Alũbetah, the proto proto language


Below you will find the description of a hypothetical language that was the ancestor to the proto language of the yet-to-be-named language family of a yet-to-be-defined geographical location (not to mention a yet-to-be-defined planet, which may be Earth, and a yet-to-be-defined time in history). It is hypothetical as the language farthest in time that can be reconstructed is the proto language, but since that language already seemed to have some strange quirks and irregularities (as far as can be reconstructed), I decided to create a proto proto language first.

Since it is a proto proto language, and since it is hypothetical, I kept the morphology and syntax as simple as possible (relatively speaking), but I decided to create a minimal phonology with much internal sandhi, to have a relatively easy way to create irregularities due to historical sound changes.

Since it is a bit cumbersome to keep referencing to this language as "proto proto language", I have decided to name it alũbetah ([alũˈbeta̤], from /anupetʰa/), which simply means "speech" or "language".



Alũbetah has a very minimal phonology of eight consonants and seven vowels. It also has extensive allophony due to internal sandhi, making the surface forms often quite different from their phonemic representation.


Alũbetah has eight consonants: three voiceless plosives (bilabial, alveolar, velar) and aspirated variants, one nasal without an inherent point of articulation and voiceless glottal fricative, giving the following set:

plosivep pʰt tʰk kʰ


Alũbetah has seven vowels, five monophthongs at the cardinal positions, and two are closing diphthongs, both back and front. This gives the following set:


Syllable structure

The syllable structure is ((C1)C2)V(C3), where C1 is /n/ or /h/, C2 is /n/ (only when C1 is not) or a plosive, and C3 a plosive. If the vowel is a diphthong, no C3 may be present. Within a phonological unit, no two adjacent vowels may be present.

Allophony - internal sandhi

As mentioned, Alũbetah has extensive allophony due to internal sandhi, both for consonants and vowels. Since the sandhi is internal, all rules below are for syllables in a single phonetic word only (though since Alũbetah has many clitics, a phonetic word may contain more than one semantic word).


1. Intervocalic plosives are 'softened'

VC[+plos -aspir]V -> VC[+voice]V/ata/ -> [ada]
VC[+aspir]V -> VC[-aspir]V[+breathy]/atʰa/ -> [ata̤]

2. Syllable final aspirated plosives are deaspirated before another plosive

C1[+aspir]C2[-aspir] -> C1[-plos +fric]C2/apʰta/ -> [aɸta]
C1[+aspir]C1[-aspir] -> C1[-aspir]C1[+aspir]/apʰpa/ -> [appʰa]
C1[+aspir]C2[+aspir]V -> C1[-aspir]C2V[+breathy]/apʰtʰa/ -> [aptʰa̤]
C1[+aspir]C1[+aspir]V -> C1[-aspir]C2V[-aspir +affric]/apʰpʰa/ -> [app͡ɸa]

What happens here is that an aspirated consonant cannot occur before another consonant. Instead, the aspiration tends to travels one phoneme to the right, but this is only possible if the following consonant has the same point of articulation, or has a different point of articulation but is also aspirated (second and third subrule). If the point of articulation is different, the aspiration cannot travel to the right, and instead transforms the aspirated consonant into a fricative (first subrule). If the point of articulation is the same, the aspiration does travel right, but the built-up pressure transforms the second consonant into an affricate (fourth subrule).

3. Syllable final aspirated plosives are deaspirated before another, non-plosive consonant

C1[+aspir]h -> C[-aspir]h/apʰhpa/ -> [appʰa]
C1[+aspir]n -> C[-aspir]n/apʰna/ -> [apm̥a]

4. Word final aspirated plosives are affricated

C[+aspir]# -> C[-aspir +fric]/apʰ/ -> [ap͡ɸ]

5. Non-aspirated plosives are voiced before a nasal

C[-aspir]n -> C[+voice]n/apna/ -> [abma]

6a. Intervocalic nasals become latteral, nasal element transferred to following vowel

VnV -> VlV[+nasal]/ana/ -> [alã]

6b. Word initial nasals get alveolar point of articulation

nV -> nV/na/ -> [na]

7. Syllable initial nasals before a consonant take the point of articulation and voice of that consonant

C[-aspir]n -> Cn[+voice +poa C]/apna/ -> [abma]
C[+aspir]n -> Cn[-voice +poa C]/apʰna/ -> [apm̥a]

Note that this rule applies after applying rule 3 or 5.

8a. Plosives after a voiced nasal get voiced, nasal absorbed

n[+voice]C[-aspir]V -> C[+voice]V/anpa/ -> [aba]
n[+voice]C[+aspir]V -> C[+voice]V[+breathy]/anpʰa/ -> [aba̤]

8b. Plosives after an unvoiced nasal absorb the nasal

n[-voice]C[-aspir]V -> CV/atʰnpa/ -> [atpa]
n[-voice]C[+aspir]V -> C[+aspir]V/atʰnpʰa/ -> [atpʰa]

An unvoiced nasal occurs as result of applying rule 7 when the nasal follows an aspirated consonant. Note that the resulting sequence in case of an aspirated consonant after the nasal is different from a sequence without the nasal, since rule 2 does not provide for any combination of C1, C2 such that C1[+aspir]C2[+aspir]V -> C1[-aspir]C2[+aspir]V[-breathy].

9. Aspirated plosives before the glottal fricative are affricated

C[+aspir]h -> C[-aspir +affric]h/apʰhna/ -> [ap͡ɸda]

10. Plosives after the glottal fricative become aspirated, glottal fricative absorbed

hC[-aspir]V -> C[+aspir]V/ahpa/ -> [apʰa]
hC[+aspir]V -> C[+aspir]V[+breathy]/ahpʰa/ -> [apʰa̤]

11. Nasals after the glottal fricative become a voiced plosive or tap, nasal element transferred to vowel

hnV -> dV[+nasal]/ahna/ -> [adã]

Word initial and word medial before a consonant, /hn/ becomes [d], word medial before a vowel /hn/ may be either [d] or [ɾ].

