Virtual Verduria


Introduction * History Unusual features Cultural notes
Phonology * Phonological constraints
Morphology * Prefixes Adjectivizers Nominalizers Attitudinals Anaphora Modifiers Pluralizers Emphasis by length Colors Vowel continua Locatives Numbers
Syntax * Word order Case analysis Reductive cases Notes on specific verbs Assignment anaphora Object anaphora Relativization of nouns Subordination within prepositional phrases Subordination of entire sentences Negatives Questions Time The calendar
Writing system

Introduction [Top]

Elkarîl is the language of the elcari of the Elkarin Mountains west of Eretald. It is the best-known non-human language of Ereláe.

(Philological notes: elkar is literally `the making people'. I write elcar, plural elcari, because this is the form of the word in Verdurian. I avoid the translation `dwarf' since it imports too many associations from terrestrial legends. Elcarin is the Verdurian adjective, relating to the people or culture, and I use it as the English adjective too. Elkarîl, or in full bbêthu elkarîl, is what the elcari call their language; the Verdurian is Elcarrhon. Finally, Elkarinor is the Barakhinei name for this elcarin kingdom; the elcari call it Khatelyên after its capital.)

History [Top]

Elcarin languages are very ancient, and change only very slowly. To our knowledge, all the elcarin languages of Ereláe are related. That of the Diqun Bormai is mutually intelligible with that of Elkarinor, if speakers are given some time to acclimate. (Diqun is in fact a borrowing from Elkarîl; it means `cobalt ore'.) And from historical records we find that the language of 15,000 years back differs very little from contemporary speech.

More striking yet, the language of the nearer múrtani is demonstrably related to Elkaril-- though it has changed faster, and there is now little superficial resemblance between the languages.

In part, this extraordinary resistance to change is due to elcarin longetivity: lifetimes average 300 years, and individuals may reach the age of 600. Since maturation takes little longer than for humans-- about 30 years-- the young are never numerous, and relate principally to adults rather than to each other. Beyond this, we may note that the elcari never seem to use language as a social marker or as a vehicle of fashion. Elcarin groups distinguish themselves by dress or artistic style, but not by speech.

As well, the elcari revere their own speech, which they believe was imparted to them directly by Khemthu-Nôr. If (say) met is God's own word for `dawn', far be it from a mere mortal to change it.

Unusual features [Top]

Elkarîl is similar to human languages, in that it's based on vocalization, has a relatively fixed phoneme set and lexicon, and so on; but it has some rather unusual features.

It employs a large number of single-phoneme affixes, which allow some fairly frightening consonant clusters: gnqêtkh `despised father'; p-tñêchôngmsh `and full of iron ore'

Though most words can be analyzed as a sequence of phonemes, the language makes semantic use of some continuous phonetic variables, such as frontness, tongue height, or length of articulation.

There are no personal pronouns; however, variables can be arbitrarily and explicitly assigned.

Verbs don't morphologically indicate tense (that is, time of action) or the perfect (that is, completed action), nor are there any subjunctive or evidential inflections.

Default categories are often narrower than in human languages. E.g. where we would say `tree', an elcar must specify ngach `conifer' or bosh `deciduous tree'. And where we have `hill' and `mountain', Elkarîl has ten words:

shôph an isolated hill or mesa
châbb a hill (among other hills)
geth foothill; a hill connecting to mountains beyond
bad a mountain shorter on one side (e.g. because it leads to a plateau)
jôph an isolated mountain
ñam a low mountain (among others the same size)
rakh a high, steep mountain, part of a range
têkh a ridge of mountains (or a very long mountain)
mông a low mountain among high ones; a pass
kugg a very high mountain peak in a high range
Where human languages analyze events (to use English terminology) in terms of subject, action, object, Elkarîl rigorously separates physical and mental events, with a set of case roles for each level.

Cultural notes [Top]

Rather romanticized picture of an elcar smith Since elcari are in effect an alien race, unknown to terrestrial humans, it may be helpful to briefly sketch elcarin society; this may help clarify some of the features of the language and lexicon. (Their biology has been described elsewhere.)

The elcari live almost exclusively in mountain regions, preferably in great stone cities (khat) which extend deep into the earth. They are experts in mining and metallurgy, and to humans they are primarily known as builders, miners, jewellers, armorers, and blacksmiths; indeed, they may travel into human territories to offer these services, though they never stay long.

They grow crops in the valleys and footills-- in Elkarinor, wheat, rye, oats, beans, carrots, turnips, wild rice, grapes, berries, olives, and fruit trees, as well as flax and hemp for textiles. They have kept sheep and goats for milennia, and acquired chickens, cattle, and horses from men. (Their horses are perhaps better called mountain ponies, small enough for elcari to ride, and adapted to the mountains.) They freely trade with men and ilii for other goods.

They are egalitarian by nature; though they enjoy luxuries, they consider human hierarchies to be foolish, and they have no servants or even employees (though younger elcari assist older family members). They willingly organize in order to create buildings or excavations, to mine, to make laws, to trade with their neighbors, to deal with natural disasters, and to go to war, but these enterprises (ddux) are never permanent, and their leaders (nnôn) are elected. There is a king (tely), but the position is largely ceremonial, except in wartime.

There is no permanent government, but there are frequent councils (ggêj) which meet to address problems and hear complaints; an agreement in council (ggêjêju) is effectively a law, and not lightly broken. There is no police force; instead, crimes are brought before the council, which dispenses judgment (if there's no clear culprit, a commission is appointed to find the perpetrator).

If this sounds a bit libertarian, it should be understood that elcari have a very strong sense of community (murth) and collective action. An elcar doesn't like to be permanently subordinate to anyone, but also prefers not to act or live alone. To want to accumulate things only for oneself, or to lord it over others, is considered perverse.

The elcari are not very devoted to intellectual pursuits. Their studies are usually practical-- chemistry, metallurgy, agronomy, architecture, medicine, genealogy; about their only abstract interests are astronomy and mathematics. They believe in one god, Khemthu-Nôr (`First Spirit'), but have no public worship and little theology. Their chief diversions are games of all sorts and music, generally accompanied by drinking and gossip. Their passion, however, is making things, from houses to jewelry, from drawings to sculpture to furniture to clothing. All of these are to be made as beautiful and ornate as possible. (Elcarin tastes do not run toward Zen simplicity.)

