Øynduyska – diachronics of declension

Sorry for the lack of updates in recent months. You know how it is – stuff. Also, I’ve been working at two massive blog projects that will probably never see the light of day. And I have two book reviews I need to do.

For now, though, it’s just a snippet of Øynduyska again – this time, how its noun declensions have developed over time. And yes, this does contradict (and supersede) the information in my last series about the language. Sorry!

I should also probably clarify for the sake of background context what I mean by these temporal terms. I divide the history of the language into five rough periods: Primitive, Old, Middle, Early Modern and Modern. “Primitive” was a Northwest Germanic dialect (not attested in writing), not greatly diverged from Proto-Germanic; “Old” was a sparsely attested language that flourished in the eighth and ninth centuries; “Middle” flourished in the 11th and 12th centuries; “Early Modern” was spoken in around the 16th and 17th centuries; and “Modern”, which is more or less mutually intelligible with Early Modern, is the term for the language from the 19th century on, although some elements of the orthography were not settled until the late 19th century.

So, with that established…


The development of Øynduyska noun declension

Old Øynduyska

The declension system of Old Øynduyska was conservative and complex, with five major declensions, many with subtypes, and a small but significant number of irregular nouns, all inflecting for up to six cases (although one, the vocative, was distinguished only in the first declension) and two numbers.

The first declension contains the majority of nouns, which may be either masculine or neuter. There is an important distinction between ‘long’ and ‘short’ stems, and subclasses for both long and short where the root vowel is a short -o- (‘long’ stems may show a short vowel if followed by a coda).

The following are the declined forms of the nouns hūda (“dog”) and ioca (“yoke”):

Declension 1 Hūda, masculine long stem   Ioca, neuter short o-stem
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative hūda hūd ioca iucu
Vocative hūd hūd ioca iucu
Accusative hūda hūdan ioca iucu
Dative hūdē hūdam iocē iocam
Instrumental hūd hūdam iucu iocam
Genitive hūdas hūdō iocas iucō


Notably, the orthography does not reveal a slight difference in the final vowels of the nominative and accusative singular in the masculine, with /a/ in the nominative but /ɑ/ in the accusative.

As can be seen, long stems show no suffix in the vocative and instrumental singulars, nor the nominative and vocative plurals, all of which show -u in short stems. Neuters show further syncretisms, conflating the nominative, vocative and accusative in each number. O-stems are marked by vowel alternation, with raising of -o- to -u- in the nominative and vocative (and for neuters also accusative) pluals, the genitive plural, and the instrumental singular.

There is a similar distinction between regular and o-stem nouns in the second declension, in which all nouns are feminine. The second declension also possesses a small subclass of ‘i-stems’, mostly comprising abstract nouns. Following are the declined forms of eorth (“earth, ground”), spitu (“skewer, spit”), and sylli (“permeable barrier, dividing line”):

Declension 2 Eorth, long stem   Spitu, short stem
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative eorth eorthō spitu spitō
Vocative eorth eorthō spitu spitō
Accusative eortho eorth spito spitu
Dative eorthō eorthomm spitō spitomm
Instrumental eorth eorthomm spitu spitomm
Genitive eorth eorthō spitu spitō


Declension 2 (cont.) Sylli, i-stem
Sng. Pl.
Nominative sylli sylliō
Vocative sylli sylliō
Accusative syllio sylliu
Dative sylliō sylliomm
Instrumental sylliu sylliomm
Genitive sylliu sylliō


As can be seen, the –a and of the first declension accusative and dative singulars are replaced by –o and –ō; nominative and vocative plurals also take –ō, while dative and instrumental plurals take –omm. Nominative, vocative, instrumental and genitive singular, and accusative plural, take either –u in short stems or zero in long stems, except that i-stems, which otherwise pattern as short stems, drop this affix in the nominative and vocative singular.

The third declension, likewise, shows three major subclasses, as it consists of one masculine subclass and two feminine subclasses, represented here by scancō (“thigh”), færi (“passage, travel”) and uarto (“wart”):

Declension 3 Scancō, masculine   Færi, feminine short i-stem
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative scancō scancan færi færīnn
Vocative scancō scancan færi færīnn
Accusative scancan scancann færīnn færīnn
Dative scæncin scancamm færīnn færīmm
Instrumental scæncini scancamm færīnn færīmm
Genitive scæncin scancannō færīnn færīnnnō


Declension 3 (cont.) Uarto, feminine o-stem
Sng. Pl.
Nominative uarto uartōnn
Vocative uarto uartōnn
Accusative uartōnn uartōnn
Dative uartōnn uartōmm
Instrumental uartōnn uartōmm
Genitive uartōnn uartōnnō


The feminine i-stems and o-stems are analogous, with –i and –ī– in the former where the latter shows o and –ō; i-stems (but not o-stems) further distinguish long and short stems, with the former simply dropping the –i of the nominative and vocative singular (sometimes accompanied by a vowel change – so burth (“burden”), but burthīnni

The masculine third declensions are similar, showing –ō and –a as the thematic vowels, but further  showing umlaut and suffixes with –i (including an anomolous final –i) in the oblique singulars, and backing in the nominative/vocative singular in the case of nouns in –a– (not shown in the orthography)

Even further syncretism was displayed in the fourth declension, which contained two major subclasses, each further distinguished by stem length. The examples used here are bainc (“slope, bank”), æci (“ache, pain, stiffness”), barc (“bark of a tree”), and uidu (“wood”, the substance):

Declension 4 Bainc, feminine long stem   Æci, masculine short stem
  Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative bainc bainc æci æci
Vocative bainc bainc æci æci
Accusative bainc baincin æci æcin
Dative bainc baincim æci æcim
Instrumental bainc baincim æci æcim
Genitive bainc bainciō æci æciō


Declension 4 (cont.) Barc, feminine long i/u-stem Uidu, masculine short i/u-stem
  Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative barc barc uidu uidi
Vocative barc barc uidu uidi
Accusative barc barcun uidu uidun
Dative barc barcum uidi uidum
Instrumental barc barcum uidu uidum
Genitive barcō barciō uidō uidiō


Gender in the fourth declension was essentially arbitrary and not discernable from the form of the word or its declension patter. The “i/u” alternating stems show –u in the accusative, dative and instrumental plurals, and –ō in the genitive singular; further more, the short stems show alternation between –i and –u.

Finally, the fifth declension has only a single paradigm, shown here with aga, “fear”:

Declension 5 Aga
Sng. Pl.
Nominative aga ægisu
Vocative aga ægisu
Accusative aga ægisu
Dative ægi ægisum
Instrumental ægisi ægisum
Genitive ægis ægisō


Notably, the umlaut here is only seen in nouns with short root vowels, and is absent where certain clusters or consonants appear root-finally. Thus, singular aga, plural ægis, but singular calba (“calf”), plural calbis (“calves”). It should also be bourne in mind that Old Øynduyska orthography did not distinguish between /s/ and, as here, /z/.