12. Geminated, non-aspirated plosives are degeminated

C1C1 -> C1/atta/ -> [ata]


1. Syllable final /a/ is raised before a syllable with /i/, regardless of stress

a.(C)Ci -> e.(C)Ci/a.ti/ -> [e.ti]

Note that this applies only to syllable final /a/, so that e.g. /at.i/ -> [at.i].

2. Unstressed /e/ and /o/ are centred

e[-stress] -> e[+central]/e/ -> [ə]
o[-stress] -> o[+central]/o/ -> [ə̹]

Note that this rule may be applied to an /e/ that is the result of applying rule 1 to /a/.

3. Unstressed diphthongs are leveled

ai[-stress] -> e/ai/ -> [e]
au[-stress] -> o/au/ -> [o]

As a result of rule 2 and 3, [e] and [o] in an unstressed syllable are always the result of a levelled diphthong.

Allophony - external sandhi

Alũbetah has very little external sandhi, the only rules being optional and pertaining to unstressed, reduced vowels.

1. Unstressed word-final reduced vowels are elided when followed by a vowel

2. Unstressed word-final unreduced vowels are elided when followed by a vowel with the same surface form


Stress is placed on a single syllable in a phonetic word. Which syllable is stressed depend on the number of syllables of the phonetic word, as well as on the part of speech: nouns are stressed differently than verbs. As can be seen above in the vowel allophony, correct stress placement is necessary for the correct surface form of a phonetic word.


Two syllable nouns are stressed on the final syllable. A noun of three syllables or more is stressed on the penultimate syllable.


Two and three syllable verbs are stressed on the penultimate syllable. A verb of four syllables or more is stressed on the ante-penultimate syllable.


Alũbetah is transcribed phonetically, as it would be difficult to read phonemically due to its extensive internal sandhi (not to mention that, in order for a reader to apply the allophonic rules correctly, syllable boundaries and stress would have to be marked). The transcription is as follows:


[n n̥ ŋ ŋ̊]n
[m m̥]m


[ə ə̹]y1
[a̤]ah (etc.)
[ã]ã (etc.)

1Although it is unusual for a transcription to use <y> for the schwa, it seems the least bad choice here, as all normal vowel symbols are used and a normal vowel symbol with a diacritic would be problematic in case of a nasal schwa (which would then need two diacritics).

Word final elided vowels are written with an apostroph (') to indicate the elision.


Parts of speech

Alũbetah has nouns, verbs and prepositions, as well as pronouns, quantifier and some grammatical particles. Noun modifiers and verb modifiers are verbs or nouns. The preposition class is a closed class of clitics, but complex prepositions can be created by combining a preposition with a noun or nominalized verb. Complex prepositions may function as conjunctions. Pronouns, quantifiers and grammatical particles are clitics as well.

Word order

Alũbetah has an SVO word order. Noun modifiers, including clausal ones, proceed the noun they modify. Prepositions head the prepositional phrase. Prepositional phrases are placed after the direct object if there is one, and after the verb otherwise.


Verbs do not agree with their constituents, nor do modifiers with the word they modify. Nouns are not marked for their grammatical role, except through prepositions.


Subject and (direct) object are indicated by word order only. Verbs are intransitive or monotransitive. Ditransitivity does not exist; instead, prepositions are used to mark oblique objects, although in some cases prepositions may also be used with subjects and direct objects. In some constructions (most notibly existential constructions and the derived possessive construction), it is up for discussion what the specific syntactic roles of the constituents exactly are.


Quantifiers are proclitics that attach to the first modifier (if any) or the noun of a noun phrase. It does not attach to a modifier clause, although a modifier clause may incorporate a noun with a quantifier attached. Alũbetah has the following quantifiers:

/kʰai//kʰ/some (existential)
/hpu//hp/all (universal)
/tʰu//tʰ/more (plural)

The full form is used before a consonant, the short form before a vowel, in which case it is integrated into the vowel's syllable (before a consonant it is a separate syllable).

Noun phrase

A noun phrase consists of optional modifiers and a single noun, which may be a compound noun (containing more than one basic noun). Alũbetah has no articles, although certain modifiers and quantifiers may convey meanings similar to that of traditional articles. Quantifiers are proclitics, and attach to the first member of the noun phrase, which may be either the head noun itself or a modifier (except for modifier clauses, which may contain quantifiers themselves).

The full order of the noun phrase constituents is: [modifier clause] [quantifier] [modifiers] noun.

Bare noun

akah - woman

Noun with quantifier

phakah - all women (from /hpakʰ.ˈa/)

Noun with modifier

Noun modifiers are either other nouns or simple modifier clauses, i.e. a modifier clause with a single intransitive verb (or a transitive verb without a direct object) of which the noun is the subject. These verbs are typically verbs expressing a state describing a property, which are the Alũbetah equivalent of adjectives.

Certain common constructions, most notably that of possession, allow a modifier that is formed by attaching a preposition clitic to a noun. See here for an example.

Noun with modifier clause

Modifier clauses are an extended version of the simple modifier clauses, allowing for noun phrases in addition to the verb. A noun phrase can be any constituent of the verb (subject, direct object, oblique object), as long as the modified noun is either subject or object of the modifier clause. The position of the modified noun is indicated by a gap: there is no relative pronoun or other pronoun to fill in for it. Note that quantifier clitics do not attach to modifier clauses, but to the first modifier (if any) or the modified noun itself.

Note that when the modified noun is the direct object in the modifier clause (as in the second example), the noun phrase by itself can also be read as a normal clause ("the dog eats the bone").

Reduced modifier clauses

A special type of modifier clauses, viz. those with a prepositional oblique object, may be reduced by omitting the verb (typically a locative or directional one). The result is a simple modifier, consisting of a bare prepositional phrase.


Alũbetah has three pronouns, for first, second and third person. There are no specific plural pronouns (though the plural clitic can be used), nor are there specific pronouns that indicate gender or animacy. Pronouns can be either proclitics that attach to a verb to indicate the subject, or enclitics that attach to a verb to indicate the object.

The actual form of the clitic depends on the following phonemes (proclitics) or preceding phonemes (enclitics).

