Not ready: Ithkuil made easy

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Pronouns in Ithkuil are called personal reference adjuncts (PRAs). The minimal PRA is built from a consonant indicating the nature of the referent, and a vowel indicating the case, but PRAs can also indicate other categories, and take the same suffixes formatives will take. There are also dual-referent PRAs, that allow you to mention two referents with only one word.

First let's look at the PRA "ta". The "t-" indicates that the speaker is included in this PRA, and that no one else is included. The "-a" indicates the oblique case. Mostly, PRAs indicate case using the same set of vowels as formatives, though there are a few which are different. So "ta" is Ithkuil's word for "I" or "me".

Ithkuil has quite a few sorts of referent. Not only combinations of speaker, listener, and third party, but other types as well.

Although the grammar doesn't display them in this way, the speaker/listener/third party PRAs can be arranged into two 3x3 tables for easy comprehension, one for PRAs including the speaker, and one for PRAs which don't. Below are the tables. Rows correspond to the consonants for PRAs which include no (0) 3rd party, a monadic (M) 3rd party, or an unbounded (U) third party, and columns correspond to the listener.

Speaker included:

Speaker included: <tab class=wikitable> listener   3rd party 0 M U 0 t s š M ţ h ļ U n z ž </tab> Speaker not included:

Speaker not included: <tab class=wikitable> listener   3rd party 0 M U 0 k p M q x f U xh ň m </tab> So looking at the lower table, we can see that "qa" is the PRA referring to a monadic 3rd party, speaker not included. That is, "qa" is Ithkuil's word for "him", "her", or some uses of "they". We can also see that "ka" is Ithkuil's word for "you".

But Ithkuil has not only adjuncts including only a second party, or only a third party. It also has adjuncts corresponding to every combination of speaker, listener, and 3rd party. So we also have PRAs like "sa" ("you and me") and "ha" ("you, me, and a third party"). This is all pretty straightforward. These are not the dual-referent adjuncts I mentioned; we'll see those below.

All the above PRAs refer to animate entities, and are pronounced with falling tone. However there's another set of PRAs which refer (in part) to inanimate entities. That set uses these same forms, but pronounced with high tone. For most of those PRAs, high tone indicates that the third party is inanimate, rather than animate. For example, while "qa" means "him/her", "¯qa" means "it". And while "ţa" means "me and him/her", "¯ţa" means "me and it". However the top row, which includes no third party, takes on a different meaning with high tone: these PRAs include, in addition to the parties shown on the tables above, a mixed third party. Mixed third parties are just any combination of animate parties, inanimate parties, and parties with other natures. "¯Ta", for example means "me and a mixed third party". There's no need to write out tables for these, since the above tables do fine.

In addition, there are several more PRAs for referring to to other types of party. I won't go over all of them here, but there are a few particularly useful ones. First is "¯ra", which is called "obviative", or "fourth person". An obviative pronoun is a feature of some languages which is used to disambiguate multiple references to a third party. If I say "he gave it to his mother", it's ambiguous whether "he" and "his" refer to the same person or not. The obviative PRA is used in Ithkuil to resolve that kind of ambiguity: if the second "he" is different from the first, the obviative would be used for that one. Otherwise, if the two "he"s are the same, then a "q-" PRA would be used for both. Note that "¯ra" has high tone, but does not refer to an inanimate party. High tone isn't synonymous with inanimate parties; it just has that meaning with the PRAs mentioned earlier.

The second PRA I want to mention here is "řa", which means "one" in the "one does not just walk into Mordor" sense. This PRA does come with a high-toned inanimate variant.

Often if a sentence has one PRA, it has several. Ithkuil provides a way to combine two PRAs into one PRA which expresses two referents. The basic idea is to take the case vowels from the two PRAs, and combine them with a special consonant form indicating what two referents have been combined. For example, "tu" + "kü" = "ükhu". "Kh" indicates that this PRA refers to one instance of "t-", and one of "k-" (there's a whole table showing the forms for various combinations). The case of "tu" is placed on the right, and the case of "kü" on the left. You can use this anywhere you'd use those two PRAs as separate words. On the "Texts" page of the grammar, you can see this word used in the sentence "Ükhu attál", "I bid you greetings" ("ü" indicates the dative case, which we haven't seen yet, but which indicates a recipient of giving or telling). It's also sometimes possible to combine two instances of the same referent into one word, e.g. "Attál tu tü" could become "Attál ütu", "I bid myself greetings". One simply takes the consonant (which will be identical) from the two PRAs, and brackets it between their cases.

