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Posted: 12 Oct 2013 21:44
by kanejam
*I hope no-one minds if I crosspost this. I wasn't getting a lot of feedback on the other board and just realised that their quickies section prunes threads after two weeks of inactivity.

In an effort to flesh out my conlang enough to participate in the Conlang Relay, I have made a scratchpad to flesh out the grammar, and I will also be furiously participating in translation challenges.


Ketzumin /qeʦ̺umĩ/ was born in March this year. It is verb-final but often head-initial. It has a weak ergative-alignment and is lightly aglutinating but not really enough to say anything conclusive about it. Most morphology is in the form of clitics or adpositions, and the only place where there are strong bound morphemes are in verbs. It also has a simple two-tone system, often involved grammatically. The most common example is that around 40% of nouns are marked for plural only by high tone in the final syllable.

The name comes simply from the first two words I coined in the language, ketzu 'mouse' and min 'cat'. The third word was of course tala' meaning 'eat', and the fourth sás meaning 'dog'.


/m n̻ n̺ ŋ N/ <m n' n gn n*>
/t̻ ʦ̺ k q ʔ/ <t tz k k(') '*>
/s̻ s̺ l̻/ <s z l>

/a i u/

There are no diphthongs or long vowels, although two vowels may be found in hiatus. This is rare though and mainly found across morpheme boundaries. Vowels carry either high tone, marked with an acute, or low tone. Words carry a weak initial stress. /q/ lowers a following high vowel and is written as such, thus <ki ku> denote /ki ku/ whereas <ke ko> denote /qi qu/. /q/ is only written as <k'> before /a/. The apical nasal stop is rare. The apical consonants are often realised with dental articulation. /p/ is sometimes found in recent loanwords such as páz (from English bus) replacing older lútúmis (from French autobus).

Syllable structure is CV(L) where the initial consonant is optional at the start of a word. The only consonants found in the syllable coda are s, z, l, ʔ and N. There is some interesting interaction in the syllable boundaries. A <t> or <l> after a <z> will be realised with laminal pronunciation rather than its usual apical pronunciation (I think I have that the correct way round). The same is true of <tz> and <n> assimilating to a preceding <s>. ʔ is realised as a glottal stop almost everywhere, except before plosives in which case it assimilates and causes gemination of the consonant that follows it. N geminates a following nasal, assimilates to a nasal stop before a plosive or is realised as nasalisation elsewhere.

Examples: <ká'n'á min tazlákkén> /káʔn̻á mĩ̀ t̻às̺l̻áʔqĩ́/ [ˈkáʔn̻á ˈmĩ̀n̻‿ˈt̻ás̺l̺áqːẽ́] (the combining diacritics might not have come out properly, sorry)

Some optional pronunciations: N often lowers a preceding high vowel, and glottal stops are variously rendered as an [h] or vowel lengthening by different speakers.

Re: Ketzumin

Posted: 12 Oct 2013 21:48
by kanejam

Nouns aren't too difficult. About 40% of nouns change a final low tone to a high tone to change from singular to plural e.g. talal 'meal' -> talál 'meals'; however not all nouns ending in low tone are pluralised in this way. For animate nouns, the plural suffix is -na and for inanimate nouns is -as, e.g. ítzi 'smile' -> ítzina 'smiles'; alú 'rock' -> alúas 'rocks'.

Nouns reffering to people usually aren't pluralised and instead take the postclitic úkás, a word originally meaning bundle, from úkul 'wheat stalk'.

There is such a thing as a 'double plural' in Ketzumin, so-called because it looks like marking plural on a plural noun. It functions as a way to say a lot or an overwhelming amount or the entirety of something e.g. kámu 'hand', kámú 'hands', kámúna 'lots of hands, all these hands, the most hands etc.' It is used in a variety of situations, one of them being to agree with numbers above ten thousand (the highest native number; milún 'million' and milá' 'billion' are both loans)

Some words change meaning in the double plural and become separate nouns e.g. találas 'cuisine'. Many of these nouns can be pluralised again, sometimes with a change in animacy: alúás 'rockfall', alúásna 'rockfalls'. These words, along with the words whose double plurals have been repurposed, will use the simple plural in places where normal nouns use the double plural. This can lead to ambiguities and of course there are exceptions where a noun whose double plural might still be used as such as well as being a separate lexical unit.

The ergative marker is -n'á, placed after the plural suffix. Together these make the only two nominal inflectional affixes; the rest of the nominal inflectional morphology is expressed through clitics and adpositions. Ambiguity arises with nouns ending in -s: sásn'á and sásná are homophones. It originated as a topic marker that became required to differentiate between subject and object in transitive clauses.

