Thursday, 27 February 2014

Moten Part XII: Irregularities and Exceptions

Okay, so I know this series contains about as many apologies as it contains conlang info, but please humour me again. At the end of last time's post, I explained that the next post would be about syntax (and more importantly, I promised I would have an actual text in Moten to present as example). However, although I've been working for months on that post, it's still nowhere near ready (syntax is hard!). So rather than leaving you hanging for even longer, I decided to write another post I was planning for later, one which should hopefully be somewhat shorter, yet still entertaining. This post is about those wonderful pearls of natural languages which are the bane of so many language students: irregularities and exceptions!


Before we start, let's precisely define the words we're using: what do we mean when we speak of irregularities or exceptions in a language?

As anyone who's spent a modicum of time at school knows (and many who haven't know as well), languages obey rules (what we basically call their grammar). Well, personally I think it would be more accurate to say that languages are described by rules, but the distinction is irrelevant for this post. Suffice to say, you can always describe the behaviour of a language in terms of a certain amount of rules. They may be quite complex, but there just doesn't seem to be any language that cannot be described with grammatical rules of some kind.

Nevertheless, however precise you make those rules, however much you analyse the language and describe it in details, there always seems to be some kind of irreducible kernel of forms or structures that keep on defying those rules. It's true of all natural languages that we know of (that is to say, all languages we have a description of): however detailed the rules used to describe them are, there are always words or constructions that don't follow these. They are what we call irregularities, or exceptions.

Now, not all languages are equal when it comes to exceptions. Some have plenty of exceptional forms in various areas of their grammars (I'm looking at you, English, with you irregular verbs, irregular plurals, unpredictable use of prepositions with verbs, etc. My own native tongue French is also guilty of this, especially in its verb conjugations!), while others only have a few exceptions and the rest of their grammars is otherwise perfectly regular (I've read for instance that Turkish only has a few irregular verbs, and even then those all exhibit the same kind of irregularity. And I know by experience that Japanese has a very regular grammar, with few exceptional forms). But the one rule that truly seems to hold for all natural languages, without a single exception, is that natural languages have exceptions!

Given that, since Moten is supposed to be a naturalistic conlang (i.e. one that could pass for a natural language), it follows that it should have exceptions to its rules. Yet in all the posts I've written before on the language, I haven't talked about them much, if at all. Is Moten unnaturally regular? Well, as it happens, Moten is a bit like Turkish or Japanese. It does have irregularities, but those are few and far between, which is why we haven't encountered many of them yet. But it does have irregularities, in all areas of its grammar, phonology, morphology and syntax. And now I'm going to focus on describing those irregularities in the remainder of this post.

Exceptions in Phonology

Phonology being the system of rules that describes which sounds are used in the language, and which forms syllables can take, exceptions in phonology should be words that don't follow those rules, i.e. words that are considered good Moten words, but make use of sounds that are not considered part of the phonetic inventory of the language, and/or combinations of sounds that are not allowed according to its phonotactics. Does Moten have those?

Why, yes of course it does! And we've met those words already, in this post, in the section called Interjections. As I mentioned then, while interjections are considered fully fledged words of the language, they sometimes contain sounds or combinations of sounds that are not normally considered acceptable in Moten. Examples of exceptions to phonology are:

  • long vowels: zutuun [zuˈtuːn]: "the sound of complete silence";
  • long or double consonants: ssii [sːiː]: "er, um", ikkee [ikˈkeː]: "ouch";
  • sounds not considered part of the standard Moten phonology: pelg [pɛɫx]: "ugh" (notice how this one also features a normally forbidden two-consonant coda).

By the way, interjections are not necessarily the only words with exceptional phonology. Some recent borrowings also have irregular phonological features, like Doj|slan(t): "Germany", which has an affricate in a disallowed position according to Moten phonotactics. Given that native words still simplify affricates when inflectional, derivational or compounding phenomena would put them in such a position, one can truly speak of an exception.

Exceptions in Morphology

Morphology refers to the forms taken by words, especially how they change due to inflections, derivations or compounding. So exceptions in morphology are simply word forms that inflectional, derivational and compounding rules fail to predict.

Let's start with inflections. This refers to noun inflections (cases and number, definiteness, and the functional prefixes), since Moten has very few verbal conjugations (and the two verbs that can be conjugated are both conjugated in exactly the same way).

Now, if you approached Moten for the first time, and saw these incomplete paradigms:

linan: bird

indefinite nominative accusative genitive
singular linan lindan linva|n
plural linsan linzan linfa|n

bazlo: town, city

indefinite nominative accusative genitive
singular bazlo bazludon bazluvoj
plural bazluso bazlu|zon bazlufoj

ge|sem: father

indefinite nominative accusative genitive
singular ge|sem gezdemun gezvemi
plural ge|sem ge|zemun gesfemi

ku|lu: language

indefinite nominative accusative genitive
singular ku|lu kuldun kulvuj
plural kulsu kulzun kulfuj

you'd be excused if you thought that they were a mess of irregular forms. While they do have a few things in common, those paradigms are all different in non-trivial ways. Yet as I explained in this old post, noun declensions in Moten can actually be described using completely regular rules, based on a series of infixes and suffixes common to all nouns, along with complex but regular morphophonological rules that explain how those affixes interact with the stems they are added to. I've seen this phenomenon (apparently irregular superficial forms underlain by perfectly regular, if complex, formation rules) described by some as "regular irregularity". And don't think that no natural language is like that! I've read descriptions of the mess that is Basque synthetic conjugations that successfully argue that most of it can actually be described by perfectly regular (if complex) morphophonological rules, along with common affixes used by all verbs (there are still some irreducible forms, but they are few and far between, and can often be explained by generic phonological considerations).

So all nouns follow basically the same inflections rules, and all use the same affixes. However, this does not mean that we cannot find true irregularities in noun inflections. Take for instance the noun with the uninflected form tales, which is also its nominative singular indefinite (that noun means "fruit, vegetable"). Given that form, and the regular inflectional rules used on all nouns, one would expect its accusative singular indefinite to be *taldesun. However, that's unattested (read: wrong!), and the attested form is taldeskun! What's happening here is that tales is one of those nouns I mentioned way back in the first Moten post! Such nouns have stems that end with two consonants. Given that that's a big phonotactics no-no in Moten, the second consonant (which I call "fragile") disappears when it would be word-final, and only resurfaces when a suffix is added. When you only know the uninflected form of a noun, it's thus impossible to predict whether that noun has a fragile consonant or not, and even if you're told it has one, it's impossible to predict which one. Since there is no predictive rule available, those nouns can truly be considered exceptional, and the only way to handle them is to learn them as they come (here, as well as in the Moten dictionary, I always mention them with the fragile consonant in parentheses: tales(k). It's a good and visual way to mark both the presence of a fragile consonant and its value).

Another case of inflectional irregularity, although a rarer one, is represented by words whose stem is a single consonant. No, you read that right: in Moten, some words have a stem that is actually a single consonant, without a vowel to accompany it. An example is the stem g, which is used in the verb igi, meaning "to live", as well as a noun meaning "life". In this case, the main problem is that Moten phonotactics don't allow single-consonant words: the shortest possible word must at least have one vowel. When such stems are used as verbs, it's not so much of an issue: the infinitive igi is disyllabic, and the participle guz has a vowel as well (notice that both are perfectly regular, by the way), so they can be declined without a problem. The imperative ("live!") isn't commonly used, but is an issue (since it's normally identical to the stem). It's easily solved, however: such imperatives are formed by adding -i to the single-consonant stem: gi: "live!".

No, the main issue is when such stems are used as nouns. Due to the absence of a stem vowel, all kinds of weird things happen. Luckily, single-consonant stems generally all behave in the same way, so I can simply describe how g: "life" handles it, and you'll know how to handle others.

The first thing to remember is that in single-consonant stems, that single consonant behaves like an onset. This means that infixes will follow it. It's important to know, as otherwise the position of infixes could have been ambiguous.

I'll start with the definite declension of g, as it is easiest to understand. Since definiteness is marked by the infix -e-, it provides a vowel to add to the single consonant and form a pronounceable syllable. So the nominative singular definite is simply ge: "the life". Since the definite infix appears before the other infixes, the nominative plural definite becomes ges: "the lives". The functional prefixes are effectively added to the nominative forms of the noun, so those are easy as well: koge: "by the life", koges: "by the lives". The accusative and genitive cases are relatively simple as well, with a small caveat: despite what I just wrote above, in those cases, the definite infix somehow gets treated as a stem vowel, and the case infixes end up preceding rather than following it! I don't know why it happens there and not with the nominative plural infix: it's just something you'll have to remember! (that's exceptions for you!) So the accusative singular definite of g is gden (rather than the expected *gedun), and its plural is gzen (rather than *ge|zun). The genitive singular definite is gvej, while the plural is kfej.

The indefinite declension of g is slightly more complicated to describe, but not by much. In this case I'll go backwards, compared to what I've done with the definite declension. It's just easier to explain that way. So let's start with the genitive case. Luckily, this case provides us with a vowel thanks to the -i suffix. Remembering that the single consonant g is treated as an onset (infixes follow it), the genitive singular indefinite is thus the regular gvi, while the plural is regularly kfi. The accusative case doesn't give us an obvious vowel, until you remember that its suffix -n becomes -un after a consonant. With that in mind, the accusative singular indefinite of g is simply gdun, and its plural is gzun. The nominative plural works in the same way, you just need to remember that its infix -s- becomes -us- when it would otherwise create an inadmissible cluster. So the nominative plural indefinite is gus (and functional prefixes can be added to it).

And that leaves us with the nominative singular (as well as the uninflected form used when followed by an adjective, which for all intents and purposes behaves like the nominative singular indefinite), which I saved for last on purpose. That's because its shape varies depending on its use and what surrounds it. Let's first get the functional prefixes out of the way: since all functional prefixes end in a vowel, one can simply add g to them and the result in pronounceable. And indeed that's how you do it: kog: "with life". Also, when g is followed by an adjective starting with a vowel (or with a single consonant that can form an onset cluster with g, according to Moten phonotactics), it will stay as is, and will be pronounced as part of the onset of the adjective. So for instance g olem: "the same life" (with olim: "same, similar") will be pronounced as if it was *golem. But what do you do when you actually need a naked nominative singular indefinite? (or an uninflected form followed by an adjective starting with an incompatible consonant or a consonant cluster) Well, you will need a vowel to be able to pronounce it, so you'll just have to add one. And that's where things get really confusing, because, at least in the case of g, you can choose between two vowels! Indeed, the naked nominative singular indefinite of g can be either gu or gi! Basically, gu seems to be the more common alternative (probably because of the use of u as an epenthetic vowel throughout the inflection paradigm of nouns), but gi appears regularly as well (even within the speech of the same speaker), especially when the word is surrounded with high or mid front vowels. So while one will tend to use gu on its own, when saying "another life" that same person will be likely to say gi tel (and the written language follows pronunciation here).

To sum it all up, here's a table with the different inflections of g: "life":

indefinite nominative accusative genitive
singular g, gu or gi gdun gvi
plural gus gzun kfi
definite nominative accusative genitive
singular ge gden gvej
plural ges gzen kfej

Now that inflections are out of the way, let's look at derivation and compounding. Derivation is actually very easy. As you may remember, there's very little productive derivation in Moten, and it's all very regular. So far, I haven't been able to discover a single exception to the morphophonological rules I described in last post. The rules may be somewhat complex (and reminiscent of the inflection rules), especially when it comes to diminutives, but they are completely regular.

Compounding, however, is a different beast entirely. As I mentioned before, the changes undergone by compounded stems are not always predictable, so irregularities abound. They run the whole gamut of possibilities, from unpredictable use of the short compound form (sezbon: "velocity" is formed by using the short compound form of both its components sezgo: "high speed" and bontu: "low speed", while similar compounds usually use the short compound form of their first component only, as in ukodun: "age", from ukol: "old age" and odun: "youth"), to unpredictable voicing or devoicing of clusters (eg+sponda -> egzbonda: "two small animals" features progressive voicing, while ag+fe|su -> akfe|su: "sorry for leaving early" shows regressive devoicing. Progressive devoicing and regressive voicing are also possible), to unexpected elisions (uflebe: "quality" uses the short compound form of ufan: "greatness", but also removes the first consonant of its second component tlebe: "mediocrity"), all the way to portmanteau formations (like slebe: "trollishness", from slim: "inappropriateness" and tlebe). Even addition of sounds is attested (as in oskana|not: "ceremony", from oskan: "event, show" and |not: "source, cornerstone, main"), although it is uncommon.

Exceptions in Syntax

While morphology is about the forms words take, syntax is about how those forms are put together to form understandable utterances. Exceptions in syntax are then unexpected word orders, and/or unexpected forms for a specific function in the sentence. I'll keep this section short, as we haven't had a complete overview of Moten syntax yet (next post, I promise!). Still, I can mention at least two exceptional syntactic behaviours.

As you already know, one of the strictest rules of syntax in Moten is that adjectives follow nouns. It's so strict because it's basically what makes them adjectives in the first place: the adjectival function of nouns is marked by position, and by position only. That said, even such a strict rule has exceptions, and we've met them already. As I mentioned then in the post about numbers, short cardinal numbers used attributively tend to precede rather than follow the noun they complete. So one will usually say su ka|se rather than ka|se su for "one man" (either is correct, but the first one is just far more common). I don't know why this happens, but it does. It's a bona fide syntactic irregularity.

The second irregularity I want to mention concerns another rather strict rule of Moten, the one about the form of subjects of transitive verbs. As I explained way back then, the subject of a transitive verb only appears in the nominative case when it's actively, willingly participating in the action. Experiencers and other non-volitional subjects will appear in the instrumental instead. This means that in general, inanimate objects and abstract concepts will never appear as subjects of transitive verbs in the nominative case (at least in formal registers and ignoring some forms of personification), since those cannot have a will of their own. There is one group of exceptions to this rule though: weather phenomena. Words referring to weather phenomena break the rule completely: not only can they appear in the nominative case when they are the subject of a transitive verb, but they actually have to appear in the nominative case. Appearing in the instrumental in that role is actually a grammatical error! It's as if weather phenomena were always actively and willingly participating in the action described by the verb. In fact, this exception goes so far that even in mythical stories, fables or tales where weather phenomena are personified, they will appear in the nominative case when subject of a transitive verb, even if they should actually be playing an experiencing role! So nouns like ibo: "air, wind", tlap: "light rain", ibipiz: "storm", la|zi: "high weather temperature", devodi: "west wind" and eme: "sun" (when used to refer to the way it warms up the air on a sunny day) will always appear in the nominative case when subject of a verb, regardless its transitivity or their actual role.

