Conlang Relay 23/Idaltu

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Text in Idaltu

Awyasijoshinnerellqepajarchymxzaidaltuxza. Qabawjoyneshaqekajahiwkulsayamngme. Yatintyakjoshasentoqemirqeshambaraxza. Katseshoqeshakurkubza. Arahulewkeshango. Iqeqabawamchishaqehiwkulshodxa. Mnepurchjoshaqeshuluda. Dagujoshoqeshadxaqaichfarja. Hulewkestoqesha. Araqabawmisha. Hwyjofederfannqemirqemarwallaxzashinnerell. Yatinzuheshoshambarabxa. Iqesihteshosentoxa. Awyasimeqehuxuxurshinnerellxza. Hnunawahimeqebengsihangme. Garljufederfannqeshakozahidawpalu.

Some grammar notes

Idaltu is designed to be a non-recursive language. It has been theorised that recursion is the only feature of language unique to humans (Hauser, M., Chomsky, N. & Fitch, W. T. 2002. The Language Faculty: What is it, who has it, and how did it evolve? Science, 298, 1569-1579.), which I interpret to mean that it was the last major innovation of human speech before we reached the condition we have today, a modern, flexible language with full freedom of expression. Recursion probably is hard-wired in us, because it is a reasonable guess that features that are universal or near universal in human language (or human characteristics in general) are hard-wired. Many of the other universals (or near-universals) that do not depend on recursion are present in Idaltu. However, it does not, by definition, have statements and clauses like normal human language. Instead, I will refer to them as calls. They are more structured than usual animal calls, and the structural elements are similar to the ones of modern language, thus I will mostly use commonplace terminology when referring to them. Each call has this structure:

<aspect>-VERB-<tense>-<mood><evidentiality>-<subject>-<voice>-<object>-<other arguments>, where only the VERB is mandatory.

Which looks pretty commonplace for a polysynthetic language at first glance. In my model of language history the languages were polysynthetic at first when they reached the recursive stage, and have been evolving towards more analytic structures since, though not necessarily in a linear fashion.

In place of a complex syntax, Idaltu has complex semantics. The things we can say just by adjusting the syntax a little, or a lot – in principle there's no limit – Idaltu has to invent new words for. It has been suggested ( that there is a correlation between the size of a language's phoneme inventory and its geographical distance from the site of the origin of the human species. This indicates that pre-human language had rich phoneme inventories, which is an advantage if you need such a large vocabulary. But the evolution of logical structures like the above probably reduced the need for huge inventories a bit, as before them you had to invent new words for each logical distinction. The phonetic ability of humans probably evolved to its full extent before this logical structure evolved. Then the need for it declined, and modern languages get by with just a small fraction of the sounds that it's actually possible for us to make. For Idaltu, I propose a comparatively rich inventory, which I will represent by the reasonably close Latin letters and digraphs to save me from too much work. I'm not a natural IPA typist.

Each of the subject, object or other arguments above are nominal items. They are declined for singular, dual and plural number and for a large number of cases. Pronouns are not in principle different from other nouns and work in the same way. Since the nominal arguments are marked, they can switch places for emphasis. The scheme above is the neutral one. All nouns as well as verbs have theme vowels, and attribute markers can be inserted between them and the roots. The structure of a nominal argument is as follows:

NOUN-<attribute>-<theme>-<number>-<case>, where only the NOUN is mandatory.

There is a large number of verbal aspects, plenty of moods and a number of voices, but only 3 tenses, past, present and future.

For the vocabulary below I have used Bengtson's and Ruhlen's 27 Proto-World reconstructions ( as my main inspiration. Not because I believe they have reached an accurate description of what language was like before it started to diverge, but because I like them and think they are a nice starting point for this experiment. I think however that the freedom of word invention, which amounts to the starting point for divergence, was evolved long before the invention of recursion, so Proto-World belongs to a much earlier stage than Idaltu. But the 27 of B & R have a moderately rich phoneme inventory which is suitable for my purpose. Sergei Starostin's online database (\data\eura\globet) has been useful for the rest.

