Hello! Here's a quick and dirty grammar sketch of my brand new language Ishtalo. I've been cuddling bits and fragments of this language (silly me!) since the day I watched to (or should I say listened to) _Dances with wolves_ (the movie with Kevin Kostner; the Italian title was like this, but Italian translations of movie titles are often far away from the original). I'm no expert of Indian languages, so I didn't attempt to recreate one, although a few features of Ishtalo are inspired by actual Indian languages (the inversive voice, for example; or the interaction between quality predicates and argument marking, a trait I took from Chickasaw, together with the word _chokma,_ "good"). Perhaps someone among you will be able to tell me if Ishtalo happens to resemble an Indian language nonetheless... Comments and questions are welcome. If any of you has a strong grasp on general syntax and/or language typology, I'd especially like to hear your opinion about the syntax of the core (marking and cross-referencing of verb arguments). As I understand the question, I broke a so-called "language universal" here; yet, the result doesn't look especially alien to me... * PHONOLOGY There are 14 consonants and 4 vowels. The consonants are: 1 2 3 4 5 Labial p f m Apical t ts s n l Dorsal k ch sh y LabVel q w 1. V.less stop; 2. V.less affricate; 3. V.less fricative; 4. Nasal; 5. Approximant Among dorsals, /k/ is velar [k]; /ch/ and /sh/ are prepalatal (I know no ASCII-IPA for them); y is the palatal glide [j]. The vowels are: i e o a /e/ stands for the schwa [@], /o/ is mid back unrounded [V] (I think this is the ASCII-IPA for this sound, correct?). Stress is always word-final, except for a few clitics. Words more than two syllables long have secondary stress on the first syllable (proclitics aren't counted, and don't take secondary stress). When two vowels run together (for affixation or in adjacent words), vowel deletion may occur, according to the following rules: 1) if one of the involved vowels is /e/, it is always deleted; 2) if the vowels are identical, the first one is deleted (this may cause the stress to shift); 3) in informal speech, deletion of the weaker vowel may occur even if the vowels are different. * ARTICLES I assume that this name was chosen by 19th Century grammarians when they first accounted for the language. :-) "Articles" really are bound pronouns (indeed, there are first and second person articles too), although the so-called "direct articles" do act like articles when attached to nouns and attributes. Articles come in two variants, called direct and oblique. The direct forms are: sing. plur. masculine she se feminine ne me neuter ye ye 1st pers. en om 2nd pers. a te imperson. che che The oblique forms are: sing. plur. masculine wa qan feminine le ela neuter i i 1st pers. mi mi 2nd pers. wi wi There is no impersonal oblique article. * NOUNS Nouns inflect for number and case. Gender is also grammatical, but it only shows up in concord (through the articles). There are 4 numbers: singular -0 singulative -wes (-mes after k) plural prefix reduplication partitive prefix reduplication + -wan (-man after k) Depending on whether the stem is C-initial or V-initial, prefix reduplication consists of a copy of the intial CV or VC respectively. Several irregular words exist that employ suppletive stems instead of reduplication. Of numbers, the so-called singular is really unmarked, and it is also found in instances where the English translational equivalent has a plural. Singulative, OTOH, always entails that the referent is one in number. Partitive is a kind of plural employed when the referents are percieved as separate parts of a whole. There are three cases: nominative -0 accusative -ta (optionally -0 for neuter nouns) oblique -ti (-si after k) With unmarked verbs, nominative is used for S and A. It is also used (mostly) for the possessor. Accusative is used for the direct object; oblique for the indirect object and for the object of adpositions. More on this below... When number and case suffixes co-occur, the former are attached directly to the stem, and the latter to the former. Most nouns also take a mandatory direct article (that concords in gender and number with the noun) and an optional