1/n/, /ne//ne/
2/h/, /hn/, /hna//hna/
3/a/, /a.n//a/, /na/

/n/ is used before a vowel or single consonant that's not also /n/, /ne/ is used in all other cases. /h/ is used before a single consonant, /hn/ before a vowel and /hna/ in all other cases. /a/ is used before and after a consonant, /a.n/ before a vowel and /na/ after a vowel.


The plural is formed by using the quantifier /tʰu/ (/tʰ/). It can be used to mark ordinary nouns, noun phrases and pronouns.

To express a very large quantity of something, in addition to the plural marker the stem or part of the stem of the noun is reduplicated. The part reduplicated is the stressed syllable and the following one if there is one. If this causes two vowels to be adjacent, an epenthetic plosive consonant is inserted as part of the reduplicated syllable that has the same point of articulation as the vowel of that syllable (i.e. /p/ before front vowels [i] and [e], /t/ before mid vowel [a], and /k/ before back vowels [u] and [o].

Note that since the epenthetic consonant is purely phonetic, the surface form of the vowel determines its point of articulation. In the phonemic decription, it is always written as /t/.


There are only three basic prepositions, which are proclitics that attach to a noun phrase. More complex prepositions are formed by attaching one of these prepositions to a noun or nominalized verb.

/e/, /en/on, at, with (location)
/pʰ/, /pʰu/from, about (source)
/akʰ/to, for (destination)

/en/ and /pʰ/ are used in front of a vowel, /e/ and /pʰu/ are used in all other cases.

A noun with a preposition attached follows the noun stress rules, a verbal modifier with a preposition attached follows the verb stress rules.

Prepositional pronouns

Pronouns fuse with the prepositions to form prepositional pronouns. Phonetically there is nothing special going on (apart from the stress), but syntactically this is the only case of a proclitic and an enclitic being combined to form a freestanding unit. The plural (and other quantifiers) are attached to the unit as a whole, and therefore to the preposition. Stress is placed on the prepositional element. The tables below show all combinations of the three prepositions and the three pronouns.

1elỹon me/ˈ
2edãon you/ˈe.hna/
3elãon him/her/it/ˈ
1phulỹfrom me/ˈpʰ
2phudãfrom you/ˈpʰu.hna/
3phafrom him/her/it/pʰ.a/
1aknyto me/ˈakʰ.ne/
2akxdãto you/ˈakʰ.hna/
3akahto him/her/it/ˈakʰ.a/

Note that akny is pronounced akŋ̊ə, with a voiceless velar nasal.

Verb phrase

A verb phrase consists of a verb and optional modifiers. Verb phrase modifiers are, as are noun modifiers, verbs themselves. Modifiers may express manner, but also modality or aspect (other than the progressive, which is morphologically encoded). A pronoun clitic may attach to a verb phrase as a proclitic to indicate subject, and/or as enclitic to indicate a direct object.

Bare verb

phit - eat

Verb with pronoun clitics

Verb with modifier

Verbal modifiers can specify manner ("eat slowly", "go walking"), direction ("jump upwards"), aspect ("hit repetitively", "start eating", "continue walking") and mood ("be able to eat", "want to walk"). All of these modifiers are verbs. Therefore, a verb with modifiers is syntactically a serial verb construction. Serial verbs are placed one after the other, with the main verb as the last one. Typically modifiers of manner directly precede the main verb, and aspectual and modal verbs precede them. Pronoun proclitics attach to the first verb in the construction, pronoun enclitics attach to the last (i.e. main) verb.

To be

The verb "to be" is a normal verb (/ta/), but used in both possessive and future tense constructions. As a stand-alone verb it expresses existence. The table below shows the verb with all pronoun clitics.

to be
1sdaI am/nta/
2sthayou are/hta/
3sadahe/she/it is/ˈa.ta/
1pthudawe are/ˈtʰu.nta/
2pthuthayou are/ˈtʰu.hta/
3pthadathey are/ˈtʰa.ta/

To say something exists (as opposed to say something is located at a certain location), the thing existing is not expressed as subject, but as a kind of predicate. The third person pronoun clitic is used as a dummy subject.

/ta/ is not used as copula. Instead, two noun phrases are juxtaposed to indicate equality, similarity or group inclusion.

Verb tense and aspect

Alũbetah has two morphosyntactically encoded aspects, the progressive aspect - which is encoded by stem reduplication - and the perfective aspect, which is encoded by the verb "to be" and the past tense clitic. It has three morphosyntactically encoded tenses, the unmarked present tense, the past tense - which is encoded with a clitic - and the future tense - which is encoded by using a cliticized form of the verb "to be".

Progressive aspect

The progressive aspect is formed by reduplication of the stem, or part of the stem, of the verb. The part reduplicated is the stressed syllable and the following one if there is one. In case this causes two vowels to be adjacent, an epenthetic consonant is inserted. See here for a detailed description. Verb stress rules are obeyed for the resulting verb, which for two syllable verbs means that the stress shifts from the initial syllable to the second one of the stem (which is the ante-penultimate of the four syllable resulting verb).

Because of the stress shift, the original surface form of okyhts, "to hunt", changes to ykeh(...)ts.

Perfective aspect

The perfective aspect is formed by combining the verb "to be" (/ta/) with the past tense enclitic (/tʰ/), forming a proclitic (/tatʰ/) that attaches to the verb phrase that is to be perfectivized. Any pronoun clitics are attached to the perfective aspect clitic.

Present tense

The present tense is indicated by the absence of any special marking on the verb or the clause.

Past tense

The past tense is formed by the enclitic /tʰ/ (after a non-diphthong vowel), /tʰi/ (after a diphthong) or /atʰ/ (otherwise). The clitic attaches to the direct object if one is present, or to the main verb otherwise.

In the first example, the clitic attaches directly to the verb (/u.ˈtʰa.ta/), while in the second example, it attaches to the direct object (/tai.ˈku.pʰa/).

When using the existential construction, the noun phrase that signifies the person or thing existing is not the direct object, and therefore the past tense clitic attaches to the verb.