Elcari come to maturity in about thirty years, but live to over 300. As a corollary, children make up only a small fraction of society, and child-raising is only a short phase or two in an elcar's life. (Infant mortality is extremely low among elcari.) Probably because of this, elcar males and females are much less differentiated than humans, biologically and socially. There are no sex restrictions on profession, although males (being slightly stronger) do more of the heavy excavation, while females are usually the metallurgical experts. Relationships are long-lasting but not lifelong, and same-sex relationships are not considered remarkable.

To humans who know them, elcari are plodding, pedantic, stubborn, pragmatic, emotionally cool, and maddeningly slow to change. They are loyal friends, fierce when attacked, and very noisy when drunk, as they frequently are (though some of this may be for show; you rarely see an elcar sick or passed out from drinking). To elcari, humans are volatile, imprecise, bafflingly obsessed with hierarchies and rites, usually clumsy and tacky in their manufactures, easily damaged, and worryingly violent.

They respect the ilii for their ancient history, but make fun of them for being devoted to stories and poetry (which bore elcari if they're not short); and they are entirely out of sympathy with their interest in nature. Nature, to the elcari, is only a raw material.

Phonology [Top]

The `doubled' consonants are actually voiced implosives. These are formed by making the oral occlusion and lowering the larynx; air thus moves `backwards', and the sound can only be maintained momentarily, while the air held in the mouth is exhausted. I indicate the implosives with doubling both because the IPA abbreviations are not always available, and because the elcarin alphabet writes them this way-- which in turn is because they developed out of phonetic doubled consonants.

The Elkarîl writing system can be seen as featural: there are base letters p t ch k q, with modifications to indicate voicing, implosivization, and fricativization. (There are separate graphemes for the nasals and liquids.) The transcription follows suit to some extent, but if you prefer, you may write (say) khemthush `spiritual' as , or dduchegg `noble human' as . To match the orthography, I should have written b as mp, d as nt, etc.-- a system which would seem perfectly reasonable to Greeks, but not to anyone else.

The ch and j sounds are really affricates [tsh dzh]. The `palatal' label is historical-- these sounds once were palatal stops-- as well as phonological: in terms of the structure of the language, they pattern with the stops. The initial [t] and [d] in the affricates are not dental, but alveolar, very close to the position of sh.

The unvoiced stops are slightly aspirated (e.g. [ph]), as in English, while the voiced stops are fully voiced, as in French.

I considered using qn for the voiced uvular stop, but settled on x-- with some trepidation, since I'm not aware of any language that uses x this way. However, with a fairly full consonantal system I preferred using a simple letter to another, unusual digraph, and IPA G has the defect that it can't be capitalized.

Fricative ph is labial [F], like Japanese f, not labiodental. I've used the digraph to match the Elkarîl alphabet, for consistency with the other fricatives, and as a reminder that the sound is not the same as English [f].

The vowels can be pronounced as in Barakhinei (i machine, e café, ê bet, â back, î bit, u gnu, o tote, ô caught, a father); but this is only an approximation: no vowels are rounded. E.g., u is the same as Japanese u, IPA reversed-m.

English bit is more fronted than î, which is a central vowel, a bit lower than i and u, but higher than our schwa.

Stress is always on the first syllable. Unstressed syllables are pronounced clearly, without vowel reduction.

Phonological constraints [Top]

There are very few phonological constraints in Elkarîl; elcari can pronounce just about any consonant combination-- though they avoid diphthongs. (For physiological reasons, two implosives can't occur in a row.) There are also some voicing and place of articulation assimilations among compounds.

Morphemes are usually of the form CVC; this helps in isolating the root when one encounters a highly inflected form.

Orthography [Top]

The Elkarîl writing system is described here.

Morphology [Top]

Elkarîl has no inflections per se (except perhaps the anaphoric inflections)-- that is, there are no obligatory affixes that indicate grammatical roles-- but it has a large and healthy derivational morphology.

A peculiarity of Elkarîl is the large number of single-phoneme affixes, including all the prefixes.

Prefixes [Top]

Affix Meaning Notes and examples
p- and b- before voiced consonants
gan p-chan brother and sister
rum b-maqh green and white
ch- feminine chan sister; chelkar female elcar, chnqêt mother, chnnem mare
g- masculine gan brother; gelkar male elcar, gnqêt father, gnmum bull
n- agentive m- before p/b/bb/ph
nmak invader; nqêt parent; nmum cow (= mooer);also turns adjectives into a person with that quality: nrêl child
ng- foreign, non-elcarin tely elcarin king --> ngtely foreign ruler
ngqaraju iliu or human writing system
q- one repetition The word itself implies `one'.
ñêm write --> qqqñêm write four times; qqmit three days
t- not; undo; negative telk destroy, tlex forget, tôt no
[+fric]- diminutive khun cute little jewel; shan little sister, khan little brother
â- possessive âgan brother's, ântung the idiot's

Adjectivizers [Top]

Affix Meaning Notes and examples
-r adjectivizer rântur bloody, nôr first, khemthur spiritual
-îl `genitive plural' belonging to a group (-ly after vowels):
elkarîl elcarin, xelyîl of the clans
-sh full of, having the quality of shopsh wise, ñêlsh fiery, ddarsh harmful
-ch locative met dawn --> mech at dawn; bel sky --> belch in the sky;
-ban counter-, anti- murthan against the community
jêjban disagree; xîqh itch --> xîqhban scratch

Nominalizers [Top]

Affix Meaning Notes and examples
-a nominalization (act or process) elka creation, qhêsha shortness, pekha anger
-u nominalization (result) khemthu spirit, ebdu excavation, bbêthu language, lyatu gift, qîlu the inside
-m substance for making kunm substance for making jewels; ngông metal --> ngôngm ore; dâq enter --> dâqm door; mêph ferment --> mêphm yeast
-uq substance derived from another (or from a process) lyuch tar --> lyuchuq pitch; phesh cotton plant --> pheshuq cotton cloth; ñun breast --> ñunuq milk; tuph swamp --> ktuphuq swamp thing (ktuvok); bar sharpen --> baruq axe
-êb upper or earlier part mitêb morning, panêb bow, xôpêb an animal's back
-îd central part mitîd mid-day; lôp organ --> lôpîd vagina
-ôg lower or later part mitôg afternoon, panôg stern, xôpôg underside
-iph half cher 144 --> cheriph 72
-oj another one gelkoj another female
-ox yet another ndophox yet another child
-(r)idd jewel or stone rîmidd beryl, qênidd amethyst;
qich sun --> qichidd gold metal
-(ng)ông metal ñîjông bronze, khulông cinnabar;
tñêch reveal --> tñêchông iron
dde-[+fric] child or follower Ddekhanmech one from Ganmech's clan
-[+vcd] room, place pêddut market, pêdely throne room, pêxuth smeltery

