Old Albic

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Old Albic
Spoken in: British Isles
Conworld: League of Lost Languages; The Elvenpath
Total speakers: extinct
Genealogical classification: Hesperic
South Albic
Old Albic
Basic word order: VSO/head-initial, free
Morphological type: agglutinating > fusional
Morphosyntactic alignment: active, fluid-S
Created by:
Jörg Rhiemeier 2001-

Old Albic is a diachronic fictional language by Jörg Rhiemeier. It is part of the League of Lost Languages and the Elvenpath project.

Old Albic (native name Elbirin 'Elvish') is the oldest Albic and also Hesperic language attested in writing. The oldest surviving text fragments date back to the 7th century BCE. Old Albic was the language of the Elves prior to the Tartessian War and the Celtic takeover in Britain.



The Old Albic consonant system consists of 18 consonant phonemes. The language has labial, dental and velar stops, voiceless and voiced: p, t, c; b, d, g. These stops have two allophones each: lenis when following a vowel, and fortis everywhere else. If a stop-initial word is phonetically linked to a vowel-final word, the initial stop is lenis. The so-called aspirates transcribed ph, th, ch evidently already were fricatives [f θ x] in Classical times. But while they are phonetically fricatives, they phonemically behave like stops. This indicates that they were stops in an earlier stage of the language. (This is also evidenced by the fact that they correspond to stops in North and West Albic languages; a stop articulation is also described as occuring in some rural dialects of Old Albic.) The aspirate th is dental (like voiceless English th), in contrast to the alveolar s. The two phonemes thus did not fall together; it is certainly due to the heavy functional load of the distinction between th and s (cf. 2nd vs. 3rd person pronouns and endings!) that the merger was avoided. Other fricatives are the sibilant s and the laryngeal h, which are preserved unchanged except in clusters composed of *s and another consonant, wherein s is deleted and the following consonant, if a stop, changed into a homorganic aspirate: *sp > ph, *st > th, *sc > ch. The phoneme h occurs only before a vowel; in all other positions, it deletes and the preceding vowel is lengthened.

Sonorants are the nasals m, n, ng (the latter being velar as in sing), the liquids l, r (the latter is an alveolar trill), and the semivowels j (like y in English yes) and v (like English w).

The full consonant inventory is thus as follows (letters in brackets are IPA phonetic symbols where different from the orthography):

  Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stops, voiceless p t     c [k]  
Stops, voiced b d     g  
Fricatives ph [ɸ] th [θ] s   ch [x] h
Nasals m n     ng [ŋ]  
Lateral     l      
Trill     r      
Semivowels v [w]     j    

Consonant alternations

There are several consonant alternations observable in Old Albic:

  • Grassmann's Law: every other aspirate in a word is turned into a voiceless stop. Precedence is from right to left, i.e. the penultimate aspirate is de-aspirated.
  • Rhotacism: intervocalic s becomes r. However, many cases of rhotacism are removed by analogical levelling which restored the s.
  • Metathesis of stops followed by s, e.g. ts -> st.
  • h deletes with compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel when not followed by a vowel.


Old Albic has seven vowels: a, e, i, o, u, ø, y, which occur both short and long (transcribed as á, é, í, ó, ú, ǿ, ý when with thrusting tone, and â, ê, î, ô, û, ø̂, ŷ when with slipping tone, see below under "Accent"). Of these, ø and y are mid and high front vowels, respectively. The long vowels alternate with short vowels followed by the consonant h before vowels in various forms. Long vowels are tense /a: e: i: o: u: ø: y:/ while short vowels are lax /ɐ ɛ ɪ ɔ ʊ œ ʏ/. Long vowels occur only in accented open syllables and in monosyllables; otherwise they are shortened.

The classical Elvish grammarians describe the vowels of Old Albic in terms of combinations of three features ('wide', 'sharp' and 'round', or, in modern terminology, open, front and rounded), and they are represented that way in the Old Albic script. Each of the seven vowels corresponds to one combination of features:

  a e i o ø u y
[open] + + - + + - -
[front] - + + - + - +
[round] - - - + + + +

The harmony vowel °, which occurs in several affixes and assimilates to the nearest vowel, can be considered an eighth vowel phoneme that lacks all three features and thus borrows the features from the neighbouring vowel. It is more useful, however, to consider what it actually is, namely a vowel position to which no features are attached.

Most roots have one of the vowels a, i, u, with a being most frequent; the others are less commnon. When the root has two syllables, both vowels are the same. All other vowels are products of umlaut (see below). An affix has one of the same three vowels, or a harmony vowel.


The vowels a, i and u (both short and long) cause changes in preceding vowels. These changes are called umlaut. According to the three umlaut-causing vowels, there are three kinds of umlaut: a-umlaut lowers high vowels, i-umlaut fronts back vowels, and u-umlaut rounds unrounded vowels. The changes are summarized in the following table:

Radical a-umlaut i-umlaut u-umlaut
a a e o
e e e ø
i e i y
o o ø o
ø ø ø ø
u o y u
y ø y y

Umlaut takes precedence from right to left. For example, if an a precedes an i, it is umlauted to e and thus does not trigger a-umlaut in the vowel preceding it. If the vowel preceding the umlauting vowel belongs to a bisyllabic morpheme, both vowels of that morpheme are umlauted. Example: ebelcidir 'cider' consisting of the roots abal 'apple' and cidir 'alcoholic beverage'.

