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Ilia (Te)
Spoken: Qu
Total speakers: 100,000 (approx.)
Genealogy: Isolate (as far as known)
Morphological type: Isolating/futional
Morphosyntactic alignment: Nominative-Accusative
Basic word order: VSO
Creator: Imralu
Created: 2013-2014

Ngolu, also known as Te or Ilia Te (endonym: ilia (te) IPA: [ìʎá(té)]) is a language isolate spoken throughout the space habitat Qu by the Ngolu people, whose number is estimated to be around 100,000. As the Ngolu are almost entirely monolingual, and while travel to and from Qu remains almost impossible, the language is not in any danger of extinction. At this stage, little is known of dialect differences within Qu. There are estimated to be somewhere between 50 and 100 Ngolu speakers on Earth who have simply mysteriously appeared in various locations. Small communities of Ngolu speakers been brought or have found their way together, the most well-known and well-studied of which is a group of about 15 living in and around Berlin, Germany.

Ngolu is an isolating/fusional, head-initial (right-branching) language with VSO word order and nominative-accusative alignment. Verbs (verbals) make up the only open class of word, with nouns (nominals) constituting a closed class of heavily fusional words that fill the roll of pronouns and articles in other languages, marking grammatical person, gender, number, case, definiteness and specificity.



There appear to have been fewer than ten isolated instances of non-Ngolu people arriving in Qu. In such a linguistically and culturally homogenous environment, the Ngolu have had no need for endonyms for their culture, people or language. They describe their language simply as ilia [ìʎá] 'speech', themselves as golu [ŋòlú] 'people', and their world as qu [ʔú] 'world'. The two or three foreigners who have been there have been described as taia [tàjá], which originally meant 'ghosts' or 'demons'. Non-Ngolu languages, when heard, are described as maramaria [màɾàmàdʒá] ('babbling' or 'nonsense').

For the Ngolu on Earth, contact with other cultures has forced them to acknowledge that the other languages they hear must have the ability to convey information just as their language. Consequently, on Earth, the word ilia generally refers to any language. To disambiguate their own language, they may call it ilia te [ìʎáté] 'good language' (or sometimes ilia golu [ìʎáŋòlú] or ilia qu [ìʎáʔú]). Non-Ngolu are still referred to as taia and Earth maybe referred to as utaia [ùtàjá] 'ghost world' or a loan word such as hiia, which is common among the Berlin group (from German hier). From the English 'Earth' come also the loanwords aásu [àásù] and uuásu [ùwásù].



Front Central Back
High i ‹i› u ‹u›
Mid e ‹e› o ‹o›
Low a ‹a›

Each vowel may be 'strong' or 'weak'. The pronunciation of strong vowels varies across accents but it generally equates to a high tone whereas 'weak' vowels have a low tone. There is only ever one 'strong' vowel per word and it is nearly always the final vowel. Where it is not, it is always the penultimate vowel and the in that case the final vowel is always /i/ or /u/. Non-final strong vowels are indicated in the romanisation using an acute accent, ‹áéíóú›.

The high vowels, /i/ and /u/, when 'weak' and adjacent to another vowel are pronounced non-syllabically as [i̯~j] and [u̯~w]). Non-syllabic /i/ merges with and palatalises any preceding dental/alveolar consonant.


Bilabial Labiovelar Dental/Alveolar Post-alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal m ‹m› n ‹n› ŋ ‹g›
Plosive b ‹b› t ‹t› k ‹k› ʔ ‹q›
Ejective ‹tt› ‹kk›
Voiced Fricative v ‹v› z ‹z› ʒ ‹j›
Voiceless Fricative s ‹s› ʃ ‹x› h ‹h›
Tap ɾ ‹r›
Lateral l ‹l›
  • The normal pronunciation of /n t tʼ ɾ l/ is dental. When these consonants are followed by a non-syllabic /i/, they are palatalised to [ɲ tʃ tsʼ dʒ ʎ] and the /i/ subsequently disappears.
  • /ɾ/ is frequently pronounced as a voiced dental plosive.
  • /s/ and /z/ are normally alveolar. When followed by a non-syllabic /i/, they are not distinguished from /ʃ ʒ/.
  • /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ cannot be followed by non-syllabic /i/.
  • The phonemes /s/ and /ɾ/ do not occur at the beginning of a word.
  • The ejective consonants /tʼ/ and /kʼ/ are restricted to positions immediately before a 'strong' vowel, although there may be an intervening non-syllabic 'weak' /i/ or /u/. At the beginning of a 'weak' syllable, ejective consonants become pronounced as their equivalent plain plosive. For example, kka [kʼá] and kkue [kʷʼé] are allowed while expected *kkina (derived from kka plus the infix -in-) is instead present as kina [kì.ná]. In connected speech, /tʼ/ and /kʼ/ may be pronounced as [t̚ʔ k̚ʔ] or even [tː kː]. A strong ejective pronunciation is always heard post pausa.


Phonemically, a syllable may be ((N)C)V, where V is a vowel (C) an optional consonant and (N) an optional nasal which assimilates to its following consonant in its point of articulation.

Phonetically, syllables may be more complex. (N) is pronounced syllabically post pausa and otherwise is pronounced in the coda of the preceding syllable. The non-syllabic pronunciations of /i/ and /u/ mean that a syllable can be (C)(S)V(S)(N), where (S) is a semivowel.

nxua intaneti
is on the internet

Epenthetic /s/

An epenthetic /s/ sometimes appears between words when the second word begins with a vowel. In the romanisation used here, the /s/ is written on the end of the preceding word. The rules are somewhat complex and are best shown as a table. The final vowels of preceding words are shown vertically on the left. Initial vowels of the following word are shown along the top. An epenthetic /s/ doesn't appear before i and u when a syllabic vowel (V) immediately follows within the same word. In the table, the word borders are shown with an s indicating where the epenthetic /s/ always appears. In other positions in the table, the epenthetic /s/ can still appear in very clear emphatic speech.

i(V)- u(V)- i- u- e- o- a-
-i -i i- -i u- -is i- -i u- -i e- -i o- -i a-
-u -u i- -u u- -u i- -us u- -u e- -u o- -u a-
-e -e i- -e u- -e i- -e u- -es e- -es o- -es a-
-o -o i- -o u- -o i- -o u- -os e- -os o- -os a-
-a -a i- -a u- -a i- -a u- -as e- -as o- -as a-


ene ua [è.né.wá] u followed by syllabic vowel
enes u [è.né.sú] u not followed by syllabic vowel
ene ima [è.néj.má] i is weak and can become non-syllabic
enes eme [è.né.sè.mé] e is always syllabic
eni ua [è.ní.wá] final i before non-syllabic u
eni u [è.ní.ú] final i before syllabic u
eni iu [è.ní.jú] final i before non-syllabic i
enis iui [è.ní.sì.wí] final i before initial syllabic i
ene iui [è.néj.wí] final e followed by 'weak' i which becomes non-syllabic


There are four classes of words in Ngolu. Ngolu is a very verb-heavy language, with verbals making up the only truly open word class.

  • Nominals: closed
  • Verbals: open
  • Particles: closed
  • Interjections: closed (mostly)


Nominals are a large but closed class of inflecting words. The majority of them, the pronominals, are essentially the equivalent of pronouns and articles in other languages, inflecting for number, gender, grammatical person, definiteness, specificity and case. Pronominals can appear on their own or can be followed by a verbal or verbal phrase. When followed by a verbal, they can be regarded as the head of an underlying relative clause which nominalises the verbal and allows it to function as an argument in the sentence.

As a pronoun:
"the thing"

As an article:
xu mala
"the thing that" "is a house"
the house

In addition, there are two complementisers which are essentially subordinating conjunctions which inflect for case. Zuo can be thought of as roughly equivalent to the English subordinating conjunction 'that' and kuo can be thought of as 'the time when'.

olos ene zuo kka g-ixi ja nana g-uje
be.strange DAT.1s.MASC NOM.C be.not COP-DAT.3s.DEF.INAN NOM.3s.DEF.MASC.REL be.father COP-GEN.3s.DEF.MASC
"is strange" "to me" "that" "is not" "go there" "the man who" "is father" "is his"
I think it's strange that his father didn't go / wasn't there. — [muja]


Pronominals indicate two numbers, singular and plural. Plural is marked by the prefix i-, which occurs before some case prefixes and after others (see Case below for more information).

xu mala
"the thing that" "is a house"
the house

ixu mala
"the things that" "are houses"
the houses

The singular is used before quantifiers indicating a specific plural quantity.

xu euo mala
NOM.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.pair
"the thing that" "is a group of two" "is a house"
the two houses

When the plural is used, this indicates multiples of the indicated quantity.

ixu euo mala
NOM.3p.DEF.INAN.REL be.pair
"the things that" "are groups of two" "are houses"
the pairs of houses

Mass nouns indicating powders and granular substances are indicated in the plural with the singular referring to an individual grain.

xu bakua
NOM.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.grain.of.sand
"the thing that" "is a grain of sand"
the grain of sand

ixu bakua
NOM.3p.DEF.INAN.REL be.grain.of.sand
"the things that" "are grains of sand"
the (grains of) sand

Liquids and mushy substances are frequently indicated in the plural as well, reflecting the Ngolu's atomistic theory of matter.

ixu hunia
NOM.3p.DEF.INAN.REL be.potable
"the things that" "are potable"
the (drinkable) water


All pronominals show one of three genders.

