Rawàng Ata: a phonology sketch

I’ve been playing with Rawàng Ata – my constructed language with Austronesian inspirations – for many years now, but I don’t think I’ve ever properly sat down and described its basic phonology.

So, here’s a quick sketch: RA draft phonology sketch

(Since neither WordPress nor online forums seem great at respecting the elementary formatting necessary for this, I thought it would be easier just to make a .pdf of it)

Sorry in advance for any confusion in the document: one problem with this, as with all language, is that every part relies on every other part, so it’s never possible to lay things out in a completely logical order…

Rawàng Ata: Tags

Rawàng Ata makes extensive use of sentential ‘tagging’ – elements attached to the end of a sentence to indicate the illocutionary or pragmatic function of the utterance.

Rawàng Ata tags can be divided into two main kinds: indicative, which relate to truth and knowledge, and subjunctive, which relate to suggestions, desires and so forth.

Among the indicative tags, , wānìa, wāhā, wāraluìhā, māru, māruhà, ìur, iùrva,, nonìa, nomahà, nomāru, ìurno, fānìa, fāno and all indicate true and literal statements, and are used to disambiguate from exaggerations, fantasies, rumours and so on. These tags are broadly equivalent in use, though precise connotations differ, and vary between dialects and registers; many more tags are also found with this function in regional and occupational dialects – the above are only the more conservative and widely-found possibilities. Of these, the longer tags tend to indicate more ‘serious’ intent, and is the most formal; is the most common in contemporary speech, being ubiquitous. Ill-educated speech is often characterised by the over-use of .

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Rawàng Ata – prepositions


Rawàng Ata has a relatively simple system of prepositions.

The three most important locative prepositions are ko, and òa. These are by far the most used locative prepositions, and are all based on the concept of the ‘index-plane’, a hypothetical surface covering the earth. In most cases, the index plane is identical with the surface of the ground or of a large body of water, but certain classes of item are conceived of as beneath, and hence extending, that plane: trees (but not bushes), houses and huts, caves and large overhangs (artificial or natural), the internal volume of ships, the internal volumes of people and large animals (but not insects, etc) regardless of their location, the internal volumes of objects placed on the index-plane (such as boxes when on the ground, but not when on a cart), and the volumes created beneath or within certain bounding or enveloping objects (such as cages) placed on the index-plane — this also includes the areas beneath elevated houses. The plane also extends to include areas that are naturally inimical to life, whether or not they are contiguous with the main plane — for instance, volcanic clouds are included within their own conceptual planes. The definition of ‘inimical to life’ can be superstitious: fog, for example, is generally considered ‘interior’, despite its low lethality. Contrariwise, small streams are considered above the plane, as are rising floodwaters, although the status of slow-draining departing floodwater is variable.

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Rawàng Ata: Politeness, I

Well, after those three little Rawàng Ata posts I made last month, I’ve rather gotten bogged down in this next one. In fact, I’ve decided I’ll split it up and post it in bits while I finish it up. Apologies for lack of glossing in the examples, but it should be fairly obvious. Once I’ve got some more of these articles down, I’ll edit and proofread and whatnot and make some nicer pdfs out of them. Anyway, today’s post is on how Rawàng Ata handles ‘politeness’, to which the answer is: extensively. By ‘politeness’, I should say, I’m meaning everything to do with encoding social hierarchies into the language.


The Là are a stratified and hierarchical society, and Rawàng Ata reflects this reality linguistically in several ways. There are six broad ways in which these distinctions are manifested: directive syntax; reference through agreement prefixes and pronouns; animacy hierarchy effects; possessive vocabulary; speech styles; and pragmatic politeness rules.

Directive Syntax

Directive syntax is the decision to use a particular kind of verb, or to treat verbs in a particular kind of way; verbs used in this manner agree with two arguments rather than just one (if transitive), and use a wider range of agreement prefixes.

Eg. 1      datta sakkunga fonama
the sailor kicked the foreigner
(discursive syntax)

                Eg. 2      datta rasakkungara fonama
the sailor kicked the foreigner
(directive syntax)

Eg. 3      dattaya tawa fona
the foreigner saw the sailor
(directive syntax)

                Eg. 4      dattaya ratawara fona
the foreigner saw the sailor
(directive syntax)

Directive syntax has no semantic content, beyond a vague implication of definiteness; it is almost entirely a matter of politeness. Within classes, directive syntax is only typically triggered by the use of an explicit first- or second-person pronoun, which in turn is largely avoided in order to avoid directive syntax. If directive syntax is used at all between people of the same class, and even more so if it is used with only third-person referents, it is usually with real or pretended seriousness, stiffness and formality. In urban areas, some thugs are known to use directive syntax between each other, and to demand it from their interlocutors; this, however, is viewed as tantamount to a crime by the true authorities. In talking to a particularly conservative or strict person, particularly somebody older or more powerful (or when the speaker fears being overheard), directive syntax may also be used when any referent is or is possessed by a person of higher class.

Between social classes, however, directive syntax is always required from the lower-class speaker,  no matter the topic under discussion. Primarily and most rigidly, this applies between nobles and non-nobles (in theory the true distinction is between freemen and tenants, and hence rural freeholders are considered ‘noble’ for linguistic purposes; however, while aristocrats usually consider rural freeholders to be noble, the lower classes do not (indeed, they usually look down upon them), and so will not use directive syntax to them unless in the presence of a true noble). Among non-nobles, a further distinction is less rigidly made between sublandlords (gentry) and tenants; among nobles, a further distinction was traditionally made between nobles and the royal family, but as there is no longer a royal family this has lapsed. The tenant/freeman dichotomy is furthermore emulated in personal relationships of great authoritative distance – directive syntax is used (among nobles) with people far above the speaker in the hierarchy of the family, and among the lower classes invariably toward their own personal landlord, no matter how small the gulf in class between them. It may also be emulated in more specific and personal relationships, as between a client and a patron, a student and a teacher, or between lovers; it is a formal register, but more importantly it is a respectful and submissive one.

However, it is not only the junior in any relationship who adopts directive syntax; the senior is also expected to employ it. Here, though, the pragmatic implications are more complex. In general, if a senior (a noble, patron, teacher, landlord, etc) uses only discursive (i.e. non-directive) syntax, they are doing one of three things: they may be offending the junior speaker by refusing to take their formality seriously or acknowledge their respect; they may be flattering the speaker by showing their comfort and informality with them; or they may be waiving the requirement of directive syntax and freeing the junior speaker to speak to them as an equal. In general, if it is the second of these options, the speaker is more likely to begin with directive syntax and then shift to discursive, as though forgetting the formality of the situation, whereas in the other two instances they are more likely to use discursive syntax all along. All junior/senior relationships can be waived in this way, apart from the fundamental distinction between noble and commoner, which cannot be waived (nor can directive syntax ever be abandoned when using explicit first- or second-person referents; this is wholly distinct from the normal class-based system of use). It should be noted that waiving this requirement does not by itself render the junior partner free of other obligations toward politeness; nor should it be assumed that the requirement will always be waived where there is good will. It is common, for instance, for teachers to always insist on directive syntax toward them from their students and former students when they are discussing matters on which the teacher is an expert, even if the requirement is waived when the conversation turns to other matters.

A word should be inserted here about the ambiguous position of house-servants. Although these are commoners, they are often treated as nobles for the purposes of directive syntax both by their masters (except in situations of direct command) and by other commoners; this is even more true of house orphans.

The use of directive syntax, then, is primarily a matter of pragmatic context: the most important factor is the relative status of the the speaker and listener(s), followed by the formality-status of the conversation. The ‘absolute’ status of the speaker or listener is only a tertiary concern, if that.

The selection of pronouns and agreement affixes, on the other hand, is primarily a matter of absolute status. The use of any overt first- or second-person anaphora at all, however, is itself a matter of selecting directive syntax, with all the implications discussed above.


If a speaker does choose to employ directive syntax, they must select both a pronoun and (where applicable) a verbal agreement affix to use. This is an area of the language that has somewhat degenerated in recent centuries, and current practice is both simpler and more flexible than that proscribed in former years (and which may still beseen in some poetic contexts).

If directive syntax is to be used, there are five possible status levels to choose from in selecting a second-person pronoun. The lowest level, represented by the pronoun tuya, is used in two circumstances: with foreigners, ethnic minorities, or landless people; or between two people who know each other closely and are on friendly terms and share the same social class with, furthermore, no overt hierarchical relationships between them; in this second use, it is informal, and may be objected to, though it is very common between, for instance, family members or fraternity members. The second level, represented by yòtuya and àituya, is the appropriate level for addressing commoners; note that yòtuya is the default, and àituya a special feminine form that also denotes either a degree of affection (romantic or otherwise, particularly between women) or a degree of respect for an older woman from a man (it would be used by a man (of any class) of a common woman he was wooing, by a noble woman of a favoured maid, or by a common man of, say, his mother-in-law, or a midwife). Furthermore, àituya is primarily used toward tanù, and only rarely toward kanuhà, and almost never toward kùnyi or mahàuko. The third level terms ranatuya and kulatuya are used for free (i.e. noble, or rural freeholder – note that even those who decline to use directive syntax in conversation with a rural freeholder will still probably allow them the third level pronoun) men and women respectively – there is no default assumption toward the male as there is in the second level, and women are never referred to by the male pronoun. However, there is an oddity here: although mahàuko are treated as women and addressed with kulatuya, kùnyi are not treated as male, and likewise are addressed with kulatuya. The fourth level has only a single basic pronoun, hòngātu, and is used for particularly senior aristocrats (the stem houses of old septs, or the matriarchs and patriarchs of other houses, as well as government ministers, senior monks, and admirals); the fifth, with its pronoun ārātù, is used only for the stem houses of clans and possibly for the Prime Minister (however, see below on graduating verbs). Higher levels did once exist, but are now strongly derogated, and their use would appear grossly insulting.

In general, it is permissable to refer to an individual by a pronoun one level away from what is appropriate – this is considered insulting in most cases (whether the level is degraded or inflated) (though see below), but is insulting in an acceptable way (it will provoke anger and disapproval if serious, but not outright retribution, and can be used sometimes in a jocular fashion). Using a level even further from what is proper may be seen as grossly offensive, but is more likely to appear idiotic, and this is only in practice done jocularly within very intimate relationships, and then only rarely.

Complicating the above, several of these pronouns have higher ‘grades’:  yòtuya and àituya become yàmatuya and then yàmātu and finally arayàmāntu; ranatuya becomes ōrānatuya and then ōndrānatotu; hòngātu becomes āndrahongātu. These higher grades remain within the same level, but are used in addressing somebody of particularly high status within that level. The number of addressees is also a factor, with higher-grade pronouns often used in addressing larger numbers of people.