Note that when a verb with a stem ending in a consonant ends with /atʰ/, it depends on the transitivity of the verb whether it has just the past tense marker, or both an object pronoun clitic (which is /a/ after a consonant) and a past tense clitic (/tʰ/ after a vowel).

The first two examples are of transitive verbs, and an object pronoun, possibly a dummy one, is assumed. The last example is of an intransitive verb, so no object pronoun can be assumed.

Future tense

The future tense is formed by attaching a clitic formed by the verb "to be" (/ta/) to the verb phrase. In case this causes two vowels to be adjacent, an epenthetic consonant is inserted. See here for a detailed description. Any pronoun clitics are attached to the future tense clitic.

dada can also mean "I am existing", using the progressive aspect reduplication. Context must make clear which one is meant.


Alũbetah has a negative verb, /okʰ/, which means "to not be", "to not exist", and which is therefore the logical opposite of the verb /ta/, "to be", "to exists". The table below shows the verb with all pronoun clitics.

to not be
1snokxI am not/nokʰ/
2sdõkxyou are not/hnokʰ/
3salỹkxhe/she/it is not/ˈa.nokʰ/
1pthulỹkxwe are not/ˈtʰu.nokʰ/
2pthudỹkxyou are not/ˈtʰu.hnokʰ/
3pthalỹkxthey are not/ˈtʰa.nokʰ/

When negating an existential construction, /okʰ/ is used directly. Like with /ta/, the object not present is expressed as a kind of predicate, and the verb itself uses a dummy third person pronoun clitic.

It is possible to use /okʰ/ without a dummy pronoun, in which case the emphasis is more on the not being there (locative) than on the not existing.

When negating an entire clause, /okʰ/ is used as a verbal modifier, typically the first in case of multiple modifiers.

When negating a clause with a noun phrase direct object that is semantically the negated part, the proclitic /it/ is attached to the direct object. This clitic can only be used when /okʰ/ is also part of the clause.

/it/ could be considered a negative quantifier, but its use is limited to the construction described above.

/okʰ/ also functions as a clitic, turning a verb into its opposite meaning. The meaning of the resulting verb is largely idiomatic, and not all verbs can be negated like this.

Derivational morphology


Nominalization of verbs is done by attaching the third person pronoun clitic to the verb, and applying noun stress rules. Mostly the verb stem is used, but in some cases a verb with aspect or tense is nominalized this way.

Because of stress rules, only two-syllable verbs and nouns are stressed equally, and distinguishing between a verb in the third person and a nominalized verb is not possible in isolation. In all other cases, nouns are stressed one syllable further to the end, so that e.g. "he speaks" is alũbytah, stressed on the ante-penultimate syllable, as opposed to alũbetah, "speech", stressed on the penultimate syllable.

A noun with a preposition attached (i.e. a complex preposition) can function as a normal noun. The combination is then a lexical unit, and can have another preposition attached.


A noun can be turned into a preposition by attaching one of the prepositions to it. The complex preposition is a freestanding phonological unit, and does not attach to the noun. In rare cases, in isolation it is not possible to tell the difference between a complex preposition + noun and a simple preposition + compound noun. Like simple prepositional phrases, complex prepositions follow noun stress rules.

ylĩk, "behind", is composed of the noun /ik/, "back" and the preposition /en/, "on/at". In the same way, "from behind" uses the preposition /pʰ/, "from".

Verbs can be turned into a preposition like nouns, by attaching a preposition to it. Though the resulting prepositional phrase follows noun stress rules, and the verb can therefore be said to be nominalized, it is not nominalized according to the verb nominalization rules described above (i.e. the third person pronoun clitic is not attached first).

ydega, "above", is composed of the verb "to fly", "to hover" (/ˈnte.ka/) and the preposition "on/at".


A noun can be turned into a verb without overt marking. Verb stress rules apply. The most common use for verbalization is to have a noun modify a verb, since verb modifiers are always verbs.

Clause word order

Default order

Alũbetah has strict SVO word order. Both subject and object may be a noun or a pronoun clitic. Oblique objects, expressed as prepositional phrases, go at the end of the clause, after any direct object. These include clause modifiers, that are morphologically complex prepositions.

Alũbetah lacks a copula. Clauses that express equality, similarity or group inclusion consist of two juxtaposed noun phrases, the first of which is the subject and the one/thing compared to the second. For an example, see the verb "to be".

Complement clauses

Clauses that have a complement clause as direct object have the complement clause after the verb and any oblique arguments. There is no linking between the clauses other than their juxtaposition.

Subject subclauses

Subclauses cannot act as subject. Instead, such a construction must be encoded in discourse using the third person pronoun clitic as subject in the main clause, which then functions as anaphore to a clausal antecedent.


Alũbetah allows topicalization of nominal direct objects by moving them to the front of the clause, before the subject. This results in a marked OSV word order.

Oblique objects can also be moved to the front of the clause (after any co-ordinators) for topicalization.


Subjects can be detopicalized by moving them to after the verb or direct object (if present) and attaching the pronoun /pʰ/ "from". A dummy third person pronoun is attached to the verb.

Passive voice

Alũbetah does not have a true morphological passive voice. Instead, the direct object is topicalized and the subject detopicalized or removed (leaving the dummy pronoun clitic). Since topicalizing a pronoun direct object is not possible (as it cannot stand alone, nor can it be attached in subject position), having a dummy pronoun subject or an oblique object are in this case the only indications a passive reading is meant.

Note that a passive with both a subject and a direct object pronoun clitic may be ambiguish depending on the semantics of the verb and the preposition. Most of the time, semantics and context will make clear what is meant. Compare e.g. the last example above with the following sentence:

The equally possible reading "he was eaten by the ground" may be unlikely, but not impossible, given some quicksand.

Transitive verbs

Transitive verbs have a syntactically obligatory direct object. If the direct object remains unknown or unspecified, a dummy object pronoun clitic is used.