There are other exceptions in Moten syntax, but I want to wait until I've properly discussed the rules of syntax first before I spend more time on them. Moreover, most of those exceptions happen in specific, informal speech registers, so I will need to explain those as well before I can go into more details.

Exceptions in Semantics

Put it simply, semantics is the relationship between words and their meanings. But since the relationship between words and their meanings is essentially arbitrary (well, more or less), where are the rules for exceptions to break?

Well, there's one area where semantics do have some kind of rules: derivation and compounding, and those rules predict the meaning of a derived form or a compound based on their components. In English, those rules are of the kind "the suffix -er forms an agent noun from a verb" or "nouns ending in -berry always refer to some kind of fruit".

That said, as you probably already know, natural languages tend to be very creative when it comes to applying those rules, and exceptions are common. For instance, in English, although it is formed regularly, a choker will usually not be understood as someone who chokes someone else, but as a piece of jewellery that only chokes if it's too small! In the same way, regular compounds needn't always have a meaning that regularly derives from the meanings of their constituents (for instance, a greenhouse isn't necessarily green, and is definitely not a house!).

So what about Moten then? Well, it also tends to play fast and loose with the meaning of derived words and compounds. For instance, in spite of the suffix -sif being used to form simple actor nouns from verbs, the regularly formed agzif (from jagi: "to go") doesn't simply mean "goer", but "traveller". Diminutives are especially guilty of this. Look for instance at dloasin, the diminutive of dloa: "pear". It has nothing to do with small pears, and means instead "light bulb".

Compounds are even more all over the place, and their meanings are often only metaphorically linked to the meanings of their components. For instance, look at no|sezgo, which literally means "quick brightness". Its actual meaning is "lightning bolt". Then there's tolmos (literally "four paws/legs"), which means "dining table, meal, fare, food". And I'm not even talking about all those verbal compounds where the second element, the verb istu|l: "to summon, to call", is almost completely bleached of any meaning, and works more like a generic verbalising suffix (for instance, while ipenlastu|l: "to invite" can reasonably be seen as a combination of istu|l: "to call" and ipenlaj: "to wait for, to expect", in joknestu|l: "to read", istu|l is really just a meaningless suffix used to turn okne: "story, tale" into a verb).

And then there are all those nouns formed by nominalising an inflected form, thanks to surdéclinaison. The connection between the original word and the resulting nominalisation is often pretty tenuous. See for instance devodi: "west wind". It's actually the genitive singular definite of dod: "evening, night" and thus literally means "from the night" (the step from "from the night" to "west wind" is definitely not an obvious one!).

What's Next

So, if you had any doubt that Moten is a naturalistic language with its fair share of irregularities and exceptions, this post should have put those to rest! Moten may not be the paragon of exceptionalness that English is, but it has a healthy amount of irregularities.

So, what's next then? Well, next time I'll finally get this syntax post published that I promised nearly a year ago! And as promised as well, that post will contain a full text example, rather than a few words or disconnected sentences. I am not promising anything in terms of when that post will be published, but hopefully you won't have to wait for 10 months again. In any case, until next time!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Third Lexember: Yet Another Month of Moten Words

So just two months after the previous Lexember event, we went ahead and ran another end-of-year Lexember event like last year. This time though, I seriously messed up. Because of various activities I was busy with (and work naturally), I ended up overstraining myself, and that had a bad influence on my Lexember participation. My schedule got really out of control, and I only managed to get back on track at the very end through a trick I'm not really proud of. I tried to make up for it by adding a few bonus words at the end, but it did make the Lexember experience less enjoyable than it should have been. I did, however, get a lot of feedback on Twitter for the words I created and their descriptions, so this Lexember was still a positive experience after all. At least, it definitely felt more interactive than the previous one, which was a very good thing!

One small difference between this Lexember event and the previous ones is that people actually liked my proposal to introduce "themes" that people would (optionally) follow when creating words. Daily themes were (rightly) felt to be too cumbersome, so people settled on a "theme of the week" set-up, which I thought worked very well, at least for the first two weeks! By the third week though, nobody felt like introducing a theme, and I was too far behind to propose one myself (although I did stick to themes for my own word creation, inspired by the words created by other people).

So, now that the third Lexember is finished, I'm once again recapitulating it on my blog, so that people who may have missed some of my tweets can check all my new Moten words here. I've also added the comments I made over on Twitter and Google+ (and added some specific to this post), which give a bit more background and depth to those creations. I've also cut this list according to the "themes of the week", to show exactly which words belong to which theme. Enjoy:

The first theme was categories, structures, relationships and was proposed by Jan Strasser (if I remember correctly).

1st word: lumisis /lumisis/, noun:
truth value, reality level. Basically the name for the concept that encompasses both true and false, real and fake. Lumisis can be seen as the name of the scale where "true" and "false" are just the extreme points.
The noun itself is a dvandva compound of luma: "falsehood" and isis: "truth", just as sezbon: "velocity, the concept of speed" is a compound of sezgo: "quick" and bontu: "slow". It's common in Moten to form nouns referring to a generic scale by taking the nouns referring to two (usually extreme) points on it and compounding them. Another example is uflebe: "quality, value" from ufan: "greatness" and tlebe: "mediocrity".
An interesting thing to know about Moten speakers is that they seem to treat all opposites in terms of sliding scales, i.e. they have no concept of binary opposites: all oppositions, even those we consider binary like true/false or life/death are considered to be on scales, where the values between the extremes are just as important and "real" as the extreme values themselves.
2nd word: kemi /ke̞mi/, noun:
pleasantness, goodness; also as adj. pleasant, good. A statement of opinion on something.
Moten doesn't have a single word to translate "good". Kemi is one, but it's just a statement of opinion. Vo|sa is another, but it refers more to fitness for purpose. Ufan is a third one, but it refers to an objectively great quality. All three can be translated as "good" (well, ufan really means "great". Its diminutive ufsin is closer to "good"), but for various sorts of "good".
All three have opposites, of course :). The opposite of kemi is abal: "dreadful, lousy". The opposite of vo|sa is slim: "inappropriate", and the opposite of ufan is tlebe: "mediocre".
Naturally, don't forget that in Moten, nouns and adjectives are not formally differentiated. Kemi is both the noun referring to the concept of pleasantness and the adjective used to call something pleasant.
3rd word: kemabal /ke̞mabal/, noun:
opinion, (subjective) value. The generic concept of something's subjective value.
Like lumisis, it's formed by combining kemi with its opposite abal: "dreadfulness, lousiness". And like it, it refers to the scale of opinions (from good to bad) itself, rather than to a specific opinion on something.
Kemabal contrasts with uflebe, which is about objective value and quality, and with voslim, which is the scale of fitness for purpose.
4th word: igusi /igusi/, verb:
to look like, to resemble, to seem to be. Only used of small animals, objects and concepts.
5th word: jonepi /jo̞ne̞pi/, verb:
to look, to seem, to seem to have. Only used of small animals, objects and concepts.
Those two verbs need to be described together if one wants to make sense of them.
Understanding how those words work, and why they exist in the first place, requires a lengthy explanation of Moten's semantics. But to sum it up quickly: Moten nouns are divided into two classes (only semantically, there is no morphological difference between nouns of those two classes). The distinction isn't between animates and inanimates, although it is on the same scale. Rather, it's between humans and big animals in the first class, and small animals, plants and inanimates in the second. The border between the two classes is changeable as well, as it depends on the size of the speaker! :P
Anyway, this distinction is very strong in Moten semantics, like the fact that the language has no single word for "animal". Rather, it has kit for big animals, and sponda for small ones. As for verbs, many of them are sensitive to the semantic class of their subject, and can only be used with a subject of one class. Like jaki and ispej, which both mean "to exist", but take subjects of the second and first class respectively (think of the aru/iru distinction in Japanese).
Verbs meaning "to look", "to seem" are also sensitive to subject class. Igusi has a counterpart ive|zaj for humans and big animals, while jonepi has a counterpart ipinasi for the same.
As for why there are two verbs for "to seem" for each class, that's because of the semantics and syntax of predicates in Moten. Moten doesn't have adjectives as a separate class. Rather, it uses abstract nouns, with the verb agem: "to have" for predicates (so for instance "to be tall" is translated in Moten as fedin agem: "to have the tallness"). Normal nominal predicates, on the other hand, use atom: "to be" (so "to be a house" is umptin atom, which is a literal translation of the English version).
The "to seem" verbs basically follow the same distinction: igusi and ive|zaj are the equivalents of atom, i.e. "to look like", "to seem to be", "to resemble" (nominal predicates), while jonepi and ipinasi are the equivalents of agem, i.e. "to look like", "to seem to have" (adjectival predicates).
So there you are: mix semantic restrictions with weird predicates and you split a single verb in English into four in Moten :).
6th word: |zen(k) /d͡ze̞n(k)/, noun:
large plant. Any plant larger than the speaker.
7th word: |zensin /d͡ze̞nsin/, noun:
small plant. Any plant smaller than the speaker.
8th word: |zen|zen(k) /d͡ze̞nd͡ze̞n(k)/, noun:
flora, vegetation, plant kingdom.
Once again, those three words are best explained together as a group.
Remember that Moten doesn't have a single word for "animal". Instead, it has sponda: "small animal" and kit: "large animal", where "small" and "large" depend on the size of the speaker, their attachment to the animal in question, etc. The distinction between sponda and kit is very strong in Moten, and they are considered to fall into different semantic classes, as I explained above :). You simply cannot refer to an "animal" in general (except with an expression like sponda kej kit: "a small or big animal"). And the word for "fauna" is spondakit, simply putting them together (a dvandva compound).
Now, somehow the same distinction applies to plants as well. |Zen(k) refers to large plants and |zensin to small plants, with the border between the two set again by the size of the speaker. There's a difference with the animal case though: while sponda and kit are unrelated roots, and the distinction has semantic ramifications (as I wrote above, different verbs are used with sponda and kit for otherwise the same meaning), |zen(k) and |zensin are related (|zensin is just the diminutive of |zen(k)), and they fall in a single semantic class (they belong with sponda, inanimate objects, and concepts, with a few exceptions that can be explained by personification). Also, the word for "flora" is |zen|zen(k), the reduplication of |zen(k), rather than a dvandva compound like spondakit.
All of this implies that the |zen(k)/|zensin distinction is a recent one. |Zen(k) probably used to refer to any plant regardless of size, but the sponda/kit distinction was so strong that it somehow "oozed" to plants as well, leading people to use |zensin, a productive diminutive, for small plants, restricting the use of |zen(k) to large ones.
Well, at least that's what I think happened :).
Notice, by the way, that |zen(k) is another of those roots with an unstable coda, which only resurfaces when suffixes are added. So in the nominative case, "a large plant" is simply |zen. The k resurfaces in the accusative case, which is zdenkun.

The second theme was social interactions and was proposed by Pete Bleackley.

