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Ñullyu

Introduction

On its way...

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(without the lines here, the photo of the steppes (the Kazak steppes, by the way, taken by the author in 2003) overlaps the phonology section)

Phonology

Ñullyu has 33 phonemes, 22 of which are consonants.

  labial alveolar postalveolar palatal velar uvular glottal
stops        
fricatives          
nasals                
approximants                    

There are 11 vowels in Ñullyu.

  front back
high
mid  
low      

Vowel Harmony

front vs. back, details forthcoming

Morphology

Nouns

Nouns in Ñullyu inflect for gender, may take a suffix to elevate them to the head of the phrase, may inflect for case, number, and another case.  A maximally-inflected noun is formed as:

ROOT-GENDER-ELEVATION-CASE-NUMBER-CASE

uyssuqayakhâynga
uyssu-q-ay-akh-ây-nga
river-ANIM-ELEV-ABL-PL-ELAT
from the many rivers of

Gender

*** Many of the examples in this page don't have gender endings on their nouns when needed.  (Because I wasn't paying enough attention...)  This will shortly be remedied.

All nouns take an ending to indicate their gender.  Genders in Ñullyu reflect the animacy or perceived animacy of the object.  The gender of a noun may be changed in a particular instance to show that the referent is more or less animate than expected.  Pronouns do not take a gender suffix unless their referent is not of the animate gender.

If a noun takes a suffix for number or elevation, or if it modifies an elevated noun, it should not take a suffix for gender as well.

animate -k/-q after a vowel, -ö/-o after a consonant

belük "fish"
malo "person"

Animate nouns are generally those which are clearly alive and more or less mobile.  People and most animals are of the animate gender.

active -tä/-tâ after a vowel, -ä/-â after a consonant

uyssu "river"
ñullâ "voice"

The active gender is for mobile, active things that are not necessarily or not clearly alive.  Fire, wind, and blood all belong to this gender.

inactive -nî/-nâ after a vowel, -î/-â after a consonant

ullâ "moon"
shäyîshî "hair"

Inactive nouns are things that grow and usually move some, but don't really do anything on their own.  Trees, grass, and hair are typical inactive nouns.

inanimate -t after a vowel, no ending after a consonant

omuyl "clay"
nalat "path"

Inanimate nouns aren't likely to move, grow, or act on their own.  Inanimate nouns are usually not the subject of a sentence, even if the verb implies no motion or volition.

Elevation

When two nouns are together in a single noun phrase, one of them must be elevated to the role of the head noun.  Consider something like forest fire, where there are two nouns in a row.  In English the rule is that the second one is the head noun.  (As you know, a forest fire is a type of fire, not a type of forest, so we know fire is the head noun.)

In Ñullyu, one of the nouns must be elevated to the role of head noun.

elevative

-y after a vowel, -ey/-ay after a consonant, -e/-a after y

sha "forest"
siiy "fire"
sha siiyey
"forest fire"

The noun modifying an elevated noun often does not inflect for gender.

If the modifying noun is not singular, a different form is used for the head noun:

elevative
(plural agreement)
-dyü/-dyu after a vowel, -yü/-yu after a consonant

uyssu "river"
uyd "water"
uyssu'ây uydyu "water of rivers"

Primary Case

Case endings indicate the role the noun plays in the sentence.  Two cases, nominative and accusative, are for the core participants in an action.  Some verbs require just a nominative noun, others require one of each, some require none, etc., but only nouns in these two roles are ever required.  The rest are optional.  Some of these optional (oblique) cases are added before a number suffix, others after.  See valency for a discussion on required and optional participants.

nominative -z after a vowel, -üz/-uz after a consonant
accusative no ending
vocative -ne/-na after a vowel, -e/-a after a consonant
dative -n after a vowel, -än/-an after a consonant
ablative -ç/-kh after a vowel, -äç/-akh after a consonant

Number

Any noun that doesn't refer to a single object must take a number suffix.  In English we have two distinct categories of nouns, ones you can count (like trees) and ones you can't (like clay).  In Ñullyu, both of them may change for number.  The plural of a word like clay indicates something like "a lot of clay", not "several types of clay" as in English.

When a noun takes a suffix for number, it does not take one for gender unless the gender is different than expected.

plural -'i/-'ây after a vowel, -i/-ây after a consonant

shäyîsh "hair" > shäyîshi "a lot of hair"
mal "person" > malây "many people"

The plural form is used like "many" or "a lot of" in English.  If there are only a few of something, or only a little bit of it, use the paucal instead.

paucal -bbäy/-bbây after a vowel, -äbbäy/-âbbây after a consonant

belü "fish" > belübbäy "a few fish"
khoq "branch" > khoqâbbây "a few branches"

Paucal means "some", "a few of", or "a little".

dual -dîsey/-dâsay

uyssu "river" > uyssudâsay "two rivers"

Two of a thing are referred to with the dual number.  Often these are natural or common pairs, like eyes or feet, but any noun representing two things or a two-fold thing can use a dual suffix.

accompanying -ñey/-ñay after a vowel, -öñey/-oñay after a consonant

säbe "lizard" > säbeñey "the lizard, etc."