Noun conjunction

To express that a thing/person and another thing/person function together as a single constituent (and as far as clitics are concerned form a single noun phrase), the enclitic /ni/ is attached to the first noun phrase (and any subsequent noun phrase except the last one in case of more than two conjoined noun phrases).


To express that a thing/person and another thing/person function together as a single constituent, but the second is somehow semantically subordinate to the first, the preposition /e/, "on/at" is used. It attaches to the second noun phrase to form a prepositional phrase.

In case the two noun phrases do not necessarily function together as a single unit, the prepositional phrase gets its normal position after the verb and any direct object.

Verb conjunction

In case of simple verb phrase conjunction, the same strategy is used as with noun conjunction: the enclitic /ni/ is attached to the first main verb (and any subsequent ones in case of more than two conjoined verb phrases).

As can be seen in the example, the pronoun clitic is used only once, attaching to the first verb.

Both ... and

For both noun conjunctions and verb conjunctions (pun intended), it is possible to stress that both are considered, by attaching the enclitic /ni/ to the second (or last) phrase as well.

Clause conjunction (co-ordinating)

Alũbetah does not have a co-ordinating conjunction. Instead, clauses are juxtaposed as-is.

Clause conjunctions (subordinating)

Subordinating clause conjunctions are morphologically not considered a separate part of speech, as they are derived from nouns or nominalized verbs combined with a preposition, and are therefore complex adpostions. These adpositions can take both a clause (and are thus used as subordinators) or a noun phrase (and are thus used as prepositions). The table below lists the most common subordinating conjunctions.

Most subordinating conjunctions are derived from the verb "to do", which in this context may also be translated as "to happen", the nominalized version of which would be "happening" or "event". Note that phydut also means "result", being derived in the same manner.

As can be seen, the subordinators for reason, purpose and chance are equal to those of time. Whether Alũbetah even has subordinators for reason etc. is up for debate, but it is clear that at least semantically and pragmatically the subordinators of time can be used as such.

Syntactically, a subclause may both lead or follow the main clause. See here for a description of the differences between a subclause and the main clause considering tense, use of pronouns, etc.


Noun disjunction

Noun disjunction, like noun conjunction, is expressed through a clitic, the enclitic /ku/, which is attached to the first noun (and any subsequent noun except the last one in case of more than two disjoined noun phrases).

Verb disjunction

Verb disjunction, unlike verb conjunction, is expressed periphrastically using the complex adposition ylĩkuhtu (litterally "on choice"), placed between the disjoined verbs.

As the example shows, both disjoined verbs receive a pronoun clitic. Since ylĩkuhtu is also used as a clause co-ordinator, context (and morphosyntactic clues like a transitive verb not having a direct object) must make clear whether the first verb is an independent clause or not.

Clause co-ordinators

Although Alũbetah does not have a co-ordinating conjunction, it has several other clause co-ordinators, which are derived from complex adpositions.

Note that the adversative co-ordinator phudahgit, "but", and akphohdut, "so" can also be considered adverbs ("surprisingly" and "consequently" respectively) that are part of the second clause, the two clauses being juxtaposed for conjunction. This reading is reinforced by the fact that it needn't stand between the clauses without altering the meaning. See here for a discussion about the disjunctive co-ordinator ylĩkuhtu, "or", with regards to its position and meaning.


Polar questions

Polar questions have no specific morphosyntactic construction. They are characterized by a rising intonation only.

See here for ways to answer polar questions.

Content questions

Content questions about persons, objects and places are formed by the use of a single nominal question word, the (from /tʰe/), which is used in situ. There is no distinction between person ("who"), thing ("what"), selection ("which") and place ("where") – context must make clear what is meant (though given the semantics of a typical content question, in practice this poses no problem). As the is a noun, it may act as modifier to other nouns, so to avoid ambiguity additional information can be supplied (e.g. "what/which person" instead of "who").

The last sentence is still not without ambiguity however, as it could also mean "what kind of man", and even "how many man", since the may replace any kind of modifier (although see here on the (un)likelyhood of that last question).

Since the is a noun, prepositions attach to it when needed.

More complex content questions, e.g. for asking about manner or time, are handled in a similar way, i.e. the is used in the appropiate construction.


The people speaking Alũbetah seem to have had very little use for counting. There are count nouns for one through four, five uses the word for "hand", six through nine use the word for "hand" plus the count words for one through four, above nine the plural of "hand" is used to indicate "two or more hands", "many". The counting words are thus:

ukphufive, hand/uk.ˈpʰu/
au ukphusix, hand and one/au uk.ˈpʰu/
thi ukphuseven, hand and two/tʰi uk.ˈpʰu/
ak ukphueight, hand and three/ak uk.ˈpʰu/
its ukphunine, hand and four/itʰ uk.ˈpʰu/
thukphuten or more, hands, many/tʰuk.ˈpʰu/

The count nouns are combined with nouns as ordinary modifiers, though the count nouns usually come as first of the modifiers if there are more. The resulting noun phrase is not marked for plural (unless the count is greater than nine, of course).

Semantics and pragmatics


Present tense

The present tense is used to refer to events that are currently taking place, regardless of whether they have started in the past. Events that have just been finished may also be referred to using the present tense, especially when the result of the action is still visible, typically in combination with some prepositional phrase indicating time, e.g. "just now".

Other uses of the present tense (unmarked tense may be a better name) are in subclauses to indicate a tense relative to that of the main clause, and for general or generic statements ("the sun sets in the west") or in conditional sentences ("if you eat that, you die").

Past tense

The past tense is used to refer to events that took place in the past and are, regardless of internal temporal structure, finished as a whole. Since there is a grey area between that what is "past" and that what is "present", events that have just been finished may be referred to using the present tense. Story telling does not use the past tense; instead, the present tense is used.

Future tense

The future tense is used to refer to events that have not yet taken place. Since what will happen in the future is by definition uncertain, the future tense carries a sense of hypthetical mood as well. Events that will definitely happen are more likely referred to using the present tense.


Progressive aspect

The progressive aspect is used for non-punctual, imperfective events. In the present tense, it is used to stress an event is going on, but it is not used obligatory. In the past tense, it is used to indicate the event stretched some time, possibly when some other event also took place.