Vowel harmony

Many affixes undergo vowel harmony: the vowel in the affix always matches the nearest vowel of the stem. The classical Elvish scholars analyzed this phenomenon as an eighth vowel phoneme that has none of the three possible vowel features and thus borrows them from the neighbouring vowel. Such a featureless vowel position in an affix is represented by the symbol °.

An autosegmental view of the vowel features

The behaviour of vowel features in Old Albic can be aptly described by an autosegmental approach. This means that the vowel features are assumed to exist on a structural tier separate from the segmental tier. The segmental tier contains the consonants and the vowel positions; the vowel features exist on a tier on their own and bind not directly to vowel positions but to morphemes (which also means that no morpheme may have two vowels of different quality). In the phonetic realization, the vowel features are associated with the vowel positions and thus produce the vowels observed in actual speech. Umlaut and vowel harmony involve spreading of vowel features to neighbouring morphemes.

Consider, for example, the word form abalterimil 'among apple trees'. This word consists of five morphemes:

  1. The root abal- 'apple' with the segmental structure °b°l- and the vowel feature [+open].
  2. The root tar- 'tree' with the segmental structure t°r- and the vowel feature [+open].
  3. The plural suffix -i with the segmental structure and the vowel feature [+front].
  4. The objective stem formant -m with no vowel feature.
  5. The locative case suffix -°l with no vowel feature.

The vowel feature [+front] spreads leftward to the root tar- by virtue of i-umlaut, changing it to ter-, and rightward across the vowelless -m to the locative case sufffix -°l which is thus realized as -il. Graphically:

 [+open] [+open]            [+open] [+open]
    |       |  [+front]        |      |  [+front]
    |       |     |            |      |  /  |  \
  °b°l-    t°r-  -°-m-°l →   °b°l-   t°r  -°-m-°l → abalterimil


A syllable in Old Albic may contain up to two consonants in each the onset (i.e., before the vowel) and the coda (i.e., after the vowel). An onset cluster consists either of a (phonological) stop followed by a liquid or semivowel (e.g., thr, gv), or, much less common, of a homorganic nasal and stop (e.g., mb); the latter only at the beginning of a word. In a coda cluster, the sonority has to decrease; the sonority order is: liquid > nasal > s > stop. A syllable with a long vowel must be open unless in a monosyllabic word.

Syllables are divided by the following rules:

  1. A single consonant between two vowels belongs to the second syllable: va-las, na-harth, cva-tha (remember that th may be two letters, but a single sound).
  2. Two consonants both belong to the second syllable if the first is a (phonological) stop and the second a liquid or semivowel: na-cva-than, da-thre-tanth.
  3. Otherwise, the syllable boundary is between the consonants: al-ba, mør-din-do.
  4. Of three consonants, the syllable boundary is placed such that the onset of the second syllable becomes maximal, e.g. sal-clang but arn-dal.

A syllable ending in a consonant or a long vowel is a heavy syllable; a syllable ending in a short vowel is a light syllable.


Old Albic has a pitch accent whose position depends on syllable weight. Words with one or two syllables are always stressed on the first syllable. In words with three or more syllables, the accent falls on the antepenultimate (third-last) syllable if the penultimate syllable is light (i.e., it is open and has a short vowel), otherwise on the penultimate syllable. (Remember that intervocalic stop+liquid clusters, such as br, always belong to the second of the two syllable, i.e., the first syllable is light.)

On long vowels, two types of accent are distinguished: Thrusting tone has one peak; it is represented in the orthography by an acute accent (e.g., á). Slipping tone has two peaks; it is represented by a circumflex accent (e.g., â).


In Old Albic, neighbouring words are often phonetically linked, similar to the liaison in French. Linking occurs between the elements of a noun phrase, as well as between a verb or a preposition and the following adverb or noun phrase. While each of the linked words has its own stress, the words are phonetically run together. If two words are linked of which the first ends in a vowel and the second begins with a stop, that stop is pronounced as a lenis stop just like a stop following a vowel in the same word. Thus, Old Albic shows a subphonemic initial mutation.


Old Albic has a wealth of derivational and inflectional morphology. The noun distinguishes four genders, three numbers and eight cases; adjectives agree with the nouns in all these categories and have four degrees of comparison; verbs distinguish eight tense/aspect/mood forms and are conjugated for the person and number of their core arguments. Most of the Old Albic morphology is regular and agglutinating, though umlaut and other morpho-phonemic alternations cause several apparent irregularities in the paradigms.