9th word: saj ko|lea /saj ko̞ʎe̞a/, phrase:
welcome, greetings, good bye, have a nice trip. A generic polite greeting expression.
Saj ko|lea literally means "peacefully/healthily for sure" (saj is a positive emphatic clitic, while |la is a strange noun meaning both "peace" and "good health"). It's a generic phrase used when greeting or parting. It's polite, but can be used even in very familiar registers, where it takes on the stronger senses of "welcome" or "have a nice trip", compared to its familiar equivalents mejto: "hello" and |lag: "bye". It's peculiar in that its use is asymmetric: only one person uses it (the one greeting first, receiving, or staying behind). The other person cannot use it as a reply: it's just nonsensical! (unlike mejto, which is generally answered to by mejto, or |lag, which is also just exchanged by both parties when leaving each other)
What does the other person use then? Well, that's the next word :P.
10th word: saj |la(tel)ba /sa ʎa(te̞l)ba/, phrase:
same here, my pleasure, it is I who should say so. A generic expression of reciprocation.
Saj |la(tel)ba literally means "definitely for you" (it's actually two expressions: saj |laba when speaking to a single person, and saj |latelba when speaking to a group as a whole). It's an expression used to reciprocate someone else's feelings (especially as a reply to thanks, compliments or apologies), or to indicate that one thinks that person is more worthy of that feeling than oneself. It's used in all registers, but is especially apologetic in familiar registers. It's also the standard way to reply to saj ko|lea :).
You may have noticed in the phonemic representation that saj is pronounced /sa/ in this expression. It's not a typo, but a symptom of saj being a clitic: it undergoes the same morphophonological changes that affixes undergo, but those changes are not reflected in the orthography. Since those changes are totally regular, it's usually not a problem though. It's one of those rare cases in Moten where you don't write the way you speak.
11th word: teoluz /te̞o̞luz/, noun:
non-romantic love, friendship; friend.
12th word: gizez /gize̞z/, noun:
liking, sexual attraction, lust; lover.
13th word: stolge /sto̞lge̞/, noun:
familial love, instinctive affection.
Basically, Moten, has 4 different non-synonym words that can be translated as "affection" or "love" between people.
First is majta, which refers to romantic love and attraction, not necessarily sexual.
Then comes gizez, the feeling of physical, usually sexual, attraction, which can but needn't be accompanied by romantic feelings.
Then comes teoluz, the non-romantic feeling of love between friends.
And finally there is stolge, the feeling of love between family members, as well as the instinctive affection animals have for their young.
They refer to various facets of the nebulous feeling of love, and are not interchangeable. Using the wrong one can lead to embarrassing misunderstandings, so be careful with them!
That said, an important thing to remember is that those 4 facets of love are all seen as equally valid. There isn't a "higher" form of love or a "debased" form of love. Each has its place and none is inherently "wrong" or "right". They aren't mutually exclusive either (one can feel both majta and teoluz towards the same person, or teoluz and stolge, or even teoluz and gizez, with or without majta). Each can lead to happiness, but each can lead to abuse as well.
Notice that teoluz also means "friend" (a near-synonym of teolsif), and gizez also means "lover". That's an artefact of those nouns being participles of the verbs iteo|l: "to please, to be liked by" and igizej: "to please, to be lusted after by".
14th word: fet /fe̞t/, noun:
party, feast, holiday, name day. A straight borrowing from French, taking over all of its nuances.
The only difference with French is that fet can be used in the plural (fuset) to mean "holidays, vacation", unlike its French origin.
Note that Moten already has a word for celebrations: oskana|not. But that word is unwieldy and formal. It's about official, formal events, while fet is about parties and private celebrations.
15th word: ifetstu|l /ife̞tstuʎ/, verb:
to celebrate, to party. Takes on the meaning "to party" when used in the middle voice.
Ifetstu|l literally means "to party call", being a simple compound with istu|l: "to summon, to call". As I mentioned during last year's Lexember event, Moten productively uses istu|l in compounds to form many new verbs, a bit like Japanese does with suru: "to do".
16th word: joski /jo̞ski/, verb:
to happen, to proceed, to take place, to play, to last. Used of events, performances like theatre plays or films, stories, and takes on the meaning "to last" when used with a mark of duration.
When I look at my Moten lexicon, I see that the language already has 5 ways to say "to happen", all slightly different :).
First is idabolnaj, which means: "to be situated (in time)", compared to izunlaj meaning: "to be situated (in space)".
Then comes ivdaj, which is restricted to weather phenomena, and is usually translated differently from "to happen".
Then there's imonuj, which means "to turn (sthg)", but also "to happen" when used in the middle voice.
Then we have |nekaj, which means "to come to be", "to become" or "to happen", i.e. it refers to the appearance of a phenomenon.
And finally we have joski itself, used mostly with named, singular events, including performances, whether live or recorded. It's also used with stories, in the sense of "to take place, to happen".
17th word: oskan /o̞skan/, noun:
event, occasion, happening; performance, work, play, film; story. An event with a clear theme, name or title. Also any kind of performance, recorded or live. And any kind of story.
This word is further evidence of the existence of a deverbal agent suffix -an(a) in past Moten, a suffix no longer productive, but whose derivations are still present in the lexicon. Examples are linan: "bird", probably from |li|n: "to fly", and mjan: "cat", probably from imjaj: "to meow". Oskan itself is then naturally derived from joski.
In terms of meaning, it has a wide range of them, from "event", "occasion", to "performance" (whether live or recorded), to "story", in which case it's a synonym of the more commonly used okne: "story, tale".
18th word: |not /ɲo̞t/, noun:
source, origin; cornerstone, main part, important, essential, main, chief; head. Only means "source" or "cornerstone" metaphorically. As for the meaning "head", it's restricted to humans and large animals.
It's a strange word with a large semantic domain. Its original meaning is probably "origin", which drifted to "essential part" through metaphorical extension, and then to "head", because the head is essential to a well functioning human being ;).
Its most common use, however, is as an adjective, in which case it means "important, essential, main, chief".
Those last two words (oskan and |not) have helped me solve a nearly ten-year-old conundrum. Namely, the mystery of oskana|not ("celebration, ceremony"). I couldn't believe such a formal word was unanalysable, but I had no idea what its components were. Now I know: oskana|not is literally oskan |not: "essential, main event" :).
That said, the mystery is not completely solved. A compound of oskan and |not should be *oska|not, not oskana|not. This problem can only be solved if oskana|not is a very old compound (it seems to be), and oskan used to be *oskana. The final a disappeared through sound changes, but was retained in the compound, as it wasn't final there. I guess we'll have a definite answer if I find other compounds with an extraneous vowel. So far, oskana|not is the only one.
19th word: |za|not /d͡zaɲo̞t/, noun:
source, origin. An appositional compound of |zaj: "beginning, start" and |not, thus literally meaning "beginning and origin".
It seems this word was created to clarify the original meaning of |not. Basically, because of its many senses, all very commonly used, |not's original meaning of "origin" was becoming overshadowed. This pleonastic compound was then created to refocus on the "origin" sense, forming an alternative without |not's baggage.
This process is not unlike how many Chinese bisyllabic words seem to have been created, although in the case of Chinese the problem seems to have been rampant homophony due to sound changes rather than a multiplication of senses leading to loss of the original meaning.
Note that |za|not is an exact synonym of |not in its "origin" sense. It means that like |not, it refers to the origin of concepts and ideas, not to the physical origin of something (like a river or a person).

The third theme is not an official Lexember theme. But since quite a few people had shared words referring to astronomical objects, I decided to do the same. Here comes the trick I was talking about, the trick that helped me catch up with everybody else. I'm still not proud of it, but it certainly was effective.

20th word: denol /de̞no̞l/, noun:
celestial body, astronomical object; planet. A generic noun referring to any kind of celestial body, including stars, the sun, the moon, planets, satellites, comets, asteroids, etc. Even our own Earth is considered a denol.
Interestingly, denol is often used in the more restricted meaning of "planet". That's because other celestial bodies already have nouns referring specifically to them (like apa: "star", eme: "sun" or kel: "moon"). Planets don't have such a noun. So by default denol is used specifically for planets, including in their names. Those names, by the way, are all neologisms the only known speaker of Moten created, with my help of course ;).
21st word: Densezgo /de̞nse̞zgo̞/, proper noun:
the planet Mercury. Literally "the quick planet".
This word exemplifies two things: Moten's headfirst compounds, which are always of the noun+adjective type; and the short compound form. In this compound, denol is shortened to den-. It's a common phenomenon in Moten: a stem used in a compound will be shortened to its first syllable, with the caveat that it needs to be a closed syllable (so if the syllable is originally open, it will take on the onset consonant of the next syllable to make it closed, hence den- from de.nol).
Although this shortening phenomenon is regular, the choice between using a full stem and its short form in compounding is not. There don't seem to be rules, only tendencies, like the tendency for the first stem of a headfirst compound to be shortened. It seems to be more about what sounds right than about strict grammatical rules.
22nd word: Denapa /de̞napa/, proper noun:
the planet Venus. Literally "the stellar planet". Another fine example of a noun+adjective compound.
Note that apa simply means "star". In Moten, adjectives are just a function of nouns, rather than a separate class of words. When a noun directly follows another noun, it takes on an adjectival function. Not all nouns can be used as adjectives, but many can. Mostly abstract nouns, but concrete nouns as well sometimes.
23rd word: Telgaden /te̞lgade̞n/, proper noun:
the planet Earth. Literally "our planet".
Here we have an example of a headlast compound. Headlast compounds are usually dependent noun phrase+noun compounds. In this case, Telgaden is derived from telgvaj deneol: "our planet", with a genitive phrase in front of the head noun.
It's uncommon for headlast compounds to use the shortened form of the head stem, but not forbidden. I told you: there's no rule! In this case, this short element den has become the mark of the noun being the name of a planet, and so is used in all planet names :).
By the way, note how telga: "we" is used as part of a compound. In Moten, any nominal can be part of a compound, even pronouns.
24th word: Denat /de̞nat/, proper noun:
the planet Mars. Literally "the fiery planet". Another headfirst compound. The noun at itself simply means "fire".
25th word: Deno|se /de̞no̞t͡se̞/, proper noun:
the planet Jupiter. Literally "the bright planet". Another headfirst compound.
26th word: Denipiz /de̞nipiz/, proper noun:
the planet Saturn. Literally "the strong planet". No idea why I called it that… :/ To my defence, it was 02:00AM when I created those words :).
27th word: Iboden /ibo̞de̞n/, proper noun:
the planet Uranus. Literally "the planet of wind". Not quite sure why I went with a headlast compound here.
28th word: Voneden /vo̞ne̞de̞n/, proper noun:
the planet Neptune. Literally "the planet of water". Same comment as with the previous word.
29th word: Denleksod /de̞nle̞kso̞d/, proper noun:
the planet Pluto. Literally "the dark planet". Back to headfirst compounds! :P
And before anyone says anything: yes, I know scientists have demoted Pluto to dwarf planet status. I don't care. Pluto was a planet for most of my life, and I'm not going to change how I call it just because of some language prescriptivism.
Besides, since in Moten denol refers to any celestial body, Pluto stays a denol anyway, whatever its scientific status.

For the last days of Lexember, many people created words relevant to the end of year festivities. So I decided to do the same. And while the following two words don't seem that relevant, they help me set the stage for the last three words, which are very relevant to how the New Year's Eve is celebrated where I live!

30th word: kilom /kilo̞m/, noun:
thunder, rumble; thunderclap. An onomatopoeic noun also used as onomatopoeia for the sound of thunder. Unlike in English, kilom is strictly a count noun, referring to a single clap or roll of thunder.
31st word: no|sezgo /no̞t͡se̞zgo̞/, noun:
lightning bolt; lightning. Literally "quick brightness". Like its counterpart kilom, no|sezgo is a count noun, referring to a single lightning bolt.
Since kilom refers to a single clap of thunder, and no|sezgo to a single bolt of lightning, how does one refer to thunder and lightning in general? The usual way is to simply put them in the plural: kilsom then means "thunder" and no|sezgzo "lightning". Another way is to refer to "thunder & lightning" together as an entity, using the handy dvandva compound noskilom, literally "lightning & thunder" (or "brightness & thunder", depending on whether you consider the nos- element to be the shortened form of no|sezgo or of no|se: "brightness").
32nd word: kilum /kilum/, noun:
firecracker, banger. Basically any kind of firework designed to emit loud bangs when lit.
Literally means "fake thunder", i.e. it's a headfirst compound of kilom and luma: "fake, false". It's one of those rare compounds where both elements are in their shortened compound form.
33rd word: linat /linat/, noun:
firework, skyrocket. Basically any kind of firework designed to rocket into the sky before exploding.
Literally means "flying fire", it's a headlast compound of at: "fire" and the stem of the verb |li|n: "to fly".
It's also used as the generic term for "fireworks", when put in the plural linsat, although there is another word to describe a fireworks display. That word is coming in a second, as the last of the Lexember words of the year :).
34th word: linatoskan /linato̞skan/, noun:
fireworks (display). An event where fireworks are set off as the main part of the entertainment.
It's a very transparent compound of linat and 17th word oskan: "event, occasion, show". It refers specifically to an event, not to fireworks in general (that's linsat, as I just mentioned :)).

As you can see, the "trick" I was talking about was naming the various planets of the Solar System, which I felt followed the letter of the Lexember rules, but not their spirit. I'd rather have created more useful words, common nouns instead of proper nouns, or even maybe a few more verbs. But I was only three days away from the end of Lexember, and was becoming rather desperate. Between the exhaustion and a complete lack of inspiration, this was the only thing I could think of that would allow me to catch up. As I wrote, I'm not proud of what I did. At least I know that next time, I'll have to make sure I really have the time I need to participate in Lexember before I embark on it. Better miss a Lexember event rather than have to resort to such tricks to get back on track.

With that said, I can't say I'm unhappy with the rest of my work. The words I created are useful, and fill in some vocabulary gaps I had noticed before. Also, solving the oskana|not conundrum was really worth it!

Unfortunately, unlike the last two times I cannot give you any meaningful statistics, for the simple reason that I completely forgot to write down how many lexemes and glosses I had in the Moten lexicon on the 30th of November. Also, I was working on reviewing the entire lexicon, adding glosses and explanations where needed, as well as reworking the semantic networks described in the dictionary, when Lexember suddenly arrived and took me somewhat by surprise! With the Moten dictionary database in such a plastic state, I just cannot point out exactly how many additions that I made to it during December are associated with Lexember, rather than with that reviewing effort. Still, I can always point out that the Moten lexicon currently contains 586 lexemes, and 1572 (not necessarily unique) glosses. At the end of the previous Lexember event, those figures were respectively 513 and 1345. That's a good growth rate (13% more lexemes, 16% more glosses), of which I think at least half of it is thanks to this last Lexember. Not bad is it?

All in all, despite all my issues I still enjoyed this Lexember event. I felt that the "theme of the week" really added something to it (it did help a lot getting my inspiration going), and I hope subsequent Lexember runs will include this addition as well. I do hope, however, that future themes of the week will be slightly more concrete than what we got this time. Categories, structures, relationships was a bit broad, and I wasn't quite sure what was meant by it. Social interactions was better, but I would have liked more concrete, down to earth themes. Still, I think themes are a welcome addition to Lexember and I hope they'll be used from now on.

One thing I did this time was to extend my word descriptions on Twitter. Rather than a single tweet with the word and a short definition, I used as many tweets as needed to add as much background information on each word as I felt was needed. In other words, I did on Twitter what I was already doing on Google+. And although the Twitter format is not really suited to going in-depth, I did feel that adding that information was useful to the readers, and I got a lot of positive feedback for doing so. So this is certainly something I will do again next time!

So once again it was great to participate in the Lexember event. I'll definitely try to participate in the next one, although this time I'll first make sure that I actually have the time to do so!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Second Lexember: a New Month of Moten Words

In my summary post of last year's Lexember event, I had written that I would gladly participate again if the event were to be repeated. So when Pete Bleackley proposed to run another Lexember in September (keeping with the naming scheme!), I just couldn't not do it! So once again I spent a month creating new vocabulary for Moten, hunting for holes in the lexicon and filling them as well as I could. Of course, Moten's vocabulary is still limited, but adding 30 words is always welcome! This time though, various events conspired to make me miss the daily deadlines, and I actually slipped in my schedule once (shame on me!). However, I managed to get back on track and finished the month without issue.