Attitudinals [Top]

Affix Meaning Notes and examples
-ên great rîmidd beryl --> rîmiddên emerald; xelyên Great Clan
-egg noble, refined kunegg noble jewel; Beliddegg one of the moons
-e, -[stop] honorific (= homorganic stop after fricatives or nasals)
gnqête esteemed father, gand esteemed brother
-kh deprecative nmurthankh múrtany, nqîltênkh dirty rotten thief, nmêrkh drunkard

Anaphora [Top]

Affix Meaning Notes and examples
-qeb- anaphoric assignment (see Syntax)
-Vt anaphoric reference

Modifiers [Top]

Affix Meaning Notes and examples
-th repetitive in stay --> inth reside; mur cooperate --> murth community; jar desire --> jarth love
-d causative lema reason --> lemad justify; rul old --> ruld age; lush water --> lusht rinse; ggîn if --> ggînd suppose
[+back] opposite Verbs of motion or transfer are reversed by backing the vowel:
pit come --> put go; dâq enter --> daq exit; bbêth speak --> bbôth listen;

Pluralizers [Top]

Insert -q if the noun ends in a vowel, but -m if it ends in -u.

Affix Meaning Notes and examples
-êj dual elkarêj a pair of elcars, nqêtêj parents, xajêj one's eyes
-âj quartal xelyênâj the four great clans, putuqâj the four directions
-aj plural elkaraj elcars; nqîltêmaj burglars
-aju complete set qog bone --> qogaju skeleton; qara letter --> qaraju alphabet; tîch stair --> tîchaju staircase

Emphasis by length [Top]

Where we might use stress to emphasize a constituent, Elkarîl uses length, for both vowels and consonants. This can have several meanings: The degree to which the sound is drawn out is variable, and correlates with the meaning desired. E.g. rul `old', ruul `quite old', ruuul `very old', ruuuuuul `incredibly ancient'.

Unlike our word stress, this length emphasis is indicated orthographically (by lengthening the character involved).

Note that individual consonant morphemes may be effected; this is particularly effective with the despective -kh and the repetitive -th:

inth stay
inththth stay a long long time
khilkhkhkhkh an ugly, ugly, ugly red

In general Elkarîl lacks attention-focussing transformations (e.g. clefting or passivization). To draw attention to a component, its pronunciation is drawn out.

Colors [Top]

There are nine basic color terms, each of the form CiC, which are modified in a predictable pattern to form 45 terms.

There is also a general term ddil which describes saturation in general: e.g. ddul `very dark', ddêl `very light'.

Vowel continua [Top]

The colors as well as many oppositional adjectives use the vowel space as a continuous phonetic variable. That is, there is not just one word in between khul `maroon' and khil `red'; the precise degree of redness is indicated by the frontness parameter (or tongue height, between khil and khêl).

Similar series include:

rul old ril mature rêl young
qhush long qhish medium size qhêsh short
rung strong ring medium strong rêng weak
jul very early jil on time jêl very late
bbêj neurotic bbij crazy bbuj totally insane
gêm few gim some gum many

Some adjectives use only the first part of this scale, in effect distinguishing only intensities, rather than an opposition; e.g. tuq `very tart' - tîq `tart' - tiq `mildly tart'; phur `hot' - phîr `warm' - phir `lukewarm'; ting `slow' - tîng `stupid' - tung `idiotic'.

These scales are continuous but informal and subjective. That is, they offer a graduated scale between (say) rul `very old' and rêl `very young', but they don't correspond to absolute measures. A typical usage is to nuance one's own or another's judgment: "He's [50% between rul and rîl]." "No, no, he's [60% between rul and rîl]."

The `unmarked' value (in linguistic terms) is the middle one (-i- when the full scale is used; î for the short scale). Neutral nominalizations use this middle term: e.g. ringa is `strength' as a general quality; compare runga `strongness, the state of being strong' and rênga `weakness'. (In English one end of the scale is unmarked: `strength' is ambiguous between the name of the whole scale, and the name of one end of it.)

Locatives [Top]

A general locative can be indicated by modifying a noun: tâguch `in the house', ñekhch `on the table', pêggumch `at the workshop'.

For more precision, prepositions are used (qîl-tâg `inside the house'), and for even more accuracy, the prepositions are phonetically deformed (dil-ñekh `on my side of the table to my left'). The basic locative prepositions are:

pîl general locative
tîl on the surface
qîl inside
tqîl outside
kîn above
chîn below
tîn across from

Each of these can be modified according to the following rules:

Here's a diagram showing the variations of tîl `on':

Though they cannot be written in our transcription (they can be in Elkarîl), vowels between u / î / i can be used to indicate finer distinctions.

The general locative pîl is almost never used unmodified (it would be equivalent in meaning to the -ch modifier). Instead, its derivatives are used:

pul `in back of'
bîl `to the left of' pîly `to the right of'
pil `in front of'

Any of the prepositions can be turned into--

Prepositions can be adjoined to indicate a direction or path: pilpul `front to back'; xil bil-pulyur `walk from the near left to the upper right', tultil-met `from east to west'.

To indicate movement, two prepositional phrases can be adjoined, source then destination: put qîl-ggud tul-geth `walk from inside the forest to the top of the mountain'. If it's desired to give only the source, append -ban `counter-' to the preposition: put qîl-ban-ggud `walk out of the forest'.

The verb roch `carry' is used as a non-locative preposition: roch-ndem `with a hammer, carrying a hammer'; roch-char `(armed) with a sword'. By extension we have troch `without': troch-qhôsh `without a worry, careless'.

The adjective sequence jul `very early' --> jêl `very late' is also used for time prepositions:

jul-tam long before summer
jîl-tam before summer
jil-tam during summer
jel-tam after summer
jêl-tam long after summer

These combine well with the prefix q- `once': jîl-qqqmit `four days ago'.

