Poswa SOV compounds

From FrathWiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Subject-object-verb compounds

Some Poswa nouns are actually complete sentences with just the verb endings removed. This could be classified as a type of polysynthesis. Unlike the subject-verb compounds above, SOV compounds generally show transitive action, and are commonly used as verbs. However, because all verbs have a stem which behaves grammatically as a noun, they are nonetheless grouped with the other compounds as nouns. These can thus be called tripartite nouns.

Polysynthetic compounds are generally used metaphorically, with a different subject than might be expected from a literal reading of the morphemes in the compound.

Despite the description of the words as SOV compounds, all three elements are grammatically considered nouns and thus can take ordinary noun inflections. Thus, for example, the final element in the word for flea means "jumper", not merely "jump".

Many of these words are very old, and make use of short, sometimes even subsyllabic, morphemes that no longer have any independent use in Poswa as standalone words. For example, the early Poswa verb bi "to kill" has disappeared from the language as a standalone verb because it coalesced around 3000 years ago with a verb meaning "to lick". Poswob military generals soon had a difficult time winning battles, and many released their soldiers to devote time to more pleasurable pursuits. However, bi used with the meaning "to kill" is still found as the third element in some SOV compounds.

Structure of SOV compounds

Inanimate agents

The structure of SOV compounds is fixed to the SOV word order; they are not like the language as a whole where morphemes can trade places in order to emphasize one over another. Moreover, each of the three elements of the compound is a separate part of speech. However, when an inanimate entity is placed in the subject slot, its meaning is often syntactically passive; and when not, it implies an unmentioned animate agent. For example, wiwi "spear" appears in the subject slot of the verb wiršebbi "to fish (with spears)", but this construction implies an unmentioned human agent who is holding the spear he uses to fish.

Nevertheless, even these constructions follow the same basic pattern as the others, since a human catching fish with a spear can be said to "catch fish like a spear".

Active and passive nouns

SOV word formation is fairly complicated because each noun has separate forms for use as an active element and as a passive element. Generally these involve sound changes occuring in unstressed syllables (where the passive element usually is) but not in stressed syllables (where the active element always is, at least partly). Thus, the passive noun is generally shorter than the active noun, and is sometimes compressed into a subsyllabic element.

For example, the general purpose word for soap is mabem, and that is what it would be as an active element in a polysynthetic compound. However, as a passive element, it is vem because of a sound change that caused all mab[V] --> v[V] in unstressed syllables. Vowel shifts also occur; a common morpheme for "hand" is py when active but pi when passive. However, some words defy these rules because they were formed from rarely used words after those sound shifts had already taken place, and the speakers did not automatically apply the sound rules that "should have" taken place.

For example, one series of compounds is formed from pib "man" + yma "woman" plus a verb. This implies that the man is an active partner and the woman a passive partner in whichever activity is being referred to. The two morphemes cannot simply be switched to produce a word beginning with a stem such as *ymapib because pib means "man" only in the active position and yma means "woman" only in the passive position. Instead, the stem used to denote a woman acting upon a man is umaf-, formed from uma "woman" (active) and f(y) "man" (passive).

Active and passive sound shifts

Passive nouns undergo sound changes that do not affect active nouns. This is because they can only occur in unstressed position.

the /u --> y --> i --> e/ chain shift

A chain shift of /u/ --> /y/ --> /i/ --> /e/ affects passive nouns. The changes happened in the opposite order of the arrows, making it a pull chain rather than a push chain. Thus, for example, the noun pila "cohort, partner" appears as -pela- in some words where it is used as a passive noun. Examples of the other two changes are rarer because the vowel /y/ was rare to begin with and because when /u/ changed into /y/ that /y/ usually soon disappeared.

contraction of [V]b[V] sequences

[V]b[V] contracts by causing consonant mutation (for words where the first vowel is one of /a e i/) or labialization (for words where the first vowel is one of /o u y/) in passive nouns. This is, as above, because they are always unstressed.

Extraordinary shifts

Occasionally, an active noun will undergo some of the sound changes above assigned to passive nouns. This is because even SOV compounds can themselves be used as the second or higher-order element of a larger compound, and then later these contracted forms reinterpreted as standalone nouns. This has occurred sporadically with ordinary words, as well.

Accusative marking of passive elements

Note that the accusative ending -p on the object is often not present; this is because, if the passive partner is inanimate, the OV portion of the word can be parsed as an SV compound in which the inanimate subject is grammatically active but syntactically passive. However, if the passive partner in the compound is animate, it will take the -p.