If you want to learn some dual-referent adjunct forms, here are a few that I imagine would be most useful. All the combinations of single-party referents. Blank cells indicate that there's no form for this pair, e.g. that there's no k+t, so you'd use t+k ("kh") instead. The diagonal is blank, because there are no special dual-referent forms for two instances of the same referent. Note that the "1st referent"'s case is shown by the second vowel in the word.

<tab class=wikitable> 1st ref   2nd ref t k q t d k kh g q   </tab>

Simple verbs and nouns

Unlike PRAs, nouns and verbs are formatives, and have their own morphology.

I don't want to spend time explaining phonology, because I think the grammar explains it well enough, so I'm going to jump right in with nouns.

Ithkuil nouns belong to the part of speech called a formative. Formatives are Ithkuil's nouns and verbs, and are the most important kind of word. Verbs are a little more important than nouns, but nouns are morphologically simpler so I want to start with them. The grammar uses a 12-slot model to describe formative morphology, but it's complicated and confusing until you learn the grammar pretty well, so I want to try a different approach, and start with example words which we can build outward from.

First, let's look at a minimal noun: "qal" It consists of three letters, corresponding to three morphemes. The letter "q" is its stem, its case is indicated by "a", and "l" is an affix which indicates the values of 5 categories. When you look at an Ithkuil word, you can break it up into consonant sequences and vowel sequences. I can't think of a situation where two consonants or two vowels can be adjacent, but not belong to the same morpheme. I'll just refer to sequences of vowels as "vowels", and sequences of consonants as "consonants".

A formative's stem indicates the basic fundamental concept being expressed by the word. Although the meaning of the formative of a whole will be modified by the addition of affixes, the stem is the starting point that its meaning gets built on. A stem consists of a consonant root plus a vowel affix, but the vowel affix can sometimes be elided (as it's been here). The root of a formative is its main indicator of meaning, although it can't be used alone, but must appear as part of a stem. Even when the vowel affix is null like this, that null affix is indicating a particular stem. The stem "q-" means "higher order being", referring to us large bilateral vertebrates.

The formative's case indicates its role in the sentence, be that an agent, a patient, or a role that in English would be expressed by a preposition. Ithkuil's cases are pretty much like those in other languages. It uses an ergative and absolutive case rather than nominative and accusative, which may be a new thing to some people. The big difference with Ithkuil is that it has way more cases (72, plus 24 specialized comparison cases) than anybody ever dreamed of. But that's just because Quijada chose to add more cases rather than add any prepositions to the language. Fun fact: Ithkuil is also the only language I've ever heard of where case is consistently marked in themiddle, and only in the middle, of the word. Suffixes and prefixes are nearly universal, when case is marked. The letter "-a-" indicates the oblique case, which is fairly neutral, and is the citation form of a noun. More on case when we're doing whole sentences.

Finally, the "l" affix. It's called the Ca affix in the grammar, and I don't know of any friendlier name to give it, because it indicates so many things. If you've looked into Ithkuil at all, you've probably gaped at Table 5. Yeah, it's got 1728 cells, and the "good news", as you may have heard, is that it's only strictly necessary to learn 288 of them. The actual good news is that in addition to this the affixes are fairly regular, which we'll get into later. The letter "-l" basically indicates that the word refers to one single manifestation of the stem.

So, "qal" is the simplest shape of a noun. All together, it refers to a large bilateral vertabrate of some kind. Let's go back to the vowel portion of the stem, which I mentioned was elided. The letter elided was "a", meaning the word could also be written "aqal". Same meaning. This affix is called the Vr affix, which together with the root make up the stem. There are 9 forms of the Vr affix for verbs, corresponding to 3 stems which occur in each of 3 patterns. The elidable letter "a-" indicates pattern 1 and stem 1 (P1S1).

If you know some computer programming, consider the following: root[pattern][stem][designation]. (Designation is up next.) Each root can be seen as a 3-dimensional array of stems, which is indexed by the values of these categories. That is, (non-programmers tune back in now) roots don't so much carry meanings, as much as they indicate which set of meaning-carrying stems the pattern, stem, and designation are relative to.

