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Pronunciation [ˈʔɑ̞ħˌqɑ̞ː]
Created by Ava Skoog
Language family
  • Ash
ISO 639-3


Ash (ahgaa, lit. "seaspeak", pronounced [ˈʔɑ̞ħˌqɑ̞ː]) is the anglicised name of a language mostly spoken around coastal areas, notably the town of Appa (ahba). Its speakers are familiar with technological advancements such as nautical vessels and steam locomotives.

The language is mildly synthetic to polysynthetic, largely based around agglutination with fusional elements. There is a great focus on verbs, nominals being mostly uninflected, and significant pro-drop tendencies and a general focus around deixis rather than pronominal distinctions. The word order is heavily SOV.



The underlying sounds of Ash are few enough that a simple listing is preferable to a traditional table:

Vocalic /a~Ø i~j~Ø u~w~Ø/
Plosive /p~β t~ð k~ɣ/
Affricate /t͡ɬ~ɬ t͡s~s/
Glottal /h~ʔ/
Nasal /m~˜ n~˜ ŋ~˜/

The reasoning for this rather unusual classification is down to phonotactic patterning: these five groups all behave somewhat differently and serve as a more useful distinction than point of articulation when describing the phonology of Ash. The pair or triplet given for each phoneme refers to an alternation between various allophonic realisations despite the relatively low number of underlying sounds, an important feature of the language that makes the variation richer on the surface. For instance, long vowels (romanised by doubling the vowel) and nasal vowels (romanised using a tilde) are not analysed as phonemic.


The romanisation strikes a balance between representing phonemes versus surface realisations and uses the following seventeen letters:

a ã e y o õ w b d g l s h m n ŋ

An example of a word with its archiphonemic, phonemic and surface transcriptions as well as romanisation:

//ˈwat.ha.ku// /ˈwah.taˌku/ [ˈʔɔ̯ɑ̞ħ.t̠ɐˌɣʊ] oahdago "during the day"

Syllable structure

A cluster cannot exceed two consonants and must be of one of the following configurations:

CC Both consonants are the same
FP Fricative followed by plosive
NP Nasal followed by plosive
PN~FN Plosive or fricative followed by nasal

Prosody and stress

Prefixes are always unstressed. Following the last stressed syllable an iambic pattern of secondary stress on every other underlyingly light syllable follows unless an underlyingly heavy syllable intervenes, resetting the pattern. In addition, unless at the end of a word, stressed syllables are forced to be heavy either by lengthening of the vowel or reduplication of the next syllable's onset consonant if they are not already underlyingly so.

Phonological processes

Depending on the underlying nature of a cluster, various processes take place either on a phonemic (phoneme alternation) or on a phonetic (surface allophony) level. For example, /t/ merges with /t͡s/ on the phonemic level before /i~j/ or a plosive or an affricate, but alternates with [ð] on the phonetic level between vowels.

  • A nasal or fricative geminates before a glide, assimilating to and eliding it in the process.
  • All plosives alternate phonemically with fricatives or affricates before another plosive or an affricate.
  • /h~ʔ/ (and plosives before nasals) is a fricative before vowels/glides and plosives but a glottal stop before nasals and affricates.
  • Affricates are fricatives intervocalically, before other plosives or affricates, word-finally and before nasals (which are prestopped).
/-j/ /-w/
//N-// [ɲ.ɲ] [m.m]
//h-// [ç.ç] [ʍ.ʍ]
/t͡s-/ [ɕ.ɕ] [s̠.s̠]
//p-// /h.P/ [ħ.P]
//t-// /t͡s.P/ [s̠.P~ɕ.P]
//-P// //-P͡F// //-N//
//h-// [ħ.P] [ʔ.P͡F] /ʔ.ᴰN/
//p-// [ʔ.ᵇm]
//t-// [ʔ.ᵈn̠~ʔ.ᶡɲ]
//k-// [ʔ.ᶢŋ]


Ash does not mark words for number, person or case. With regards to syntactic patterning, only three significant word classes can be posited: verbs, nominals and adverbials. Nonetheless there is a degree of mobility between them.