  • Inanimate (Ngolu: tiaka)
  • Animate (Ngolu: kali)
  • Masculine (Ngolu: muja)

It has been suggested that the label 'masculine' is misleading, as this gender is not simply used for any male person but only for adult men who have passed the initiation ceremony into manhood, whereupon they are muja.

The use of the genders partly depends on the speaker's rank, as shown in the following table.

Kali/Tuva speaker Muja speaker
Inanimate used for:
  • inanimate objects
  • abstract concepts
  • plants
  • sessile animals
  • inanimate objects
  • abstract concepts
  • plants
  • all animals other than pets
  • slaves
  • prisoners
Animate used for:
  • the goddess Niqu
  • free women
  • free children
  • free but non-initiated men
  • default for groups of mixed gender
  • default for non-specific people
  • all motile animals
  • slaves
  • prisoners
  • the goddess Niqu
  • free women
  • free children
  • free but non-initiated men
  • default for groups of mixed gender
  • default for non-specific people
  • pets
Masculine used for:
  • the god Uru
  • initiated men
  • the god Uru
  • initiated men

The following examples illustrate the difference. Examples which are specific to the gender of the speaker or the listener will be marked as such after the translation.

The speaker is a muja, an initiated man:
kulu ene xu ala
be.heard DAT.1s.MASC NOM.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.bird
"was heard" "to me" "the thing that" "is a bird"
I heard the bird. — [muja]

The speaker is a kali or tuva, not an initiated man:
kulu eni ju ala
be.heard DAT.1s.ANIM NOM.3s.DEF.ANIM.REL be.bird
"was heard" "to me" "the being who" "is a bird"
I heard the bird. — [kali]

The interplay between a speaker and listener's rank is complex and may result in unexpected gender choices. For example, a slave must refer to him- or herself in the inanimate gender when speaking to a muja unless specifically given permission otherwise. To read more about this, see Social Stratification and Language Use.


Three grammatical persons are marked by pronominals. The first person pronominals contain n. The second person pronominals contain a non-syllabic u (realised as v before u). In the third person, j, z, m, x, k and Ø appear depending on gender, definiteness and specificity.


The plural forms of all pronominals are exclusive of other grammatical persons except for the first person plural forms inu and ina, which can include third person referents as well, especially when expressing closeness.

In order to group referents from more than one grammatical person together, the required pronominals are juxtaposed. For example, inu (gloss: NOM.1s.ANIM) is the exclusive 'we'. The inclusive 'we' may take a form such as vu nu (gloss: NOM.2s.ANIM NOM.1s.ANIM) or na ivu (gloss: NOM.1s.MASC NOM.2p.ANIM), more or less equivalent to 'you and I'. Even addressing people in the second person, should the group include third persons, these are made note of separately, for example ja vu (gloss: NOM.3s.DEF.MASC NOM.2s.ANIM). The nominal ivu (gloss: NOM.2p.ANIM), for example, is only used to address two more people when all are present.

The order of the elements in these juxtapositions depends first on rank, with pronominals referring to higher ranking referents appearing before those of lower ranking referents. When the referents are equally ranked, 2nd person precedes third person, which, in turn, preceds first person.

Nominal juxtapositions are characterised by all pronominals being inflected in the same case. For example, the nominative ua na becomes eues ene in the dative and uua una in the possessive.

Definiteness and Specificity

In the third person, pronominals indicate definiteness (whether the listener knows which individual) and specificity (whether the speaker knows which individual).


The Definite (+specific, +definite) is used when the listener is assumed to know which specific individual or individuals the speaker is referring to. In the following examples, ji ala (or just ji) refers to a specific bird which the listener is assumed to be already aware of, possibly because it is already been mentioned.

zue nu ji ala
seek NOM.1s.ANIM ACC.3s.DEF.ANIM.REL be.bird
"am seeking" "I" "the being who" "is a bird"
I'm looking for the bird. (You know which one.) — [kali]

zue nu ji
"am seeking" "I" "the being"
I'm looking for it. (You know which one.) — [kali]

The Specific (+specific, -definite) is used when the speaker has a specific individual or individuals in mind but the listener is not assumed to know which one(s). In the following examples, mi ala (or mi) refers to a specific bird but not one which the speaker expects the listener to know of.

zue nu mi ala
seek NOM.1s.ANIM ACC.3s.SPEC.ANIM.REL be.bird
"am seeking" "I" "a specific being who" "is a bird"
I'm looking for a (particular) bird. — [kali]

zue nu mi
"am seeking" "I" "a specific being"
I'm looking for one (in particular). — [kali]

The Non-Specific (or General) does not refer to any specific individual(s) but to the abstract idea of a member or members of a particular class, any individual of which could be described. It often used when talking about desires or in negative sentences. In the examples below, i ala refers to any bird.

zue nu i ala
seek NOM.1s.ANIM ACC.3s.NSPC.ANIM.REL be.bird
"am seeking" "I" "any being who" "is a bird"
I'm looking for a(ny) bird. — [kali]

zue nu i
"am seeking" "I" "any being"
I'm looking for anyone/anything. — [kali]


Ngolu possesses 14 grammatical cases. The nominative and accusative case appear to be the oldest and all other forms appear to derive from the agglomeration of adpositions onto them. The first group (accusative, dative, ablative, locative, genitive and possessive) appear to be relatively old. At some point after these adpositions fused onto the nominals, the plural marker i- also became a prefix. For example i-e-ji 'to them' is made up of PL-DAT-ACC.3.DEF.ANIM. The second group of derived cases (vocative, causal, benefactive, instrumental, comitative, topical, essive) appear to have developed more recently from prepositions added to either the nominative or the accusative case as the plural marker i- is sandwiched in the middle. For example te-i-ji 'about them' is made up of because.of-PL.ACC.3.DEF.ANIM.


The nominative case indicates the grammatical subject of a verb. The nominative case is always formed with a back vowel, u for animate and inanimate genders, a for masculine. Plural is indicated with a prefixed i-.

muja na NOM.1s.MASC
"be an initiated man" "I"
I am an initiated man. — [muja]

kka loe ju
be.not sleep NOM.3s.DEF.ANIM
"be not" "sleep" "she"
She is not sleeping. / She didn't sleep.

ti uo ja
be.PRF deliberately.kill NOM.3s.DEF.MASC
"have finished" "deliberately kill" "he"
He killed / murdered something / someone

te zuo kka lalu
be.good NOM.C be.not (be).rain
"be good" "that" "be not" "rain"
It's good that it's not raining.

zoua kuo tavi ja
be.difficult NOM.TEMP.C be.child NOM.3s.DEF.MASC
"be difficult" "the time when" "be child" "he"
He had a difficult childhood.

(≈ The time when he was a child was difficult.)


The accusative case indicates the grammatical object of a verb. The accusative case is formed with a front vowel, i for animate and inanimate, e for masculine. Plural is indicated with a prefixed i-. The complementisers are jo and kio

ti uo je
be.PRF deliberately.kill ACC.3s.DEF.MASC
"have finished" "deliberately kill" "he"
Someone murdered him / He was murdered.

jave ja xi kivo
throw NOM.3s.DEF.MASC ACC.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.rock
"throw" "the man" "the thing which" "be rock"
He threw the rock.

bio nu jo vei ua
want NOM.1s.ANIM ACC.C stay NOM.2s.MASC
"want" "I" "that" "stay" "you"
I want you to stay. (≈ I want that you stay.) — [kali to singular muja]

In informal speech, the accusative case may replace the dative case when it indicates an experiencer. This does not occur with verbs that also have an accusative role and use the dative case to indicate a recipient.

xena ua ine
be.seen NOM.2s.MASC ACC.1p.MASC
"be visible" "you" "us"
We can see you. — [muja to muja, informal]

The dative case indicates an indirect object of the verb, a destination or goal of a movement or an experiencer. It is more or less equivalent to the preposition 'to' in English. It is formed by prefixing e(r)- (ie(r)- in plural) before an accusative nominal.

volos ene izi hunia
give DAT.1s.MASC ACC.3p.SPEC.INAN.REL be.potable
"give" "to me" "some things that" "be water"
I was given water. / Someone gave me water. — [muja]

xena ua iene
be.seen NOM.2s.MASC DAT.1p.MASC
"be visible" "you" "to us"
We can see you. — [muja to muja]

kua g-ieji ua nu
"should" "go - to them" "you" "I"
Let us go to them. — [kali to singular muja]

ti veis inu ekio loe iju
"be finished" "stay" "we" "until" "sleep" "they"
We stayed until they slept.