First-person pronouns, meanwhile, are rather simpler: there are only nine commonly used. The two fundamental first-person pronouns are luò and shiru; the former is the default option for commoners and rural freeholders, while the latter is the default for nobles, as well as for the wealthier gentry; however, these defaults are often over-ridden by conversational contexts, with luò a humble and submissive pronoun and shiru an assertive and demanding one (although neither necessarily implies a true power or authority imbalance – shiru may be used, for instance, to show that an individual is taking responsibility for a situation, even among peers), while luò may be used to concede defeat in an argument.

Alongside these pronouns there are two pronouns that often supplant them. Bāya is a pronoun used by men (including kùnyi) with other men when there is no difference in class, power or authority between them – traditionally it is also used when men of higher rank address men of lower rank with whom they feel solidarity (a master to his manservant, for instance, or a ship captain to his sailors), provided they are not actualy issuing commands (when shiru would be used instead). Men may also use it when talking to their wives or sisters. Traditionally it is the only pronoun used by òro when talking among themselves. Women may also use bāya: either when talking to other women of the same class but lower status, or when assuming a male role as regards their sisters (kanuhà in particular will use it when talking to tanù), or one kanuhà talking to another, or a kanuhà talking to a male family member (though not when talking to a kùnyi), or when talking to a man of a lower class.

The counterpart of bāya is kàya. This is only used by women (including mahàuko but not kùnyi), and it is used only by noble women talking to women of equal or lower class, or by common women talking to noble women.

Bāya and kàya are primarily singular, but can also be used as exclusive plurals; however, the dedicated exclusive plural forms bāyatò and kayàto also exist to stress plurality. All four can only be used as plurals when all those included could legitimately use that pronoun themselves in those circumstances. Alternatively, shiru and luò can be used as exclusive plurals regardless of the details of the other participants, and shirutò is used to include a third party of particularly high station or respect (although a sufficiently high-status individual should merit a third person pronoun, not be relegated to the plural of the first person). All these exclusive plurals can also act as inclusive plurals when the listener is of markedly lower class, rank or station. Alternatively, nùruy is the inclusive plural for a listener of similar status, and wakūnda is the inclusive plural where the listener is of higher status.

With third-person pronouns, the situation is even simpler: there are five. Adar is used for inanimate objects; dashi is used with animate non-humans; taìru is used with humans; and taindrùto is an honorific. Third-person pronouns are not number-sensitive.

These third-person pronouns do not trigger directive syntax; nonetheless, they are generally used only in formal contexts, with pseudopronouns or anaphoric pronouns used otherwise.

Finally, an important caveat to all the above must be mentioned, which is the concept of graduating and degraduating verbs. These are a small number of verbs that shift their objects to a higher class (second-person tuya > yòtuya/àituya > ranatuya/kulatuya > hòngātù > ārātù; third-person taìru > taìndrutò, first-person unaffected) while shifting their subjects to a lower class (the same in reverse, and all first-person pronouns shift to luò), or, more rarely, that shift their objects to a lower class (reverse of graduation, but third-person taìru is shifted down to dashi, and dashi down to adar, and taìndrutò is shifted to the special pronoun ātatairù). Noteably, somebody who would otherwise be addressed with ārātù cannot be the object of a graduating verb, as there is no higher class to graduate to, and instead an alternative construction must be found.

Performance Arts Among the Là

Along with returning to Rawàng Ata this year, I’d also like to flesh out a little more of the culture of the people who speak it, the Là. And surely the natural place to begin such an account must be with… performance art. OK, so maybe that’s not actually an intuitive starting point, but I guess it’s as good a place as any.

By ‘performance art’, to clarify, I mean any artform based upon perf… OK, I guess what I really mean is those artforms where individuals behave in certain ways and that’s the art, distinct from those artforms (like painting, architecture, etc) where individuals shape the environment around them.

I’ve managed to end up with two different approaches to this topic: one a history, the other an art-by-art overview of the contemporary situation. Either could really stand without the other, and I’ve been going back and forth on which to post first, and whether to post both. In the end, I’ll post both, and I’ll start with the history. Those of you wanting more detail, it’ll follow in the art-by-art half of the series. The history section itself will have I think four posts. Here’s the first of them:


The First and Second Accord Periods (c.200-c.600aH and c.600-994aH)

The primary performative art in these early periods was dance. The function of dance was in turn largely ritual, and dance forms can be divided into solitary shamanic dance and collective communal dance.

Shamanic dances were performed without accompaniment of any kind – the shaman was expected to follow the rhythm in his head. These dances varied with the type of animal being negotiated with, and typically attempted to imitate the animal in rhythm and in distinctive movements. Typically, each dance would be broken into passages, the shaman adopting a frozen posture between passages as he recited shamanic poetry.

Communal dance, on the other hand, had a rich vocal and percussive accompaniment. Percussion was of two kinds: a simple regular beat struck out on wooden slit drums, and a more complicated rhythm created by the dancers themselves stricking together wooden sticks. Vocal accompaniment took the form of monotone, wordless chanting by spectators. Singers were divided into groups on the basis of pitch, and the different groups sung with different rhythms, to create a complicated polyrhythmic texture, the striking of the dancer’s stick representing points of contact between the conflicting rhythms. These dances, which were performed at all significant personal and communal rites of passage, in the open air, typically accelerated in pace over a period of hours, until only the fittest and most skilled dancers remained. Dance at this time was carried out by both sexes and a wide range of ages, with those too old, too young or too infirm relegated to singing (thus, as the dance went on and more dancers dropped out due to tiredness or inability to keep pace, the number of singers increased). These events were strikingly egalitarian, with rich and poor dancing together. These dances are known as manungàng, and would differ in style to match the ritual function of the occasion. During the Second Accord Period, personal ability in the manungàng became increasingly noteworthy, and some individuals began to be sought out by aristocrats for their dancing skill. Aristocrats increasingly favoured more complicated dances.

Poetry was a far less important art. Folk poetry of various kinds existed, often in the form of ritualised taunting, but these poems were never written down and rarely remembered, and were seen as a form of playful speech, rather than as a form of art. Most poetry was instead religious. The most important form of religious poetry was shamanic bargaining-poetry, in which, through words passed down from shaman to shaman, shamans sought to negotiate with animals. The success of these negotiations was often attributed to how correctly remembered the bargaining-poetry had been. Shamans viewed these words as the centre of their power, and guarded them jealously; they varied from shaman to shaman. Other religious traditions also employed ritual words – most prominently, the rituals of praise and appeasement directed at the old Antaremese pantheon of deities, but also chants associated with a variety of religions being imported from Gureha.

In addition to religious words, the Là brought with them and maintained several dozen long poems from their time in Antarem, which will be discussed in more detail later.

Music was primarily a matter of accompaniment to dance. However, a few other forms existed, with low prestige. Trumpets existed, but were not considered musical. The long, thin sarvarung transverse flute was played by a seated psychopomp while her apprentice held up the end by a fabric sling, to guide spirits into the afterlife. Rhythm was more important here than melody – the sarvarung lacks fingerholes, so pitch is determined only overblowing and is limited to the harmonic series. Reed instruments were known, with and without fingerholes, but were not standardised, and were considered a form of idle entertainment. More distinctive was the raò, an instrument formed from internodal sections of the culms of a bamboo-like plant, the ruàma. Pairs of close parallel incisions are made into the culm, creating narrow strips, which are pulled out from the side of the culm, with small wooden bridges inserted under them at each end, so that they may be plucked; in this way, the culm provides both the resonant chamber and the strings. In these periods, the raò, usually with three strings, was played for personal amusement, and by children, although in the later Second Accord Period it had also begun to be used as a teaching instrument to aid the practice of more complicated manungàng.


The Mèngitan and Angonāli Dynasties (994-1066aH), and the Petty Dynasties (1066-1158aH)

During these foundational dynasties, the increasing dichotomy between manungàng forms that had grown over the Second Accord Period developed into a complete schism. Popular dance continued as manungàng without qualifiers, and continued to be much the same as ever, though it increased somewhat in complexity over time. The new kings, however, favoured a form known as rāmayao manungàng, or simply rāmayao, indicating a royal dance. The rāmayao was notable primarily for its complexity, with hundreds of dancers divided into dozens of groups. Large ensembles of slit-drums were required to provide a rhythm; vocal accompaniment came from the dancers themselves, as well as from the audience, assisted (particularly in the later, wilder stages) by reed pipes and trumpets. The main sociological distinction, however, was that the rāmayao was performed by a professional royal troupe. During the Petty Dynasties, the rāmayao was simplified, yet became more common, as more and more nobles sponsored the art.

In this period, the old Antaremese long poems, which had long been remembered through popular retelling, began to be codified. Sometimes this took the form of writing them down – but the more important development was the establishment of bardic schools by the Mèngitan, charged with remembering precisely the classic poems, though the repertoire itself was not yet specified. At this time in history, very few were able to read or write, and writing was considered both alien and divine, unsuitable for the recording of folk tales.

Shamanic poetry and dance continued without change in this era, as largely did music.



Rawàng Ata (#14): Substantivisation of Verbs

Rawàng Ata possesses several constructions that allow verbs to be employed as nominal arguments. There are four rough categories  (although closer examination shows a more nuanced picture): concrete verbs, infinitives, action nouns, and deverbal nouns.

Concrete verbs are primarily used as independent verbs; however, they may also be used as the topic of a sentence, or as an argument of another verb:

Eg. 1      sakabàrban tawi kùnyika
ra-ka-bàrb-an tawi kùnyi-ya
3I-C3-sear-C fish kùnyi-ERG
the kùnyi seared the fish

Eg. 2      lakàbarban, kùnyika tawara kòma
là-ka-bàrb-an, kùnyi-ya tawa-ra kòma
MISS-C3-sear-C, kùnyi-ER see-3A girl
the girl saw the kùnyi, so we may suspect that the kùnyi seared it (Lit: as for its searing, the girl saw the kùnyi)

Eg. 3      sakabàrban tawi rahònda baryōngma
the searing of the fish burned down the mansion

Regarding the use of a concrete verb as an argument, two important restrictions must be made clear: first, the concrete verb may bring with it its own subject, which remains by its side, but may never bring with it its object or any other attached argument; and, second, the concrete verb cannot take overt case marking, which limits the situations in which it can be used.

It is also worth observing the compulsory agreement marking on the concrete verb, and its encoding of aspect. The use of concrete verbs is also limited by semantics – concrete verbs tend to be used for definite, perfective, often perfect, past tense, known events, and cannot be used for future or irrealis events.