Duration is expressed much as paths in space are: jîljel-met `for a whole day', literally `before-after day'; jil-min jel-tam `from early spring till the end of summer'.

The locative suffix can also be used for general position in time: tamch `during summer', mech `at dawn'.

To express support or disfavor, use the prepositions chîn `below' and tîn `across', modified if desired by the the `proximity to speaker' continuum:

tun greatly opposing
tîn opposing
tin slightly against
chun slightly in favor
chîn in favor
chin very much in favor

Numbers [Top]

Elkarîl numeration is 12-based.
digit x12 x144 x1728 1/x
1 path cher ggêth
2 qêj pathêj cherêj ggêthêj qiph
3 tîx path-tîx cher-tîx ggêth-tîx thîx
4 qâj pathâj cherâj ggêthâj qhâj
5 nquj path-nquj cher-nquj ggêth-nquj benquj
6 rin cheriph ggêthiph lyôjiph berin
7 mpêq path-mpêq cher-mpêq ggêth-mpêq bempêq
8 quth path-quth cher-quth ggêth-quth bequth
9 tîgg path-tîgg cher-tîgg ggêth-tîgg betîgg
10 thôq path-thôq cher-thôq ggêth-thôq bethôq
11 mpôq path-mpôq cher-mpôq ggêth-mpôq bempôq
12 path cher ggêth lyôj phath

The powers of 12 are more orderly than they seem.

Other special numbers: mem `zero', mach `18', and the higher powers of 12 pathên 125, cherên 126, ggêthên 127, lyôjên 128, pathegg 129, cheregg 1210, ggêthegg 1211, lyôjegg 1212. Higher powers are expressed by the formula ordinal-of-the-twelves, e.g machr-pathîl 1218, path-nqujr-pathîl 1260.

Higher numbers are formed by concatenation, lowest digits first:

tîx cheriph
three half-122 = 6312 = 75

pathêj cher-tîgg
12-dual 122-nine = 92012 = 1320

nquj path-mpêq cherâj ggêth-mpôq
five 12-seven 122-quartal 123-eleven = B47512 = 30580

Numbers follow their nouns: char-mpêq `7 swords'. Pluralizers are not used when an explicit number is given (unless it's the collectives themselves that you're counting: ninthâj-tîx `3 couples').

Ordinals are formed with the -r adjectivizer: nôr `first', nqujr `fifth'. Negative numbers are formed with -ban: qêjban `-2'.

Decimal numbers, which elcari are equally familiar with through trade, are formed by applying the `foreign' prefix ng- to all numbers except for multipliers. Ten is not *ngthôq, as one might expect, but ngpath. The `half' forms are not used. Thus:

ngqêj ngpath-nquj ngcher-quth ngggêthâj
two ten-five hundred-eight thousand-quartal = 4852

Syntax [Top]

Word order

Elkarîl is verb-initial, and largely head-first: There is no distinction between adjectives and adverbs: the same word can be placed after a noun or a verb.
bbêth qhêsh to speak briefly
rôpm qhêsh a short wall
gtely nôr the first king
lem nôr to think firstly

Case analysis [Top]

Human languages typically analyze verb parameters into experiencer, actor, and patient; e.g.:
The window (= experiencer) broke.
The child (= actor) broke the window (= patient).
These roles are reflected in syntax. Accusative languages, for instance, group experiencer and actor together as nominatives (that's "subjects" to you English speakers), while patients are accusatives ("objects"). Ergative languages slice up the roles differently, but use the same analysis: experiencers and patients are absolutives, while actors are ergatives.

The basic questions of this analysis are

"What happened?"
"Who did it?"
"What was affected?"
Elkarîl is based on a different and somewhat more complex analysis. The basic questions are:
"What happened at a physical level?"
"What did it happen to?"
"What was the immediate cause?
"What was this for?"
"Who desired it?"
The basic case categories are thus action, experiencer, causer, purpose, intender. These are not indicated morphologically, but by sentence order. The formula for a prototypical Elkaril sentence is:
Action (experiencer causer) Purpose (intender)
(This color coding will be used throughout this section.)

Some examples:

Têm miphuq xib phishd nduggsh.
broke window hand escape prisoner
The prisoner, intending to escape, broke the window with his hand.

Lyît kun ndem lyat Tarkhum.
faceted jewel hammer gift Stormcloud
Stormcloud used a hammer to facet a jewel as a gift.

As the English translations indicate, we can certainly express the same ideas. At a surface level, the difference is in what is grammaticalized. At a deeper level, Elkarîl carefully distinguishes the physical and mental aspects of an event, and never mixes the two.

To look at it a different way, where we have one class of actions, verbs, Elkarîl has two, physical actions (kupu) and mental or spiritual states (lithu), and two classes of actors, physical objects (nkup) and persons (nlith).

An action can be purely physical, in which case it has only the Action (experiencer causer) roles. Note that the experiencer is what we'd call the object, so the order of these simple sentences is what we'd consider to be VOS:

Phiphth lush shikh.
ruffled water wind
The wind ruffled the water.
The experiencer of the action may be a thinking being--
Qop Thulbelidd bôchiq.
hit Moonlight apple
The apple fell on Moonlight.

Mîth ktuphuq char.
died ktuvok sword.
The ktuvok was killed with a sword.

--though the preference is to refer to body parts or other physical objects.
Qop ngôt âThulbelidd bôchiq.
hit (head Moonlight's) apple
The apple fell on Moonlight's head.

Qith gguk âktuphuq char.
pierced (heart ktuvok's) sword
The sword pierced the ktuvok's heart.

However, the causer role can never be a person; it must be a merely physical object, though this can again be a body part or a possession:
Qith gguk âktuphuq char ânkich.
pierced (heart ktuvok's) (sword fighter's)
The fighter's sword pierced the ktuvok's heart.
Such sentences seem incomplete to an elcar; it's preferred to add the mental level: what the mental event was, and whose it was.
Qop ngôt âThulbelidd bôchiq tînsh nrêl.
hit (head Moonlight's) apple mischief child
The child, acting out of mischief, made an apple fall on Moonlight's head.
Or just: The child dropped an apple on Moonlight's head.