The ablative case is more or less equivalent to the preposition 'from' in English. It is formed by suffixing -i to a nominative nominal. The complementisers are zuio and kuio in the ablative case.

Kuaqa nu xui mala g-uni
"be far" "I" "from the thing which" "be a house" "be mine"
I'm far away from my home. — [kali]

E n-nai
"!" "go - from me"
Get away from me! — [muja]

Mahu eji xu kuio iti (ju)
be.known DAT.3s.DEF.ANIM NOM.3s.DEF.INAN ABL.TEMP.C be.small (NOM.3s.DEF.ANIM)
"be known" "to her" "it" "since" "be small" ("she")
She's known that since she was little.

The locative case indicates a location. It is more or less equivalent to the prepositions 'in', 'on' and 'at' in English. It is also used to replace the verb "have" when indicating immediate possession as in "to have something on one's person". It is formed by suffixing -a to a nominative nominal in the animate and inanimate and prefixing a(r)- (plural: ia(r)-) to a masculine nominative nominal. The prefixed form is also used for the non-specific animate.

kka bani ana
be.not LOC.1s.MASC
"be not" "be money" "at me"
I don't have any money (with me). (≈ There is no money at me.) — [muja]

n-xua mo ua
"be at the thing which" "be what" "you"
Where are you? (≈ You are at the what?) — [to singular muja]

vujas iio jas azuo muana iti exi muana tta
hunt NOM.3s.MASC LOC.C be.body.of.flowing.water be.small DAT.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.body.of.flowing.water be.large
"hunt" "be fish" "he" "where" "flow" "be small" "to the thing that" "flow" "be big"
He's fishing where the stream flows into the river.

li molu ju nini g-uui akuo xeva(s eji) xu tia
begin be.dead NOM.3s.DEF.ANIM.REL be.mother COP-GEN.2s.ANIM LOC.TEMP.C be.seen (DAT.3s.DEF.ANIM) NOM.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.that.2
"begin" "be dead" "the being who" "be mother" "be yours" "when" "be seen" ("to her") "the thing which" "be that"
Your mother's going to die when she sees that.

The genitive case indicates a possessor. It covers all types of possession and association other than legal ownership. It is more or less equivalent to the preposition 'of' in English. It is formed by prefixing u(g)- (iu(g)- in plural) before an accusative nominal.

egio tani une
be.threesome be.sibling GEN.1s.MASC
"be a group of three" "be siblings" "my"
I have three siblings. — [muja]

tta xu gula g-uje tio
be.large NOM.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.pair.of.arms COP-GEN.3s.DEF.MASC.REL be.that.3
"be large" "the thing which" "be a pair of arms" "be of the man who" "be that, over there"
That guy over there has big arms. / The arms of that guy over there are big.

The possessive case indicates strictly legal ownership. It is more or less equivalent to the preposition 'of' in English and may be used to indicate 'have' or 'own'. It is formed similarly to the genitive case: by prefixing u(g)- (iu(g)- in plural) but before a nominative nominal.

mala una POS.1s.MASC
"be a house" "owned by me"
I have / own a house. — [muja]

Because of the law in Qu, according to which only muja (initiated men) may legally own any possessions, the animate and inanimate forms are formally regarded as theoretical only and their use may constitute speech crime. They may occasionally be heard from members of the small, underground, humanist community although they more commonly tend to avoid the possessive case and replace it with the genitive.


The vocative case is used to address someone or attract their attention. It is formed by adding e(r)- (ei- in plural) to a nominative nominal.

The most common greeting words for most uses are simply vocative nominals. They must reflect the number and gender of the addressee(s) and formality is reflected by using second person forms

"hey you"
Hey you. / Hi. — [to singular kali]

For a more formal greeting, the vocative is used in the third person.

"hey you guys"
Hello. (≈ O they!) — [to plural muja]

eja xagu
"hey he who" "be Xagu"
(Oh) Xagu! — [to singular muja] (formal)

eua xagu
VOC.2s.MASC.REL be.Xagu
"hey you who" "be Xagu"
(Oh) Xagu! — [to singular muja] (informal)

In very informal situations, among equals who consider each other friends, the e- prefix may be added directly to a personal name. This and the predicate prefix i- are the only example of verbals (as all names are verbals) taking a non-derivational affix.

"hey - be Xagu"
Hey Xagu! — [to singular muja] (friendly/aggressive)

In the indefinite, the vocative can be used to summon help from non-specific people.

"hey anybody"
Help! (Used when one person's assistance is enough and their gender is not specified.)

"hey anybody"
Help! (Used when more than one person's assistance is required.)

The vocative complementiser ezuo is used to mean 'if only' or 'I wish'. It is also used for making polite requests. Literally, it's something like 'o that'.

ezuo hunia nua
VOC.C be.potable LOC.1s.ANIM
"if only" "be beverage" "at me"
May I have some water please? (If only I had some water.) — [kali]

The vocative temporal complementiser ekuo is used to express nostalgia about a past time or anticipation for a future time.

ekuos ate nu
"oh for the time when" "be adult" "I"
I can't wait till I'm grown up. — [kali]

The causal case describes a cause. It is equivalent to the English "because of". It is formed by prefixing te(r)- (plural: tei-) to the accusative nominals.

zaxa na teua
be.sick NOM.1s.MASC CAU.2s.MASC
"am sick" "I" "because of you"
I'm ill because of you. / You made me ill. — [muja to singular muja]

ezo zouas eni tejo kka mala uni be.difficult DAT.1s.ANIM CAU.C be.not GEN.1s.ANIM
"be now" "be difficult" "to me" "because" "be not" "be house" "my"
Things are tough for me at the moment because I don't have a house.. — [kali]


The benefactive case indicates either a beneficiary or benefactor of an action or situation or a goal. It is roughly equivalent to the English preposition 'for'. It is formed by adding the prefix kua(r)- (plural: kuai-) to an accusative nominal.

tie kuaue
be.this.1 BEN.2s.MASC
"there is this, by me" "for you"
This is for you. (≈ There's this for you.) — [to singular muja]

bioi vaia na kuaui
be.willing do.everything NOM.1s.MASC BEN.2s.ANIM
"would" "do everything" "I" "for you"
I would do anything for you. — [muja to singular kali]

ti atinie na kuajo leu ui veje
"finish" "come here" "I" "so that" "rescue" "you" "about the man"
I came here (in order) to save you from him. — [muja to singular kali]

naxe molu iu kuajo mue lau iu azo
must be.dead NOM.3p.NSPC.ANIM BEN.C be.alive NOM.3p.NSPC.ANIM be.other
"must" "be dead" "some beings" "so that" "can" "live" "some beings that" "be other"
Some must die so that others may live.

kuas enie ki kueta kuakio gehuo ua ia uako
be.JUSS carry ACC.3s.NSPC.INAN.REL be.hunting.knife BEN.TEMP.C encounter NOM.2s.MASC NOM.3s.NSPC.MASC.REL be.enemy
"should" "carry" "a non-specific thing which" "be a hunting knife" "in case" "encounter" "you" "some non-specific men who" "be enemy"
Carry a knife in case you cross paths with enemies.

The instrumental case describes the means or method by which something is done. It is equivalent to the English preposition "with" when it means "using". It is formed by adding the prefix a(r)- (plural: ai-) to an accusative nominal.

uo ja vuja zi vaku azi kueta
kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.MASC.REL hunt ACC.3s.SPEC.INAN.REL be.babirusa INS.3s.SPEC.INAN.REL be.hunting.knife
"deliberately killed" "the man who" "hunts" "a specific thing that" "is a babirusa" "using a specific thing that" "is a hunting knife"
The hunter killed the babirusa with a hunting knife. — [muja]

vuja imas ajo hana kua tiamiga g-kua hunia
hunt NOM.3p.SPEC.MASC INS.C wait LOC.3s.NSPC.INAN.REL be.undergrowth be-LOC.3s.NSPC.INAN.REL be.potable
"hunt" "certain men" "by" "wait" "at anything which" "is bushes" "be-at anything which" "be drinking water"
Some men hunt by waiting in the undergrowth near water. — [muja]


The comitative case indicates an accompanying person or thing. It is equivalent to 'with' in English when it means 'along with' or 'accompanied by'. It is formed by prefixing le(r)- (plural: lei-) to an accusative nominal.

vuja ja meha leje jalu
hunt NOM.3s.DEF.MASC.REL be.Meha COM.3s.DEF.MASC.REL Jalu
"is hunting" "the man who" "is Meha" "with the man who" "is Jalu"
Meha is hunting with Jalu.

e hu lene
"!" "come/go" "with me"
Come with me. — [muja]

bata ja umatu lejo buga taba ijas azo
dance NOM.3s.DEF.MASC.REL be.Umatu COM.C hit be.drum NOM.3p.DEF.MASC.REL be.other
"dance" "the man who" "be Umatu" "while" "hit" "be drum" "the men who" "be other"
Umatu danced while the other men played the drums.

