Modern Standard Imperial

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Modern Standard Imperial is the de-facto official language of the Empire-in-the-West during the Regency period. It is a descendant of Classical Imperial, with significant influence from the creole languages of the Empire. Its ancestor during the pre-contact era has been identified with the Archaic Imperial of the runic carvings from the Early Empire, but is better known from the reconstructions based on its current descendants. A Proto-Eastern language has been reconstructed, but is not attested. Throughout its history, the Imperial language has been influenced by the Western language, the creole varieties between the later and itself, the Pygmy language, and a little-known neighbour to the east, likely the people from whom they learned steel-smelting. Towards the end of the Early Empire period, richer burghers of Capital City began to borrow constructions and forms from Classical to 'elevate' their dialect, which had considerable influence from Western and the creoles. The court nobility eventually adopted this variety, and with the ascendancy of the court in the Regency period, it spread its influence over the whole Empire, establishing itself as the standard. Much of the old territorial nobility refused to give up their regional varieties, but even in these cases, standardization of grammar and lexicon occurred, leaving the Empire with a single written standard and a single prescriptive norm of pronunciation.


Phonemic Inventory


POA Labials Dentals Palatals Velars Gutturals
Fortis stops p /p/ t /t/ c /t͡ʃ/ k /k/ q /q/
Lenis stops b /b/ d /d/ j /d͡ʒ/ g /g/
Fortis fricatives ph /f/ th /θ/ ch /ç/ kh /x/ qh /ʜ/
Lenis fricatives f /f/ s /s/ ç /ç/ x /x/ gh /ʢ/
Nasals m /m/ n /n/
Liquids l /l/ r /ʀ/
Glides (u) /w/ (i) /j/ (u) /w/


POA Front Short Front Long Front Rounded Near-Front Long Central Short Central Long Near-Back Long Back Short Back Long
Close i /i/ ī /iː/ ue /yː/ u /u/ ū /uː/
Near-close īh /ɪː/ ūh /ʊː/
Close-Mid e /e/ ē /eː/ oe /øː/ o /o/ ō /oː/
Open-Mid ēh /ɛː/ ōh /ɔː/
Open āh /aː/ a /ɑ/ ā /ɑː/

Phonetic Realization and Allophonic Variation


  • Most consonants have different allophones for initial, intervocalic, and coda situations:
Orthography Initial Intervocalic Coda
p [pʰ] [b] [p̚]
b [ɓ] [β] [p̚]
ph [f] [f] [f]
t [tʰ] [d] [t̚]
d [ɗ] [ð] [t̚]
c [ʧʰ] [ʧ] [k̚]
j [ʤ] [ʤ] [k̚]
k [kʰ] [g] [k̚]
g [ɠ] [G] [k̚]
q [q] [ʔ] [ʔ]
f [f] [v] [v]
s [s] [z] [h]
m [m] [~β] [~]
n [n] [~ð] [~]
l [l] [l, ɫ] [l, ɫ, ʊ̯]
r [ʁ] [ɾ] [ɐ̯]
  • Intervocalic geminates de-geminate but undergo no further lenition.
  • Note that <ph> is distinguished from <f> in all but initial position.
  • All other consonants are the same in all positions.
  • The voiced fricative allophones of the lenis stops may or may not have actual frication
  • /m/ and /n/ are realized intervocalically like /b/ and /d/, but with nasalization of the preceding vowel


  • Short vowels are lax before two consonants, or a consonant and a word-boundary. The lax allophones of /i e A o u/ are [I E a O U].
  • Long vowels are only realized as phonetically long in stressed syllables
  • Short vowels are reduced word finally, and before a consonant cluster containing a fortis phoneme.
  • The reduced vowels differ by region, but the Capital Region has /i e a/->[@] and /u o/->[U]
  • These reduced vowels are also subject to elision, which is allowed or prohibited based on the ensuing consonant cluster.

The three-way distinction between short, long lax, long tense vowels is neutralized before /r/, /l/, and /n/:

Vowel _/r/ _/l/ _/n/
i [I6] [[email protected]], [IU] I~(:)
e [E6], [E:] [[email protected]], [EU] E~(:)
a [A:] [Q:l], [O:] a~(:)
o [O:] [O:l], [O:] O~(:)
u [U6] [[email protected]], [U:] U~(:)
/y: 2:/ [3:] [3:l], [8U] I~(:)

There are no phonemic diphthongs in MSI, but the vowels /i u/ are realized as semivowels [j w] when unstressed and adjacent to another short vowel. The resulting phonetic diphthongs are somewhat variable in pronunciation, especially in speakers influenced by regional varieties.