Qith gguk âktuphuq char qhôk nkich.
pierced (heart ktuvok's) sword murder fighter
The fighter killed the ktuvok with his sword.

Often there are doublets of words, action and purpose, e.g.
mîth `die' vs. qhôk `kill, murder'
cheng `be made' vs. elk `create'
phurd `heat up' vs. durd `cook'
jên `have' vs. ñap `own'

Phurd jik ngêl durd chninth.
heat meat fire cook wife
The wife made the meat hot with fire in order to cook it.

Or just: The wife cooked the meat with fire.

Value judgments are almost always restricted to purpose elements. The physical action portion of a sentence will always sound rather neutral in tone. (This doesn't indicate any reluctance among the elcari to judge. They're happy to, but it must be done in the purpose portion of the sentence.)

A sentence may contain only the Purpose (intender) roles; this is useful for describing intentions or mental states:

Pekh gninth.
anger husband
The husband is angry.

Elk nelkkun.
create jeweller
The jeweller wanted to create something.

Qhôk ktuphuq.
murder ktuvok
The ktuvok intends to murder someone.

Jarth Tarkhum p-Thulbelidd.
love (Stormcloud and-Moonlight)
Stormcloud and Moonlight are in love.

Such sentences never imply an action. In the examples, for instance, we don't know if the jeweller ever actually created anything, or the ktuvok succeeded in his murderous intentions.

As there are many kinds of actions, there are many kinds of purposes: immediate or long-term ends, emotional states, attitudes, rationales.

Cloudrain put the jewel in a sack stealing it.
to sell later.
as revenge.
because he was poor.
In many cases it will appear to a human that a step is missing. If the above variants all describe a single act, only the first ("...stealing it") makes it explicit that the action is a theft. On the whole this reaction derives from our expectation that an event has one label, not two. Elcari are interested in what happened and why; the `why' can be fairly abstract, and they are used to filling in the details. If necessary, however, purposes can be conjoined.

Reductive cases [Top]

The role of causer is optional:
Têm miphuq phishd nduggsh.
broke window escape prisoner
The prisoner, intending to escape, broke the window.
However, if an action is given, an experiencer must be supplied; if it's unknown, use the anaphor phim `something' (or one of the object anaphora).
Cheng phim jôm lyat Tarkhum.
make thing marble gift Stormcloud
Stormcloud is making something out of marble as a gift.
If a purpose is given, an intender must almost always be supplied (exceptions will be noted below). If it's unknown, use the anaphor rij `someone':
Thup pôtaj ddar rij.
slid rocks harm person
This rockslide happened because someone wants to harm us.
If several indefinites are involved, use the suffixes -oj and -ox: rijoj `someone else'; phimox `yet another thing'.

Often the experiencer is the same as the intender; in this case the suffix -ît can be added to either the action or the purpose instead of repeating the noun phrase:

Ggaqh gnrêl murdît.
laugh maiden cooperate-same
Ggaqhît murd gnrêl.
laugh-same cooperate maiden
The maiden laughed out of a sense of solidarity.
Imperatives are usually expressed as explicit requests:
Chît Tarkhum qgrîtgget rap Thulbelidd.
wear Stormcloud pants request Moonlight
Moonlight requests Stormcloud to put on some pants.
If time is limited, the purpose can be omitted, but this sounds rather peremptory:
Jikh nukiph baruq.
chop beam-middle axe
Chop the middle beam down with an axe!

Notes on specific verbs [Top]

Bodily actions and movements can have a person as experiencer:
Tômth p-tird Tarkhum.
ate and-washed Stormcloud
Stormcloud washed himself and ate.

Xil Tarkhum tqîl-khak qîl-ggud
walked Stormcloud out-city in-forest
Stormcloud walked from the city to the forest.

If the object of a bodily action is someone else, a purpose and intender must be specified:
Tird nrêl lush xad Thulbelidd
washed child water care Moonlight
The child washed with water under Moonlight's care.
Or just: Moonlight washed the child.
Bodily states and positions are stative if no causer is specified, otherwise dynamic:
Gam Tarkhum. / Gam Tarkhum xôp.
lies Stormcloud / lies Stormcloud body
Stormcloud is lying down. / Stormcloud lies down.

Mêrkhd Tarkhum. / Mêrkhd Tarkhum mêphuq.
wasted Stormcloud / wasted Stormcloud beer
Stormcloud is wasted. / Stormcloud got blasted on beer.

With verbs of sense perception, the experiencer is the perceiver; the cause is the object perceived.
Miph p-bbôth Thulbelidd chnmum.
saw and-heard Moonlight cow
Moonlight saw and heard the cow.
The elcarin semantic analysis is opposite ours: for us, "I see the cow" is an action of mine upon the cow; in Elkarîl, the cow is causing perception in me. (Similarly, we consider that we are eating food; to the elcar, the food causes us to eat.)

For sensory verbs, animals can be causers; but persons cannot: to say "Stormcloud saw his brother" you must say something like Miph Tarkhum xôp âgan, literally "Brother's body caused Stormcloud to see."

Dialog is usually reported with the verb bbôth `hear', which works like any sensory verb: the hearer is the experiencer, the utterance or other sound is the causer. The speaker is usually given in the purpose.

Bbôth gnqêt xomaj jund Shikhpêt.
hear father words compassion Nightwind
Father heard compassionate words from Nightwind
Or: Nightwind spoke compassionate words to father.
The verb bbêth `speak' can be used instead, with the speaker as experiencer (and usually as intender too, using the -ît suffix):
Bbêth gnqêt tôt pekhît.
speak father no angry-same
Father angrily said "No."
The particles bbê... êbb are used, for quoted speech, in the causer position:
Bbôth Shikhpêt bbê qum npêth lyôru êbb shobad Tarkhum.
hear Nightwind " suffer neighbor sickness " inform Stormcloud
Stormcloud said to Nightwind, "The neighor is sick."
(For indirect speech, use dda... add instead.)

If there's no initial verb and experiencer, Bbêthît `the speaker said' can be understood:

Bbê on mbam qil-tâg êbb qaphd chan.
" exist goat in-house " complain sister
"Your goat is in my house," sister complained.
Giving is expressed with mox `receive', plus a purpose element specifying the type of exchange (e.g. bor `exchange', ddut `sell', qîltêm `steal') or its purpose.
Mox Tarkhum phan lyat dduch.
receive Stormcloud canoe gift human
Stormcloud received a canoe as a gift from a human.
Or just: A human gave Stormcloud a canoe.