The topical case indicates the topic or theme of an act of communication and in many instances also something which is kept in mind when a particular action is performed. It is roughly equivalent to the English preposition 'about'. It is formed by prefixing ve(r)- (plural vei-) to an accusative nominal.

bio ila nu leue vemi valo
want speak NOM.1s.MASC COM.2s.MASC TOP.3s.SPEC.INAN.REL be.interesting
"want" "speak" "I" "with you" "about something that" "is interesting"
I want to talk to you about something interesting. — [kali to singular muja]

teuas eue vexi tiau
"thank" "to you" "about the thing that" "is food"
Thanks for the food. — [kali to singular muja]

malemale vejo moio iu azo lo zola iu babo
gossip TOP.C do.what NOM.3p.NSPC.ANIM.REL be.other ADV be.solely NOM.3p.NSPC.ANIM.REL be.unintelligent
"gossip" "about the fact that" "do what" "non-specific people who" "be other" "while" "be only" "non-specific people who" "be unintelligent
Only unintelligent people gossip about what other people do.

The essive case indicates the role of something in the sentence. It is roughly equivalent to the English words 'as' or 'like'. It is formed by adding the prefix o(r)- (plural: oi-) to the nominative case.

atia nas omas ali g-eue
be.there.2 NOM.1s.MASC ESS.3s.SPEC.MASC.REL be.same.gender.friend COP-DAT.2s.MASC
"be here" "I" "as a man who" "be a friend of the same gender" "be to you"
I'm here as your friend. — [muja to singular muja]

xevas ozuo ka lalu
be.visible ESS.C (be).rain
"appear" "as if" "be going to" "rain"
It looks like it's going to rain.

Nominal Tables

First Person

First person nominals are all definite.

Anim. Sg. Anim. Pl. Masc. Sg. Masc. Pl.
Nominative nu inu na ina
Accusative ni ini ne ine
Dative eni ieni ene iene
Ablative nui inui nai inai
Locative nua inua ana iana
Genitive uni iuni une iune
Possessive *unu *iunu una iuna
Vocative enu einu ena eina
Causal teni teini tene teine
Benefactive kuani kuaini kuane kuaine
Instrumental ani aini ane aine
Comitative leni leini lene leine
Topical veni veini vene veine
Essive onu oinu ona oina
Second Person

Second person nominals are all definite.

Anim. Sg. Anim. Pl. Masc. Sg. Masc. Pl.
Nominative vu ivu ua iua
Accusative ui iui ue iue
Dative eui ieui eue ieue
Ablative vui ivui uai iuai
Locative vua ivua aua iaua
Genitive uui iuui uue iuue
Possessive *uvu *iuvu uua iuua
Vocative evu eivu eua eiua
Causal teui teiui teue teiue
Benefactive kuaui kuaiui kuaue kuaiue
Instrumental aui aiui aue aiue
Comitative leui leiui leue leiue
Topical veui veiui veue veiue
Essive ovu oivu oua oiua
Third Person
Anim. Sg. Anim. Pl. Masc. Sg. Masc. Pl. Inan. Sg. Inan. Pl.
Nominative ju iju ja ija xu ixu
Accusative ji iji je ije xi ixi
Dative eji ieji eje ieje exi iexi
Ablative jui ijui jai ijai xui ixui
Locative jua ijua aja iaja xua ixua
Genitive uji iuji uje iuje uxi iuxi
Possessive *uju *iuju uja iuja *uxu *iuxu
Vocative eju eiju eja eija exu eixu
Causal teji teiji teje teije texi teixi
Benefactive kuaji kuaiji kuaje kuaije kuaxi kuaixi
Instrumental aji aiji aje aije axi aixi
Comitative leji leiji leje leije lexi leixi
Topical veji veiji veje veije vexi veixi
Essive oju oiju oja oija oxu oixu
Indefinite, Specific
Anim. Sg. Anim. Pl. Masc. Sg. Masc. Pl. Inan. Sg. Inan. Pl.
Nominative mu imu ma ima zu izu
Accusative mi imi me ime zi izi
Dative emi iemi eme ieme ezi iezi
Ablative mui imui mai imai zui izui
Locative mua imua ama iama zua izua
Genitive umi iumi ume iume uzi iuzi
Possessive *umu *iumu uma iuma *uzu *iuzu
Vocative emu eimu ema eima ezu eizu
Causal temi teimi teme teime tezi teizi
Benefactive kuami kuaimi kuame kuaime kuazi kuaizi
Instrumental ami aimi ame aime azi aizi
Comitative lemi leimi leme leime lezi leizi
Topical vemi veimi veme veime vezi veizi
Essive omu oimu oma oima ozu oizu
Indefinite, Non-Specific (General)
Anim. Sg. Anim. Pl. Masc. Sg. Masc. Pl. Inan. Sg. Inan. Pl.
Nominative u iu a ia ku iku
Accusative i ji e ie ki iki
Dative eri ieri ere iere eki ieki
Ablative ui iui ai iai kui ikui
Locative aru iaru ara iara kua ikua
Genitive ugi iugi uge iuge uki iuki
Possessive *ugu *iugu uga iuga *uku *iuku
Vocative eru eiu era eia eku eiku
Causal teri teji tere teie teki teiki
Benefactive kuari kuaji kuare kuaie kuaki kuaiki
Instrumental ari aji are aie aki aiki
Comitative leri leji lere leie leki leiki
Topical veri veji vere veie veki veiki
Essive oru oiu ora oia oku oiku
"that" rough translation "the time that" rough translation
Nominative zuo 'that' kuo 'the time when'
Accusative jo 'that' kio 'the time when'
Dative ejo 'to the place where' ekio 'until'
Ablative zuio 'from the place where' kuio 'since', 'after'
Locative azuo 'in the place where' akuo 'when'
Genitive ujo ukio
Possessive *uzuo *ukuo
Vocative ezuo 'if only' ekuo
Causal tejo 'because' tekio
Benefactive kuajo 'so that' kuakio 'in case'
Instrumental ajo 'by V-ing' akio
Comitative lejo 'while' lekio
Topical vejo 'about V-ing' vekio 'about the time when'
Essive ozuo 'like' okuo
* theoretical


Verbals constitute the only open class of words in Ngolu. They are essentially content words, equivalent to what in other languages are verbs ...

loe 'to sleep' [NOM] sleeps
kau 'to eat' [NOM] eats [ACC]/[…]
vuja 'to hunt' (= 'to be a hunter') [NOM] hunts [ACC]/[…]
volo 'to give' [NOM] gives [ACC] to [DAT]
mahu 'to know' [DAT] knows [NOM] = [NOM] is known to [DAT]
ila 'to speak/talk' [NOM] speaks [ACC]/[INS] (= language) to [DAT]/[COM] about [TOP]
mue 'to be able to' [NOM] can / is able to […]

... nouns ...

iio 'to be a fish' [NOM] is a fish of [GEN] belonging to [POS]
vuja 'to be a hunter' (= 'to hunt') [NOM] is a hunter of [ACC]/[…]
golu 'to be a person' [NOM] is a person
alu 'to be a friend/lover/concubine (of the opposite gender)' [NOM] is a friend of [DAT], lover of [GEN] and concubine of [POS]
mala 'to be a building/house/home' [NOM] is a building/house which is owned by [POS] and home to [GEN]
ilia 'to be speech/language' [NOM] is the speech/language of [GEN]

... adjectives ...

tta 'to be large' [NOM] is large
kaiu 'to be edible' ('to be food') [NOM] is edible to [DAT]
kuaqa 'to be far/distant' [NOM] is far from [ABL]/[DAT]
xeva 'to be visible' (= 'to see') [NOM is visible to [DAT]; [DAT] sees [NOM]
lau 'to be alive' (= 'to live', 'to be a living being') [NOM] is alive
lubi 'to be closed/shut' [NOM] is closed/shut to [DAT]

... and adverbs.

jau 'to intentionally ...' [NOM] is intentionally […]
mola 'to be merely ...' (= 'to be insignificant') [NOM] is just/only/merely […]

They are generally thought of as 'content words' but even many grammatical functions are expressed by verbals.

kka 'to be not ...' [NEGATIVE] [NOM] is not […]
hua 'to be always ...', 'to be eternally ...' [GNOMIC] [NOM] is eternally […]
hau 'to be defined by being ...' [ESSENTIAL] [NOM] is essentially […] by definition
he 'to undergo' [PASSIVE] [NOM] undergoes […]
eti 'to have previously done ...' [PAST] [NOM] did […]

Regardless of the verbal's semantic meaning and which part of speech carries the bulk of the meaning when translated into another language, each verbal can be used in the same syntactic positions as any other verbal. All verbals can appear as a predicate, an argument (when preceded by a nominal) or as a modifier to another, preceding verbal. Compare the following two sentences which show how a semantically verb-like verbal, gahu ('to howl'), and a semantically more noun-like verbal, zagua ('to be a gibbon') can simply be swapped. Both can appear in the predicate, both can appear in an argument and neither needs to be inflected to take on either role.