One way in which these limitations can be overcome is through the use of infinitives. These are verbs that do not agree with any participant, and lack spatial and temporal specificity. They are formed by adding the suffix –àng to the verbal root: for instance, from rarawa ata, ‘they all come to agreement in behaviour amongst themselves’, derives rawàng ata, ‘to all come to an agreement in behaviour with one other’, or ‘determined convention’, as well as the name of the language.

Infinitives can be used for future and irrealis events, as well as for non-future and realis ones, although among those the decision not to employ a plain concrete verb may often be taken to imply a present-tense, imperfective, imperfect or previously unknown event. Furthermore, where concrete verbs are most often definite, infinitives may freely be indefinite.

Eg. 4      lakàbarban, nyakara kùnyi
the kùnyi smelled the searing

Eg. 5      barbàng, nyakara kùnyi
the kùnyi can usually smell searing

As with concrete verbs, infinitives cannot themselves take case markers. However, they  can be placed into a case with the aid of an ‘infinitive augment’. There are three infinitive augments, and they are allocated to verbs in a lexical and seemingly unpredictable manner. The presence of an augment by itself acts to further definitise the reference of the infinitive:

Eg. 6      barbàng

Eg. 7      uma barbàng
the searing

This augment takes noun cases as a proxy for the infinitive:

Eg. 8      umàjna barbàng
uma-‘jna bàrb-àng
for fear of searing

Eg. 9      umànga barbàng
in order to sear

The augment is also needed if the infinitive is to take an argument. This argument, semantically equivalent to the subject of a concrete verb, and in the direct case, comes between augment and infinitive.

Eg. 10    umànga tawi barbàng
in order to sear a fish


Infinitives, though lacking overt verbal markings, are still clearly verbs. Their meanings are invariably transparent and their derivation is entirely productive. They are also able to take verbal arguments, albeit with the aid of an augment.

Action nouns, on the other hand, are less straightfowardly verbal.  At first glance, they may appear only to be a subset of deverbal derived nouns. Action nouns are formed through several methods, in a non-productive way – although each method can generally produce an understandable action noun, not all these action nouns are commonly-used words; what’s more, the semantic derivation is often unclear or overly specific. They do not take typical verbal affixes, such as geographical deixis or aspect, and cannot be placed in the passive voice. Although they can refer to events, actions and states, they also frequently refer metonymously to results, agents, patients and the like.

Eg. 11    rawoyala
he constricts a passage

Eg. 12    woyalàka
the wharf-laden stretch of river (lit. the constriction (of the river))
OR: the wharfs on the river

Eg. 13    rahònda
he razes

Eg. 14    hondàka
ashes, ashy soil

The most important action-noun suffixes are -ana, -àka, -unda, -ùnga, and -umà. –ana is the most productive of these; –àka commonly derives results; –unda and –umà often derive ongoing, highly durative events; -ùnga is often more conceptual. These generalisations, however, are only generalisation.

Unlike most nouns, including most deverbal derived nouns, action nouns are subject to direct possession, which is to say that they take possessive prefixes. Alternatively, it could be said that action nouns are able to take subjects – as possessive prefixes and concrete agreement prefixes are identical, and indeed the ‘possessor’ in these constructs is usually the semantic object/subject, not a possessor:

Eg. 15    suhondàka baryōngya
the ashes from the razing of the mansion

Eg. 16    suwoyalàka uryoka
the wharf-laden stretch of the river

And, just as with concrete nouns, the semantics of the ‘subject’ are overridden by the presence of a first-or-second-person participant:

Eg. 17    angātuhondàka
your ashes (i.e. the ashes of your burnt body, OR the ashes you own, OR the ashes you made)

It is also striking that the –ana action noun forms closely resemble the –an concrete verbs, and in practice transformation into action nouns is one way to place an concrete verb into a case; noteably, although it is generally true that action nouns do not show aspect, it is possible to place transform aspect-marked concrete verbs into action nouns while keeping the aspect marking. Similarly, -ùnga action nouns have a parallel infinitive form in –ùng, less common, less productive, and less semantically transparent than –àng, and, occasionally, –àng infinitives may be transformed into –ànga action nouns. On the other hand, concrete verbs can at times be used to refer to the result of the action, rather than the action itself, or may even serve semantically as participles; infinitives are extensively used where other languages would employ nouns. It is possible, therefore, that this distinction, between verbal, inflectional and semantically predictable infinitives and concrete state verbs on the one hand, and nominal, derivational, and semantically unpredictable action nouns on the other, should be best considered a general guideline rather than an absolute qualitative distinction.

On the other side of action nouns like true deverbal derivative nouns. These are semantically even less predictable, are more likely to refer to concrete objects rather than processes, and unlike action nouns take indirect possession, which is to say that their possession cannot be mistaken for verbal agreement marking. However, all these generalisations have exceptions – in particular, derived nouns can sometimes take direct possession, giving them a more overtly verbal character.

Rather, then, than a clear qualitative distinction between nouns and verbs, it may be best to see Rawàng Ata as possessing a continuum of forms, from fluid state verbs on the one hand, through concrete state and infinitive verbs, to action nouns, deverbal derivatives, and finally to ordinary nouns.

The Concrete State
Verbal Morphology
Coördination of Clauses

Rawàng Ata #14: Core Alignment and Agreement

No, the #14 doesn’t mean there are 13 previous posts. It’s just a version number I thought I’d use to show myself which things are meant to be compatible with which other things…

[EDIT: darn. We’re not allowed to do interlinear glosses on wordpress, are we? I’ll have to put together a pdf or something, I suppose.]

The issues of voice and alignment in Rawàng Ata are complex. Understanding them must begin with a division of verbs into three kinds: dynamic, stative, and motive. In addressing these categories, it will further be necessary to draw a distinction between fluid and concrete state.

Dynamic verbs are most likely to have semantics of action, alteration, and imposition – they prototypically relate to one entity, the subject, behaving in a way that materially affects a second entity, the object.

The prototypical argument structure (and ordering) of a fluid dynamic verb is S-V-O. S, the subject, is unmarked (‘is in the direct case’); O, the object, is marked with the suffix -ma (‘is in the accusative case’; note that this suffix may also appear as -ba or -na, due to sandhi), unless the object has a first-person or transparent second-person referant. If neither participant is addressed in the first- or second-person, the verb agrees with the subject with one set of prefixes (‘discursive agreement’); if either participant is a first- or second-person, the verb agrees with the subject with a different set of prefixes, and the object with one of two sets of suffixes depending on whether the object is or is not a first- or second-person participant (‘directive agreement’).

 Eg.1    datta  sakkunga  kòmana
datta  sakkung-a  kòma-ma
sailor kick-DEI  girl-ACC
the sailor kicked the girl

 Eg.2       kòma    kusakkunga       dattama
kòma    ku-sakkung-a    datta-ma
girl   3F-kick-DEI      sailor-ACC
the girl kicked the sailor

   Eg.3       shilaì   radurukya   sabajma  kaò
shilaì ra-duruky-a  sabar-ma  kao
paper_scalpel    3A-pierce-DEI    pulping-ACC   flat_expanse
the paper-scalpel pierced the paper
N.B. sabar kaò is a set expression for paper

   Eg.4   ranatuya ōtusakkungawa  kàya
ranatuya    ōtu-sakkung-aw-a    kàya
you    2-kick-DEI-1EX     me[f.]
  you kicked me (a woman)
N.B. although the independent pronouns ranatuya and kàya may appear to be in the ergative case, this is not (synchronically) the case

However, there are deviations from this prototypical pattern. Most simply, the object may in some circumstances be given the suffix -ya instead (‘be placed in the ergative case’), typically to convey a partitive or metonymic implication. This has no wider ramifications. Likewise, the suffix may alternatively be -si or -ki instead (the ‘lative’ and ‘prolative’ cases). The use of ergative, lative or prolative cases without further ramifications will be called ‘quirky object’.

Eg.5       shilaì  rahàrta   bokki  lò
shilaì   ra-hàrta     boy-ki     lò
paper_scalpel    3A-carve-DEI      wood-PRO chunk
the paper-scalpel cut lightly into the surface of the wood

A deeper deviation occurs when the action described by the verb is insufficiently semantically transitive. In these cases, S is placed in the ergative case, while O may remain in the accusative case or else be transferred to the lative, prolative, avertive (the suffix -‘jnya) or benefactive (the suffix -‘nga) cases (this process is entirely distinct from the similar phenomenon of quirky object). In discursive agreement, the verb then continues to agree with S as before; in directive agreement, however, the verb only agrees with first- or second-person participants (and first- or second-person objects will be in the direct case).

Eg.6       shilaìya  radurukya  dattasi
shilaì-ya    ra-duruky-a     datta-si
paper_scalpel-ERG  3A-pierce-DEI    sailor-LAT
the paper-scalpel was thrust out toward the sailor

  Eg.7       kòmaya    kusakkunga  dattàjnya
kòma-ya  ku-sakkung-a  datta-‘jnya
girl-ERG   3F-kick-DEI   sailor-AVR
for fear of the sailor, the girl kicked out

  Eg.8       kòmaya   sakkungawa   kàya
kòma-ya  sakkung-aw-a  kàya
girl-ERG   kick-1EX-DEI  me[f.]
the girl kicked me (a woman)

Regardless of transitivity questions, prepositional phrases modifying the verb follow on from the core arguments:

Eg.9       kòma    kusakkunga    dattama   oà dà
kòma ku-sakkung-a    datta-ma   oa   dà
girl   3F-kick-DEI   sailor-ACC  on  deck
the girl kicked the sailor while they stood on the deck of a ship

These fluid dynamic verb phrases can be subjected to considerable reordering. Topical extraction can bring out any element in the ergative or direct cases:

Eg.10     kòma,   kusakkunga dattama oà dà
as for the girl, she kicked the sailor as they stood on the deck of a ship

Eg.11     kàya, kòmaya sakkungawa
as for me (a woman), the girl kicked me

This includes prepositional phrases; however, topical extraction of a prepositional phrase requires correlate-fronting within the comment-structure, redefining the scope of the prepositional phrase. Either S or O can be topicalised, but the verb cannot be fronted. Correlate-fronting with prepositional phrases is only one form of fronting; comment-internal fronting also occurs to show correlation with topics, and simply to show emphasis. Any item may be fronted, including prepositional phrases (which can correlate with topicalised phrases). Correlate-fronting moves the fronted item to the front of the comment clause; emphatic fronting need only move the item in front of all other items that have not been correlate-fronted

Eg.12     kòmaya, kàya sakkungawa
     regarding the girl – she kicked me (a woman)

Eg.13     kòmaya, sakkungawa kàya
    regarding the girl – she kicked me (a woman)

Eg.14     kàya, kòmaya sakkungawa
      as for me (a woman), the girl kicked me
        OR: as for me (a woman), my girl kicked me

Eg.15     kòma, shilaì radurukya   sabajma kaò
     as for the girl, her paper-scalpel pierced the paper

Eg.16     kòma, sabajma kaò shilaì radurukya
      as for the girl, her paper was pierced by the paper-scalpel

Eg.17     kòma, sabajma kaò radurukya shilaì
      as for the girl, her paper was pierced by the paper-scalpel

Eg.18     oà dà, kòma kusakkunga dattama
     on the deck of a ship, a (/the ship’s?) girl kicked the sailor

Eg.19     oà dà, dattama kòma kusakkunga
       on the deck of a ship, a sailor of the ship was kicked by a girl

Eg.20     oà dà, dattama kusakkunga kòma
     on the deck of a ship, a sailor of the ship was kicked by a girl

Eg.21     oà dà, aban baryōng, kòma kusakkunga datta
      on the deck of a ship facing a palace, a girl of that palace kicked a sailor

A fluid dynamic verb must have a subject, but need not always have an explicitly stated object (though failing to do so automatically renders the verb intransitive):

Eg.22     kòmaya kusakkunga
the girl kicked out

This situation can be reversed, however, by placing the verb into the passive tense. This creates a (by default) transitive verb in which the old object is treated as the subject. The agent need not now be stated; if it is stated, it takes the ergative. Passive fluid dynamics have a default S-V-O structure. Passive verbs agree with their subjects, although slightly differently from active verbs (in that feminines need not be agreed with).