Middle Øynduyska

Middle Øynduyska was a period of considerable morphological simplification. The vocative had by now been entirely lost, outside of idioms; the instrumental, again with the exception of some set turns of phrase, and having already merged with the dative in the plural, now merged with the nominative in the singular. The accusative was distinguished only in the first declension singular (through a vowel change) and in the second declension plural (through merger with the dative). Probably as a result of this, the accusative came to be relatively rarely used, in most cases merging with the nominative.

The first declension tended to lose its absolute division into long and short stems, and between o-stems and regulars. The old alternation between –o– and –u– was relegated to an irregular vowel in the nominative/accusative plural of some words, with most o-stems being regularised entirely. Some long stems retained a distinct accusative singular, and also showed vowel length alternations. Similarly, with the decline of the accusative, the masculine-neuter distinction ceased to be significant (and indeed, some hypercorrect accusative forms for old neuters are seen in this period). Some neuters came to be reclassified as feminines, creating a new feminine subclass of the first declension, but they were not distinguished morphologically.

Instead, the first declension split anew over the loss in most words of a distinct nominative plural. This deficiency lead to a piecemeal substitution from other sources, dividing nouns into different plural classes. One class – mostly but not entirely old short stems – retained the old short stem ending, a simple –e. A second and third class borrowed the fifth (-re) and second (-enn) declension plurals respectively, with the former particularly associated with animals and children (on the example of such words as calbh (“calve”), lábh (“lamb”), hróð (“male farmyard animal”), irregular fae (“sheep”), and celth (“child”). A fourth class, simply generalised from the dying accusative to create an –an suffix. Here, the declension is represented by r-plural húð (“dog”) and e-plural yøk (“yoke”).

Declension 1 ð, masculine r-plural   yøk, feminine e-plural
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative ð ðre yøk yøke
Accusative huað huðan yøk yøke
Dative huðá huðan yøká yøkan
Instrumental ð huðan yøk yøkan
Genitive ðes huðá yøkes yøká


The second declension in Middle Øynduyska is the result of considerable merger and analogy. In general, the fourth declension nouns, which otherwise would have lost all case in the singular (the i/u-stems losing their distinctive genitive singular by analogy), adopted the dative singular –á ending of the second declension, making the singular forms of the two declensions identical, while the confusing accusative plural of the second declension (which would otherwise have been identical to the nominative singular) was replaced by copying the fourth (and first) declension pattern of merged dative and accusative plurals (after the delabialisation of final –m). At the same time, the genitive plural of the fourth declension was simplified by removing the anomolous –i-, a process that also swept through the relatively rare second declension i-stems. The exception to this was the dative and accusative plural, which would have been predicted to be in –yonn, to –inn rather than to –onn. Final –nn in the second declension was reduced to –n by analogy with the first and fourth declensions. The result of this was the creation of an enlarged second declension i-stem group containing most of the old regular fourth declension (while the old i/u-stems merged with the regular second declension). Finally, final –n in this group was restored to –nn, probably by analogy with the i-stem third declensions, which also merged into this subclass. For futher explanation of this process, see the appended tables.

Aside from this distinction between i-stems and regulars (and the introduction, from the fourth declension, of masculines), the second declension continued to show a minor distinction between long and short stems. Short stems showed a final –e where long stems showed no suffix. More significantly, long stems with long vowels or diphthongs were prone to alternation – long vowels shortening and diphthongs becoming long vowels. This could in turn influence the voicing of following consonants.

Here, the declension is represented by long-stem regular eorth (“earth, ground”), short-stem regular spite (“skewer, spit”), and short i-stem ecce (“pain, ache, decrepitude”).

Declension 2 Eorth, long stem   Spite, short stem   Ecce, short i-stem
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative eorth örðá spite spitá ecce eccá
Accusative eorth örðon spite spiton ecce eccinn
Dative örðá örðon spitá spiton eccá eccinn
Instrumental eorth örðon spite spiton ecce eccinn
Genitive eorth örðá spite spitá ecce eccá


The development of the third declension was rather simpler. The i-stems were, as mentioned, largely merged into the second declension i-stems, leaving only a single masculine and a single feminine subclass. The masculine third declensions saw the expansion of the –nn suffix of the accusative and dative plurals to the nominative plural (which otherwise would have had plain –n), no doubt influenced by analogy from the feminines, in which these forms have already merged. The masculines also retained –inn and umlaut in the dative and genitive singular, while nouns in –a– showed backing in the nominative and accusative. The declension is represented here by schąnká (“leg, thigh”) and uuarte (“wort”).

Declension 3 Schanká, masculine   Uuarte, feminine
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative schąnká schankenn uarte uartann
Accusative schąnká schankenn uarte uartann
Dative schenkinn schankenn uartann uartann
Instrumental schanká schankenn uarte uartann
Genitive schenkinn schankenná uartann uartanná


The old fourth declension having been entirely merged into the second, what was the old fifth declension became the new third declension. It is here represented by umlauting agh (“fear, dread”) and non-umlauting calbh (“calf”):

Declension 4 Agh, umlauting   Calbh, non-umlauting
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative agh eghre calbh calbhre
Accusative agh eghre calbh calbhre
Dative eghe eghrun calbhe calbhrun
Instrumental eghre eghrun calbhre calbhrun
Genitive eghr eghrá calbhr calbhrá



Early Modern Øynduyska

The transition to Early Modern Øynduyska saw continued simplification. Outside of fixed expressions or some very archaic writing, the instumental and the accusative ceased to exist. The loss of final short nasals caused considerable further syncretisms.

The first declension continued to show multiple plural classes, though most of the old e-plurals (which would otherwise be indicated only by vowel length) merged with the a-plurals. Most of the old long stems lost any length alternations, though a few irregulars did retain them.

Declension 1 ð, masculine r-plural   Yøk, feminine a-plural
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative huð huðr yøk yøka
Dative huða huða yøka yøka
Genitive huðes huða yøkes yøka


It should be noted here that the orthography is somewhat archaic in this era, with (other than in the nominative plural) indicating what was already by this point /w/.