The accompanying number means something like "et al" or "and company".  It is usually used only with animate nouns.

Secondary Case

After the primary cases and number endings, there are some lesser, or secondary, cases.  Each secondary case requires a particular primary case as well.

Pronouns

Ñullyu pronouns are inflected more or less as regular nouns.

 
singular
dual
plural
 
1st
2nd
3rd
1st
2nd
3rd
1st
2nd
3rd
 
definite
indef.
inclusive
exclusive
anim.
other/mixed
 
near
far
nom.
usuz
ñitüz
äsüz
betüz
nayuz
usñuz
suzdâsay
ñitüzdi
daruzdâ
ämüz
sîzüz
ondaruz
tunguz
acc.
us
ñit
äs
bet
nay
usñût
uzdâsay
ñidîsey
dardâs
äm
sîz
ondar
tung
dat.
usan
ñitän
äsän
betän
nayan
ñûtan
sandâsay
ñitändi
darandâs
ämän
sîzän
ondaran
tungan
abl.
usakh
ñitäç
äsäç
betäç
nayakh
ñûtakh
sakhdâsay
ñitäçdi
darakhtâ
ämäç
sîzäç
ondarakh
tungakh
elev.
usay
ñitey
äsey
betey
naya
ñûtay
usaydâsay
ñiteydi
daraydâs
ämey
sîzey
ondaray
tungay
elev. pl.
usyu
ñityü
äsyü
betyü
nayu
usñûttu
usyudâsay
ñitdi
daryudâs
ämyü
sîzyü
ondaryu
tungyu

Verbs

Verbs may inflect for voice, aspect, and mood, and they can take an ending to indicate the person of the subject and one for the object.  A fully-inflected verb looks like:

ROOT-VOICE-ASPECT-MOOD-SUBJECT-OBJECT

äkîkä’üläküsñit
äk-îk-ä’ü-läk-üs-ñit
die-CAUS-UNINTENT-INF-1SG-2SG
for me to unintentionally kill you

Valency

But before we get to the inflections, we need to discuss valency.

Verbs in Ñullyu (as in most languages) require a certain number of noun arguments, or nouns participating in the event.  Unlike many languages however, Ñullyu's valency requirements are quite strict.  Some verbs, like yän "rain", are of null valency, meaning that they can't take either an object or a subject.  Other verbs, such as äk "die", are of the first valency, requiring only a subject.  Not only does äk require only a subject, it may not take an object.  Let's look at some examples:

0: yän "rain"
1: egöt "exist", yer "be green"
2: bazuy "receive", dom "eat"
3: lonâq "teach", äyläsh "tell", baz "give"
4: bazâsh "convey on behalf of", äyläshîk "extract/interrogate"

The valency of a verb is the number of arguments it may take.  It may not take more, nor may it take fewer.  In English, verbs are often a bit more flexible.  Consider eat, which is usually of the second valency: "I eat bread."  But not always, such as "Did you eat yet?".  In such a sentence, what was eaten is not important, nor is it known.  In Ñullyu, first valency "eat" is domot, not dom.

There actually is no theoretical upper limit to the valency of a verb, but in practice it tends to be three or less.  Consider a sentence like the following, a continuation of "He didn't want to drink the water, and I didn't want to make him drink it, but...":

...my husband made me make him drink the water for his health.

Which could be rendered:

us doyñâmayuz âyzasâshâqâq us äs äs bäyäkey uyd
my husband drink-active-causative-causative me him his health the water

Such sentences are possible, though extremely rare.  The reason they're rarely done is obvious - with too long a string of accusative nouns, it gets hard to tell what they're all doing.  The valency of the above âyzasâshâqâq is six, which is just about unheard-of.

Voice

A change of voice shuffles the participants in an action around, putting them in different noun cases.  What does this accomplish?  It calls attention to different parts of the action, or different participants in it.  Consider the difference between "John was killed by a wolf." and "A wolf killed John.".  Both sentences refer to the same event, but one emphasizes the one who was killed, while another emphasizes the one who did the killing.

Sometimes a change of voice brings participants onstage, or pushes them off.  The actors that are "onstage" are required - the sentence would be ungrammatical without them.  Offstage actors are optional, using oblique noun cases.  They could be removed from the sentence entirely, and it would still be grammatically acceptable.  (Though of course, it wouldn't mean exactly the same thing.)