Morpheme structure


Most lexical roots in Old Albic are of one of the forms CVC, CRVC or CVRC (wherein R is a resonant and V is a short vowel). The initial consonant can be missing. There are a few roots with an initial homorganic nasal-stop cluster, e. g. ndar- 'man'. Some roots are of the form CV:C or CRV:C, with a long vowel V:. There are also bisyllabic roots with the structure CVCVC (e. g. macal- 'meat', samal- 'wheat'). In such bisyllabic roots, the two vowels always have the same quality. If a morpheme beginning with a vowel is added to a bisyllabic root, the second vowel is dropped, e.g. abal 'apple' → eblim 'apples'.

There are a few constraints regarding the distribution of stops in the root. In a true monomorphemic root, no two voiceless stops occur; aspirates do not co-occur with voiced stops. The root vowel is a in the more than half of all roots; i and u also occur in a number of roots, while the remaining vowels are less common.


Affixes have rather simple structures. There are far more suffixes than prefixes. Most suffixes have the shape -C, -V, -VC or -CV; -CVC also occurs. Prefixes are usually CV-, sometimes C- or V-. Inflectional affixes do not contain voiceless stops. The vocalism of affixes is markedly different from root vocalism. The most common vowel in affixes is ° (i. e., there is no vowel feature attached to the affix), also common are i and u. The open vowels a, e and o occur only in few affixes.

The striking differences in root and affix vocalism can be explained by the working of ablaut in conjunction with a Proto-Albic accent on the root syllable. Under this accent, the root was in full grade and thus its vowel received the feature [+open]. The affixes, being unaccented, were in reduced grade with the feature [-open].

Word formation

A word in Old Albic consists of at least one root to which zero or more derivational and/or inflectional morphemes are affixed. Verbs always carry at least one inflectional affix; in contrast, there are nouns consisting of a bare root, but derived nouns are more common. If both derivational and inflectional affixes are present, the derivations are closer to the root than the inflections. For example, maneri 'thinkers' is a word (man- 'think' + -°r 'agent' (derivation) + -i 'plural' (inflection)), while #meniir (man-i-°r) is not.


Derivation is mostly done by suffixing, though a few derivational prefixes (such as na- 'not, non-') exist. Derivational prefixes never change the word-class of the word (though they may change the valency of a verb), while suffixes often do.


Compounding is a highly productive process in Old Albic. Compounds are generally head-final; the second element thus determines the word-class of the compound (which can, however, be changed by a derivational suffix). The first element of a compound is a bare stem (short objective stem in case of an animate noun); if the stem ends in an obstruent, a vowel matching the stem vowel of the first element is infixed between the first and second element of the compound. Example: att- 'father' + landa 'land, country' -> Attalanda 'fatherland'. Most compounds are nouns. The largest group of nominal compounds are attributive compounds, i. e. the first element specifies the second one, e. g. semelbrad 'wheat bread'. There are also externally headed (bahuvrihi) compouds.


Animate and inanimate nouns; gender

Nouns in Old Albic fall into one of two major classes: animate and inanimate. Animate nouns denote living beings, spirits, collective entities of living beings, and a small number of other things which were for some reason (mostly mythological) considered animate, such as heaven, the earth, celestial bodies and certain forces of nature. Most nouns referring to non-living objects (both natural and man-made) are inanimate. Most abstract nouns are also inanimate, but there are exceptions.

The importance of the animate-inanimate distinction for grammar is paramount. The animate noun has a greater number of cases; these extra cases are missing from the inanimate paradigm because certain arguments, such as agents, are required to be animate.

Within the animate noun class, three genders are distinguished: masculine, feminine and common/neuter. These are marked by final vowels:

Masculine -o
Feminine -e
Common/Neuter -a

The masculine and feminine genders are used only for entities of the corresponding natural gender, i.e. male or female, respectively. Whenever the gender is unknown to the speaker, irrelevant to the discourse, or not applicable (e.g. in case of collective entities), the common form is used. There are a few mythologically motivated exceptions: Týo 'heaven' and Sino 'moon' are masculine, Dime 'earth' and Are 'sun' are feminine.

Many nouns exist in different gender forms, such as words for animal species, ethnic groups, professions etc. For example, the word for 'dog' is chvana; 'male dog' is chvano and 'female dog' is chvane. 'Elf' is alba, 'male Elf' albo, and 'female Elf' albe. A few nouns have fixed gender because the gender is part of the semantics of the word: atto 'father', amme 'mother'. Entities to which no gender can be ascribed are always common/neuter. This includes collective entities such as tamba `family', forces of nature such as phaja 'fire', or abstract notions such as phanara 'morphic field'.

Inanimate nouns do not distinguish gender.


The Old Albic noun has three numbers: singular, dual and plural. The dual is used only for matched pairs, e.g. of eyes, shoes, husband and wife, etc. It is no longer productive, and verbs agreeing with animate dual nouns take plural forms.

Animate nouns take the number suffixes -u for dual and -i for plural. In the common/neuter gender, these suffixes replace the gender vowel -a. In the masculine and feminine genders, the suffix is affixed to the gender vowel, e.g. chvanei 'bitches'. In words with fixed gender, the number marker replaces the gender vowel: nderi 'men'. The number suffixes of the inanimate noun are -um for dual and -im for plural.