Due to natural changes, combined with the spread by analogy of the genitive singular from the first declension, the old second declension had by now fallen together with the first. The old long-stem second declensions in which alternation was seen simplified this by generalising the nominative/genitive singular stem to the dative singular, creating a straightfoward singular vs. plural alternation. Some old short-stem second declensions retained an orthographic –e (marking a long vowel) in the nominative singular, but many shifted to join the bulk of the a-plural first declension. Here, these two subtypes – alternating and e-stem – are represented by eorth (“ground, earth”) and spite (“skewer, axle, obsessive emotion, penis (col.)”):

Declension 1 (cont.) Eorth, alternating feminine a-plural   Spite, e-stem
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative eorth ørða spite spita
Dative eortha ørða spita spita
Genitive eorthes ørða spites spita


The second declension having merged into the first, Early Modern Øynduyska’s second declension descended from the old third declension. Little had changed, save for the loss of umlaut in the masculine forms by analogy, and the falling together of the unstressed vowels to merge the masculine and feminine paradigms. The resulting combined declension is represented here by schąnka (“leg, thigh”) and warte (“wart”):

Declension 2 Schanka, masculine   Warte, feminine
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative schąnka schankenn warte wartenn
Dative schankenn schankenn wartenn wartenn
Genitive schankenn schankenn wartenn wartenn


Finally, the third (formerly fourth) declension continued much as before, represented here by aigh (“dread”) and calf (“calf”):

Declension 3 Aigh, umlauting   Calf, non-umlauting
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative aigh eighr calf calfr
Dative eighe eighr calfe calfr
Genitive eighi eighr calfi calfr



The case system of Modern Øynduyska is essentially the same as that of the Early Modern form of the language, barring orthographic changes, the loss of umlaut in the third declension, and the reduction of the genitive singular –es everywhere except after a fricative. Furthermore, in speech the –es suffix has been expanded to the second and third declensions (in the former case, in addition to the existing suffix), though this continues to be considered ‘incorrect’ in formal writing.

The modern declensions are thus:

Declension 1 ð, masculine r-plural   Yøk, feminine a-plural  
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.  
Nominative huw huðr yøk yøka  
Dative huwa huwa yøka yøka  
Genitive huw’s huwa yøk’s yøka  


Declension 1 Eorth, alternating feminine a-plural   Spite, e-stem
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative eorth ørða spite spita
Dative eortha ørða spita spita
Genitive eorthes ørða spit’s spita



Declension 2 Schanka, masculine   Warte, feminine
Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative schąnka schanken warte warten
Dative schanken schanken warten warten
Genitive schanken’s



schanken warten’s





Declension 3 Calf
Sng. Pl.
Nominative calf calfr
Dative calfr calfr
Genitive calf’s




Appended Tables: The Creation of the Middle Øynduyska Second Declension

The following table compares what would have been the unanalogised descendents of the Old Øynduyska second and fourth declensions, taking regular short stems as our example, along with a short i-stem:

  Spite Sylle Ece
Sng. Sng. Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative spite spitá sylle syllyá ece ece
Accusative spite spite syllye syllye ece ecin
Dative spitá spiton syllyá syllyonn ece ecin
Instrumental spite spiton syllye syllyonn ece ecin
Genitive spite spitá syllye syllyá ece ecyá


After loss of most –i-, and analogous nasal shortening in the i-stems:

  Spite Sylle Ece
Sng. Sng. Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative spite spitá sylle syllá ece ece
Accusative spite spite sylle sylle ece ecin
Dative spitá spiton syllá syllin ece ecin
Instrumental spite spiton sylle syllin ece ecin
Genitive spite spitá sylle syllá ece ecá


The fourth declension nouns borrow the dative singular (which is common across declensions), and also borrow the nominative plural; meanwhile, the second-declensions replace their confusing accusative plural by copying the first, third and fourth declensions:

  Spite Sylle Ece
Sng. Sng. Sng. Pl. Sng. Pl.
Nominative spite spitá sylle syllá ece ecá
Accusative spite spiton sylle syllin ece ecin
Dative spitá spiton syllá syllin ecá ecin
Instrumental spite spiton sylle syllin ece ecin
Genitive spite spitá sylle syllá ece ecá


The result is a combined declension, differing only in the –on/-in ending. At this point, third declension i-stems, already rare, join the –in class, but bring in their own –inn ending to replace the existing form. Meanwhile, fourth declension i/u-stems have followed the same root to merge with the regular second declension, requiring only an additional shift of unstressed –un to unstressed –on.

Tough Travelling: Assassins

Thought I’d have another (typically belated) go at Tough Travelling. This week, we’re dealing with Assassins:

Assassins are ubiquitous throughout fantasyland. Sharp-eyed readers (or even dull-eyed ones) will notice that their hooded forms often adorn book covers, and that they frequently appear – rather improbably – not to mind being the sole focus of our attention. Whether they’re spotlight hogs or camera-shy and brooding, most assassins will have trained for years and are very, VERY good at their job (i.e. killing people for money).


  1. Artemis Entreri (The Crystal Shard (1988), et seq.; R.A. Salvatore)

Is there anything particularly special about Entreri? Not really. I suspect that in today’s dagger-saturated fantasy climate, nobody would even notice him. But way back in 1988, Artemis Entreri was the world’s premier fantasy assassin, the dark mirror to Forgotten Realms mascot Drizzt Do’Urden. He may not have been the genre’s first assassin – the Belgariad, for instance, gives one of its protagonists an assassin nemesis, and I’m sure there were more than a few in the pulps – but until the rise of grimdark he was probably its most famous, and none of those knife-posing hoody-wearers on modern covers would have been given their big break if not for the path blazed, methodicaly and violently, by Artemis Entreri.

Entreri was a human man from the rough streets of a big city, who murdered his way up from child abuse victim to paid henchman to freelance contractor to legend (and beyond). Entreri possessed a powerful sort of… anti-charisma. He was so boring it was hard not to respect him. Like many fictional killers, he rarely murdered innocent people for no good reason unless someone were paying him – but in his case this was not so much the result of a code of honour as of a code of efficiency. Entreri built himself into a remorseless living weapon, and prided himself, in a bland and apathetical way, on his capabilities: the only distraction from his job, ironically, was his desire to be the best at it. This in turn lead to a long-term fixation on Drizzt, the only fighter Entreri had found who could match him. Entreri’s professionalism, perfectionism, and wounded pessimism made him peculiarly sympathetic… for a pathologically uncaring mass murderer.

A recurring and rather under-written villain throughout the Drizzt novels, Entreri finally got his big break ten years into the sequence in The Silent Blade, the main plot of which sees an older, marginally slower Entreri return to the city of his youth to try to find a new place in it; perhaps the best that can be said of the character is that he made the book readable long after Salvatore’s tropes had otherwise grown wearisome.