The bulk of all inflection goes on verbs, making them morphemic anchors fundamental to almost any utterance in the language. The general verb template looks as follows:

Deixis Trans./Poss. Preverb Incorp. Class. Root Der. State Mood/Nom. Conj. Adv. Enclitics

The nominalisation slot creates a deverbal nominal and the adverbialisation slot creates an adverbial and so these two serve to change the class of the word; the possession slot is only used on deverbal nominals and not on regular verbs.


Each verb has a set of primary stems formed more or less predictably from a combination of affixes. The first stem, the stative (or active, if there is no stative) indicative, is used as the lemma when citing words, such as oada "to shine":

Stative Active Transitional
Indicative oada oahda oadna
Optative oase oadse oadne

All of these terms are to an extent ad hoc. Some verbs are inherently stative or active and do not have two distinct stems. The transitional is often used in a perfective sense as opposed to the imperfective or habitual active or stative.

Derived verbs

Derivational suffixes can be used to extend the root and create a new set of stems, such as the causative -j-, the potential -d- and the frequentative -(d)s-, which can themselves, depending on the word, be stative or active (all derived verbs are inherently one or the other or both and do not display the allomorphy of basic verbs), transitional and so on. These are some of the words derived from oo "consume":

Stative Active Transitional
oo "eat"
oyya "feed"
ooda "edible"
odsa "gorge"

Sometimes stems appear connected through no longer productive processes, such as ohwa "cook", related to oo "consume".


Nominals are mostly unmarked; the main kind of affixation, while resembling case marking, results in adverbialisation, thus changing the class of the word. Nominals can however be marked for possession (obligatory on inalienably possessed nominal) or be incorporated into a verb (in which case inalienably possessed nominal do lose their possessive marker).

The possessive prefix n- can be preceded by a deictic prefix. Here are the possessed forms of mõõ "head; hair; top", an inalienably possessed nominal:

Neutral Proximal Distal
ammõõ emmõõ ommõõ

While there are few grammatical processes that modify nouns, derivational ones do exist. For example collective nouns can be formed through a reduplication process, such as ahba "the town of Appa" (in reference to the many nearby sources of water) from ao "sea" (but originally water of any kind; replaced in modern Ash by sãã).


Adverbials are used to denote a place, time or manner. Their formation sometimes resembles case marking or conjunctions more than traditional adverbs, but serves that role as well.

Some prominent adverbialising suffixes:

Suffix Example
Locative -da mehda "by the fire"
Durative -go oadnago "in the morning"
Benefactive -ba eaba "in order to see"


The language lacks true pronouns and due to its pro-drop tendencies commonly avoids alternatives as well. One thing that does get marked is deixis: whether something is close to or far away from the speaker or a previous referent; unspecified deixis is also possible. On nominals deixis is generally spatial while on verbs it is temporal (proximal working roughly as a present tense and distal as a non-present one); adverbial deixis can be either depending on the characteristics of the adverbial in question.

The deictic stems are as follows:

Neutral Ø- (unmarked)
Proximal e-
Distal o-

Deixis occurs in the form of isolated nominals ee and oo as well as verbal and possessive prefixes e- and o-. Neutral deixis sometimes surfaces epenthetically as a- due to phonotactic constraints, but is not underlyingly explicitly marked.

Conjunct and disjunct verbs

While Ash lacks a set of first, second and third person pronouns, a system of so called conjunct versus disjunct verb forms can be used in combination with transitivity markers and deixis in order to more or less unambiguously cover the same ground. This concept is also known in the literature as assertor's involvement marking, which might give the reader a clearer idea of the concept: verbs are marked for whether the one making an assertion is involved in the action (conjunct) or not (disjunct).

In simple statements the assertor defaults to the speaker (i.e. first person) but in questions to the addressee (second person). In reported speech the assertor defaults to the source of the quote and may therefore also take on a third person role. First and second person roles are associated with proximal deixis while third person is associated with distal deixis or an explicit nominal.

Conjunct is marked by the suffix -s and disjunct is unmarked.

Simple intransitives

In simple statements proximal deixis combined with a conjunct verb denotes a first person while combined with a disjunct verb it denotes a second person whereas in questions this is flipped. Distal deixis or an explicit nominal denotes a third person in both cases. Note that there is no number distinction and so for example first person can imply both "I" and "we" but for the sake of space only one translation is given for each example.