Predicate Argument (Subject)
gahu ju zagua
howl NOM.3s.DEF.ANIM.REL be.gibbon
"howls" "the being who" "is a gibbon"
The gibbon howls. — [kali]
Predicate Argument (Subject)
zagua ju gahu
be.gibbon NOM.3s.DEF.ANIM.REL howl
"is a gibbon" "the being who" "howls"
What howls is a gibbon. — [kali]

Argument Structure

Verbals each have an inherent argument structure, controlling which case are used for which role. Dictionaries, and the examples above, mark the meanings of each relevant case when used with each verbal.

Many argument structures are as would be expected.

  • volo = [NOM] gives [ACC] to [DAT]
  • vuja = [NOM] hunts [ACC]; [NOM] is a hunter of [ACC]
  • akku = [NOM] is blood; [NOM] is the blood of [GEN]

volo na xi eje
"give" "I" "it" "to him"
I give it to him. — [muja]

There is a tendency for experiencers to be in the dative case.

  • hualo = [DAT] loves/cares about [NOM]; [NOM] is loved by [DAT]
  • xeva = [DAT] sees [NOM]; [NOM] is seen by [DAT]
  • zoua = [NOM] is difficult for [DAT]

xevas eni ja taqu
be.seen DAT.1s.ANIM NOM.3s.DEF.MASC.REL be.king
"was seen" "to me" "the man who" "is the king"
I saw the king. — [kali]

Although that is not always the case, as this pair of opposites shows.

  • mahu = [DAT] knows [NOM]; [NOM] is known to [DAT]
  • zau = [NOM] doesn't know about [TOP]; [NOM] is ignorant of [TOP]

mahu eni (xu)
be.known DAT.1s.ANIM (NOM.3s.DEF.INAN)
"is known" "to me" ("it")
I know (it). — [kali]

zau nu (vexi)
be.ignorant NOM.1s.ANIM (TOP.3s.DEF.INAN)
"am ignorant" "I" ("about it")
I don't know (it). — [kali]

There is also an unusual class of verbals where the nominative role usually refers to a body part, the genitive refers to the possessor and when there is an accusative argument, the whole thing refers to an action performed (with the body part) by the possessor.

  • bale = [NOM] is a fist of [GEN]; [GEN] punches [ACC]
  • bane = [NOM] is a hand of [GEN]; [GEN] holds, grasps, clutches [ACC]
  • buja = [NOM] is a heavy boot of [GEN]; [GEN] crushes [ACC] under his boot
  • gula = [NOM] is the pair of arms of [GEN]; [GEN] hugs [ACC]
  • juaza = [NOM] is the penis of [GEN]; [GEN] fucks [ACC] (vulgar!)
  • kanu = [NOM] is the nose of [GEN]; [GEN] sniffs [ACC]
  • kula = [NOM] is the pair of ears of [GEN]; [GEN] listens to [ACC]
  • mama = [NOM] is the pair of breasts of [GEN]; [GEN] breast-feeds [ACC]
  • miva = [NOM] is a finger of [GEN]; [GEN] touches, feels [ACC]
  • musari = [NOM] is a molar of [GEN]; [GEN] chews [ACC]
  • omo = [NOM] is the pair of eyes of [GEN]; [GEN] looks at [ACC]
  • umakka = [NOM] is a tooth (incisor, canine) of [GEN]; [GEN] bites [ACC]
  • zuru = [NOM] is a war against [ACC]; [GEN] wages war on [ACC]

omo une
be.pair.of.eyes GEN.1s.MASC
"is the pair of eyes" "my"
I have eyes. — [muja]

omo une xu tie
be.pair.of.eyes GEN.1s.MASC NOM.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.this.1
"is the pair of eyes" "my" "the thing which" "is this, here by me"
These are my eyes. — [muja]

omo une xi masa
be.pair.of.eyes GEN.1s.MASC ACC.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.snake
"is the pair of eyes" "my" "the thing which" "is a snake"
I'm looking at the snake — [muja]

The verbal lama is somewhat similar, although it may simply be understood through an idiomatic translation.

  • lama = [NOM] is a tear of [GEN]/[LOC]; [GEN]/[LOC] weeps (silently) about [TOP]

lama ana teui
be.tear LOC.3s.DEF.MASC CAU.2s.ANIM
"is (a) tear(s)" "at him" "because of you"
He's crying because of you. — [to singular kali]

The above sentence may also be translated as "There are tears on him because of you," or "He has tears because of you," making it less clear as to whether this is a good example of an apparent non-nominative subject.

There is a proposed additional place within the argument structure of many verbals, that of a following modifier. A following modifier may mark a specific role which may either be marked by another case or may only be filled by a following modifier. The notation used here indicates a following modifier with […].

  • maue = [NOM] is a group of seven […]
  • kka = [NOM] is not […]
  • mia = [NOM] approaches [DAT]/[…]
  • tebi = [NOM] is possibly […]

mia mala iju
approach NOM.3p.DEF.ANIM
"approach" "be house" "they"
They are on their way to the house.

mia iju exi mala
"approach" "they" "to the thing which" "be house"
They are on their way to the house.

Derivation of Verbals

There are two kinds of derivational affixes, one which converts a nominal into a verbal and many others which convert a verbal into another verbal with a different meaning.

Nominal to Verbal

All nominals can be converted into a verbal by adding a copula prefix. The copula prefix is g- before a vowel, k or g, m- before m, b and v, l- before l and n- before all other consonants. The copula prefix essentially prevents a nominal from signalling the start of an argument. Used with the dative or ablative case, the meaning may be interpreted as a verb of motion.

  • nu 'I' [NOM.1s.ANIM]
nnu 'to be me' [COP-NOM.1s.ANIM]
  • eni 'to me' [DAT.1s.ANIM]
geni 'to be to me', 'to come to me' [COP-DAT.1s.ANIM]
  • xu mala 'the house'
nxu mala 'to be the house'
  • xua mala 'at the house'
nxua mala 'to be at the house'
  • kuaini 'for us' [BEN.1p.ANIM]
gkuaini 'to be for us' [COP-BEN.1p.ANIM]

Here are some examples.

n-nu nu
"be I" "I"
I'm me. — [kali]

kka n-xuas azikuo ju
be.not COP-LOC.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.≈school NOM.3s.DEF.ANIM
"be not" "be at the thing which" "be a ≈school" "he"
He's not at school.

e g-ene
"!" "come to me"
Come to me. — [muja]

e l-lene
"!" "be with me"
Come with me. / Be with me. — [muja]

nini g-une ju tie
be.mother COP-GEN.1s.MASC NOM.3s.DEF.ANIM.REL be.this
"be mother" "by mine" "the being who" "be this"
This is my mother. — [muja]
Verbal to Verbal

A far more common means of derivation is from verbal to verbal. This is chiefly done by means of infixing although prefixes and suffixes also exist.


The collective infix -ig- indicates a group of the named entity.

  • ala 'to be a bird'
aliga 'to be a flock of birds'
  • balu 'to be a royal guardsman'
baligu 'to be the royal guard'
  • kau 'to eat'
kaigu 'to eat together'
  • uttia 'to be a tree'
utigia 'to be a forest'


The gerundive infix -i- indicates the use or purpose of something.

  • huna 'to drink'
hunia 'to be (fresh) water', 'to be potable', 'to be drinkable' (to be something to be drunk)
  • kau 'to eat'
tiau 'to be food' (to be something to be eaten, irregular)
kaiu 'to be edible' (regular)
  • omo 'to be a pair of eyes', 'to look at'
omio 'to be beautiful', 'to be handsome' (to be something to be looked at)
  • buja 'to be a boot', 'to crush under a boot'
buji 'to be a bug', 'to be vermin' (to be something to be crushed under a boot)
  • vuja 'to hunt', 'to be a hunter'
vuji 'to be prey', 'to be a game animal' (to be something to be hunted)


The prefix a- indicates being at a particular place.

  • tio 'to be that'
atio 'to be there' (≈ 'to be at that')
  • mala 'to be a house'
amala 'to be at home' (≈ 'to be at house')

The ornative prefix ia- indicate having or being equipped with something.

  • bani 'to be money'
iabani 'to be rich' (≈ 'to be with money')
  • ulu 'to be muscle'
iaulu 'to be muscular' (≈ 'to be with muscle')

Verbals with inherent gender / rank distinctions

Many verbals semantically encode gender within their meaning. In some cases, there are pairs of words, such as the following.

  • nini 'to be a mother / aunt'
  • nana 'to be a father / uncle'

In this instance, the divide along genders is easy for non-Ngolu to conceptualise. However many other concepts are also divided by gender, or, more accurately, rank, and this frequently has to do with the Ngolu's strict cultural taboos around gender and rank. For example, Ngolu men and women are expected to sing, dance, dress and urinate differently.