Entreri appears in at least 18 novels, a number of short stories, and a handful of computer games, and is last I heard, still going strong, making him perhaps the genre’s most prolific and longlived hired killer…


  1. Inigo Skimmer (The Fifth Elephant (1999); Terry Pratchett)

Discworld is overflowing with assassins. One, Pteppic, gets his own novel. Another, Mr Teatime, gets to be the chief villain of another. Dr Cruces and Lord Downey play recurring villainous and semi-villainous roles as politicians as well as killers. One of the setting’s highest-billed fixtures, Lord Vetinari himself, is a graduate of the Assassin’s Guild (a cross between an English public school and a psychopath’s convention). Countless other assassins, and more particularly Assassins, litter the pages of the cycle, even providing their own themed tie-in diary; the most ‘Boba Fett’ of them may be young Jocasta Wiggs (who, when she grows up, will murder a vampire – at least, said vampire has previously been killed by four previous generations of her family, and everyone agrees it only seems sporting to let her have a go at maintaining the family tradition); Wiggs, meanwhile, is just one student of a more recondite character, House Mistress Miss Alice Band, stealth archaeologist and exploding-bustle-wearer…

My pick this time, however, is Inigo Skimmer. Skimmer is unusual for an Assassin, in that he’s a working-class kid, a scholarship boy who made up for anything he lacked in manners or fine taste or black silk with, instead, a talent for remorseless killing. He is not, however, a full-time freelance murderer: after graduating, he instead found employment as a “clerk” for Lord Vetinari, the city’s ruler. An unassuming, bald man, who finishes his sentences with a mumbled “mhm-mph” and wears a bowler hat, Skimmer attracts little attention, which is useful in his never-fully-defined line of work. This does not, however, prevent him from extremely efficient violence – he combines the refined training of the Assassin’s Guild with the cunning and resourcefulness of his origins on the streets, with a razor blade sewn into his hat and daggers in the soles of his shoes. Like Entreri, Skimmer possesses a powerful anti-charisma, in addition to a keen intellect and possibly a sense of humour; he’s also, a little ambiguously, one of the good guys.


  1. Chade Fallstar (Assassin’s Apprentice (1995), et seq.; Robin Hobb)

Most assassins in the fantasy genre are dashing, strong young men – some are charismatic anti-heroes, some are purposefully cold and clinically effective, and some, like the hero of Assassin’s Apprentice and the following volumes, are just troubled boys with few good options in life.

And then there’s Chade – the eponymous apprentice-taking assassin of the novel. Chade is not a young man, although he’s younger than he seems – Hobb brilliantly evokes the way in which children come late to the story and are forced to reassess their parents as they age themselves. Solitary, slow, disfigured by alchemical errors, Chade seems ancient to the young Fitz, but can’t be much older than Fitz himself is in later books. In many ways, the entire cycle of books could perhaps have been told from Chade’s point of view – at times a hero, at times a ghost, at times the brother of a king, at times a rebel, at times a murderer, at times a politician. Chade, ‘the old spider’, takes on the Walsingham role behind the throne of the Six Duchies, and his life twists and alters to serve the needs of the kingdom – a genuine selflessness that masks, and perhaps is driven by, a colossal egotism that in turn casts an ironic reflection of our protagonist’s own issues. At times a beloved father figure, at times perhaps a manipulative, exploitative Fagin, Chade is both the embodiment of the establishment and a dangerous wildcard – a disconcerting and yet lovable figure, constantly underestimated, creeping through the walls from peephole to peephole. And he, and Hobb, know that in reality an assassin need not be some ninja warrior – a knife and the element of surprise are all a man needs to kill. Or, better yet, a diverse supply of poison and a safe, unimpeachable distance.



  1. Oasis (Sluggy Freelance (1997-); Pete Abrams)

Sluggy Freelance is heading rapidly for its 20th anniversary as a near-daily webcomic. That’s not just a sign of a succesful and dedicated cartoonist, it’s also central to the nature of Sluggy’s peculiar (and admittedly inconsistent) brilliance, because Abrams is an author who, through a combination of planning and opportunism, is perfectly happy, to give a recent example, taking a plot twist that suddenly makes a throwaway gag from nearly two decades ago mean something totally different. It’s part of the intense tonal and structural whiplash that is both one of the comic’s most frequent weaknesses and one of its greatest strengths. Not only do absurdities, slapstick and terrible puns live side by side with convoluted plotting and complex and emotive character development, at times they are the vehicle for those deeper elements. It’s consistently hard to tell on any given occasion whether an event or character is light comic relief or the foundation for decades of examination.

So when, back in 1999 (chapter 15, “The Isle of Dr. Steve”, collected in Book 4, Game Called on Account of Naked Chick), a badly-drawn Torg, lost in the woods, is rescued from being beaten up by his psychotic pet talking rabbit (OK, it sounds silly when you say it out loud) when the pair fall in a lake next to the eponymous naked woman, it probably seemed like another silly week-long adventure, of the sort the comic was prone to at that time. After all, the set-up for the story was a brief parody of The Blair Witch Project, so nothing much could be expected, right?

Well, the naked woman (with bizarre hair) was Oasis, and the rest is (admittedly obscure) history. Oasis’ introductory (and at the time seemingly final) story is a pretty good yarn in its own right – a twisty, confusing tale of the sinister Dr. Steve and his daughter/friend/student/victim/robot, Oasis, both of whom consistently and inconsistently lie to and manipulate the protagonists, who have wandered unwittingly into a deadly but obscure game between two people – or have they?

But Oasis’ story didn’t stop there – she goes on to make repeated appearances throughout the years, a frustratingly mysterious but clearly central part of the core plot, with layers of foreshadowing carefully put in place years or even decades before their payoffs. On the surface, of course, this importance seems out of all proportion to the sophistication of the character: Oasis, at least as we generally see her, is not a deep thinker, and remains deceptively close to the adolescent male fantasy suggested by her naked, lacustrine first appearance. She’s (possibly) a beautiful gymnast-turned-assassin, who wears implausibly little clothing much of the time, and spends years infatuated with a main character. This is, of course, intentionally misleading: when Torg initially responds to her nudity with gawping and adoration, she replies by trying to drown him. The very next page reveals her stash of cute woodland animals killed with her bare hands, and for most of the following two decades she is a ruthless antagonist who inflicts considerable suffering on the central cast.

But the genius of her character is that… she’s not a character. For whatever reason – madness, brainwashing, programming, I won’t go into too many spoilers – Oasis is effectively not an agent, but a tool, not only lacking self-control but lacking even a stable personality. If she ever was a real person, her introduction story is also her swansong – or perhaps only an imitation of one. To make such a central character an agencyless cipher is a bold but ultimately brilliant move, because it dilutes our fear of and enmity toward her with an equal and opposite current of pity: the worse she is and the worse the things she does, the more we pity her, trapped (perhaps) in a hell not (we assume) of her own making. That would alone make her memorable, but gradually, over the years, in glimpses here and there, often only tangentially connected to the main cast, we see her grow, not perhaps by overcoming her lack of agency, but at least by gaining an increasingly deep understanding of her own lack of agency (or has she?), and what seemed at times like a cartoon threat has become one of the most moving and tragic of the comic’s characters. Not bad for someone who at any moment might well murder any of the protagonists.