Eg.23     kòma    sakkungata
kòma    sakkung-at-a
girl          kick-PASS-DEI
the girl was kicked

   Eg.24     kòma sakkungata dattaya
the girl was kicked by the sailor

First- and second-person arguments are treated just the same (i.e. semantic agents of passives are still in the ergative), but do trigger directive agreement:

Eg.25     kòma kurasakkungata kàyaya
the girl was kicked by me (a woman)

Stative verbs, in contrast to dynamic verbs, typically describe a condition, state, status, tendency, habit, or disposition of a thing. The hallmark of a stative verb is usually that the thing in question is not performing any specific, definite action at the time in question (though stative verbs can refer to habitual behaviours).

The typical syntax of a stative verb is S-V-O, just as with dynamic verbs, but S is typically in the ergative (regardless of transitivity), O is typically in the direct (i.e. unmarked) case, and the verb typically agrees with O via suffixes.

Eg.26     dattaya tawa kòma
      the girl sees the sailor

Eg.27     dattaya                tossasu                boy        lò
   datta-ya              toss-a-su             boy        lò
       sailor-ERG           break-DEI-3I       wood    chunk
the wood has been broken up by the sailor

Some complications can, however, occur. Sometimes the subject will instead occur in the benefactive, causative (-yàn), accusative, or lative case (‘quirky subject’). Topicalisations, and both correlate- and emphasis-fronting can occur, and prepositional phrases are also permitted.

Eg.28     dattayàn tossasu boy lò
      the wood has been broken up thanks ultimately to the sailor

Eg.29     boy lò, tossasu dattaya aban baryōng
    as for the wood, it’s been broken up by the sailor, opposite the palace

Stative verbs can omit the subject without trouble. They cannot, however, omit the object. There is no way to omit the object in fluid stative verbs (i.e. there is no antipassive voice).

‘Motive’ verbs are not limited to verbs of motion – they also include verbs of metaphorical or literal emission, among others. Motive verbs have only one core argument, and hence their phrases have the structure S-V-I. The subject is in the direct case, and the verb agrees with it through prefixes. I is an optional integral oblique, a prepositional phrase intimitely connected with the action, most often a destination, origin, or location; when an integral oblique is present, the noun governed by the preposition is placed into the locative (-òn), ergative or lative case. The meaning of prepositions in these integral oblique phrases may differ from their use elsewhere:

Eg.30     datta     luà      aban     bedùron
    datta     lua-a       aban     bèdur-òn
       sailor     swim-DEI       facing    ship-LOC
the sailor swam toward the ship

Eg.31     datta luà aban bèdur
    the sailor swam while opposite the ship

Eg.32     djajàng rahàdia taòtu kùolusi
    the djajang salivated at the thought of the meat

Any prepositional phrase may be fronted, to topicalise, to emphasise, or to correlate.

Eg.33  aban bèdur, datta luà
opposite the ship, the (ship’s?) sailor swam

  Eg.34     datta, aban bèdur luà
the sailor, while opposite the ship, swam

Motive verbs also have a passive-applicative form, in which the oblique argument becomes the subject. This leaves the preposition behind as a verbal motif. This is only possible with integral obliques (not other prepositional phrases), though they lose their case-marking in the process. The agent is then placed in the ergative.

Eg.35     bèdur, dattaya salùata aban
as for the ship, it was swum toward by the sailor

Eg.36     kùolu, djajàngya sahàdyata taòtu
    as for the meat, the thought of it was salivated at by the djajang


The above syntax deals with verbs in the fluid state. In the concrete state, dynamic, motive and stative verbs fall together. Here, the default word order is V-S-O; the verb agrees through prefixes with S; S is in the direct case; and O is in the ergative or locative case. When stative and dynamic verbs are placed into the concrete state, it is important to note that the argument acting as a subject in the fluid state acts as an object in the concrete.

Eg.37     rasakkungan        kòma    dattaya
ra-0-sakkung-an    kòma    datta-ya
3A-C1-kick-C                      girl          sailor-ERG
the sailor kicked the girl

   Eg.38     ranutawan    kòma    dattaya
ra-nu-taw-an    kòma    datta-ya
3A-C3-taw-C     girl          sailor-ERG
the girl was used to seeing the sailor

The object may be fronted to topicalise, or for correlation or emphasis. The subject, however, cannot be fronted, and the object may not be fronted to intervene between verb and subject.

Eg.39     dattaya, ranutawan kòma
as for the sailor, the girl was used to seeing him

  Eg.40     bèdur, dattaya ranutawan kòma
as for the ship, the girl was used to seeing one of its sailors
OR: As for the ship, the girl was used to seeing a sailor (but not the ship itself)

Either the subject or the object may be omitted, or both, although omitting the subject requires a particular agreement prefix.

Finally, there is one small complication with concrete state verbs: any first- or second-person participant is treated as the subject of a verb in the concrete state, is placed in the direct case (or dropped entirely), and is agreed with by the verb through prefixes. If the pronominal argument is the semantic ‘patient’ of the verb, the object will be marked with the ergative or locative case, as is typical; however, if the pronominal argument is the ‘agent’, the object will instead be marked with the accusative case. Where there are two first- or second-person participants, the second-person participant is the subject if present; if there are multiple participants of the same person, the higher status participant is the subject.

Eg.41     ratawan kàya dattaya
I (a woman) saw the sailor

     Eg.42     ratawan kàya dattama
the sailor saw me (a woman)

To summarise, a table may be helpful. Note that in the following the terms ‘agent’ and ‘patient’ merely denote the more and less agentive core arguments, and make no definite assumptions about threshold levels of agency (in particular, not all ‘agents’ as defined for the purposes of this table are considered to have agency as regards transitivity and animacy issues).

Dynamic Fluid Active Direct or Ergative; Subject With Subject, by prefixes (type 1 when discursive, type 2 when directive); also with Object by suffixes (type 2) when directive Accusative, Lative, Prolative, Avertive, Benefactive, or Ergative; Object; Optional
Dynamic Fluid Passive Ergative; Object; Optional With Subject, by prefixes (type 3 when discursive, type 2 when directive); also with Object by suffixes (type 2) when directive Direct; Subject
Dynamic Concrete Active Ergative; ObjectOR: Direct, Subject (if highest-ranking first- or second-person participant); Optional With Subject, by prefixes (type 3 when discursive, type 2 when directive) Direct; SubjectOR: Accusative, Object (when Subject position has been taken by a (higher-ranking) first- or second-person participant)
Stative Fluid Active Accusative, Benefactive, Causative, or Lative; Subject; Optional With Object, by suffixes (type 1 when discursive, type 2 when directive); also with Subject by prefixes (type 2) when directive Direct; Object
Stative Concrete Active Ergative; ObjectOR: Direct, Subject (if highest-ranking first- or second-person participant); Optional With Subject, by prefixes (type 3 when discursive, type 2 when directive) Direct; SubjectOR: Accusative, Object (when Subject position has been taken by a (higher-ranking) first- or second-person participant)
Motive Fluid Active Direct; Subject With Subject, by prefixes (type 3) Preposition + Locative, Ergative or Lative; Integral Oblique; Optional
Motive Fluid Passive-Applicative Ergative; Object; Optional With Subject, by prefixes (type 3) Direct; Subject
Motive Concrete Active Direct; Subject With Subject by prefixes (type 3 when discursive, type 2 when directive) Preposition + Locative, Ergative or Lative; Integral Oblique; Optional

Verbal Morphology
Concrete and Fluid States
Formation and Use of Cases

Co-ordination of Clauses
Possession (direct possessive structures appear superficially similar to verbal structures)

Rawàng Ata naming conventions

Wow. Two months. Whoops.

Anyway, one thing I’ve been playing with is having another go at lessons for Rawàng Ata. Along the way I thought I’d put in some cultural notes… but I think my first one may have gotten a little out of hand. So, I’m posting it here.

(So if you’re wondering about the strange and slightly patronising tone now and then, and the references to having been introduced to someone, that’s because it’s taken from a teach-yourself-ish-type thing.)

Well, here it is. How people are named in Là society.



Là naming customs are somewhat complex. A Là name has three key elements: a family name, a personal name, and a ‘matronymic’. The exact nature of the name depends heavily on social class.

The family name is simple. For an aristocrat, it has up to three elements: a clan name, a sept name, and a house name. If the house is head of the sept, there is no house name; if the sept is head of the clan, there is no sept name; if the house is the head of the sept and the sept is head of the clan, there is only the clan name. Thus, the fewer the names, the higher the rank.

For gentry – feudally bound to noble houses – the principle is the same, but after the one, two or three names of their liege’s family, they insert their own house name. There may be chains of feudal bondage – a noble house may have bonded gentry who themselves are rich and powerful and have their own bonded gentry, and so on. In this case, all people ultimately bound to the same noble house take that house’s name, the house name of their own immediate feudal masters, and their own house name. It is most common therefore for gentry to have four or five family names.

For serfs, the principle is the same as for gentry, except that serfs do not have houses in a legal sense, so take no house name of their own. They therefore share the family name of their immediate masters.