Mox Thulbelidd mbam pêdduch rild Tarkhum.
receive Moonlight goat (at-market) raise Stormcloud
Stormcloud got a goat at the market for Moonlight to raise.

(This is stretching the concept of `causer'-- but a language's case structure has to be shoehorned to fit sometimes. Consider English sentences like "I miss you"... not exactly an action I am performing on you.)

A reciprocal exchange can be expressed using conjoined phrases:

Mox nxilmech maqhidd b-mox elkar ñêmuq tât rijêj.
(receive iliu diamond) and (receive elcar book) friendship both
An iliu gave an elcar a book in return for a diamond, out of friendship.
Existence is an action, on. Another major function of our copula `to be', classification, is considered a judgment, and can be expressed like this:
On qichidd qurd qîl-kunmegg-nquj.
exist gold classify among-elements-noble-five
We classify gold among the five noble elements.

Or just: Gold is one of the Five Noble Elements.
The comparison class is part of the judgment, and thus comes after the purpose. A prepositional phrase after the experiencer, by contrast, helps define what we're classifying:
On nmurthankh roch-lyatu qurd qîl-ntabankh.
exist múrtany with-gift consider among-enemy-despect.
A múrtany bearing a gift is still a dirty enemy.
When no intender is given, as in the examples, the judgment is understood to apply to all reasonable elcari. An explicit intender can always be supplied.

A similar construction can be used for attribution:

On char qurd qîl-barsh.
exist sword consider among-sharp
The sword is sharp.
It's more usual, however, to use a verb of perception:
On char barsh shob gan. / Miph gan char barsh.
exist sword sharp know brother / see brother sword sharp
Brother knows there's a sharp sword. / He sees the sharp sword.
Comparisons are expressed with special verbs mish `be less than', mîsh `be as much as', mush `be more than'. The full formula is much like a classification, except that the preposition used is tîn (literally `across'):
Mush elkar rênga b-ggaltha lemêj tîn-dduch
more elcar strength and-endurance compare to-human
An elcar is stronger and more durable than a human.

Mish Shikhpêt khipa lemêj gnqêt tîn-Khalmat.
less Nightwind loveliness compare father to-Roseflower
Father thinks Nightwind is less pretty than Roseflower.

Assignment anaphora [Top]

There are no personal pronouns, nor are verbs inflected for person. Normally speakers (first) refer to themselves by name or title; in generalized contexts (e.g. an essay addressed to an unknown person) one may make use of terms like mbbêth `the speaker', nñôm `the reader'.

For brevity, one makes use of explicit variables: any of the eight outer vowels. (-ît is reserved for grammatical reference within a sentence, as explained above.) These are assigned with the suffix -qebVt. For instance chanqebat can be interpreted `(someone's) sister, who I'll now refer to using the a variable.'

After the assignment, -Vt (using the assigned vowel) added to a verb means that the experiencer or intender is the given referent.

Bbôth chnqêtqebut lemad chanqebat.
hears mother-assign-U justify sister-assign-A
Sister (= A) gives explanations to mother (= U).

Moxat ñunuq qhôshut.
receive-A milk concern-U
Out of concern, U gives A a glass of milk.

Variables can of course be used for inanimate referents, and with prepositions: pulut `behind U'.

A variable assignment stays in force till it's overruled by another use of -qeb- with the same vowel. In a conversation, assignments are binding on all participants-- if the above example were spoken, another speaker could continue with the same variables.

(There are practical limits on how long one can remember eight variables-- though these are somewhat longer for elcari than for humans. As a rule of thumb, once a conversation ends, the assignments are in force for about an hour.)

The suffix can be applied to a noun to indicate possession: ganat `A's brother'. Note that one could immediately assign a variable to the brother: ganatqebot `A's brother (= O)'.

Explicit assignments are sometimes omitted, especially in speech. One simply names a new referent and immediately begins using the -Vt suffix.

Learners sometimes overuse the variables. Not every referent needs a variable. Within reason, referents can be understood by omission (e.g. in a passage where there's only one person referred to anyway).

If two people are talking, they will very often assign variables to each other. The effect is something like our personal pronouns ("A wants to borrow Ê's chisel." "Ê wonders where A's own chisel is." "A left A's chisel at Ê's house; doesn't Ê remember?"); but note that each participant is using the same assignments-- they don't switch back and forth depending on who's speaking, as "I" and "you" do. (Elcari who don't talk much to humans often have trouble with our pronouns.)

Object anaphora [Top]

Supplementing the anaphoric inflections are a set of words which may be regarded as fairly abstract nouns, or as fairly concrete pronouns.
Anaphor Gloss Examples
nîk a long thin object pen, rod, scroll, tube
pîj a long hooked object crook
dîk a flat rectangular object tray, book, shelf
tîp a flat circular object plate, ring, bracelet, gear
xîk a flat object of other shape triangle, starfish, pentagon, kite
kîd a rectangular box brick, trunk, box
qîb a spherical object knob, ball
chîp an irregular solid shape jewel, hatbox
gît a body-part shape glove, helmet, shoe, breastplate

These words can be modified in several ways: These words are typically used where we'd use `it', `that', `that thing', `something of such-and-such a shape'. They're normally used for manufactured things, rather than (say) natural objects. They offer enormous precision, especially combined with the extended locative prepositions.

For instance, a human might tell another, "Put that thing in the other one over there." An elcar would prefer to say

Chung tîlpiph qîl-tulpiphoj tuly-qdunk rapat.
put (plate-hollow-half) in-(plate-hollow-half-large-other) (on-far-right)-(second-tray-big-thick) request A
A requests you to place this medium-sized bowl inside the larger one you'll find on the far right of the second big shelf.

Relativization of nouns [Top]

You relativize a clause by embedding it within the particle pair dda... add:
Mox Tarkhum phan lyat dduch
receive Stormcloud boat gift human
The human gave Stormcloud the boat

--> Mîth dda mox Tarkhum phan lyat dduch add.
die `(` receive Stormcloud boat gift human `)'
The human that gave Stormcloud the boat is dead.
Hopefully, context will make it clear that the human, not Stormcloud or the boat, is dead. If not, the noun can be moved before dda, and the subordinate verb inflected with -ît:
On dduch dda mox Tarkhum phan lyatît add.
exist human `(` receive Stormcloud canoe gift human `)'
The human that gave Stormcloud the boat is here.

