A Course in Rawàng Ata: 1.2

LESSON TWO

The Accusative Case

Rawàng Ata is a language with multiple noun cases. One of the most commonly encountered is the accusative case, into which the objects of transitive sentences are usually placed. This is usually indicated by the suffix –ma.

datta wohola lutàma

the sailor strikes the ball

However, Rawàng Ata makes use of a process named sandhi, in which the sounds of certain affixes may be altered by the sounds within the word they are added to. In this case, the case suffix can be affected by labial dissimilation sandhi, in which the sounds m, and w are replaced by n and h if the preceding consonant is b, m, l or r, unless the intervening vowel is long.

datta wohola kòmana

the sailor strikes the young woman

As can be seen in both these examples, the unmarked word order is usually Subject-Verb-Object, as in English.

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Topic

However, word order can often be disrupted by the concept of topic. The topic of a sentence is what it is ‘about’. It is usually something that has already been mentioned in conversation, or made clear through context, or considered to be something that is already known to the listener. In Rawàng Ata, the topic of a clause must be moved to the front of the sentence to make this role clear. In English, this often requires more explicit marking, usually involving pronouns

datta wohola kòmana

regarding the sailor: he strikes the young woman

kòmana datta wohola

as for the young woman, the sailor strikes her

Although the object has been moved to the front of the clause, it is still visibly the object, because it retains the accusative suffix.

It is important to note that there is only one topic, and everything else is not the topic: that is, once the topic is selected, the remaining elements are not ordered by topicality. Nothing is more topical or less topical – either it is the topic or it is not.

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Vocabulary

runta = floor, floor module, collection of floors

A runta is a floor – but it is a social entity, not an architectural one. The houses of the speakers of Rawàng Ata are typically elevated, and their floors are constructed of wooden boards resting on beams, in turn resting on plinths and piers and stilts; but these floors, only ever seen from beneath, are not runta. The runta is the floor as seen from inside the house – and this is a superstructure constructed from light wooden box-frames. These runta play a key role in the organisation of the house and its inhabitants – the boxes can be arranged in many different ways, and can be of differing heights, so that differences in runta colour and areas of different height (sometimes as great as a six foot height difference) divide the internal area into psychologically and socially distinct spaces, minimising the need for walls. The runta is not only every individual piece of this floor, but also every distinct space – and those spaces in turn combine to form larger spaces, and ultimately the entire house. The runta can therefore be used as a metaphor for a family or a household. Only separate buildings, or entirely distinct storeys are counted as having different runta – and these are usually avoided, by making upper stories into mere mezzanines, joined by broad stairs that remain conceptually united with the base runta. Furthermore, the runta can serve many functions that would otherwise require distinct objects: most tables are merely higher parts of the runta, as are beds, while the most luxurious seats are formed by including recessions in the front of higher sections of runta. Finally, the runta, being composed of modular units, is not a fixed thing, but may be modified to reflect changes in station, fortunes, or fashion, or to meet different requirements when hosting guests of different numbers and stations. The ‘floor’, for speakers of Rawàng Ata, is not merely a soulless plain, but the changeable, interest-filled, value-laden soul of the house itself.

hàni = mat

The runta, wooden and hard, would by itself be somewhat unforgiving a surface, were it not for the hàni, the traditional mat. The hàni does not cover the entire floor, but is reserved for informal and family areas, and thus provides another important social cue. The hàni is not made of fabric; instead, it is made of certain dry leaves and bark that have been mulched together, compressed, dried, and aged. The result is a thin but surprisingly heavy sheet that breaks at once if folded, but which can be gently rolled for transport; the surface is solid, but slightly yielding, not dissimilar from corkboard, making walking (and falling over) rather more comfortable; the hàni is also effective at absorbing spilt liquids. The nature of the material is such that it cannot easily be dyed, although a variety of shades of brown can be created by altering the manufacturing process slightly, and the material can also not be easily cut or shaped. As a result, the hàni, which comes in rectangular mats that are laid side-by-side to cover the floor, is a symbol of honesty, tradition, and austerity. In previous eras, it was banished entirely from the homes of the wealthy because of its dullness, replaced by expensive rugs, carpets, and cushions, but since the Discord two centuries ago, it has returned universally, as families vie to prove their greater humility.

However, the hàni is not confined to the home. It may also be carried by travellers – a thick hàni can make a tolerably soft mattress to lie on, and can remain dry overnight even when placed on wet ground. However, rural travel is not commonplace on the island, and so this use of the hàni has become associated with vagabonds, rebels, brigands, adventurers and monks – the latter of whom carry a hàni with them whenever they travel, even if they do not intend to sleep outdoors. Hàni are also used as sleeping mats by the poor, who cannot afford softer, stuffed mattresses. Metaphorically, it may be used for sleeping mats in general, but this carries connotations of poverty, humility, or depravity.

Because the hàni cannot be folded tightly without breaking, it must be carried rolled around a haniyàttu, a light wooden-frame cylinder. These cylinders are symbolic of journeys and of monasticism.

taita = nail, bolt

The taita is a cylinder of hard material (wood, stone, metal, etc) that is used to join items together by piercing them. In general, they are made of wood, as it is both readily available and easily shaped, but stone or bone taita are also found. Metal taita are a mark of wealth, as metals are rare on the island and most be imported. Taita include not only small household nails but far larger items of the same function – the wooden taita that are used to hold ships together may be immense.

fōna = foreigner

The fōna is anything that is not native to the island, and specifically to its major tribe. In its older use, it is anything that has unwantedly penetrated an area or a container – dirt, dust, rain, and so forth. It is also colloquially used as a derogatory term for a rapist or adulterous man, or for a traitor. The term has the connotation of inhumanity, even inanimacy.

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