Declarative Interrogative
Proximal Distal Proximal Distal
Conjunct (ee) oadas
"I am pale"
- (ee) oadas no?
"are you pale?"
Disjunct (ee) oada
"you are pale"
(oo) oada
"they are pale"
(ee) oada no?
"am I pale?"
(oo) oada no?
"are they pale?"

Simple transitives

Simple transitive clauses work much the same way but the choice between a direct transitive or inverse transitive marker affects the meaning as well and is the only way to differentiate between agent and patient roles when the referents are first and second person.

Proximal Distal
Direct Inverse Direct Inverse
Conjunct (ee) ahheas
"I look at you"
(ee) asseas
"you look at me"
(oo) ahheas
"I look at them"
(oo) asseas
"they look at me"
Disjunct (ee) ahhea
"you look at them"
(ee) assea
"they look at you"
(oo) ahhea
"they1 look at them2"
(oo) assea
"they2 look at them1"

The interrogative patterns the same way except for the first and second person again being flipped. As the last two examples show, the choice of transitivity marker can also serve as a proximate-obviative distinction.

Reported speech

In quotations the conjunct versus disjunct distinction instead focuses on the source of the quote, but only in the subclause. Again this may serve as a proximate-obviative distinction. This means that it is possible to mark distal referents as conjunct in such subclauses.

 Proximal Distal
Conjunct source Disjunct source Disjunct source
Conjunct target (ee) oases (ee) ogaas
"I said I am pale"
(ee) oases (ee) ogaa
"you said you are pale"
(oo) oases (oo) ogaa
"they1 said they1 are pale"
Disjunct target (ee) oase (ee) ogaas
"I said you are pale"
(ee) oase (ee) ogaa
"you said I am pale"
(oo) oase (oo) ogaa
"they1 said they2 are pale"

When the source is proximal the target can also be distal in which case it is always disjunct and refers to a third person.

Indirect involvement

As the conjunct form denotes merely whether the assertor is somehow involved in the action, the assertor need not necessarily be the agent. A conjunct form would still be used to denote first person involvement as a patient in some statements.

emmõõ bo ao ehbadsas
Ao is braiding my hair

Despite a third person being the agent of the action, the focus is on the first person (the assertor) and the verb is therefore conjunct.


The word order is fairly strictly SOV, with adverbials generally preceding the nominals followed by the verb.


Transitivity and inversion

Transitivity is explicitly marked and through an inversion marker on the verb the roles of agent and patient can be swapped without a change in word order, the purpose of which is topicalisation, leaving the topic in the subject position. The subject requires a topical marker, the details of which will be explained in detail in the section on locative verbs.

ao go bahbo ehhea
[ˈʔɑ̞ːʊ̯ ɣʊ ˈβɑ̞ħ.pʊ‿je̞çˈçɛ̯ɑː]
ao TOP:ACT dog PROX-TR-see.IND
Ao is looking at the dog
ao go bahbo essea
[ˈʔɑ̞ːʊ̯ ɣʊ ˈβɑ̞ħ.pʊ‿jɪɕˈɕɛ̯ɑː]
Ao is being watched by the dog

Inversion is especially important when the subject is being omitted as person markers do not exist.

I am looking at it
it is looking at me


There is a limit on two unmarked nominal arguments of a verb. There are two ways to introduce more arguments, one of which is to incorporate the third nominal into the verb.

ao go bahbo odsãmmoyya
[ˈʔɑ̞ːʊ̯ ɣʊ ˈβɑ̞ħ.pʊ‿wo̞ʔˈt̠͡s̠ɑ̞̃mˌmʊʝ.ʝɐ]
ao TOP:ACT dog DIST-TR-water-consume.CAUS.IND
Ao was giving the dog water to drink


The other method is to completely remove the valency of the nominal by turning it into an adverbial, which is why this process sometimes resembles case marking.

ao go bahbo mehda odsãmmoyya
[ˈʔɑ̞ːʊ̯ ɣʊ ˈβɑ̞ħ.pʊ‿ˈme̞ħ.t̠ɐ‿wo̞ʔˈt̠͡s̠ɑ̞̃mˌmʊʝ.ʝɐ]
ao TOP:ACT dog fire-LOC DIST-TR-water-consume.CAUS.IND
Ao was giving the dog water to drink by the fire


While there is no explicit marking for animacy, an underlying hierarchy ranging roughly from natural forces at the top to people and animals in the middle and inanimates at the bottom governs certain parts of the grammar. The main aspect of this hierarchy is that inanimate referents cannot act as agents which affects how transitive and inverse marking is interpreted in their presence.