In Old Albic, the noun is inflected for ten cases: agentive, genitive, dative, partitive; objective, instrumental, locative, allative, ablative, perlative. Only animate nouns have forms for all these cases; inanimate nouns have a defective paradigm without agentive, genitive, dative and partitive cases.

The cases are based on two case stems, the agentive stem (AS) and the objective stem (OS). Animate nouns have an AS and an OS, while inanimate nouns have only an OS. The animate agentive stem is the noun root with the gender/number vowel as discussed above. The objective stem is normally formed by adding -m to the agentive stem. Examples: cvastam 'human', chvanem 'bitch', elbim 'Elves'. Another way of forming the OS, most commonly found in poetry, is the so-called short objective stem, which is formed by clipping off the gender vowel. This is possible only in the singular.

The agentive, genitive, dative and partitive cases are formed from the agentive stem, the other cases from the objective stem using the following endings:

Agentive AS-Ø
Genitive AS-s
Dative AS-n
Partitive AS-l
Objective OS-Ø
Instrumental OS-i
Locative OS-°l
Allative OS-°n
Ablative OS-°d
Perlative OS-°th

This means that inanimate nouns have no agentive, genitive, dative or partitive case as said above.

Examples: alba 'Elf', char 'stone'.

  Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Agentive alba olbu elbi -- -- --
Genitive albas olbus elbis -- -- --
Dative alban olbun elbin -- -- --
Partitive albal olbul elbil -- -- --
Objective albam olbum elbim char chorum cherim
Instrumental albemi albymi elbimi cheri charymi cherimi
Locative albamal olbumul elbimil charal chorumul cherimil
Allative albaman olbumun elbimin charan chorumun cherimin
Ablative albamad olbumud elbimid charad chorumud cherimid
Perlative albamath olbumuth elbimith charath chorumuth cherimith

Nouns denoting persons also have a set of possessive local cases, where the local case suffix is affixed to the genitive, to denote location at, motion to, etc. the place of the person, e.g. Mørdindoson 'to Mørdindo's'.

The agentive is used to mark the animate, autonomous agent of the action denoted by the verb. Typically, the agent acts volitionally (see Degrees of volition, below).

The genitive marks the (animate) alienable possessor of an object. The case of the possessum is marked on the genitive by suffixaufnahme.

The dative has several functions: it marks the (animate) experiencer, the mentally affected object and the agent acting involuntarily out of accident (see Degrees of volition); it is also used with some prepositions that require an animate object.

The partitive marks the whole something is part of, and (sometimes) the inalienable possessor (more commonly, inalienable possession is expressed by a possessor-possessum compound). It undergoes suffixaufnahme. It is also used with prepositions.

The objective marks the (animate or inanimate) undergoer of an action or event, or the entity that is in a particular state.

The instrumental marks the (typically inanimate) instrument, way or means of an action, event or state, and is used to derive adverbs from adjectives. It also expresses an animate agent acting involuntarily under external force (see Degrees of volition). Furthermore, it is used as a comitative case (`together with') in which case it undergoes suffixaufnahme.

The locative marks the place of an action or event, also (for inanimate nouns) the whole something is part of, and (sometimes) the inalienable possessor (more commonly, inalienable possession is expressed by a possessor-possessum compound). In the latter usage, it undergoes suffixaufnahme. It is also used with prepositions.

The allative marks the direction or goal of an action or event. Inanimate indirect objects also take the allative case.

The ablative marks the origin or source of an action or event.

The perlative marks the path along or space within an event takes place.


Whenever a noun modifies another noun, it acts like an adjective. It does not only carry its own case marker, but is also marked for the gender, number and case of the head noun. For example, the locative plural of 'the father's houses' is mberimil attøsimil, wherein the analysis of the form attøsimil is composed as follows: atto 'father' + -s genitive + -im plural OS + -°l locative. This phenomenon is known as suffixaufnahme. Suffixaufnahme is only mandatory if the dependent noun is moved away from the head noun; in ordinary speech, the secondary endings are usually omitted.

The construct state

A noun modified by a possessor (genitive or locative) is in the construct state: it is definite without taking a definite article. Often, the case and number marking on the noun is left out and only the bare short OS appears, as these categories are expressed on the possessor (suffixaufnahme).


The inflection of adjectives follows that of nouns; they agree with the head noun in animacy, gender, number and case.

Sample paradigm (phin 'beautiful'):

Inanimate singular -- phin
Masculine singular phino phinom
Feminine singular phine phinem
Common animate singular phena phenam
Dual (*) phynu phynum
Plural phini phinim

(*) The dual number of the adjective already was a dying category in classical times. There are numerous examples of dual nouns accompanied by plural adjectives, and in Late Old Albic the dual number of the adjective had faded away completely.