Voice endings in Ñullyu are more derivative than inflectional, as a verb doesn't need one in order to function, and more than one may be applied to a single verb.

active -säsh/-sâsh after a vowel, -äsh/-âsh after a consonant +1 valency

Doyñus domâgh (belüni).  "I provide food (for the fish)."
Doyñâshus belü'i domâgh.  "I give the fish food."

The active voice brings the recipient or benefactor of the action onstage as the new primary object, putting it in the accusative case.  Consider in English "I donate money (to the hospital)." changing to "I give the hospital money.".  This example is exactly how it works in Ñullyu, except that instead of changing the root word from donate to give, Ñullyu adds a suffix for the active voice to donate.

passive -düy/-duy after a vowel, -üy/-uy after a consonant -1 valency

The passive voice makes the actor less important, knocking it offstage into an ablative case.  The primary object is made into the new subject, using the nominative case.  This transformation is rather common in English, cf. "I pay John." > "John is paid (by me).".  Just as in English, if there are two objects ("I pay John ten dollars."), it is the first, the recipient, that is made into the new subject.

causative -nîk/-nâq after a vowel, -îk/-âq after a consonant +1 valency

Dom buluz domâgh.  "The boy eats the food."
Domâqus bul domâgh.  "I make the boy eat the food."

Baz buluz yâz domâgh.  "The boy gives the dog food."
Bazâqus bul yâz domâgh.  "I make the boy give the dog food."

In a causative sentence, the causer of the action is brought onstage as the new subject, and the old subject is made into the new primary object.

reciprocal -ñäl/-ñal after a vowel, -äl/-al after a consonant 0 valency change
antipassive -böt/-bot after a vowel, -öt/-ot after a consonant  

Aspect

intentional -de/-da after a vowel, -üde/-uda after a consonant
unintentional -'ü/-'u after a vowel, -ä'ü/-a'u after a consonant
imperfective -täñ/-tâñ after a vowel, -äñ/-âñ after a consonant
perfective -yäd/-yad after a vowel, -äd/-ad after a consonant
habitual -liyä/-lûya after a vowel, -iyä/-ûya after a consonant

Mood

infinitive -läk/-lâq after a vowel, -äk/-âq after a consonant
negative -käyt/-qâyt after a vowel, -äyt/-âyt after a consonant
subjunctive -m after a vowel, -äm/-âm after a consonant
conditional -ngälî/-ngâlâ after a vowel, -älî/-âlâ after a consonant
probabilitive -ll after a vowel, -üll/-ull after a consonant

Subject

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Object

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Numbers

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Conjunctions

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Derivational Morphology

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Syntax

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A Common Proverb

Bosho daqâlâñût zhäy shokhutas nnalâlâñût,
If you find and fully trust a friend,

zhäy kipämälîñit aynabâqâsñût,
and want this friend to favor you,

sälünî bazalñûtâs,
exchange thoughts,

bazâghây bazalñûtâs,
exchange gifts,

uyâyas olluñût äs esheyde.
and often visit their hearth.

If you're not a linguist, you'd probably want to stop here (though I would wonder what you're doing on this page).  Line-by-line, here are the inner workings of this little passage.

Bosho daqâlâñût zhäy shokhutas nnalâlâñût,
bosh-o daq-âlâ-ñût zhäy shokh-ut-as nnal-âlâ-ñût
friend-ANIM find-COND-2SG and be.total-QUAL.NOM-ADV trust-COND-2SG
Friend if you find and with fullness if you trust,
If you find and fully trust a friend,

Let's start by looking at the verbs.  Here we have daq "find" and nnal "trust".  Both of these are second valency verbs, requiring both a subject and an object, no more, no less.  The subject in both cases is specified with verbal inflections, but there are not two corresponding objects for the verbs.  Valency requirements are quite strict in Ñullyu, so something must be the object for these verbs.  Bosh "friend" is the only noun present, and having no case ending, is in the accusative, making it the object for both verbs.

We also have shokh "be complete", but it is changed into a noun for this example, so it doesn't require any arguments.

zhäy kipämälîñit aynabâqâsñût,
zhäy kip-äm-älî-ñit aynab-âq-âs-ñût,
and want-SUBJ-COND-2SG favor-INF-3THIS-2SG
and if you would want this one to favor you
and want this friend to favor you,

This line is reasonably straightforward.  The only sticking point is the -âq on aynab, which could be for either the causative voice or the infinitive mood.  The answer is clear when you consider the resulting sentences with both options.  With the causative, it would read "if you would want this one makes you favor ??" with a missing object, as aynabâq (causative) would be of the third valency.  An infinitive reading would be "if you would want this one to favor you".  Clearly the infinitive is intended, being both the semantically likely and grammatically satisfied answer.


© 2004 Joseph Fatula, all rights reserved.