For freeborn individuals – those who are not feudally bound, but also lack a clan, sept, or house (in practice almost all foreigners and country folk), there is simply no family name.

A number of other individuals will also lack a conventional family name, instead using the name of an institution, such as a temple, a ship, or a brothel. These are typically orphans, though can include those who have left their families by choice, and in the case of temples those who have been donated by their families to the institution (in practice, some of the ‘orphans’ working in cheap brothels or on poor ships will also have been sold by their families, though the practice is highly illegal).

The girl we are introduced to in this chapter is from a noble family. Her family name is Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran. From this, we can deduce that her clan are the Kakusi, her sept are the Namaluatàng, and her house is Damàsingāran. From this part of her name alone, we cannot tell whether she is a noblewoman, or a gentry woman whose house is directly bonded to the head house of the Namaluatàng sept, or whose house is bonded to a superior gentry family itself bonded to the head house of the entire Kakusi clan… or whether she is a serf bonded to any of the above.


The personal name also varies, with gender as well as with class. For aristocratic women, the name has two parts; the first is one of five names indicating the order of birth within that generation in the house (the names cycle back after the fifth daughter); the second is one of thirteen names indicating the day of the ritual week on which the girl was born. There are therefore only sixty-five names shared among all noble women (in practice, there are one or two dialectical differences, but these dialectical names are not seen as distinct, and are translated to the standard form in formal contexts).

For noble boys, the system is reversed, and the birth order name reflects not the order of their own birth, but the birth order of their eldest younger sister (or, more accurately, their birth name is one on from that of their youngest elder sister).

Taking our friend as an example: Surūn-Aydèn was the third or eighth (or thirteenth or eighteenth, etc) daughter born in her family, and she was born on the ninth day of the week. As it happens, she was the eighth daughter. She also has a number of older brothers. Her immediately elder sister (youngest elder sister) is named Lòmalu-Kolbàn, as she was born on the fourth day of the week. Lòmalu-Kolbàn has a slightly younger twin brother, who is accordingly named Kolbàn-Surūn – born on the fourth day, with his youngest elder sister named Lòmalu.

The exception to this very regular system comes with the names of the sixth daughter – rather than being given the normal birth order name (which would make her look like heir to the house), she is instead given the replacement birth order name Longyàng, literally ‘return’ or ‘recurrence’.

This naming system continues among the gentry with few disruptions. Among serfs and the freeborn, however, it changes – there, daughters and sons both receive constructed names that share the first syllable of the ‘correct’ name they should have been given. Some of these names are purely fanciful; some of them are words; most often, the remaining syllables reflect their parentage. Aymaykol, for instance, was born on the ninth day (ay-), and has apparently been named for men (perhaps a parent, or grandparents, or deceased aunts, uncles or siblings) born on the tenth (may-) and fourth (-kol) days. It is worth noting that although these names are only official for serfs and freeborn, it is common for noble or gentry boys to take on these lowborn styles as nickname. Surūn-Aydèn’s elder brother, Kolbàn-Surūn, accordingly often goes by Kolkanar – a pun of sorts, as he (or a friend) has extended the first syllable of his true name, kol-, into kolka, the word for a pulley, indicating his physical strength and enthusiasm for work, while the third syllable is the first syllable of his (supposed) father’s name.

It is not unknown even for women to adopt these nicknames – but it is rare, as such practices are seen as not only specifically ‘macho’ but also frankly rather silly in general (it is also difficult for a woman to aquire one, as they are usually constructed among a man’s circle of friends, and young women are not so gregarious).

Unusual names are also found among those with institutional families, where their ‘true’ birth name is often unknown, or has been rejected. These individuals may be named in some structured manner by their institution (sometimes mimicking normal names, sometimes deliberately exotic), or by whimsy by their surrogate parents, or by themselves. Most are nonsense syllables, although it’s not unknown to find such individuals with ordinary words for names – the names of animals are particularly common.

Finally, many individuals have matronymics. In the literal sense, the matronymic is the name of the individual’s mother. They are invariably appended to the names of serfs, as formal names, and may informally be used within large families to disambiguate between cousins. Also falling within this category, however, are the names attached to the names of kanua and kunyi women adopted into new families, and the names of husbands marrying into a family. All these individuals adopt the family name of their new family – but typically append their original house name to their personal name. House-orphans – orphans and serf children raised in a noble or gentry house as half-siblings to, and servants for, the children of the house – will take the matronymic baryōngyàn, ‘of the house’, though where their mothers are known they may, with the permission of the masters, use their true matronymic appended to this.

Two more elements often appear in names: honorifics and generation names. Honorifics mark the individual out as notable, and there were historically a range of honorifics showing religious or military or political achievement. Most of these have since died out, but a small number remain, of which by far the most important is Luang, the marker of a free individual. This is born by all nobles, and can in theory also be used by the freeborn, though this is only commonly done in certain areas. The honorific precedes the name.

Generation names are universal among noble and gentry families, and have become common even among serfs. There are a range of generation names, but the important feature is that within each house there are only two, which are used to show an alternation in female generations – grandmothers share their generation name with granddaughters, but not with daughters or great-granddaughters. Sons, meanwhile, inherit the generation name of their mothers. This system is designed to insure – in a social system with relatively few restrictions on carnal activities – that men do not have carnal relations with both a mother and her daughter, in order to prevent accidental incest, and that women do not have relations with either half-brothers or parallel maternal cousins. Once a man has had relations with one individual within a family, he may only have further relations with individuals sharing the same generation name, and any violation of this is treated legally and morally as incest. These family-specific generation names have become ‘synchronised’ across the whole of noble society, creating two moieties – carnal relations are only permissable within each moiety, not between them. If a man and a woman have different moieties, for example, this implies that the man’s mother had the same moiety as the woman’s mother – thus, they both shared the same pool of eligible lovers, so incest is a possibility (and likewise, the system prohibits relations between parallel cousins on the mother’s side). It is not the case that the same generation name identifies the same moiety in all cases – indeed, sometimes they are reversed, while at other times unrelated names are used – so sufficiently ‘distant’ families will be unable to calculate moiety, but this distance is itself generally enough to avoid incest. Among families connected by marriage or friendship or living near to one another, the generational names combined with recent family records will enable moiety to be calculated. This system is less important among serfs, where monogamy is more strictly enforced. The generational names are placed after the family name and before the personal name. In the case of Aydèn, her generational name is Abī, meaning simply ‘sour’, but as she is young it appears in the diminutive form, Abīyin (were she very young, it would be Abīlèk, a sure indicator to any prospective suitors that she was too young to pursue).

We now have enough information to understand the outline of some names. To begin with, the girl we’ve been introduced to:

Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Abīyin Surūn-Aydèn

Her sister (actually half-sister or possibly only cousin):

Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Abīyin Lòmalu-Kolbàn

And Lòmalu-Kolbàn’s twin brother:

Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Abīyin Kolbàn-Surūn

Surūn-Aydèn’s mother:

Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Najī Motu-Nartua

Lòmalu-Kolbàn’s mother:

Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Najī Surūn-Okulòn

And the name of one of the husbands of these two women (who Kolbàn-Surūn believes to be his father):

Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Najī Nartua-Surūn Tajungutangyàn

But he was born:

Luang Soitōra Faliatarungaràng Tajungutàng Talutàlek Nartua-Surūn

An orphan boy raised as a house-servant by the family:

Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Abīyin Okunarku Baryōngyàn

The matriarch of a gentry family bonded to Aydèn’s family:

Bèna Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Sajitān Abī Arā-Okulòn

And a husband of the daughter of the matriarch of a lesser gentry family bonded to the family of Bèna Okulòn:

Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Sajitān Tufalumòn Najī Maykèn-Motu Nakolumasūliyàng


Of course, the formal name of an individual may not be what they are most commonly called. Regarding practical names, we can identify seven levels of formality. On the most formal level, the entire full name is used – this occurs only in formal introductions, and in certain highly ceremonial situations. Formal written records also typically use this ‘long form name’. More common – but still highly formal – is a ‘short form name’: for most individuals this is their personal name alone (along with any title), but for nobles their house name is added before the personal name, and for noble matriarchs the short form name is only their clan name followed by their house name.

Less formal – suited for casual use in a formal setting, or formal use in a casual setting (eg initial introductions) is the ‘greeting name’: title, generation name, and personal name. Even less formal is the ‘plain name’: title, followed by the second element of the personal name. This is what most people will refer to the individual as, most of the time. More intimate is the ‘inner name’: the generation name, the first element of the personal name, followed by a matronymic. This is the individual’s official name within their own household. However, both for personalisation and for disambiguation in large households, many individuals also have a sixth, ‘calling name’; this may be a serf-style name in the case of males (and occasionally females), a deformation of their inner name (particularly a diminutive or augmentative), a matronymic, or an out-and-out nickname related to their appearance or behaviour – or a combination of these. Finally, the seventh, ‘bed’ name is a nickname given to an individual by their intimates – it is typically given by their first ‘official’ lover (defined in a slightly complicated way) and kept for life, though some individuals may choose to be re-named later, and others may simply lie about what name they were given. This name is theoretically a frank but affectionate reflection of the true inner nature of the individual – but in practice is most often a fairly generic and saccherine cliché, and in truth the entire tradition exists more in theory and in romantic tall tales than as an organised reality… to the extent that bed names are used, they are as likely to have been invented by the individual as given.

Taking Luang Aydèn as a concrete example, her name is registered on official records as:

           Luang Kakusi Namaluatàng Damàsingāran Abīyin Surūn-Aydèn

In formal situations, she is most likely to be known as:

Damàsingāran Abīyin Surūn-Aydèn

This, however, sounds quite stuffy, so in most situations it is sufficiently polite to refer to her as:

             Luang Abīyin Surūn-Aydèn

And once she has been introduced, and assuming an informal context, she can be called simply:

              Luang Aydèn

In the Damàsingāran household, however, she is known as:

             Abīyin Surūn Motuyàn (Surūn daughter of Motu)

But her family informally address her as:

Surūnyòli (a diminutive form)



Hope that was understandable, and at least vaguely interesting…

Rawàng Ata: Verbal Clauses (1)

Obviously, this isn’t finished. But, I thought I’d give a sneak peak for the new year anyway.



4.0 – Contents of this Chapter

There are four types of clauses in Rawàng Ata. We will begin with the most complicated type – the verbal clause – and then move on to the others: the absolute clause (nominal or prepositional), and the elementally simple nominal and metatopical clauses.

Verbal clauses are complex. We will consider, firstly, the general composition and ordering of the verbal clause, and then the specific form of verbal clauses centred around dynamic, stative, and motive verbs.  In doing so we will have to consider transitivity and animacy in dynamic clauses, control in stative clauses, and species of indirect object in motive clauses. This will lead us into a discussion of anomalous case-selection, before we turn to the syntax of passive and antipassive voices. We will then consider semantic demands for verbs in the concrete state.

