TARS TAR KAS
A green man, chieftain of the Tharks. - APOM
Temple of Reward
In Helium. - TMOMg
Tenth Cycle
A sphere, or plane of eminence, among the Holy Therns. - TMOMg
Thabis - THA BIS
Issus' chief. An old woman. - TGOM
Than Khosis - THAN KO SIS
Jeddak of Zodanga - APOM
Thark - THARK
City and name of a green Martian horde. - APOM
thern - THERN
A priest of the cult of Issus. Typically known as Holy Therns. - TGOM
thoat - THOAT
A steed of the green Martians. Ten feet high at the shoulder, with four legs on either side; a broad, flat tail, larger at the tip than at the root which it holds straight out behind while running; a mouth splitting its head from snout to the long, massive neck. It is entirely devoid of hair and is of a dark slate colour and exceedingly smooth and glossy. It has a white belly and the legs are shaded from slate at the shoulders and hips to a vivid yellow at the feet. The feet are heavily padded and nailless. (See A PRINCESS OF MARS.) - APOM
Thor Ban - THOR BAN
Jed among the green men of Torquas. - TMOMg
thorian - THOR I AN
Chief of the lesser Therns. - TGOM
Throne of Righteousness
In the court-room of Helium. - TMOMg
Throxus - THROX US
Mightiest of the five oceans. - TMOMg
Thurds - THURD
A green horde inimical to Torquas. - TMOMg
Thuria - THUR I A
The nearer moon. - TGOM
Thurid - THUR ID
A black dator. - TGOM
Thuvan Dihn - THU VAN DIHN
Jeddak of Ptarth. - TWOM
Thuvia - THU VI A
Princess of Ptarth. - TGOM
Torith - TOR ITH
Officer of the guards of the First Born at submarine pool. - TGOM
Torkar Bar - TOR KAR BAR
Kaolian noble; dwar of the Kaolian Road. - TWOM
Torquas - TOR QUAS
A green horde. - TMOMg
Turjun - TUR JUN
Carthoris' alias. - TMOMg
utan - U TAN
A company of one hundred men (military). - TGOM
Vas Kor - VAS KOR
A Dusarian noble. - TMOMg
Warhoon - WAR HOON
A community of green men; enemy of Thark. - APOM
Woola - WOOL A
A Barsoomian calot. - TMOMg
xat - XAT
A Martian minute; one fiftieth of a zode (unit of measuring time). - TGOM
Xavarian - XA VAR I AN
A Helium warship. - TGOM
Xodar - XO DAR
Dator among the First Born. - TGOM
Yersted - YER STED
A First Born, commander of the submarine. - TGOM
Zad - ZAD
Tharkian warrior. - APOM
Zat Arras - ZAT AR RAS
Jed of Zodanga. - TGOM
Zithad - ZITH AD
Dator of the guards of Issus. - TGOM
zitidar - ZIT I DAR
A heavy (mastodonian) draft animal of the green men. - APOM
Zodanga - ZO DAN GA
Martian city of red men. Capitol of Helium's chief enemies among the red men. - APOM
zode - ZODE
A Martian hour; one tenth of a Martian day (unit of measuring time). - TGOM

Prepared by Jeffrey Henning

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