Virtual Verduria

Introduction The language of XurnoTypographical conventionsFamily relationships
Phonology ConsonantsVowelsStressTransliterationSound samplesDialectal variationsSound changes
Morphology Nominal morphologyPlurals
PronounsOld XurneseCoraušiVariationsOther anaphora
Verbal morphologyIndicativeSubjunctiveize ‘to be’Irregular verbsNegative verbs
Derivational Morphology NominalizationsAdjectivizationsVerbalizations
Syntax Sentence word order
Noun phrases
PronounsProximative and obviativeReflexivesImpersonal expressions
The verbal systemIndicativeSubjunctiveSimple auxiliariesNegationSubordinating auxiliariesCompound auxiliariesImperativesCopulas
Transformations Simple casesYes-no questionsInterrogative pronounsConjunctionConditional expressions
Abstract transformsPronominalizationInfinitivizationThe auxiliary transformNominalization
SubordinationSentential constituentsCoordinate subordinationRelative clausesCausativesAdverbial relative clausesAdjective complements
Semantics The meaning of meaningStructuralismIntention and utteranceMeanings upon meaningsLanguage and logic
Semantic change
Metaphor systemsGrammaticalized metaphorPerspective
Categories and prototypesBasic categories
Some semantic fieldsHours of the dayDays of the weekThe seasonsNames and titlesExpletives and obscenities
Pragmatics Deixis
ImplicatureConversational maximsLexical implicatures PresuppositionLanguage and logic
Speech acts
Discourse structureTurn-takingAdjacency pairsPre-sequencesLong turnsGreetings and closingsRepairPragmatic markers
PolitenessPoliteness strategiesA Xurnese view
Real-world knowledgeFrames and metonymy
Examples 1. A Defense of Women
2. Diary of the Prose Wars: Deru
3. An infatuation with clocks


The language of Xurno

Xurnese, called by its speakers Corauši or Xornaurši, is the language of Xurno, the great Southern nation, and the southern anchor of the multilobed cultural unit which is Ereláe. It is spoken as a primary language by over sixty million people, and as an acquired language by many millions more, to say nothing of the influence it has had on other languages in the Axunaic cultural area (known as Xengiman, the Greater Xengi).

Xurnese is highly dialectalized; each province has its own distinct dialect, and those of the outlying regions (Xazno, Bolon, Jeor, Gotanel, Idenar) are virtually separate languages.

Corauši means ‘Curau speech’, referring to the imperial capital, Curau. Curau dialect is the standard for art, education, commerce, and government. As the fate of regional literature is national indifference, there is only a small amount of serious dialectal writing; most of this is concentrated in the largest cities, notably Inex, Lirau, Jinayzu, and Lij.

As a complication, the present capital is not Curau but Inex. The prestige of Curau as the Xurnese homeland and the home of its greatest writers has so far been sufficient to enforce a Coralaur rather than a purely Inegri standard on the nation; but of course a huge number of very influential speakers are native to Inex rather than Curau. As some have put it, the de facto standard is an resident of Inex attempting to speak Corauši.

The strength of the standard often leads both the Xurnese and outsiders to accord their language more unity than it really has. Xurnese nationalists even maintain that Čeiy speaks a form of Xurnese, although most everyone, especially the Čeiyu, considers Ṭeôši to be a separate language.

This document describes only standard Corauši Xurnese. There is a Language Agency (Šundaus) in Curau which defines the written standard. I’ve tried to follow actual usage rather than the Agency’s prescriptions; but its dictionaries and grammars are invaluable.

Typographical conventions

Family relationships

Xurnese, the language of their major rivals at sea, has been studied for many centuries by the Verdurians, who call it ahuenaš. They found it difficult but fascinating, and so little suspected its relation to Verdurian that it was used as an argument against the first philologists, who boldly theorized that all languages derived from one. “Show us how we’re related to that,” ran the taunt.

In fact Xurnese is a member of the Axunaic branch of the Eastern language family to which Verdurian also belongs. Modern linguists can trot out many similar words (e.g. rama/rana ‘frog’, tas/ta ‘we’, mul/mole ‘soft’) to show this, as well as dissimilar-sounding but related pairs (xu ‘bad’ / čelt ‘evil’, rae/lädan ‘go’, šic/hep ‘seven’).

The affinity has been disguised not only by sound changes, but by semantic and lexical divergence. Xurnese has inherited many words from the Wede:i civilization which preceded it in Xengiman (for details see the Axunašin grammar), as well as from the Skourene and Tžuro cultures it has interacted and struggled with.

Though we say Corauši derives from Axunašin, it’s actually more complicated than that. Before the rise of Axunai, Curau (then named Tural) spoke a variety closer to Mounšun, the dialect of Tannaza. During imperial times the speech of the delta supplanted local dialects throughout Šuzep, the middle Xengi, but without erasing some distinctive local vocabulary and language features. Old Xurnese, the language of the early Xurnese empire (fl. 2700) and the direct ancestor of modern Xurnese, derives from this somewhat divergent form of Axunašin.

Modern Inegri dialect was, in turn, strongly influenced by the language of Curau, which was for a time the larger city. So in some ways Inegri is not a purely straightforward descendant of Axunašin either.

The case is similar to that of Italian, which derives not from Rome but Florence.


The Xurnese sound system is as follows:

corresponding to the transliterations:


The b/v distinction is not phonemic; this is a single phoneme pronounced [b] initially and [v] between vowels. I write the allophones distinctly as a frank concession to English speakers (and in imitation of Verdurian transliterations).

The use of c and k does not follow Verdurian: c represents /ts/ and k is /k/. C is phonemic, though barely; cf. the minimal pair ceš ‘this one’ / teš ‘halves’. D and dz are also phonemic (cf. dus ‘house’ / dzus ‘in back of’) but even less so, since dz cannot occur finally. Using a digraph for dz reflects Xurnese usage; a word like jadzíes ‘sculptor’ may be written jad-zi-es, whereas c is never split up into *ts.

Somewhat confusingly, x and j generally derive from Axunašin x and j, but represent different sounds. J is /dʒ/ as in English, not Axunašin /ʝ/. X is /s/ initially and /ks/ (as in Axunašin) elsewhere.

(So, x and s have merged initially? Perhaps; but in Inegri initial x is pronounced /z/. Residents of Curau and Inex are aware of this difference and use it to imitate each other. Of course, only literate speakers do a good job of this; the writing system distinguishes between s/z/x.)


e is closed [e] except in diphthongs; o is closed [o] unless followed by an r. However, both tend to be more open in closed syllables.

Common diphthongs are ay /aj/, ey /ɛj/, oy /oj/, au or aw /aw/, eu /ɛw/.


Stress placement is normally predictable: the final syllable is stressed if it ends in a consonant (excluding y), otherwise the previous syllable. If the stressed syllable falls elsewhere, it is indicated with an accent (in our transcription; Xurnese writing never indicates stress).


Xurno ['sur no] Curau ['tsu raw] šeguac ‘bury’ [ʃe gu 'ats]
xurney ‘Xurnese’ ['sur nɛj] Corauši [tsɔ 'raw ʃi] jadzíes ‘sculptor’ [dʒa 'dzi ɛs]
xurnéy [sur 'nɛj] Endajué [ɛn da dʒu 'e] súmex ‘epoch’ ['su mɛks]
Meša ['me ʃa] Inex [i 'nɛks] cunde ‘thus’ ['tsun de]
Šuzep [ʃu 'zɛp] Čeiy [tʃɛj] midzirc ‘judge’ [mi 'dzirts]
Bolon [bo 'lɔn] cauč ‘dance’ [tsawtʃ] rešeji ‘looked’ [re 'ʃe dʒi]
Niormen [ni ɔr 'mɛn] Jeor [dʒe 'ɔr] Bezuxau [be zu 'ksaw]


The transliteration used here is essentially that used by Verdurian and Kebreni scholars, with these differences:

(j) is borrowed from Flaidish, and (w) from Ismaîn or Kebreni.

It’s a perfectly serviceable transliteration, and if the b/v distinction is bad phonetics, it helps the Verdurians and it will help English speakers too. Aw/au are merged in Corauši but not in Inegri.

The Xurnese script is part logographic, part syllabic. The syllabic portion is extremely archaic; e.g. Inegri is written <wei-ne'x-ri>, which matches <wei-ne'x> for Inex and Axunašin Weinex, but is hopeless for a transliteration. Fortunately the Xurnese recognize their pedagogic problem and dictionaries often provide ad hoc phonetic glosses for difficult spellings. These match the Verdurian transliterations in almost all cases, and I’ve used them to transliterate words not attested in Verdurian sources.

Sound samples


Ir nevu jadzíes mnošuac.
My niece is dating a sculptor.

To am šus bunji dis kes denjic.
He hopes one day to govern a province.

Syu cu šus izrues šač.
Myself, I don’t envy that province.

pija, saučis, čaši, miruj
filth, die, helmets, brain - words from map below

Dialectal variations

The major dialect regions of Xurno are:

Dialect Region Provinces / States
Corauši the middle Xengi, esp. Corau Šuzep
Inegri the Xengi delta, esp. Inex Šiyku
Jimbri the Tanel peninsula Tanel, western Gotanel
Lejur the upper Xengi Rau Xengi
Evangri Lake Van and the southeast Nior, Idzinar, eastern Gotanel
Idestri the Ideis valley Niormen, Rau Niormen, Bukanel
Rajjari the Ran valley Rajjay, Bozan
Momori Jeor Tásuc Tag; eastern Jeor
Čimagri the Čiqay valley Čiqay
Bolongri Bolon Bolon
Xazengri the Hasun valley Xazno

The dialects largely correspond to provinces for good reason: these are the natural divisions of Xurno, largely defined by its river valleys.

The map shows the pronunciations of four words across Xurno: pija (Ax. pija) ‘filth’ , xaučis (xučik) ‘to die’, čaši (čiaši) ‘enemies’, miruj (meiruj) ‘brain’.

Some characteristics of the dialects, as exemplified by the sample words (but by no means an exhaustive description):


The Xurnese writing system is unable to represent most dialectal variation, inasmuch as it’s partly logographic, and partly based on Corauši syllables. Occasionally misspellings are used (rather haphazardly) to give a local flavor to a provincial character— e.g. xaučis might be written xiučis to suggset Evangri, kxeučis for Idestri, šiwčič for Xazengri. However, there is little attempt to write the dialects; even popular songs are written in standard Corauši.

As Tásuc Tag is a separate state, there is a little less pressure to use the standard, but this mostly means that more New Jeori words are used.

Sound changes from Axunašin to Xurnese
See the sound change file.


Nominal morphology

Native grammars maintain that Xurnese nouns have dominant, subordinate, and genitive case, as well as civú, goro, and čeyke gender.

In fact these are archaizing fantasies— or at best aids for teaching Axunašin. The grammarians assign ‘case’ according to the Axunašin etymon, inasmuch as Xurnese nouns derive from either the dominant or subordinate case in Axunašin. For instance buma ‘cow’ derives from the subordinate case bouma, while bus ‘bull’ derives from dominant case bouz.

‘Genitives’ are rare, and are best treated as a form of derivational morphology.

‘Gender’ is even easier— e.g. buma and bus are both goro gender, like their etymons. There is no gender agreement in Xurnese, but admittedly the plural paradigms usually correspond to the ancient gender— e.g. nouns ending in -a pluralize in -i (koma ‘house’ → komi) if they derive from the civú gender, but in -ay (rina ‘river’ → rinay) if they were goro gender. But instead of learning an arbitrary gender for many words, why not just remember the arbitrary plural?


Xurnese plurals are indeed difficult. There were already many irregular plurals in Axunašin, and these have been complicated by sound change and by derivation from different cases and genders, though analogy has also simplified the results somewhat.

If that weren’t enough, many plurals incorporate a vowel change as well; usually u → au as in móruc ‘form’ → moraup or i → ay as in riju ‘room’ → rayjú.

The table below summarizes the most common patterns (excluding vowel changes). Quite a few plurals are predictable— especially for those with a good knowledge of Axunašin—but it may be easiest simply to memorize the plural for each noun. The lexicon gives plural forms for all nouns that have one.

Nouns in Plural Examples
-a -i
koma → komi
rina → rinay
-c -p
šuc → šup
gec → ger
juc → juy
-irc -ircú nusirc → nusircú
(but some -c) beč → beš
-d -c red → rec
-e -i nune → nuni
-i -w
torei → torew
eči → ečú
-k -ki reyk → reyki
-um -we kasum → kaswe
-m -mi dum → dumi
-n -ni
raun → rauni
meyn → meynú
-udo -udzú ammudo → ammudzú
-o -u goro → goru
-p -pi
cip → cipi
teyp → teyvú
-r -ri
ber → beri xor → xorú
-s -c
ros → roc
ujes → uje
mis → misi
dus → dum
yeys → yeysú

ješ → jič
seš → seši
-u saysu → saysú
-x -s aušex → aušas
-Vy -V’y zalay → zaláy
-z -zi
xiaz → xiazi
moz → mozú
-C (vowel change) kon → keun


Adjectives do not have gender, but they do form plurals—matching the noun’s plural suffix rather than having one of their own. For instance:

saul xuma a young man

sauli xumi young men
saulú payvú young fathers
sauláy zaláy young warlords
saulé yaté young masters
saulwe edwe young slaves

The adjective does not attempt to match pluralization by consonant or vowel change:

saul emur young husbands
saul nyew young emperors
saul imimes young sea captains

Some adjectives (indicated in the lexicon) have a separate root in the plural: reu mes beautiful woman, reuri mesi beautiful women.

Use the singular form with pronouns or unexpressed subjects (e.g. Saul izom We are young).

Adverbs are formed with the postposition ga: reu ga ‘beautifully’. (Axunašin -oyo survives in a few words as -yo, as in rumyo ‘a long time’, but these are now just lexical anomalies.)

Comparatives are formed with pali, dopali ‘more, less’; superlatives with dzulé, dzudo ‘most, least’: pali saul ‘younger’, dzulé saul ‘youngest’. The term of comparison may be expressed by subordination: yuti na pali reu more beautiful than flowers.


The pronominal system shows considerable change from Axunašin. Only the first person pronouns are direct reflexes of their Axunašin equivalents.

Old Xurnese pronouns

It is useful to present the pronominal system first in an archaic form, that of Old Xurnese (c. 2750). This system underlies the later so-called dzunye ‘royalist’ system, and that of several modern dialects, notably Bozangri. For simplicity’s sake, only the nominative forms are given.
singular plural
high low high low
1 siu si tas ta
2 riezič ri miezič moš
3 tošezič to kiezič ke
In form the high 2nd and 3rd person pronouns derive from forms meaning e.g. ‘your greatness’ (Ax. rir ezičou), ‘his/her greatness’ (toiš ezičou). These are attested in many forms showing varying levels of abbreviation.

The usage of the high and low forms was quite complex. The grammarians’ explanation was that ‘high’ forms were used for superiors; ‘low’ forms for inferiors. Examples:

There were many exceptions: for instance, husbands and wives at home always used the low forms— except for nobles in arranged marriages, who used the high forms!

The grammarians’ explanation does not explain why nobles addressed lower nobles with ‘high’ forms, as if they were superiors; and does not provide much guidance for speaking to equals. A better formulation might be that the ‘high’ forms are court forms, used to refer to the noble and the educated in social situations.

The Corauši system

Compare now the modern Corauši system:
singular plural
nom acc gen nom acc gen
1 syu i ir tas toy cir
2 yes yes oyes myes myes mir
3 pr toš toš tir, otoš kyes kyes xir
3 ob to to tir, oto
The high/low distinction has disappared, a victim of the egalitarian climate of the Revaudo revolution. Note that it was the high and not the low forms that survived— in effect, everyone would now address each other as peers of the educated class, which would have been how the Revaudo intellectuals addressed each other.

The accusative is retained only in the 1st person.

The genitives derive from Axunašin, with the 1s/2s -r ending generalized, except for the 2s and alternate 3s forms which consist of the adposition o plus the nominative form. (O is now a postposition, so these words are archaic in form.)

It is awkward to have just one 3s pronoun; Corauši has therefore innovated an additional one out of the archaic low form. Thus toš serves as a proximative, to as an obviative.

The 3rd person forms given above are used for animate referents only. For inanimates use ceš ‘this one’ or cuš ‘that one’ instead.


There is considerable dialectal variation in the pronominal system. Bozangri is noted for using the dzunye ‘royalist’ system, which retains the high/low forms:
singular plural
nom acc gen nom acc gen
1 syu ic ir ta to toyš
2 high yezič jezič jezič o mozič muzič muzič o
2 low ri ej rir moš mu mye
3 high toič toič toič o kezič kezič kezič o
3 low to toy toš ke ke key

As another example, Čimagri, in the far west, has generalized the low rather than the high forms:
singular plural
nom acc gen nom acc gen
1 si i ir ta to tei
2 ri ej rir moš mon mei
3 to to tir ke ken kei

Also of note are Evangri in the far east, which has collapsed the nominative/accusative distinction; and Lejur in the upper Xengi which has innovated masculine and feminine forms in the 2nd and 3rd person singular.

Other anaphora

Adjective Person Place Time Reason Manner
question ji ji • je jinar jideym tun jende
which who/what where when why how
this ci ceš inar idzum citun cinde
this this one here now for this this way
that cu cuš cinar cideym cutun cunde
that that one there then therefore that way
none do duox donar duoyo donde
nobody nowhere never no way
some bunji bunjisu amnar andeym amende
someone somewhere sometime somehow
many maus maussu mausinar mausiga mausende
many many people many places often in many ways
every ez ezisu eznar ezdeym ezende
everyone everywhere always wholly

Of these anaphora only ji ‘who, what’ has an accusative form, je. There are no genitive forms; use the postposition o.

For inanimates (things), use ji / ceš / cuš (from the person column) but then do / bunji / maus / ez (from the adjective column).