Comparison is a morphological category particular to the adjective. The positive degree is unmarked. The comparative degree is marked with the suffix -°s . The superlative degree is marked with the suffix -°th . There is also an equative degree ('as ... as'), which is marked with the suffix -°ch . These forms are the singular OSs; non-singular number forms and agentive stems are formed from them as shown above. The standard of comparison (i.e., the entity to which is compared) is in the locative case. Examples: phinich albamal 'as beautiful as an Elf'; phinis chvanal 'more beautiful than a dog'; phinith 'most beautiful'.

Adverbs from adjectives

The instrumental case of the adjective also serves as adverb: phini 'beautifully'.

The definite article

Old Albic has a definite article, but no indefinite article. The definite article is placed before the noun and agrees with the noun in gender, number and case. It has the following forms:

Masculine singular o om
Feminine singular e em
Common animate singular a am
Inanimate singular -- am
Dual u um
Plural i im

The cases are formed normally from the agentive and objective stems.


Compared to a language like English, Old Albic makes rather little use of prepositions, as many of the relations expressed by prepositions in English are expressed by noun cases. Nevertheless, there are several prepositions in Old Albic. They are essentially case forms of inanimate nouns and govern the partitive (for animate objects) or the locative (for inanimate objects).

Local prepositions

An important subclass of prepositions are those expressing specific local relations such as 'above', 'below', 'inside', etc. These prepositions are actually inanimate nouns that are in turn inflected for case. Example:

tharal amal(al) cathal(al) (locative) 'behind the house'
tharan amal(an) cathal(an) (allative) 'to behind the house'
tharad amal(ad) cathal(ad) (ablative) 'from behind the house'

(The suffixes in parentheses are secondary case suffixes (see suffixaufnahme) that are not mandatory, and usually omitted.)

Prepositional pronouns

When the object of a preposition is a pronoun, the pronoun precedes the preposition (which thus acts as a postposition) and is combined with it into a single word.


The animate/inanimate opposition is a characteristic feature of the Old Albic pronoun system. With the exception of 1st and 2nd person pronouns (for obvious reasons), each pronoun has different, often suppletive, animate and inanimate forms. Prounouns are generally inflected like nouns.

Personal pronouns

The 1st and 2nd person pronouns are always animate. In the dual and plural, there is a distinction between inclusive and exclusive 1st person pronouns. The difference is that the inclusive pronouns are used if the addressee is a member of the 'we'-group. The pronouns have the following agentive stems:

  Singular Dual Plural
1st person (exclusive) ma mu mi
1st person (inclusive)   vu vi
2nd person (familiar) tha thu thi
2nd person (deferential) la lu li

The objective stems are formed by adding -m to the agentive stems. The cases are formed in the same way as for nouns. Pronominal core arguments are redundant and usually omitted.

There is also a set of emphatic and reflexive pronouns, 1st person móa, 2nd person thóa, 3rd person sóa, inflected like the above.

Anaphoric pronouns

The anaphoric ('3rd person') pronouns have different animate and inanimate forms. The animate pronouns have masculine, feminine and common gender forms. The agentive stems of the animate forms are so 'he', se 'she', sa 'he/she/it'. The dual and plural ASs are su 'they both' and si 'they', respectively. The objective stems are formed, as with the 1st and 2nd person pronouns, with the suffix -m. The OS of the inanimate anaphoric pronoun is tath 'it' (dual tothum, plural tethim).

There is also a switch reference pronoun. It is ra in the agentive case and ram in the objective case. The form ra is corefernt with the patient, the form ram with the agent of the preceding clause. There is a poetic device called braiding in which chains of reciprocal action are narrated using these pronouns to switch the core arguments back and forth.


There are three demonstratives: ha 'this (near me)', cha 'that (near you)', a 'that (over there)'. They are inflected like adjectives and are placed at the end of the NP which also has a definite article, e.g. am char ham `this stone' (lit. 'the stone this'; inanimate objective singular), in chvenin mechin chin 'those large dogs' (lit. 'the dogs large those'; common gender animate dative plural).

Interrogative pronouns

The animate interrogative ('who?') has the agentive stem chva (OS chvam); the inanimate interrogative ('what?') is man.

Table of correlatives

  Which? This That Yon Some Every No
Person (AS) chva ha cha a ana cvana nana
Person (OS) chvam ham cham am anam cvanam nanam
Thing (OS) man ham cham am an cvan nan
Place mal hamal chamal amal anal cvanal nanal
Time math hamath chamath amath anath cvanath nanath
Way meni hemi chemi emi eni cveni neni
Reason mar hamar chamar amar anar cvanar nanar


The Old Albic verb is inflected for tense, aspect and mood, and conjugated for the person and number of subject and object. The overall structure of the finite verb is


wherein the abbreviations stand for the following:

A Augment: the first vowel of the verb is repeated to indicate perfective (aorist) aspect.
PV Preverb: this is a prefix that raises an oblique argument to direct object.
TM Tense/Mood marker (see below).
OC Objective conjugation. On transitive verbs, this refers to the direct object; on non-active intransitive verbs, to the subject.
AC Agentive conjugation; used only on active verbs, and only if the subject is in agentive or dative case.
V Version (see below).