Transitive Inverse
Animate bahbo go ahhoo
"dogs eat it"
bahbo go assoo
"dogs are eaten"
Inanimate sãã sa ahhoo
"water is drunk"
*sãã sa assoo


New non-verbal information is focused by fronting, i.e. introducing the word or phrase earlier in the sentence. This means that the order of subject and object might shift in order to focus on the object. When the object is inanimate inversion is not possible nor necessary, while for an animate object it is. The nominal in focus will also receive a topic marker, explained in detail in the section on locative verbs.

Normal Fronted
Animate ao go bahbo ohhea
"Ao was looking at the dog"
bahbo go ao ossea
"it was the dog Ao was looking at"
Inanimate ao go sãã ohhoo
"Ao was drinking water"
sãã sa ao ohhoo
"it was water Ao was drinking"


Relativisation is done simply by chaining phrases one after another, with no special marking. Subclauses go before main clauses, in which the deictic context is centered around the subject of the subclause.

[oo oahdago bahbo go ossoena]1 [ee oahdago esseanas]2
[ˈʔu̯oː‿ˈwɔ̯ɑ̞ħ.t̠ɐˌɣʊ ˈβɑ̞ħ.pʊ ɣo̞‿wʊs̠ˈs̠ʊːɪ̯.n̠ɐ‿ˈji̯eː‿ˈwɔ̯ɑ̞ħ.t̠ɐˌɣʊ‿jɪɕˈɕɛ̯ɑː.n̠ɐs̠]
[today I saw]2 [the dog that (you) fed yesterday]1

This is also how stative verbs are used to assign qualities to nominals.

bahbo go oada esseanas no?
[ˈbɑ̞ħ.pʊ ɣo̞‿ˈwɔ̯ɑ̞ː.ðɐ‿jɪɕˈɕɛ̯ɑː.n̠ɐz̠‿ᵈn̠ʊ]
have you seen the white dog?

Unstressed words

In addition to unstressed locative verbs used as topicalising classifiers (see below) there are a few other words that can be unstressed to serve various purposes, mostly after verbs.

Interrogation, negation and emphasis

Perhaps the most grammatically significant are ma for negation and no for interrogation. There is also yo for emphasis.

Declarative Negative Interrogative Emphatic
ebadsa ma
"not weaving"
ebadsa no?
ebadsa yo
"(really) weaving!"


Reduced forms of some verbs can function as evidential markers, such as ya for observation and ga for hearsay.

Declarative Observational Quotative
ebadsa ya
"(evidently) weaving"
ebadsa ga
"(allegedly) weaving"

Locative verbs

An important part of Ash grammar is an extensive set of so called locative verbs which are used almost like a noun classification system and cover location, motion and related concepts while providing specific information about the referent at hand, such as specifying whether liquid is involved.

These are some of those verbs:

Lemma Gloss Semantic range
laa :STAT General stative (indefinite or permanent)
goo :ACT General active (temporary or dynamic)
sãã :LIQ Water and other liquids
see :AER Air and weather
boo :CRESC Growth (hair, plants et c.)
doo :PART Particles (powder, sand, dust, smoke, spores et c.)
mee :PYR Fire

Classificatory topicalisation

An unstressed locative verb is required as a topical marker following a fronted nominal, resembling a particle. The choice of verb functions much like a noun class classifier and can be used to differentiate between various meanings of a single nominal lexeme.

ammõõ bo
hair (on the head)
ammõõ la
head (on the body)
ammõõ go
head (detached from the body)

Used this way they nonetheless remain verbs with the accompanying syntactic implications. Since they create subclauses, a nominal specified for category with a locative verb cannot be used in object position and so will always precede any agent. However, since this is in line with the normal rule of topicalisation by fronting, it has no actual implications on the syntax.

emmõõ bo ao ehbadsas
Ao is braiding my hair

Unstressed locatives are not applied to the pronominal-like nominals ee "this", oo "that", nõõ "what" and maa "none".


