Shemspreg nouns

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Nouns are words that name people, other living beings, places, things, objects, ideas, and so on. For example, gwena 'woman', sperg 'sparrow', kwon 'dog', dom 'house', kwer 'bowl', and westo 'goodness' are nouns in Shemspreg. In other words, nouns serve to refer to the participants or things talked about in discourse. In this chapter I discuss how nouns are inflected, how new nouns are formed, and the structure of noun phrases.


Shemspreg nouns are inflected for singular and plural number. The plural in Shemspreg is marked by the suffix -es; if the noun stem is vowel-final, the e is omitted; the singular is unmarked.

sing plur
ster steres 'star'
sperg sperges 'sparrow'
kwon kwones 'dog'
dom domes 'house'
wiro wiros 'man'
gwena gwenas 'woman'


The syntactic relations of subject and object are central to Shemspreg grammar. All Shemspreg sentences have a subject, and all transitive sentences have an object as well. In Shemspreg, nouns which function as subjects are in the nominative case, while nouns which function as objects are in the oblique case. Nouns which are the objects of prepositions are also in the oblique case.

Another important relation involving nouns is the possessive. The possessive indicates a relationship between two nouns; this is typically a relationship of ownership, but can also be that of a part to the whole or of something and its origin. Nouns which function as possessors are in the genitive case.

Shemspreg nouns are thus inflected for three cases: nominative, genitive, and oblique. Genitive case is marked by the suffix -os, and the oblique case is marked by the suffix -om. If the noun-stem is vowel-final, the o of the oblique and genitive suffixes is omitted. The nominative case is not marked with a suffix. Case suffixes follow the plural suffix when the inflected noun is plural; case inflection is shown below.

sing plur sing plur
nom ster steres wiro wiros
gen steros steresos wiros wirosos
obl sterom steresom wirom wirosom
'star' 'stars' 'man' 'men'

Specific examples of case marking are illustrated in the phrases and sentences which follow. Clause subjects and predicate nominals are in nominative case.

wiro eskwi echwosom.

wiro e- skw -i echwo -s -om
man:NOM IMPF- see:0 -PAST horse -PL -OBL

'(The) man saw the horses.'

ej es pater.

ej es pater
1s:NOM be.PRES father:NOM

'I am a father.'

Nouns which express a possessive relationship or a part/whole relationship are in genitive case.

khostis wezho

khosti -s wezho
stranger -GEN wagon

'the stranger's wagon'

wiros thugater

wiro -s thugater
man -GEN daughter

'the man's daughter'

tauros chirn

tauro -s chirn
bull -GEN horn

'the bull's horn'

chestros ardi

chestro -s ardi
knife -GEN tip, point

'the tip of the knife'

Nouns which serve as subjects of nominalized subordinate clauses are also in genitive case.

wiro eskwi gwenas abel-apentom.

wiro e- skw -i gwena -s abel- ap -ent -om
man:NOM IMPF- see:0 -PAST woman -GEN apple- pick -PTC -OBL

'The man saw the woman picking apples.' (lit: 'the woman's apple picking')

Other nouns are in oblique case. These include direct objects and objects of prepositions.

wiro eskwi echwosom.

wiro e- skw -i echwo -s -om
man:NOM IMPF- see:0 -PAST horse -PL -OBL

'The man saw the horses.'

putlo fredes en sreutom.

putlo fred -es en sreuto -m
boy:NOM wade -PRES in stream -OBL

'The boy is wading in the stream.'

Variable stems

There are a handful of stems whose final segment is variable. These stems are of two types: (i) u/w-stems, and (ii) r/n-stems; below is a complete list of both types of stems in Shemspreg.

u/w-stems r/n-stems
moru/w- 'ant' esir/n- 'blood'
aru/w- 'field' sneewir/n- 'bowstring; tendon, sinew'
solu/w- 'health' sker/n- 'feces; manure'
ongu/w- 'oil; ointment, salve' opir/n- 'goods, wealth, possessions'
snighu/w- 'snow' mir/n- 'hand'
alghu/w- 'value' cherisir/n- 'head'
seku/w- 'eye; view' yekwir/n- 'liver'
weku/w- 'voice' wesir/n- 'spring and summer'
wedir/n- 'water'

Variable stems show an alternation in the stem-final segment when that segment is followed by a suffix. U/w-stems end in u when no suffix follows the stem; this occurs in the nominative singular. Otherwise, these stems end in w; this w is always followed by a vowel-either the e of the plural suffix -es or the o of the case suffixes -os 'genitive' and -om 'oblique'. This is shown in the paradigm for the noun ongu/w- 'oil; ointment, salve'.

sing plur
nom ongu ongwes
gen ongwos ongwesos
obl ongwom ongwesom

The variability of several of the u/w-stems is best understood to be the result of the vocalization of word-final rounded velars. The other stems end in a w, which is then vocalized as u when word-final.

R/n-stems pattern similarly; they end in r in the nominative singular and otherwise in n. This is shown in the paradigm for the noun mir/n- 'hand'.

sing plur
nom mir mines
gen minos minesos
obl minom minesom

The r/n-stem pattern is a direct carry-over from PIE; it is not understood what motivation there was for this alternation pattern.