What I mean to convey by this is that although there's some logic to what each pattern means, and what each stem means, and to the relationship between the two designations, when you get right down to it Ithkuil's grammar allows a particular root, pattern, stem, designation combo to have any arbitrary meaning. It means: what the lexicon says it means, and the pattern, stem, and designation's significance lie only in telling you where to look in the lexicon.

I say this to tell you that if you want to learn Ithkuil, there's nothing for it but to memorize or look up the meaning of each stem; the stem meaning doesn't rise out of the pattern, stem, designation combination. In other words, look up what the stem means, you can't reason it out like you can with many Ithkuil affixes. Also, explaining pattern and stem is easier this way: they're arbitrary indexes into a table.

Finally, designation, which I keep mentioning, is an additional 2-valued index on top of the 9-valued 3*3 pattern*stem index (meaning each root has 18 stems total). The two designations are informal and formal, with informal being the unmarked default. Designation, like pattern and stem, is arbitrary. Designation is marked by stress. In a 1-syllable formative like "qal", that 1 syllable of course gets the stress. In all other formatives, like "aqal", the penultimate syllable gets the stress unless otherwise marked. Penultimate stress indicates informal designation, and ultimate stress ("aqál") indicates formal designation.

If you're interested in the intended logic behind Quijada's stem assignments (and why wouldn't you be), you know where to find them. You also probably want to look in the lexicon now to make sure you understand where to find a given pattern, stem, and designation. It's pretty self-explanatory, but I can clarify.

Finally finally, I want to take a look at the actual vowels which indicate stems. Take a look at the "STATIVE" row in table 8. For now ignore the other rows; they're used in verbs. These are the different Vr prefixes you'll find in stems. You see "(a-)" on the left, the parentheses indicating it's elidable, and you can see that "ö", which makes the word "öqal", indicates P2S2.

Finally finally finally, if you want some exercises, you might see if you can look up these words using Table 8 and the lexicon, and define them: qal, öqal, elal, oxt'al, mxal, ondál. You could also try building the word for a pet male dog.

Verbs, sentences, case

(Looking back, last lesson I spent a lot of space being emphatic about stem/pattern/designation meanings being arbitrary, but I don't feel I adequately explained why. My purpose was to be very clear about which parts of Ithkuil are subtle and confusing, and which parts should simply be memorized. That aside, let's move on to verbs and sentences.)

A verb isn't much use without a sentence, so I want to introduce verbs and sentences together. This will also require introducing cases, and of course you can't make a sentence without putting the words in some order, so we'll do that too.

Ithkuil verbs are morphologically very similar to Ithkuil nouns. So similar, in fact, that there's no one marker that shows whether a formative is a verb. However, the Vr affix (which, remember, is the vowel portion of the stem) is a very good clue, since for many verbs it will not have a form indicating stative function, but rather one of the other three functions.

Function is a category that is unique to Ithkuil, as far as I know. Each root, in addition to having the 18 possible stems described in my last lesson, has another 18 stems for the other three functions (72 total stems, but who's counting). Stative function is "the function associated with all formatives acting as nouns", according to the grammar, and all the formatives from the previous lesson on nouns were in the stative function for that reason. However, verbs can appear in this function too, if they refer to states of being.

In this lesson, I only want to add one more function: dynamic function. We'll use the verb "ikal". The stem "ik-" means "to move from one place to another". The vowel comes from a new row in the Vr table, the one labeled "DYNAMIC", and additionally indicates P1S1. It's the dynamic counterpart to the stative-indicating vowel "a-". It has no parentheses around it, so it's never elidable; only the P1S1 Stative Vr value can ever be elided.

As for the meaning of the dynamic function, it's used with verbs indicating "a tangible or physical act or cause and effect event". For example, going somewhere, doing something, behaving angrily, but not for verbs which simply indicate being in a certain state. If it's unclear which to use when, the grammar also says it can be subjective whether to use stative or dynamic function. This is not uncommon in Ithkuil. Often the choice of category to use depends on the perspective on the situation that you want to convey.