The anaphora in the ‘some’ row can be translated ‘any’ in negative sentences.

Verbal morphology

Xurnese has both inflected and synthetic tenses. This section concentrates on the inflected forms; for their usage and other constructions, see the section on Syntax.


As in Axunašin, there are three conjugations; it’s effectively meaningless which one a particular verb is.

Verb agreement

Verbs must agree in person and number with the subject of the sentence.

Verbs no longer have second person forms in standard Xurnese. Third person forms are used with the second person pronouns (which, as we have seen, developed from respectful third-person expressions).

The following chart shows the three regular conjugations or verb classes, using the regular verbs kalis ‘please’, reše ‘look at’, and čir ‘cook’. Irregular forms are common, and will be discussed below.

(A few verbs have an infinite in -i; they conjugate with the verbs in -e.)

The indicative

Present Perfect
-is -e - -is -e -
1s kal-ú reš-ú čir-ú kal-ijú reš-ejú čir-ijú
3s kal-e reš čir kal-ije reš-ej čir-ij
1p kal-um reš-om čir-um kal-ijum reš-ejom čir-ayjum
3p kal-uc reš-ayc čir-uc kal-ijuc reš-ejayc čir-ayjuc
Past Future
-is -e - -is -e -
1s kal-ije reš-eju čir-ije kal-ip reš-eyu čir-iye
3s kal-ayš reš-eji čir-iji kal-ayp reš-ey čir-í
1p kal-ayjum reš-ejum čir-ijim kal-yum reš-eum čir-im
3p kal-ijayc reš-ejuc čir-ijeyc kal-yayc reš-euc čir-yeyc
Sound change rendered the ordinary past tense of Axunašin too close to the present, and it was replaced by the past intensive.

The present intensive became the perfect tense.

There are no 2s or 2p forms in Corauši. (There are in certain dialects, notably Bozangri and Xazengri.)

Some mnemonics:

The subjunctive

Present Perfect
-is -e - -is -e -
1s kal-idú reš-imú čir-imú kal-ugú reš-ogú čir-uswe
3s kal-ide reš-im čir-im kal-uge reš-eux čir-aux
1p kal-idum reš-imom čir-imum kal-ugum reš-ogom čir-usum
3p kal-iduc reš-imayc čir-imuc kal-usuc reš-osayc čir-usuc
Past Future
-is -e - -is -e -
1s kal-idije reš-imeju čir-imije kal-anye reš-enyu čir-anye
3s kal-idayš reš-imeji čir-imiji kal-an reš-en čir-an
1p kal-idijum reš-imejum čir-imijim kal-anum reš-enum čir-anim
3p kal-idijayc reš-imejuc čir-imijeyc kal-anayc reš-enuc čir-anyeyc

ize ‘to be’

This verb has irregular present, past, subjunctive present, and subjunctive past forms.
Present Past Subj Pres Subj Past
1s zyu šui šuyu
3s ze zi šu šúe
1p izom ezum šuom šuum
3p ayzuc ezyuc šuayc šuyuc
The perfect and future forms are regular: izejú ‘I really am’, izeyu ‘I will be’.

The subjunctive perfect and future use the regular endings and the root šu-: šuogú ‘if I really am’, šuenyu ‘if I will be’.

Irregular verbs

The verb root is almost always that of the infinitive (minus the -is or -e ending). Irregularities concentrate in the present tense. Some examples:
Conjugation Infinitive 1s present 3s present 1p present 1s perfect
1 (-is) jausis jugú juge jugum jausijú
pudzis pudú pude pudum pudzijú
rues roú ruwe roum ruejú
2 (-e) jidze jidú jic jidom jidejú
mide midú mic midom midejú
3 (-0) baus bugú baus busum bausijú
dzaus dzu dzaus dzusum dzausijú
aycaur ayco aycaur aycorum aycaurijú
jec jetú jec jetum jecijú
kes kezú kes keyzum kezijú

As seen above, the typical irregularity is a different vowel and/or final consonant, and affects both the 1s and 1p.
The 3s may follow the 1s/1p irregularity, may have its own irregular form, or may be regular.
Some infinitives are irregular; in this case the lexicon will give the root.
De ‘give’ has an irregular present tense, shown below. Other forms are regular, based on the root d-, except for the present and past subjunctive whose root is dz-.
3s dzi
1p dom
3p dzayc

Negative verbs

The negative mood has disappeared from Xurnese, except for the following verbs, which are all auxiliaries. In effect these have all been lexicalized as independent verbs.
šače rugačis zenače rače xamače mojač
not be not want not know not go not come may not be
1s šač rugač zenač rač xamač mojače
3s šači rugači zenači rači xamači mojači
1p šačum rugačum zenačum račum xamačum mojačim
3p šačuc rugačayc zenačuc račuc xamačuc mojačeyc
1s šuč ruč zeynauč rauč xamauč mojuče
3s šuči ruči zeynuči rauči xamuči mojuči
1p šučum ručum zeynučum raučum xamučum mojučim
3p šučuc ručayc zeynučuc raučuc xamučuc mojučeyc
Šizenače ‘not be able to’, saragače ‘must not’, jidače the negative passive, and imišače ‘not begin to’ conjugate like zenače.

There is no negative perfect, future, or subjunctive.


Derived words are often inherited from Axunašin, which can make the derivation less transparent: the derivation Curau + -ri = coralaur ‘of Curau’ makes sense only in terms of the Axunašin equivalent Turaluri. Changes in vowels are common (saul + -aycsulayc ‘youth’; cf. Ax. suli → sulito); changes in final consonants are also seen (dax + -iš → dásiš ‘imperial’; cf. dax → daxiš).


Many derivational suffixes are not accented in the singular; e.g. réuric, brúndeč, símex. The plural has normal accent: reurir, brundeš, simas. Such suffixes are marked “unacc.” below.


1. Adjectives: -ic (unacc.; pl. -ir):
gisu heavy → gisúnic weight
reu beautiful → réuric beauty
saul young → sáulic youth
2. Simple actions: -u (pl. -ú):
pij fear → piju
leave → orau departure
rues desire → rou desire
3. A state, process, or activity: -udo (pl. -udzú), or -audo following a syllable containing a front vowel:
kuli gather → kuludo harvest
ize be → izaudo existence
revi new → revaudo newness
4. One instance of a repeated process, or one item from a mass: -uc (unacc.; pl. -aup). This is derivation has a pedantic feel and is mostly used in philosophy and science.
baus inform → búsuc report
payčis greet → páyčuc greeting
šone head of hair → šónuc one hair
5. The result of a process: - (unacc.; pl. -):
brunde promise → brúndeč a promise
pece sing → pídeč hymn
sune dream → súneč dream


6. A person with a particular quality: -ayc (pl. -aycú):
jis weak → jisayc wimp
reš tall → rešayc tall person
saul young → sulayc young person
7. One who does the action of a verb: -irc (pl. -ircú):
cauč dance → caučirc dancer
jausik lord it over → jausirc tyrant
kezi govern → kezirc governor
8. A follower (like -ist) or inhabitant: -su (pl. -), a contraction of xuma ‘man’:
Mešamešasu follower of Mešaism
beyludo enlightenment → beylusu enlightened one
Jeor → jeorsu
Zešnam Dhekhnam → zešnasu Dhekhnami
9. Inhabitants and some occupations: -es (unacc.; pl. -é):
Asuna Axuna → asúnes Axunemi
Kuras Šura → kurázes Šurene
jadziac sculpt → jadzíes sculptor
uyku herd → úykes herdsman
10. Persons associated with a place (including some professions) may also use -iy or -ey (pl. -éy):
Inex → inexiy
forest → jeniy woodsman
rina river → riney ferryman
11. Femininization: zim- or zin-. To be used sparingly; Xurnese is generally happy with unisex forms: šudzirc waiter, waitress; im prince, princess.
nye king → zinnye queen
šejis deer→ zinšejis doe

Objects and places

12. Object used for something: -ji (pl. -):
etešis whip → eteji a whip
jivi walk → jiviji cane
rim weave → rimiji loom
13. Collection: -ex (unacc.; pl. -as):
dzučuc ritual → dzučuex book of rituals
mnaur wear → mnórex clothes
sim glyph → símex writing system
šuš bone → šúšex skeleton
14. Study, thought, art (like -ism, -ology): -xau ‘study’:
MešaMešaxau Mešaism
bej shoot → bejixau archery
xayu sky → xayuxau astronomy
15. Language: -ši:
Asunai → asunaši
Curau → corauši
Berdura → berduraši Verdurian
16 Place: -nar:
kaym buy → kaynar store
šomis ship → šominar dock
bic grape → bicnar tavern
17. Lands are named with -nel:
edi Wede:i → Edinel Wede:i-land
Puro a river → Pronel
kazi Cađinorian → Kazinel Cađinas

Changes in quality

18. Augmentative: -uy (pl. -úy):
mes woman → mésuy big woman
jud hole → júcuy big gaping hole
The Axunašin suffix -i (pl. -w) has been borrowed or revived in some words:
nye king → nyei emperor
19. Diminutive: -is (unacc.; pl. -isi):
japu goat → jápis kid
nye king → nyeis kinglet
nuna street → núnis alley
For mass nouns, the diminutive can be used to name the smallest discrete unit:
nis snow → nísis snowflake
ruywen grass → ruywénis blade of grass
zu sand → zúis grain of sand


Adjectives can normally be used as substantives as well.

1. Adjectivization -ri (voices previous consonant; -gri after n or x, -bri after m or w, -tri after s or c; l + ri → -rri):

nye king → nyeri royal
xuma man → xumbri male
mayp mother → maybri maternal
The same suffix serves to create a present participle from a verb:
kis grow → kistri growing
sun dream → sungri dreaming
brešuac develop → brešuatri advanced (lit. developing)
and to form an adjective from a toponym:
Siyku Xengi delta → šiykuri
2. Another common suffix is -u:
baj four → baju fourth
Čeiy čeiyu
hut → dumu homely
xus wonder → xumu wondrous
3. The unaccented suffix - or -, deriving from the genitive, has been lexicalized to refer to composition or legal ownership.
dax palace → dásiš royal
nan god → náneš divine
jud hole → júdeš lace
For nouns that were feminine in Axunašin , the suffix is -i:
šuke color → šuki colorful
paup stone → pui stony
xule wood → xuli wooden
4. A past participle can be formed by adding the suffix -aup:
čiri cook → čiraup cooked
jese kill → jesaup murder victim
reus imprison → rosaup prisoner
These adjectives are not pluralized: čiraup širvú ‘cooked vegetables.’

5. Personal qualities are often adjectivized with -mel:

boru true → brumel truthful
jis weak → jisimel timid, tentative
rac justice → raymel justice-loving
yuc oil → yucmel schmaltzy
6. An adjective can be weakened with -is (unacc.):
nulač sick → nuláčis unwell
rauj red → ráujis reddish
šum ugly → šúmis funny-looking
7. Quality of a noun: -moro:
niu grace → niumoro graceful
nue cat → nuemoro like a cat
mes woman → mesoro womanly
8. Follower: dzu-
nye king → dzunye royalist
bayl dissipate → dzubayl hedonistic
ródeš popular → dzuródeš conformist
9. The suffix -forms a negative:
gec mind → gerač insane
rile see → rilač invisible
mojuri possible → mojurači impossible
10. Patronymic. The clitic ma- (before a vowel, maz-) means son of, like Irish Mc- or Norman Fitz-; the female form is ne- (before a/e/o neg-, before i/u nes-).
Bezu ma-Veon Bezu son of Beon (Remember that bv between vowels; ma-Veon is considered one word.)
Itep neg-Auliric Itep daughter of Auliric


1. A verb may have the same lexical root with a noun, though the form is often obscured by sound change:
cuš dance → cauč dance
koma home → keum reside
yas hunt → yaš hunt
2. The process for creating a noun: -ac:
rema milk → remyac milk
pija filth → payjuac corrupt
jire wife → jireac marry
The same suffix turns an adjective X into a verb ‘to make something X’:
geun straight → gewmiac straighten
bip small → biac abase
3. Bestowal of an object or condition: -de:
nus name → naunde give a name to
nar place → mride grant
xe body → xede create
4. The suffix -šis roughly means ‘use X’; with body parts it often has a despective meaning:
gil stream → gilaušis ford
sou salt → solaušis add salt
raun tongue → raunešis slander, insult
jad butt → jadzišis move lewdly, live loosely
5. Added to an adjective, the suffix -bes (which is simply the verb ‘become’) forms a verb with the meaning ‘become X’:
caun rotten → caumbes rot
rauj red → raujives redden
6. A negative can be formed with --; this is sometimes a survival of the Axunašin negative mood, sometimes formed by analogy. This suffix is not very productive; it’s generally preferable to use the auxiliary sače instead.
rues want → rugačis not want
zene know → zenače not know
gerizas understand → gerizagač misunderstand
sinde say → sindače not say
7. To undo an action, or remove something: o- (or- before a vowel):
naušvar approve → onaušvar retract one’s approval
jireac marry a woman → ojireac divorce
šeguac bury → ošeguac disinter
rízex testicles → orizas castrate


This section will cover the basics of syntax: unmarked word order, constituent types, the extended verbal system. Transformations are covered in the next section.

Sentence word order

Simple sentences are, as in Axunašin, SOV (subject-object-verb):
Ir nevu jadzíes mnošuac.
my niece sculptor date-3s
My niece is dating a sculptor.

To tir mayp mausiga kalayš.
3s.OBV 3s.GEN mother much please-3s.PAST
He pleased her mother very much.


An auxiliary verb takes the final position, the infinitive appearing just before it.
S O V → S O V-Inf Aux

Toš to ray do šasaup rile šizen.
3s 3s.OBV in no flaws see can-3s
She can see no flaws in him.

If there are additional constituents between object and verb (e.g. adverbs or prepositional phrases), they remain between the object and infinitive.
S O ... V → S Inf O ... Inf Aux

To am šus bunji dis kes denjic.
3s.OBV one province some day govern hope-3s
He hopes one day to govern a province.

The Xurnese negative is an auxiliary, and follows this rule:
Syu cu šus izrues šač.
1s that province envy not-1s
Myself, I don’t envy that province.

Noun phrases

The noun always ends its noun phrase, thus following


Subject pronoun usage is as follows: Pronominal objects occur in the same locations as nominal objects (that is, after the subject):
Myes mavú, myes i mava, tas wéneš koros.
2p.acc love.1s / 2p.nom 1s.acc love.3s / 1p happy family
I love you; you love me; we’re a happy family.
The accusative form of pronouns is used with a postposition: toyagainst us.

2s pronouns take 3s verb forms, and 2p pronouns take 3p verbs.

Proximative and obviative

The obviative 3s form to is used to disambiguate two referents.
Sulayc li tir mayp mirileju; toš i šigosuac pel to šači.
youth and 3s.GEN mother met-1s.past / 3s 1s.acc bore-3s but 3s.OBV not-3s
I’ve met the boy and his mother; he bores me but she doesn’t.
If the topic switches to the referent of to— in the example, if the speaker went on to concentrate on the boy’s mother— then toš is used instead. Thus, toš is used for the first of two named referents, or for the main topic of the conversation.

If a sentence contasts toš and to, it may distinguish the genitives otoš and oto. If ambiguity is not likely, tir should be used.


Subject and object can be coreferential: Yes yes lajiji You hit yourself.
The adverb tirse can optionally be included to ensure a reflexive meaning; as the object pronoun is redundant it may be omitted: (Kyes) tirse lajijeyc.

Verbs of personal grooming are understood to be reflexive if no object is specified: Laumijú I washed myself.

Reflexives can never be used (as in Verdurian or Spanish) for an impersonal meaning (se habla español).

With plural referents, the reflexive always indicates that each person acted upon himself. The expression ceš playnu ‘this one the other’ indicates a reciprocal meaning. Compare:

Kyes kyes tirse jesejayc. They each killed themselves.
Kyes kyes čes playnu jesejayc. They killed each other.

Impersonal expressions

Impersonal verbs do not take a subject: Mojuri ze It’s possible; Nuw It’s raining.

The expression ros ‘people’ can be used much like an indefinite pronoun. In colloquial speech ros is often omitted, leaving an impersonal 3p verb.

(Ros) yajirc tom Yajirc naundayc.
(people) hunter to ‘hunter’ call-3p
They call the hunter ‘Hunter.’
Tas ‘we’ can be used as an inclusive impersonal expression: Tas toš Yajirc naundom We call him Hunter. Similarly myes ‘you’ can be used to refer to the listener’s people: Myes toš ‘yagom’ naundayc You (Verdurians) call him ‘Yagom’. This impersonal myes is always distancing; don’t confuse it with the informality of English impersonal you as in You know how women are.

Impersonal rile ‘see’ is used as an existential, rather than ize:

Buma edumi rilayc, li palači am zú.
two idiot.PL see-3p / and only one be-1s
There are two idiots here, and only one is me.

Niormen ray cu mavije na moz rilejuc.
Niormen in that love-PAST.1s SUB girl see-PAST.3p
There was a girl in Niormen that I loved.


The numbers are:
cardinal ordinal +10 x10 1/x
 1  am im andeš deš
 2  buma puc bundeš pudeš teyeš
 3  dzi dzim dzayndeš dzideš
 4  baj cidzi bandeš cideš sumiš
 5  peyk peykaur peygudeš peydeš
 6  seči seyčaur semudeš sedeš
 7  šic šizaur šimudeš šideš
 8  yauš yusaur yumudeš yudeš
 9  nep neyvaur naymudeš nedeš
 10  deš deysaur sigac
The cardinal numbers are not declined: am yeys one feather, seči dim six days. Ordinals are regular adjectives and have plural forms: puc runi the second city, pucú runú the second cities.