oblique article (for possessor cross-referencing). Concord in number is straightforward: singular articles go with singular and singulative nouns; plural articles go with plural and partitive nouns. Gender mostly (but not exclusively) depends on animacy and natural gender. Besides, there are nouns which exsist in different gender categories. Take, for example, _*oka_ ("young person") and _*ishtalo_ ("Ishtalo"). These naked words never occur on their own; instead, we have the following gender-marked forms:  sh'oka, masculine: "the boy" n'oka, feminine: "the girl" sh'ishtalo, masculine: "the Ishtalo man" n'ishtalo, feminine: "the Ishtalo woman" y'ishtalo, neuter: "the Ishtalo language" There is a further complication. As seen in the translations of the examples above, NPs with gender-marked articles are always seen as determinate in reference. Indeterminate NPs take the impersonal article instead:  ch'oka: "a boy," or "a girl" ch'ishtalo: "an Ishtalo" Only a few nouns occur with no article, the most relevant class of exceptions being that of personal names. First and second person articles may occasionally replace the proper article in emphatical contexts, such as:  nok empoksheta enlawal nok en =poksheta en =lawal EMPHASIS 1D.S=shaman 1D.S=come "I, the shaman, came!" As said before, the possessor is cross-referenced on the noun by means of an oblique article, which is interposed between the direct article and the noun stem. If there is an over NP too, it usually takes the nominative case:  shepoksheta yewatsitsa she =poksheta ye =wa =tsitsa 3D.M.S=shaman 3D.N.S=3O.M.S=spear "The shaman's staff" (lit. "the shaman his staff") * ADJECTIVES Little is to be said about adjectives _per se._ Adjectives share the morphosyntactic behaviour of both nouns (see above) and verbs (discussed below). When inflected as nouns, adjectives can act as stand-alone NPs or as adjuncts to other nouns or "nominalised" adjectives. When inflected as verbs, adjectives act as predicates. For complex forms, the presence of nominal vs. verbal affixes is enough to disambiguate an adjective, but in the basic forms only the context can help:  nechokma ne =chokma 3D.F.S=good "She is good" or "The good one (fem.)"  nechokma n'oka ne =chokma ne =oka 3D.F.S=good 3D.F.S=young.person "The girl is good" or "The good girl" When used as attributes, adjectives exhibit concord in gender (via the attached direct article), number and case with the head noun; optionally, possessor concord (via an attached oblique article) is also found:  ye(wa)chochokma shepoksheta yew'atatakam ye =wa =cho.chokma she =poksheta 3D.N.S=3O.M.S=PR :good 3D.M.S=shaman ye =wa =at.atakam 3D.N.S=3O.M.S=PR.medicine "The shaman's good remedies" * VERBS Verbs (and predicative adjectives) inflect for tense, voice and argument agreement. The structure of verb chains is: direct article-oblique article-tense-stem-voice Tenses are 7: present mi- (mik- in front of vowels, nasals and s) near past ta- (tak- in front of vowels, nasals and s) far past koke- imperfect won- negative imperfect qen- future ton- negative future len- Note, though, that no verb has seven marked tense forms. Indeed, state verbs (and adjectives) bear no overt mark for the imperfect, and action verbs bear no overt mark for the far past. As to the usage, present and far past signify an action (punctual aspect), respectively in the current time and in the past. The imperfect and, to a lesser extent, the the near past signify a process (imperfective and progressive aspects), respectively ongoing or "just finished." The imperfect is also employed for general, timeless statements and, at times, for the incohative future ("to be going to"). The negative imperfect and negative future (two other labels likely from 19th Century grammarians) signify "never" and "nevermore/never again" respectively. In spite of their names, they have little correlation to the time of the action. There are 3 marked voices, which contrast with the default, unmarked voice (traditionally, but improperly, labelled "active"). They are: inversive -ko (-no after k) passive/reflexive -tok antipassive -qi (-eqi after k) Cross-referencing of verb arguments (via direct and oblique articles) is perhaps the most complicated feature of the Ishtalo