  • laha 'to sing', 'to be a singer' (of a kali, to sing in the manner appropriate to kali)
  • lasa 'to dance', 'to be a dancer' (of a kali, to dance in the manner appropriate to kali)
  • miia 'to wear' (of a kali, to dress in the manner appropriate to kali)
  • kele 'to urinate' (of a kali, to urinate while sitting or squatting)
  • uoia 'to sing', 'to be a singer' (of a muja, to sing in the manner appropriate to muja)
  • bata 'to dance', 'to be a dancer' (of a muja, to dance in the manner appropriate to muja)
  • uara 'to wear' (of a muja, to dress in the manner appropriate to muja)
  • zatu 'to urinate' (of a muja, to urinate while standing)

In other instances, certain actions may be proscribed for a certain rank. For example, methods of cooking that involve mixing ingredients together is seen as befitting only a kali and the word for this type of cooking, kela is restricted to kali. Muja are allowed to cook, but only in order to make food edible (ie. heating it but not mixing different ingredients together or adding spices) and this type of cooking is referred to as bisa, which is not restricted to a particular rank.

Similarly, for religious reasons, violence and killing of any kind are acceptable only for muja and therefore words such as the following are restricted to occurring with muja subjects: vuja ('to hunt'), ttio ('to hit'), tioru ('to kick') uo ('to kill deliberately', 'to murder'), xagu ('to execute'), zaha' ('to fight physically'), aiuo ('to shoot').

Some other words appear only with kali subjects, such as haua which means 'to sob', 'to howl', 'to cry audibly'. It is perfectly acceptable for muja to cry, but they are expected to be silent. The kali-verbal iavu means 'to weave' or 'to make clothing', which again is work for a kali to perform. However, to make clothing which is suitable for combat is work for muja and the word for this is iavuja, which is a muja word.

Verbals may also specify the gender/rank of an argument other than the nominal. For example, the word bale means 'to be a fist', specifying a muja in the role of the genitive possessor. Similarly, items of clothing specific to one gender can only appear with possessors in the corresponding gender.

When a subject (or another argument) does not match the gender/rank specified in the verbal, there must be paraphrasing. There are generally two ways this is done, with ko and with hui.


Ko is a verbal meaning 'to be similar'. It can be placed before a gendered verbal when the subject (or other relevant argument) does not match. For example, the word for enemy is uako. It is a muja verb, perhaps best translated as 'to be a muja enemy'.

uako ja une
be.enemy NOM.3s.DEF.MASC GEN.1s.MASC
"be enemy" "the man" "my"
He's my enemy. — [muja]

There is no direct equivalent for a kali who is an enemy. To express the idea of a kali being an enemy, what is essentially said is "S/he is like an enemy."

ko uako jus une
be.similar be.enemy.MUJA NOM.3s.DEF.ANIM GEN.1s.MASC
"" "be enemy" "the being" "my"
She's my enemy. — [muja]

The closest analogue in English would be with words such as 'midwife', which has no easy male equivalent. In Ngolu, it is as though one simply says 'He's like a midwife.' Similarly, in the following example, there is no word equivalent to a woman's fist, only a man's fist. Therefore, she made something like a man's fist.

ti li ko bale uji
be.PRF begin be.similar be.MUJA.fist GEN.3s.DEF.ANIM
"be finished" "start" "be like" "be a (man's) fist" "of the being"
She made a fist.

Hui is similar to ko except it is filled with contempt and criticism. It is a verbal which could be translated as 'to shamefully break gender taboos by approximating |…|'. There is essentially no grammatical difference between ko and hui - the former is simply neutral and the later conveys strong condemnation of breaking taboos.

hui miia ja
break.gender.roles wear.KALI NOM.3s.DEF.MASC
"break gender roles" "wear" "he"
He's (shamefully) cross-dressing.

hui laha
break.gender.roles sing.KALI
"break gender roles" "sing"
There's a man (shamefully) trying to sing like a woman.

hui miia ja
break.gender.roles wear.KALI NOM.3s.DEF.MASC
"break gender roles" "wear" "he"
He's (shamefully) cross-dressing.

hui ttio ju je
break.gender.roles strike NOM.3s.DEF.ANIM ACC.3s.DEF.MASC
"break gender roles" "hit" "she" "him"
She (shamefully) hit him.

Particles and Grammatical Affixes

Particles are words which cannot be classified as either nominals or verbals. Most of them are equivalent to conjunctions, introducing clauses. In many cases, the line between verb and particle is a little blurred and difficult to find and research is still ongoing.


Au and teuo

Au and teuo are used to order the events multiple clause sentence. Au introduces the clause in which the first action took place and is thus roughly equivalent to 'first' or 'after' whereas teuo introduces a later action and is thus equivalent to 'then' or 'before'. They are usually used as correlative conjunctions, with both present in the sentence.

au kau nu teuo loe (nu)
first eat NOM.1s.ANIM second sleep (NOM.1s.ANIM)
"first" "eat" "I" "then" "sleep" ("I")
First I ate, then I slept. — [kali]

I ate before I slept. / After I ate, I slept.

The order of the clauses can be reversed.

teuo loe nu au kau (nu)
second sleep NOM.1s.ANIM first eat (NOM.1s.ANIM)
"then" "sleep" "I" "first" "eat" ("I")
Before I slept, I ate. — [kali]

I slept after I ate.

Sometimes the first of the two conjunctions is omitted.

loe nu au kau (nu)
sleep NOM.1s.ANIM first eat (NOM.1s.ANIM)
"sleep" "I" "first" "eat" ("I")
I slept after I ate.— [kali]

I slept, but first, I ate.


Ha forms polar (yes/no) questions. For examples, see Polar Questions

It also introduces the protasis of realise conditional sentences, see Conditionals.


Hai is used to introduce the apodosis of an irrealis conditional sentence. For examples, see Conditionals.


Haizuo is an emphatic form of hai. It introduces the apodosis of an irrealis conditional sentence. For examples, see Conditionals.


The clitic particle i- appears on the beginning of any part of the predicate when it is preceded in a sentence by any non-predicate element. For example, in the following sentence, hu mala is the predicate.

hu mala na
move NOM.1s.MASC
"go" "be house" "I"
I'm going home. — [muja]

Topicalised arguments can be brought forward in the sentence to before the verb phrase. The verb phrase must now be marked with i-.

na i-hu mala
"I" "go" "be house"
As for me, I'm going home. — [muja]

The predicate phrase can even be split, with arguments appearing inside it.

hu na i-mala
move NOM.1s.MASC
"go" "I" "be house"
I'm going home. — [muja]

In extreme cases, there can even be more than one split in a predicate phrase, with i- necessary each time the predicate is resumed.

bio na i-hu leuis i-mala
want NOM.1s.MASC PRED-move COM.2s.ANIM
"want" "I" "go" "with you" "be house"
I want to go home with you. — [muja to singular kali]

Of that last example, the normal word order would be bio hu mala na leui.

When added to words beginning with a syllabic i, the prefix i- becomes j- ...

xu tie j-iio
NOM.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.this.1
"the thing which" "be this" "be fish"
This, well, this is a fish! — [kali]

... but before a non-syllabic i, it remains i-.

omo g-unis i-iaha
be.pair.of.eyes COP-GEN.1s.ANIM PRED-be.painful
"be a pair of eyes" "be mine" "hurt"
As for my eyes, they're sore. — [kali]


Lo appears to be a short form of the comitative complementiser lejo. It introduces an adverbial clause.




To generally introduces consequences. It often roughly means 'so' or 'therefore'. In these cases, it may replaced by the more emphatic toua.

ba lalu to(ua) ka tina ixu muanaiti
be.very rain therefore be.PROS become.large NOM.3p.DEF.INAN.REL
"be very" "rain" "so" "be going to" "become large" "the things which" "be stream"
It's raining hard, so the streams are going to swell. — [to singular kali]

It is used in conjunction with ha (and sometimes hai or haizuo) to form conditional clauses where it introduces the apodosis. See Conditionals for examples.

It is also frequently used to replace i- in introducing a main clause after a subordinate clause other than a conditional clause.

akuo lalu to tina ixu enio
LOC.TEMP.C rain then become.large NOM.3p.DEF.INAN.REL be.plant
"when" "rain" "then" "become large" "the things which" "be plant"
When it rains, (then) the plants grow.


Toi is used to introduce the apodosis of an irrealis conditional. For examples, see Conditionals.