Two-digit numbers are formed by concatenation (cidešdzi 43, šidešyauš 78) except for those with final 1, which becomes -mam (a survival of Ax. mu): pudešmam 21, and -6 which becomes -šeči.

Names of the hundreds use the same prefixes as the tens: pusigac, dzisigac, etc. Thus peysigač šideššeči 576.
Ezir ‘1000’ however is a separate word: seči ezir 6000.

Higher ordinals are formed by changing the last digit only.

Years are reckoned from the foundation of Xurno in 2530 (buma ezir peysigac dzideš); the current year, Z.E. 3480, is thus 950 (nesigac peydeš). Sometimes years are counted from the Revaudo revolution (3017), making the current year 463 (cisigac sedešdzi).


Xurnese has postpositions rather than prepositions. (Thus Xurnese is consistently head-final.)
postposition gloss
cumoro like, as
dmuro during
dzu between, among, on
dzus after; in back of
dzušši since
e to, toward
eši back to
eyka for, in return for
ga in, at, in the manner of
leš in front of
mu with
mutes despite
nao about, on
ney over, above
neyo across, beyond, except
o of, out of, from
ortes far from
peš near, around
pip before (in time)
pišši until
rameyn using, by means of
rano through, along
ray in, into
šaup under, below
tes without
tom to (marks indirect object)
xur beside, next to
Thus mes cumoro like a woman, rile eyka in order to see, bes rano along the road, Xurno ray ‘in Xurno’; cu rum eči dmuro during that long summer.

The Axunašin adverbial suffix -iwa survives in Xurnese as ga, but has been reinterpreted as a postposition: rey ga ‘newly’, dam ga ‘smoothly’, gisu ga ‘importantly’. It can apply to other postpositions, to indicate a direction: neyo ga ‘across’, ray ga ‘inward’, etc.

Ga can be applied to nouns as well. It is used with the plural form, though no plural meaning is intended:

rilúšeč appearance → rilušeš ga in appearance, seemingly
nox night → nozú ga at night
šec experience → šedzú ga in (our) experience, as experience shows

Possession is indicated using o, thus: Deru o dus Deru’s house. Colloquially the genitive pronoun may be used instead: Deru tir dus Deru his house.

Tom indicates the indirect object:

Šudzirc nízeš jerej kaymirc tom dej.
waiter nutty bag customer to give-PERF
The waiter gave the customer a bag of nuts.


The most common conjunctions:
conjunction gloss
li and
ma(t) or
pel but
caunga rather, preferably
ciluk because
citun for this reason, therefore
cutun for that reason, therefore
jidil as a result, because of this
keno if / then
luk so, therefore
mucauč also, in addition
peyga on the contrary, however
dzunyo and then, afterwards

Conjunctions can be placed between constituents of any type:
nu li podi cats and dogs
baj ma peyk zinaup four or five articles
šizengri pel yucmel ševarirc an able yet cloying writer
Pidú bídeš caunga ricuka. I drink wine rather than rye beer.
Yes caučayš jidil yes neymoreji. You danced and then you slept.
The series can be extended if desired: nu li pido li japwe li rec cats and dogs and goats and rabbits.

The verbal system

The Xurnese verbal system consists of both inflected and analytic forms.

There are eight inflected forms, not counting the infinitive:

Form Example Gloss
Present   Aycorú I am reading
Perfect Aycaurijú I read (finished reading)
Past Aycauriji I was reading
Future Aycauriye I will read
Present Aycaurimú I may be reading
Perfect Aycauruswe   If only I read
Past Aycaurimije I may have been reading
Future Aycauranye I may read (later)


The indicative is used for facts.


The subjunctive is used for counterfactual, desired, or dubious states. It can be used alone for potential or doubtful actions or states:
Pečrešey yes lešrilen.
editor you receive-3s.FUT.SUBJ
The editor may receive you (but probably won’t).

Berdura brešuatri ros šu.
Verduria advanced nation be-3s-SUBJ
It’s said that Verduria is an advanced nation.

Caučircú ammavri šuayc ma?
dancer-PL monogamous be-3p-SUBJ Q
You say dancers are monogamous??

In an emphatic sentence, the subjunctive alone expresses a wish:
Cu mul buma na pečrešey xauč šu!
that fat cow SUB editor dead be-3s-SUBJ
I wish that fat cow of an editor were dead!
More typically, the subjunctive is used with auxiliaries or in subordinate clauses to suggest that the described state is hypothetical, wished for, or doubtful.
Ševarirc maus niudo mu ci elas ševarij, cu tas cuš aycaurimum eyka.
author much kindness with this lines write-3s.perf SUB we that read-1p.SUBJ for
The author very kindly wrote these lines in order that we might say them.

Cu myes geun miw mu li geun ximaudo mu aycauryeyc citun bezzú.
that you correct words with and correct order with read-3p.SUBJ therefore beg-1s
I beg of you, then, that you say them with the right words and the right order.

Simple auxiliaries

The verbal system is extended with a limited number of auxiliaries:
Auxiliary Negative Gloss Full Subordination
šače negative no
denjidze hope, expect to subjunctive
šizene šizenače can, is able to no
zene zenače know how to no
rae rače habitually do no
rues rugačis want to subjunctive
xame xamače intend to subjunctive
meuš mojač may, might no
šaras šaragače must, have to no
imiše imišače begin to no
jidze jidače passive no
The auxiliary is inflected, while the formerly main verb appears in the infinitive, just to its left. The subject, object, and any adverbials that are present are not affected, and in effect are shared by both verbs.
Yes mavyú → Yes mavis šač.
you love-1s → you love-INF not-1s
I love you → I love you not.

Maysu xivije → Maysu xip zeneji.
iliu swim-3s.PAST → iliu swim-INF know-3s.PAST
The iliu was swiming → The iliu knew how to swim

Ci sus o dzuzovugeš dzulé xu ize meuš.
this year of play-PL most bad be-INF may-3p
This year’s plays may be the worst ever.

Naturally, the auxiliaries may appear in the subjunctive.
Berdursú xudimayc → Berdursú xude raimayc.
Verdurian-PL cheat-3p.SUBJ → Verdurian-PL cheat-INF go-3p.SUBJ
They say the Verdurians are cheating → They say Verdurians habitually cheat.
The subjunctive softens the meanings of certain auxiliaries: zene ‘know how to’ → ‘know a bit how to; xame ‘intend to’ → ‘think about doing’; šaras ‘must’ → ‘should’.
Šukeac zenidú. Jadziac šarasidú.
paint-INF know-SUBJ.1s / sculpt-INF must-SUBJ.1s
I can paint, more or less. I should do sculpting.


As the first example shows, sentences are negated using the auxiliary sače.
Pipaup berdursu riju ray orkime šačum.
drunk Verdurian room in hide-INF not.1p
We are not hiding a drunk Verdurian in the room.
Šače is optional if other negative words are present.
Toš inar duoyo (zi / ize šuči), cu xunj na grišnar ray cinar nudzú.
3s here never (be-PAST.3s / be-INF not-PAST.3s) / that snore-3s SUB closet in there point-1s
He has never been here, especially in that closet that is snoring there.
Sentences with auxiliaries are negated by using the negative auxiliaries (which are highly irregular; see the morphology section).
Maysu xip šučuc → Maysu xip zeynučuc.
iliu swim-INF not-3s.PAST → iliu swim-INF not.know-3s.PAST
The iliu wasn’t swiming → The iliu didn’t know how to swim
In English we can distinguish between negating the auxiliary and the main verb: I don’t know how to get noticed vs. I know how to not get noticed. This distinction is not usually made in Xurnese; the negative auxiliaries only negate the auxiliary itself. (It’s possible to use the -ač- suffix to negate any verb, but this is rather hifalutin, like coining a word: I know how to get unfamous.

Subordinating auxiliaries

In addition to the normal auxiliary structure, denjidze ‘hope’, rues ‘want’, and xame ‘intend’ can take a full subordinate clause, which must appear in the subjunctive; this is used when wishing or intending someone else to do something. Compare:
Xauč ize denjidzú.
dead be-INF wish-1s
I wish to be dead.

Cu ir emu xauč šu na denjidzú.
that my husband dead be-3s.SUBJ SUB wish-1s
I wish my husband were dead.

Ir šebreč imprimis xam.
my book print-INF intend-3s
He intends to publish my book.

Cu xamunar ir šebreč imprimide na xam.
that salon my book print-3s.SUBJ SUB intend-3s
He intends for the Salon to publish my book.

Denjidze ‘hope to’ does not have a negative form; but the subordinated clause can be negative.

Compound auxiliaries

Xurnese grammarians used to prohibit the use of more than one auxiliary in a sentence; but it’s clear that colloquial speech has allowed this for centuries, and it is now common in the written language as well. Some examples:
Deru yu šuema imise zene rap.
Deru good beer find-INF know-INF habitual-3s
Deru always knows where to get good beer.

Ševarirc toy grijil xame mojači.
writer us confuse-INF intend-INF may-NOT-3s
The writer may not intend to confuse us.

Cu šebreč aycaur rae xameju, pel i šigosuac.
that book read-INF habitual-INF intend-PAST-1s / but me bore-3s
I was fixin’ to keep reading that book, but it’s boring.

Uneducated speakers are known for conjugating all the auxiliaries rather than just the last one:
Toš imise zenú mojú.
3s find-INF may-1s
I might know how to find him.


In the standard dialect, commands are expressed using the infinitive:
Ci kasum oyes euma e čeji.
this basket your grandmother to take-INF
Take this basket to your grandmother.

Wes e xuxame pel teris.
artist to approach-INF but be.silent-INF
Approach the artist but be silent.

Colloquially, the present tense may be reduplicated to form an imperative:
Ir emu ujú— ra ra!
my husband hear-1s / go-3s go-3s
I hear my husband— Go!
Xurnese does not have the wide range of softened pseudo-imperatives that English does. When an imperative is softened, it is normally by use of diminutives:
Déruis, bic i de.
deru-DIM / grape me give-INF
Deru darling, pass me a grape.
Commands were given using the future and subjunctive, as in Axunašin, until the Revaudo revolution, when these usages were seen as hopelessly class-ridden. They still survive in some remote provinces (generally the same ones which still use the ‘royalist’ pronouns).


Ize ‘to be’ is normally omitted in the present tense, in the second and third persons:
Ševarirc wéneš. Tir šebreč makri. Yes izruirc.
writer happy / 3s.GEN book successful / 2s envious
The writer is happy. His book is successful. You are envious.
It reappears in other tenses: Tir šebreč makri zi ‘His book was successful’.

The constituents can be swapped:

Wéneš ševarirc. Makri tir šebreč.
happy writer / successful 3s.GEN book
Happy is the writer. Successful is his book.
In the first person the verb is still required in the written language (Wéneš I am happy), but in colloquial speech it’s omitted (Syu wéneš).

The verb is not omitted in impersonal expressions: mojurači ze It’s impossible.

Ize is not used as an existential; see Impersonal expressions.

Peje ‘stand’ is used colloquially to express one’s current or temporary state; thus Wéneš pejú I’m happy right now, Toš braup pej He’s busy at the moment. It’s also used for time expressions: Nimala peje It’s market day.

With the past participle (not the infinitive) and in the past tense, peje indicates that the events described occurred at an earlier time, much like the English past perfect.

Jorumíex omeunijayc, pel jošmir oraup pejeji.
council deliberate-PAST.3p / but opportunity leave-PP stand-PAST.3s
The council deliberated, but the opportunity had past.


This section discusses the main transformations of Xurnese.

Simple cases

Yes-no questions

Questions can be formed in four increasingly bookish ways:

1. By intonation alone

Yes xuxaleš?
2s crazy
You’re crazy?
2. By appending the conjunction ma:
Yes šuema imisej ma?
2s beer find-PERF.3s or
Did you find the beer?
3. By appending the phrase ma jende ‘or how’, the origin of the previous form:
Berdursu ez šuema picayš ma jende?
Verdurian every beer drink-PERF.3s or how
The Verdurian didn’t drink all the beer, did he?
4. Using jic before the verb— an inheritance from Axunašin jiti:
Muré nanú dmuna jic gemayc?
Muran-PL god-PL still Q accept-3p
Do the Uṭandal still believe in gods?
Questions usually use the indicative, but the subjunctive can be used instead to suggest that the suggested state is absurd or unlikely.

In writing it’s still normal to respond to questions as in Axunašin, using the verb (imisejú I found it); but colloquially one responds cunde ‘that way, yes’, šači ‘it isn’t’, or donde ‘no way, not at all’.

Questions with interrogative pronouns

Interrogatives always appear just before the verb. (As ji ‘who/what’ has an accusative je, this causes no confusion as to whether the remaining argument is subject or obejct. Je is also used with postpositions.)
Ir jira tom jiváteč nao ji bausij?
my wife to liquor about who tell-PERF-3p
Who told my wife about the liquor?

Xauč peš pišši je etešayš?
dead near until whom whip-PAST-3s
Who did she whip senseless?

Xamunar o rireširc jideym xam?
salon from inspector when come-3p
When is the inspector from the Salon coming?

Mes i cunde tun rešeji?
woman 1s.ACC that.manner why look-PAST.3p
Why did the woman look at me like that?

The use of the subjunctive implies that what is questioned may not exist, or is unlikely to be known:
Peranagu e bes jinar šu?
Fananak to road where be-SUBJ.3s
Where is the road to Fananak?
In this case the subjunctive signals the absurdity of the question: Fananak is across the ocean, so there is no road there.

There are some dialects where interrogatives appear where the corresponding NP would: Ji i čaujeji? Who touched me? This sounds unutterably rustic to anyone from the Xengi valley.


Two sentences can be linked with a conjunction, e.g. S1 li S2 ‘S1 and S2’. As in Axunašin, a simple conjunction may be used where we use a subordinator.
Yes xaušmelač luk oraeyu.
2s disrepectful therefore leave-1s.FUT
Because you are disrespectful, I will leave.
(See also Coordination subordination below.)

Conditional expressions

The conditional is similar to Axunašin in that keno ‘if’ is a simple conjunction; but both clauses appear in the subjunctive.
subj S1 keno subj S2

Oyes mavirc xamim keno, zenaup ga kejideym šu.
your lover come-3s.SUBJ if / certain ADV dinner be-3s.SUBJ
If your boyfriend is here, it is surely dinnertime.

For past conditions, use the past subjunctive; there is no tense substitution as in English:
Ševarirc xorneacaux keno, tir emur jecaux.
writer err-3s.PERF.SUBJ if / 3s.GEN husband laugh-3s.PERF.SUBJ
If the writer had made a mistake, her husband would have laughed.
As there is no negative subjunctive, negative conditions and consequences are simply expressed using the negative auxiliary:
Kissu i raunešis šuči keno, syu toš yalu eš nejlaj šuč.
child 1s.ACC insult-INF not-3s.PAST.SUBJ if /
1s 3s.ACC knee against kick-INF not-1s.PAST.SUBJ
If the boy had not insulted me, I wouldn’t have kicked him in the knee.
For logical consequences of sure facts, Xurnese doesn’t use keno but simple conjunctions such as cutun ‘therefore’:
Pudis peje, cutun Rajjay ray izom.
second-day stand-3s / that.reason Rajjay in be-1p
It being the second day of the week, this must be Rajjay.

Abstract transforms


Pronominalization can be seen as a transformation: an NP is replaced by a pronoun. (However, I’ve never liked this way of looking at it, because it makes no sense as a theory of utterance generation. Why generate NPs (itself a complex process) only to throw them out? It might make more sense to posit depronominalization: deep structure has prounouns, or just referential indices, and some of these are expanded into NPs. This would also explain why pronominalization, unlike other transformations, continues into subsequent sentences, even those uttered by another speaker.)
S O V → to O V
→ S to V

Pečrešéy ševarirc ziduc.
editor-PL writer hate-3p
Editors hate a writer.

Kyes ševarirc ziduc. They hate a writer.
Pečrešéy toš ziduc. Editors hate him.
Kyes toš ziduc. They hate him.

The singular equivalent isn’t *Toš toš zic, but uses the obviative: Tos to zic or To tos zic. It’s also possible to pronominalize with ceš ‘this one’ or cuš ‘that one’, especially with inanimates, or when making contrasts between two referents.
Deru buma mozú mnošuac. Ceš zimaysu, li cuš isaur.
pname two girl-PL date-3s / pretty and smart
Deru is dating two girls. One is pretty, and the other is smart.


Axunašin formed nominalizations using the infinitive, and this construction is imitated in Xurnese, though since Xurnese lacks Axunašin’s cases, the arguments are unmarked:
S O V → S O V-inf

Xamunar ir šu gemej. → Xamunar ir šu gemi

salon my uncle admit-3s.PAST → salon my uncle admit-INF
The salon admitted my uncle. → the salon admitting my uncle.
The infinitive expression can be used as a predicate, where we would use a subordinated impersonal expression:
Xamunar ir šu gemi mojuri.
salon my uncle admit-INF possible
The salon admitting my uncle is possible,
or, It’s possible that the salon admitted my uncle.
Or it can be used as an argument to a verb:
Xamunar ir šu gemi buguc.
salon my uncle admit-INF talk-3s
They’re talking about the salon admitting my uncle.
If the infinitive expression is used as the object, the subject must come just before the verb; Xamunar ir šu gemi Inex baus Inex is talking about the salon admitting my uncle.

The imperative, discussed above, uses the infinitive transformation.

The auxiliary transform

The use of an auxiliary can be considered a transformation. Adding the auxiliary, the underlying sentence is infinitivized, and its verb morpology is transferred to the auxiliary.
S O V-morphS O V-Inf Aux-morph

Cu xušimirc etešipCu xušimirc etešis šarasiye.
that upstart whip-FUT.1s → that upstart whip-INF must-FUT.1s
I will whip that upstart → I’ll have to whip that upstart.


