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

Once more politically prominent in human-settled space, during the so-called "Amerikano era", the language has since somewhat faded in prestige, but less so in its overall importance. Its speakers are scattered throughout most systems of human-settled space. The spread of the language was at its height during the early era of attempts at interstellar colonisation from the Solar System.

During the post-Melding Plague era of the setting, Norte is used primarily for day-to-day communication and in all manner of commerce. It is often considered something of a "commoner" language and is the only major language that is used by all major factions of humanity, from Demarchists and Conjoiners, to Ultranauts and Skyjacks. It is effectivelly the closest thing to a lingua franca of the setting.

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

Linguistic characteristics Edit

The grammar and lexical basis of Norte is intended to be primarily a blend of North American English and North and Central American Spanish. The name "Norte" itself appears to be an abbreviation of "Norteamericano", the Spanish adjective for "North American".

In the Revelation Space series, very little is revealed of Norte's grammar or vocabulary. According to information provided in Chasm City, it has at least several dialects, and even 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 Edit interview Edit

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

  • Duncan Lawie (interviewer): "Norte..?"
  • A. Reynolds: "That's basically American English but with some Spanish." [1]

Though short, this is by far the most specific confirmation of the language's ancestry given by Reynolds out-of-universe, outside of the narrative of the series.

Description from Chasm City Edit

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

The other passengers were an equal mixture of male and female, with an egalitarian blend of genetic types. I felt sure that two or three people were from Sky's Edge, aristocrats by the look of them, but no one I was interested in. Bored, I tried to listen in on their conversation, but the acoustics of the commons blurred their words into a mush, from which only the occasional word emerged when one or other of the party raised their voice. I could still tell they were speaking Norte.

Very few people on Sky's Edge spoke Norte with great fluency, but almost everyone understood it to some extent: it was the only language which spanned all the factions, and was therefore used for diplomatic overtures and trade with external parties. In the south we spoke Castellano, the principal language of the Santiago, with of course some contamination from the other languages spoken in the Flotilla. In the north they spoke a shifting Creole of Hebrew, Farsi, Urdu, Punjabi and the old ancestor tongue of Norte called English, but mainly Portuguese and Arabic. Aristocrats tended to have a better grasp of Norte than the average citizen; fluency in it was a badge of sophistication. I had to speak it well for professional reasons-which is why I also spoke most of the northern tongues, as well as having a passable ability in Russish and Canasian.

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.

History Edit

Norte is indirectly referenced in the short story Glacial and then referred to and elaborated upon somewhat more in the novel Chasm City.

In the latter, the novel's protagonist compares Norte and his native tongue from Sky's Edge. Based on his description, it appears Norte is still predominantly English-based, whereas the "Castellano" of Sky's Edge is the colony's version of either Castilian Spanish (European Spanish) or South American Spanish (given the Chilean and other South American ancestry of many of the colonists).

Prior to the rise of Canasian as the dominant language on Yellowstone, the major language of Yellowstone in its early colonial era was Norte, brought to the planet by Americano colonists. The early Yellowstone colony didn't prove all that viable and was later superceded by the Demarchist colonisation efforts.

Notable speakers Edit

By the post-Melding Plague era of Yellowstone, the Norte language is still one of the main languages of the Revelation Space universe, but it seems to be somewhat less prestigious than Canasian (at least in the Epsilon Eridani system).

Nevertheless, the protagonist of Chasm City explicitly states that Norte is the only language actually understood by all disparate factions of interstellar humanity, even those individuals and groups who are not entirely fluent in it. Most of the verbal dialogue between Demarchists (and other "Stoners"), Ultranauts, Conjoiners and Skyjacks is implied to be in some form of Norte.

Colonists of Diadem Edit

Humans born and raised on the colony of Diadem, after being brought to the planet by Von Neumann probe expeditions. The colonists are identified in the short story "Glacial" as descendants of an American interstellar colonisation effort, via the probes.

  • Martin Setterholm
  • Andrew Iverson
  • other unnamed colonists

Yellowstone natives Edit

  • Marco Ferris (presumably)
  • Vadim
  • occurs in dialects and argot spoken by many people

Immigrees to Yellowstone Edit

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.

Ultranauts and others Edit

Norte is rarely explicitly mentioned in connection to either Ultranauts, or space pirates and other informal groups. However, given its pervasiveness as a language of basic communication and commerce, it seems to be a commonly understood and used language among the Ultras.

Since Canasian is described as harder to learn for a non-Demarchist outsider, conversations between Volyova and Sylveste in Revelation Space probably occur in Norte, rather than Canasian.

RS Glossary entry Edit

Norte: A language incorporating elements of English and Spanish.
- description from the official RS glossary [2]

Notes Edit


  1. Some Sort Of Internal Consistency...: Alastair Reynolds interviewed by Duncan Lawie,, ca summer 2002, archived link accessed 26th June 2019
  2. Revelation Space universe - RS Glossary - N,, the official website of Alastair Reynolds

See also Edit

  • Canasian - The most prominent future language of the setting, used particularly by the Demarchists of Yellowstone and their colonies, but also in interstellar commerce.
  • 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.
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