Oasis is, quite intentionally, a walking cliché – but she’s a cliché treated seriously enough (in the long term) to seriously examine its implications. Which is why she’s at least the second-most-memorable mysterious beautiful assassin woman in the webcomic. [but we’ll save Kusari for another day]




  1. Arakasi (Daughter of the Empire (1987), et seq.; Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts)

Oasis is a cipher by (probably) circumstance; Arakasi, on the other hand, is a cipher by something perversely approaching choice. The spymaster to (eventually) the Acoma is, like Chade, primarily a manipulator and a politician, but he is also not above getting his blade wet with the blood of enemies. Or allies. Or probably himself.

The Empire trilogy is set in an exotically ‘oriental’ world loosely inspired (I gather) by mediaeval Korea, and to a lesser extent Japan, and that setting allows the authors to really cut loose with tropes of honour, duty and self-sacrifice, even beyond what is normal for the genre. The books are filled with pious suicides, mortifying shame, fidelity unto death, and the occasional perfectly respectable human sacrifice. And at the edges of all that – both furthering and implicitly rebelling against, undermining and relying upon this all-consuming code of honour – are the trilogy’s assassins, the merciless Tongs, and specifically the Hamoi Tong and their incongruously obese master, the Obajan. Throughout the books, the Tong kill by blade, by cord, by subtle poison, and occasionally by wave after wave of fanatical canon fodder. If their devotion to their Tong – which may ultimately by underwritten by cash but which (like every institution in this world) seems not far from a religion or an extended family – may at times stretch the credulence of the modern Western reader, the assassins are at least better than par in the believability of their ruthlessness; unlike many fantasy assassins, these are not nice, ultimately fair and merciful people. They kill women, children and the elderly – whoever they’re paid to kill. In a way, they’re the ultimate assassins of the genre.

Arakasi isn’t one of them. Instead, he’s a disgraced ‘grey warrior’, a servant of a destroyed House who has failed to commit suicide, but who is treated as an outcast by all. Until he meets Mara, our heroine, who decides the man may have something to offer a new employer – and from then on, Arakasi becomes the central figure of Mara’s continued improbable survival, not only a respected political advisory but also the shadowy master of an immense spy network. It’s a network he built himself, and one he cares for like a devoted parent. But you don’t get to run a nationwide spy network by being gentle – Arakasi is completely anonymous to the outside world, and will dutifully murder any of his most trusted agents to keep it that way if the need arises. That because everything Arakasi does is dutiful: the man has, essentially, no visible character traits beyond loyalty and paranoia, in some combination of societal honour-obsession and personal sociopathy. It’s his greatest virtue: being nobody, he can be anybody, and he spends much of the trilogy immersed in an array of perfect disguises inhabited with limitless dedication. So what if he needs to spend a day or two raking sand for a thirty-second meeting? It’s not like anything else in life might matter.

He employs exactly the same patient approach to cold-blooded murder, relying on intelligence and time in place of mere physical prowess; his careful and courageous Bond-esque infiltration scene in the third book is one of the highlights of the trilogy.


Tough Travelling – Beginnings

Tough Travelling – the fantasy-trope-based blog challenge, is back! I only took part once or twice in the individual version, and I don’t see this being a weekly thing for me. But what better time to join in than for the inaugural edition of the new version? (now operated by Fantasy Faction)

This week, the theme is “beginnings”, and refers to the common trope of fantasy novels beginning: “in rather poor circumstances in an unimportant corner of the continent; a kitchen menial, perhaps, or a blacksmith’s apprentice. From there, the Guide advises that ‘you will be contacted by your TOUR MENTOR (normally an elderly male MAGIC USER with much experience) who will tell you what to do, which is almost certainly to discover you are a MISSING HEIR.’” (the inner quote is from Diana Wynne Jones).

I’m largely going to ignore that. Well, I’m not, but for my response to that, see the bottom of this post.

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Øynduyska – some examples (1)

I’ve finished for now with Øynduyska, at least in the sense of posting a sketch on this blog. But I’m still translating some things and fiddling with some details, so I thought I’d share four very small (one line) translations, with explanations.

Yes, a couple of things are slightly different from in the foregoing discussion, and represent minor changes I’ve made since then. [or mistakes, of course…]

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Figures of Earth: A Comedy of Appearances; by James Branch Cabell

No soul may travel upon a bridge of words


In 1919, the year of the publication of Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice, few people knew who James Branch Cabell was. He had, for some time, been quietly accruing a small but passionate brigade of die-hard fans – people like Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, and Scott F. and Zelda Fitzgerald – but his work had not yet broken through even into the general awareness of the U.S. literati, let alone onto the bestseller lists.

In 1921, the year of the publication of Figures of Earth: A Comedy of Appearances, quite a lot of people knew who James Branch Cabell was. The two-year prohibition of Jurgen at the behest of the Society for the Prevention of Vice, the associated highly-publicised trials, the subversive allure of the samizdat copies of the book that had been circulating at sky-high prices in the interim, the chorus of intellectual voices in his support and the thundering denunciations of the popular press all ensured that Cabell was – if still not exactly widely-read – at least widely known about. An audience, ready-made by the misfiring PR campaigns of his enemies, waited with bated breath for his next opus, begging to be seduced…

…and that’s probably where things began to go wrong.


I’ll leave the description of the problem to Cabell himself, in a foreword to my copy of the novel:

The fact was forthwith, quite unreticently, discovered that in “Figures of Earth” I had not succeeded in my attempt to rewrite its predecessor: and this crass failure, so open, so flagrant, and so undeniable, caused what I can only describe as the instant and overwhelming and universal triumph of “Figures of Earth” to be precisely what did not occur… the, after all, tolerably large portion of the reading public who were not disgusted by Jurgen’s lechery were now, so near as I could gather, enraged by Manuel’s lack of it.

It followed that – among the futile persons who use serious, long words in talking about mere books, – aggrieved reproof of my auctorial malversations, upon the one ground or the other, became in 1921 biloquial and pandemic.

…even the dedicatees of the novel (Untermeyer and Mencken he particularly singles out; other parts are dedicated to Follett, Hergesheimer and Walpole, and the original foreword to Lewis) lined up to deride the result.