So, now that the second Lexember is finished, I'm repeating last year's decision to recapitulate it on my blog, so that people who may have missed some of my tweets can check all my new Moten words here. Once again, here's the list of all the words I created for Lexember, in the order of publication. I've also added the comments I made over on Google+ (and added some specific to this post), which give a bit more background and depth to those creations. Enjoy:

1st word: manto /manto̞/, noun:
coat, overcoat, jacket, cloak, mantle. Basically any piece of clothing used to protect oneself (or at least one's upper body) from bad weather conditions. It's a straight borrowing from French.
2nd word: zubzin /zubzin/, noun:
lukewarm water. It's a diminutive of zuba: "warm water". Note also vone: "cold water" and den: "hot water".
3rd word: vona /vo̞na/, noun:
low temperature, cold. Indicates a temperature that is cold but not freezing. Somehow related to vone: "cold water". Once again, don't forget that adjectives in Moten are just a special use case of nouns, hence the glosses I've given.
4th word: zubna /zubna/, noun:
pleasant temperature, warm. Pleasant, radiating temperature of a body or room. A nice outdoor temperature can also be zubna (especially when the sun is shining). Related to zuba: "warm water".
5th word: dena /de̞na/, noun:
high temperature, hot. Damagingly hot, scalding, burning. Not used for weather temperatures (see next word :)). Somehow related to den: "hot water".
6th word: la|zi /lad͡zi/, noun:
high temperature, warm, hot. Counterpart of dena used for high weather temperatures. It indicates weather temperatures that have become too high to simply be pleasant anymore. It's considered a weather phenomenon, on par with ibo: "wind", tlap: "light rain" and ibipiz: "storm".
What this means is that like those nouns, it can be the subject of the verb ivdaj: "to happen". So, just as we can say ibeo ivda|n ito: "the wind is blowing" (literally: "the wind is happening"), we can say la|zej ivda|n ito: "it's hot right now" (literally: "the high temperature is happening").
7th word: isteoj /iste̞o̞j/, verb:
to put on, to dress in. This verb refers to dressing something or someone in clothes, jewels, shoes, or anything else that is worn. Depending on context and the participants in the sentence, it can refer to putting something on oneself or on somebody or something else. And used in the middle voice, it is equivalent to "to get dressed".
8th word: iputo|n /iputo̞ɲ/, verb:
to take off, to remove. Basically the opposite of isteoj. Has the same usage pattern.
9th word: jemagi /je̞magi/, verb:
to travel, to sail. Literally "to river-go", but used for any kind of travel except on foot.
10th word: ibnamagi /ibnamagi/, verb:
to travel on foot. Literally "to foot-go". The counterpart of jemagi for the one means of travel that verb doesn't cover: one's own feet :).
11th word: agzif /agzif/, noun:
traveller. Literally "goer".
12th word: jaluj /jaluj/, verb:
to keep, to retain; to hold, to store; to hide, to conceal. Yeah, all of those :).
13th word: pakipak /pakipak/, onomatopoeia:
'pad pad pad', the sound of footsteps. Also used as an ideophone meaning "step by step", "one by one", "methodically", "by the book", "without imagination", etc...
14th word: faoom /faˈo̞ːm/, onomatopoeia:
'whoosh', the sound of the wind during a storm. Also an ideophone with the general meaning of "strong but messy".
15th word: kaan /kaːn/, onomatpoeia:
'shining brightly', the "sound" of the sun shining. An ideophone representing the sun shining brightly and warmly. Also used to indicate shining brightly from one's own strength (both literally and figuratively), but also things like 'too hot to handle', and thus shades of danger.
16th word: uge /uge̞/, noun:
pace, step; footstep; stage, phase. Like English "step", but doesn't refer to the steps of a ladder.
17th word: jugejugej /juge̞juge̞j/, verb:
to step, to walk. Refers to the physical activity of walking, unlike ibnamagi, which refers to the idea of travelling on foot. Also refers to stepping through a list of instructions. Its stem ugejuge is also used as a noun meaning "walk, stroll, hike". It's the reduplication of uge: "step".
Incidentally, with this word I reached the magical number of 500 lexical entries in the Moten dictionary! Yay me!
18th word: jemnon /je̞mno̞n/, noun:
long-legged wading bird. Herons, cranes, storks, flamingoes, ibises, spoonbills... All are jemnon :). The word refers more to a bird body type than to a species or even related species in particular. It's a generic name for all long-legged, long-necked wading water birds, especially in freshwater habitats. There are more specific names for specific birds, but you can use jemnon if you just don't want (or can't) be more specific.
The word jemnon itself literally means "artist of the river", and may refer to the perceived grace of those birds' movements.
19th word: jugzi|n /jugziɲ/, verb:
to stroll, to go for a walk. The diminutive of jugejugej: "to step, to walk". Its stem ugzin is also used as a noun meaning "stroll, leisurely walk".
20th word: tolmos /to̞lmo̞s/, noun:
(dining) table; meal, fare. Literally "four legs": tol mosu.
21st word: smel(t) /sme̞l(t)/, noun:
plank, board; gameboard; tray, platter; table, desk. While tolmos refers specifically to a table used to eat on, smel(t) includes this sense but also many more. Linguists would call smel(t) a hypernym of tolmos.
Notice also how the last consonant is in parentheses. This noun is one of those stems with a fragile coda consonant, which normally doesn't appear, but resurfaces when suffixes are added. So the nominative case "a plank" will be smel, while the genitive case "a plank's" will be smuvelti, with the t appearing due to the addition of the suffix -i.
22nd word: log /lo̞g/, noun:
season; time (to do something); occasion, circumstance. To be fair, this word was already in the dictionary, but with the single gloss "season". The additional senses I just discovered were different enough that I felt this has actually become a new word :).
23rd word: bolog /bo̞lo̞g/, noun:
weather, short term state of the atmosphere at a specific time and place. Literally "sky season".
24th word: bolslim /bo̞lslim/, noun:
bad weather. Literally "ugly weather", from bolog and slim: "ugly, inapproriate".
25th word: bolvo|sa /bo̞lvo̞t͡sa/, noun:
nice, fair weather. Literally "beautiful weather", from bolog and vo|sa: "beautiful, appropriate". Like ibo: "wind" and the 6th word la|zi: "high temperature", those last two words are considered weather phenomena, and can both be the subject of ivdaj: "to happen": bolvo|sea ivda|n ito: "it's nice weather right now".
26th word: |no /ɲo̞/, noun:
ice; frost, snow; freezing cold; glass. Refers to frozen water, freezing temperatures, and glass :). Unlike pairs like vone/vona, where the first term refers to water at a specific range of temperatures and the second to that range of temperatures itself, this noun has both meanings by itself, depending on context. The "glass" sense was probably metaphorical at first, but nowadays it's the main term for the material "glass" (not for a glass vessel mind you!).
27th word: ito|zaj /ito̞d͡zaj/, verb:
to become, to begin to be. One of the many verbs meaning "to become" in Moten, this one has the same argument semantics as atom: "to be", i.e. it marks identity (becoming someone) and definition (becoming something).
28th word: ige|zaj /ige̞d͡zaj/, verb:
to become, to begin to have. Another one of the many verbs meaning "to become" in Moten, this one has the same argument semantics as agem: "to have", i.e. it marks possession (getting something, catching something) and predicate adjectives (becoming + adjective).
29th word: |nekaj /ɲe̞kaj/, verb:
to come to be, to happen, to become. Yet another verb meaning "to become" in Moten, this one has the argument semantics of jaki: "to exist", i.e. it is intransitive and is used only with inanimate objects or concepts and small animals. It usually means "to happen" or "to come into being", and takes on the meaning "to become" when used with an adverbial final or instrumental phrase.
30th word: ipmavi /ipmavi/, verb:
to come to be, to become. Yet another verb meaning "to become" in Moten, this one has the argument semantics of ispej: "to exist", i.e. it is intransitive and is used only with humans and big animals. It usually means "to come into being" or "to appear", and takes on the meaning "to become" when used with an adverbial final or instrumental phrase.
Bonus word: apsim /apsim/, onomatopoeia:
'achoo', the sound of a sneeze. I've been sick for most of Lexember, so it was just fair to add this one :P. Notice that this onomatopoeia can also be used as a stem in the verb japsimi: "to sneeze", or as a noun apsim meaning "sneeze".

As you can see, as with last year's Lexember there seems to be no rhyme nor reason to the meanings of the words. But is that really so? In fact, the first half of the words was carefully crafted to help me with my next grammar post (which still needs a lot of work before I can release it). On the other hand, the second half was just me freewheeling ;). Still, words about temperature and the weather are quite practical, I finally have a word for "table" (I've had a word for "chair": ibutaj for quite a long time already), and I've finally solved the issue of how to express "to become" in Moten, a problem that's been bothering me for two years! So all in all it was a very productive month. Oh, and more ideophones!

I'll finish with a few statistics, to show you once again the effect of Lexember on the Moten vocabulary. On the 31st of August, the Moten lexicon contained 483 separate entries, for 1186 (not necessarily unique) glosses. On the 1st of October, the Moten lexicon had 513 entries, and 1345 glosses! The vocabulary itself has grown by 6% (a far cry from the first Lexember's 17%, but don't forget that at that time the lexicon had only 278 entries!), while the glosses have increased by 13% (in the first Lexember it was 20%, but I had then less than half the glosses I have now). Still not bad for just one word a month!

So I'm glad I participated again in this Twitter event. Lexember is still an intellectually challenging and fun event, and a great way to expand my conlang's vocabulary. Not as many people participated compared to last time though, which was unfortunate. It's so fun to read other people's entries! Where I may have a small issue is that this time the event seemed to lack a social dimension. It felt very much like people were just creating words on their own, putting them on Twitter, and that's it. There were little to no comments on people's entries, and very little interaction between the participants (I know, I'm guilty of it just as well). Maybe next time the event could be made more interactive, for instance by having an event master publishing a "theme of the day" in the morning, and the participants would have to create a word fitting that theme during the day. It could give Lexember a more participatory feeling to it. It's just an idea, and maybe other Lexember participants will have others. Don't hesitate to discuss this in the comment thread, on Twitter, and/or on Google+!

Anyway, it was still fun, and I will definitely participate again next time, however Lexember will look like then!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Moten Part XI: Derivation and Compounding

After all that heavy lifting we've done in the last three posts, let's have a break and look at an area of Moten grammar which is relatively straightforward. This post will focus on derivation and compounding, i.e. the twin arts of creating new words on the basis of existing words. We'll first look at derivation, which is not very productive in Moten, and for this reason shouldn't take too long to discuss, before turning to compounding, which is much more commonly used in the language. We'll finish with a discussion about reduplication, which is quite productive in Moten.


Derivation is the process of creating new words on the basis of existing ones, usually through the addition of affixes that are not themselves independent words (for instance, from the English adjective "happy", one can form the adjective "unhappy" with the prefix "un-", and the noun "happiness" with the suffix "-ness". One can also combine both to form the noun "unhappiness"). It's different from inflection, which uses affixes to form grammatical variants of the same word (declensions or conjugations), although the ability to nominalise phrases by surdéclinaison blurs the limit between the two. However, since surdéclinaison has been treated already in the previous posts, I will focus here only on word derivation done by methods other than over-inflection.

Unlike English, Moten is very poor in derivational affixes, and we've actually met a few of them already. We've seen for instance the suffix -ano, used to form ordinal numbers. There are also the degree of comparison affixes (described in the same link as above), although those straddle the border between derivation and inflection. And then there are the infinitive circumfix i-...-i and the participle suffix -z, which can be seen as derivational affixes as well (as I described in the past, the infinitive can be used to derive an action noun or an instrument noun from a verbal stem, while the participle forms a noun describing the typical object of a verb).

But there are a few more of these affixes in Moten, and I will now focus on them.

Actor/Agent Suffixes

In English, there is a generic suffix "-er" used to form agent nouns from verbs. For instance, from "to write", one forms "writer", while from "to read" one gets "reader". Agent nouns don't necessarily refer to people (see for instance "printer" from "to print"), nor do they all use the suffix "-er" (see for instance "guard" and "to guard"), but that suffix is nevertheless quite common.

In Moten, there are not one but three different suffixes that more or less correspond to "-er". They are the suffixes -sif, -non and -vu|z, and they all three form nouns from nominal or verbal stems. However, their uses are quite distinct.

The suffix -sif is the most generic of those three. It is mostly added to verbal stems to form actor nouns (not necessarily agent nouns, as will become clear in a minute), i.e. nouns meaning "someone who 'verb's" or "something that 'verb's". Many of those nouns are quite transparent in meaning, like nanagzif: "writer", from |nanagi (stem nanag): "to write", or eze|sif: "listener", from jezeti (stem ezet): "to hear, to listen". Others may not be as transparent in translation, but their meaning still is, like plisif: "lord, lady", from iplisi: "to reign" (basically: "someone who reigns"), or elojmastulsif: "memory", from jelojmastu|l: "to be remembered" (literally: "something that is remembered". Notice how this is not an agent noun). And finally, some have experienced a bit of a semantic drift, and although their derivation is still clear, their meaning cannot be directly inferred from it, like teolsif: "friend", from iteo|l: "to please, to be liked".

The suffix -sif features also a second, totally unrelated meaning: when used with nouns referring to a fruit, vegetable or flower, it forms the name of the plant that bears them. For instance, from the noun dloa: "pear", one can form dloasif: "pear tree". And from the noun sentalu: "rose", you can form sentalusif: "rosebush, rose shrub".

The suffixes -non and -vu|z are somewhat different. Firstly, they can be used with both nominal and verbal stems with the same meaning. And secondly, they form strict agent nouns that must always have an animate referent (usually a person). The difference between the two is in the shade of meaning they give to the agent nouns, and this difference is not easy to explain clearly. Grosso modo, nouns formed with -non refer to artists, while nouns formed with -vu|z refer to workers. For instance, starting again with the verb |nanagi: "to write", while the word nanagzif: "writer" simply means "someone who writes" (without any special connotation), the word nanagnon means "writer" in the common sense of "author, writer of fiction, who does it for a living, or at least tries to", and the word nanagvu|z more likely refers to a "technical writer", i.e. someone who is employed in a company to write documentations and other practical items.

But things are actually more complicated than that, and the correct understanding and use of -non and -vu|z can be a challenge. I know I myself have difficulties understanding the exact difference between the two! Basically, many human activities (although not all of them) can be classified under two umbrella terms: bel and go. I usually translate bel as "art" or "craft", while go is usually translated as "job" or "profession". When you know under which term a specific activity falls, it's easy to know which suffix to use to name the practitioner: when an activity is a bel, the practitioner will be described by a word ending in -non, while when the activity is a go, the practitioner will be described with an agent noun ending in -vu|z. The problem is that knowing under which term a specific activity falls is not straightforward. The translations I gave are approximate, and do not describe bel and go as well as I would like. For instance, while bel includes indeed most activities we consider artistic (like painting, sculpting, writing fiction, etc.), it also includes things we usually describe as crafts instead, as well as activities we usually consider simply as professions (for instance, "teaching" in Moten is a bel, as are many scientific endeavours). In the same way, go refers to many utilitarian activities we think of as professions, but includes also some activities that we as a society don't usually consider as such (for instance, "parenthood" in Moten is a go). And some activities (like "writing" as in the example above) can be considered a bel or a go depending on context, the fine details of the activity definition, and sometimes even the speaker's opinion.