Active vs. stative verbs

A very important distinction in Old Albic, as in all Albic languages, is between active and stative verbs. Active verbs are verbs referring to actions performed by the subject; stative verbs are all the others. Verbs of perception and emotion are a subclass of active verbs. Some verbs, especially verbs of motion, are fluid verbs, i.e. they can be active or stative, depending on whether the subject moves out of itself or not.

All transitive verbs are active. Active verbs take agentive conjugation suffixes indicating person and number of the subject; transitive verbs also take objective conjugation suffixes indicating person and number of the object. Stative verbs take objective conjugation suffixes indicating person and number of the subject.

This distinction also affects case marking. Subjects of active verbs are marked with the agentive or dative case, depending on the degree of volition of the subject. The basic case marking is agentive, except verbs of perception and emotion that usually take the dative case. (This also means that the subject has to be animate, though a zero-agent construction with an inanimate adjunct in instrumental case can be used to express notions such as 'The stone smashed the pot'.) In contrast, subjects of stative verbs as well as direct objects are marked with the objective case.

Strong vs. weak verbs

Verbs can be divided into strong and weak verbs after the structure of the stem. Strong verbs are the more basic ones; their stem consists of a single root, or a root with a prefix, but no suffix. Weak verbs are verbs derived from nouns, adjectives, other verbs etc. All verbs with a derivational suffix are weak. This includes nominal and adjectival predicates. Verbs with a root-closing nasal or with two or more root-closing consonants are also weak. Strong and weak verbs differ in the form of certain inflectional markings, especially the imperfect and conditional, which have more regular, agglutinative forms with weak verbs. Thus, while the stem structure of weak verbs is more complex, their inflections are simpler.


Some verbs can take derivative prefixes called preverbs. A preverb forms a transitive verb by raising an oblique NP to direct object status. If the underlying verb is transitive, the old object was demoted to instrumental case.


There are two moods: indicative and subjunctive; the latter is also used as an imperative. In both moods, two aspects, imperfective and perfective (aorist) are distinguished; the imperfective indicative is in turn divided into four tenses: present, imperfect (past), future and conditional.

The present tense refers to an ongoing event in the present. It is unmarked.

The imperfect tense refers to an ongoing event (seen as uncompleted) in the past. The imperfect tense of a weak verb is marked by a suffix -°n-. In case of a strong verb, the suffix is -n-; if the root ends in a stop or fricative, the nasal is infixed before the final consonant, assimilating to the point of assimilation of the obstruent, e.g. boc- 'flee' -> boñc-; boñcma 'I was fleeing'. Otherwise, the nasal is suffixed: sel- 'shine' -> selna 'it shone'. An example of a weak verb: marar- 'kill' -> mararanara 'he was killing him'.

The future tense is used for ongoing events in the future. It is marked with a suffix -u-.

The conditional, morphologically a cross between imperfect and future (as in so many languages), is used to refer to hypothetical events, especially in antecedents of conditional clauses. It is marked by -u- suffixed to the imperfect, e.g. bongcu-, sølnu-, mararonu-.

The aorist usually refers to completed events in the past and is used as the narrative tense. It thus contrasts mainly with the imperfect. However, an event referred to by the aorist need not be in the past; the aorist is also used to express anteriority in relation to another event, even if the event referred to is still ongoing or altogether in the future. For example, in a sentence such as 'When the sun sets, we will open the feast', the antecedent when the sun sets would be put in the aorist:

Sí evessa Are, pathymi am matanal.

Another use of the aorist is the gnomic aorist, which expresses timeless truth. The aorist is marked by the augment, a prefix °- consisting of the root vowel. If the root has an initial vowel, an h is inserted between the augment and the root-initial vowel:

Ahaussa Are. 'The sun has risen.' (aus- `to rise')

The subjunctive is marked by the suffix -i-. The aorist subjunctive is marked by augment and -i-. The aorist subjunctive is used as a 'hearsay form' ('it may have been that...').

Objective conjugation

The objective conjugtion suffixes agree with an argument of the verb that appears in the objective case. This is the direct object of a transitive verb or the subject of a stative verb such as dat- 'to fall'.

  Singular Dual Plural
1st person -ha -hu -hi
2nd person -cha -chu -chi
3rd person -a -u -i

The verb agrees in number with the object only if the object is animate. If the object is inanimate, the conjugation is always singular (-a), regardless of the number of the object.

Agentive conjugation

The agentive conjugation suffixes are used with active verbs and mark agreement with an agentive or dative subject (see degrees of volition below). A instrumental-case 'subject' triggers no agreement as it isn't really a subject but an oblique adjunct to a zero-agent clause.

  Singular Dual Plural
1st person -ma -mu -mi
2nd person -tha -thu -thi
3rd person -sa -su -si

If the 3rd person suffix follows a stop (including ph, th and ch), metathesis occurs and the s of the suffix precedes the stop (example: bucu 'to flee' → bosca 'he flees').

If neither an objective nor an agentive conjugation suffix is present, a suffix is added instead.