Now, I have to say, this rather baffled me at first. Surely, I thought, the problem here is not that Figures of Earth fails to rewrite its predecessor, but that it does so too exactly, its virtues all the worse for the extra wear? Jurgen is a tragicomic, satirical novel about a man who travels an imagined mediaeval Europe, engaging in a series of trysts with various symbolically distinctive women, generally having his own way yet remaining discontented, the whole told in a weirdly archaic and pseudo-archaic but thoroughly poetical voice, leavened with fin de siècle deadpan wit.  Figures of Earth, meanwhile, is a tragicomic, satirical novel about a man who travels an imagined mediaeval Europe, engaging in a series of trysts with various symbolically distinctive women, generally having his own way yet remaining discontented, the whole told in a weirdly archaic and pseudo-archaic but thoroughly poetical voice, leavened with fin de siècle deadpan wit. The satire is more bitter, the verbiage more otiose, the jokes more obvious and trite, the weak characterisation even weaker, and the irritatingly misogynist jokes about shrewish wives (which is to say all wives, apparently) even more repetitive. It’s not different, it’s just wose.

That, at least, is what I thought halfway through the novel. It’s also probably what I thought two thirds of the way through the novel, though by that point I thought it largely through inertia.

But now I’ve finished it, and suddenly… all is clear.


How do the stories of Jurgen and Manuel differ? Well, what Cabell focuses on in his foreword is the way in which Jurgen, while gallantly draped in the stiff upper lip of gentlemen of the era, is an essentially transparent character, who emotes broadly and moves in straight lines, while Manuel is largely a blank canvas. He is, Cabell says, a figure whom even the poets have never loved, or trusted; we must simply say that such-and-such were the deeds of Manuel, “such and such were the appearances… make what you can of them.” We do not, in other words, have access to the inner thoughts of Manuel.

[which perhaps explains why Cabell is one of the dedicatees of Mary Gentle’s Rats and Gargoyles stories, which similarly refuse to share the thoughts of their characters with the reader]

The fact that the subtitle of the novel is A Comedy of Appearances is something that might seem at once to make sense… but only really makes sense, I think, later on. The appearances in question may not be what they appear.

Then there is a second difference, to which Cabell apparently alludes elsewhere in his writings. Cabell, it is said, sees three potential responses to the unmeaning hellscape that is life: chivalry (the determination to do good), gallantry (the determination to live well) and poetry (the determination to create something more lasting than oneself). Jurgen, in this scheme, is a gallant: his highest concern is his own pleasure. Manuel, however, is a knight: his efforts are directed as doing what is required of him. This distinction may not at first be obvious: Jurgen, after all, does care a considerable amount about what is thought of him, and about his obligations (the entire story is kicked off by his reluctant decision to “do the manly thing” and rescue his wife), while Manuel, with his succession of lovers, hardly seems to be above the pursuit of pleasure. Nor is poetry absent from either novel – indeed, the seductions and dangers of the artistic life are one of the most prominent themes in Manuel’s story (affording Cabell the chance to pre-emptively, barely-concealedly, savage his critics and rivals). I probably wouldn’t have realised the difference if it hadn’t been pointed out to me. But the distinction is very real, nonetheless. Jurgen’s story is the story of the pursuit of the good life (a pursuit sometimes interrupted by other forces); Manuel’s story is fundamentally the story of what it is like to follow one’s obligations, including the obligations put on one by oneself (a following that is sometimes sidetracked by other pressures and impulses). While this is only a difference in emphasis, it gives a book with a wholly different soul, in the final assessment.

But the biggest difference between the two novels is perhaps something much, much simpler. Jurgen is a novel about a mid-life crisis: a middle-aged, married man who realises he isn’t enjoying himself that much. The character does, of course, change and learn throughout the novel, but it is fundamentally a novel about a moment in time, a moment in a man’s life.

Figures of Earth is not. Figures of Earth is instead a novel about the whole of a man’s life.


To come at the point from another angle altogether: it is sometimes said that Cabell was a misogynist writer. It’s unfair, but not incomprehensible as a complaint. The women in his novels are largely symbols, largely idealised, largely present only to teach, reward, punish or otherwise motivate the male protagonist.

And yet to some degree, to see the gender relations of these books in that way is misguided; it is perfectly backward (which means, I suppose, that it is also largely accurate, as seeing things backward usually, if misleadingly, is). Because it is actually the women in the lives of the heroes who are rounded and complex, even if they are complex only as complex symbols, or symbols of something complex. Both Jurgen and Manuel move from one woman to another (Jurgen more than Manuel, to be fair), but as they are largely empty characters themselves, and as these complicated and sympathetic women largely represent entire ways of life, it is the grey and hollow men who take on the colours and substance of the women in their lives. These are novels about women; the men are little more than eyes for the benefit of the reader.

But where Jurgen flits from one woman to another, sampling ways of life like morsels, but never quite accepting any of them, Manuel’s progress is a progress over time. So, of course, is Jurgen’s, but Jurgen’s time is likewise a symbolic time: he moves from Guinevere to Anaïtis in a recapitulation of the life of a generically gallant young man, and there remains a part of Jurgen that is always the old pawnbroker, detached and reflective, an old man dreaming of being young. Whereas Manuel, for all that at any moment he retains more of himself secret and remote (from both his women and his audience), never committing with the enthusiasm of a Jurgen, nonetheless is embedded in time in a way that Jurgen quite overtly is not. Manuel’s movement from one woman to another is not a sampling of tastes, but a changing of his underlying character. We spend too long focused on the blank, reflecting mask of Manuel, and let the real world of his women slip by us. And just as the women form Manuel, so too the women form the book.

This, in the end, is why Figures of Earth is a mirror to, but not a replica of, Jurgen. If its earlier parts in particular appear callow, hollow and brash… I think that they are meant to. That is who Manuel at that point in his life. If it seems like Jurgen but worse… well, perhaps that is because it is a parody of the earlier novel. Not in a coarse, direct fashion, to be sure: but perhaps it is a parody of its soul. It is when Manuel is youngest that he is closest to the gallantry of Jurgen, as young men are prone to gallantry; and here the writing is most refulgent, the humour most obvious, the weight most thin and the import most trivial. Perhaps early readers were reassured at first, thinking this would be another Jurgen. “He may be trying too hard to repeat his success,” they may have thought, “but perhaps he’ll shake of the rust as he goes on.” That, at least, is what I thought.


What actually happens, however, is quite different. The fundamental style of the novel does not change: floriloquent, flippant, decadent and sharp. But as Manuel passes out of his youth, the chilliness occasioned by our impermeable, occluded hero deepens first into sombre, bitter cloud, and then further into the interstellar dark. We begin to realise that if we thought Manuel was a roguish antihero in the mold of Jurgen, we may have been mislead. Or maybe we weren’t? Maybe this is what Jurgens look like, when we don’t have the benefit of access to their rakish, self-justifying thoughts? And if we thought we were traipsing through frustration in the manner of Jurgen to find our way back to repose… we may again have been mislead. This is a novel that proclaims quite explicitly that in all lives, there is far more suffering than joy.