Perfective aspect

The perfective aspect is used for punctual or perfective events, of which the internal temporal structure is not important. When combined with the past tense it refers to a concluded event. When combined with the present tense it refers to an ongoing event, but one whose (future) conclusion is important, not the ongoing nature ("Can I have an apple? No, I eat the last one").


Alũbetah does not have a grammaticalized imperative. To command someone, a speaker could either use a full verb form including a subject (presumably the second person pronoun), or a bare verb. Or, in fact, a bare noun, if the context is clear.

The command someone not to do something, the negative verb okx may be used in combination with a verb, optionally including a subject. It may also be used together with a noun, although it is more common to use a negative existential construction.


Marking noun phrases denoting more than one with the plural clitic is common practice, though the clitic may be omitted in case it is clear that more than one is meant. Nouns marked with another quantifier (i.e. "all" or "some") never receive a plural clitic, as are nouns with an explicit count noun (although the count noun for "ten and up" does have a plural clitic already attached).

Marking verb phrases with the plural clitic is only possible when a subject pronoun clitic is also present. In that case, the plural clitic is prefixed to the pronoun clitic. Plural objects cannot explicitly be denoted when an object pronoun clitic is used, as the plural clitic cannot attach to it. Compared to noun phrases, verb phrases are far less likely to be marked as plural. Using a subject pronoun clitic without plural marking to denote more than one is not marked in any way, and quite common.

Marking prepositional pronouns with the plural clitic is even less common than marking verb phrases. It is used almost exclusively to avoid ambiguity, but if clear from context, no plural marking is used.

Subordinate clauses


The tense in subordinate clauses is relative to that of the main clause. In practice this means that most of the time there is no explicit tense marking in the subordinate clause.

In the first example, the subclause has no overt tense marker, while the main clause has the past tense marker. The subclause is therefore semantically in the same tense as the main clause. In the second example, both subclause and main clause have a past tense marker, and therefore the subclause is placed earlier then the main clause.


As can already been seen in the examples above, subordinate clauses typically have a tendency towards using pronouns for the subject and if already mentioned objects as well. This is regarless of whether the subclause is placed before or after the main clause: even if placed before the main clause pronouns are typically used, even if they refer to persons/things not yet referenced (and are therefore cataphoric).

Note that, as described above, the subordinate clause is not marked for tense.

Purpose clauses

Though purpose clauses (i.e. subclauses explaining the purpose of the action in the main clause) are ordinary subclauses, they typically use a third person pronoun clitic even if the subject of the main clause is not a third person.

Note that despite the second example having a first person pronoun as subject in the main clause, the third person pronoun clitic is used in the subordinate clause.

Use of (de)topicalization


Morphosyntactic topicalization of an object is used to signal its significance or emphasize it over something else, as may be expected from topicalization. Detopicalization of the subject is used mainly in pseudo-passive constructions, and to reinstate a certain earlier referenced discourse subject as the anaphore for a pronoun. E.g., given a discourse about a man and a woman, the man being the current anaphore:

Note that although the translation uses "she", the Alũbetah original uses the genderless third person pronoun, and could also refer to a man.

Discourse encoded

Besides morphosyntactic topicalization, topicalization can be discourse encoded by using the existential construction. This type of topicalization can also be used to topicalize the subject, which is not possible using morphosyntax.

Clause disjunction

As described above, clause co-ordinators "but" and "therefore" can be analyzed as adverbs (i.e. clause modifiers) since they need not stand between the clauses. The co-ordinating disjunction "or" however has a different semantic interpretation when it stand between the clauses than when it stands at the end of the second clause. In the former case, both clauses have equal validity, while in the latter case, the first clause is true, and the second clause is optionally true:

The last example could also be translated with "may" ("...and he may have thrown it away"), which gives the co-ordinating disjunction a non-verbal modal quality.



Alũbetah does not have a verb meaning "to have". Instead, to express possession, an existential construction specifying the thing possessed is used, with an oblique object as the possessor, marked with the preposition /e/, "on/at/with".

To express "to not have", "to lack", the verb complementary to /ta/ is used, /okʰ/ (see also here).

As modifier

To express possession as a modifier, the existential construction is used in a modifier clause. However, since the possessed noun is a kind of predicate, not the direct object, of the existential verb, the dummy subject is omitted.

Omitting the dummy subject makes the construction indistinguishable from a locative existential construction. The above noun phrase can also mean "the dog that is with the man" or "the dog that is near the man". Context must make the meaning clear in this case.

As shorthand for the above, the existential verb may be omitted, leaving only the prepositional phrase as modifier.

To express that the modified noun is not possessed or not with/near someone, /okʰ/ is used instead of /ta/. Naturally, there's no shorthand version in this case.

Sensory input

Verbs of sensory input have as direct object the person or thing experienced. This implies an involitional event, of which the subject is experiencer. To turn this into a volitional event, the direct object is marked with a preposition. Note that this does not turn the direct object into an oblique object, as it must appear in the object position (i.e. directly after the verb) and can partake in topicalization. The choice of preposition depends on the sensory verb as well as the implied action.

The table below shows the verbs of sensory input and the volitionality preposition typically used. Other prepositions may be used if it makes sense semantically.

kibato see/akʰ/ (to)
adipohto hear/pʰ/ (from)
ybgilãkto feel/en/ (at/on)2
obmutto taste, to smell/pʰ/ (from)

2/pʰ/, "from", is used for non-tactile feeling, e.g. the heat of a fire.


Space deixis

Alũbetah has two sets of a three degree space deixis. One set is used for locations visible or inferable to speaker and addressee, from close to far, the other set is used for locations that are not in immediate range, also from close to far. The two sets overlap, in that for example a far visibile location may be similar in distance to a nearby or medial location not in range. The set used for visible locations is encoded as nouns, while the set used for locations out of immediate range is encoded as (modifier) verbs. The tables below show the two sets.