On Tarkhum dda moxît phan lyat dduch add.
exist Stormcloud `(` receive Stormcloud canoe gift human `)'
Stormcloud, who was given a boat by the human, is here.

You can subordinate further; if you end up with multiple referents, you can use the variable assignment anaphora. Note also that if you have parallel subordinate clauses, dda...add dda...add can be abbreviated dda... b-dda...add.

It's also possible to place a simple noun phrase within the relativizers; this serves as an apposition or parenthetical:

Bîdth chnrêl p-Tarkhum dda nebd b-dda jiiiich add.
date girl and-Stormcloud `(` miner and- `(' u-u-ugly `)'
Daughter is dating Stormcloud, a miner, who's very very ugly.

Subordination within prepositional phrases [Top]

Prepositional phrases can be relativized using the similar formula
preposition dda clause add
This is the usual way of indicating time relationships:
Ñôm Tarkhum
read Stormcloud
Pit nxilmech jil dda ñôm Tarkhum add bîdît.
come iliu during `(` read Stormcloud `)` visit-same
Stormcloud was reading when the iliu came to visit.
Reasons are stated using the preposition qhir. (Compare tqhir `despite, although').
Pekh Tarkhum qhir dda qhut mêphuqît add.
angry Stormcloud because `(` spoil beer-same `)`
Stormcloud is angry because his beer is spoiled.
You can also reverse the order of the two components and add the reversing suffix -ban to the preposition. (This is the Elkarîl logic; to us, it's a different construction using a different conjunction, `therefore'.)
Qhut mêphuqît qhir-ban dda pekh Tarkhum add.
spoil beer-same anti-because `(` angry Stormcloud `)`
His beer is spoiled, so Stormcloud is angry.
If you replace qhir with ggîn, the entire statement becomes hypothetical:
Pekh Tarkhum ggîn dda qhut mêphuqît add.
angry Stormcloud if `(` spoil beer-same `)`
Stormcloud will be angry if his beer is spoiled.

Qhut mêphuqît ggîn-ban dda pekh Tarkhum add.
spoil beer-same anti-if `(` angry Stormcloud `)`
If his beer is spoiled, then Stormcloud will be angry.

Subordination of entire sentences [Top]

Some intentions (e.g. qôch `want', piph `fear', shob `know', qot `order', tînd `oppose', rap `request') can take another intention as an object. In these cases, the subordinating particle li is used.
Têm miphuq lemth nrêl li chnqêt qôch.
(break window ruminate child) sub mother want
Mother wants the child to think about (his) breaking the window.

Shôgth Tarkhum mêphuq kônît li ban Shikhpêt.
drink Stormcloud beer enjoy-same sub oppose Nightwind
Nightwind is against Stormcloud (enjoying himself by) drinking any more beer

Bbôth dduch dubu muk Chithkhîl li qot gtely.
listen human babble try Redfeather sub order king
The king orders Redfeather to try listening to the human's babbling.

If both intenders are the same, the -ît suffix can be used on the second one.
On Shikhpêt jar Tarkhum li shobît.
(exist Nightwind attraction Stormcloud) sub know-same
Stormcloud knows that he's attracted to Nightwind.

Pit chnqêt shobd Tarkhum li kephadît.
come mother know-cause Stormcloud sub intend-same
Stormcloud intends to learn if mother arrived.

Judgments about a state of affairs use the same construction. (These judgments are assumed to be the speaker's, if no intender is given.)
Ebd nmurthankhaj makît li shuk.
(dig múrtany-plural invade-same) sub possible
It's possible that the múrtani are tunneling in order to invade.
Note that some compound verbs in English are ordinary action/purpose sentences in Elkarîl, e.g. bêth `can', kôn `enjoy':
Phuch Tarkhum bêthît.
swim Stormcloud can-same
Stormcloud can swim.

Negatives [Top]

The clitic têt- (an emphatic form of lexical t-) is used to negate any element of a sentence.
Têt-têm miphuq baruq.
not-break window axe
The axe didn't break the window.

Têm têt-miphuq baruq.
It wasn't the window that the axe broke.
Têm miphuq têt-baruq.
It wasn't the axe that broke the window.

Words like `nothing' têt-phim and `no one' têt-rij are simply negations of the positive anaphors:
Miph Shikhpêt têt-phim.
saw Nightwind not-thing
Nightwind saw nothing.
Note also jil-têt-mit `never', literally `during no day'. (Têt-mich isn't the same; it would mean `not during the day'.)
If the purpose is negated, the action is still assumed to have happened.
Qith nqîltêm char têt-kephad Shikhpêt.
pierce thief sword not-intend Nightwind
Nightwind didn't mean to stab the thief (but she did).
Compare the same sentence with action rather than purpose negated:
Têt-qith nqîltêm char kephad Shikhpêt.
not-pierce thief sword intend Nightwind
Nightwind meant to not stab the thief.
This implies that the action didn't happen (the thief wasn't stabbed), and this non-action was the purpose of the intender. (If we know or it's been stated that the thief was stabbed, the statement means that Nightwind intended for this not to happen.)

Questions [Top]

The clitic nal- is used to question any element of a sentence.
On chan nal-jar Tarkhum.
exist sister Q-attraction Stormcloud
Is Stormcloud attracted to sister?

On chan jar nal-Tarkhum.
Is it Stormcloud that's attracted to sister?
On nal-chan jar Tarkhum.
Is it sister that Stormcloud is attracted to?

The response can be simply ôt `yes' or tôt `no'.

The interrogative anaphor nan can be used in place of any constituent-- verbs, noun phrases, even prepositions; this is a way of asking that the listener supply the missing information.

Buly mbêm tîl-nguth qîltêm nan?
lost sheep in-meadow steal Q
Who stole the sheep from the meadow?

Buly nan tîl-nguth qîltêm galkh? What did the thug steal from the meadow?
Buly mbêm tîl-nan qîltêm galkh? Where did the thug steal the sheep from?
Nan mbêm tîl-nguth? What happened to the sheep in the meadow?