"Ikal byul." "Kal byul." The next important clue to whether a particular formative is acting as a verb or not is the case it expresses. In the first example sentence, the verb is dynamic and the dog is performing the action of going. In the second, the verb "kal" is in the stative function, but it is still in the oblique case, just like "ikal" is. Combined with the fact that "byul" is not in the oblique case, it's clear that "Kal byul" means "The dog is in a state of going", and is not just the pair of nouns "Translative motion, a dog". Any verb functioning as a main verb (that is, which is not part of a relative clause) will appear in the oblique case, so by combining the information you've gotten from Vr and from the case, it's almost always unambiguous which formative is the verbs. Ambiguous sentences are possible, I think, but you would have to try to make one.

So, if "byul" is not in the oblique case, what's it in? "Byul" is in the inducive case. Case is always expressed by a series of vowels right after the root, possibly with a glottal stop (e.g. "bya'al", "bya'l" express cases too), and of course "-u-" is the vowel expressing the inducive case. The inducive case is used when the action in the sentence is initated by and performed on the same party. That is, in both those example sentences, the dog has initiated the movement, and moved itself.

Now let's look at the ergative case. "Igral byol." "The dog eats." The ergative ("-o-") is very similar to the inducive, but the ergative case marks only the initator of the action. Its close friend, the absolutive case ("-e-"), marks the noun which the action is performed on: "Igral byol ażvél". "The dog eats the potato." Pretty simple stuff.

At this point sentences are getting long enough that we should look at word order. Ithkuil's word order is pragmatic, meaning that you're free to arrange the nouns in the sentence for expressive purposes. While in English it's required for syntactic reasons that you put the subject first ("The dog eats the potato"), in Ithkuil the cases make verbal arguments clear, and order is used to express the topic and the focus of the sentence. The order in Ithkuil is: "topic ... focus verb ...." That is, the word before the verb is the focus, and the first word is the topic. Other words can go between topic and focus, and after the verb.

The topic of a sentence is the general topic of discourse. The topic expresses the specific context of the utterance, that is, what part of the shared context is this sentence about. The topic can change from sentence to sentence, but it's not used to introduce new information, but rather to frame the sentence with some context.

The focus of a sentence is the new information being provided. It expresses information which is new, contrasts with previous information, or isn't derivable from what's been said before.

Topic and focus can be clumsily glossed in English, which may help illuminate things. "Byol ażvél igral" can be written "As for the dog, it's a potato he eats" or just "The dog, it's a potato he eats." "Byol" is the topic, since it comes first. "Ażvél" is the focus, since it comes just before the verb. So this sentence implies the dog is known. As for the potato, it's either new to the conversation, or its relevance is newly revealed. Perhaps the listener did not know there was a potato, or knew there was a potato but did not know it was what the dog was eating. English marks these things with stress, so another gloss could be "The dog, he eats a potato."

With three words, there are 4 non-verb-initial word orders: Note that although the word order changes, the roles of the nouns are indicated by the cases, and don't change (the dog always does the eating, the potato is the eatee).

  1. Byol ażvél igral. / The dog, he eats a potato.
  2. Ażvél byol igral. / The potato, the dog eats it.
  3. Byol igral ażvél. / The dog eats a potato.
  4. Ażvél igral byol. / The dog eats a potato.

The first, we looked at. The second switches the topic and focus roles. Now it's the potato which is old news, and the fact that it's the dog eating it which is news.

The third introduces sentences with only one noun before the verb. In a case like this, that noun is the focus and there's no overtly expressed topic. The fourth is similar, except that the potato is news.

It's of course possible to put the verb first as well.

  1. Igral byol ażvél. / The dog eats a potato.
  2. Igral ażvél byol. / The dog eats a potato.

In these sentences the verb is first. This is appropriate when none of the nouns is the focus. The grammar doesn't describe any difference between these two orders.

Sometimes the topic and focus of a sentence may line up with the use of "the" versus "a" in an English sentence expressing the same thing, since in English the definite and indefinite articles express whether a noun is identifiable to the listener or not. Logically, a newly introduced focus is not yet identifiable! And likewise, generally to be marked with "the" or to be a topic, a noun must be known information. But the correspondence isn't exact.

  1. The dog's eating the potato. / Byol ażvél igral.
  2. The dog's eating a potato. / Byol ażvél igral.

Both the above English sentences can have the same Ithkuil translation, if the English article is expressing whether it's one of our many potatos, or some particular potato. In Ithkuil, the potato is equally the focus whether it's one of many or is our only potato. We could also find "Ażvél byol igral" translating to "The dog's eating a potato". Here the articles align with the topic and focus in the exact opposite way you might expect.