Xurnese also uses lexicalized nominalizations, much as English does; e.g. gemaudo ‘admission’. The arguments cannot be simply placed before the nominalization, but must be converted into postpositional phrases, using nao ‘about’ for the subject and e ‘to’ for the obejct:
Xamunar ir šu gemej. →
salon my uncle admit-3s.PAST →
The salon admitted my uncle. →

Xamunar nao ir šu e gemaudo
salon about my uncle to admission
the salon’s admission of my uncle

These postpositions must be used with pronouns as well: toš nao gemaudo his admission. (Don’t use the genitive: *tir gemaudo.)


Almost all true subordination involves marking a constituent off with a block. Na is the subordinator; the demonstrative cu simply helps identify what is being subordinated.

Sentential constituents

x (y z V1) V2x cu y z V1 na V2

(y z V1) w V2 → cu y z V1 na w V2

An entire sentence can serve as the object or subject of the verb.
Cir šemilircú cu zešnasú boru ga Cuwoli ray reatuc na gejayc.
our agent-PL that Dhekhnami-PL true ADV Cuoli in move-3p SUB tell-3p
Our agents report that the Dhekhnami are indeed active in Cuoli.

Cu yes šwedze xam na i xušim.
that you argue-INF intend-3s SUB me amuse-3s
It amuses me that you wish to argue.

As noted above, the subordinated clause appears in the subjunctive if it is not a matter of fact.

With verbs of speaking or thinking, the subject is normally moved before the verb.

Cu braunic mavis na šuč na geyma sindej.
that truth love-INF SUB not-PAST.1s SUB lady say-PERF.3s
The lady said I did not love the truth.
This is indirect speech, and tenses match the narrative (e.g. the lady spoke in the past, so ‘love’ is also past). Direct speech omits the initial cu and replaces na with cuš ‘that’:
Píješ xaundirc ze, geyma cuš sindej.
filthy liar be-3s / lady that say-PERF.3s
The lady said, “You are a filthy liar.”

Coordinate subordination

As noted above, two sentences can be linked with a conjunction:
Yes xaušmelač luk oraeyu.
2s disrepectful therefore leave-1s.FUT
Because you are disrespectful, I will leave.
However, it’s also possible to highlight the subordination by enclosing the subordinate clause within a block. Formally this turns the conjunction into a postposition, and the subordinated constituent normally moves after the subject (and object if any) in the sentence:
S1 conj S2S2 O2 cu S1 na conj V2

Cu yes xaušmelač na luk oraeyu.
that 2s disrepectful SUB therefore leave-1s.FUT
I’ll leave, since you are being disrespectful.

It’s difficult to suggest the same effect in English; stylistically, the subordinate clause is less important, more of an adverbial comment than a structured logical argument. At the same time it’s more integrated into the sentence, and feels less spontaneous, more bookish.

Relative clauses

S O1 V1 & S O2 V2 → cu O1 V1 na S O2 V2

S1 O V1 & S2 O V2S2 cu S1 V1 na O V2

A clause is relativized with the block:
Cu am breši ma na xuma ir jira jesej.
that one arm have-3s SUB man my wife kill-PERF.3s
A man with one arm killed my wife.

Cu toš popej na breš dmuna mú.
that he lose-PERF.3s SUB arm still have-1s
I still have the arm which he lost.

Ci ‘this’ may be used where additional information is being offered about someone already referred to.

A clause cu NP V na is ambiguous between a reading where the NP is the subject or the object: cu mes jesej na could mean that killed a woman or that a woman killed. The clause can be disambiguated by including the obviative pronoun to in place of the relativized argument: cu to mes jesej na that killed a woman, cu mes to jesej na that a woman killed.

The use of to allows a constituent from a doubly embedded clause to be relativized; this can’t be done in standard English.

[Xuma dzuzovúgeč ševarij] [Jorumíex dzuzovúgeč empojačiji] xuma ilirileju →
man play write-PERF.3s / council play disallow-PAST.3s / man meet-PAST.1s
[the man wrote the play] [the Council banned the play] I met the man

Cu Jorumíex cu to ševarij na dzuzovúgeč empojačiji na xuma ilirileju.
council play disallow-PAST.3s / man play write-PERF.3s / man meet-PAST.1s
*I met the man who the Council banned the play he wrote.

A relative clause may include another:
Cu Inex ray keume na mavirc mnošuac na xairc
that Inex in live-3s SUB girlfriend date-3s SUB student
a student who has a girlfriend who lives in Inex
Cu is not reduplicated. If it’s desired instead to subordinate multiple clauses to the same noun, use a conjunction:
Cu Inex ray keume na li mavirc mnošuac na xairc
that Inex in live-3s SUB girlfriend date-3s SUB student
a student who has a girlfriend and who lives in Inex


E O V → S cu O V-inf E-acc na dem-morph
Causatives use the same verb as Axunašin, de ‘give’. The caused action is placed in a block, the verb appearing in the infinitive.
Yojaup rindeju. →
nude draw-PERF.1s →
I sketched the nude. →

Zendey cu syu yojaup rinde na dayš.
teacher that 1s nude draw-INF SUB give-PAST.3s
The teacher made me sketch the nude.

Empeuš ‘allow’ uses the same construction, as do yac ‘command’, ruje ‘force’, ruzene ‘ask for’, and many others.
Syu cu bunji yojú ir emu rile na empeuš šač.
I that some nude-PL my husband see SUB allow-INF not-1s
I don’t allow my husband to see any nudes.
The causer may be left out (taking cu with it). The resulting sentence suggests impersonal causation or a lack of responsibility:
Syu yojaup rinde na dayš.
1s nude draw-INF SUB give-PAST.3s
I was made to sketch the nude.
Front the object (as described below), and we have something close to a passive:
Yojaup syu cuš rinde na dayš.
nude 1s draw-INF SUB give-PAST.3s
The nude was sketched by me.
The subject may now be omitted, and the verb changed to jidze ‘suffer’, for an impersonal passive:
Yojaup rinde na jidzeji.
nude draw-INF SUB suffer-PAST.3s
The model was sketched.
There is a negative passive jidače.

Adverbial relative clauses

A clause can be subordinated to a pronoun as well, forming an adverbial. The demonstrative pronouns are used, not the interrogative as in English—e.g. use cideym ‘then’, not jideym ‘where’.
Cu mulayc pec na cideym aujikulur mum.
that fat-person sing-3s SUB then musical have-1p
When the fat woman sings, we have opera.
Cu kešaup dzuséy kejačejuc na cinar kejeyu.
that separated master-PL eat-PAST.3p SUB there eat-FUT.1p
We will be eating where the Hermit Masters fasted.
Indefinite pronouns can be used as well; compare the meaning of the last example with various pronouns substituted for cinar:
inar → We will eat here where the Hermit Masters fasted.
donar → We will eat in no place where the Hermit Masters fasted.
amnar → We will eat some place where the Hermit Masters fasted.
eznar → We will eat everywhere the Hermit Masters fasted.
Such an adverbial can be subordinated to a noun.
Neyosu šigri ga cu Yute mirile denjidzeji na pucišnar imisej.
foreigner difficult ADV that Yute meet expect-PAST.3s SUB atelier find-PERF.3s
With difficulty, the foreigner found the Atelier where he was supposed to meet Yute.
No pronoun is generally used; but if it’s unclear whether the subclause indicates when something happened, or where, or even why, the pronoun can be included inside the clause:
Neyosu šigri ga cu Yute cinar mirile denjidzeji na pucišnar imisej.
foreigner difficult ADV that Yute there meet expect-PAST.3s SUB atelier find-PERF.3s
A time expression can also be subordinated to a postposition, e.g. dmuro ‘during’, dzus ‘after’, dzušši ‘since’, pip ‘before’, pišsi ‘until’:
Cu joraumirc xamey na pišsi keji šačum.
that councillor come-FUT.3s SUB until eat-INF not-1
We will not eat until the Councillor arrives.
Idiomatically, peje ‘stand’ plus a subordinated dzus clause expresses that something has just happened, and with a pip clause that it is just about to happen:
Cu ir gejúpuy tasije na dzus pejú.
that my novel finish-PAST.1s SUB after stand-1s
I’ve just finished my novel.

Adjective complements

Some adjectives can take subclasuses, formed as usual with, with the subordinated verb in the infinitive:
Cu oyes endevausirc ize na gesauliri zú.
that your mentor be-INF SUB proud be-1s
I’m proud to be your mentor.
Cu yes sor na wogri zú.
that you hurt-INF SUB sorry be-1s
I’m sorry that you are in pain.



S O V → O S cuš V
Normal constituent order is SOV; the direct object may be fronted if cuš ‘that one’ is left in its place. Objects are normally fronted to topicalize them.
Ir jira ci jadzíes toy koma e mneušije.
my wife this sculptor our home to invite-PERF
My wife invited this sculptor to our home.

Ci jadzíes ir jira cuš toy koma e mneušije.
this sculptor my wife our home to invite-PERF
This sculptor, my wife invited him to our home.

The object of a postposition can be fronted in the same way; note that the postposition is duplicated, appearing after both the fronted object and the inserted demonstrative.
Toy koma e ir jira ci jadzíes cuš e mneušije.
our home to my wife this sculptor to invite-PERF
Our home, my wife invited the sculptor there.
Indirect objects are postpositional phrases and work the same way:
Kaymirc tom šudzirc nízeš jerej cuš tom dej.
customer to waiter nutty bag to give-PERF
The customer, the waiter gave him a bag of nuts.


S O V → S V O
An NP or postpositional phrase can also be moved to the end of the sentence; this generally highlights the constituent, for drama or to express suprise or shame.
Roc xayórex šaup imisejayc xa.
people pavement under found-PERF.3p corpse
Under the pavement they found a corpse.
It’s even possible to back a constituent from inside a subclause:
Šonuatirc cu alui o raun andeym šudziac mojuri na zeniseji.
detective that lark of tongue sometime serve-INF possible SUB ask-PAST.3s
The detective asked if they had ever served lark’s tongue.

→ Šonuatirc cu andeym šudziac mojuri na zeniseji alui o raun.
→ detective that sometime serve-INF possible SUB ask-PAST.3s lark of tongue

A sentential subject or object may be backed, leaving cuš in its place and omitting the initial cu. Leave the final na for direct speech, omit it for indirect speech (or, in first person, a slight softening effect).
Wogri ga yes cuš baus šaragú, ci ravom pija na.
regretful ADV you inform-INF must-1s / this canvas filth SUB
I must regretfully inform you that this canvas is shit.


The meaning of meaning

We all know what meaning is, but no one can really explain it. It’s somehow related to reference, but not the same. For instance, Itep refers to a certain girl who lived in Inex during the Prose Wars; but the relationship between Itep and the word moz ‘girl’ is less clear. Moz doesn’t even refer to the set of all girls, though this does feel a little closer.

We can declare that ‘girls’ are a natural class and pretend we’re done, but the concept of a ‘natural class’ doesn’t really hold up. For one thing, classes are vague... when exactly does a moz become a mes, a woman? Worse yet, classes depend on culture and language. The Axunemi, who maintained that there were three sexes, had a different idea of ‘girl’ than the modern Xurnese. Even where boundaries seem clear (a kissu ‘child’ is not marriageable, a moz is), they end up permeated by culture— e.g. the age of marriage depends on historical epoch, region (it’s higher in the cities), and even ecology (in bad times marriage is delayed).


A key insight of Saussure was that the whole problem of single-word meanings could be sidestepped by looking instead at language as a structure. Meanings don’t exist in isolation; they’re circumscribed by their relationships with other words.

Languages tend to lexicalize only certain distinctions: e.g. Xurnese animal names may be distinguished by gender and age (e.g. bus, buma, bim for male, female, and young cattle), while not systematically distinguishing by shape, animacy, or countability, as some other langauges do. It’s tempting to see this as an insight to the speakers’ categorization of the world, but if it is, the insight is into whatever remote ancestors derived the categorization. Modern preoccupations of the Xurnese such as art and the cosmic dance have not affected the structure of the language (though of course they are reflected in the lexicon).

It’s worth noting that all cultures have categories; but not all emphasize them as we do. Premodern peoples—including the majority of Xurnese— tend to associate things by function, not category. Asked to find the subgroups within the set nue cat, red rabbit, teyp knife, the modern mind groups nue and red together as nečidircú mammals; the premodern groups red and teyp together on the grounds that knives are used to skin rabbits.

Intention and utterance

In English ‘meaning’ is used also for intention, which is probably an unfortunate linguistic coincidence. We must distinguish the speaker’s intention from a word’s or sentence’s signification (as in fact Xurnese does: eykraudo vs. núdzeč).

An obvious example is irony: a speaker says Yes susaur You’re brilliant to mean the opposite. Sometimes an ironical meaning is even lexicalized: e.g. the Mešaic term šuvičik ‘seek enlightenment’ was used ironically so often by the Endajué masters that šwečis now simply means ‘to be spiritually confused’.

Phatic communication is used to reinforce social bonds rather than convey information. For instance, English How do you do? is not a request for a medical diagnosis, it’s a greeting; the same is true of the Xurnese equivalent Maypayvú yunú?, literally Your parents are good?

We may also distinguish an utterance from a sentence. An utterance is a single speaker saying something, at a particular moment in time, in a particular context. This gets so messy that linguists and logicians prefer to deal with sentences, abstract statements without context. The optimist hopes that by getting the abstract sentence right, we’ll be in a better position to plunge into the grimy specifics of utterances. The pessimist may feel that focussing on ‘sentences’ is so artificial as to be counter-productive. If we want to learn how humans use language, we won’t get far by throwing out most of our subject matter.

We will focus on the interaction of language with the world under Pragmatics below.

Meanings upon meanings

Semantics is something like a rain forest: a huge area of obvious scientific interest, but not well mapped; paths have been hacked into it, but don’t seem to meet up to allow us to form a coherent overview.

It’s evident that words are much more complicated beasts than they look like in the dictionary. We deal seemingly effortlessly with a large mass of information about each word:

The complexity of meaning frustrates simplistic attempts to reduce meaning to reference or to componential analysis. Some words neatly decompose (e.g. bus ‘bull’ = male + adult + bovine); other are more difficult (what are the components of jadziac ‘sculpt’?).

Another naive formulation is that all the members of a class have “something in common”, even if we are not sure what it is; Wittgenstein pointed out that this is not the case for many words, such as game, whose instances have family resemblances but do not all share a set of features. (This is even more true of šudo which also covers the ground of play, fun.)

Language and logic

Many linguists have tried to reduce language to logic; but it may be that the attractive simplicity of logic is due to it being underdeveloped. Logic has quite a few rules devoted to conjunction and quantification; rather than these being the only special operators needed, it may be that logicians have only gotten around to fully analyzing five words: and, or, every, some, and no.

Grammarians generally go farther; the morphology and syntax sections of a grammar are essentially the language’s operators, with the predicates and arguments left to the lexicon. But the lexicon is not merely a list; we know quite a bit about each word. (Foreign-language lexicons such as the one attached to this grammar are brief because they omit many complications, and because by providing glosses they leverage our own real-world knowledge.)

Syntacticians in the 1970s produced ‘semantic structures’ based on predicate calculus; e.g they would relate

Itep sukirc jeseji.
Itep rapist kill-PERF.3s
Itep killed the rapist.
CAUSE(Itep, DIE(rapist))
Some went on to treat nouns as predicates, leading to something like
NAMED(x, “Itep”) &
RAPES(y) &
CAUSE(x, DIE(y))
Perhaps the same meaning underlies other sentences: e.g. The rapist was killed by Itep has the same semantic structure, but undergoes an additional transformation; Did Itep kill the rapist? has the same structure plus an element Q which queries truth value.

Many an ambitious grad student felt that, with just a few more semesters of work, the appropriate transformations could be modelled in LISP.

It’s worth playing with, just to see how far it can be taken. But as a model of either meaning or how the brain processes language, it’s at best very incomplete.