A complete bipersonal paradigm

Example: vili 'to love'.

Object → Zero Singular Dual Plural
Subject ↓ 1st 2nd 3rd 1st 2nd 3rd 1st 2nd 3rd
Zero vili velha velcha vela vylhu vylchu vylu vilhi vilchi vili
Singular 1st velma (velhama) velchama velama (vilhoma) vilchoma viloma (vilhema) vilchema vilema
2nd veltha velhatha (velchatha) velatha vilhotha (vilchotha) vilotha vilhetha (vilchetha) viletha
3rd velsa velhasa velchasa velasa vilhosa vilchosa vilosa vilhesa vilchesa vilesa
Dual 1st vylmu (vilhomu) vilchomu vilomu (vylhumu) vylchumu vylumu (vilhymu) vilchymu vilymu
2nd vylthu vilhothu (vilchothu) vilothu vylhuthu (vylchuthu) vyluthu vilhythu (vilchythu) vilythu
3rd vylsu vilhosu vilchosu vilosu vilhusu vylchusu vylusu vilhysu vilchysu vilythu
Plural 1st vilmi (vilhemi) vilchemi vilemi (vilhymi) vilchymi vilymi (vilhimi) vilchimi vilimi
2nd vilthi vilhethi (vilchethi) vilethi vilhythu (vilchythi) vilythi vilhithi (vilchithi) vilithi
3rd vilsi vilhesi vilchesi vilesi vilhysi vilchysi vilysi vilhisi vilchisi vilisi

(Forms in parentheses, with the same person in subject and object, are hardly used. Instead, a reflexive objective pronoun and a 3rd-person object form is used.)

Passive and antipassive

Passive and its mirror-image antipassive (demotion of the object) are not expressed by explicit markers in Old Albic, but by zero-agent and zero-object forms as listed in the paradigm above.


Version is a minor inflectional category of the verb. There are three values:

  1. Neutral version is the unmarked value; the neutral version suffix is zero.
  2. Centripetal version indicates that the subject acts on behalf of itself; it is marked with -r.
  3. Centrifugal version indicates that the subject acts on behalf of another; it is maerked with -s.

Centripetal version has no direct translation into English, but can be rendered with one's own, or for one's own: laramar 'I sing for my own' (as opposed to singing to an audience).

Centrifugal version can be translated into English with the adverb away: darasas 'he gives it away'.

Verbal noun

The Old Albic verb has a single infinite form, the verbal noun, an inanimate noun referring to the action/event/state denoted by the verb. The verbal noun is formed by adding the suffix -°nth to the verb stem. The arguments of the verbal noun are coded as possessors, with the agent appearing in the genitive case and the patient in the partitive or locative case:

atanth ndarol chvanas 'the biting of the man by the dog'

Case forms of the verbal nouns have participle-like functions, and are used for expressing stative aspects:

  • Progressive: locative case. Thaha laranthal. 'I am singing.'
  • Perfect: ablative case. Thaha laranthad. 'I have sung.'
  • Prospective: allative case. Thaha laranthan. 'I am about to sing.'


The syntax of Old Albic is characterized by great freedom of word order, due to the rich inflectional morphology of the language, especially its extensive case marking. Nevertheless, there is a basic, unmarked order that is generally adhered to in normal speech as well as prose writing; the full freedom of word order is only exploited in poetry. In the basic order, the heads generally precede their dependents. Thus, adjectives follow nouns, and adverbs and arguments (unless topicalized) follow the verb.

Clause structure

Phrase order

The normal phrase order is Verb-Subject-Object (VSO); however, this order is often overridden by topicalization, which moves the topic noun phrase (NP) into sentence-initial position. The topic NP can be any of the core arguments or an oblique argument. Hence, most main clauses practically have the verb in the second position after the topic, but subclauses are usually VSO. In poetry, any word order can be encountered.

Zero-agent and zero-object constructions

In Old Albic, there is neither a passive nor an antipassive voice. Instead, the grammar allows to leave away any (even both) of the core arguments. This also means that the verb takes no conjugation affix corresponding with the deleted NP. Such a construction can still take oblique complements.

Thus, the Old Albic equivalent to a zero-agent passive (such as English `The ball is thrown') is the zero-agent construction: the transitive verb is treated like a stative verb with the direct object as the sole core argument. Similarly, a transitive verb an be detransitivized by the zero-object construction. Both constructions can even be combined in order to express notions such as `There was singing'.

Degrees of volition

The subject of an active verb can appear in different cases depending on the degree of volition. The normal case marking for a subject of an active verb (except for verbs of perception or emotion) is the agentive; in order to express that the subject is acting accidentally rather than volitionally, it can be put in the dative case.

To negated verbs, this applies such that the agentive indicates that the subject purportedly fails to act, while the dative indicates that it fails to act out of error, e.g. attempts the action but fails, or forgot about it. Clearly, the dative case is the more neutral and more polite form to use with a negated verb.