Examples of tripartite SOV compounds

Below is a table of some tripartite compounds found in Poswa. Parentheses indicate parts of morphemes that are alternately present or absent depending on the phonetic shape of the preceding element (even if a separate word).

meaning Passive
meaning Verbal
meaning New word meaning
pepup knife po fruit papsa cut pepuppopapa to prepare a meal
pappi child, teenager bop a kind of baby toy mušop to play paffompop a very childish person
wiwi spear; trident šul fish bi to kill wiršebbi to go fishing
bwap penis pep vagina bana to create pleasure bwappepwana to have (penile-vaginal) sexual intercourse
py hand bwap penis bana to create pleasure bwabbana a man masturbating
py hand pep vagina bana to create pleasure pypepwana a woman masturbating
šul fish še ice te to break open šišti to behave as a fish breaking through ice; launch a surprise attack
lara legs bana to create pleasure labana to have sexual intercourse
py hand lara legs bana to create pleasure pwabana to masturbate
py hand vem soap i bubbles; lather bvwemi to bathe; to lather up with soap
uma woman uma woman bana to create pleasure umbvana lesbian[1]
uma woman yma woman bana to create pleasure uvvana lesbian
mom mother be baby, young child byba to talk down to someone; to disagree mombebbwa to talk as a mother does to her children; to scold; to teach a child by correcting their mistakes
pib man fy man bana to create pleasure pipfwana gay man[2]
su sun šap snow in to make disappear sušpen to melt
tipa flea pusta leg masa to jump, leap tippostampa flea?????
tipa flea lara leg bužae to jump, leap tiplabwae flea
ta adult be baby pleb to seize; abduct tabeppeb to kidnap
po soldiers bop peaceful (people) vas to break, wreck pobbas war; to kill helpless people
bwap penis twup to hurt someone; to create pain bwaptwup to rape
bwap penis ma womb su to penetrate bwammas to impregnate someone; become a father
ma womb be baby bi to kill mabbi to have a miscarriage; spontaneous abortion
ma womb be baby papsa miscarriage, abortion mappapa to have a miscarriage or abortion
pib man yma woman bana to create pleasure pimbvana heterosexual male
uma woman fy man bana to create pleasure umpfwana heterosexual female
fos bear narop deer mia hunt fongomia a bear that hunts deer
buse ring fop both hands džoba to trap, tie together busfobioba handcuffs
babi hand (as a whole) bivi body, skin be to hit, strike babbe to punch someone
py palm of the hand pape cheek pe to hit, strike pypappe to slap someone in the face
py palm of the hand p(t)ap buttocks (dual) pe to hit, strike pupappe to spank someone; to punish or humiliate
pam DNA (special use of "formula, mixture") top cell (special use of "animal scale")[3] fu to change state consciously, to break out pampopu virus
pam DNA (special use of "formula, mixture") žatu room, chamber fu to change state consciously, to break out pambatwu virus
pa mouth, lips m(um) breast, nipple p(a)ti to suck, sip up repeatedly pampi to suckle, drink milk (said of babies)
poty candy biba to lick potia to lick candy
tae children mušos to play with one another taempos children playing with each other
pi worm aba palm of the hand su to penetrate; bite plabas hookworm, nematode
babi hand(s) i tail (used metaphorically for long hair) mu to pull on babem to pull someone's hair
my sword šep fish su to penetrate; bite pwep triactinomyxon
pam formula containing alcohol plabas hookworm, nematode pep to crush, smother, smear pampaspep (hand) sanitizer

Use of SOV compounds as verbs

Despite being described here as SOV compounds, these words are grammatically nouns so long as they are left uninflected. To use them as verbs, the typical verb inflections used in ordinary verbs must be applied.

Like all verbs, despite being syntactically transitive, the verbs are grammatically intransitive when used in a general sense with no explicit object. Thus one says

I'm fishing.


Džampapo wiršebbibabo.
I'm fishing for lampreys.
I'm pulling your hair.

Note that the many words ending in -bana syncopate this to -bv- when forming their verbs, but the words ending in -wava change it only to -wav-.

Use of SOV compounds as nouns

These words are also used to form nouns. For example, the stem sušpen "to melt", plus the word šy "season", forms sušpenyš "spring".

Nested SOV compounds

Nested compounds are rare because most SOV compounds that are short enough to be convenient to use in a larger compound were created at a time when they were much longer. Thus, they would not have been able to use the words available at that time that have become very short in modern Poswa.

Nevertheless, some short morphemes are in common use in modern Poswa after all. Many of these are recent coinages that other languages would replace with abbreviations; for example plabas "hookworm" appears as pas in the words for hookworm treatments, and the sound changes that lead from plabas to pas are regular, and are part of Poswa's grammar, so they are familiar to all fluent speakers.

Nested SOV compounds nearly always place the inner compound in the object slot, thus creating an S(SOV)V compound. The inner word does not change its S component to use O morphemes even though by being infixed it becomes unstressed; the word is treated as an indivisible whole.