verbal system. Several factors control cross-referencing in Ishtalo: for transitive verbs, they are the tense and voice of the verb, as well as the person of the A and P arguments; for intransitive verbs and a bunch of transitive ones as well, semantics play a major role. In the active voice, the basic model of cross-referencing follows an ergative strategy. The mandatory direct article encodes S and P. The oblique article, if present, encodes the recipient and beneficiary functions. The A of transitive verbs is encoded by a mandatory oblique article suffixed to the last element of the clause:  shelawal she =lawal 3D.M.S=come "He came"  newaksaswa ne =waksas=wa 3D.F.S=heal =3O.M.S "He healed her"  yel'oskatawa ye =le =oskata=wa 3D.N.S=3O.F.S=give =3O.M.S "He gave it to her" There are complications. With most verbs of perception (i.e, when A is an experiencer, rather than an agent), there is no postfix clitic, but the A is encoded as if it were a dative complement:  yel'iqim ye =le =iqim 3D.N.S=3O.F.S=know "She knows it" (lit. "It is known to her") Some stative verbs know of such valency alternations as those illustrated in 12 and 13 below:  nechokma ne =chokma 3D.F.S=good "She is good" (see also example 5)  chelechokma che=le =chokma IMP=3O.F.S=good "She feels well" (lit. "There's good for her") Note the usage of the impersonal article in example 13 above to fill in the direct article slot of the predicate. The direct article is mandatory, so that _*lechokma_ would be ungrammatical. One further possibility for predicates like _-chokma_ is shown below:  chechokmale che=chokma=le IMP=good =3O.F.S "She did well" Another element of asymmetry is thrown in by first and second person articles. Whenever one of these articles appears in the direct slot of a transitive verb, it must be understood as encoding the A, not the P function. If the first or second person is P, then one must resort to the inverse voice. Contrast example 9 above and examples 15 and 16 below:  emwaksas en =waksas 1D.S=heal "I healed (someone)"  emwaksaskowa en =waksas-ko =wa 1D.S=heal -INV=3O.M.S "He healed me" Except when a first or second person is A or P, one cannot drop the suffixed oblique article cross-referencing the A function -- unless the verb is marked for the passive voice:  newaksastok ne =waksas-tok 3D.F.S=heal -PASS "She was healed" When the verb is in the passive voice, the A function must be left unspecified, with only one possible exception. If the suffixed oblique article is co-referential with the prefixed direct article, the whole contruction is equivalent to a reflexive in English:  newaksastokle ne =waksas-tok =le 3D.F.S=heal -PASS=3O.F.S "She healed herself" If a first or second person is concerned, either the passive or the inverse voice are allowed. The western dialects have developed a different strategy, in this case: the oblique pronoun is dropped, and the passive and inverse voice markers co-occur, in the form -kotok (i.e., you have _emwaksaskotok_ in place of _emwaksastokmi_ for "I healed myself"). In a few dialects, this compound form has been reanalyzed as a single, general-purpose reflexive marker. In these dialects, the equivalent of example 17 above is _newaksaskotok_, and a separate passive voice need be recognized. Finally, the antipassive allows to promote the A function so that it is encoded with the direct article for third persons too. The P function is not deleted, and it is cross-referenced as if it where a dative argument to the verb. If a recipient or beneficiary is present, it cannot be cross-referenced within the verb chain. Below, the antipassive equivalents of examples 9 and 10 are given:  shelewaksasqi she =le =waksas-qi 3D.M.S=3I.F.S=heal -AP "He possibly healed her"  sh'ioskataqi she =i =oskata-qi 3D.M.S=3I.N.S=give -AP "Perhaps he gave it" As seen in the translations of the examples above, the antipassive voice entails possibility, uncertainty or indirect knowledge. Antipassive forms are often accompanied by adverbs that clarify the nature of the doubt. Another adverb that is often found together with the antipassive voice is _yoktelo_ ("now, soon, at once"): this is another means to express inchohative future. Antipassive agreement is also triggered by the future tense (but