Semantic change

Words change meaning over time; the process is not predictable, but does follow a number of common patterns. I will illustrate using changes from Axunašin to Xurnese. (+ indicates that the gloss gives only one of several senses.)


amevati make one → ameac have sex +
ujivateč story → aujateč evidence +
pideč song → pídeč hymn (religious song)
revaudo newness → name of a religious awakening
šedirti sufferer → šedirc sick man
tibiki feel somewhat → civike pity
ewis world → wec milieu
yósuc tailored outfit → blouse


benki bless → beyk support
kezi command → kes govern
mexi mistress → mes woman
seješ clock → seješ machine
Šinkou the Xengi delta → šiyku any river delta

Metonymy (nearness in space or time)

niwo grace → niwo gentleness
nugišik swallow → naušis suck
pavičik kiss → payčis embrace
puč stomach → puš abdomen +
rišidem lift → rešide get drunk
weš tail → weš buttocks
yaz cheek → yas mouth +

Synecdoche (whole/part)

cue pour → host
miswen muscle → thug
rogu prison cell → rosik prison +
color → tempera +
sagi sleep with → sas impregnate

Hyperbole (stronger to weaker)

kuzun a wonder → xuzu an attraction
conquering → makri successful
wogi feel horror → weus regret
evil → xu bad

Litotes (weaker to stronger)

kokem knock → koke beat up +
suki pierce → saus rape +
annoy → sizike injure
shudder → zic hate


baili amuse oneelf → bayl be dissipated
doumun domestic → dumu homely
meidemax peasantry → mídzex rabble
podei dog → podze rascal
ranaxun magical → ransu creepy
gi boy → xiu servant
us nose → up snout
zočuri different → zočaur heretical


dauxevi teacher → dzusey master, guru
demujidim await → denjidze hope
pojem drive animals → poje oversee
račazi whore → račaze entertainer
There are also changes that simply reflect arbitrary changes in society:
ewez a member of the third sex → intellectual → wes artist
yaginari hunting preserve → yasinar retreat, spa
menalun of Mnau → mnalu outlandish
The replacement of Mešaism by Endajué resulted in many Mešaic terms being reinterpreted negatively:
dzunan polytheist → bastard
child of two gods → nándzeš monster
šuvičik rise spiritually → šwečis be spiritually lost
duzočus rite → dzúčuc superstition +

Metaphor systems

One of the primary means of extending language is metaphor. In school we’re taught about nonce metaphors (Moz yute The girl is a flower; Itep xuda Itep is a pig) ; more interesting to the grammarian are metaphors which have become lexicalized:
čuzis fall apart → lose (a battle)
ejize poke → have sex
jisimel craven → tentative
kissu seedling → child
nudzis point → refer
orae leave → happen
peje stand → be (in a state)
šonuac spin thread → deduce
šwepusi fall short → disappoint
yucmel oily → cloying
One continuum may be likened to another; this provides terms for the extremes and sometimes points in between:
HEAVY IS IMPORTANT   gisu heavy, important tegisu light, unimportant
SHARP IS SMART isaur sharp, smart širi dull, dumb
SOFT IS MERCIFUL mul soft, merciful dor hard, mean
Even more productive are metaphor systems, which can generate many expressions and be extended by speakers. Some examples common to Xurnese and English:


aul bright → clear
auliac brighten → explain
beriludo cloud-seeing → illusion
beyru cloudy → obscure
siluri brilliant
xorneac darken → make a mistake


bez low → humble
neymoro above → major
rešayc tall person → boss
šaumoro below → minor


mase conquer → seduce
nejasu soldier → ladies’ man
reuni besiege → pay court to
xauke skirmish → make a pass


šwedu mase win an argument
šwedu čuzis lose an argument
čaš opponent
ešinde counter, parry


breš arm → wing
leš face → façade
dzuc back
teyš chest → main structure
mnórex clothes → decoration
giarji finery → rococo decoration
jiwe spine → main beam
tile rib → supporting beam


dari large → numerous
bip small → few in number

Some metaphor systems are linked to ideology or religion. For instance, the metaphor THE WORLD IS A HOUSE derives from Mešaism and ultimately from Wede:i religion (cf. komei ‘world’ ← Ax. komeï ‘big house’). Some otherwise opaque meanings derive from the Mešaic conception of the soul:


myun watery → effeminate
kagas dry → chaste (of males), impotent
rinari like a river → graceful


sustri earthy → macho
saumes earth-lady → lesbian
In early Xurno, solidarity against the barbarians was an essential virtue; one of the key metaphors was THE EMPIRE IS A FAMILY. (This can be traced back to Axunai, but it was much more marginal; Axunemi absolutism was not very paternalistic.) The emperor referred to both cities and subjects as his children; he was called payp father and his policies approved as payvaur paternal. The Revaudo revolution countered this with a new metaphor THE EMPIRE IS A PREDATOR; this underlies the slang term ricayc royalist (= ‘wolfish’) as well as the verb riciac oppress = ‘act like a wolf’.

Other Xurnese metaphor systems which are not used in English, or used less extensively:


newe brow → general
juysu head → commander
teyš chest → colonel
pučisu belly → major
reyxu thigh → lieutenant
xuc leg → sergeant
neja foot → infantryman
breš arm → vanguard
waysu nose → scout

The movements of the body are also used for armies: neymore sleep = camp, jivi walk = march, etc.

The internal organs are used for nonce meanings, but these have not been lexicalized, except for the general xímex organssupport staff.


Some of these derive at one remove from another metaphor system (A BUILDING IS A BODY).

šwedu eši make an argument
dumu rickety → weak
gedzáysuš structurally sound
riykuirc bird’s nest builder → crackpot
cuystri leaky → full of holes
dax palace → proof
gij column → premise
šeyka roof → conclusion
puc floor → stage, step
teyš body of an argument
breš wing → side discussion
jiwe spine → crux of an argument
giarji rococo decoration → rhetorical excess


cauč dance → cosmos
caučirc dancer → creature, spirit
bodeusis walk lamely → be foolish
reatudo movement → flux, fortune
rináric grace → acceptance of one’s fortune


reátuc step, motion → action
reatudo motion → plot
brešísuc gesture → trope


ende path → morality
tegendi pathless → damned, depraved
jivirc walker → believer
pope drive (animals) → pastor (people)
misustri muddy → morally difficult
bem ga like a road → morally clear


nelima frame → context, casus belli
rímex sketch → strategy
šonasudo brushwork → tactics
ravom canvas → battlefield
šuke paint → blood


uyk nail → edge
meyn hand → blade
xuba elbow → grip
néybreš upper arm → hilt
manyuma puff sleeve → basket hilt


notanelu parched → lustful
ameatudo confluence → sex
ri flow → become excited
šiyku (imise) (reach the) delta → orgasm
xiaz ocean → post-coital happiness; sexual happiness in general


šónex brush → penis
ravom canvas → vagina
šukeac paint → have sex
šuke paint → semen
I’ve emphasized lexicalized metaphors here, but most of these metaphors are productive and can be used in phrases as well, e.g. ende pope lose the path → go wrong.

Grammaticalized metaphor

Some metaphor systems are so basic that it may take a mental effort to recognize them as such. Examples:
Older linguists are somewhat dismissive of metaphor— they seemed to file it under ‘rhetoric’, to be dealt with only after pragmatics. Lakoff underlined the ubiquity of metaphor; sometimes it’s the only way to talk about something. For instance, the metaphor THE MIND IS A COMMUNITY allows us to use our extensive social vocabulary to talk about our own minds: My heart tells me to do it; He is ruled by lust; She was divided on the subject; Your memory is deceiving you.

He went further, identifying basic metaphors said to underlie our cognition, each based on direct bodily experience. E.g. the act of categorization itself is said to be a metaphor CATEGORIES ARE CONTAINERS.


We can compare meaning to vision, in that words’ meanings tell us what we are looking at. Many words or expressions differ not so much in what we’re looking at, as in our point of view.

Categories and prototypes

Not all members of a class are equal. Eleanor Rosch and George Lakoff have emphasized that classes have prototypes or central members; speakers consider these typical examples of the class, list them first if asked for examples of the class, and think about the class in terms of the prototypes. The prototype werc ‘bird’, for instance, is often a songbird— small, flying, and untamed. The prototypical cis ‘chair’ has a back in English but not in Xurnese. Naturally, this means that there are also untypical and marginal members of a class.

Color terms vary widely between languages in number and boundaries, but the focal or prototypical colors are nearly identical: Xurnese širp green has the same focal color as Verdurian verde, Kebreni kyr, Old Skourene -arṭ, Uytainese hur, Trêng šuda. However, it’s not the same as English focal green, because the eyes of Almean humans are not quite the same; ‘Almean green’ is slightly bluer than our green.

Languages may provide explicit ways of indicating how far a referent differs from the prototype:

Especially with abstract terms, people may not share the same prototypes, and this can lead to misunderstandings. A royalist and a Revaudo revolutionary could agree on what a nyei emperor was, but the one pictured a paternal lord, the other a tyrant. For a cleric, the word kejismel refined conjures up a picture of encumbering wordly luxuries; for an artist, it suggests erudite and sophisticated artworks.

Basic categories

Not all categories are alike; basic categories are more perceptually salient, are learned more early, and have simpler names. For plants and animals, for instance, basic categories nearly always correspond to the genus level: ekis maple, seyke maple, cuka rye, xulana cod, podi dog, bum bull/cow, red rabbit. (In the Cŕolile system used on Almea, this is the šix or surkest level.)

The existence of basic categories answers Quine’s objection to ostension—e.g. that pointing to a rabbit cannot be used to define ‘rabbit’, since the speaker might be referring to rabbit noses, the act of running, or a miscellaneous collection of rabbit parts. Linguists studying language acquisition, such as Eve Clark, report that children apply some simple rules:

Quine may see rabbit parts, but children see rabbits. Presumably they have evolved to do so; we are not tabulae rasae, and by the time we learn language we have strategies for dealing with it, provided both by our animal inheritance and by our experience exploring the world.

Of course, these categories are basic to humans. This is clearest with human-oriented words like sis chair, which are defined not so much by shape as by interaction with the body. But even the taxonomic categories are not ‘natural kinds’ pre-existing in the world. They are natural to human minds interacting with the world with human bodies.


As the spoken language of a dense urban culture, and the inheritor of a milennia-long literary tradition, Xurnese has a wide range of available registers.

Some semantic fields

This section assembles information on particular semantic fields, as a reference.

Hours of the day

The Wede:i divided the daylight hours into six periods, which they numbered: bo tinno ‘one of the day’, up to baŋ tinno ‘six of the day’. The Axunemi followed suit, though calling the periods šaruvi/šaraup ‘emptyings’, after the workings of water clocks. (The same word is used for the Mešaic cosmic cycles). The Wede:i names were retained, except that in Xurnese botino was replaced with ‘dawn’.
Xurnese Axunašin time hours
xora botino dawn 6 to 8 a.m.
yeucino yoxino mid morning 8 to 10 a.m.
šircino širtino late morning 10 a.m. to noon
taucino tausetino early afternoon noon to 2 p.m.
picino pinatino mid afternoon 2 to 4 p.m.
baycino bantino late afternoon 4 to 6 p.m.
Through the early Xurnese period the hours were sunrise to sunset, so they varied by the season. Astronomers and navigators preferred amuri (that is, equal-length) hours, and once good mechanical clocks existed (around the time of the Revaudo revolution), this became general.

In ancient times the nighttime was not given hours; but kip ‘dusk’ was used for the first hours after sunset. By the Xurnese period the hour names were simply extended into the night, with the prefix nosuš ‘nocturnal’: e.g. nosuš yeucino mid-evening (8 to 10 p.m.). Now that lighting is better and evening events are common, the latter period is also known as kip dzus ‘after dusk’.

Xurnese prefers its more specific names for time periods, and has no terms for ‘morning’ and ‘afternoon’. However, two adjoining periods can be combined: yeušircino ‘2nd/3rd hours’ = 8 to 12 a.m., širtaucino ‘3rd/4th hours’ = 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., etc.

Few people recognize that the prefixes derive from the Wede:i numbers; their meanings are taken to be the times of the day, and can be used as abbreviations: e.g. taukéjuc ‘a meal eaten at noon’; baykejúcis ‘late afternoon snack’; pidéynduc ‘2:00 appointment’.

Hours are typically divided by fractions, e.g. taucino teč ‘taucino plus half a šaruc’ = 3 p.m. Astronomers divided the šarus into 100 deymisi ‘instants’, and clocks now have a déymis hand, so that city dwellers, at least, deal with times like picino li yumudeš deymisi ‘5 hours 80 instants’ = 4:36 p.m.

The hours can be used both to refer to the period of time, and to the instant that begins them. Thus taucino has increasingly displaced eudis ‘noon’, which however retains its metaphorical meanings such as ‘zenith, high point’.

(For simplicity’s sake I’ve treated the šaraup as exactly two hours; in fact it’s slightly longer, as the Almean day is about 24 1/2 hours long.)

Days of the week

The week (nedim) is nine days long; the days are:
day gloss
indis first day
pudis second day
dzindis third day
nimala market
peykaudis fifth day
seyčaudis sixth day
šizaudis seventh day
yusaudis eighth day
tagri final (day)

The seasons

The Xurnese year begins in early summer (around 16 cuéndimar by the Verdurian calendar, that is, 12 days before the solstice). There are no months, only the four seasons (sumiši):
season gloss Verdurian equivalent rough Earth equivalent
eči summer 16 cuéndimar - 15 recoltë June / July / August
kuludo fall 16 recoltë - 15 išire Sept / Oct / Nov
raujic winter 16 išire - 15 bešana Dec / Jan / Feb
sumbrey spring 16 bešana - 15 cuéndimar March / April / May
Days are numbered within the season: e.g. dzayndešpayk kuludo ‘the 35th day of fall’. Each season has 82 days. (Because this doesn’t match our year, exact Earth equivalents can’t be given.)

The numbering aligns with the calendar, not the movements of the planet; thus am eči ‘the 1st day of summer’ is New Year’s and precedes the solstice.

In ancient times the Axunemi emperors inserted a nonce leap day whenever the year wandered too far out of sync with the planet. This became chaotic in the Age of Petty Kings as a different schedule was followed in each kingdom. The Xurnese finally regularized the system by adding a leap day (an extra day in sumbrey) every five years.

Names and titles

The Xurnese have accumulated names from various sources.
Only the nobility ever had family names, and this practice largely died out during the Revaudo revolution. The traditional way to disambiguate names is to use the patronymic and/or a locative:
Bezu ma-Veon Bezu son of Beon
Joraumiri Enirc Enirc of Joraumi
Jamimbri Xayu ne-Rilirc Xayu daughter of Rilirc of Jamim Colony
Patronymics appear after the name, a practice which dates back to Axunašin, where heavy modifiers could migrate after their head. The use of locatives is more recent and follows the standard modifier-head order.

Naturally it wouldn’t do to have most of Inex surnamed Inegri; the locative may refer to the provenance of the parents or more remote ancestors.

In the cities, people are most commonly referred to using titles:

Aulic joraumirc Councillor Aulic
Deru xairc Student Deru
Enirc jivirc Walker Enirc
Weneš bicikesiy Academician Weneš
Gašnue dzusey bicikesiy Master Academician Gašnue
Kaleon empojaup neyosu Permitted Alien Caleon
Raujic reyxu Lieutenant Raujic
Yute saus Cousin Yute
Everyone has a title—if nothing else róses ‘citizen’. If foreigners have a rank (e.g. dalonaysu ‘ambassador’, imimex ‘ship captain’) it’s used, otherwise they are neyosu ‘alien’, or empojaup if they are legal residents of Xurno. Other Thinking Kinds may be referred to using their species: Sulbelid gedzaysu ‘elcar Thulbelidd’.

Within a family, kinship terms are preferred; elsewhere, religious, artistic, or military ranks. Titles of nobility are only used for foreigners (or in backwards areas like Bozan).

The title follows the name; this is not an exception to the rule that the head appears last in an NP, since the title is the head, as can be seen by the fact that on second reference the name, not the title, is dropped. That is, if you’re talking to Enirc you normally call him by his title, jivirc, not by his name. If you are talking to multiple jivircú, you use the full name and title.

Only close friends, lovers, and siblings use the name alone.

Expletives and obscenities

The most charged despective vocabulary derives from Endajué:
expletive gloss English equivalent
tegendi pathless damned (very strong)
nanač ungodly damned (less strong)
tebengi (taboo-def.) darned, frigging
berirri deluded godforsaken
bodugri lame ignorant, irreligious
end’ eš against path dammit!
cuš eš against dance dammit!
dzunan pagan infidel, bastard
šwečirc striver fool
nansu god-man pagan, priest-ridden
i puide spit me damn me!
As Endajué disbelieves in gods and yet considers the Dance divine, you can insult someone both by calling them godless (nanač) or god-following (dzunan, nansu).

The Mešaic formula for making an oath was (god) leš sindú I speak before (a god), and this was transferred to the Path (ende), the dance (cuš), the Greater and Lesser Principles (šwerayjú), or the masters (dzuséy). Oaths are heightened with a little sacrilege; the difference between cuš leš and cus eš is similar to that between “dammit!” and “damn me!”

Similarly, to ask (say) Meša to curse someone, you said Meša toš puide! May Meša reject him! Endajué entities, abstract as they are, can be asked to do the cursing. (This construction is so ancient that it’s one of the few surviving uses of the subjunctive as an imperative.) As puide is now largely used literally (‘may it spit’), similar terms may be substituted, especially šauvide ‘may it vomit’ and mišide ‘may it piss’.

Bodily functions are a rich source of despectives, especially pija ‘shit’ and mišu ‘piss’ and their derivatives.

There are many vulgar terms related to sex, notably šim, jadzišis, dzaulišis, rijac ‘screw’, ri ‘be aroused’, zis ‘come’, naušis ‘suck’ There are two important differences from English, however.

Sex is notable for the relaxation of the usual linguistic restraint on synonyms. All of the following words can be glossed ‘have sex’, but there are differences in allowed subjects, body parts used, or language register.
term Subject Register
ameac (anything but oral) formal
dzaulišis uses the penis vulgar
ejize (usually) penetrates colloquial
jadzišis (anything but oral) obscene
naušis uses the mouth colloquial
reyxiš (anything but oral) neutral
rijac is penetrated obscene
šim penetrates vulgar
zis orgasms colloquial

Terms for body parts in different registers:
body part neutral colloquial vulgar euphemistic
penis dzaul ejizirc ‘sticker’
ešis ‘tail’
jusu ‘spear’
sausirc ‘stabber’
miširc ‘pisser’
xumbri xim ‘male organ’
šónex ‘brush’
testicles rízex šaup ‘eggs’
vagina xeje riyku ‘nest’
myunu ‘wet thing’
xeč ‘garden’
bóneč ‘wound’
rijayc ‘open one’
kulum ‘clam’
zimu xim ‘female organ’
ravom ‘canvas’
vulva murayc moglu ‘oyster’ mišpay ‘piss-lips’ šaubri pay ‘lower lips’
genitals xim jad ‘butt’ (metonym) ameatri xim ‘sex organ’
reyk ‘thigh’
nar ‘place’
buttocks weš jad ‘butt’ dzuc ‘back’
anus wéšeš jud jud ‘hole’ júcuy ‘big hole’
pijacirc ‘shitter’
wéšeš ‘of the buttocks’
mouth bux yas ‘cheek’ jud ‘hole’
nauširc ‘sucker’


In our own tradition pragmatics is something of the trash bin of linguistics: anything that didn’t fit into truth-conditional semantics was shoved aside into pragmatics, to be dealt with later if at all. However, many of the items put aside— utterances, speakers, conversational rules and strategies, speech acts, real-world knowledge— turn out to be pretty interesting, and close to the core of what language is.