The phonetic realization of pitch in MSI resembles a tone system, but it is better analyzed as a pitch-accent. Only the stressed syllable of a word bears a phonemic tone; the other syllables of the word can be assigned a tone based on this.

Stress Rule

For the purposes of assigning stress, syllables in MSI can be divided into light, medium, and heavy:

Light: (C)V

Medium: (C)V(C) or (C)V:

Heavy: (C)V:C

The stressed syllable is the heaviest of the last three; if two or more of these syllables are 'tied' in weight, the last of them takes stress. All consonants that form part of an admissible initial cluster are assigned to the following vowel. If a word stressed on the antepenultimate takes a suffix that adds a syllable, the stress is assigned instead to the new antepenultimate; likewise for words stressed on the penultimate with two-syllable suffixes. Compound words keep the stress of their components, though they may be reinterpreted as single words, especially if either of the components falls into disuse. Especially long words often assign a secondary stress to another heavy syllable earlier in the word; the rules for this are rather more complex, as they take into account the elision of reduced vowels and the clusters that develop. The overall tendency is for stressed syllables (primary or secondary) to alternate with unstressed ones.

Pitch assignment

The stressed syllable can be high or low, and both can be either level or falling. These tones correspond to different initial or coda consonants in Archaic Imperial (see Tonogenesis below). The other syllables tend to have pitches that maximize the contrast with the stressed syllable: a low accent is surrounded by high syllables, and a high one by low.

/X.H.X->[L.H.L] /X.L.X->[H.L.H]

Falling accents lower the following syllable, but have no effect on the preceding. High syllables become mid, and low syllables become creaky. /X.H↘.X/->[L.H.C] /X.L↘.X/->[H.L.M]

A final falling tone is realized on the vowel itself: high falling, or low creaky. Other syllables tend to alternate between low and high, with the exception that an unstressed ultimate is always low unless a low accent precedes it. This pattern may be disrupted by elision of reduced vowels, and by applying secondary stress to other long vowels, which then realize their phonemic tone. These complications have led some to analyze tone as phonemic on all vowels in MSI. Some regional varieties apply the alternating pitch after vowel elision, which leads to more regular patterns, but often very different ones than MSI.


Tone sandhi


Assimilation & Sandhi


Parts of Speech


Nouns in MSI include essentially all words from a root that aren't verbs. Many nouns have a transparent relation to one or more verbs; others are related, but less obviously; still others have no corresponding verb form. Nouns in MSI include many words that would be considered adjectives in other languages, though other adjectival concepts are expressed using stative verbs. A brief overview of the noun and some operations it undergoes follows; the uses and meanings of these operations will be explained in more detail under 'Nominal Morphosyntax' below.


Number in MSI is not a primary feature of nouns. Many number concepts are not marked and others are expressed only when pragmatically salient. The underlying number system is singular-dual-plural, but few nouns have separate forms for all three. Many have only one form for all numbers, while another group has two: direct and inverse. Direct refers to the expected or characteristic number for the noun in question, while inverse can be either of the other two. 'Hands', for example, are dual in their direct form, and either singular or plural in their inverse. These two forms are based on alterations of the triconsonantal roots in Archaic Imperial, but the patterns have been so distorted by sound change and semantic shift that the relation between them is nearly suppletive. Words of this type are called 'broken' plurals; they are the minority, but they are also some of the most commonly used words. Nouns with no alternation for number may take an optional plural particle. This particle also has associative meanings, especially when used with a proper noun. Some words occur only in the plural (mass nouns); special classifiers are used to express "one item of X".


There are four cases for nouns in MSI; pronouns and agreement markers have a different system. These are the nominative, absolutive, genitive, and oblique. Nouns function in a fluid-S system, so either of the first two can occur on the subject of an intransitive clause. In transitive clauses, the nominative marks the subject and the absolutive, the direct object. The genitive is used to mark the possessor, and also for the recipient of a trivalent verb. The oblique is used for several other roles: locative, benefactive, instrumental, etc. Case is marked by enclitic particles, but is not always explicit.


Nouns distinguish two genders: animate and inanimate. All nouns have an inherent gender, often discernible by their form. Adjectives and verbs agree with nouns by gender. A separate system of noun class by shape/texture/consistency also occurs, and is related to verb agreement and the classifiers used with numerals and mass nouns.


NP Morphosyntax

Predicate Constructions

VP Morphosyntax