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Canasian is one of the future human languages of the Revelation Space universe.

Originating among the Demarchists, it is mentioned frequently in connection to Chasm City inhabitants and Yellowstone citizens in general. Speakers of Canasian include natives of Yellowstone taking part in interstellar expeditions or further colonisation efforts in other systems.

In an interview, Alastair Reynolds described Canasian as one of several future creoles (based on existing Earth languages) that developed in his setting over the course of several centuries.

Linguistic characteristics[]

The grammar and lexical basis of Canasian is intended to be primarily a blend of Quebecois French and Cantonese Chinese. Additional loanwords and other elements are also taken from many other Earth languages, courtesy of Yellowstone's very international history of colonisation and resulting highly cosmopolitan society. [1]

The Francophone heritage of Canasian is often seen in the colloquial names given to some of the technology and items used by the Demarchists, whether on Yellowstone or elsewhere. Examples include terms like escritoire, volantor or even revivals of figurative monikers for historical eras, such as Belle Epoque.

According to information provided in Chasm City, Canasian has contributed to a certain type of street argot in post-Melding Plague Chasm City (the latter identified as "a pidgin of Russish, Canasian, Norte and a dozen other languages known here during the Belle Epoque").

The author's own comments[] interview[]

In a 2000s interview for the website, Alastair Reynolds touched up on some of the Revelation Space universe's languages, including some extended information on the history and nature of Canasian.

  • Duncan Lawie (interviewer): "It actually gives a certain shape - the idea that a family of names has come from, say a Francophile background."
  • A. Reynolds: "Yeah, that's deliberate. My partner is French and I work in a European environment. I like the sound of French names. I've tried to justify it. When you create a future history, you always want to give some texture that distinguishes it from someone else's, so with the Revelation Space future history, there is this sort of Franco thing running through it. The idea is that at some point Canada has become a more predominant superpower than is the case today."
  • DL: "Which is how we get the Canasian language?"
  • AR: "That's right, which is a combination of Chinese and the French Canadian. Don't ask me to work out how that looks or sounds..."
  • DL: "Or happens? It's like the early Paul McAuley novels had a Brazilian future, which made no obvious sense from where we are."
  • AR: "You never know. Two-hundred years down the line, there can be some contingency. Basically, Demarchists tend to have French and/or Asian names and I throw in the occasional random one now and again to make it more believable. I just like the sound of those names. I imagine the characters as speaking something that's vaguely French with some Cantonese elements in it. Or 'Russish', which is Russian English, my idea of what would happen if you had this international space station with Russian and English crews who formulate this kind of Creole, and extend that a few hundred years down the line." [2]

Description from Chasm City[]

By far the longest section of text dedicated to Canasian and comparing it to other languages of the setting, appears in the first third of Chasm City:

Russish and Norte would almost certainly be understood in the Glitter Band and Chasm City, even if the mediation was done by machines, but the default tongue of the Demarchists who had refounded Yellowstone was Canasian, a slippery amalgam of Quebecois French and Cantonese. It was said that no one without a head full of linguistics processors ever really achieved genuine fluency in Canasian-the language was just too fundamentally strange, too much at odds with the hardwired constraints of human deep grammar.
- excerpt from Chapter 11 of Chasm City [3]


The chronologically early works of the series that feature the Demarchists are unclear on whether Canasian had already developed before humanity ventured out of the Solar System. Canasian had developed, at the latest, some time between the Demarchists leaving their colonies on Europa and in vicinity of Jupiter, and resettling mostly to Yellowstone in the Epsilon Eridani system.

Prior to the rise of Canasian as the dominant language of government on Yellowstone, the major language of Yellowstone in its early colonial era was Norte, brought to the planet by "Amerikano" colonists. The early Yellowstone colony didn't prove all that viable and was later superceded by the Demarchist colonisation efforts. Despite playing second fiddle to Canasian in terms of prestige, many of the less wealthy inhabitants of Yellowstone and the Epsilon Eridani system still use Norte as their mother tongue for day-to-day affairs.

Due to its Quebecois-Chinese roots, the name of the language seems to be a contraction of "Canadian" and "Asian" (as Quebecois is the most numerous of the Canadian forms of French). It is not clear whether the Cantonese parts of the language originally came from Canadian people of Asian descent or directly from Chinese and other East Asian Demarchists.

Notable speakers[]

Canasian is spoken by many but not all characters in the setting. Due to Yellowstone's dominant political and economic position among the human-settled systems, it often acts as a prestigious spoken language, but seems to be not as widespread as Norte, partly due to the difficulty in learning it faced by non-Demarchists. Early in chapter 33 of Chasm City, Canasian is even mentioned as "... the language of the Chasm City aristocracy.".

Yellowstone natives[]

Expedition to Resurgam and its descendants[]

  • Henry Janequin
  • Gillian Sluka
  • Nils Girardieau
  • Pascale Girardieau (alias Pascale Dubois)
  • Renzo a.k.a. "Thorn"
  • Vasko Malinin

Immigrees to Yellowstone[]

Characters who apparently adopted the language after their prolonged stay on Yellowstone. It is somewhat ambiguous whether they are really speaking Canasian in most situations involving Demarchists, or falling back on Canasian's more widespread cousin, Norte.


At least some of the Ultras seem to be familiar with the language, despite the hinted-at difficulty in learning it.

It is somewhat ambiguous whether the crew members of the Nostalgia for Infinity, such as Ilia Volyova or Yuuji Sajaki, are familiar with Canasian for diplomatic and commerce reasons. Throghout Revelation Space, Volyova seems to have no major problems speaking with Dan Sylveste, and in Redemption Ark, she also communicates with other colonists of Yellowstone extraction.

This doesn't necessarily mean she and other crew members know Canasian. Norte is mentioned in Chasm City as the true lingua franca of the human-settled systems, the only language used by virtually all factions. Ultranauts and Demarchists therefore probably communicate in Norte, rather than Canasian.

RS Glossary entry[]

Canasian: A language incorporating elements of Cantonese and Quebecois French. The main language of Demarchists.
- description from the official RS glossary [4]



  1. *Invented language lessons from George RR Martin and other writers (The Guardian, 8 March 2015, by Alison Flood)
  2. Some Sort Of Internal Consistency...: Alastair Reynolds interviewed by Duncan Lawie,, ca summer 2002, archived link accessed 26th June 2019
  3. Chasm City (2001), chapter 11
  4. Revelation Space universe - RS Glossary - C,, the official website of Alastair Reynolds

See also[]

  • Norte - A future derivative of North American English and American Spanish. More prominent in the early centuries of interstellar colonisation attempts, but still the dominant language of common communication.
  • Russish - A future creole of English and Russian. Seems to be the mother tongue of some Ultras, such as Ilia Volyova.
  • Castellano - A Spanish-derived language, one of the local languages spoken on the planet Sky's Edge.