Next, verbs!

Re: Ketzumin

Posted: 12 Oct 2013 21:59
by kanejam

Verb inflection follows the following paradigm: Stem+Auxiliary+Mood+Person. The auxiliary is optional and the mood and person slots both have zero morphemes. We'll build up an example verb tala' - 'eat'. On it's own it means 'it(animate) eats'.

Person: For inaminate nouns, plural or singular, the personal ending is -mu. The animate singular is null, but the animate plural is lu', which happens to be the same ending for people in both singular and plural. While tala'mu is pretty nonsensical, tala'lu' could mean 'he, she or they eat(s).' These are all third person of course; the first and second persons share the ending -(l)i in the singular and -(l)ina in the plural.

Mood: this expresses the speakers attitude toward the event. The plain zero morpheme is indicative mood: the speaker is just expressing something neutrally. There is -tzí- used by itself to express surprise, similar I think to Chinese ya 呀. There is -u- which expresses hope or desire of the speaker (like the adverb hopefully or fortunately in English). -má- expresses an assumption or that something is only probable, like Chinese ba 吧. Then there is -ú' which implies certainty on the part of the speaker, and is used in promises or jussive/hortative statements, comparable to Chinese particle a 啊. Lastly there is -(á)n which expresses negativity or aversion.

These are just the standard six; some speakers have much larger or very different inventories. A common one that you might hear is different tones or nasalisation being used to express negation of a particular element e.g. tzin, unsurprisingly, used in the north. Also, there meanings vary a lot with different adverbs and can often be used in realis or irrealis senses.

Auxiliary: this is the exciting part (I think, maybe not that exciting. Now that I think about it, mood was pretty interesting, wasn't it?). This is basically open to any verb and basically forms compound verbs (which are like serial verbs but behave grammatically differently); so, verbs like kignáma 'want to' and lámán'á 'physically able to' in main clauses can be expressed inside the verb, so 'I like/hope that she wants to eat' would translate as talakkignámaulu'. One important morpheme that gets in here that can't stand as a separate verb is -nú-, which works as a perfective.

Negation: To negate the verb, simply place kóna before the verb. This basically negates the auxiliary if there is one and the main verb if there isn't, and the whole verb if it's a verbal compound. There is no way to separately negate the main verb while keeping the auxiliary intact e.g. 'she wants to not eat', you can only say 'she doesn't want to eat'. Most of the time this won't cause any issues so don't worry about it. We will learn how to make subclauses later on.


Just for fun, here are the numerals from one to ten. I had a system worked out for higher numerals but it was sort of stupid so I need to rework it. Anyway here they are:
1 - tulla
2 - káslu
3 - áttá
4 - mín
5 - tzikén
6 - ílamas
7 - na'
8 - mú
9 - gnanu
10 - ánnu

Next: copula and adjectives!

Re: Ketzumin

Posted: 12 Oct 2013 22:10
by kanejam

Adjectives are an open class, a separate part of speech, don't inflect, don't do squat. Not particularly exciting. Yes I am really boring. They all usually come after their nouns (but before relative clauses, postpositions and enclitics) unless you want to emphasise a certain quality, in which case you can put it before the noun and any prepositions. Yay. Jeez maybe I should do something with more with them...

One tiny interesting thing (that I just thought of) is that numbers (and probably all quantifiers that aren't adverbial) precede their nouns, but follow prepositions. If an adjective is fronted and there's a number and there's a preposition. Here's an example: min tzu - large cat.

Ketzumin prefers compounding to derivation, and to compound adjectives, simply place -ti- or -tí- in between the noun and the following adjective. So while min tzu meant large cat, mintitzu means lion.


There are two copulas in Ketzumin, one for forming nominal predicates and one for forming adjectival predicates. The first is satzin and the second is tzin. Both lose their -n when conjugated, but satzin also loses the whole -tzin whenever and mood marker appears. So, for example, one might say isn'á min satzila - I am a cat, but isn'á min saula - I wish I was a cat. The adjectival works similarly, except the subject should never take the ergative marker (it is optional in nominal predicates but still often crops up) e.g. sísna tzu tzimulu' - the dogs are big.

There's nothing too exciting here except that the verbs are slightly irregular. Note: satzin can't be used in locative statements (the book is here), for which there is a separate verb, múkkon, nor can it be used for professions, which takes kán 'do'. These two verbs along with the copulas and the verb áín 'die' form the set of the only irregular verbs in the language... Hmmm is this getting too boring? I better pull some interesting stuff with the adverbs.