not the negative future). In the future tense, no voice morpheme may appear on the verb:  sheletomwaksas she =le =ton-waksas 3D.M.S=3I.F.S=FUT-heal "He will heal her" In the antipassive voice, first and second person articles show no peculiar behaviour. * VERB ARGUMENTS Whatever the complexities of verb agreement, the morphological marking of NPs serving as verb arguments is straightforward. In the default voice, argument marking always follows a nominative-accusative strategy, whereby S and A are in the nominative case and P is in the accusative case. The only, marginal exception is provided by neuter nouns: if the subject is animate and definite and the object is neuter, then it is optionally possible to drop the accusative mark on the object. The recipient function is encoded in the oblique case. The following examples extend examples 8 to 13 above (remember that the suffixed oblique article for A cross-referencing attaches to the last element of the clause, not the verb):  shelawal shepoksheta she =lawal she =poksheta 3D.M.S=come 3D.M.S=shaman "The shaman came"  newaksas n'okata shepokshetawa ne =waksas ne =oka -ta she =poksheta=wa 3D.F.S=heal 3D.F.S=young-ACC 3D.M.S=shaman =3O.M.S "The shaman healed the girl"  yel'oskata y'atakan(ta) n'okati shepokshetawa ye =le =oskata ye =atakam -ta 3D.N.S=3O.F.S=give 3D.N.S=medicine-ACC ne= oka -ti she =poksheta=wa 3D.F.S=young-OBL 3D.M.S=shaman =3O.M.S "The shaman gave the medicine to the girl"  yel'iqim n'oka ye =le =iqim ne =oka 3D.N.S=3O.F.S=know 3D.F.S=young.person "The girl knows it"  nechokma n'oka "The girl is good" (cf. example 6)  chelechokma n'oka che=le =chokma ne =oka ID =3O.F.S=good 3D.F.S=young.person "The girl feels well" In the passive voice, the marking is as expected: i.e., the A function is dropped and the P function is encoded in the nominative case. The examples below parallel number 17 and 18 above:  newaksastok n'oka ne =waksas-tok ne =oka 3D.F.S=heal -PASS 3D.F.S=young.person "The girl was healed"  newaksastok n'okale ne =waksas-tok ne =oka =le 3D.F.S=heal -PASS 3D.F.S=young.person=3O.F.S "The girl healed herself" In the antipassive voice, the P takes the oblique rather than the accusative case:  shelewaksasqi n'okati shepoksheta she =le =waksas-qi ne =oka -ti 3D.M.S=3I.F.S=heal -AP 3D.F.S=young.person-OBL she =poksheta 3D.M.S=shaman "The shaman possibly healed the girl" * WORD ORDER The main syntactic constraint regarding word order is for the verb to be in clause-initial position. For the rest, order of constituents is rather free. In the most unmarked construction, the direct object is adjacent to the verb and the subject is at the end of the clause, the indirect object occurring with equal frequency before and after the direct object. At phrasal level, the order is even freer. Indeed, it is not uncommon to find that modifiers and possessors are displaced from their nominal head, with many constituents intervening in between. * TOPICALISATION The main source of non-initial predicates is topicalization, which involves fronting and mandatory morphological marking (via the particle _non_). The topic also loses any case marking it might have:  non n'oka newaksas shepokshetawa non ne =oka ne =waksas she =poksheta=wa TOPIC 3D.F.S=young 3D.F.S=heal 3D.M.S=shaman =3O.M.S "(As of) the girl, the shaman healed her." There are constraints on what may be topicalised: namely, only the nominative and accusative functions, plus the possessor of the nominative and a few adverbs of time and place, may undergo topicalisation. * FOCUS The default focus position is clause-final. Another common position for the focus is after the main verb. In both positions, the focus is optionally marked with the particles _ak_ and _nok._ In a few cases of very strong emphasis, when the two common focus positions are not available (typically, when the clause is only made of the verb and the focused NP), it is allowable to move the focus in front of the verb. In this position, morphological marking (usually via _nok_) is mandatory. See example 3. --- That's all with it. Many details are still missing -- for example, modality and embedded clauses --, but I think I've layed out the foundations of the language. I'll keep working on Ishtalo! :-) Failflyr, Tommaso.