4.1Verbal Clauses

The verbal clause is the heart of the language. It contains at least and no more than one verbal phrase, and will often also include nominal phrases. Nominal phrases are employed to provide the subject and/or object of the verbal phrase.There are never more than two nominal phrases within the verbal clause (except where two or more nominal phrases are included within an overarching more complicated nominal phrase, as through conjunction or apposition).

The basic order in a verbal clause is SVO.

4.2 – Dynamic Clauses

Verbal clauses based  upon dynamic verbs feature a dynamic verb phrase, ‘expect’ a subject nominal phrase, and can optionally also include an object nominal phrase. In saying that the clause ‘expects’ a subject, we mean that in the absence of an overtly expressed subject, one will be assumed according to simple anaphoric rules, which will be discussed later.

The concept of animacy is central to the syntax of dynamic clauses, for two reasons. Firstly, many verbs have ‘animacy-bars’, which set the highest or lowest permitted animacy level for the subject. For instance, sakkung- is ‘animate plus’ – inanimate objects cannot be the subject of this verb. furil-, “to annoy, pester, frustrate, tease”, is ‘feminine minus’ – inanimate, animate non-human, and human female subjects are permitted, but male subjects are not (and nor are pronouns or names).

Secondly, animacy plays a role in determining transitivity. There are two paradigms for dynamic clauses: if the action is transitive, the subject is in the direct case; if the action is intransitive, the subject is in the ergative case. The object, if it is present, is always marked with the accusative case. Transitivity in turn has four criteria:

–          there must be a definite and particular object (though it need not be present in speech).

–          the object must be of lower or equal animacy to the subject.

–          the action must be completed and effective.

–          the action must materially and directly affect the the object.

If the subject is in the ergative, one of these four criteria must not have been met. For example: datta sakkunga kòmana (the sailor kicked the girl) vs. kòmaya kusakkunga dattama (the girl kicked the sailor) – the girl is of lower animacy than the sailor because she is female, so she must be put in the ergative. datta sakkunga vs dattaya sakkunga – both mean “the sailor kicked”, but in the latter case it is intransitive, and therefore means one of three things: the sailor kicked out without an object; the sailor attempted to kick an object but failed to do so, or did so ineffectually, or began to do so but then stopped, or kicked in the direction of an object but did not reach it; or the sailor kicked an object, but had no material effect upon the object (if, perhaps, he kicked a mountain).

There is a clear hierarchy of animacies. First person pronouns, and pronouns with which the verb agrees through first-person prefixes, are of greater animacy than second person (which includes vocatives – however, note that vocatives do not trigger directive verbal syntax), which are of greater animacy than nouns for certain mass animates of power, which outrank humans (including non-humans personified through the use of titles), which outrank animals, which outrank tools, which outrank living plants, which outrank ordinary nouns, which outrank possessed non-tools, which outrank local nouns, which outrank abstractions.

Within the human category, non-females outrank females, and traditionally higher-status individuals would outrank lower-status individuals – however, these days insisting upon the latter hierarchy is seen as archaic, and often offensive. Titled mass animates of power (such as deities) outrank humans.

In order to produce the required effect (transitive or intransitive syntax), speakers will sometimes alter the animacy of arguments – arguments are often raised in animacy by making them vocatives, or by adding titles, and lowered by the use of ‘diminutives’ (nouns referring to a thing of lower animacy, used as metaphors). Some of these diminutives retain their ordinary meaning – fongò still literally means “shovel”, even though it is also used as a diminutive for a man engaged in manual labour, just as kuttin, “frigatebird”, can also be a diminutive for a strong-willed young married woman – while in other cases the diminutive is now associated wholly with the metaphorical meaning: ifari is an inanimate (vegetative) diminutive for a constrictor snake, and is only rarely used in its older meaning, ‘liana’. In these cases of complete meaning transference, there is often ambiguity over the degree of animacy, as the animacy of the new meaning slowly replaces the animacy associated with the old meaning. It is also possible for diminutives to occur in chains (a diminutive replaced by its own diminutive), yielding semantically-obscure substitutions – for example, a human singer may be called by the diminutive ruòhi, literally meaning a type of brightly-coloured fruit – because ruòhi is a diminutive of nalinà, a type of frog, which itself is a direct diminutive used for singers. The apparently obscure substitution comes in two stages: the frog is a euphonous warbler, and its bright-orange throat, blown into a globe in singing, leads to the comparison with the fruit. Other substitutions may be wholly senseless, driven by present or past similarities in sound, or sometimes similarities in sound with another word (sometimes itself archaic) for the same concept. Sometimes interpreting diminutives may require knowledge of local histories and legends, and many diminutives differ from place to place (to such an extent that observing notable diminutives is a common shorthand to imply a particular dialect, often more readily recognised than an attempt to imitate an accent).

4.3 – Stative Clauses

Stative clauses are built around a stative verb. They ‘expect’ an object, and may optionally have a subject also. They are often verbs indicating a state of being, but also may be perception verbs, or on occasion verbs indicated some social transaction. By default, the subject is in the ergative, and the object is in the direct case (i.e. is unmarked). However, if the subject is considered to have an unusually high level of control over, or to have to an unusual degree instigated the state, the object may be placed in the accusative. As with dynamic verbs, some stative verbs have animacy bars – maximum or minimum levels of animacy that are permitted for either the subject or the object. For instance, tōmid-, “to be in debt (to) [o.]” (the object is in debt to the subject (frequently the English translations of stative verbs will reverse the subject-object relation relative to Rawàng Ata – for this reason we note in the definition ‘[o.]’ indicating that the object in Rawàng Ata is the subject of the English translation)), requires both subject and object to at least be human; syuk-, “to be touched by, feel a light passing touch or stroke [o.]” can take any object, but the subject, if any is present, must be at least animate; lokiun-, “consider, regard [o.]” can take any subject, but the object must be at least human.

4.4 – Motive Clauses

Motive clauses are built around a motive verb. They ‘expect’ a subject, and may optionally also take an indirect object. The subject is always in the direct case (i.e. is unmarked). The object, meanwhile, is a noun that has been placed into an indirect case. This may be the lative case (for motion to the object), prolative case (motion past or along the object), accusative case (motion into, out of, or toward or away from the object), avertive case (motion away from, or under fear of, the object), or locative case (a more general motion, often in the vicinity of or within the object). It may even be the ergative case. These case assignments are largely (but not entirely) lexical, and particular verbs may take indirect objects in unexpected cases.

4.5 – Anomalous Cases

Rawàng Ata is a simple language, but not so simple that all nouns always appear in their expected cases. Indeed not. In dynamic clauses, the object (if present) may sometimes appear in the lative, prolative, or ergative, or even the avertive; the subject may rarely appear in the lative. In stative clauses, the object may appear in the locative or avertive, and the subject in the prolative or avertive. In motive clauses, the subject may be ergative, or even accusative.

The lative quite commonly appears as the object of a dynamic verb. Inevitably, the verb must be intransitive, except in certain lexically-conditioned circumstances (that is, when used productively the verb must be intransitive, but for certain verbs the verb can be transitive in some cases) and the lative can usually be read with the meaning of “up to”, or sometimes more generally “towards”, particularly with verbs that are to imply incomplete or unsuccesful action. For example, dattaya sakkunga komàsa may be translated as “the sailor kicks out at the girl” or “the sailor kicks the girl but so weakly it is barely felt”. In this sense, lative objects can accompany almost any verb. Lative subjects are far more rare, but do occur with some specific verbs: for instance, oluìs-, “drip (upon)”, always takes a lative subject.

The prolative, like the lative, is found quite frequently as the object of a dynamic verb – again, the verb will always be intransitive (except in certain lexical instances). The prolative in these cases can be read as “along”, “past”, or “on the surface of”. It can be used to indicate a ‘miss’ – dattaya sakkunga kòmaki might be translated “the sailor kicked the air attempting to kick the girl” – but it can also imply a grazing hit. It is also used with certain verbs associated with tangential motions. It is less common than the lative. Unlike the lative, the prolative can also be found as the subject of a stative verb, most commonly referring to the sensation of light, sound or smell reflected off, or from the periphery of, an object. For example, hiàngingi būkinta kòma  means “the girl was blinded by the glare of the light reflecting off the metal”, where hiàngiya would imply the the metal was itself the source of the light.

The ergative case can be found marking the objects of some dynamic verbs – less frequently than the lative or prolative, but still not unusually, and often productively. It tends to imply either that the stated object is a proxy for the true object (an owner, often, or something related in some other way), or that there is a partitive or durational element to the action. An example of the first type might be datta va kòmaya, roughly “the sailor inserted something sexually into the young woman (polite)”, where the ergative object indicates the unspoken presence of a more direct object (that is, a more literal translation might be “into the belonging-to-the-young-woman thing”); and example of the second type might be datta suta sīya, “the sailor drank a portion of alcohol for a while”, where datta suta sīma would imply “the sailor is an alcohol-drinker” or “the sailor was drinking alcohol”. However, sometimes ergative subjects are used with no obvious motivation, particularly in the formation of idioms – for example, a common euphemism for defecation is rutta lōya, “hold the pot”, where rutta lōma retains the more literal meaning.

The ergative may also be found as the subject of a motive verb. This was until recently seen as ill-spoken, and is an analogy from the use of the ergative with dynamic intransitives. It implies an incomplete or unsuccesful action. This is productive, but not common.

The locative may be found as the object of a dynamic verb. This is the case with a few specialised verbs, but otherwise frowned upon. The object of a stative verb may also be in the locative; this, again, is lexical.

The use of avertive objects for dynamic verbs is primarily lexical, but has also been expanded to other verbs, with the sense of a thing feared or hated, or an object that is acted upon in order to harm it. With stative verbs, on the other hand, the avertive object asserts extreme control over the action. Avertive subjects are lexical for stative verbs.

The accusative is sometimes found as the subject of a motive verb, where it implies self-interest and self-control.

It is important to note that although a verb may allow an anomalous object or subject, this may involve a considerable change of meaning, and this meaning may depend on the nouns involved. Returning to the example of sut-, “to drink”: datta suta sīya is “the sailor drank some alcohol”, datta suta sīma is “the sailor drank alcohol”, datta suta sīki is “the sailor lapped up the alcohol like a cat”, and dattaya suta sīsà is “the sailor tested the temperature of the alcohol”; however, datta suta kòmana is “the sailor performed cunnilingus on the woman”, while dattaya suta kòmaki is “the sailor licked the woman”, dattaya suta komàsa is “the sailor chastely kissed the woman”, and datta suta kòmaya was “the sailor was in love with the woman” or “the sailor enjoyed spending a little time with the woman”. Most verbs are not so fertile, but this perhaps will indicate that great care must be taken with case-selection. This example also shows the interesting way in which sut- regularly takes the prolative (ie takes the prolative without needing to be made intransitive) when the object is a liquid, but not when it is not.