Buly mbêm tîl-nguth nan galkh?
lost sheep in-meadow Q thug
What was the thug trying to do that resulted in the sheep being lost from meadow?

Buly mbêm qîltêm galkh qhir nan?
lost sheep steal thug because Q
Why did the thug steal the sheep?

To ask the listener to supply a description, the form nansh is used: elkar nansh `what kind of elcar'; also note nanch `in what place or time?'

`To ask a question' is nand, literally `to make nan'.

Time [Top]

Unlike human languages, Elkarîl does not grammaticalize either time or aspect. A sentence like
Ñôm Tarkhum ñêmuq.
read Stormcloud book
could mean any of
Stormcloud read a book.
Stormcloud was reading a book.
Stormcloud has read a book.
Stormcloud is reading a book.
Stormcloud will read a book.
In general, the elcari feel about these distinctions as a Chinese speaker might feel about the Indo-European insistance on showing plurals, or as some English speakers feel about Esperanto's accusative -n: why do you people insist on cluttering up every sentence with a distinction I'm not interested in? It's almost always obvious, and when it's not I'll say so!

There are several ways to indicate an explicit time:

The calendar [Top]

The elcari divide the year into six parts (qur):
Name # days Gloss Terrestrial equivalent
ggon 55 winter Dec. 21 - Feb. 21
min 55 early spring Feb. 21 - Apr. 21
gely 54 late spring Apr. 21 - Jun. 21
tam 55 summer Jun. 21 - Aug. 21
ther 55 early fall Aug. 21 - Oct. 21
shêq 54 late fall Oct. 21 - Dec. 21
Each of these in turn can be divided into three 18-day periods (mach) using the division suffixes: e.g. ggonêb, ggonîd, ggonôg. The four days left over are the two solstices Mitggon and Mittam and the two equinoxes Mitmin and Mitther, which are holidays and not considered part of any mach.

The day (mit) is divided into eight periods (mitqur).

Event Period Gloss Terrestrial equivalent (at equinox)

dawn 6 a.m.
metôg early morning 6 - 9 a.m.
mitêb late morning 9 - 12 a.m.

noon 12 noon
mitôg early afternoon 12 - 3 p.m.
motêb late afternoon 12 - 3 p.m.

dusk 6 p.m.
motôg early evening 6 - 9 p.m.
pêtêb late evening 9 - 12 p.m.

midnight 12 midnight
pêtôg nighttime 12 - 3 a.m.
metêb before dawn 3 - 6 a.m.

Examples [Top]


Elcari are very fond of riddles (khâsh). Here are two classic ones; the first made its way into the Cuzeian Count of Years.
On qîl-pan qurd qîl-bôq.
exist in-boat consider among-danger
On qîl-shêl qurd qîl-nqîltêm.
exist in-pocket consider among-thief
On qîl-rochm qurd qîl-ntât.
exist in-barrel consider among-friend

In a boat, I'm a danger;
in a pocket, I'm a thief.
In a barrel, I'm your friend.

(Answer: xim.)
Ruch phimqebat tul-kugg p-têt-jênat lek.
climb thing (=A) on-away-peak and-not-have-A foot
Pitat qîl-tâgu p-bbôth rij têt-têph.
come-A in-house and-hear person no-sound
Tonat qîl-kîld, p-pakhd kîld xib p-onat bbôm
not-exist-A in-box, and-open box hand and-exist-A then
Nan môbêj ggîn dda tonat add?
what-do egg-pair if `(` not-exist-A `)'

I climb the mountains, but I have no feet.
I come inside the house, but made no sound.
I'm not inside a box, but open it and there I am.
Without me, what would those two eggs do?

(Answer: thulu; the two eggs are the xajêj)

An anecdote

As an aid to comprehension, assignment inflections are shown in green (note that they are used both in the narrative and the dialog), and subordinators and logical connectives in blue. It's worth comparing the interlinear translation with the freer rendering below, to get a feel for how things are expressed in Elkarîl.
Bbêth elkarqebat bbê jên chninthatqebet lênguqaj qôchet êbb qaphdat.
speak elcar (=A) " have wife-A (=E) luxury-plural want-E " complain-A
Bbê jênet chîtm lêng p-pên lêng p-kun lêng qôchet.
" have-E clothes fine and-rooms fine and-jewels fine want-E.
Ggumat mitqur-tîgg mich ngîmbanat ggîn-ban dda munet jil-têt-mit add êbb.
work-A period-nine day-in provide-A anti-if `(` happy-E at-no-day `)' "
Bbêth ntâtqebut Pôtggal bbê mîsh chninthutqebôt bokha lemêjut tîn-chninthat b-jênut khuph êbb jundut.
speak friend (=U) Hardrock "same wife-U (=Ô) greed consider-U to-wife-A and-have-U trick " compassion-U.
Bbê moxôt qichidd-xukh p-têt-qichidd.
" receive-Ô gold-false and-not-gold.
Mox rij phim lyat rijoj ggîn-ban dda têt-miphngat add.
receive someone something gift someone-else anti-if `(` not-examine `)'.
Thesh qichidd-xukh phatut p-qôchôt qhir-ban dda jênôt add; mun rijêj êbb.
find gold-false easy-U and-want-Ô anti-because `(` have-Ô `)'; happy both. "
Bbêth chninth âPôtggal jil-tam bbê doph nrêl lôpdophôt jel-xâriph êbb.
speak wife of-Hardrock in-summer " born child womb-Ô after-year-half "
Bbêthut bbê on bung! Muuunut qhir dda onut qurd qîl-gnqêt add êbb.
speak-U " exist marvelous! ha-a-appy-U because `(` exist-U classify among-father `)' "
Bbêthôt bbê qîl-gnqêt-xukh êbb ôdôt.
speak-Ô " among-father-false " correct-Ô

An elcar complains that his wife wants too many fine things.
"She wants fine clothes, fine rooms, fine jewels. I could work twenty-five hours a day and never make her happy."
"My wife is the same, but I have a trick," says his friend Hardrock. "Instead of gold, I give her fool's gold. Who looks closely at a gift? It's easy to find, and she has all she wants-- we're both happy."
During the summer, Hardrock's wife announces that she's pregnant.
"Oh, wonderful!" he says. "I am very happy to be a father!"
"A fool's father," his wife corrects him.



© 2002 by Mark Rosenfelder
Virtual Verduria