Up next, possession and genitive constructions!

Re: Ketzumin

Posted: 12 Oct 2013 22:11
by kanejam

Okay, so this is quite fun. Possession is realised as enclitics on the ends of nouns or noun phrases (so preceding topicalisation markers or postpositions). Here are the various forms:

Code: Select all

1S| -la         (my)
2S| -ki         (your)
3S| -mu         (his/her/its)
1P| -llá/-lál   (our)
2P| -lákí/-álkí (your)
3P| -lámú/-álmú (their)
Note the first three take on the tone of the preceding syllable, and so could be considered toneless. Not all dialects use the plural forms, instead using only the first three regardless of number. Here are some examples: minla - my cat, ketzul - my mouse, síssí - your(SG) dog, alúásnálmú - 'their rockfalls'. As you can see, there is a bit of allomorphy in these forms.

If a noun phrase contains only a single modifier that follows the noun, it will usually be promoted to in front of the noun although in the speech of many urban youth will find the original order preserved with the enclitic on the modifier. If there are two or more such modifiers, then the possessive marker will simply attach itself to the final one.

What if the possessor is a noun phrase? Not sure yet, but I'll fill this section before carrying on.

Re: Ketzumin

Posted: 12 Oct 2013 22:48
by kanejam
I'll do genitive constructions soon. I'm considering to what extent I should let prepositions and postpositions be involved morphologically. One of the main influences of this language is Chinese, although you probably can't tell... Ah well, I'll work something out. I'm just a bit worried that it's too SAE in its grammar, especially given that I how I was going to make relative clauses.

Here are a few common phrases in the meantime:
- k'álí - Hello
- unk’áti - Hi
- kammul - Thanks (literally kindness)
- tzátiuli n’á’? - Are you well?
- tzátili - I am well

And a proverb:
Salkún'á máttzá komí ínuta kína mannágnú'lu' miala.
salku.PL-ERG calm sailor skillful NEG shape-EMPH-3PL.ANIM never
Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor.

Up next: pronouns and adverbs

Re: Ketzumin

Posted: 13 Oct 2013 11:11
by kanejam
Personal Pronouns
There are only four personal pronouns in Ketzumin: is - 1SG, ís - 1PL, ki - 2SG, kí - 2PL. There, nice and simple. However the second person pronouns are actually very rare and only used when talking down to someone (although there are more efficient ways of doing so) and between close friends. Instead, Ketzumin uses a host of stand-in nouns, takes advantage of its pro-drop policy, or even just uses the person's name when talking to them. It is also common to omit the first person pronouns, especially in certain contexts (for example, if someone addressed you as brother or sister, you do the same back).

I don't have any examples of these pronouns but I will certainly try to churn some out pretty soon. One important thing is that the verb still conjugates for the first and second person even if there are funky pronouns going on.

There are no proper third person pronouns either. For anything other than people (or for people you don't mind insulting) one can use this that those etc. and for people just use names. There are a handful of the stand-in pronouns that you can use as well, such as words for cousin.


Adverbs follow their verbs (this is a bit weird but hopefully it will work okay). Not too much exciting about them yet except that they will be quite a large class and cover things that are normally covered by other word classes in other languages. Most notably is that Ketzumin has no conjunctions - they are all translated with adverbs, e.g. úmús meaning however is used for 'but', and normally requires the surprise mood -má-. Note to self, get decent names for the moods.

Adverbs often dictate a specific mood marker. A very common adverb tá 'very' or 'really' usually takes the emphatic mood -ú'. One which doesn't is ilá 'always'. Tá (and its negative form) is the only adverb that can be used to directly modify adjectives or adverbs on its own, and only a handful of adverbs can be fronted. Otherwise most have to always follow their verb.

To directly negate and adverb other than tà (which has a separate negative morpheme zulla) simply place ké in front of them. Also in this slot are negative adverbs like 'none', 'no-one' 'never' etc. Some of these are really nouns or pronouns but behave as adverbs.

A few interesting critters are adverbs that are adjectives in other languages, such as 'no', 'some', 'all', 'most' etc. These refer to the topic of the sentence, and we'll learn the topicaliser particle next lesson. The default topic is of course the subject. 'more' and 'less/fewer' fit into this category when referring to nouns (there are also adverbs 'more' and 'less' when it refers to the verb), but when talking about 'more' or 'less' of an adjective i.e. comparative this is expressed as a verb.

