General Z’aveq Syntax (part 4)

Z’aveq will follow the word order detailed in my previous post on word order without explicit marking, and as such I will not reiterate the content of that post here. However, there are a few comments to make that are specific to this language, but weren’t covered in the generalized syntax post.

First off, the particles referred to in the word order post correspond to a fairly broad set of types of words in Z’aveq. The most obvious members of this set are the aspectual markers, as well as a smaller number of particles that cover the functions of grammatical mood and sentence-level conjunctions in European languages. Additionally, there is a set of directional markers that may optionally be used with a large number of verbs, as well as a comparatively large number of evidentiality markers and similar particles. Each of these sub-categories will be discussed in detail in later posts, but for now we will briefly go over the ordering and placement of particles in sentences that have more than one.

The default order of particles when no particle occupies the theme or focus position (which is frequently the case) will be E(videntiality) – M(ood/conjunction) – D(irectional) – A(spect). All of these particles would occupy the P slot in the pre-movement PSVO sentence, which in principle means that in some sentences there could be up to four of them (since only one from each class my occur in a particular sentence), although in practice maximal sentences aren’t as common as one might expect. As particles are often unstressed and have no accent, there will likely be some additional rules governing tonal contour of a sequence of particles, but that is a topic for another post.

Any particle may be moved into the theme or focus position, and it is possible to construct a licit sentence in which both positions are occupied by a particle. If a particle has been moved to the theme position, and there are still particles left in the default position, they all move with the subject if it is moved to the focus position; the entire set of particles also moves with the verb if it is moved to the focus position after the subject is moved to theme.

In addition to the clarification on the ordering of particles, it bears pointing out that prepositional phrases occur by default immediately after the direct object, although they can also be moved to the theme or focus positions like any other constituent. There is no syntactic concept of an indirect object, nor do you ever see more than two noun phrases that are not part of a prepositional phrase.

Some basic vocabulary (Z’aveq part 3)

Here we are going to list a handful of basic vocabulary items, which will allow us to create Z’aveq example sentences without having to create new vocabulary items in the process. Some of these words may eventually be superseded in the future, but you should expect most of them to stick around.

First off, we have the word bi’s. This is a common noun meaning “hand”, which may eventually be extended (or derived from) to generate a word for “arm” and possibly “finger”. Whatever consonant or other phonological element triggered the accent is long gone (read “still undefined”), but the presence of any accent at all indicates that the word was once polysyllabic. As derived terms come to light, it will hopefully become clearer where the original second (and perhaps third) syllables stood.

Another word that will be useful here is vuq’a, meaning “person”. If this language ends up being spoken by aliens, it will prototypically refer to a member of the race that speaks this language, but it can also be used to refer to humans as well.

Take’h means something like “village”, that is, a fairly small settlement with limited infrastructure. A more precise definition will probably be forthcoming in a later post, as it will depend heavily on the cultural context of this language.

Relatedly, ko’ref means “house”, often simply in the sense of “building”. The is a very generic word, and it should not be assumed to be restricted to the single family homes that the word “house” brings to mind for many.

The verb “to make, construct” is lu’g, which is also a fairly common word. It would probably not be used in the sense of English “do”, although it is still TBD how that would be translated.

Finally. the verb “to eat” is r’etu. Nothing special to be said here.

Z’aveq Phonology and Romanization (#2)

The consonant system of Z’aveq isn’t particularly special:

Labial Coronal Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Stops p b t d k g q
Fricatives f v s z x h
Nasals m n
Approximants w l j ʁ

Neither is the vowel system:

Front Central Back
High i ɨ u
Mid e ə o
Low a

The mid central vowel ə is considered reduced, which will have implications for the pitch accent when we get to that in a bit. Otherwise, all vowels are created equal, and we encounter very little synchronic reduction or other alternations in unstressed positions. Z’aveq doesn’t like syllables more complex than CVC, although very simple clusters may be tolerated in very recent loans. The reduced vowel may not occur adjacent to another vowel or a word boundary.

Before moving on to the pitch accent, a couple of comments about the romanization are in order. Most phonemes are represented by the single Latin letter corresponding to their IPA symbol, but the phonemes ʁ and ɨ have non-ASCII-compatible IPA symbols and are thus romanized as r and y. Furthermore, the reduced vowel ə is represented by the apostrophe between two consonants (and it doesn’t occur in other positions).

Finally, the most interesting part of the phonology of Z’aveq is the pitch accent system. There are two types of pitch accent that a word may have, and while both types of accent can occur on any syllable of the word, a word may only have one accented syllable, and neither accent can occur on the reduced vowel. It is also acceptable for a word to have no accented syllable at all, and that is not entirely uncommon, although it occurs considerably more frequently on short function words that usually occupy unstressed positions in the broader sentence. All syllables of a word before the accented syllable, and all syllables of an unaccented word, are pronounced relatively short with low, even pitch, whereas all syllables after the accent syllable are pronounced relatively short with high pitch.

The first type of accent, which will henceforth be referred to as accent 1, is realized by pronouncing the accented vowel with high pitch and lengthening it by around one half of its previous length. There is no particular tonal contour associated with this accent, although the high tone may slip towards high falling very slightly when in the first syllable of a word following another word ending on a high tone. Accent 1 is indicated orthographically by an apostrophe immediately preceding the accented vowel.

The second type of accent, referred to as accent 2, is realized as a low rising tone on the accented vowel, which is lengthened even more than a vowel carrying accent 1, to almost double its original length. The tonal contour is largely consistent regardless of the tone of the preceeding or following syllable. Accent 2 is indicated orthographically by an apostrophe placed immediately *after* the accented vowel.