The critic Edmund Wilson, whose own views on Cabell changed considerably over his life, finally came to compliment the book by describing it as “a merciless chronicle in which all the values are negative.” “Merciless” is indeed the word. The flashes of humour only serve to help rip open any illusion of wholesomeness or of content; if at times they nag and drone, it is perhaps not inappropriate. If the language at times waxes far too porphyrous, seeming to seek vainly to distract from the sound of cheap tin by the brazen imitation of far thunder – well, that is not beside the point. Over time, it is not so much that the oratorical style of the early sections changes, as that the older man begins to have more weight to throw into his turns of phrase, more depth and resonance.

In the end, we are left with a protagonist both hidden and exposed: exposed, as every kernel of dignity and illusion is ripped and torn from him, no jot of light left untainted by corrosion; and yet hidden still, defiant in the face of the world and in the face of the reader who can never quite get beyond his mask. Oh, at times it may appear to us that we do. But this, after all, is a comedy of appearances.

In the end, we are left with a defence of anonymity, of emptiness, as its own form of heroism against in the bitter specificities of existence. Or so, at least, it may appear.


Is the result as good as Jurgen? Cabell thought it was; he also comments that it was particularly popular with women, though whether that reflects the intriguing and varied characters of its idealised women, or simply its relative propriety in comparison to Jurgen, I couldn’t say. I can understand why Cabell liked it more. While there’s more prose wasted than in Jurgen, there are also more quotable poetical highlights. And undoubtedly, by the end, it goes into much darker and more profound and confrontational territory than Jurgen. It’s hard to think of a novel more… merciless.

But… well, maybe I’m too young (critics have commented that this is not a book for the young). I like life! I do, occasionally, enjoy a little something more than dry and windy salt speckled with ironic razor blades. There are times when I don’t want to, say, read five paragraphs on why it’s terrible that babies are born because all life is unbearable and we’d all be better off not born at all. I’m not always in the mood for a book that at times seem to primarily be interested in picking a subject and then telling you why everything about it is shit because everything is shit and we’re all going to die and that’s shit. Jurgen had sharp moments, but it was also consistently funny; Figures of Earth is just sharp, and uses its frequent mild amusingness as just another way of stabbing its reader.

And frankly: I’m not entirely convinced. By my own argument, that is. Yes, I do think that some of the brassy quality of the first half or two thirds of the book is intentional. But I’m not sure that it all is. I think that Cabell was trying too hard at times to emulate his prior success. Yes, there are bits that are brilliantly expressed, but there are also lots of bits that could do with an editor. Great, you’re writing in classical hexameter – do you have to? Isn’t pointing out that you’re writing in hexameter kind of being obnoxious? Why yes I did notice that that paragraph there was actually a sonnet cunningly disguised as prose – but did it need to be?

In a book like Jurgen, which engenders good will, these things are an endearing icing. In a book like Figures of Earth, they’re more like an annoying distraction.

In the end, I’m left torn between two irreconcilable hypotheses: that Figures is worse-written than Jurgen, and that it’s better-written. Perhaps it’s best to say: the degree of difficulty he’s attempting here is higher, both in the prose and in the themes. That means he fails more often and it’s more obvious.

But it also means that when he gets everything right, it’s really, really good.

And yet I can’t help but think it could have been better.


Adrenaline: 2/5. The fact that the novel drifts dreamily along is part of its claustrophobic charm. But I might have enjoyed it more in the end (and particularly in the beginning!) if it had been a bit more gripping…

Emotion: 4/5. The detached style, and the unavailability of Manuel, prevent it from being a tearjerker. But if you write an entire novel about tragedy and despair, and write it with piercing, unforgiving psychological accuity and poetic flair, you’re going to end up being emotionally affecting in parts, no matter how blank-faced you keep your protagonist…

Thought: 4/5. An intellectual and sophisticated novel with weighty (so weighty!) themes, along with rampant symbolism (both serious and comedic) and an involuted style of prose that at times requires close attention… but there’s no real sustained conceptual explorations, except perhaps until the very end.

Beauty: 4/5. There are many moments of aching beauty. On the other hand, there’s actually a lot of fluff too, and intentional ugliness.

Craft: 4/5. I’m loathe to quite give him full credit, because I do think there are times when he’s too full of the sound of his own voice (and his own wife jokes). And, hey, next time some sort of pacing structure might be nice. On the other hand, it’s hard to deny the sophistication here, on a mechanical level – the way in which he is able to protray nuanced characters with minimal effort, the way in which he interweaves plot strands, his layers of symbolism and allusion (which I don’t pretend to have gotten to the bottom of), and the way in which he is almost able to pull off a prose style that in the hands of another writer might easily have been (unintentionally) risible. But then again (I’m arguing with myself in real time here) I think perhaps my original impression was more accurate: because I’m not sure it’s fair to completely forget how underwhelmed I was at first, simply because of its overwhelming conclusion. Yes, some of the sins of the early parts were probably intentional; but shouldn’t the author have been able to convey his point without making some parts almost a chore, and without giving the impression he had lost his touch?

Endearingness: 2/5. I admire the book, I enjoyed reading it, and there are bits that I actively like. But at the same time, I positively dislike the novel as a whole. It’s dour, and bitter, and vain, and isn’t something I’m likely to turn to for a comfort read. In fact, it’s almost the opposite of a comfort read.

Originality: 5/5. It could be objected that Cabell does employ, and play on, various tropes of mediaeval romances and early fantasies; but that would be churlish. In truth, this is an entirely sui generis piece of individual genius that, as Manuel would put it, “follows after its own thinking”.

Echo: ½.


OVERALL: 6/7. VERY GOOD. I can see some, like Cabell himself, placing this ahead of Jurgen, on account of its deeper and more sombre themes, its greater profusion of prose poetry, and its more subtle and affecting characterisation. It is, indeed, probably more accomplished than the earlier novel – but, as noted above, it applies that accomplishment in the service of a much more difficult endeavour. The result is something that just fails to hit the heights of its predecessor in almost every way, while also being a profoundly cold and spiky novel; the joy in Jurgen is turned to bitter ashes here, which makes it a rather less engaging literary work, for all that it may be a more philosophically interesting one.


Øynduyska- XVI (Questions, Imperatives, Catenatives)

Near the end of this first phase of Øynduyska.



Formal polar questions, like negations, generally require a modal auxiliary. This modal verb takes the inquisitive suffix -a, and is fronted: machta ðu ðam bylda? – “are you building it?” (lit. “might you be building it?”). Leading questions – less appropriate in formal speech, but common colloquially, additionally employ the Wackernagel particles ay (for positives) or ney (for negatives): machta ay ðu ðam bylda? – “you are building it, aren’t you?”