The boundary between semantics and pragmatics is vague and disputed, though as rough guide we may say that semantics deals with the meanings of words and sentences, while pragmatics deals with the way speakers use utterances in context. A short dialog may illustrate:

A: Yes muru kissu.
2s intelligent child
A: You’re an intelligent boy.

B: Yes inar ray mneušije?
2s here inside invite-PAST.1s
B: Did I invite you here?

Semantics seems to fully explain both sentences, and yet it is unable to explain even the basics of the exchange. A’s statement is evidently irony, the sentence’s meaning being interpreted as its opposite (aided by the deliberate choice of an expression that is insulting when applied to an adult). B’s question is logically a non sequitur, but we have no trouble taking it as an insulting rejoinder. Neither utterance is intended to convey or query a proposition, and thus truth conditions are irrelevant.

Yet these are not marginal examples; they’re typical of actual human conversation. Most broadly, pragmatics studies how language is actually used in the world.


Expressions are deictic when their referents inherently vary by context. They are so basic to language that they were discussed many pages back: personal pronouns, demonstratives, words like idzum ‘now’ and cinar ‘there’.

They are not at all mysterious; they’re chiefly interesting to logicians because they so glaringly prevent abstract evaluation of the truth of sentences. For instance,

Cimai Aulirimes o payp zi.
Timai Uliromez of father be-PAST.3s
Timai was the father of Uliromez.
is the sort of sentence logicians love; we can easily decide whether it’s true, or with more sophistication, consider the set of possible worlds where it is true. But we can’t do the same with
Aulirimes o payp zú.
Uliromez of father be-PAST.1s
I am the father of Uliromez.
This can only be evaluated as an utterance: its truth depends on whether the person who speaks or writes it is in fact the father of Uliromez.

A related phenomenon is anaphora— expressions which refer to a previously cited entity or action.

Cimai Asunai o nyei zi. Toš Aulirimes o payp zi.
Timai Axunai of emperor be-PAST.3s / 3s Uliromez of father be-PAST.3s
Timai was emperor of Axunai. He was the father of Uliromez.
Here the logician is on firmer ground, since toš ‘he/she’ refers back to Cimai. The rules for interpreting anaphora can be complex (e.g. determining their scope), but the problems are largely technical. Note however that anaphora can be used without an antecedent—for instance, pointing at someone— and thus reduce to deixis:
Toš Aulirimes o kissu ze.
3s Uliromez of child be-3s
He [pointing] is a child of Uliromez.
Extra points to readers who speculate that all words are in some sense deictic. For instance, Cimai in the first example might refer to my pal Cimai from dance class, and he’s not the father of anyone named Uliromez— he’s gay.

Ordinary nouns like payp ‘father’ normally, like names, refer to single individuals rather than to a class. The difference from deictics is not binary; it’s a matter of how much additional informational content is provided. Yes ‘you’ provides only the information that the referent is singular and animate; compare Cuêzi lei which can only be used for females, or English you which is indeterminate as to number. A word like xumaur human provides little more information than these pronouns; a full noun phrase like Cimai o mul mau xursu Cimai’s fat bald neighbor offers quite a bit of information but still may be ambiguous.


Conversational maxims

Ordinary language is a trap for logicians: people seem to make remarks and draw conclusions that don’t relate to what has been said.
A: Deru Bicikes eyka jam?
Deru Academy for object
A: Is Deru Academy material?

B: Deru. An, yu ze, plima lumaup.
Deru / well pleasant be-3s / very clean
B: Deru... well, he’s pleasant, very clean.

If A were a logician, he would complain that B’s response is entirely irrelevant. Paul Grice pointed out that such replies make sense if we assume that speakers follow conversational maxims, and exploit apparent violations to convey subtle messages. The full maxims can be easily found elsewhere, but they can be summarized as follows: B’s response violates the maxims of relevance and perhaps quantity. Why does B not directly address Deru’s qualifications for the Academy? Most likely, because there is nothing better to say about Deru. By flouting the maxims, B makes a conversational implicature that Deru is in fact incompetent.

Often implicatures can be treated as adding unspoken propositions: the speakers can be taken as intending some specific statement (e.g. Deru šemilač Deru is incompetent) but not saying it. However, as Sperber and Wilson take pains to show in Relevance, there is no guarantee that all the implicatures of a statement are consciously present and intended. To take a simple case, B might have responded as follows to A’s query:

B: An... Yes Deru mwele.
well / you Deru know-3s
B: Well... you know how Deru is.
Like the first statement, this information is strictly irrelevant, and implicates that Deru is not a prime candidate; but unlike it, it does not commit to a simple proposition. It appeals to common knowledge without pinning it down— B may be referring to any number of known facts about Deru; B may not even be able to explain what Deru’s problem is; A’s impression of Deru need not be the same as B’s. (So much for the conduit metaphor of language: that the speaker has a fixed meaning in her head, dehydrates it into an utterance, and passes it to the hearer, who rehydrates it into a copy of her original meaning).

Are the maxims culturally variable? Certainly what is relevant varies by culture. For instance, if B replied

B: Toš jue li kezaudo o zebiš, li čeiyu sinc.
3s war and government of expert and Ṭeôši speak-3s
B: He’s an expert in government and war, and he speaks Ṭeôši.
this is irrelevant to a career in art, and we might take it to implicate that he shouldn’t study it. But in artist-run Xurno, the Academy is effectively the government, so the implicature would be that Deru could be a valuable Academician, despite his lack of purely artistic skills.

More subtly, the Xurnese differ in their expectations as to Quality and Manner. For instance, the Xurnese are famous for understatement; they seem to follow a maxim Do not tell all you know. This is said to derive from the ways of speaking of the early Endajué kešaup dzuséy, or from the need for secrecy during the Gelyet occupation.

For instance, in the statement

Tir ew šemil šukirc li reykeumar Jamim o raysu.
3s-GEN grandfather competent painter and settlement Jamim of member
Her grandfather was a competent painter and a member of the Jamim colony.
the choice of adjective šemil ‘competent’ must be taken as high praise— we would probably say ‘outstanding’.

A famous example is the reply of a Xurnese diplomat to an indiscreet query from a Verdurian:

V: Oyes ros cu treše nowsuc na seješi ma?
your country that black.powder burn-3p SUB machine-PL have-3s
Does your country have machines that burn black powder [i.e., cannons]?

X: Am.
We have one.

The claim that the country has one cannon is rather absurd; the implicature is that Xurno possesses many more such devices, but that the speaker won’t specify how many.

Similarly, the Xurnese idea of sufficient clarity falls far short of our ideas (or the Verdurians’). The kešaup dzuséy relied frequently on indirection and parable, while Xurnese poets strove for suggestiveness, wit, and erudite allusion. The following dialog would be rather impolite in Verdurian:

A: Yes Inex ray neux?
2s Inex in be.born-PERF.3s
Were you born in Inex?

B: U Inex... Xurno o gopri melen.
oh Inex .. Xurno of beating heart
Ah, Inex... the beating heart of Xurno.

B is quoting a poet, who happened to be a native of Inex. If A happens to know the poet, he might take B as implicating that he also is a native. On the other hand, the Xurnese feel no need to fully answer an idle question; a polite response is to say something else about the invited topic. B’s implicature might be taken as ‘I won’t say, but I am listening and I do acknowledge that we’re talking about Inex.’

Lexical implicatures

Implicatures neatly address some puzzling aspects of quantifiers, among other things. For instance, Bunji keprisú xudircú Some Kebreni are cheaters is taken in logic to mean no more than that at least one Kebreni is a cheater. The logician insists that the statement is compatible with all Kebreni being cheaters. But in ordinary language we wouldn’t say bunji ‘some’ if ez ‘all’ was meant. Similarly we wouldn’t use it if we knew for sure that only one Kebreni was dishonest.

So is the meaning of ordinary-language bunji (as opposed to logical some) more than one but less than all? Not at all, because we can without contradiction say:

Bunji keprisú xudircú, zuryo ez.
some Kebreni-PL cheater-PL / truly every
Some Kebreni are cheaters, in fact all of them.
We can say that bunji has the meaning of logical ‘some’, but has the implicature that the quantity is more than one and less than all. (By the maxim of quantity, if the speaker knows that all Kebreni are cheaters she should say so.) Implicatures can be explicitly denied without contradiction.

Due to the Xurnese predilection for understatement, we can’t say that the example implicates (as the English gloss does) that most Kebreni are not cheaters.

Similarly, Bicikesiy dzi endevugú ma The Academician has three protegés logically implies that he has two, but it implicates that he has no more than three. Again, the implicature can be explicitly overridden: Bicikesiy dzi endevugú ma, zuryo peyk The Academician has three protegés, in fact five.

(If the implicatures are features of a word rather than deduced by the maxims of converation, Grice called them conventional implicatures; I prefer lexical implicatures.)


Presuppositions are classically defined as inferences that survive negation of a sentence. For instance, these sentences
Yes cu wu mes xaučij na zeneji.
2s that old woman die-PERF.3s SUB know-PAST.3s
You knew that the old lady was dead.

Yes cu wu mes xaučij na zeynuči.
2s that old woman die-PERF.3s SUB not.know-PAST.3s
You didn’t know that the old lady was dead.

both presuppose that the old lady was dead. So does the interrogative: Yes cu wu mes xaučij na zeneji ma? Did you know that the old lady was dead? The presupposition is associated with a trigger, in this case the word zene ‘know’. Auxiliaries generally preserve the presupposition as well: Yes cu wu mes xaučij na zene šarasimiji You should have known that the old lady was dead.

There is a bewildering range of presuppositions, as suggested by the following list. The symbol >> stands for ‘presupposes’. The highlighted expression is the presupposition trigger. For brevity, only the positive is supplied in Xurnese.

Deru Itep xwe tasej.
Deru Itep fight-INF stop-PERF.3s
Deru stopped / didn’t stop fighting with Itep.
>> Deru had been fighting with Itep

Maysu puciga rile na jidzeji.
iliu again draw-INF SUB suffer-PAST.3s
The iliu was / wasn’t seen again.
>> The iliu had been seen before

Toš braup pej.
3s busy stand-3s
He’s (not) busy right now.
>> He is not always busy

Toš e Itep nokrebeji na Deru krendej.
3s against Itep cheat-PAST.3s SUB Deru accuse-PERF.3s
Deru accused / didn’t accuse Itep of cheating on him.
>> Deru believed that cheating was bad

Cu oyes endevugaup ize na gesauliri zú.
that your protegé be-INF SUB proud be-1s
I’m proud / not proud to be your protegé.
>> I’m your protegé

Cu tas seyasú masejom na dzušši nauna mum.
that 1p Seia.PL conquer-PERF.1p since SUB peace have-1p
Since we conquered the Seia, we’ve had / haven’t had peace.
>> We conquered the Seia

Nyew dzuséy aujimijeyc keno, jam pali još šu.
emperors masters listen-3p.PAST.SUBJ if / thing more good be-3s.SUBJ
If the emperors listened to the Masters, things would / wouldn’t be better.
>> The emperors didn’t listen to the Masters

Xamunar nao ir šu e gemaudo i tazdeju. (nominalization)
salon about my uncle to admission 1s.ACC shock-PAST.3s
The salon’s admission of my uncle shocked / didn’t shock me.
>> The salon admitted my uncle

Cu reykeumar Jamim nej na Xayu plima giarmel ze. (subordination)
that settlement Jamim born-PERF.3s SUB Xayu very condescending be-3s
Xayu, who was born in Jamim Colony, is / isn’t very condescending.
>> Xayu was born in Jamim Colony

Like lexical implicatures, presuppostions can be denied, though with restrictions. For instance, an outright denial following a positive statement is anomalous:
??Yes cu wu mes xaučij na zeneji, li toš xaučis šuči.
2s that old woman die-PERF.3s SUB know-PAST.3s and 3s die-INF not-PAST.3s
You knew that the old lady was dead, and she wasn’t dead.

??Maysu puciga rile na jidzeji, pel toš pip ga rile na duoyo.
iliu again see-INF SUB suffer-PAST.3s / but 2s before ADV see-INF SUB never
The iliu was seen again, but she had never been seen before.

More precisely, then, there are contexts or special circumstances under which the presupposition can be removed. E.g. zene ‘know’ in the first person:
Cu wu mes xaučij na zeynauč, li toš xaučis zuryo šuči.
that old woman die-PERF.3s SUB know-PAST.1s / and 3s die-INF truly not-PAST.3s
I didn’t know that the old lady was dead, and in fact she wasn’t.
(This sounds better with stress on zeynauč /know.)

Puciga ‘again’ takes a bit more context:

There were rumors that an iliu had been seen in the city. There was intense excitement, but nothing could be confirmed. In a few months the furor had died down. The iliu wasn’t seen again.

Speech acts

In our philosophical tradition, it has sometimes been assumed that the central function of language is to inform, and that semantics deals largely with analyzing when sentences are true or not. (This notion would seem absurd to the Xurnese, who have always been more interested in the manner of speech than its content.)

J.L. Austin challenged this view, first drawing attention to performatives, sentences which do not convey information, but actually accomplish a task:

Yes šukecudo xamunar o raysu eyka cuzasum.
you painting salon of member for select-1p
We accept you as a member of the Salon of Painting.

Yes tom cu toš šwepusey na ej ximú
you DAT that 3s fail-FUT.3s SUB ej bet-1s
I bet you an ej that he’ll lose.

Performatives don’t have truth conditions, but they do have felicity conditions— e.g. one who utters the first example must have authority to admit members to the salon, must be speaking to a prospective member, must not have admitted the person already, etc.

Expressions like imperatives can also be seen as performatives— Puxame! Go back!

It’s a small step now to maintain, not that performatives are an unusual subclass of utterances, but that informative utterances are just one subclass of speech acts. All utterances do something: inform, remind, disagree, complain, promise, warn, announce, propose, lie, flatter, persuade, mock, amuse, joke, threaten, praise, boast, show respect, kill time, show solidarity, express an aesthetic reaction, greet, apologize, and so on.

Speech acts should not be confused with syntactic or morphological categories. The imperative, for instance, is often an order, but it may just as well be advice, pleading, or a dare; in particular expressions it can be almost anything— e.g. empeuš ‘permit (it)’ is used to apologize for an interruption, and idiomatically marks the beginning of a lawyer’s plea. As well, orders can be expressed by questions (Would you please go back?) or declaratives (If you know what’s good for you, you’ll go back).

Adverbials may refer to the speech act rather than the content of the sentence.

Brumel ga joraumirc i šigosuac.
honest ADV councillor 1s-ACC bore-3s
Frankly, the Councillor bores me.
Brumel ga ‘frankly’ doesn’t modify the verb šigosuac— it doesn’t tell how the Councillor bores me. It relates to the speech act, that of informing. Even more subtly:
Bunji misi, moz o busaum još ma?
some word-PL / maiden of long.poem good or
In a few words— is the girl’s poem any good?
Here bunji misi ‘in brief’ doesn’t refer to the question itself, or to the speech act of asking, but to the addressee’s expected act of answering.
Similarly civike ‘please’ may be attached to any utterance used as a request, whatever its surface form:
Yes seješ rano civike rile.
2s device through please look-INF
You will please look through the instrument.

Discourse structure

It’s not only sentences that have structure; conversations do as well. The rules are looser than syntax, however, befitting a process worked out cooperatively by two or more people.

This section is based on the methods of conversation analysis, and focusses on the prototypical case of two people conversing face to face. Extension to multiple speakers is not difficult. Obviously speech contexts such as lectures, court sessions, and meetings have different rules.


Conversations can be divided into turns— the time one speaker holds the floor. Turn-taking is remarkably efficient: overlaps are rare, and yet the average gap between speakers is less than half a second.

Xurnese culture, even after the egalitarianism of the Revaudo revolution, is more hierarchical than our own. The Xurnese are always conscious of relative status, and this affects turn-taking behavior.

Rank generally corresponds to titles, as described above. Gradations of age, experience, or fame do not count as higher rank, nor is gender a factor.

It should be emphasized that the Xurnese are not (in general) overbearing; the above behaviors are nearly unconscious. Indeed, high-ranking speakers often speak with elaborate courtesy, and insist loudly that everyone should talk pešaycú dzu ‘as among friends’, an invitation that it is unwise to accept.

Generally multiple people are not to talk at once. However, women (of the same rank) may interrupt each other: if one feels that the other has gone on too long, she may simply start speaking. Usually the other will break off; if not, the interrupter will usually stop.

Adjacency pairs

Turns rarely occur alone; they are grouped into adjacency pairs, an utterance and a response. Examples:
These are the building blocks of conversation, especially as they can be nested. For instance, a request may have one or more nested questions:
A: Šuema pic denidzú.

beer drink-INF hope-1s
I’d like a beer.
B: Saug ma ušu?

brown or gold
Dark or light?
A: Civike saug.
please brown
Dark, please.
B: Cunde ma.

that.way have-3s
Here you are.
There are preferred and dispreferred responses for each adjacency pair; dispreferreds are marked by pauses, longer replies, explanations, and pragmatic particles such as an ‘well’. Compare two responses to an invitation:
A: I keumis picino?

me visit-INF late.afternoon
Come see me later this afternoon?

B: Wéneš ga.
happy ADV
With pleasure.

A: I keumis picino?

me visit-INF late.afternoon
Come see me later this afternoon?

B: An... (térus) yes plima niun. (térus)
happy ADV / you very kind
Well... (pause) You’re very kind. (pause)

B: Mojurači ze... koma ga cim šaragú; ir mayp cunde denjic...
impossible be.3s / home ADV sit must-1s / my mother that.way expect-3s
It’s not possible... I have to stay home, my mother is expecting it...

Pauses are indeed so characteristic of refusals that silence may be taken as a negative response:
A: Yes ir gejúpuy aycaur ruide ma?

you my novel read-INF want-SUBJ.3s or
Would you like to read my novel?