At the sentence level, the baseline pitch of each word drops slightly with each word, so that word boundaries are always obvious even if the words begin and end on the same lexical tone. There is little or no variation in the sentence-level intonation in different types of sentences, although there is likely a slightly different intonational pattern used for listing items (still undetermined, although a good candidate would be to alternate stepping down and up by slightly more than between words in a regular sentence).

That covers most of the phonology. There will likely be additions and modifications in the future, but they will hopefully be few and far between.

New Conlang “Z’aveq”

This is the same language as previously mentioned in my last conlanging related post, although it has now been tentatively named.

My goal here is to create a language that looks superficially like the languages that sometimes appear in pulp science fiction, or other works that don’t put much effort into creating alien (or sometimes foreign human) languages, but that on closer inspection actually ends up being a reasonable conlang. Towards that end, the orthography will include a large number of apostrophes (more on what they indicate later), and will consist exclusively of ASCII characters used in ways more or less reminiscent of words that look exotic to English-speaking eyes.

At a more linguistic level, the language will not have much in the way of grammatical marking, although it will not be entirely analytic (there will be a fair bit of derivational morphology, although the full extent of this has yet to be determined). As discussed in the previous post, core syntactic categories will be indicated by word order (with prepositions picking up some of the slack when more than two core arguments are present), whereas tense, mood, and aspect will be indicated by a variety of particles. Voice will not exist as a grammatical category, although there will likely be valence-changing derivational affixes.

The language will employ a pitch accent, which will give rise to a couple of more complex tonal patterns at the surface level. This will likely be the only truly interesting high-level aspect of the phonology, as everything else will be fairly run-of-the-mill, although one should expect a post dedicated to phonology either next or in a couple of posts.

Free Word Order for Isolating Language

This is going to be the first in a series of posts about a language that I’m just starting to create. I can’t yet give many details about it, as very few of them have been set in stone, but more information will come as a it becomes available.

Today, however, I just want to talk about word order.

I’ve had the idea knocking around in my head for a while to build a language that allowed “free” word order (defined here as word order in which the placement of all major constituents is dictated by things other than the theta role of the consituent in question) without needing cases or overt direct/inverse marking on the verb.

Assuming we have a default word order of SVO, it’s relatively easy to pull the object up into the theme (initial) position, or the subject into the focus (final) position, without making it difficult to determine which noun is which — the listener can simply assume that the NP closest to the verb should be interpreted according to its position relative to the verb, and the other NP should be given the other role.

However, things break down if you want to move *both* NPs, or if you want to move the verb into focus position while keeping the subject as theme (or vice versa for the verb in theme position with the object as focus). You could of course also declare if there are two NPs in the sentence, the first is the subject and the second the object, but that would just present the same problem, only in reverse.

So far — and this is in no way set in stone yet, although I’m likely to stick with it or something very much like it — I think I’m going to go with something like this:

  • Declare the basic, pre-movement word order to be PSVO, with P being a particle or adverb of some sort that will be present in most if not all sentences (if there are sentences in which it is absent, we may end up with a few ambiguous cases, which is no big deal and could probably be worked around by inserting a dummy particle).
  • Require that some constituent move up into the theme position and another move into the focus position. By default, these will most likely be the subject and object respectively, or subject and verb in an intransitive sentence. Note that this means that the unmarked surface word order will be SPVO.
  • Finally, require that if a constituent immediately preceded by the particle moves to the focus position, the particle moves with it (keeping its place immediately before it). This occurs even if another constituent has already moved, although it does not occur if the particle itself has moved to one of the two positions.

So, for the most basic transitive sentence, we end up with the following grid:

Focus is S Focus is O Focus is V Focus is P

Once we add other constituents, sentences will get longer, but the basic rules will still apply.

Over time, of course, we may see one or two basic particles becoming generalized as a subject marker, possibly with an added element of some sort of TMA marking. But we’ll save that for a descendent of this language.


Last weekend, I attended the eighth Language Creation Conference, in Cambridge, UK. Although I’d interacted with a handful of other conlangers at other events before, this was the first time I’d physically attended an LCC (as well as the first time I had been in the United Kingdom).

The conference was, in its totality, awesome, and I hope to come to the next one if I can make it. Among other things, I got the chance to speak some Klingon, hang out with people I had up till that point only met through the internet (and learn what they look like!), and generally participate in fun discussions about language and other subjects. This community is full of interesting people, and that only becomes more clear when you get a whole bunch of them together in the same space for a period of time.

I gave a short talk on grammaticalizing consonant gradation in the manner of the Uralic languages (slides available at, and in the process also discovered that my use of the name “Examplish” for the sketchlang in my examples was novel enough that most people found it funny — I suspect I may need to flesh the language out a bit more just for the fun of it. This (the talk) led to a couple of mind-broadening discussions, as ideally something like that should, so I like to at least imagine that it was a success.

Although I’m not sure of the exact date when I started conlanging, based on my ballpark estimate of that date and the date of the conference, I have decided to declare LCC8 the point at which I have been conlanging for more than half of my life. Although I briefly mentioned this fact at the beginning of my talk, I figured it was worth a few words here as well, in case some folks see this who didn’t watch the LCC8 presentations (which were livestreamed and recorded, so there’s still a chance if you missed the conference but still want to see it!). I’m bad at coming up with personal ways of marking special occasions, so I figured the LCC would serve as a good stand-in for the celebration I feel like I should be having.

Finally, although there were (as always) a handful of technical and organizational things that could probably have been handled better, there were no problems that truly had an adverse effect on the experience. Anglia Ruskin University is quite well situated in Cambridge, with the train station and a number of cool things to see within easy walking distance.

I hope to see everyone at LCC9!