I'll come back to the bel vs. go issue later in this post, so for now just remember how -non and -vu|z map compared to those two terms. One last thing I do want to add though is that for activities that can be treated as a bel or a go, using one or the other is in no way a judgement of value. There is nothing inherently "better" or "worse" in a nanagnon compared to a nanagvu|z. Those are just names for people having two kinds of related, but ultimately different, activities. Using a noun ending in -sif, when a noun ending in -non or -vu|z would be more appropriate, can be interpreted as pejorative though. That's because nouns in -sif can be used for inanimate things and concepts as well as animate beings, and can have a sense of happenstance (a nanagzif is someone who happens to be writing, not necessarily someone who writes as a job). So while correctly using -non and -vu|z can be difficult, one cannot simply replace them both with the more generic -sif, as this could be understood as an insult.

To finish with this section, I need to mention that like any other affixes, -sif, -non and -vu|z cause various morphophonemic changes when added to stems. For -sif, the changes are similar to those caused by the nominative plural infix -s-:

  • -sif becomes -if after s, z, |s or |z.
  • The sequence t + -sif becomes |sif, the sequence d + -sif becomes |zif.
  • The sequence |l + -sif becomes lsif, the sequence |n + -sif becomes nsif.
  • -sif becomes -zif after a phonemically voiced consonant (as a reminder, the nasals, laterals and approximant are phonemically voice-neutral).

For -non, the changes are similar to those caused by the accusative suffix -n:

  • -non becomes -on after n or |n.
  • The sequence j + -non becomes |non.

For -vu|z, the changes are similar to those caused by the genitive singular infix -v-:

  • f and v disappear before -vu|z.
  • The sequences s + -vu|z, z + -vu|z, |s + -vu|z and |z + -vu|z become zvu|z.
  • The sequence |l + -vu|z becomes lvu|z, the sequence |n + -vu|z becomes nvu|z.
  • A phonemically voiceless consonant becomes voiced before -vu|z.

These morphophonemic changes become second nature once you've internalised Moten's phonotactics.


Diminutives are very common in Moten, as in many other languages, and unlike in English. Formation of diminutives is very productive, and nearly any word (well, nominals and verbs in any case) can have at least one derived diminutive. Those are usually used to convey:

  • A diminished degree of the root meaning;
  • A smallness of object size or quality;
  • A single unit or quantity of some material;
  • Intimacy or endearment (especially with kinship terms);
  • Contempt or distaste (basically an ironic or sarcastic use of the previous meaning);
  • A separate but related meaning of the original root (usually a simple diminutive that changed meaning through semantic drift).

As we will see in a future post, diminutives are also commonly used to form nicknames.

In Moten, diminutives are formed using one of three possible suffixes: -sin, -mas and -zes. They are similar in meaning, although their uses vary a bit:

  • -sin is a generic diminutive suffix. It can be used with nearly any nominal or verbal stem to form diminutive nominals, but also diminutive verbs. As for diminutive nominals in -sin, they can refer to animate beings, but also to inanimate objects or abstract concepts.
  • -mas is much more restricted than -sin in meaning. It can also be used with most nominal or verbal stems, but can only form diminutive nouns, which must always have a male animate referent. In other words, they can only be used to refer to a male person or animal. This means, in particular, that nouns with naturally female referents, like di|la: "mother" and e|lon: "woman", cannot normally have diminutives in -mas.
  • -zes is the female equivalent of -mas. In other words, it is used to form diminutive nouns that must always have a female animate referent. For this reason, nouns like ge|sem: "father" or ka|se: "man" with a naturally male referent do not normally have diminutives in -zes.

In terms of morphology, the diminutives suffixes are unique among Moten's affixes: they are not added to the word stems themselves, but to a special version of the stems, usually shorter. That special diminutive stem is formed through a process called clipping, which is very strictly defined in Moten. This process goes as such:

  1. Take the original stem, and keep only its first syllable. Remove every syllable of the stem except its first one.
  2. However, a diminutive stem must be a single closed syllable (i.e. a syllable ending in a consonant). So if the first syllable of the original stem is already closed, it becomes the diminutive stem (for example, the diminutive stem of bazlo: "town" is baz-, and the diminutive stem of sponda: "small animal" is spon-). But if the first syllable of the original stem is open, to form the diminutive stem, one must take it, and add to it the onset consonant of the following syllable in order to close it (so the diminutive stem of linan: "bird" is lin-, while the diminutive stem of kfezi: "grandchild" is kfez-).
  3. However, there are exceptions to the rule that the diminutive stem must be a single closed syllable:
    • If the stem itself is a single open syllable, it stays unchanged (so the diminutive stem of |la is simply |la-).
    • If adding the onset consonant of the following syllable would result in a forbidden coda (remember, while |l, |n, |s and |z are allowed at the absolute end of a word, they are not allowed at an internal coda), the diminutive stem is simply the open first syllable of the word (so the diminutive stem of ge|sem is ge-, and the diminutive stem of di|la is di-).
    • If the first syllable is open but the second one doesn't start with a consonant (i.e. the first two vowels of the word are in hiatus), then the diminutive stem is the first syllable plus the vowel of the second syllable (but only the vowel, even if that second syllable is closed), i.e. the diminutive stem is in this case two syllables, both open (so the diminutive stem of dloa: "pear" is simply dloa-, while the diminutive stem of teol, the root of iteo|l: "to please", is teo-).

Once the diminutive stem is formed, the actual diminutive itself is simply created by adding one of the diminutive suffixes to it. Naturally, such an addition can cause morphophonemic changes, although those are limited since diminutive stems are quite restricted in form:

  • The suffix -sin causes similar changes to the suffix -sif:
    • -sin becomes -in after s or z.
    • The sequence t + -sin becomes |sin, the sequence d + -sin becomes |zin.
    • -sin becomes -zin after a phonemically voiced consonant.
  • The suffix -mas causes hardly any morphophonemic changes:
    • -mas becomes -as after m.
  • The suffix -zes causes similar changes to the suffix -sin:
    • -zes becomes -es after s or z.
    • The sequence t + -zes becomes |ses, the sequence d + -zes becomes |zes.
    • -zes becomes -ses after a phonemically voiceless consonant.

Now that we know how to form diminutives, here are a few actual examples to illustrate their various uses, based on the list of possible meanings I gave earlier:

  • A diminished degree of the root meaning: leksin: "darkish, darkishness" (from leksod: "dark, darkness"), jeksi|n: "to touch lightly, to brush past" (from jeksaj: "to touch, to hit");
  • A smallness of object size or quality: ba|zin: "small dog" (from badi: "dog"), linsin: "small bird" (from linan: "bird"), oksin: "short story, anecdote" (from okne: "story, tale"), bazin: "small town, village" (from bazlo: "town");
  • A single unit or quantity of some material: vonsin: "drop of water" (from vone: "cold water"), a|sin: "flame" (from at: "fire", a fire is seen as a collection of flames);
  • Intimacy or endearment: ba|zin: "doggie", gemas: "dad" (from ge|sem: "father"), dizes: "mum" (from di|la: "mother"), teosin, teomas, teozes: "dear, darling, sweetie" (all three from teolsif: "friend");
  • Contempt or distaste: kamas: "little man, mister" (a disparaging term of address based on ka|se: "man"), ezes: "little woman, missus" (a disparaging term of address based on e|lon: "woman"), dloamas: "fatty man", dloazes: "fatty woman" (insulting terms referring to overweight people based on dloa: "pear");
  • A separate but related meaning of the original root: leksin: "twilight", imsin: "mobile phone" (from imikostu|l: "telephone"), dloasin: "light bulb" (from dloa: "pear", probably due to the shape), kasin: "male" (from ka|se: "man"), esin: "female" (from e|lon: "woman").

As you can see, diminutives have a pretty wide range of uses, and it usually cannot be predicted which diminutive will convey which meaning simply based on the stem and suffix used. However, in general the indication of smallness will be the basic meaning, with the other meanings depending mostly on context (except where semantic drift has acted). The example of ba|zin, which can convey either neutral small size or endearment (or both), is typical here. Still, it takes a lot of experience to understand exactly which diminutive is acceptable in which context.

Zero Derivation

As you may have noticed, Moten words often have more than one meaning. This can range from slight variations in sense (like ipiz, which can mean both "heavy" or "strong") to much broader ones (like jagi, which means "to go" and "to leave", but also "to be worth"). But in any case even with different meanings the words in question don't change category (i.e. a noun stays a noun, and a verb stays a verb).

However, in some cases the various meanings of a stem can be associated with different parts of speech. I am not talking about the infinitive or participle of a verb used as a noun (they are nouns), but about the stem itself being used as a nominal or a verbal stem. Probably the most common example of this is zunla, used as a noun to mean "location, position, place", but also as the verb izunlaj, meaning "to be at, to live at, to be located".

Naturally, to an English speaker, verbing nouns and nouning verbs isn't that unusual. But Moten is much stricter about its grammatical categories, and this pattern is relatively exceptional. But since it exists, I need to mention it. Since derivation can change the part of speech of a word (like verbs suffixed by -sif becoming nouns), I consider this a form of derivation, but one with a zero affix, hence the name zero derivation. Whether that's what actually happens in the language is not actually relevant, just remember that it simply means that a stem is used identically for words of different parts of speech with related meanings.

Despite this pattern being somewhat uncommon, some relatively common words exhibit it. An example is dabolna: "moment, instance, time", which appears also as the verb idabolnaj: "to happen". Another is jelej: "to sleep", whose stem can be used as a noun: elej: "sleep" (it refers here to the abstract concept of sleep, which contrasts with both the participle elejuz, which refers to the state of being asleep, and the infinitive jelej, which refers to sleeping as an activity. The differences in meaning are small though, and it's not uncommon for a Moten speaker to use elej and jelej as synonyms). A last example is the verb imeti: "to greet", whose stem can also be used as a noun: met: "greetings, regards".

Zero derivation isn't very productive, and I haven't been able to come up with a reliable way of predicting which stems will allow zero derivation or not. At best I have noticed that nouns susceptible to zero derivation usually refer to very abstract concepts.

Notice that I've been talking about nouns and verbs only, but zero derivation can involve particles as well. For instance, the nouns |zaj: "beginning, start" and kun: "ending, end" are also used as particles in the formation of ordinal numbers. An extreme example is the root vepe|ne, which can be used as:

  • A noun vepe|ne, meaning "apology";
  • A verb ivepe|nej, meaning "to apologise";
  • An interjection (i.e. particle) vepe|ne, meaning "sorry" or "thank you" depending on the context.

But stems that can be used in all three parts of speech like that are very rare.


With the diminutives and the actor/agent suffixes (and the zero derivation phenomenon), I've basically covered the entirety of Moten's productive derivational morphology. That's right: I wasn't kidding when I said Moten is very poor in derivational affixes! So now let's move on to the much more productive subject of compounding.

Compounding is the process of creating new words on the basis of existing ones, by combining or putting them together. Unlike derivation, the elements of a compound are all independent words that can be used by themselves (examples from English are words like "doghouse", a house for a dog, or "starfish", which is neither a fish nor a star).

Languages differ in their abilities to form compounds. French, for instance, prefers set phrases to proper compounds (although it does have some), while German and Dutch are very compound-friendly. English itself is similar to its Germanic cousins, although this can sometimes be hidden by orthography (while things like "city council member" and "cellar door" are written with separate words, they are arguably compounds, and used as such in speech). As for Moten, it is about as compound-friendly as Germanic languages, although its speaker doesn't seem to create "on-the-fly" ad-hoc compounds as readily as English speakers do. Also, in Moten very long compounds are rather rare. Its compounds are usually formed of two elements only, and even compounds that seem to be formed of three elements or more can always be analysed, semantically and morphologically, as recursive compounds, i.e. as compounds of two elements, one of which (or sometimes both of which) is a compound itself. For this reason, for the remainder of this article I will only discuss two-word compounds.

Before I discuss the various types of compounds used in Moten, I first need to mention some things about the morphology of compounds, as compounding in Moten is not always as simple as just attaching words together.

Compounding Morphology

In Moten, compounding is a phenomenon that applies to stems only. In other words, compounding forms new stems by attaching two stems together. In particular, when a verb is involved in compounding, it's its stem that is attached to another stem, not its infinitive or participle form. The same is true of nominals. For those, the nominative singular indefinite form is usually identical to the stem, but that's not always so (a noun like tales(k): "fruit, vegetable" has the nominative singular indefinite tales, but its stem for compounding is actually talesk, including the fragile coda).

Also, while compounding often involves full stems (as in emelog: "summer", from eme: "sun" + log: "season"), it's not uncommon for the first element of a compound (more rarely also the second one) to be shortened. This shortened compound stem is formed by a clipping phenomenon not unlike the one that forms diminutive stems. In fact, it's pretty much identical to it, except that |l, |n, |s and |z are allowed as coda consonants of shortened compound stems, while they are not allowed in diminutive stems (for instance, while the diminutive stem of di|la is di-, its shortened compound stem is di|l-). An example of a compound using a shortened compound stem is ge|samo: "paternal aunt", from ge|s- (shortened form of ge|sem: "father") and amo: "different-sex sibling".