Phrase Structure

Verbal Phrases

A verbal phrase has the following structure:


When multiple verbals are stacked one after the other, the head is on the left and modifiers on the right.

mala tta be.large
"be house" "be large"
is a large house / are large houses

jiio ttiu
run be.quick
"run" "be fast"
runs quickly / run quickly

is a fast runner / are fast runners

vujas ala
hunt be.bird
"hunt" "be a bird"
hunts birds / hunt birds

is a bird hunter / are bird hunters

In many cases, verbals with more grammatical than semantic content are followed by much more semantically rich modifying verbals. In these cases, the preceding words are nevertheless heads and the following words modifiers.

bas ali g-eje taqu
be.very be.friend.( COP-DAT.3s.DEF.MASC.REL be.king
"be very" "be friend" "be to the man who" "be the king"
is a good friend / are good friends of the king

ti huna
be.PRF drink
"be finished" "drink"
drank / has drunk / have drunk

toto kas euo tta
be.really be.PROS be.pair be.large
"be in fact" "be going to" "be two" "be large"
are actually going to be two big ones

buua tio vaxu zara be.that.3 be.table write
"be one top of" "be that, over there" "be a table" "write"
is / are on top of that desk over there

Each complex verbal phrase comprised of more than one verbal has its own case structure which defines how the cases are used in a sentence. The case structure is determined by the rightmost verbal which shares the same nominative argument as the leftmost verbal in the phrase.

$$$$$$$ [examples to come]

Nominal Phrases

A nominal phrase has the following structure:


An unadorned nominal on its own functions as a pronoun.

"the man"

"of the thing"

Adorned nominal phrases consist of a nominal followed by a verbal phrase. In this case, the nominal acts as the head of a relative clause in which the verbal phrase sits.

ja xagu
NOM.3s.DEF.MASC.REL execute
"the man who" "execute"
the executioner

uxi tukaue
GEN.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.collar.indicating.the.owner.of.a.slave
"of the thing which" "be a slave's collar"
of the slave's collar

Clause Structure

With unmarked word order, a clause generally has the following structure:


A PREDICATE consists of a verbal phrase and an ARGUMENT consists of a nominal phrase or a subordinate clause.

In many cases, one or more arguments may precede the predicate or may even appear in the middle of the predicate, dividing it into two or more pieces.

Unmarked word order:

Predicate Argument
ti kau nu izi tiau azi akuala
"be finished" "eat" "I" "some things which" "be food" "using a thing which" "be a knife"
I ate food with a knife. — [kali]

Instrumental argument fronted:

Predicate Argument
azi akuala i-ti kau nu izi tiau
"using a thing which" "be a knife" "be finished" "eat" "I" "some things which" "be food"
With a knife, I ate food. — [kali]

Instrumental argument fronted, nominal argument partially fronted:

Pred... Argument
...icate Argument
azi akuala i-ti nu i-kau izi tiau
"using a thing which" "be a knife" "be finished" "I" "eat" "some things which" "be food"
With a knife, I ate food. — [kali]

Predicate-Only Clauses

The simplest clauses in Ngolu consist of nothing but a verbal or a verbal phrase used as the predicate. There are no obligatory arguments in Ngolu and all may be omitted from the clause and left to context, even the subject.

It's raining. / It rains.

"be good"
It's good.

A verbal with no arguments indicates an activity or state without specifying the identity of any participants. Essentially, Ngolu is a pro-drop language. With prior context, omitted arguments can be understood as referring to someone or something already discussed. With no prior context, however, verbal-only sentences are simply understood with a "someone or something" as the subject.

He, she or it is eating. (with context)
Something or someone is eating. (without context)

He or it is hunting. / He or it is a hunter. (with context)
Something or someone is hunting. / There's a hunter. (without context)

Simple declarative or existential statements are frequently verbal-only.

"be a fire"
It's a fire. / There's a fire. / Fire!

One-Argument Clauses

Multi-Argument Clauses

Subordinate Clauses

Complementiser Clauses
Adverbial Clauses

Adverbial clauses are introduced by the particle lo, which may be derived from lejo, the comitative case of the copula 'zuo'.

bio kau nu lo juo (nu)
want eat NOM.1s.ANIM ADV be.outside "NOM.1s.ANIM"
"want" "eat" "I" "while" "be outside" ("I")
I want to eat outside.

Relative Clauses

Topic and Focus

Affirmation and Negation

The verbals ahe and kka indicate polarity, being positive and negative respectively. On their own, they are roughly equivalent to 'yes' and 'no'.

Positive sentences are generally unmarked and ahe generally appears only for emphasis.

ahe bo xu eni
be.indeed be.wanted NOM.3s.DEF.INAN DAT.1s.ANIM
"be indeed" "be wanted" "the thing" "to me"
I do want it. — [kali]

Negation is performed by means of kka.

kka ju xua uttia
be.not NOM.3s.DEF.ANIM LOC.3s.DEF.INAN.REL be.tree
"be not" "she" "at the thing which" "be tree"
She's not at the tree. — [kali]

kka mula jas ene
be.not be.liked NOM.3s.DEF.MASC DAT.1s.MASC
"be not" "be liked" "he" "to me"
I don't like him. — [kali]

After a negative question or statement, ahe indicates a contradictory, positive answer whereas kka indicates a negative answer in agreement.

ha kka lalu
Q be.not rain
"?" "be.not" "rain"
Isn't it raining?

ahe (lalu)
be.indeed (rain)
"be indeed" ("rain")
Yes, it is (raining).

kka (lalu)
be.not (rain)
"be not" ("rain")
No, it's not (raining).

Negation (as well as affirmation) is generally performed in the predicate.

kka xeva ju eri azo
be.not be.seen NOM.3s.DEF.ANIM DAT.3s.NSPC.ANIM.REL be.other
"be not" "be seen" "the being" "to any being which" "be other"
No one else saw her. (Literally: Anyone else didn't see her.)

To negate or affirm an argument, it is placed within an adverbial clause.

uo xi oko lo kka ja tehi los ahe ja mbuja
kill. deliberately ACC.3s.DEF.INAN.REL ADV be.not NOM.3s.DEF.MASC.REL be.Tehi ADV be.indeed NOM.3s.DEF.MASC.REL be.Mbuja
"kill deliberately" "the thing which" "" "while" "be not" "the man who" "be Tehi" "while" "be indeed" "the man who" "be Mbuja"
Not Tehi but Mbuja killed the dog.


Polar Questions

Polar questions are indicated with ha.

ha lalu
Q rain
"?" "rain"
Is it raining?

ha lai nas eue
Q be.loved NOM.1s.MASC DAT.2s.MASC
"?" "be loved" "I" "to you"
Do you love me? — [muja to singular muja]

Ha can occur at the end of a sentence, where it functions as a question tag.

lalu ha
rain Q
"rain" Q
It's raining, isn't it?

lai nas eue ha
be.loved NOM.1s.MASC DAT.2s.MASC Q
"be loved" "I" "to you" "?"
You love me, don't you? — [muja to singular muja]

Individual arguments in a sentence may be called into question by placing them inside an adverbial clause introduced by lo.

lai eue lo ha na
be.loved DAT.2s.MASC ADV Q NOM.1s.MASC
"be loved" "to you" "while" "?" "I"
Is it me who you love? — [muja to singular muja]

lai na lo has eue
be.loved NOM.1s.MASC ADV Q DAT.2s.MASC
"be loved" "I" "while" "?" "to you"
Is it you who loves me? — [muja to singular muja]

Alternative Questions

Alternative questions use two or more instances of ha.

Bio ha kau ha huna vu
want Q eat Q drink NOM.2s.ANIM
"want" "either" "eat" "or" "drink" "you"
Would you like anything to (either) eat or drink? — [to singular kali]

Xevu eue lo ha ja mahu lo ha ju laiuiie
be.seen DAT.2s.MASC ADV Q NOM.3s.DEF.MASC.REL be.Mahu ADV Q NOM.3s.DEF.ANIM.REL be.Laiuiie
"be seen" "to you" "while" "either" "the man who" "be Mahu" "while" "?" "the being who" "be Laiuiie"
Have you seen (either) Mahu or Laiuiie? — [to singular muja]

Content Questions

Embedded Questions

Any type of question may be embedded inside a complementiser phrase.

Zau nu vejo ha ti uaizue ji tavi
be.ignorant NOM.1s.ANIM TOP.C Q be.PRF find ACC.3s.DEF.ANIM.REL be.child
"be ignorant" "I" "about that" "?" be.PRF "find" "the being who" "be child"
I don't know if the child has been found. — [kali]



Marking of time (tense and aspect) is not obligatory in Ngolu and may always be left up to context.

uo ja xi
kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.MUJA ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"kill" "the man" "it"
He kills / killed / will kill / is killing / has killed [...] it. — [muja]

When time needs to be indicated, it is most often done by means of a verbal indicating a "relative tense" (aspect). The three basic "relative tense" markers are ...

  • ti "perfect" (PRF), indicating an action or state entirely before the time in question
  • zo "progressive" (PROG), indicating an action or state concurrent with the time in question
  • ka "prospective (PROS), indicating an action or state entirely after the time in question.