Rawàng Ata Verbs and Verb Phrases

Not definitive, of course, but currently the direction in which I’m headed…


3.0 Contents of this Chapter

This chapter is about verbs and verb phrases. First we will deal with verbs; then, with other elements of the verb phrase.

Verbs occur in finite and nonfinite forms. We will look first at finite verbs, and then at nonfinite verbs.

Finite verbs have two distinct forms – liquid state and concrete state. First, we will deal with the liquid state. The syntactic and semantic principles underlying the choice of state will be dealt with elsewhere.

Verbs also have two distinct nonfinite forms. These are the simple infinitive and the abstract infinitive. These will be dealt with together and their differences explained. There are also nouns formed derivationally from verbs; these will not be dealt with here, except where they overlap with nonfinite verbs.

After addressing the verb itself, we will then discuss other elements: verbal articles, verbal-nominal particles, and adverbs.

Finally we will address serial verb constructions.

3.1 The Liquid Verb

Rawàng Ata verbs have two distinct forms – liquid state and concrete state. First, we will deal with the liquid state. The syntactic and semantic principles underlying the choice of state will be dealt with elsewhere.

Rawàng Ata verbs are cited in the form of a verb root; these roots cannot stand as words themselves, and often could not do so, as they violate the phonotactic constraints by frequently ending in consonants that cannot appear in final position.

Roots may be simple or complex. The great majority are simple, and have one indivisible body. Complex verbs have ‘initial’ and/or ‘terminal’ augments, between the body and which can be placed affixes. Examples of simple verbs include raw- (‘settle, agree, rest, fix’), dil- (‘see’), sakkung- (‘kick’), and lefi-, “touch heads with”; examples of complex verbs include s-dil- (‘notice’), mu-dil- (‘be highly noticeable’), dī-dil (‘perceive indescribably’), and sakkung-t- (‘set into motion by kicking’).

Verbs inflect by marking up to five categories: subject agreement, object agreement, location, voice, and ition.

Subject agreement is by means of prefixes. There are approximately twenty-six commonly-found prefixes, including the zero prefix. These can be divided into fourteen first-person prefixes (wa-, ba-, ka-, kāta-, īku-, iku-, in-, isi-, bana-, ō-, wana-, diyai-, ku-, làka-, bitti-), three second-person prefixes (tu-, ōtu-, angātu-), seven third-person prefixes (sa-, ra-, nà-, ku-, angāna-, i- and /),one ‘fourth-person’ prefix (lu-), one ‘fifth-person’ prefix (du-), and one ‘sixth-person’ prefix (yay-).

Among the first-person prefixes, ba- is used only by adult male singular speakers. It is used in most formal speech, but in casual speech it has connotations of stuffiness, grandiosity, chauvinism (when used when speaking to women) and arrogance, and is therefore mostly used in asserting or resisting authority and power. kāta- is the female equivalent in terms of grandiosity (and is only ever used when speaking to other women), but is not used in formal settings – instead, īku- is used; it is not seen as potentially offensive like ba- is, so its use is more frequent. iku- is a less formal version that retains the connotation of propriety and modesty, and is used by women when speaking to those who deserve respect but not honour (elders, husbands, etc). ka- is the usual neutral prefix for female speakers. in- is used when typically when speaking to women, and projects a dominant but non-authoritative, young adult male persona – although it is usually used by female speakers; when used by men, it is usually only to address lovers (of either gender), although the oyo gender use it extensively in non-romantic contexts. bana- is the voice of a male child, though it is rarely used by children in practice; it is mostly used by women wishing to stress their own childishness (to appear winsome, for instance, or to pre-empt and defuse accusations of foolishness) – men will only use it when confessing or committing the most foolish actions, and the female kunyi gender emphatically never use it. isi- is a very humble prefix usually used only by women, in cases of marked power imbalence; diyai- is even more humble, and is rarely used in the modern world except by the most penitant wrongdoers, and when addressing the most glorious of masters; isi- and diyai- may perhaps be translated by expressions like ‘I, your lowly servant’ and ‘I, your worthless and inadequate slave’; for men, however, isi- may be more demeaning than diyai-; on the other hand, isi- is more likely to be used playfully or in jest, which diyai– almost never is. wa-, meanwhile, is gender- and status-neutral; it is the default prefix for male speakers, and is used by women in situations that are formal or businesslike but that do not merit the superiority of kāta- or the formalism of īku-; however, some may take moral, sociological or grammatical offense at a woman using wa-, the exception being when a woman is speaking on behalf of others. wa- is often used as a neutral and inclusive exclusive plural, although any other prefix can also be used in this way (for instance, a female speaker using a female prefix with a plural meaning does not entail that she is speaking only on behalf of other women, though it may suggest so). wana- is the standard inclusive plural – that is, used where English would use ‘we’ to mean ‘you and I (and maybe others)’. ō- is a more formal, and more hostile, equivalent of wana-; it may also be used with no clear inclusive or plural meaning, to avoid responsibility, in a similar way to some usages of English ‘one’. làka- is a prefix taught to foreigners, previously only used by removers of human waste; bitti- was once used by those who scavenged discarded items for things that might be of use to others, but is now often used ironically by those who see themselves, or are portraying themselves, as sharp negotiators, or who are defending their decision to speak plainly or coarsely.

There are a great many other first-person prefixes, in theory. Many of these mark varying degrees of social status (of the speaker, of the addressee, and of any audience) and of kin connection – these prefixes are not generally used in modern speech, and are considered rude, obsolete, and inegalitarian, although they may be found in old documents or poems, or occasionally used in highly-literate jest (most speakers are unfamiliar with them). Others are exclusive plurals formed from the various singulars, generally by whole or partial reduplication, or by the affixes ō- or –tō or –tan or –an, or the infix -n-, but most of these are now obsolete. Theoretically, a woman might use the prefix òinkuìnkutan-, but such a form would never in practice be encountered outside comedy.

In general, there is a tendency to avoid any first-person prefix and to speak of oneself in the third person where possible.

Among the second-person prefixes, tu- is used as standard, ōtu- as a more respectful version, and angātu– as an honorific. As it is common to avoid using second-person prefixes except in cases of formality, tu- often has a derogatory connotation; however, this is not always present, when the choice to use a prefix has clearly been made for other reasons (for instance, among family there is less care taken to avoid directly addressing people, and hence there is less connotation attached to the theoretically ‘neutral’ choice of ‘tu’). ōtu- and, particularly, angātu- are also often used in derogatory contexts, particularly to insult foreigners, or others seen as not being fully proficient in the language – distinguishing insult from honour is generally only possible through analysis of the wider context (generally informal usage with highly formal prefixes is probably intended as a covert insult, or at least as a rough jest). As with first-person prefixes, there are a host of obsolete second-person honorific and derogatory prefixes no longer in general use.

Of the third-person prefixes, the zero prefix is used for transitive actions when the subject is a male human (or portrayed as equivalent to human in the case of some fables and children’s stories). In the case of other animates (gods, animals, tools, some natural phenomena), or in the case of human subjects with an intransitive action, or in cases where the human subject is accompanied by a counter (eg plurals), the prefix used is ra-; for inanimates, it is sa-. nà- is used with inanimate mass nouns, when no counter is present (when a counter is present, sa- is used). ku- is used with female human subjects with no counter; angāna- is an honorific. i- is used for subjects that are possessed by something else, unless they are inalienably possessed (in which case lu- is used).

lu- is the ‘fourth-person’ prefix – that is, it is used with the sense of ‘the owner of the thing we’re talking about’. du-, the ‘fifth person’, is used in the vague sense of ‘somebody’, but with the expectation that there is some specific person being talked about – it’s just that the speaker doesn’t know who it happens to be.  The ‘sixth person’, yay- is used in the sense of ‘the causer or controller’ – often someone who has not been explicitly referenced.

These subject prefixes are placed before the root (i.e. after any initial augment). When an initial augment is present, sandhi must be applied where appropriate. For instance, the root s-dil- becomes, with a third person subject, djil-, jadil-, djadil-, jnàdil-, hudil-, sangānadil- or sidil-; dī-dil- yields dīdil-, dijadil-, disadil-, dingàdil-, dīkudil-, dilangānadil- and dīdil-; mu-dil gives mudil-, mujdil-, mujdil-, mùntil-, mukudil-, mangānadil-, and muidil-. This complexity is ameliorated by the small number of complex roots in the language, and the even smaller number of initial augments utilised.

Voice is a ternary category, marked by a suffix. Active voice is unmarked; passive voice is marked by the suffix –ak; antipassive, by the suffix –ut. The use of these voices will be described elsewhere. The suffixes are added to the root directly.

Object agreement is rather more complicated. There are three first-person suffixes (-aw, -awan, -ō), two second-person suffixes (-ut, -angātu), four third-person suffixes (-ar, -as, -i and -/), and one fourth-person suffix (-ul). These are the same as, or transparantly derived from through metathesis, the equivalent subject prefixes. Worth noting is the fact that –ut is the object equivalent of both tu- and ōtu-, that –ō is a formal first-person suffix of either number (-aw being singular and plural exclusive, –awan being plural exclusive), and that zero-marking is used when the object is human and the action is intransitive, or when the subject is human and the action is intransitive.  Object agreement follows the root, or the voice suffix if present.

Version agreement is quaternary. The verb agrees with the version of the noun with which the verb as a whole agrees (object or subject), or, if it agrees with both object and subject, it agrees in version with the subject. First version agreement is unmarked; second version is marked by –a; third version is marked by –ang; fourth-version is marked by –i, but is unmarked if either the subject or the object is marked with –i.

Ition is a binary category: andative (motion away from the deictic locus) or venitive (motion toward the deictic locus). The deictic locus will be explained elsewhere. The andative is marked by a zero suffix, while the venitive is marked by the suffix –u, with the exception explained below. This follows the object suffix if present, otherwise the voice suffix if present, and otherwise the root. The moving thing is the argument which which the verb agrees, or the subject if it agrees with both arguments – although the motion may well be metaphorical.