Whether the stems used in a compound are full or shortened, the phonotactics of Moten imply that putting two stems together will often result in morphophonemic changes at the contact point between them. Unfortunately, unlike with derivational and inflectional affixes, those changes are not always predictable. Still, they do tend to follow a short list of principles I can give you:

  • Identical consonants will merge into one. An example is ge|suko: "paternal uncle", from ge|s- and |suko: "same-sex sibling";
  • Identical vowels will merge into one. An example is izunla|leki: "to find, to locate", from zunla: "place, location" and a|lek (stem of ja|leki: "to find out, to discover");
  • Voice-incompatible consonants will change to agree in voicing, although whether that change will be progressive (the first consonant gives its voicing to the next one) or regressive (the first consonant receives its voicing from the next one) cannot always be predicted. An example of progressive agreement is egzbonda: "two small animals", from eg: "two" and sponda: "small animal", while an example of regressive agreement is akfe|su: "sorry for leaving early", from ag (the stem of jagi: "to go") and fe|su: "sorry to bother you" (notice that we have here a compound particle, formed by compounding a verbal stem with another particle);
  • Consonants like |l, |n, |s and |z will often be simplified (respectively to l, n, s and z). An example is dilku|lu: "mother tongue", from di|l- and ku|lu: "language". An example of this change happening although it is phonotactically unnecesary is o|nigzaj: "September", from o|nig: "autumn" and |zaj: "start". The form *o|nig|zaj is allowed, phonotactically speaking, and yet it's simply not used;
  • Fragile coda consonants will often disappear in compounds if they are followed by a consonant, but not without causing some changes first (usually in the voicing of that consonant). A typical example is velbele: "five minutes", from vel(d): "five" and pele: "minute";
  • Typical phonotactic changes will happen when two vowels come in contact, with usually i becoming j, or a j being added to prevent another vowel from coming in contact with u. An example is japujada: "one hundred years", from japu: "100" and ada: "year";
  • A coda t or d will merge with a following s or z (or |s or |z), resulting in |s or |z. Usually, the result will keep the voicing of the coda. An example is seno|ziza: "Friday", from senod: "earth, ground" and siza: "calendar day". Another example is zoba|saj: "March", from zobat: "spring" and |zaj;
  • The consonants l and j will combine into |l, and n and j into |n, whatever their order. An example is to|los: "four parts", from tol: "four" and jos: "part";
  • Other, unpredictable changes can happen, usually in the form of disappearing consonants even when phonotactic constraints do not apply. Examples abound among the counter compounds, like uzavokez: "eight people" (from uzab: "eight" and fokez: "person". Notice how the b of uzab still voices the first consonant of fokez before disappearing) and uzabos: "eight parts" (from uzab and jos);
  • Finally, in some cases, what we are seeing is actually a blend, where bits and pieces of the two stems are added together to form a new word, sometimes seemingly haphazardly. Luckily those are quite rare. An example is the somewhat familiar term slebe, from slim: "ugliness, inappropriateness, bad" and tlebe: "mediocrity, mediocre", which indicates a quality that can be best described as "trollishness", referring to the behaviour of Internet trolls.

Naturally, more than one of those principles may be active at the same time, and more unpredictable changes may happen when one compounds two stems together. That may be one of the reasons why Moten speakers don't create ad-hoc compounds as readily as speakers of Germanic languages do. Nevertheless, a majority of compounds in Moten are quite regularly formed, so those issues aren't as pervasive as one might think after reading this section.

Compound Types

Now that we've seen how compounds are formed in Moten, it's time to look at what kinds of compounds exist in the language.

There are various ways to classify compounds, but the method I will use here could be called "etymological". It classifies compounds as to which of the two stems is primary: the second one (head-last compounds), the first one (head-first compounds) or neither/both (dvandva compounds). Let me explain what I mean by the "primary stem" (which I will usually call the head).

I've used the term "head" before, in the context of nominal phrases and verbal clauses. In nominal phrases, the head is the central nominal the phrase is about. It is semantically and syntactically primary, and any other word or phrase in the nominal phrase completes or qualifies it. It's basically "what the nominal phrase is about". For example, in the phrase gvaj ko |lavospineas: "for my beautiful daughter" (with ko: "daughter" and vospinas: "beauty, beautiful, good-looking"), the head is the element in italics, i.e. "daughter", as the phrase is about a daughter (who happens to be beautiful, and to be mine), not about me nor about beauty. Notice that unlike in many other languages, in Moten the head is often not the nominal that carries the phrase's inflections. So one cannot identify the head of a phrase simply by looking at where the inflections fall.

In clauses, the head is quite simply the verb. It's the only part of a clause that is truly mandatory (although it can sometimes be omitted, especially in speech, that can only be done when context makes it clear which verb is meant), and while noun phrases in the clause are marked for grammatical function, the actual meaning of that function (what I believe linguists usually call the thematic relation) is usually assigned by the verb itself. For instance, take the phrase nanagduzun: "a book" (in the accusative case). This single grammatical function actually covers various roles depending on the verb. For instance, with the verb |nanagi: "to write", the phrase becomes a patient, i.e. it undergoes the action and is modified by it (in the simple sentence Ga nanagduzun |nanagdin ito: "I'm currently writing a book", the object described by the accusative phrase is actually being created by the action described). With the verb joknestu|l: "to read", however, it takes on a different role, which has been called theme, source or simply experiencee, i.e. it is a source of sensory input (in the sentence Ga nanagduzun joknezdu|lun ito: "I'm currently reading a book", the object described by the accusative phrase isn't modified by the action. Rather, it's the subject of the verb which is modified, through the reception of information stored in the object). Because of this vital role, it makes sense to call the verb the head of the clause.

Now, as it happens, the vast majority of Moten compounds can be seen as the simplification of a nominal phrase or verbal clause. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to find a single counterexample to that statement. Basically, take a simple noun phrase with its head and one dependent, remove all inflections, and concatenate the stems together in the order they appeared in the original phrase, and you've got a valid compound! (in the following sections, I will discuss this statement in more details)

Once you know this, defining the head of a compound is easy: it's simply the stem of the word that was the head of the original phrase. If you are still unsure what this means, don't worry: the next sections should clarify everything.

Let's now discuss each compound type in turn.

Head-Last Compounds

The majority of compounds in Moten are head-last, i.e. the head of the compound is its second stem. Examples in English are words like "doghouse" and "smalltalk". Such compounds result from the simplification of various types of phrases:

Noun + dependent noun phrase:
Many compounds can be seen as the simplification of a noun and the genitive phrase completing it. For instance, the noun ge|suko: "paternal uncle" is clearly derived from the phrase gezvemi |suko: "father's brother". Sometimes semantic drift or the metaphorical use of the head can obscure the relationship, but it's still there. For instance, the noun jespoma: "wrist" comes from the phrase juvezi poma, literally "hand's neck". Another example is knamafin: "flower", from knamvaj fin: "grass's top". And of course the genitive phrase may be a result of surdéclinaison, as is the case of bnameno: "shoe, boot", from tebnevami meno: "glove for the foot".
Noun + relative subclause:
Sometimes the dependent stem is verbal instead of nominal. Such compounds can be seen as the simplification of a noun with a relative subclause. Since many functions can be relativised in Moten, this can lead to various subtypes of compounds. The relativised function may be the subject, as in sonsizea: "yesterday, the day before" (an example of a very productive construction, as we'll see below), from iso|n itos sizea: "the day that precedes (today)", with iso|n: "to precede, to go before". It can naturally also be the object. But many other functions can be relativised as well. For instance, location can be relativised, as in penlatina: "waiting room", from ipenlaj itos tina: "room where (one) waits". And in neg|nalam: "easiness, easy (to do)", from |negi itos |nalam: "lightness by which (someone) does (something)", it's the manner that is relativised.
Verb + argument or adverbial phrase:
This is the opposite of the previous case. Here the head is verbal, and the dependent stem is nominal. Such compounds are usually verbs (but see below) formed by simplification of a verb and a noun phrase added to it. That noun phrase is often the verb's object, as in izunla|leki: "to find, to locate", from zunledan ja|leki: "to discover the location (of something or someone)", or joknesej: "to recount, to recite", from okneden isej: "to tell the story (of)" (notice that despite being formed from a transitive verb and its object, both compound verbs are still transitive). But any argument or even adverbial phrase can become the dependent stem of such compounds. An example is imikostu|l: "to call by phone", that probably comes from the phrase momikevoj istu|l: "to call from afar" (literally: "to summon from the remoteness", with istu|l meaning "to summon, to call", and miko meaning "remoteness, remote, far"). As this example shows, metaphor and semantic drift happen here as well. This is also the case of ibivostu|l: "to count, to measure", from bivdon istu|l: "to summon a quantity" (from bivo: "number, quantity").
All the compounds shown so far come from phrases that show a well-defined grammatical relationship between head and dependent stem. That is however not always the case, and sometimes compounds look like they come from words that just happened to be next to each other, without a specific relationship between them. Probably the most common example of such a compound is the expression akfe|su: "sorry for leaving (early)" (we'll see in a future post how this expression is used). It's a compound of the verb jagi: "to go, to leave" (stem ag) and fe|su, an interjection meaning "sorry to bother you". Since fe|su is an interjection, it cannot, by definition, have a grammatical relationship with a verb. Instead, the interjection akfe|su seems to come from the simplification of a sentence that may have looked like this: et jagvi ito, fe|su: "(I) have to go now, sorry to bother you". In such a case, it may seem illogical to talk of a head stem and a dependent stem. Nevertheless, akfe|su is still treated as a head-last compound, as it has the same part of speech and a similar meaning as its last component.

So far, all the examples I've shown are compounds of the same part of speech as their heads, and (barring metaphor and semantic shift) represent something that is at least similar to those heads. For instance, ge|suko is a noun referring to a family member, like |suko. In the same way, sonsiza refers to a specific siza, i.e. "calendar day". And imikostu|l is a verb referring to a specific way of calling someone, compared to the generic istu|l. Linguists call those types of compounds endocentric.

But those are hardly the only kind of compounds. Take in English the word "barefoot", for example. Not only does it not refer to a kind of foot, but it's not even a noun! Such compounds are called exocentric, and are common in many languages. And that's the case in Moten too. For instance, we have the noun zoba|saj, literally "spring start". It doesn't actually refer to the beginning of spring, but is a name for the month of March, which is mostly in the winter. Another case is the nominal sugi|no: "simplicity, easiness, easy (to understand)". It's a compound of the numberal su: "one" and the verb igi|noj: "to understand", showing that just as in English Moten compounds are not always of the type as their heads.

Notice, by the way, that this last case cannot be explained by zero derivation, as there is no verb *isugi|noj. But that doesn't mean zero derivation never happens with compounds, as shown by the nominal vospinas: "physical beauty" (from vo|sa: "appropriateness" and ipinasi: "to feel, to look"). In this case, there is a verb ivospinasi: "to look good", so the compound is actually endocentric.

In any case, whether a compound is endocentric or exocentric doesn't change anything in terms of grammar. Just remember that the category and meaning of the head do not always allow one to guess the meaning and use of a compound.

Head-First Compounds

Moten is predominantly head-last, which is why when Moten phrases are simplified into compounds those are head-last as well. However, there is one area where Moten is head-first, and it's in noun+adjective phrases. Those can be combined into compounds, which are then themselves head-first.

Head-first compounds in Moten are always of the noun-adjective kind, so there is much less variety among them than among head-last compounds. They are also less common, although they are often used in people's names (as we will see in a future post). Their meanings are often only partially related to the meanings of their constituents (as in ibipiz: "storm, stormy weather", from ibo ipiz: "strong wind"), when they are not downright exocentric (like mosezgo: "cheetah", from mosu sezgo: "quick paw"). Notice that in both cases the head of the compound takes its shorter, compound stem form. This is very common in head-first compounds. Having the second, dependent stem in its shorter form can happen as well, but is somewhat less common. An example is dloalum: "apple", from dloa luma: "fake pear".

There is no way to distinguish a head-first compound from a noun-noun head-last compound, so the existence of both kinds may lead to ambiguities. In practice the danger isn't as common as one might think, as the semantics of their constituents usually make clear which type of compound we are dealing with.

Dvandva Compounds

So far we've only seen compounds with clear head and dependent constituents: head-last compounds formed from head-last phrases, and head-first compounds formed from noun+adjective phrases. But there's another type of construction where two elements can be associated together without one being dependent on the other: coordinative constructions, where the two elements are associated using a conjunction like "and". Such constructions can be combined into compounds as well, headless compounds that are commonly referred to as copulative or dvandva compounds. A typical example in English is the adjective "bittersweet", literally "bitter and sweet". Another example is the verb "to sleepwalk", i.e. "to sleep and walk at the same time".

In Moten, dvandva compounds are very common. In fact, they are nearly as common as head-last compounds, and much more common than head-first ones. Due to their semantics, there can be only two types of dvandva compounds: nominal+nominal or verb+verb. I will look at each type in turn:

Noun + noun:
The simplest kind of noun-noun dvandva compound just combines two elements and refers to the unit formed by coordinating those two. A typical example takes the phrase ka|se opa e|lon: "husband and wife" and forms ka|se|lon: "(married) couple" (interestingly, I'm told this word can refer to same-sex romantically-involved couples, despite the obvious derivation). Another is gomdod: "day, 24-hour period", from gom opa dod: "day and night". Such compounds refer to the pair of concepts as a unit, and as such are just normal nominals that can be used in the singular and the plural: eg ka|selson: "two couples".
Naturally, semantic drift can happen here as well, usually generalising the sense of those compounds. For instance, from |suko opa amo: "brother and sister", one gets |sukamo: "generation" (both in the narrow sense of "family generation" and in the more general sense of "all of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively"). Another example is emekel: "skies", from eme opa kel: "sun and moon" (Notice that emekel is singular, unlike the translation I've given. I've translated it as "skies" to indicate that it's a poetic/literary word, not the generic word for "sky" —which is bo—).
Of course, abstract nominals can form dvandva compounds as well, as in odamla: "brand new", from odun opa amla: "newly made and newly acquired". Similar is the portmanteau slebe, a somewhat familiar word that can be best translated as "trollishness", i.e. the "quality" exhibited by Internet trolls. It's a combination of slim: "inappropriateness, unfit for purpose, bad" and tlebe: "mediocrity, mediocre".
But with abstract nominals, there is also a separate type of dvandva compounds with quite different semantics. Those are formed by combining two opposites, resulting in a nominal that refers to the general concept represented by these opposite words, without any indication of degree. For instance, while sezgo means "quickness, high speed" and bontu means "slowness, low speed", their compound sezbon means "velocity, speed", i.e. it refers to the concept of speed in general rather than to a specific value of speed. Similarly, from odun: "young age" and ukol: "old age", one forms ukodun: "age".
Notice that not all such generic concept nouns need to be formed from combining two opposites. For instance, while one can take fin: "summit, tall, high" and piv: "bottom, short, low" to form finpiv: "height", it's actually more common to use the unrelated be|s for that meaning.
Finally, there is a last subtype of dvandva compound I need to talk about. So far, all the compounds I've shown have two elements with separate referents (i.e. they are the simplification of a phrase using opa). But one can also form dvandva compounds by simplifying a phrase using de, i.e. the Moten equivalent of appositions. In this case, the compound is formed of two elements that have the same referent. In English, examples of such compounds are words like "actor-director", "singer-songwriter" and "maidservant". A Moten example is the noun subumpi: "shophouse", from subo de umpi: "shop as well as house" (no idea why this word even exists in Moten. Maybe it's a common form of housing wherever it is that language is spoken).
Verb + verb:
Verb-verb compounds are very numerous in Moten, and a common way to form new vocabulary out of existing stock. They are at least as common if not more common than noun-verb compounds. There are basically two subtypes of verb-verb compounds: compounds where the two elements correspond to actions happening after each other (usually repeatedly), like jaguba|si: "to come and go, to move back and forth", from jagi: "to go" and juba|si: "to come", and compounds where the two elements correspond to simultaneous actions, like ipenlabutaj: "to sit and wait", from ipenlaj: "to wait" and ibutaj: "to sit".
However, most often those compounds have undergone semantic drift or have always been used metaphorically. For instance, jaguba|si is often used in the sense of "to be nervous" (probably from the metaphorical picture of someone pacing back and forth), while ipenlabutaj is most often used in the sense of "to be patient". Other examples are ipe|lastu|l: "to show, to reveal" (from ipe|laj: "to see, to watch" and istu|l: "to summon, to call"), ipenlastu|l: "to invite" (from ipenlaj: "to wait" and istu|l again) and isestu|l: "to read aloud, to recite" (from isej: "to say" and istu|l once more).