Inexact as the correspondance is, it can still be helpful to consider, in addition to the word stress in an English sentence, the articles used.

So, we've covered sentence structure, a couple cases, learned two dynamic verbs, and the words for "potato" and "dog". As an exercise, try making some sentences like the following in Ithkuil. Remember to use a topic-focus word order, and to put the verb first when appropriate. There are some words here that haven't been introduced, to give lexicon practice, and by all means, choose words on your own to make more sentences with.

  1. The man eats the potato.
  2. The dog eats the man.
  3. The potato eats the man.
  4. The woman goes.
  5. It's a potato the cat eats.
  6. As for the woman, it's the potato she eats.

Monadic and Unbounded Perspectives

In all the formatives we've seen so far, we've seen the Ca affix, but always in the form "-l", as in "byal" or "eqal", but as we know this letter indicates the values of 5 different categories. The first one of these I want to look at isperspective, which this lesson will be dedicated to. Although perspective, and all of Ca's other categories manifest on both nouns and verbs, in this lesson we're going to focus on nouns only, because perspective manifests differently in nouns and verbs. We'll also meet a new configuration.

We're going to look at two of the four perspectives, monadic, which we've seen but not examined, and unbounded, which is new.

Monadic perspective, the one we are familiar with already, indicates that the noun refers to a single contextual entity. In some cases it's obvious that this perspective applies. For example, a single person is plainly "eqal". However, some plural English nouns could also appear in the monadic perspective. For example, if I say there are "dogs" in English, it's possible that this noun would appear in the monadic perspective in Ithkuil, if I was viewing the dogs as a group. The numerical element in that situation would be expressed by the category of configuration.

Let's take a brief detour to actually learn a second configuration. Up until now all formatives have been in the uniplex configuration, which indicates a single entity or "unit" of the kind indicated by the stem. E.g "byal" = "a dog". But to illustrate the difference between monadic perspective and the English singular, a configuration indicatingmultiple "units" is required. The discrete configuration indicates multiple identical manifestations of the stem. Therefore if I say "byal" (monadic, uniplex), it's one dog. If I say "byatļ" (monadic, discrete), it's multiple identical dogs. Now, it's not necessary that the dogs be precisely identical, just that I am considering them "the same" for all intents and purposes at this moment.

But note, "byatļ" is still in the monadic perspective. Hence it still refers to a single contextual entity, despite being made up of multiple units. Simply put, it's a group of dogs of some kind. Not necessarily a pack, they are just conceptually grouped for the moment. A pile of beans would probably be referred to in this way. So it's best not to think of "monadic" as "singular". Rather, it means that the entity being referred to is viewed as bounded, either physically or conceptually, no matter the number of parts it has.

Unbounded perspective is the complement to monadic perspective. It simply indicates that the entity has no (contextually relevant) boundary. Taking "byatļ" and putting it in the unbounded perspective, we get "byalt" (unbounded, discrete). It again refers to multiple dogs, but this time we are not grouping them conceptually at all. "A dog here, a dog there", you might say. Perhaps we're remarking on the fact that there seem to be an awful lot of dogs wandering around today.

You may be wondering about the remaining combination, unbounded plus uniplex. I hope so, because it leads to the important footnote that these perspectives refer not only to spatial arrangements, but to temporal ones as well. Generally this is most relevant with verbs, but for example, when I said "byalt", I was not necessarily making statement about how many dogs were present at that time, or about their physical placement. Rather, I was speaking of their "unboundedness", either spatially, temporally, or both.

That remaining unbounded/uniplex combination, as far as I can tell from the grammar, tends more to the temporal end of the scale. With verbs, unbounded indicates a kind of temporal inaccessability of the event's boundary, whether that be past or future. Uniplex nouns naturally have fairly distinct spatial boundaries, so it's natural that the unbounded/uniplex combo, written with "-t", would tend toward a temporal meaning, similar to a verbal meaning. A specific example from the grammar is "aklát", which it glosses as "what once was a river". We need to be careful about interpreting single words as nouns which could be used in sentences--some examples, I think, are best interpreted as one-word sentences consisting of a verb--but in this case I think this is a noun which could be used as one of many words in a sentence.