Re: Ketzumin

Posted: 16 Oct 2013 07:24
by kanejam
One thing I'll say about this language is having a restricted phonology (no voiced stops, three vowels /p/ or /f/ or /h/ etc.) makes it harder to get a feel for coining new vocab, but also makes it more challenging in a fun way.


To make a yes or no question, simply add n'á' to the end of the sentence. Simple as that. For absolute emphasis that you're asking a question you can say satzinn'á' to the beginning of the statement. If you want to load the statement, use a mood marker (assumptive or mirative, usually).

For wh-questions, use akke - what, in the proper place. Ketzumin does not front the question word: nál akke tala'lu'? - what's mother eating? This is used for all that need a wh marker, and in many of these cases utilises the locative or temporal markers that Ketzumin loves. These will will be revealed later. Lastly, it acts as a demonstrative to ask 'which one'. There isn't a distinction between 'what' and 'which', and usually not for 'who' either. If you need to specify you're looking for a person, just ask 'which person'.


Not sure if that's the proper term, but basically Ketzumin doesn't like relative clauses and instead will force verbs that won't fit into the two verb slots into a participle form. For example: isn'á ággnutákí kóna múttúkasunli - 'I don't understand what you're saying', literally 'I don't listen-understand your saying'. You'll notice the possessive marker on the bare verb stem ággnutá. This is what makes it a gerund; if it's by itself then you need to use the topic marker. Also the third person marker is the same as the verbal marker so it can be confusing.

There is a way to mark objects of gerunds but I haven't worked this out yet.

Should be more to come. It is definitely nearly at a stage where it is usable and soon it will be coining vocab that is the tough part. I'm definitely looking for some comments or criticism, though, so please comment if you see something that raises your eyebrows a little bit.

Re: Ketzumin

Posted: 17 Oct 2013 01:01
by kanejam

Grammatically, there is only a single voice. In order to form reflexive statements, one needs to use the reflexive pronoun un. In order to make reciprocal statements, one must use the adverb míntzí. Impersonal verbs just take a null subject. Any other middle voice type things are simlarly resolved lexically.

Ketzumin has a topic postparticle ti. This is widely used just to add emphasis to something. In order to translate a passive sentence, front the object, mark it with the topic particle and voilà. It is also possible to move the subject to the complete end of the sentence. If it is not a single word then it requires a postposition.

Word Classes and Derivation

So far we have several word classes. The distinction between nouns and verbs is hazy and, like English and Chinese, Ketzumin likes to use conversion to make new nouns out of verbs and vice versa. Once I have mo vocabulary I will try to identify different nominalisers and verbalisers with different functions and meanings.

So far all I have is that the clitics (or maybe prepositions, haven't decided yet) -ti, -(t)tzí, -tza/-tzá, -nu, -(n)ni and -gnú are verbalisers and -li, -mílá and -kko are nominalisers. Ketzumin will prefer VN compounding to derivation though.

All adjectives can be used as adverbs, though this is uncommon and they will often be used with a qualifying adposition. As I've said before, no adverb can be used as adjectives and only two (tá and zulla) can be used to qualify adjectives or other adverbs


There is no imperative form. In order to form commands, you simply say what you want done, much like Chinese. It is common to hear the emphatic mood used with this construction.

To make a negative command (don't do it), use the negative command particle káza at the start of the sentence. It is common to hear it used with kóna but not necessarily. If you haven't guessed yet, Ketzumin likes double negation and almost all negative sentences will have kóna in them.

Re: Ketzumin

Posted: 17 Oct 2013 15:24
by Click
Looks quite interesting at a first glance. [:)]
I’ll give it a more thorough read after I’m finished studying Biology for the test which is due tomorrow.

Re: Ketzumin

Posted: 17 Oct 2013 19:33
by DesEsseintes
To make a negative command (don't do it), use the negative command particle káza at the start of the sentence.

Apart from that, I like the sound of the language, but more examples of whole sentences would be helpful.

isn'á ággnutákí kóna múttúkasunli

Great example but I needed to scroll up and down to figure out what was happening because you didn't provide a gloss so I wasn't sure which verb was meant to mean what.

I look forward to more.

Re: Ketzumin

Posted: 17 Oct 2013 20:35
by kanejam
Good point. Right now the language is suffering from lack of vocab but I'll be working hard to fix that now in the next day or two. Then I will go through and put some examples with glosses.

I did end up changing kína to kóna, but I though you might like that I took your idea for káza [:)]