Sometimes, SOV compounds can appear the second element of a noun-noun compound. This is not considered to be a nested compound because it doesn't involve putting one word inside another. These compounds obey the same sound rules expected from other compounds, and depending on the age of the compound, may involve sandhi and syncope.

Modern SOV compounds

Modern compounding

Polysynthetic compounds consist largely of morphemes that have gone extinct in all other contexts because they have so many homophones. For example, the word bvwemi "to lather up" above was formed from morphemes that have become py + vem + i today. None of these words is used as a standalone form with the meanings they have in this compound. However, Poswobs know the meanings of these morphemes and do not generally need to look up the meanings of compounds like this in a dictionary unless they have become so compressed by sound changes that even the already sound-changed morphemes they are made of are no longer recognizable.

If the word above were remade with modern standalone morphemes whose meanings match those of the shorter morphemes above, it would produce a word such as pep + mabem + pwar ---> pemmabempwar. Thus, the use of otherwise obsolete morphemes continues in the modern language.

Choice of morphemes

The choice of morphemes in some of the words above may seem out of place even in a characteristically bluntly worded language like Poswa. For example, bwaptwup "rape" is made up of bwap "penis" and twup "to hurt someone" rather than being a euphemism. But this is partly explained by the fact that the morphemes used in words such as these are not used independently as standalone words of their own; the shortest unambiguous word for penis in modern Poswa is noppupu. Bwap is not in use as a standalone noun with any meaning except as the accusative case of bwa, a word for "store, shop, place of commerce" that is itself not normally used except as the final element of a compound describing which type of store is being spoken of.

Likewise, if it were re-created with modern standalone morphemes, the word bwammas "to impregnate, become a father" would be something like


Verbless SOV compounds

Some SOV compounds are missing the verb. They are often called verb-absent compounds to point out that they are specifically missing a verb rather than simply being ordinary compounds of two nouns. These were mostly formed around 3000 years ago. Before this time, the sound changes necessary to make the word distinct from an ordinary compound of two nouns had not yet taken place; after this time, a change in the grammar made the use of verbs mandatory. Because the ability to create this type of word relied on a change in the grammar that happened after the split from Babakiam but before the modern stage, it is unique to Poswa; neither shared genetic heritage nor cultural osmosis allowed this feature to appear in neighboring languages.

Verb-absent compounds are able to express verblike compounds without a verb because the subject and object they use are such that only one verb is commonly used with such a pair, and can be implied without being stated. Thus, these compounds consist of two nouns. They are not confused for ordinary noun-noun compounds because the passive partner in the noun pair undergoes the same sound changes that it would in an SOV compound. Nevertheless, these compounds are rare and many speakers do not realize that they are even compounds.

E.g. "to man-woman "

OSV compounds

Poswa does not have true OSV compounds, but many SOV compounds have an inanimate noun as the first element, and an animate noun in the object slot. Since animates dominate inanimates no matter the word order, these compounds are treated as if they were ordinary SOV compounds.

However, they are more versatile in their OSV-like form than they would be in their ordinary SOV form. Thus for example one sees pupambam "rock for sitting on", not *papumbam, which is grammatical but unusual in that an inanimate noun is tied to the verb "sit" rather than the (inalienably) animate noun pa "buttocks, hips".

Often, OSV compounds are formed by adding a new element to the beginning of an existing SV or SOV compound. For example, taempom means "playground, play area for kids" and bempom means "den, nursery, play area for babies". But by adding the otherwise obsolete element rute to the beginning of each word, one can form new words: ruttaempom "children's toys", and rufempom "babies' toys". Rufempom is in fact the most common word for toys in general in modern Poswa, as rute fell out of use due to many of its inflected forms colliding with other words.

Note: how to express "sun hidden by moon"? Both are animate.

Note: tartempom , which has SOV word order, is more likely.

Morphemes fusing indefinite subjects and objects

A small number of morphemes in which indefinite subjects and indefinite objects have fused exist. These generally result from sound changes that occurred long ago, in some cases more than 6000 years ago, and thus were already thousands of years old when Poswa split off from Pabappa. They are relics of the even older species system found in the Gold language, which was preserved in its fully functional form only in the Andanese branch, which went extinct around 4500 years ago. However, before the species system died out from the Gold branch, it had begun to diverge somewhat from its original purpose and not all SO compounds are compounds of two species. Nevertheless, the commonest SO morpheme by far is


Meaning that the word that follows the fap prefix is an action with a human agent and a human patient. This is a compound of ta, the nominative case of the original language's word for human, with tap, the accusative of that same word.


  1. The grammatically proper form would be umbvanas since there is no accusative ending on the second uma. However, this -s was removed by analogy with the many other words ending in what was at the time -bana.
  2. See the note above for "lesbian".
  3. One might expect a word whose meaning is closer to "room, chamber, enclosed area", as animal scales are made of many cells, but the basic concept intended here is "anatomical feature".