Visible locations
iktaproximal, this, close by/ik.ˈta/
ukahtmedial, that, there/ukʰ.ˈat/
tylũtsdistal, yon, far away/to.ˈnutʰ/

A pronoun clitic can be attached to a visible location noun to indicate the location is near to the speaker (first person), addressee (second person) or understood third person. For syntactic and semantic reasons, this is not possible for the locations out of immediate range.

The visible location nouns can be used both as a standalone noun indicating a location, or as a noun modifier for demonstrative use.

Out of range locations
ytphilỹkxproximal, less than one day travel/ot.ˈpʰi.nokʰ/
dũtkapthymedial, about one day travel/hnut.ˈkap.tʰo/
thikhohgdyhdistal, more than one day travel/tʰi.ˈhkʰok.ntʰe/

Telling time

Being nomadic hunter/gatherers, the people speaking Alũbetah have no need to tell the time in regular spaced intervals. The concepts of day and year are present, but they are not counted. A day is mainly divided in periods important for hunting. A year is devided in seasonal changes that are important for knowing what fruit to find where, and what animals to follow when.


The below assumes a tropical setting for the Alũbetah speaking people. I may decide to change this.

The day starts at before dawn, the twilight period just before dawn. Next comes dawn, followed by after dawn, the early morning. Next come cool morning and warm morning, followed by mid-day heat, or heat rest. After the worst heat is over come after rest, warm evening and cool evening, followed by dusk, early night, night rest and finally late night.


The year is divided in periods important for hunting and gathering, e.g. seasonal migration of game animals and seasonal availability of fruit and vegetables. Since I haven't decided where to place the Alũbetah speaking people, no details can be provided for now.

Past and future

There are two modifiers that can be used to refer to a day in the past. One expresses that something happened the previous day, or perhaps the day before that (perhaps best translated as "recent"), and one that it happened before the previous day (or the day before that, perhaps best translated as "past"). The "recent" modifier is used for years as well, the "past" one is not. Instead, a general term meaning "long ago" is used, without it modifying the word "year".

For telling the future, a modifier meaning "after sleep" can be used with "day" to indicate the next day. Typically, the part of day (see above) is also mentioned, as it would make no sense to an Alũbetah speaking person to plan to do something without planning what time of day to do it. There is no way to mention something specific further into the future, though a season or other part of the year can be used to refer to. There is no concept of "next year": the Alũbetah speakers would be baffled by the concept of looking further into the future than a single change of seasons.


Alũbetah has a very small set of specific colour terms. All nuances or colours outside the basic colour set are described in terms of objects or natural phenomena (e.g. "sky") that have the specific colour. Like most words describing features, colour terms are verbs. The table below shows the basic colour terms.

otyhkred, orange, yellow/ˈotʰ.ok/
olãlỹgreen, blue/au.ˈ
ugnobrown, grey, purple, black/ˈuk.nau/
dykihphyhwhite, beige, off-white/nta.ˈkʰi.hpʰe/


Exceeding (comparative)

To say that one thing/person has some feature that exceeds in quality or quantity the same feature of some other thing/person, a simple construction is used in which the exceeding person or object is the subject of a clause with a verb specifying the feature, and the exceeded person or object is made an oblique object with the preposition /e/, "on".

There is a slight semantic complication with this construction, in that "to seem X to Y" is also expressed with /e/ in the same manner. Thus, the first example could also mean "the man seems big to the woman", the second example "she seems pretty to him". The latter in turn is an idiom for "he is in love with her" (or, as euphamism, "he has sex with her"). When there is a genuine chance of ambiguity, the verb can be repeated as a modifier on the exceeded thing or person (if not a pronoun), even if the exceeded person or thing does not possess the feature as such.

Exceeding all (superlative)

To say that one thing/person has some feature that exceeds in quality or quantity everything/everyone out of a group it belongs to, the same or a similar construction is used as the one above, depending on context.

If it is clear that the thing/person compared is part of the group it is compared to, the preposition /e/ is normally used, equal to the construction above.

If it may not be clear that the thing/person is part of the group it is compared to, the preposition /pʰu/, "from", is used. Depending on speaker preference, /pʰu/ may also be used if it is clear.

If the last example were to use /e/, it would read as a comparative ("the man is bigger than the three brothers"), while the first example does not (as can be seen above).

Being equal

To say that a thing/person has some feature that is equal in quality or quantity to the same feature of some other thing/person, the verb specifying the feature is modified by the verb ytihba, "to be similar", "to be the same". The person or thing the subject is compared to is made an oblique object with the preposition /e/, "on". Thus, the construction is equal to the comparative, with the addition of ytihba.

Answering polar questions

Alũbetah does not have special words for "yes" and "no". To answer a polar question, the verb can be repeated (with a suitable subject pronoun, and optional object pronoun). The negative verb /okʰ/ is used if the answer is negative. Below are some of the possible answers to the question alũtahdalã akah?, "does he give it to her?".

Alternatively, the generic verb /ˈot.ut/, "to do" can be used instead of the full verb. In this case, there is typically no object pronoun used.

The shortest way to answer a polar question is to use the existential verbs, in which case also no object pronoun is used. This use is probably derived as a short form of the above negative construction, omitting the content verb, the positive answer being derived by analogy. The third person pronoun /a/ is always used, whether or not the polar question had a third person as subject.


To express suprise or astonishment, the question word the can be used.

Reporting speech

Indirect speech

Verbs that describe a speech act take a complement clause as direct object. The tense of the complement clause is relative to that of the main clause, as is the rule for subordinate clauses.

Direct speech

When reporting direct speech, the complex preposition phulãkih (litt. "from the mouth") is used to introduce the reported speech. phulãkih can be classified as a conjunction, as a dummy third person object pronoun is used in the clause reporting the speech.

Example text

The text below is a short Alũbetah fable, translated and glossed. Note that depending on the actual location of the Alũbetah-speaking people, "tiger" and "deer" may be replaced by, say, "leopard" and "gazelle".