B: (terudo)

A: Af... gerizagú; yes braup pej...
oops... understand-1s / you busy stand-3s
Ah... I understand; you are busy...


From the evidence of conversations, refusals are so distressing that strategies have evolved to head them off. One is the pre-sequence or pre-s, an adjacency pair that sets the stage for another, heavier action— a request, an invitation, an offer, etc.
A: Yes kip dzus braup ma?

you dusk after busy or
Are you busy tonight?

B: Šač, ji xam?
not-1s / what come-3s
No, what’s up?

A: Gašnue o dámis ray grijil zú, xaxau ambriga šonkiac šizenimom?

Gašnue of class in confused be-1s / anatomy together examine can-1p
I’m lost in Gašnue’s class, could we go over anatomy together?

Very often the pre-s questions a felicity condition of the request. For instance, felicity conditions for accepting an invitation include not being busy, being in town, being willing to come, perhaps enjoying the type of event, etc. Any of these can be used in a pre-s, thus heading off a direct refusal.
The listener may choose to respond to the anticipated sequence rather than to the pre-s:
A: Yes cu Rorsus bicikesiy dzudis cuey na zen?

you that Rorsus Academician tomorrow host-FUT.3s SUB know-3s
Did you know that Academician Rorsus is throwing a party tomorrow?

B: Cunde, tegendi cúeč e yes mu eraeyu.
that.way / pathless party to you with attend-FUT.1s
Yes, I’ll go to the damned party with you.

Pre-sequences are especially characteristic of a low-status person addressing a higher one— a nervous person may even have a pre-s for asking a question:
A: Yes tom bunji zenise mojú?

you DAT something ask-INF may-1s
Can I ask you a question?
The habit of issuing a pre-s is so ingrained that one may be given even for an insult:
A: Cu yes tom naundú na zen?

that you DAT name-1s SUB know-3s
You know what I call you?

B: Donde, i tom ji nauc?
no.way / 1s-ACC DAT what name-3s
No, what do you call me?

Long turns

A pre-s is also expected before one takes an especially long turn— e.g. telling a story or a joke, or giving news. Curiously, in this case silence is taken as assent rather than a refusal.
A: Deru xairc nao zen?

Deru student about know-3s
Did you hear about student Deru?

B: Šači, ji oraeji?
not-3s / what happen-PAST.3s
No, what happened?

Stories may be followed by a contentless statement which serves to indicate that the story is over, prompts for a response, and signals that ordinary shorter turn-taking can resume.
A: Li cunde oraeji.

and that.way happen-PAST.3s
So that’s how it went.

B: Oa... yu edum!
wow / fitting idiot
Wow, what an idiot!

Greetings and closings

Greeting a superior requires at least three adjacency pairs, merely to establish communication.
A: Yes payčú, Weneš bicikesiy.

2s greet-1s / Weneš academician
Greetings, Academician Weneš.

B: Yes payčú.
2s greet-1s

A: Xamunar čiyče jic denjidzú?

salon prosper-INF Q hope-1s
The Salon is prospering, I hope?

B: Još cu ende.
good that path
The Path is good.

A: Oyes kissú yunú?

your child-PL good-PL
Your children are well?

B: Kyes yunú, kalordú.
3p good-PL / thank-1s
They are, thank you.

Between peers only the first and third parts are necessary, and may be combined:
I: ’s payčú, Xayu, maypayvú yunú?

2s greet-1s Xayu / parent-PL good-PL
Hello, Xayu. Your parents are fine?

X: ’s payčú, Itep, yunú.
2s greet-1s Itep / good-PL
Hello, Itep, yes, thanks.

None of these queries actually seek knowledge, and it’s quite anomalous to answer with actual information. If Itep’s parents were ailing, there would be nothing unusual in the above exchange being immediately followed by a real inquiry after their health and an honest answer.

Similarly, even a hostile conversation will begin with these ritualized preliminaries. No complaints or insults are allowed till after the greetings are executed. (Written letters have similar rules for polite greetings, which can lead to a comic transition from first to second paragraph in the case of an angry letter.)

Closings between peers require two adjacency pairs. The first, the pre-close, signals that the speaker thinks the conversation is over, but invites the other to bring up any new topics if any. If she is reassured, good wishes are exchanged.

I: Cunde, još ga.

that.way / good ADV
OK, good.

X: Cunde.

I: Oyes ende yu šu.

your path good be-SUBJ.3s
May your path be pleasant.

X: Oyes mucauč.
yours also
Yours too.

If Xayu did not want to end the conversation, she would take the floor and bring up a new topic during the pre-close.

With superiors, there is usually another pair after the pre-close, expressing thanks to the superior’s institution. The superior will also echo the final good wishes more exactly.


Actual spoken sentences, as opposed to textbook examples, often look embarrassingly sloppy:
An, Zendey— Árus zenday— yes oyes jam, oyes dámis u, dmoyo inar, dzaus ruide keno— u, rue cutun, čawke li sim... an čawke wes šaragú li sim čeji cunde.
well teacher / Árus teacher / 2s your thing your class er really here teach-INF want-SUBJ.3s if / er want-3s therefore / table and chair-PL / well table move-INF must-1s and chair-PL carry-INF must-1s OK
Well, Instructor— Instructor Árus—if you want.. er, since you want to hold your thing, your class, er, right here, the table and chairs have to— well, I have to move the table and get the chairs, OK?
However, most of extra material is due to the repeated use of repairs, which go back and replace a portion of the ongoing sentence. For instance, the speaker began to use a keno ‘if’ construction, but changed it to a less tentative cutun ‘therefore’ construction; he simply supplies the new words rue cutun which are understood to replace ruide keno. If we show pragmatic markers in blue and repaired material in green—
An, Zendey— Árus zenday yes oyes jam, oyes dámis u, dmoyo inar, dzaus ruide keno— u, rue cutun, čawke li sim... an čawke wes šaragú li sim čeji cunde.
well teacher Árus teacher / 2s your thing your class er really here teach-INF want-SUBJ.3s if / er want-3s therefore / table and chair-PL / well table move-INF must-1s and chair-PL carry-INF must-1s OK
we find that the material in black is now a clear, well-formed sentence: Instructor Árus, since you really want to hold your class here, I must move the table and get the chairs.

Self-repair is preferred to other-repair, which will be marked with hesitations and other indicators of a dispreferred response (at least among peers; brusque other-repairs are a privilege of authority).

A: Cutun, yes rindudo dzausí.
therefore you drawing teach-FUT.3s
So, you’re teaching drawing.

B: An... do geun ga... šukecudo dzausiye.
well / not correct ADV / painting teach-FUT.3s
Well, not exactly... I’m teaching painting.

A: Af cunde, šukecudo, još ga.
oh that.way / painting / good ADV
Oh right, painting, very good.

Embedded repairs are a bit more polite:
A: Cutun, yes rindudo dzausí.
therefore you drawing teach-FUT.3s
So, you’re teaching drawing.

B: Dzindex xaircú tom šukecudo dzausiye.
thirty student-PL DAT painting teach-FUT.3s
I’ll be teaching painting to thirty students.

A: Oa, šukecudo o dzindex xaircú, toteus.
oh painting for thirty / too.much-3s
Oh, thirty for a painting class, that’s too much.

Pragmatic markers

Many words and expressions have a pragmatic rather than a semantic meaning. Dictionaries often throw up their hands at these; e.g. the interjection well is defined as “1. Used to express surprise. 2. Used to introduce a remark or as a filler in a pause during conversation.”

Pragmatics lets us be more specific: well, for instance, marks dispreferreds. Oh acknowledges new information; uh prolongs a turn or marks dispreferreds; by the way introduces a topic jump.

Some pragmatic markers and expressons in Xurnese:

Marker       Usage
an Marks dispreferreds. (If emphasized, prolong the n.)

An... ir šonaup ci nox laumiye.
PT my hair-PL that night wash-FUT.1s
Well, I’m washing my hair that night.

u Marks receipt of new information or a new topic.

U zene šuč.
PT know-INF not-PAST.1s
Oh, I didn’t know.

af Withdraws an offer. (Pronounced ingressively.)

Af, yes mavirc ci idzum ma.
PT you lover this now have-3s
Ah, you aleady have a boyfriend.

cunde Underlines a point of agreement (often recapitulated), or urges attention to a an important point.

Cunde, li yes toš ešreac jende denjic?
PT and 2s 3s stop-INF how expect-FUT.3s
OK, and how will you stop him?

oa Marks appreciation of a story, offer, or new fact.

Oa, yes cu cunde sinc na niu.
PT you that that.way say-3s SUB kind
Aw, you are very sweet to say so.

on Holds the floor, or marks dispreferreds. (If emphasized, prolong the n.)

On... beč i de.
PT chicken me give-INF
Uh... I’ll have the chicken.

keno Introduces a new topic.

Keno... ir jire jinar?
if my wife where
Hey... where is my wife?

još ga Ends a digression, or underlines an agreement.

Još ga... dzunar ray xa nao...
good ADV / hallway in corpse about
Anyway, about that corpse in the hallway...

nay Calls attention, or requests the floor.

Nay, teris, dzutri izom!
PT / shut.up-INF / somewhat.late be-1p
Hey, shut up, we’re late!

ma jende Marks tag questions, and as an extension, yields the floor even when not asking a question.

Jidil, ir pudim xaulip reátuc zi, ma jende?
resultingly my week evil movement be-PAST.3s / or how
So my week was a disaster... how about you?

zezin Acknowledges a point but suggests that it should be obvious.

Zezin, joraumirc rinde zenači.
learn-3s / councillor draw-INF not.know-3s
Yeah, the Councillor can’t draw.

ez Dismisses a series of objections or offers.

Ez... yes toš mneušayp.
PT / 2s 3s invite-FUT.3s
Yeah yeah. (I tell you) you’re going to ask her out.


Languages generally have some syntactic or even morphological means of distinguishing topic (or old information) from comment (new information). This has already come up in several sections:
Focussing on sentences, however, we lose track of the big picture. These are just parts of a theory of narrative. How do people agree on topics? How do they change? How do we follow a narrative? How do we know what a conversation is about?

Let’s follow (part of) a conversation, adapted from A Diary of the Prose Wars (for more on this work, see the Examples). We’ll point out how the narrative focus changes, as well as other pragmatic phenomena. Two students— a couple, Deru and Itep— are talking.

Itep: Bicikesiy o cúeč e eraeyu.
Academician of party to attend-FUT.1s
Itep: I’m going to the Academician’s party.
Though the word order here is unmarked, it’s clear that we’ve joined this conversation in medias res, because Itep would probably not introduce the idea of the party this way. It’s typical for new information to appear at the end of the sentence—in this case, Itep’s determination to attend.
Deru: I nao ji?
1s-ACC about what
Deru: What about me?
This is an explicit, conventionalized way to raise a related topic— Deru himself. It’s an implicature (not a certain deduction) that he isn’t abandoning the previous topic (the party), but injecting himself in it, inasmuch as Itep didn’t include him in her first-person declaration.
Itep: Yes nao, cuš nao ji?
2s about / that about what
Itep: What about you?
A curious structure for something of a non-response. The formula X nao ji? asks “What about X?” Here X is stated, then replaced with the pronoun cuš, a form of topicalization, emphasizing X even more. But X is just an indirect quotation from Deru’s own utterance. Itep refuses to add a comment to this topic. If she’s following Grice’s maxims, her implicature could be that the new information is obvious. But perhaps she isn’t being cooperative at all— her refusal to supply the information is itself the message.
Deru: I mneušis šučuc?
1s-ACC invite-ACC not-PAST.3p
Deru: I’m not invited?
Itep: Yes mneušis šučuc.
2s-ACC invite-ACC not-PAST.3p
Itep: You’re not invited.
Deru is forced to draw out the implication himself. He also makes it clear that the overall topic remains the party. The choice of impersonal 3p is intentional: Deru makes it clear that who’s issuing the invitation is of no importance; the focus is on his being left out.

Itep confirms the implication; the absence of any mollifiers suggests either mockery or annoyance.

Deru: Syu je šenyu na denjic?
1s what do-FUT.SUBJ.1s SUB 2s expect-3s
Deru: What am I supposed to do with myself then?
Since syu is never required, its explicit use serves as a topicalizer: me, or by metonymy, my feelings. Deru’s tortured syntax corresponds to his frustration: the inner clause is all about what he should do (“Me, what will I do”) and yet is subordinated to a question about Itep’s intentions; the implicature is that Itep is responsible for him. The discussion has shifted from the party itself to its consequence— Deru being left alone.
Itep: I puide jende zenimú? Braupač kip nej. Koma e moz murae.
me spit-SUBJ.3s how know-SUBJ.1s / unbusy dusk use-INF / home to girl bring-INF
Itep: How the fuck should I know? Take it as a night off. Invite a girl home.
Itep belittles the question but answers it— on the surface. Taking things literally can be a form of mockery: she is disdainfully refusing to address the implicature (Deru feels left out). Or she simply refuses to take responsibility for amusing Deru.
Deru: Moz koma e murae xamač. Yes nulač tun zi? Bumasú cumoro gemimayc na rues xu zi ma?
girl home to bring-INF not.come-1s / 2s unwell why be.3s / couple like accept-SUBJ.3p SUB want-INF wrong be-3s or
Deru: I’m not going to invite a girl home. What’s the matter with you? Is it wrong to think we should be treated like a couple?
Again, Deru is forced to make his complaints more explicit... which underlines by contrast how often the ‘real subject’ of our conversations is kept implicit. He still uses some indirection, complaining that people (again, unnamed ones) won’t treat them as a couple; his real complaint is that Itep isn’t doing so.

He doesn’t accurately quote Itep’s koma e moz murae, but switches ‘girl’ and ‘home’. Topicalizing moz makes the hypothetical girl more real. Itep’s phrasing is impersonal: “bring someone home— maybe a girl”. Deru focusses on the girl almost as an intruder: “Some girl, yeah, bring her home.” A subtle difference in syntax brings out their different attitudes toward infidelity, and thus toward their relationship.

Itep: Bicikesu ga bumasú šačum. Emu ize šarasum, mat endevugaup.
academic ADV couple / husband be-INF must-3p or protegé
Itep: In academic circles we aren’t a couple. You have to be married, or a mentor/protégé.
Language includes meta-language: it’s always possible to go from use to mention, focussing on the forms or definitions of words. This can be done for play, to point out imprecise or incorrect assumptions, or as pedantic obstruction. Itep, more worldly than her boyfriend, points out that the artist class of the 3100s did not socially recognize mere romantic liaisons. From her point of view, Deru is making foolish objections and it’s sufficient to swat them down. By not addressing the real cause of complaint she denies it validity.
Deru: Yes tegendi Bicikes jideym xaušije? Bicikes yes cuš zic.
2s pathless academy when respect-PAST.3s / academy 2s that hate-3s
Deru: Since when did you ever give a fuck about academic circles? You hate the Academy.
In a failed argument, people behave like logicians: they focus on the surface meaning of the last utterance. Deru seizes on Itep’s Bicikesu ga Academically speaking, treating it not as a matter of social fact, but as an adherance to academic values. This allows him to point to a supposed contradiction with her oft-stated feelings about the Academy.

The second sentence topicalizes its object. Bicikes ‘the Academy’; this has the effect of emphasizng the comment, namely Itep’s hatred.

Itep: Yes end’ eš je nao baus? Revaudo o tegendi xau yes cuš ukošim ma? Cuš nao šači. Yes cúeč e mneušis šačuc luk yes bodugri auris cumoro cauč, ceš nao jam.
2s path against what about tell-3s / Revaudo of pathless study 2s that tend-SUBJ.3s or / that about not-3s / you party to invite-INF not-3p therefore 2s lame bear like dance-3s / this about thing
Itep: What the fuck are you talking about? Did you get interested in pathless Revaudo theory? I think not. I think it’s about you getting your precious nose out of joint because somebody didn’t invite you to a party.
What in the name of the Path are we talking about? That is the question for narrative theory. By this time a lot is on the table: the Academician’s party, Deru, Deru’s empty evening, Deru’s feelings, the couple’s differing expectations, the Academy itself. Though we can juggle many topics at once, an orderly discussion focusses on one at a time, and closes out subtopics as they occur, returning to the larger points. A failed discussion leaves everything open, which probably underlies Itep’s frustrated question.

Itep restates the topic as she sees it, addressing Deru’s feelings directly for the first time, but dismissively. To state a topic is in part to control the discussion. This being an argument, Deru will take this as an aggressive move and simply deny Itep’s formulation.

Her strong language derives from Endajué, still the spiritual touchstone of Xurnese culture. To be off the path and to “dance like a lame bear” are vivid images of depravity within Endajué, much more so than references to sex.


Languages seem to be permeated with certain notions: gender, location, time, politeness. These may affect pragmatics, morphology, even phonology. None of this is surprising— these are basic factors of human society— but they’re also somewhat arbitrary. Languages are much less likely, for instance, to focus on age, wealth, size, or spirituality.

We’ve already encountered examples of politeness in Xurnese:

The predominant terrestrial analysis of politeness is that of Brown and Levinson. Following Goffman, they emphasize the concept of face— itself a calque on Chinese liǎn. This can be divided into positive face (the desire to have one’s wants acknowledged and shared by others) and negative face (the desire to have one’s wants unimpeded).

Negative face is threatened by orders, requests and threats (which limit freedom of action), offers (which may generate debts), and expressions of envy or anger. Positive face is threatened by disapproval and contradiction, inattention, or irreverence.

Politeness strategies

According to Brown and Levinson, speakers can adopt one of four approaches; these are exemplified below by a speaker who wants a friend to serve as a nude model.