In addition to serving as a topical marker, an unstressed locative verb can also be used as a conjunction. As subject and object are never both topically marked, a series of topicalised nominals serves as a single noun phrase in the fronted subject position.

ao go bahbo go ooda egoo
[ˈʔɑ̞ːʊ̯ ɣʊ ˈβɑ̞ħ.pʊ ɣo̞‿ˈwu̯oː.ðɐ‿jɪˈɣu̯oː]
Ao and the dog are over there


To denote motion, an andative ("going") or venitive ("coming") prefix is placed into the verbal classifier slot.

ao go algoo
[ˈʔɑ̞ːʊ̯ ɣo̞‿ʔɬ̠̩ˈku̯oː]
Ao moves (away)
ao go aŋgoo
[ˈʔɑ̞ːʊ̯ ɣo̞‿ʔŋ̩ˈɡu̯oː]
Ao moves (hither)

The preverb slot can be used to specify manner, location or direction.

ao go negoo
[ˈʔɑ̞ːʊ̯ ɣʊ ɲɪˈɣu̯oː]
Ao is below
ao go nelgoo
[ˈʔɑ̞ːʊ̯ ɣʊ ɲɪɬˈku̯oː]
Ao goes down

Use with adverbials

Adverbial location is generic and locative verbs can be used to specify the meaning.

ahda sãã
[ˈʔɑ̞ħ.t̠ɐ ˈz̠ɑ̞̃ː]
(be) in the ocean; at sea
ahda laa
[ˈʔɑ̞ħ.t̠ɐ ˈɮɑ̞ː]
(be) by the ocean

Pragmatics and conventions

Being a verb-heavy language, Ash often lacks direct nominal counterparts to nouns in more analytic languages, instead expressing many common (and uncommon) concepts descriptively through its rich morphological and derivational verb system rather than by lexicalising deverbal nominals (although this also happens), one key factor again being the locative verbs.

by the (bottom of the) waterfall
(lit. "where water comes gushing down")

by the (top of the) waterfall
(lit. "where water goes gushing down")

As this example demonstrates, there is no one lexicalised nominal for the concept of a waterfall, but a fitting verb is used depending on the context. Nonetheless the phrase is possible to nominalise if grammatically necessary and sometimes this does result in lexicalisation.

dodso go nõŋgo oŋgoone?
[ˈd̠o̞ʔ.t̠͡s̠ʊ ɣʊ ˈn̠õ̞ŋ.ɡo̞‿wʊŋˈɡu̯oː.ɲɪ]
when does the train arrive?

In such cases there may be a clear-cut distinction between such lexicalisations and productive formations.


Wants, needs, desires and possibilities are often just expressed through morphological means in Ash, such as optatives, potentials and interrogatives.

I want/need to eat; I am hungry
ewoe no?
[ʔɪˈwʊːɪ̯ n̠ʊ]
PROX-consume.OPT Q
perhaps I should eat something
bahbo go ewoe no?
[ˈbɑ̞ħ.pʊ ɣʊ‿jɪˈwʊːɪ̯ n̠ʊ]
dog TOP:ACT PROX-consume.OPT Q
maybe the dog is hungry

Colour terms

While most descriptive attributes are expressed through stative verbs, colours are expressed through comparative adverbs, likening the appearance of the referent to something else, such as mee "fire" → meyya "red; yellow; orange; brown" or ao "sea" → ayya "blue; green". These are combined with locative verbs (reduced or not).

meyya bahbo go
[ˈmᵇe̞ʝ.ʝɐ ˈβɑ̞ħ.pʊ ɣʊ]
fire-SEMB dog TOP:ACT
a brown dog

The exceptions are brightness and darkness which are still expressed through stative verbs, which can also be combined with the comparative adverbs to specify the hue.

bahbo go oada
[ˈbɑ̞ħ.pʊ ɣo̞‿ˈwɔ̯ɑ̞ː.ðɐ]
dog TOP:ACT shine.STAT.IND
a white dog
meyya bahbo go oada
[ˈmᵇe̞ʝ.ʝɐ ˈβɑ̞ħ.pʊ ɣo̞‿ˈwɔ̯ɑ̞ː.ðɐ]
fire-SEMB dog TOP:ACT shine.STAT.IND
a light brown dog