The chief exception to this pattern is the questioning of adverbs and of prepositional phrases. Such questions may follow the general structure – machta ðu ðam lawli bylda? – “are you slowly building it?” – but where they are the particular focus of the question it is also possible to front the element, and add an interrogative element to it directly. In the case of adverbs and some prepositions, this element is the particle an, directly following the adverb or preposition; for other prepositions, it is simply the suffix -a attached to the preposition. In the case of the preposition an, the preposition is entirely replaced by the interrogative preposition, . Thus, ina ða hussa, machta ðat ligga? – “does it lie within the house?”; ná ða bóka, machta ðat ligga? – “does it lie on the book?”; lawli an machta ðu ðam bylda? – “is it slowly, that you build it?”

Modal auxiliaries are not required, however, with copulas, which instead are fronted themselves, and themselves take the -a suffix: isa iss cąld? – “is ice cold?”

In colloquial speech, but rarely in formal contexts, polar questions may simply be formed from indicative statements, followed by a subordinate clause: typically an is? for present events, an was? for past events, or an są? or an bia? for certain requests. Thus, byld ðu ðam, an is? – “you’re building it, yes?” or byld ðu ðam, an są? – “build it, if you would?”

Content questions meanwhile require interrogative pronouns or adjectives. The basic interrogative pronouns are fann (“who?”) and fassa (“what?”), alongside fónn (“how?”), fara (“where?”), fiðr (“to where?” and “how much?”), fása (“from where?” and “why?”), fǫffáða (“why?”), fien (“with what instrument?”), and fanna (“when?”). Fann and fassa further have the dative forms fąna and famma respectively, and the shared genitive fössa, and may be preceded by prepositions: befós fössa? – “beside what/who?” Certain prepositions however combine with the pronoun to yield special fused forms: awann (“on/in whom?”) and awassa (“on/in what?”), athann (“to whom?”) and athassa (“to what?”), and beocha (“with whom?”).

In fann and fassa content questions, the questioned element is fronted, the interrogative taking the place of an argument, and any non-copular, non-modal verb sent to the rear: fössa ðu saoch? – “who/what did you see?”; fann ði saoch? – “who saw you?” Modal verbs and copulas instead show subject-verb inversion: fann is he? – “who is he?” However, this construction is regarded as somewhat brusque, and may easily be interpreted as accusatory or commanding; a more indirect phrasing is generally prefered. In more formal contexts, this employs a modal verb: fössa dorsht ðu sevha? – “who might you have seen?”; fann dorsht ðam bylda? – “who might have built it?” In more colloquial contexts, a relative construction may instead be used: fann was, sam ðam byldi? – “who was it that built it?”

Questions employing the other interrogatives likewise relegate the verb to the rear, but otherwise leave the clause unaltered: fanna ðu henn saoch? – “when did you see him?” The indirect constructions are not required here, although they may sometimes be employed for additional politeness, formality, or disambiguation. For example, the ambiguous beocha ðu henn saoch? – “with whom did you see him?” – may be rephrased as either beocha was he, sam ðu henn saoch? (“with whom was he that you saw?”) or beocha was ðu, sam henn saoch? (“with whom were you who saw him?”).

In addition to the interrogative pronouns, Øynduyska also possesses two interrogative adjectives, filie (“which?”) and fliecha (“what sort?”). These act similarly to fann and fassa, except that they are often accompanied by the noun they modify: filie macacca is, sam ða cuppa menn hav upybrǫka? – “which monkey is it who broke my cup?”



The imperative may be conveyed simply through intonation and subject dropping: byld ðam! – “build it!” Such a command is likely to be seen as urgent, but also as uncouth and impolite.

Alternatively, the preterite subjunctive form of the verb may be employed, for a more polite and gentle request: bylday ðam! – “build it!”

However, it is also common for requests and commands to be couched in periphrastic constructions. Most prominent are the relatively cold construction formed upon a prepositional predication – lieg het á ði ðam ta bylda, “you are to build it” (lit. “it is on you to build it”) – and the more graceful construction formed with ląthalątha ði ðam bylda, “let it be that you build it”. The lątha construction may also be used in the third person (singular or plural), or in the first person plural, with jussive and cohortative forces respectively.


Embedding and Catenatives

Some Øynduyska verbs are capable of forming, in theory, chains, by taking another verb as their object, or as part of their object.

In such a situation, the embedded verb is placed into the infinitive, preceded by the preposition ta, and it is preceded by its subject and object, if any. The subject is dropped if it is identical to the subject of the matrix verb. If the matrix verb is transitive and takes objects in the nominative or genitive, the subject of the embedded verb will be placed in the genitive, if it is not also semantically a transitive object of the matrix verb, and in the nominative (or dative, for pronouns) if it is; if the matrix verb takes objects in the dative, however, the subject of the embedded verb takes the dative; if the matrix verb is separable, its preposition attaches to the subject of the embedded verb as though it were its object. If the matrix verb is intransitive, however, the subject of the embedded verb remains in the nominative (or dative). Thus, member ech av hem ta bylda, “I remember he builds” (with a separable verb demanding the dative), börr ech hem ta bylda, “I make him build” (in which the subject of the verb is also directly affected by the matrix verb), and varcweeð ech hem ta bylda, “I promise he will build” (with an intransitive matrix verb), but hóp ech henn ta bylda, “I hope he will build” (in which the matrix verb is transitive, but the subject of the embedded verb is not semantically its object, being unaffected by it).

This catenative structure is, for many verbs, contrasted with a ‘relative’ structure with sam and a subjunctive (member ech av hem sam he bylda, “I remember of him that he builds”; hóp ech sam he bylda, “I hope that he builds”). The catenative structure is generally preferred, with the relative structure typically reserved for emphasis, and for situations where more precision regarding tense and aspect is required. Also available is a ‘direct’ construction employing the cataphoric pronoun ðusmember ech av ðus: he byld – “I remember this of him: he builds”. The direct construction is even more emphatic, but commonly used in reporting speech.

An additional complication arises in the case of embedded questions. Here, the catenative construction must be employed, and employs a distinct set of pronouns, modified forms of the interrogatives: fanna and fassa become fa and fas and so forth. Thus, kną ech fa ta byld, “I know who builds” (or “I know who built”; tense and aspect are lost from embedded verbs).

Øyndusyka – XV (Coördinate, Subordinate and Relative Clauses)

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Coördinate and Subordinate Clauses

Attached to a main clause may be one or more additional, secondary clauses. In Øyndusyka, these fall into two types: coördinate clauses, and subordinate clauses.

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