By default, the "time in question" is the present time. However, if another time is contextually understood, any of these may refer to events in the past, present or future.

ti uo ja xi
be.PRF kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.MASC ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"be finished" "kill" "the man" "it"
He killed / has / had / will have killed it. — [muja]

zo uo ja xi
be.PROG kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.MASC ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"be underway" "kill" "the man" "it"
He is / was / will be killing it. — [muja]

ka uo ja xi
be.PROS kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.MASC ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"be going to" "kill" "the man" "it"
He is / was / will be going to kill it. — [muja]

The prefix e- attached to the beginning of any of these aspect markers creates an absolute tense marker. The e- ensures that time is marked with reference to the current time of speaking rather than to a contextually understood time frame. This is usually only used to disambiguate or to emphasise a time frame.

  • eti "past" (PST), indicating an action or state entirely in the past.
  • ezo "present" (PRES), indicating an action or state occurring in the present.
  • eka "future (FUT), indicating an action or state that will occur in the future.

eti uo ja xi
be.PST kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.MASC ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"be earlier" "kill" "the man" "it"
He killed / has killed it (earlier / before / already). — [muja]

ezo uo ja xi
be.PRES kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.MASC ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"be now" "kill" "the man" "it"
He is killing it (now). — [muja]

More than one time word can be used together.

eka ti uo ja xi
be.PRES be.PRF kill.deliberately NOM.3s.DEF.MASC ACC.3s.DEF.INAN
"will" "be finished" "kill" "the man" "it"
He will have killed it (now). — [muja]

There are also compounds formed from two time words.

  • tizo (PRF.PROG), indicating an action or state occurring before and continuing up to the contextually understood time
  • zoka (PROG-PROS), indicating an action or state occurring at the contextually understood time and extending into the future
  • etizo (PRF.PROG), indicating an action or state that started in the past and continues to the present
  • ezoka (PROG-PROS), indicating an action or state that starts in the present and will continue into the future.

The distance from the time in question can be indicated by adding time specifiers after the tense or aspect marker and then introducing the rest of the sentence with to. The forms with e- indicate distance from the present (eti "ago", etizo "for", eka "in") while the forms without e- may indicate distance from a contextually understood time (ti "before", ka "later").

eti euo laqu to li zaxa
be.PST be.two be.year thus begin be.ill
"was" "be two" "be year" "then" "become" "be ill"
Two years ago, s/he fell ill.

... kas ahu noila to bilo
be.going to be.month thus die
"be going to" "be one" "be month" "then" "die"
One month later, s/he died.

etizo vane laqu to tuhu jas eni
be.PST-PRES be.five be.year thus be.known NOM.3s.DEF.MASC DAT.1s.ANIM
"be from the past till now" "be five" "be year" "then" "be known" "the man" "to me"
I have known him for five years. — [kali]

There are a range of other verbals which indicate time in a similar way. Here are some examples.


  • ariu "yesterday"
  • aku "today"
  • anu "tomorrow"


  • auo "by day"
  • eio "by night"

Distance in time

  • ttie / ettie "just" (similar to ti but specifies a very short distance of time)
  • tieka / etieka "about to" (similar to ka but specifies a very short distance of time)
  • ti ti / eti ti "a long time ago" (reduplication for distance into the past)
  • ka ka / eka ka "eventually" (reduplication for distance into the future)

Other aspectual differences

  • hua "always", "permanently" [gnomic]
  • niu "habitually" [habitual]
  • guegue "repeatedly", "again and again"
  • egue "again"
  • tara "suddenly"
  • li "starts"
  • bi "stops"
  • ligue "resumes"



Movement is expressed in a variety of ways in Ngolu.

One of the most common methods for talking about movement is using the words hu and mia. There is no distinction between coming and going but rather a distinction between the perfective hu, meaning 'come' or 'go', and the imperfective mia, 'be one one's way', 'be coming', 'be going'. The destination may be indicated by a subsequent modifying verbal or by a dative argument. The origin is indicated by an ablative argument.

hu mala nu
move.PFV NOM.1s.ANIM
"go" "be house" "I"
I go / 'm going home. — [kali]

hu nu exi mala
"go" "I" "to the thing which" "be house"
I go / 'm going home. — [kali]

mia mala nu
"be on the way" "be house" "I"
I 'm going / on my way home. — [kali]

kua hu nui
be.JUSS move.PFV ABL.1s.ANIM
"should" "go" "from me"
Please get away from me. — [kali]

Another method for expressing movement is to affix the copula prefix g-, m-, n- to a dative or ablative nominal.

g-exi mala nu
"go to the thing which" "be house" "I"
I go / 'm going home. — [kali]

g-eue nu
"go to you" "I"
I'll come to you. — [kali to singular muja]

e n-nai
"!" "go from me"
Get away from me! — [muja]

The third way to express movement is to use an inceptive (inchoative) morpheme in conjunction with a word indicating location. For example, the verbal xa means 'to be inside' and the verbal atio means 'to be there (away from us)' - adding the infix -in- (perfective inceptive) or -ij- (imperfective inceptive) gives xina ('to go in', 'to enter') and xija ('to be on the way in'), atinio ('to go there') and atijo ('to be on the way there'). The free standing verbal li ('to begin, start, commence') may also be used, with li xa and li atio being equivalent to xina and atinio.

ti xina iju i-oba loe
be.PRF enter.PFV NOM.3p.DEF.ANIM sleep
"be finished" "enter" "the beings" "be room" "sleep"
They went into the bedroom. — [kali to singular muja]

bios atinio ja
want go.there.3 NOM.3s.DEF.MASC
"want" "go there" "the man"
He wants to go there. — [kali to singular muja]

The inceptive infixes are frequently used with the verbals denoting location in the four cardinal directions: la, ta, gio, vo ('to be in the east', 'to be in the west', 'to be in the north', 'to be in the south' respectively) creating the perfective forms lina, tina, ginio and vino and the imperfective forms lija, tija, gijo and vijo. Direction within Qu, with its noticeable tube shape (with 'east/west' pointing along the tube and 'north/south' going around the circumference), is a much more salient feature than on Earth and referencing direction with motion is common. In certain circumstances, describing movement without reference to direction is regarded as too imprecise, such as when men are discussing hunting in the forest where there may be no obvious landmarks to identify as the destination of a movement.

La, ta, gio, vo may be used to modify another verb of motion with or without taking an inceptive infix.

lina gio inais ixi vaku
go.east.PFV ABL.1p.MASC NOM.3p.DEF.INAN.REL be.babirusa
"go east" "be in the north" "from us" "the things which" "be babirusa"
The babirusas moved (east)-northeast away from us. — [kali to singular muja]




Conditional sentences in Ngolu use particles to indicate the condition clause (protasis) and the result clause (apodosis). These particles differ depending on whether the condition is possible (realis) or hypothetical (irrealis).

REALIS ha to
haizuo (emphatic)
to (possible only when apodosis clause appears second)

Realis examples:

has anu lalu to kka vuja ja
if be.tomorrow rain then be.not hunt NOM.3s.DEF.MASC
"if" "be tomorrow" "rain" "then" "be not" "hunt" "the man"
If it rains tomorrow, (then) he won't hunt.

(to) ttio na ue ha vei tiaia
(then) hit NOM.1s.MASC ACC.2s. if stay do.that.2
("then") "hit" "I" "you" "if" "keep" "do that which you are doing"
I'll hit you if you keep doing that. — [muja to singular muja]

Irrealis examples:

hai(zuo) g-ua na to(i) hales eje jo nio mo
if.IRR be-NOM.2s.MASC NOM.1s.MASC then.(would) ask DAT.3s.DEF.MASC ACC.C happen be.what
"imagine if" "be you" "I" "then (would)" "ask" "(to) him" "that" "happen" "be what"
If I were you, (then) I'd ask him what happened. — [muja to singular muja]

toi bi xo nu hai(zuo) hues abani
then.would stop work NOM.1s.ANIM if.IRR be.more
"then would" "stop" "work" "I" "if would" "be more" "be rich"
I would stop working, if I were richer. — [muja to singular muja]

toi ti hu na leui hai(zuo) (ti) mahu (xu) (ene)
then.would be.PRF move NOM.1s.MASC COM.2s.ANIM if.IRR (be.PRF) be.known (NOM.3s.DEF.INAN) (DAT.1s.MASC)
"then would" "be finished" "move" "I" "with you" "if would" ("be finished") "be known" "it" "to me"
I would have come with you if I had known that. — [muja to singular kali]






Social Stratification and Language Use

Ngolu society is heavily stratified into five social divisions. These social divisions, or strata, are hierarchical and from highest to lowest are as follows.

  • 5. ja taqu - the king
  • 4. ija balu - the king's men
  • 3. ija muja - initiated men
  • 2. iju kali - free citizens
  • 1. iju tuva - slaves and prisoners (ixu tuva in the speech of muja, balu and taqu)

Language use is, to a large extent, determined by the strata of the speaker, addressee and third person referents.

Speech Crime