A Xurnese view

To the Xurnese, what we call politeness is divided into three concepts.
Or to put it jocularly, treat everyone nicely, except for some who should be treated even more nicely, so long as they don’t act like they deserve it.

From a Xurnese perspecctive, Deru and Itep’s discussion (under Narrative) is obviously an argument, but neither is particularly impolite. Neither is prejudiced, and since their rank is the same there is no real issue of deference or modesty. Deru’s naïveté about Academic norms would be less forgivable to Xurnese readers, but they would see little wrong in his making demands— or in Itep refusing them. They’d agree, however, that the couple shows little solidarity and would wonder if they’ll last together.

By Almean standards, the Xurnese are dismayingly egalitarian— in southern Eretald, horrified officials have gone so far as to ban discussion of Endajué, which seems to them to upend the natural order. Modern Americans will however dscover differences from their own ideas of politeness:

Real-world knowledge

To fully understand language use, we find ourselves discussing social interaction, emotion and intention, wordplay and rhetoric, wide realms of implication or presupposition, and ultimately real-world knowledge. This isn’t really controversial, except to those who hope to treat language as an isolated subsystem (e.g. Chomskyan syntax, or early attempts at AI).

As a random example, here’s the beginning of a diary entry from Academician Rorsus in the Diary of the Prose Wars:

Cu čawke o xúdeč ji ze na zenisimayc cideym— li zenisayc denjitrač li teč ga orkaymaup izraudo mu— cu palači jam jad na ešindimú.
that table of trick what be-3s SUB ask-SUBJ.3p then / and ask-3p hopeless and half ADV hidden envy with / that sole thing ass SUB reply-SUBJ.1s.
When they ask what is the secret of my table— and they do, with a desperate half-concealed envy— I answer that it’s all about the ass.

Šišimimuc keno— li duoyo šišimuc— paundimú, palači jam jad li miruj o yu jíleč na
persist-SUBJ.3p if / and never persist-3p / SUB add-SUBJ.1s / sole thing ass and brain of suitable mixture SUB
If they persist— and they never do— I add that it’s about the proper mix of ass and brain.

Let’s enumerate some of the real-world knowledge the Xurnese reader needs to interpret this text.
It would take us far afield to consider how the brain stores real-world knowledge— and we know little— but a common analysis assumes that it’s organized into frames or scripts— essentially, structured chunks relating to a subject. For instance, there is a script referring to cuaup ‘parties’, which contains common knowledge such as who the typical participants are, what objects are involved, the sequence of events (from the invitation onward), and their felicity conditions.

It’s easy to show that almost any of the information in the script is relevant to language understanding; for instance, once a party is mentioned, all the participants and objects can be considered to be referenced. It would be odd, for instance, to say

Rorsus bicikesiy cúeš cuey. Cušrileuc bunji mneušú.
Rorsus Academician party host-FUT.3s / some guests see-FUT.3p
Academician Rorsus is throwing a party. There will be some guests.
because topicalization highlights new information, and once we know that there’s a party, we already know that there will be guests— this is not new information.

Frames and metonymy

William Croft has suggested that frames underlie common uses of metonymy. For instance, we can use an author’s name to refer to her works: Ne-Duox aycaurijú I’ve read ne-Duox. A mention of reading activates the entire frame of reading. We read books, and books have authors, so mentioning the author can serve as shorthand for mentioning the book. Similarly:
What isn’t so well explained is why some metonymies fail. Since ne-Duox was a teacher, her ideas should be activated by references to learning or thinking; but we can’t say *Ne-Duox eumije *I’ve thought ne-Duox. If I live in a house built by the architect Mauto, I can’t say *Mauto komú *I live in Mauto. Body part metonymies are highly restricted; we can’t ask if your brother is here by asking *Brayp o teyš inar pej? *Your brother’s chest is here?

There are festivals commemorating the martyrdom of certain Hermit Masters; curiously we can’t refer to the festivals by the Master’s name (*Šika xam Šika is coming), but we must use a postpositional phrase: Šika o xam. The phrase, however, can refer to the time period of the festival: Šika o yes rileyu I’ll see you at Šika.

As we often say in linguistics, more research is needed...


1. A Defense of Women

Mešaism had a rigidly hierarchical scale of values, ultimately deriving from the warrior ethic. Rulers were inherently virtuous and unlimited in power; fighters the most important class; the conquered Wede:i were suited only to be slaves; men were more valuable than women, and manly warriors superior to bookish clerics and officials.

Endajué rejected this hierarchy. Its heroes were not the petty kings who had torn Axunai into a patchwork of war-torn states, but the quiet Hermit Masters (kešaup dzuséy), who taught harmony, simplicity, mercy, and withdrawal from the world.

Several were women; this passage is attributed to one of them, Rúmeš (‘the Redhead’), who flourished around 1825. This is not an extract from a larger essay, but a dzusúis, a parable or short teaching; the Masters preferred to speak as briefly as possible, and if pressed to explain, responded only with a different dzusúis, often one counselling quiet reflection.

Rúmeš’s target was as much the first generation of dzuséy as the Mešaist elders. The equality of women did become Endajué doctrine, but like its pacifism, it remained largely an ideal, except among the clerical and intellectual class. When these took power, with the Revaudo revolution, Xurnese society was transformed.

The Hermit Masters taught by speaking; their dzusuisi were haphazardly written down by disciples, or disciples of disciples. It’s clear that the Masters spoke in the vernacular, in Old Xurnese, but the disciples often attempted to render them into classical Axunašin. Many dzusuisi, including this one, exist in multiple forms, widely varying in word choice, proportion of logographs to syllabic glyphs, and degree of archaism. The text here is taken from a standard text of 2855 and thus uses modern spelling. Its age is indicated by some lexical choices (notably dzaus for ‘teach’), the conservative question marker jic, and the Old Xurnese pronoun system.

Dzusey kírex o xumi xur ga kuluc.
teacher village of man-PL beside ADV bring-3p
A teacher takes the men of the village aside.

Zimi orpwiduc, tošezič cuš sinc.
woman-PL leave-SUBJ.3p say-3s
“Leave the women behind,” he says.

Ci jisú mulú ayzuc na elircú cauč o orkaymaupi gerizas šučuc.
this weak-PL soft-PL be-3p SUB living.thing-PL cosmos of secret-PL understand-INF not-3p
“Weak, soft creatures, they will not understand the secrets of the universe.”

Bezmoro ga zimi cu oraayc na kiezič rešayc.
sad ADV woman-PL that leave-3p SUB 3p watch-3p
Sadly, the women watch them go.

Bunjisu dzuzočis xamen keno to lajú mu ešreac jidzenuc, cuš zenayc.
someone follow-INF intend-SUBJ.FUT.3s if 3s blow-PL with prevent-INF suffer-SUBJ.FUT.3s / know-3p
If any tries to follow, they know, they will be prevented with blows.

Rijivayjuc, li kiezič tom welayc je dzausyeyc?
enter-PERF.3s / and 3p DAT what-ACC teach-FUT.3s
Once inside, what does the old man teach them?

Još ameatudo ga elis, civike, kuvetudo ešinde, gesaulic li rumeludo brešrae.
good union ADV live-INF / pity--INF / violence reject-INF / pride and greed bypass-INF
To live in harmony, to be merciful, to reject violence, to avoid pride and greed.

Tošezič cu denjidzirci zimi ci idzum zenayc na ez dzaus jic šači?
3s that waiting-PL woman-PL this now know-3s SUB everything teach-INF Q not-3s
Is he not teaching them what the women waiting already know?

Cu xaleš na naumoro móreč, zimi ceš ez dis nej jic šačuc?
that preach-3s SUB peaceful world.level woman-PL each day craft-INF Q not-3p
The peaceful ideal he preaches, is that not the daily achivement of women?

Welayc na pali još ga wes zen; cauš mororiwde eyka tošezič niu li rinari moz rinc. SUB more good ADV artist know-3s / dance illustrate-INF for 3s kind and graceful young.woman draw-3s
The artist knows better than the old man; illustrating the Dance, he draws a sweet and graceful young woman.

Xumi cauč zezine li xais li xauke šaraguc.
man-PL dance learn-INF and study-INF and struggle-INF must-3p
Men must study and struggle to learn the Dance.

Zimi tom andes ze ayči cumoro.
woman-PL DAT easy be-3s wake-INF like
For women it is as easy as waking.

Miezič aycaurri xumi, ir mis pucude šačuc!
2p reading men / my words 2p offend-INF not-3p
But men, do not take offense at my words!

Cauč am kezirc mu nyešus šači; am masirc mu murutu šači.
dance one ruler with kingdom not-3s / one winner with race not-3s
The dance is not a kingdom with one ruler; it is not a race with one winner.

2. Diary of the Prose Wars: Deru

The Gejupudo nao onomú o xizonip (Diary of the Prose Wars) is a selective compilation of journals from the Prose Wars, the agitation surrounding the creation of the Salon of Prose in the 3140s. Gejupudo ‘prose’ is distinguished from busumudo ‘poetry’; it was not one of the classical arts, and its detractors insisted that there was nothing artistic about it— it was mere busaudo ‘journalism’: the compilation of facts, artlessly arranged. Its supporters insisted that to be a modern country, competitive with Čeiy and the northern maritime powers, Xurno must embrace science and scholarship.

The Diary includes journals of several figures involved in the Prose Wars, some minor, some major— notably Enirc, a minor cleric and indefatigable promoter of northern science. His struggles won the day for Prose but not for himself; he was considered a popularizer, thus a journalist.

The work, published in 3226 in Inex, is anonymous, but assumed to be the work of one of the diarists, though critics dispute which one it might be. The diarists are all real people, and three of them at least are known to be real journals which have since been wholly or partially published. The editor is widely assumed to have invented some of the rest; again, it is unclear which.

This extract is from the diary of Deru, a student in the Academy of Drawing. Deru is the son of poor merchants who, by financing his artistic education, hope to make his fortune.

Rindudo mojurači.
drawing impossible
Drawing is impossible.

Cunde, zendey bicikesiy tom šači.
that.way / teacher academician DAT not-3s
Not for the Academician Instructor, of course.

Ezende andes rilauši cu toš bunji rim ribes na cideym, li rilayc šeri bibéseč.
every.way easy seem-3s that he some line-PL ooze-3s SUB then and see-3p elegant miniature
It looks so easy when he squirts out a few lines and there it is, an elegant miniature.

Li ezende andes cu toš ez cuš nao sinc— reátuc o rim li ušu jataup li šic neymoro dmurú.
and every.way easy that he all that.thing about speak-3s / action of line-PL and golden proportion-PL and seven principle distance-PL
And it sounds so easy when he talks about lines of action and golden proportions and the seven key distances.

Plaup dzu ximi eykraysú, li cu jam rindejú na pip xwenar dumoro rilauše.
paper on arrange-INF try-1s / and that thing draw-PERF.1s SUB before chicken-place like seem-3s
I try to lay all this out on the paper, and it looks like a chickenyard before I’ve drawn the thing itself.

Cuš eykraysú, li toš cáunuc, xoren, jigaurataup mimic neyo do. try-1s / and 3s ruin / black tangled swamp beyond nothing
I try that, and it’s all a ruin, nothing but a dark, tangled swamp.

Playnu ezisu o plu rešú li moreštes kyes silírceš réuric aušas muc.
other everyone of paper-PL / and turn without 3p celestial beautiful classic-PL have-3p
I look at everyone else’s paper and naturally, they all have ethereal, gorgeous masterpieces.

This is the same Deru whose relationship with Itep we considered earlier; a subsequent entry, in fact, adds that Itep is also mojurači.

3. An infatuation with clocks

The following passage derives from a newspaper in Curau, published in 3478. The author is Uvimel of Yeš, who captures common Xurnese attitudes about the Northern countries.

Many of his observations are true enough, though they are perhaps not as definitive as he believes. There is no ring of slums around Inex or Curau because they don’t have factories with an insatiable need for cheap labor. Absent an accurate census, Inex may or may not be larger than Verduria city; but Uvimel is correct that Xurnese has more cities of comparable size. And his information on sequestration of women is a few centuries out of date.

Worth noting is Uvimel’s use of the subjunctive to underline what he considers absurdities, such as the suggestion that the northern countries are more advanced.

A linguistic curiosity: much as medieval Europeans used ‘christians’ to mean ‘people’, Xurnese use wem ‘artists’.

Uvimel’s suggestion that the painters be asked to duplicate the northern clocks is less absurd than it appears: the Salon of Painting had oversight responsibility for the ministry of Engineering, which was responsible for the irrigation works and the ports.

Cu roc na dzudo ezič Berdura li Kebri na sindayc.
that nations SUB most great Verduria and Kebri SUB say-3p
It’s said that Verduria and Kebri are the greatest nations of Almea.

Saur li mip ayzuc, li zuryo isaurisi seješi li šujisi mu.
powerful and rich be-3p and truly smart machine-PL and toys with
They are powerful, very rich, and certainly clever with machines and toys.

Cu tir néjex gemi šačum keno brešraup šuenum na bunji wem sindayc.
that their methodology accept-INF not-1p if antiquated be-1p.FUT.SUBJ SUB some artists say-3p
Some people say that we should follow their ways or be left behind.

Kyes tom cuš lusimú, tir rosuy pali wu— xumaur rosúy na dzudo wu.
3p DAT remind-1s.SUBJ / 1p-GEN civilization more old / human civilizations SUB most old
I would remind them that our culture is older, the oldest of human civilizations.

Xuač berdursú ceš zezinayc.
even Verdurians recognize-3p
Even the Verdurians admit this.

Kyes xuač corauši zezine ruuc, ciluk ediri súmex o zenaudo dzi.
3p even Xurnese learn-INF wish-3p / because Wede:i epoch of knowledge give-3s
They even wish to learn Xurnese as it gives insight into the most ancient epochs.

Miuc nao— kyes bip ros, xir egusú o Kazinel o daruo xuač xauriac šačuc.
wealth about / 3p small country / 3p-GEN ancestors of Cađinas of size even attain-INF not-3p
As for riches, they are a small country, not even reaching the extent of the Cađinorians, their ancestors.

Inex cir imaur runi Berdura na pali dari li pali mausixumu... li ci runi dzus kyes do muc cu Curau, Jinayzu, Lozauš, Lirau, Lij xauriac na.
Inex 1p-GEN principal city Verduria SUB more large and more magnificient / and this city after 3p nothing have-3p / that (proper names) attain-3s SUB
Our capital of Inex is larger and more magnificent than Verduria... and besides this city, they have nothing to compare to Curau, Jinayzu, Lozauš, Lirau, and Lij.

Mucauč cir runú pali lumaup, li cu tekótuš jidzayc na cinar do edennari muc
also 1p-GEN cities more clean / and that poor suffer-3p SUB there no shantytown-PL have-3p
Our cities are cleaner as well, and have no ghettos where the poor suffer.

Xir šukecudo nao imaur šuke li šudaudzu— cir yúseč bumeac peš ga imišačuc.
3p-GEN painting about / principal tempera and fresco / 1p-GEN oil.painting copy almost ADV not.begin-3p
Their chief visual arts are tempera and fresco— they have barely begun to imitate our oil painting.

Myúnuc o kekelaudo ray myes xir kejisimeludo weunde mojuc... nimaléy o kissú o wemoxau.
watercolor of 3p-GEN enjoyment in 2p 3p-GEN refinement discover-INF may-3p / merchants of children of art
You may judge their refinement from their enjoyment of watercolor, the art of merchants’ children.

Kyes aujikalur mis šačuc, mucauč aujikalu li cauč o xir gerizasudo ezende jis.
3p opera have-INF not-3p / also music and dance of 3p-GEN understanding wholly weak
They have no opera, and only the weakest understanding of music and dance.

Xir rostri muešaudo giar— cuš kyes dmuna keyzum gié li ni; kyes dum e mesi dusrosuc, li šakusi li xalircú dmuna kapayc.
3p-GEN national organization feudal / 3p still rule-3p lords and kings / 3p houses to woman-PL sequester / and idol-PL and animal-PL still worship-3p
Their social system is archaic— they are still ruled by nobles and kings; they restrict their women to their houses, and they still worship idols and animals.

Mausu dari šomim xundayc, brešuatri li ransu zenaudo e nudzirc amende šuayc.
many,people 3p-GEN large ships admire-3p / advanced and occult knowledge DAT sign somehow be-SUBJ.3p
Many have admired their large ships, which are somehow supposed to be a sign of advanced, arcane knowledge.

Peygam kyes brešuatri šuayc keno cir točim kaym tun ruiduc?
however 3p advanced be-SUBJ.3p / if our manufactures buy -INF why want-SUBJ.3p
But if they are advanced, why are they eager to buy our manufactures?

Ez busaup wes cuš zen, treše nao Xurno pali seur, li cu kyes imprímeč xedejuc na pip pilaudo rumyo mijum.
all informed artist know-3p / black.powder about Xurno more strong / and that they create-PAST.3p SUB before silkscreen longly have-PERF.1p
Any informed person knows that Xurno is far stronger in the use of gunpowder, and that we had silkscreening long before they created the printing press.

Bunjisu tir šenú zuryo xundim, keno zezin, toš cuš kaym li tir dámuc nao ximi.
someone 3p-GEN clocks truly admire-SUBJ.3s / if learn-3s / 3s buy-INF and 3s-GEN shelf on put-INF
If anyone truly admires their clocks, by all means let them buy one and place it on their shelf.

Am sus dzus toš ci neyori mnáluc rešey ma?
one year after 3s this foreign oddity look-FUT.3s or
Will they still look at this foreign curiosity in a year?

Cu šenú midum na gisu šu, šukecudo o xamunar tom cuš de, li bondu myum.
that clocks have-SUBJ.1p SUB important be-SUBJ.3s / sculpture of painting DAT give-INF / and million have-FUT.1p
If it is important to have clocks, give them to the Salon of Painting and we shall have a million of them.


Virtual Verduria