The tiger and the deer

A long time ago, a deer wandering through the forest, when it encountered a tiger. The tiger got ready to jump the deer and eat it, when the deer said: "Tiger, tiger, don't eat me please. I am all skin and bones, no meat is on me." The tiger laughed, and said: "I eat worms and I eat oxen, and I'll eat you." The deer said: "Tiger, tiger, don't eat me please. I have a family that loves me." The tiger laughed again, and said: "I eat mothers and fathers, I eat babies and whole families, and I'll eat you." And when he was about to jump the deer, the deer jumped instead, and disappeared into the thick foliage. The tiger could not find it anymore. It had learned a wise lesson: when you want to catch a deer, you don't start talking with it.

Pagatulĩ kakehgi

Ylĩdguh ada kakehgi, alũkuhkx ylũde, ylõdut alẽtaht pagatu. Pagatu akny tetuhgni phit kakehgi, ylõdut alũbetahlã phugakehgi phulãkih: "Pagatu, pagatu, thagykx phidny, nylãkhydã. Nylãũphydik phulũbelĩ dỹlõ, alỹkx pykoh elỹ." Pagatu ibedit, alũbetahlã phulãkih: "Nepiht nykkhai, nepiht bahtaht, nypihtdã." Kakehgi nubetahlã phulãkih: "Pagatu, pagatu, thagykx phidny, nylãkhydã. Ad' alõpihlỹ delĩ." Pagatu toby ibedit, alũbetahlã phulãkih: "Nepiht apthilĩ ipthih, nepiht byhgylĩlĩ phudailĩ, nypihtdã." Ylõdut alãkny tetuhk kakehgi, phudahgit kakehgi tetuhk akuhkaht ipmyt ekkxu. Alỹkx apkhoh phybagykna phyktadỹ. Pagatu tatohktu gehlã: ylõdut alỹpf adibu kakehgi, alỹkx nupytahpytah.


Each gloss has five lines: the phonetically transcribed text, the phonemic representation, the actual gloss (Alũbetah and English) and the semi-literal translation.

pagatulĩ kakehgi
/pa.kat.ˈ ka.ˈkʰ
"tiger and deer"
ylĩdguh ada kakehgi, alũkuhkx ylũde, ylõdut alẽtaht pagatu.
/en.ˈit.nkʰu ˈa.ta ka.ˈkʰ an.ˈukʰ.ukʰ en.ˈ en.ˈot.ut an.ˈetʰ.at pa.ˈkat.tu/
"long ago, there is a deer, it walks in the forest, when it meets a tiger"
pagatu akny tetuhgni phit kakehgi, ylõdut alũbetahlã phugakehgi phulãkih:
/pa.ˈkat.tu ˈakʰ.no ˈte.tʰ pʰit ka.ˈkʰ en.ˈot.utˈpetʰ pʰu.c pʰu.ˈna.kʰi/
"the tiger starts to jump and eat the deer when it, the deer, speaks saying:"
pagatu, pagatu, thagykx phidny, nylãkhydã
/pa.ˈkat.tu pa.ˈkat.tu ˈhta.tokʰ ˈpʰ ne.ˈna.hke.hna/
"tiger, tiger, you will not eat me, I beg you"
nylãũphydik phulũbelĩ dỹlõ, alỹkx pykoh elỹ
/ne.ˈnau.hpa.tikˈ hne.ˈno ˈa.nokʰ pe.ˈkʰo ˈ
"I consist of all skin and bone, there's no meat on me"
pagatu ibedit, alũbetahlã phulãkih:
/pa.ˈkat.tu i.ˈpa.ntitˈpetʰ pʰu.ˈna.kʰi/
"the tiger laughs, it speaks saying:"
nepiht nykkhai, nepiht bahtaht, nypihtdã
/ˈne.pʰit nokʰ.ˈkai ˈne.pʰit npʰa.ˈtʰat ne.ˈpʰit.hna/
"I eat worm, I eat bovine, I eat you"
kakehgi nubetahlã phulãkih:
/ka.ˈkʰ nu.ˈpetʰ pʰu.ˈna.kʰi/
"the deer speeks saying:"
pagatu, pagatu, thagykx phidny, nylãkhydã
/pa.ˈkat.tu pa.ˈkat.tu ˈhta.tokʰ ˈpʰ ne.ˈna.hke.hna/
"tiger, tiger, you will not eat me, I beg you"
ad' alõpihlỹ delĩ
/ˈa.ta a.ˈno.pʰ ntai.ˈni/
"there is a me-loving family"
pagatu toby ibedit, alũbetahlã phulãkih:
/pa.ˈkat.tu ˈto.po i.ˈpa.ntitˈpetʰ pʰu.ˈna.kʰi/
"the tiger laughs again, it speaks saying:"
nepiht apthilĩ ipthih, nepiht byhgylĩlĩ phudailĩ, nypihtdã
/ˈne.pʰit ap.ˈtʰ ipʰ.ˈtʰi ˈne.pʰit npʰˈ hpu.ˈ ne.ˈpʰit.hna/
"I eat mother and father, I eat infant and entire family, I eat you"
ylõdut alãkny tetuhk kakehgi, phudahgit kakehgi tetuhk akuhkaht ipmyt ekkxu
/en.ˈot.ut a.ˈnakʰ.no ˈte.tʰuk ka.ˈkʰ pʰu.ˈntʰ ka.ˈkʰ ˈte.tʰuk akʰ.ˈukʰ.at ˈip.not ekʰ.ˈkʰu/
"when he starts to jump the deer, yet the deer jumps away into the dense underbrush"
alỹkx apkhoh phybagykna phyktadỹ
/ˈa.nokʰ ˈapʰ.kʰai pʰo.ˈ pʰek.ˈta.hno/
"it cannot search it from then"
pagatu tatohktu gehlã:
/pa.ˈkat.tu tatʰ.ˈok.tu ˈnkʰ
"the tiger has learned well:"
ylõdut alỹpf adibu kakehgi, alỹkx nupytahpytah
/en.ˈot.ut ˈan.opʰ at.ˈi.pu ka.ˈkʰ an.ˈokʰ nu.petʰ.ˈa.petʰ.a/
"when one wants to catch a deer, one does not do talking"



Complex prepositions


Verbs (events and states)

Verbs (modifiers)