Location is also a binary category: on land or at sea. This interacts with the ition suffix thusly: andative + maritime = -ni; venitive + maritime = –ai; venitive+terrestrial = –u. Otherwise, the terrestrial is marked by -a, and the maritime is marked with -i. It is important to note that location follows the terminal augment if there is one, and thus may be separated from the ition suffix – in this case, the equations mentioned do not apply. For example, sakkung-t with first-person object, active voice, gives, in the four ition/location combinations: sakkungota, sakkungoti, sakkungòuta, sakkungòuti; sakkung- in the same inflexions gives sakkungawa, sakkungi, sakkungu, sakkungai. In the passive with a third-person inanimate object, sakkung- yields sakkungakasa, sakkungakajni, sakkungakasu, sakkungakasai; in the same inflexions, sakkung-t- yields sakkungakatta, sakkungakatti, sakkungakasuta, sakkungakasuti. In the active, and with zero (or no) object suffix, lefi- yields lefia, lefini, lefiu, lefiai.

It is important to note that not all verbs are marked for both subject and object agreement. Indeed, only verbs in so-called ‘directive’ text do so – ‘directive’ text is any conversation in which the interlocutor is directly addressed, or in which the speaker uses the first-person. In general, directive text is avoided where possible, and is usually found only in relatively formal or intimate contexts – among those who are not family, and who are not talking to their direct superiors, the use of directive text will be perceived as hostile, and possible offensive. An analogue might be the decision to add ‘sir’ to the end of every English sentence when talking to a stranger (and outside a business situation).

In non-directive (‘discursive’) text, either the subject or object may be marked, but not both. This decision is largely lexical – some verbs (dynamic verbs) generally mark the subject and other verbs (stative verbs) generally mark the object. Some verbs can mark either – often with a change in meaning. For example, savota means “it strikes sth.”, while votasa means not “it is struck” but “it is broken by a blow”. Every dynamic verb can be transformed into a stative verb and vice-versa – but in practice, many verbs are only commonly used in one form or the other, or have one form take on a particularly restricted or metaphorical meaning. For example, rasakkunga means “they kick”, but sakkungara means “they feel attacked by new news and developments when they are already unhappy” and is a less common expression.

In addition to dynamic and stative verbs, a third species exists: motive verbs. These are intransitive by definition and only ever mark agreement with the subject – even in directive text. They generally deal with motion, as the name implies, but also include a small number of ‘procedural’, ‘performative’ and ‘textual’ verbs. Examples of these include bortat- (“prepare a meal”, procedural), kal- (“undress for bed”, procedural), iur- (“I resign”, performative), lai- (“I accept”, performative), i- (“I disown you”, performative), hut- (“go away!”, performative), nos- (“remember these words being said”, textual), and yùt- (“believe this statement”, textual). Of these, the performatives are of particular note, as they exist only with first-person agreement, and in a number of cases this is zero-marked. For example, ia is the andative terrestrial of of i-, and iura is the andative terrestrial of iur-; however, the andative terrestrial of lai- is walai, with overt person marking but no overt location marking (one of only a handful of irregular verbs in this regard).

The use of terrestrial and maritime location is also worth commenting on. Generally, these markers mean exactly that – they say whether the event occurred on land or at sea. However, there are cases when the maritime marker is used even when the event occurred on land. Typically, this indicates uncertainty, alienation from others, riskiness, lack of wisdom or moral uprightness, unclear aims or consequences, lack of knowledge by the speaker of the details of the action, and so forth – generally a sense of being ‘far away’ and ‘beyond/without help’. It is also often used for events on land that are not the home island itself – particularly if performed by people who are only ‘passing through’. The terrestrial marker can sometimes be used for actions at sea, but more narrowly – mostly, it is fair to say that an event is ‘on land’ if a person could still easily swim to solid land (which can include swimming down – events passing over reefs can often be ‘on land’).

3.2 The Concrete Verb

The concrete state of a verb can be formed from the liquid state through affixes. In the case of most dynamic and active verbs, this means adding the prefix a- and the suffic –an; in the case of motive verbs, it means adding the prefix to- and the suffix –an. There are also a small number of verbs in which it means adding the prefix kà- and the suffix –a, or the prefix a- and the suffix –ō, or a- and –ìan. Finally, there are some verbs which use the normal affixes in most cases, but replace the suffix –an with the suffix –oto if the object is of a certain type (specifically, where the object is a dual). These irregular verbs are a distinct minority. Verbs with final augments place the suffix after the augment and add an infix between root and augment (almost always –a-); verbs with initial augments place the prefix before the augment.

Concrete verbs inflect to agree with their objects. In the case of motive verbs, there is only one core argument, so this is the same as the ‘subject’ they agree with in liquid state. They agree by means of a prefix. These prefixes are the same as the subject prefixes for liquid state verbs, except that the only first-person prefixes are su- (singular or exclusive) and wa- (inclusive plural), and that with a female object, the same prefix is used as for a male (i.e. ra- or zero); it should be noted also that the rules for zero-marking match those for zero-marked objects in the liquid state. Furthermore, the fourth, fifth and sixth-person prefixes are not used. It is worth reiterating that although in the liquid state wa- indicates singular or exclusive, it indicates inclusive in the concrete state.

Concrete verbs also, in very limited way, inflect to agree with their subjects: this is only true to the extent that a verb that would be dynamic if it were in its liquid state that has a feminine subject will take ku- in place of the concrete prefix a-, and ko- in place of the concrete prefix to-.

Concrete state verbs do not take voice marking. Nor do they take ition marking. They do, however, inflect for location: terrestrial location is zero-marked, while maritime location is marked by –i. This suffix follows the concrete suffix.

For example, “it (inanimate) is kicked” is asasakkungan or asasakkungani. “She  touches heads with him” is kulefìan – the root-final –i takes an accent by analogy with –ìan concretes, and the human subject takes zero marking because the action is intransitive (the details of transitivity will be explained elsewhere).

3.3 Non-Finite Forms of the Verb

Rawàng Ata has not one but three types of infinitive. The simple infinitive is used to refer to an instance or example of the verb but without commenting on its subjects, objects, ition, or location; the abstract infinitive is used to refer to the general concept of the verb. The simple infinitive comes in liquid and concrete states. The difference between simple and abstract infinitive often corresponds to definite/indefinite and undetermined abstract nouns in English – so, for instance, rawàng, the simple infinitive, might be glossed as ‘the agreement’ or ‘an agreement’, and sakkungàng might be glossed as ‘the kick’ or ‘a kick’, while asàrawani might be glossed ‘agreement’, and asàsakkungani might be glossed ‘kicking’.

As can be seen from these examples, the simple infinitive adds the suffix –àng, while the abstract adds the prefix asà- and the suffix –ani. Concrete simples are simply formed from the concrete form of the verb. Verbs with final augments add the suffixes after the augment and an infix between root and augment unless in the concrete state already (-a- for simple infinitives, –asà- for abstracts, with this prefix becoming a- when these abstract infix is present), while verbs with initial augments add the prefix after the augment. Thus, sakkung-t- has the simple liquid infinitive sakkungatàng, the simple concrete infinitive asakkungatanàng, and the abstract infinitive asakkungasàtani; mu-dil has the three infinitives, mudilàng, kàmudilāng, and muasàdilani; lefi- gives lefiàng, alefiànang, and asàlefiani.

3.4 Verbal Accompaniments

Verb phrases in Rawàng Ata involve at least one verb, and can also involve varies small subsidiary words. These words are articles, verbal-nominal particles, adverbs, and motifs.

Articles are short, uninflectable words that precede the verb. They are a relatively small closed class, and they usually carry aspectual, modal, or definiteness information. The most important article is – the definite article. This indicates that the action being discussed is not a new action, but is the same action that has been mentioned earlier in the discourse. It contrasts with , the antidefinite, which indicates that the action is emphatically not the same as any action mentioned previously, no matter what the assumption, but is ‘a different instance of’ the action. Other example articles are: dai, the mirative, which indicates the surprise of the speaker, or their doubt of the event’s veracity, ū, which indicates that the event did not happen (and can have negative or irrealis implications) and no, the distributive, which indicates that for each appropriate object, the action is performed at least once (rather than to all the objects simultaneously).

Verbal-nominal particles are an even smaller closed class: there are only three of them, and can perhaps be considered a part of the verb itself, as they are entirely lexically determined. The three particles are uya, ika and ama – in general, ika is likely to be used with stative verbs, ama with dynamic verbs, and uya with motive verbs, but this is only a guideline. The particles have no real meaning in their own right, but serve syntactically as dummy nouns referring cataphorically to the associated verb, as verbs cannot directly take the place of nouns. The particle precedes the verb, and when appearing in the direct case (ie without suffix) and without any intervening element, it is pronounced as part of the verb itself. In these cases we will mark it with a hyphen. Any article will intervene between particle and verb.

Motifs are a larger class. They are uninflectable particles that follow the verb. They are mostly the same as the motifs that follow nouns. As with nouns, they often suggest  more abstract meanings, or specify paths and participants and perspectives. For example, raw-, “agree, settle, rest, fix, treat” becomes raw- ata, “come to concord together, speak one language with”; similarly, lefi-, “touch heads with” becomes lefi- ata, “have a romantic orgy with”. Birk- mean “scrape”; birk- tos means “skin from head to toe”; birkhen means “scrape down to the bone”. Similarly, luluaiu- means “lick a tasty liquid from the surface of”, and luluaiu- tos means “lick a tasty liquid from the surface of, from head to toe”; ràj- means “look at admiringly”, while ràj- hen means “inquire deeply into the underlying nature of something apparently admirable or attractive”.  Many motifs are simple prepositions, particularly when applied to motive verbs: dong- means “shuffle or slowly and bouncingly roll, or travel in a cart”, while dong- aban means “shuffle or slowly and bouncingly roll, or travel in a cart, across a street or over a river”.

Adverbs are also a large class, but not entirely open. Adverbs agree with the verb in location but in nothing else. They precede the verb, but follow any article.

3.5 Serial verbs

Serial verb constructions are very important in Rawàng Ata. A sequence of verbs can be placed together to convey simultaneous or in some way unitary action. These sequences are not strictly idiomatic, but nor are they entirely open – they are best learnt as units, although innovative sequences are also found. In a serial verb construction, the subject of each verb must be the same, and this may require the use of passive or antipassive voices. Each verb must agree in location, but will share no other affixes (other than concrete state marking if appropriate). Instead, prefixes are placed on the first verb, and suffixes are placed on the last. For example: the verbs ti- (“move to perform an action on a small-ish object”) and luìk- (“pick up and hold) together form the serial verb construction ratia luìku – “he/it comes here and picks up the…”

Any of the verbs in a serial verb construction may be modified by an article, article or motif, although in general there will be one ‘light’ (often motive) and one ‘heavy’ verb, with the heavy verb taking all modifiers.