Idaltu is currently very experimental and so far I have done away with all verbal and nominal class distinctions. But I can foresee that something will crystallise out of the theme vowel system if I ever have time to work further on it.


akud (a) last

arj (a) wild

awyasi (v) be

baja (n) joy

baju (v) find

bau (interj.) dog’s bark

bawa (v) bark

bele (v) fear

beng (n) news

buqi (n) wildness, madness

cheha (n) hunger

chuk (a) strange, bent, crooked

chym (n) land

dagu (v) show

diru (n) tree

dawa (n) day

efal (a) many

faxe (v) break

faza (n) pot

Federfann (n) personal name

gar (v) bring

hafa (v) kick

hala (n) food

hamnetu (n) journey

hantu (n) front

haqe (v) see

hara (v) trade, exchange, switch

harahamnetu (n) trading journey

haramano (n) merchant

hawa (n) river

heri (v) destroy

hiwkul (n) gold (yellow stone)

hule (v) eat

hurxura (n) wagon

huxu (n) brother

hwy (v) love

Idaltu (n) place name

jen (v) speak

kaje (v) go

kame (v) grasp

kamo (n) family, parents

kanu (v) tie

katse (v) hold, keep

kocha (n) basket

kole (v) fall

kolu (n) fall

koza (n) house

kuna (n) woman

kurku (n) cage

kwano (n) male dog

laxa (v) loosen

loqi (v) jump

makaq (n) word

makaqware (n) story

mako (n) boy

mano (n) man

mari (v) walk

Marwalla (n) place name

me (pron) 1s

miro (n) ruler, king

mora (n) mare, female horse

nawahi (v) wait, expect

nguki (v) be shocked, surprised

oh (interj.) surprise

p (a) near, proximate

pajar (n) princess

para (n) edge, side, shore

purch (v) beg

qabaw (v) weave

qaich (n) animal

qarto (n) knot

qazu (n) piece

qechu (n) end

qiru (n) door

qudu (n) inside

qurduni (v) be insufficient

quxa (v) look, look for

sayam (n) grass

Sento (n) personal name

sha (pron) 3s, fem.

Shambara (n) place name

shi (pron) 3s, neut.

Shinnerell (n) personal name

sho (pron) 3s, masc.

shu (pron) 3s, inanim.

shule (v) liberate, get free

shulu (n) freedom

siha (n) fight

sihte (v) fight

sto (pron) 3p

tano (v) pull, draw

tanxane (v) harness (a draft animal) to something

tinu (v) sit

tuku (v) show, display

tyak (v) steal

wiltengu (v) not will

ware (n) rope

weda (v) hit

wola (n) greatness, bigness, muchness

wæri (v) make, prepare

xogu (v) be hurt, feel bad

xur (a) young

za (pron) demonstrative

zahe (v) put, set

zeqe (v) run

zuhe (v) appear, turn up


- (null) unmarked: present tense, indicative mood, active voice, punctual-stative aspect, singular number, absolutive case

a (a) progressive - emphasising progress in action

ad (t) past

amchi (m) negative conditional - negation of verb states a condition for another action

ara (a) contrary - indicating contrariness to the previous statement

bxa (c) locative - indicates place

da (c) benefactive - what an action is done for the benefit of

dbe (m) jussive - indicates an order

dxa (c) dative - marks indirect object

esmu (a) simultaeous - indicates simultaneous action

etse (a) terminative - marks finalising action

hi (c) allative - indicates movement towards

hnu (a) intensive - intensifying the action

iqe (a) inceptive - marks start of action

iqne (a) inchoative - marks start of state change

jo (t) past

kaja (v) potential - marks ability to do the verb

kla (c) circumferential (around, about)

lju (m) desiderative - indicates wish

lu (c) instrumental - means, manner (adverbial) or time

mi (m) conditional - verb states a condition for another action

mne (a) iterative - marks repetition

ngme (c) ablative - movement or action away from, out of

ngo (v) middle - allows the subject of a transitive action to be marked other than by the ergative, for example to act upon itself.

fa (n) plural

pu (c) adessive - marks adjacent location

qe (c) ergative - marks the subject in a transitive action

qqa (c) superessive - marks location on top of something

ptu (m) speculative - marks speculative statement

she (a) continuous - marks continued action

so (c) illative - movement into

tli (c) prosecutive - movement along, across

wke (e) quotative - marks a statement that the subject has been told

xa (c) comitative - marks accompaniment, togetherness

xza (c) genitive - possession

yatin (a) episodic - marks a particular episode

yne (e) reportative - marks the reporting of unwitnessed events

za (c) translative - marks turning from one state to another

zfe (c) pertingent - marks something that touches another thing

æki (a) delimitative - indicates finite extent


a - aspect, or attribute

c - case

e - evidentiality

m - mood

n - number, or noun

t - tense

v - verb, or voice