Verbs of perception and emotion normally take a dative subject. The subject, however, can also be put in agentive case to express an act of deliberate observation rather than cursory perception. For example, Selsa on ndaron am chvan, with dative subject, means 'The man sees the dog', while Selsa o ndaro am chvan, with agentive subject, means 'The man watches the dog'.

In a sense, there is a third degree of volition expressed by the instrumentalcase. This expresses that the subject acts under external force, possibly against its will. If the subject is in instrumental case, the verb takes no agentive conjugation suffix. This is really nothing else than a zero-agent construction with an instrumental adjunct. The instrumental-case 'subject', unlike an agentive or dative subject, can be inanimate.

Stative verbs naturally do not distinguish any degrees of volition, and their subjects are always marked with the objective case. Fluid verbs such as verbs of motion, however, distinguish degrees of volition normally when used as active verbs. Thus, they allow four different case markings on subjects. Examples:

Acvamsa o ndaro (agentive) 'The man has come (volitionally).'
Acvamsa on ndaron. (dative) 'The man has come (accidentally).'
Acvama ømi ndarømi. (instrumental) 'The man has come (under force).'
Acvama om ndarom. (objective) 'The man has come (being carried).'

These examples also demonstrate the different use of conjugation suffixes.

Nominal predicates

Nouns and adjectives can be used as predicates. There is no explicit copula; instead, the predicate noun (or adjective) is inflected like a verb. Such predicate nouns are weak stative verbs. The verb stem is the objective stem, agreeing with gender (if animate) and number with the subject.

The Noun Phrase

In the noun phrase (NP), the article (if present) goes first; next come numerals. These elements precede the noun. Adjectives and attribute NPs (genitive or locative) follow the noun; so do relative clauses. Demonstratives are always placed at the end of the NP; only relative clauses, if present, are placed after the demonstrative. All elements are inflected to agree with the noun in gender, number and case. Adnominal genitives and locatives are treated like adjectives (suffixaufnahme); however, a possessed noun counts as definite and needs no article - it is in the construct state. Because of this extensive case marking, the elements of the NP can be rearranged quite freely in poetry, even placed at different locations in the clause with the verb or elements of other NPs in between!


There are two kinds of possession in Old Albic: alienable and inalienable possession. The difference is that alienably possessed items could be given away, sold, or otherwise change their possessor, while inalienably possessed items could not. Typical alienably possessed items include personal items (such as clothing), money, houses and other things, while body parts are inalienably possessed. Kinship terms also fall into the class of inalienably possessed nouns.

These two kinds of possession are expressed differently. An alienable possessor is put in the genitive case, e. g. caph létiros 'the wizard's hat', sach mas 'my shoe'. The common way of expressing inalienable possession is forming a possessor-possessum compound, e. g. chvanarath 'the dog's head' (chvana `dog', rath 'head'), manára 'my soul' (ma 'I', nára 'soul'). Another way of expressing inalienable possession is to put the possessor in the locative case, e. g. rath létiromol 'the wizard's head'.


Relative clauses

Relative clauses usually follow the NP they modify. The relative clause is linked to the head noun by the particle, which is identical to the definite article and agrees with the gender, case and number of the head noun. In the clause itself, the verb occupies the first position. If the head noun occupies an oblique role in the relative clause, the relative clause contains a resumptive pronoun that refers back to the head noun. This resumptive pronoun is an anaphoric pronoun that agrees with the head noun in gender. If the head noun occupies a core (agentive or objective) role in the relative clause, the resumptive pronoun is not necessary.


o ndaro o masta am abal 'the man who eats the apple'
am abal am masta o ndaro 'the apple which the man eats'
am cath am masta o ndaro am abal tathal 'the house which the man eats the apple in'

Because the relative particle is inflected for the gender, case and number of the head noun, the relative clause can be moved to another position (e.g., to the end of the sentence to avoid center-embedding with nested relative clauses) without causing ambiguity: in the sentence

Velsa o ndaro im jenim o masta am abal.

the relative clause o matasa am abal can only belong to o ndaro because o, like o ndaro, is masculine agentive singular (and the verb in the relative clause has a singular agent). Thus the sentence means: 'The man who eats the apple loves the children.' If the relative clause belonged to the object im jenim, the sentence would be

Velsa o ndaro im jenim im mesti am abal.

(Note also that the verb in the relative clause has a plural agent here.)

Complement clauses

A complement clause is a clause that serves as the object of a verb (the matrix verb). These follow a similar syntax as relative clauses. The clause is introduced by the particle am; within the clause, the verb precedes its arguments. The matrix verb takes a singular objective conjugation suffix.


Selama am masta o ndaro am abal. 'I see that the man eats the apple.'

However, this construction with a finite verb in the complement clause was already giving way in classical times to a construction with a verbal noun, in which the agent appears in the genitive and the patient in the locative case:

Selama matanth amal ablal os ndaros. 'I see (the) eating of the apple by the man.'


See here.

Selected Conlang mailing list articles on Old Albic

Attention: The older of these posts predate later revisions of the language and are now partly out of date.

Old Albic texts

These texts are old and written in a partly outdated version of the language.