With this I've thoroughly discussed the three compound types that are present in Moten. All compounds you will come across in the language fall under one of the types and subtypes presented above. But that doesn't mean there is nothing left to learn about compounds. So the next two sections will focus on some nifty things Moten does with them.


One of the main differences between derivation and compounding (besides the fact that the former uses affixes while the latter uses independent stems) is that derivation is predictable, while compounding is more free-form. Let me explain what I mean with an English example:

When you add the suffix "-able" to a verb, you know the result will always be an adjective referring to the capacity to accomplish the action described by the verb. This is automatic and always valid. The only uncertain thing is that some verbs do not accept the suffix "-able", but if they do then what I wrote above will always hold.

On the other hand, compounding is much less predictable. Having the same element in the same position in two compounds is no guarantee that the two compounds will be similar in meaning. For instance, despite have the same second element, the compounds "homework" and "firework" have very little in common.

Sometimes, though, compounding patterns can be predictable, i.e. using a certain stem in a certain position will always result in compounds of related meanings. An example in English is the noun "berry" which, when used as the head of a compound, always forms nouns that refer to some kind of fruit ("strawberry", "blueberry", "blackberry", etc.). If I were to suddenly start talking with conviction about a "catberry", people would assume it's some kind of fruit they'd never heard of before (maybe a berry that our feline companions find delicious). In a way, "berry" here nearly behaves like a suffix, used to regularly form names of fruit.

In Moten, there are quite a few stems, both nominal and verbal, that are commonly used in regular compounding patterns. Such stems form compounds with predictable meanings, as if they were derivational affixes. Since they can still be used as independent words, I call them pseudo-affixes. And since the vast majority of those stems are used as the second element of compounds, I usually call them simply pseudo-suffixes.

Compounds formed with nominal pseudo-suffixes are always nominals themselves. Here is a list of the most common nominal pseudo-suffixes used in Moten:

  • tina: "room". The noun tina is used as a pseudo-suffix basically like its English equivalent "room", to form names for types of room. It can be added to nominal stems, as in zubatina: "bathroom, shower-room" (literally: "warm-waterroom", with zuba meaning "warm water", i.e. water typically used for a bath or shower) or oknetina: "reading room" (literally: "storyroom"), but it's most commonly added to verbal stems. Examples are penlatina: "waiting room" (literally: "waitroom"), elejtina: "bedroom" (literally: "sleeproom"), o|zemetina: "dining room" (literally: "eat-and/or-drinkroom", as jo|zemej refers both to eating and drinking) and vajagdina: "classroom" (literally: "studyroom").
  • subo: "shop, restaurant". Like tina, this noun's use as a pseudo-suffix is quite straightforward. It is used to form nouns referring to two types of establishments: shops, and restaurants or other food service facilities. Basically, when subo is added to a stem that refers to an item or group (or category) of items, the result describes an establishment where those items are sold. For instance, with tales(k): "fruit, vegetable", you get talesubo: "greengrocer's". Another example is nanaguzubo: "bookstore" (from nanaguz: "book"). This is a very productive pattern (which can be used with very recent borrowings, like oto: "car", resulting in otosubo: "car dealership"). However, if the item is a type of food or drink, adding subo will form the name of an establishment where those are consumed rather than simply bought, i.e. a restaurant, bar, pub, etc. For instance, with the noun volaj: "poultry, fowl", one can form volajsubo: "poultry restaurant". Notice that the name only refers to the most topical item sold and consumed in that establishment. Other items may still be available for consumption there. For instance, a kafesubo: "café" (from kafe: "coffee") will serve more than only coffee, and a |sesubo: "tea house" (from |se: "tea") will usually serve other things besides tea (the same is true when subo is used to mean "shop"). Also, another pattern is to add subo not to a noun representing a type of food, but to the name of a country or a people. The result is a restaurant that serves food prepared according to the specific cooking tradition of that country or people. For instance, we have filansisubo: "French restaurant" and ita|lasubo: "Italian restaurant". Notice the specific distinction: while both filansisubo and Filanzvi subo translate as "French restaurant", the first one is a restaurant that serves food prepared according to the French cuisine tradition (that may be anywhere in the world and run by people of any nationality), while the second one is an establishment that happens to stand on French soil, and is probably run by French people. If it's a restaurant, it doesn't necessarily serve French cuisine.
  • ku|lu: "language". In English, names of languages are usually simply a nationality adjective used by itself. For instance, France has French people speaking French, Spain has Spanish people speaking Spanish, and Japan has Japanese people speaking Japanese. Of course, things are always more complicated than that, and we have American people speaking English, Brazilian people speaking Portuguese, not to mention Indian people speaking Hindi (which is only the name of the language: there is no adjective "Hindi". There is a related adjective "Hindu", but it refers to a religion, and not all Hindu people speak Hindi, and vice versa). In Moten, the same difficulties appear when one talks about language names, but one thing is constant: Moten language names always use ku|lu as a suffix. It's added to various stems depending on the situation. In simple cases, when one talks about a nation-state with its single official language, the name of the language is simply formed by adding ku|lu to the name of the country. So the language spoken in Filansi is filansiku|leju: "French", while the language spoken in Ita|la is ita|laku|leju: "Italian" (notice that language names in Moten are not capitalised and they take the definite article: they are common rather than proper nouns). But things get complicated quite quickly, as countries may have no associated national language, or more than one of them. For instance, while Doj|slan: "Germany" has doj|slanku|leju: "German" as official language, so does Estalaj: "Austria". One could talk about *estalajku|leju, but that would sound like someone in English was referring to "the Austrian language" (it may work in some contexts, but usually one would simply say doj|slanku|leju). And what about Balat: "India", with its many constitutionally recognised languages? (of which both Hindi and English are considered official at country-level) Which of its languages, if even any of them, should be called *balatku|leju: "the Indian language"? (as it happens, none) So while it's common for language names to be formed by adding ku|lu to the name of a country, it's by no means the only way to create them. The pseudo-suffix ku|lu is always involved, but it can be added to various things: names of regions, islands, etc. (e.g. from Kolsika: "Corsica", one gets kolsikaku|leju: "Corsican"), names of people (e.g. ejuskalku|leju: "Basque", from Ejuskal: "Basque people"), and more rarely various other nominals. What about Moten's name for itself? As it happens, it's motenku|leju. Does it mean that "Moten" is actually the name of a country, region or people? That is a question I unfortunately have no answer to. It's one of those things C.G.'s amnesia makes impossible to know. So in the absence of better information, I will keep using the word "Moten" for the name of the language in English, as an abbreviation of its correct, unwieldy name.
  • fokez: "person". In English, nationality names for people are formed in various ways. For instance, a man from France is "a Frenchman", a person from Spain is "a Spaniard", and a person from Italy is "an Italian". And women often have different names from men. In Moten, things are much simpler: all those names are formed by using the pseudo-suffix fokez, which can be used for both men and women. Otherwise, fokez is used much like the pseudo-suffix ku|lu, and the same caveats apply. So fokez can be used with country names (e.g. filansifokez: "French person"), geographical names (e.g. kolsikafokez: "Corsican person"), names of people (e.g. ejuskalfokez: "Basque person") and sometimes other nominals.
  • go: "job, profession" and bel: "art, craft". In the section about agent/actor suffixes, I mentioned I would come back to the classification of human activities under bel and go. That time has now come. Basically, as I wrote before, many human activities (though by no means all of them) can be classified as a bel or a go. The exact distinction between the two is difficult to pinpoint, and the translations I've given are approximate at best. Typically, bel activities are more artistic, while go activities are more utilitarian. But most crafts are bel, despite often being utilitarian as well. Scientific endeavours are usually bel as well, while the closely related engineering jobs are typically go. Teaching is also always a bel, while learning is neither a bel nor a go. And some activities can be treated as a bel or a go depending on their goal or product, context, the fine details of the activity description, and sometimes even simply the speaker's opinion. Knowing under which term an activity falls is important not only from a theoretical point of view, but also because the name of an activity will usually end with either the pseudo-suffix bel or the pseudo-suffix go depending on its type. Conversely, this means that hearing the name of an activity will usually also make immediately clear under which type that activity falls. Practically speaking, activity names are almost always formed by adding one of bel or go to a nominal or verbal stem that best represents that activity. For instance, we have already seen the agent nouns nanagnon: "author" and nanagvu|z: "technical writer". The activities those two practice are respectively nanagbel: "fiction writing" and nanago: "technical writing". In the same way, from ifotoj: "to look for, to research, to study", one forms fotobel: "(scientific) research". An example that uses a nominal stem is spondakitpel: "zoology", from spondakit: "fauna, animal kingdom" (itself a dvandva compound of sponda: "small animal" and kit: big animal).
  • dati: "way, manner, concept" and ipi: "tool, machine, object". In Moten, there is no single word that covers the same semantic field as the English word "thing". Instead, that semantic field is covered by two words: dati: "abstract thing, concept" and ipi: "concrete thing, object". These two words cover more ground as well, with dati also meaning "way, manner (of doing something)", while ipi also means "tool, machine". In those senses, they are also used as pseudo-suffixes, usually added to verbal stems. Way back then, I explained how, besides being the citation form of a verb, the infinitive could also be used to refer to: either the concept or action described by the verb as an abstract noun, or a person or object that somehow embodies or facilitates the action described by the verb as a concrete noun. An example of the former use is |lezuj: "singing" (from |lezuj: "to sing"), while an example of the latter one is imikostu|l: "telephone" (from imikostu|l: "to call by phone"). But instead of simply using the infinitive, which can be ambiguous in some contexts, one can use the pseudo-suffixes dati and ipi to form nouns with much the same meanings, but much less prone to ambiguity. Using dati forms abstract action nouns, similar to the first meaning of the infinitive I described above. For instance, instead of |lezuj, one can say lezudati: "singing, manner of singing". Using ipi forms names of objects that embody or facilitate the action described by the verb. Those are typically tools or machines. They are similar to the second meaning of the infinitive I described, except that they can only refer to objects, while the infinitive can refer to people as well. For instance, instead of calling a telephone imikostu|l, one can call such an object mikostulipi instead. The difference is that you could use imikostu|l to refer to a person who is on the phone all day long, while you would never use mikostulipi in this sense.
  • va: "colour, hue, tint". I am planning on discussing colour terms and the use of va as a pseudo-suffix in a future post (as there is a lot to say about this topic), so I will only make a short comment here. Basically, Moten has only two basic colour terms: leksod: "dark" and no|se: "bright" (I will describe their full semantic ranges in that future post). But va can be used as a pseudo-suffix to form ad-hoc colour terms when one needs to be more specific. This system, which relies a lot on analogy and context, is too complicated to describe here, so I'll just stop for now. As I wrote, I will devote a future post on this very subject, so stay tuned!

Verbal pseudo-suffixes are normally always added to other verbs, and give them shades of meaning that can often be considered aspectual. Here's a list of the most common, and most productive, verbal pseudo-suffixes in Moten. You'll notice that a few of them are compounds themselves:

  • i|zajstu|l: "to start" and i|za|negi: "to start (with the intention of completing the action)". Moten has two different verbs corresponding to the English "to start, to begin". The first one, i|zajstu|l, is the closest in meaning to its English equivalent, while the second one, i|za|negi, adds to it the idea that the action is started with the explicit intent to reach its natural conclusion (in particular, it implies that the action has a natural conclusion that one can reach). When used as pseudo-suffixes, both form the inchoative aspect, while still keeping the same difference in meaning. In other words, they form new verbs that mean "to begin to...". For instance, with jelej: "to sleep", one can form jelej|zajstu|l and jelej|za|negi, which both mean "to fall asleep". The difference is that jelej|za|negi means "to fall asleep with the intention of waking up fully rested", while jelej|zajstu|l doesn't imply any such natural conclusion. In particular, due to not focussing on eventually waking up, jelej|zajstu|l can also be used as a euphemism for "to die".
  • ikunegi: "to finish". When used as a pseudo-suffix, this verb forms what one can call the cessative-completive aspect, i.e. it forms verbs that show that one has reached the natural conclusion of an action. For instance, see izu|legunegi: "to finish clearing up, to finish getting clean" (often used in the causative voice to mean: "to finish cleaning"), from izu|lebi: "to become clean" (notice the slightly irregular disappearance of the final b of the stem, which still causes voicing of the initial k of the pseudo-suffix). Another example is igunegi: "to die (of old age), to pass away", literally "to finish living", from igi: "to live" (a rare case of a single-consonant stem g).
  • izenki: "to stop" and ikunstu|l: "to give up". Strictly speaking, both verbs means "to stop". But the first one implies a momentary pause only, while the second one implies abandoning whatever one was doing, hence the translation given here. When used as pseudo-suffixes, both verbs form the cessative aspect, i.e. "to stop...". The second one does keep its specific shade of meaning, and can best be translated as "to give up...". For instance, we have jelejzenki which means "to stop sleeping, to wake up", while with ipsenaj: "to swallow, to ingest, to smoke", we can form ipsenakunstu|l: "to quit smoking".
  • iso|n: "to precede". As a pseudo-suffix, this verb indicates preparing oneself to do something, i.e. it can be translated as "to get ready to". For instance, from jagi: "to go, to leave", one forms jagzo|n: "to get ready to leave".
  • izeki: "to follow". As a pseudo-suffix, this verb marks a continuous action. Depending on the context, it can be strong and mean something like "to carry on, to continue", or relatively weak and equivalent to an English progressive form. When it refers to an action that we know was previously stopped, it can be translated as "to resume". For example, with |nanagi: "to write", you can form |nanagzeki: "to keep writing, to resume writing".
  • jagi: "to go" and juba|si: "to come". When used as pseudo-suffixes, these verbs have nothing to do with motion. Instead, they take on a somewhat aspectual meaning, not totally unlike the prospective and perfect aspects (respectively). As a pseudo-suffix, juba|si indicates that an activity has been going on for a while already, i.e. it started sometime in the past, and it is still going on right now. It is similar in meaning to the English perfect continuous ("to have been doing something"), although it even more strongly focusses on the continuity of the activity. The main difference between this form and the Moten perfect aspect is that the perfect aspect focusses on a state resulting from a prior activity (which may have happened at any time in the past and needn't be still happening right now), while this form focusses on the activity itself, which is still currently happening. Here's a short example: imadan nanagubva|si ito: "I've been writing for three years" (literally: "(I) have been writing during three years". Notice that the verb is in the middle voice, which by de-emphasising the object emphasises the action itself. Such a use of the middle voice will be clarified in a future post). As for jagi as a pseudo-suffix, it looks towards the future rather than the past. It indicates that an activity has started, just now or sometime in the past, and that this activity is expected to carry on for some time in the future. It is not unlike an English future continuous ("will be doing something"), except that the activity must have started by the time one utters a statement using this form (it is not unlike saying: "from now on"). The difference between this form and the prospective aspect is that the prospective aspect describes a current situation based on its expected consequences, and the current situation and its expected consequences needn't be the same activity. An example is: motenku|ledun sizevaj ivajagagdin ito: "from now on, I'll study Moten every day" (literally: "(I) will be studying Moten each day", with ivajagi: "to learn, to study". Notice the use of the imperfective aspect, due to the action being repeated. In this case, using the perfective aspect ivajagagi ito would have been correct as well, as the pseudo-suffix jagi already encodes the ongoing, repeated aspect of the action. The complex interactions between verbal forms and pseudo-suffixes will be discussed in a future post).
  • ja|zi|n and joplej: "to give, to take, to receive, etc.". I will not linger much on those two for now. Their use as pseudo-suffixes is strongly tied to the polite speech register, and I will give them a full analysis in a future post about language registers in Moten.
  • ifotoj: "to look for" and ja|leki: "to find". These two verbs are special in that they are not as commonly used as pseudo-suffixes as the ones mentioned above. Basically, when their object is a completive subclause or an action nominal phrase, these verbs take on a different meaning, respectively "to try (to do something)" and "to succeed (in doing something)". Here are simple examples of this usage: ga oknuden |nanagi itos ifodo|n ito: "I'm trying to write a story" (literally: "I'm looking for that (I) write a story") and ludozvu|n ipe|leda|n ja|leki etok: "I managed to meet him" (literally: "(I) found the seeing of him"). In that sense, the subject of the completive subclause or action nominal is usually the same as the subject of the main verb (although this is not mandatory in Moten), and one could think that those sentences could be shortened by turning the main verbs of those sentences into pseudo-suffixes. And indeed, the sentences above can be rendered that way: ga oknuden |nanagvodo|n ito and ludosun ipe|la|leki etok. However, despite those sentences being grammatical and lighter than their variants, C.G. always feels a bit uncomfortable using them. He still prefers the versions with completive subclauses or action nominals, however heavy they may become. I'm not sure what this means for the grammaticality of these constructions in general. Since C.G.'s idiolect is the only known example of native Moten we have, my only possible conclusion is that at least for C.G., using ifotoj and ja|leki as pseudo-suffixes is still on the edge of grammaticality. But there's no way of knowing whether this is just some idiosyncrasy of his, or a general feature of the language.

What about pseudo-prefixes? As I mentioned above, those are very rare in Moten. In fact, I can only think of two stems used productively as the first elements of compounds: the stems of the verbs iso|n and izeki. They are added as prefixes to nouns to mean respectively "last, previous" and "next, following". And while they are productive, they are quite restricted in their use: they can only be added to simple, original Moten stems indicating time periods.

So they can be added to nouns like siza: "calendar day", dod: "evening, night", daj: "hour" and ada: "year". For instance, one can form the expressions sonsizea: "the previous day, yesterday" and zeksizea: "the following day, tomorrow". With mune: "month", you have sonmune: "the previous month, last month" and zekmune: "the following month, next month". You can even add them to funa: "second", although the results are rather idiomatic: zekfunea literally means "the next second", but it's mostly used as an interjection to ask for someone to wait a short moment, so zekfunea! is basically equivalent to "one moment!". In the same way, sonfunea means literally "the last second", but it's used mostly adverbially to mean "a moment ago" or "just now".

On the other hand, these stems cannot be added to compounds like gomdod: "day", over-inflected forms like negesizdan: "week", or recent compounds like ada|zaj: "January". For those, the normal way to render the meanings "next" and "last" is to use the origin-less ordinal numbers kun egano: "second one after some unspecified origin, next" and |zaj egano: "second one before some unspecified origin, previous". So for instance one has negesizdan |zaj eganeo: "the previous week, last week" or zoba|saj kun eganeo: "the following March, next March".


Reduplication is a phenomenon where a word or part of a word is repeated, for various purposes, from expressiveness to inflection. It is often misunderstood by speakers of modern Indo-European languages, like English, because in those languages reduplication is relatively uncommon, and limited to iconic purposes or baby-talk. But in many languages of the world reduplication is a common feature, and there is nothing childish about it. And as it happens, Moten is such a language.

In Moten, reduplication functions in a way that falls under derivation or compounding, and is never used for inflectional purposes, which is why I am discussing it here. It is also not as common as in some languages, but it is more common than in English, and happens in all registers of language. There are two main kinds of reduplication: full reduplication and partial reduplication, and Moten features both.

Full reduplication is the repetition of an entire word. In Moten, there are two patterns of full reduplication that are used productively. The first one I will go over quickly, as it is very easy to understand and use. It is very similar to the "word word" pattern of English, both in shape and usage. This reduplication pattern is used only with nominals, and consists in repeating a nominal as an adjective to itself. For instance, with badi: "dog", you can form badi badi: "dog dog", and with |suko: "same-sex sibling", you can form |suko |suko: "sibling sibling". The meaning of such forms is the same as in English: they refer to the prototypical meaning of the repeated word, i.e. they indicate that the repeated noun isn't used figuratively, and that its referent is the "real thing", rather than a representative, ersatz or replacement. For instance, the expression badi badi can mean "an actual dog, as opposed to those clothed chihuahuas that hardly behave like dogs anymore". As for |suko |suko, it typically means "an actual sibling or cousin, i.e. a family member, rather than just a very good friend" (since |suko can be used figuratively to mean "very good friend"). This form of reduplication isn't unlike using isis: "truth, reality" as an adjective: "true, real". However, the reduplicated form is often preferred as it is more expressive and more strictly refers to the prototypical meaning of the nominal (whereas |suko |suko strictly refers to a member of one's family, |suko isis can also mean "true friend", i.e. it can still be used with a figurative meaning). Also, unlike in English it isn't reserved to colloquial, spoken language, but can be used also in polite or even formal registers. Notice also that since the reduplication pattern is considered a noun + adjective pattern, inflectional affixes are only added to the second nominal, not to the first (of course, if other adjectives or determiners are added to the noun phrase, they take the inflections with them). Here's an example:

I|zevu|z |laj|zeveju|z gebvezi ige!: I want to talk to the manager, and no one else! (literally: "(I) want to talk to the manager manager!", with i|zevu|z: "manager, director". Notice how only the second instance of i|zevu|z takes the benefactive prefix and the definite infix)

The second pattern of full reduplication operates at stem level, and is usable by both nominal and verbal stems. Unlike the previous pattern which operated at the syntactic level, this one operates at the morphological level and consists in compounding a stem with itself. That's to say, take a stem, repeat it, and merge the two together to form a compound stem. For instance, with ku|lu: "language" one forms ku|luku|lu, while miko: "remoteness" forms mikomiko. Those are true compounds, so morphophonemic rules can change the actual shape of the reduplicated compound. For instance, the reduplicated form of fokez: "person" is fokezvokez, while apa: "star" forms apapa. Also, reduplication is done at stem level, so for verbal stems the infinitive circumfix is added only after reduplication. So the reduplicated form of juba|si: "to come, to arrive" is juba|suba|si. As to the meaning of the reduplicated stems, it can be described as being related to a general idea of completeness, whose specific application depends on whether the stem is nominal or verbal.

For nominal stems, the prototypical meaning of the reduplicated compound of X is "all of the X". The reduplicated compound refers to the set of all possible referents of the original stem, and is normally treated as a mass noun, i.e. it appears only in the singular. For instance, the meaning of fokezvokez is basically "all of the people", although a more accurate translation taking into account its use as a mass noun would be "humankind, humanity". Naturally, like any other compound, reduplicated forms can undergo semantic drift, and as a result move away from their strict meaning "all of the X". For instance, ku|luku|lu, rather than meaning "all languages", refers to "language" as the "capacity to communicate with words", i.e. our conceptual ability to communicate with tongues. In the same way, apapa, rather than simply meaning "all stars", is usually better translated as "night sky". As for mikomiko, it's used in Moten as a nominal equivalent to the English phrase "here be dragons", i.e. it refers to unknown, unexplored and potentially dangerous territories (both literally and figuratively).

With verbs, this pattern of reduplication forms new verbs whose meaning are related to the meaning of the original verb, but with an added shade of absolute completion of the action, or doing the action to its fullest degree. What this exactly means depends on the verb. So for instance the meaning of juba|suba|si is "to settle, to fix one's residence" ("to settle" is seen as "to arrive" taken to its fullest possible degree). Another example is ipolpolti, from ipolti: "to open". It means "to break open, to open in a way that cannot be closed again" (once again, "to open", taken to its fullest degree). Naturally, transitive verbs can be reduplicated as well, like ifotoj: "to look for, to research". Its reduplicated form ifotofotoj means "to fully research, to try to get to the bottom of".

Once again, those forms are not limited to the colloquial language. They are used in all language registers, including the most formal ones.

Partial reduplication in Moten is more limited in that only one such pattern exists, and it can only be used with verbal stems. On the other hand, it's much more productive than the patterns of full reduplication I've described so far, and very commonly employed.

In terms of morphology, partial reduplication is clearly a form a compounding. It consists in taking a verbal stem, and prefixing to it its own shortened compound stem. The result is a new verbal stem. For instance, the stem of juba|si is uba|s, and its shortened compound stem is ub-. So the result of partial reduplication is jububa|si. For a short verb like jagi: "to go", the shortened compound stem is identical to the stem itself: ag-, so the result of partial reduplication is jagagi (identical to the result of full reduplication, but context generally disambiguates). Naturally, morphophonemic changes keep happening, so with ipe|laj: "to see, to watch" one forms ipelpe|laj, from the shortened compound stem pe|l-.

In terms of semantics, partially reduplicated verbs have various meanings, usually of a derivational kind compared to the original verbs, and usually referring to action cycles. Partial reduplication can indicate:

  • Repetition of an action: |nanagi: "to write" -> |nananagi: "to rewrite"; ifi|zo|n: "to ask" -> ifisfi|zo|n: "to ask again"; ipolti: "to open" -> ipolpolti: "to reopen" (notice that this one is identical to ipolpolti meaning "to break open". Context will generally disambiguate);
  • Return to a previous state: juba|si: "to come" -> jububa|si: "to come back"; jagi: "to go" -> jagagi: "to go back"; joplej: "to give, to take, to put" -> jopoplej: "to give back, to take back, to put back";
  • Reciprocation: istu|l: "to call" -> istulstu|l: "to call back"; ipe|laj: "to see, to look at, to watch" -> ipelpe|laj: "to look back at"; iteo|l: "to please, to like" -> iteoteo|l: "to like back".

Naturally, in some cases semantic drift has set in and the meaning of the reduplicated verb is not directly derived from the meaning of the original verb anymore. For instance, while imonuj means "to turn", its reduplicated form imonmonuj has taken on the meanings "to roll" and "to wrap" (originally "to turn again and again").

At the risk of repeating myself, I will mention that these partially reduplicated forms are used in all registers of language.

For the sake of completeness, I will mention a last pattern of reduplication, although it doesn't really belong to this chapter. A very long time ago, I presented the affixes used to form the degrees of comparison. And at the end of that section, I mentioned how the intensifier affixes pen-: "very, too, much, many" and len-: "little, few, too little, too few" could be added to forms already featuring comparison or intensifying affixes. One of the examples I gave then was penpenodun: "very very young, much too young", featuring a repeated pen- prefix. Although it looks like reduplication, one could argue that this is only incidental, and that this penpen- pattern is part of a bigger pattern using pen- and len-. And indeed, one can have lenpenodun: "a little too young" and penlenodun: "really not young enough, hardly young at all". However, things break down when you look at the last possibility: lenlenodun. This form is actually synonymous to penlenodun, and more common than that alternative! This means that what we have here is an actual case of reduplication, used to strengthen the meanings of the prefixes pen- and len-. As for the penlen- and lenpen- forms, C.G. tells me that he thinks those are innovations of his own. He hardly ever uses them, and they "feel" newer to him. The reduplicated forms penpen- and lenlen- are the ones he uses generally, and they feel more like an integral part of the language to him.

What's Next

Okay, it seems that I am apologising at the end of every Moten post, but once again I had no idea this would be such a long article. Luckily, with this post the discussion about Moten morphology is well and truly done (well, except for a discussion of proper nouns, which will have to wait a little, and shouldn't be too difficult anyway). Everything that I still have to talk about belongs to the realm of syntax and semantics, as well as matters of prosody that I will eventually get to.

So far, everything I described was at the level of the word, the phrase, the clause or the sentence. But people speak in utterances and conversations, i.e. groups of sentences and sentence fragments. For my next post, I want to describe the generic syntactic rules that govern Moten utterances, and what they mean for the shape of connected speech and written texts. For the first time in this series, I will use an example that is longer than a single line of text, so please look forward to it!