Deriving nouns


The suffix -(e)lo is attached to noun stems to indicate small size, helplessness, or as an endearment or even to show contempt.

dom 'house' > domelo 'small house'

kwon 'dog' > kwonelo 'cute little dog'

wiro 'man' > wirolo 'puny little man'

The diminutive suffix can also be attached to adjectives to form nouns; these nouns are often used as endearments or insults.

ing 'cross, surly' > ingelo 'nasty person'

medhu 'sweet' > medhulo 'sweetheart'

seno 'old' > senolo 'little old man/woman'


The suffix -ia is attached to noun stems to form collective plurals. These often have specialized meanings which are not predictable. This suffix is commonly used in refering to a group of animals such as a herd or flock. If the noun stem is vowel-final, the suffix is realized as -ya.

dont 'tooth' > dontia 'set of teeth; dentures'

gwoo 'cow, bovine' > gwooya 'cattle, herd of cattle'

owi 'sheep' > owiya 'flock of sheep'

fraater 'brother' > fraateria 'brotherhood'


The suffix -wo is attached to noun stems to refer to an object or individual that is characterized by the possession of the noun.

chirn 'horn' > chirnwo 'animal having horns; ruminant'

roto 'wheel' > rotowo 'having wheels; i.e., vehicle'


The suffix -(i)ter is used to derive agentive nouns from verbs.

doo- 'give' > dooter 'giver'

kwer- 'make, form' > kweriter 'creator'

jen- 'beget' > jeniter 'progenitor, ancestor'


The suffix -men is used to derive nouns from a few verb stems.

see- 'sow' > seemen 'seed'

yos- 'gird' > yosmen 'belt'

sreu- 'flow' > sreumen 'stream'


The suffix -tro is attached to verbal stems to refer to instruments used in performing the action denoted by the verb.

sker- 'shear, shave' > skertro 'shears, scissors; razor'

ches- 'cut' > chestro 'knife'

aru- 'plow' > arutro 'plow'

Other nominalizers

In addition to the suffixes with the specific meanings given above, there are also two other methods for deriving noun stems with less easily specified meanings. The first is zero derivation; zero derivation occurs when a word such as an adjective or verb is simply used as if it were a noun.

seno 'old' > 'old man, woman'

mej 'big' > 'large person, thing'

pepkwent 'boiled' > 'boiled (egg)'

Secondly, noun stems can be formed by suffixing -ti to an existing verb or adjective stem. These derived forms often have idiosyncratic meanings.

dens 'thick' > densti 'thickness'

ovro 'strong, violent' > ovroti 'strength, violence'

sreu- 'flow' > sreuti 'stream'

mir- 'die' > mirti 'mortal'


Another common way of forming new nouns in Shemspreg is by compounding. Compounds are words formed by putting together two or more other words or stems. In Shemspreg, the elements of a compound are always separated by a hyphen in writing.

aus-aano 'earring' (aus 'ear' + aano 'ring')

puur-mil 'wheat grinder' (puur 'wheat' + mil 'mill, grinder')

kree-dom 'store' (kree- 'buy' + dom 'house')

dyeus-pater 'supreme deity' (dyeus 'sky' + pater 'father')

swekru-maater 'mother-in-law' (swekru 'in-law' + maater 'mother')

owi-paater 'shepherd' (owi 'sheep' + paa- 'feed' + -ter 'AGT')

Noun phrases

Noun phrases are one or more words which function together in the same way as single nouns. The functions of noun phrases, like nouns, is to refer to the participants in discourse. Within sentences, noun phrases are always in syntactic relations such as subject, object, possessor, or predicate noun. These syntactic roles are indicated in two ways: i) by case suffixes on nouns themselves, or ii) by prepositions.

Noun phrases can consist of a single noun or pronoun; noun phrases can also be more complex, consisting of a head noun with other words used to modify the head noun. The head noun may be preceded by a demonstrative, a number or quantifier, a possessive noun or pronoun, and one or more modifying adjectives. Participial and prepositional phrases may either precede or follow the head noun, while relative clauses generally follow the head noun. Examples of more complex noun phrases are given below.

kwetwer seno wiros

kwetwer seno wiro -s
four old man -PL

'four old men'

me leluvent maater

me le- luv -ent maater
1s:GEN PERF- love:0 -PTC mother

'my dear mother'

ne wilnam wesent owi

ne wilna -m wes -ent owi
not wool -OBL wear -PTC sheep

'a sheep without wool' (lit: "a sheep [who is] not wearing wool")

so dom en perkwum

so dom en perkwu -m
that house in forest -OBL

'that house in the forest'


so en perkwum dom

so en perkwu -m dom
that in forest -OBL house

'that house in the forest'

deru kwim rotowo khweghuni

deru kwi -m rotowo khwe- ghun -i
tree REL -OBL car PERF- strike:0 -PAST

'the tree which the car struck'


  1. Introduction to Shemspreg
  2. Shemspreg sounds
  3. Shemspreg nouns
  4. Shemspreg pronouns and other particles
  5. Shemspreg verbs
  6. Shemspreg adjectives
  7. Shemspreg sentences