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Erai Pe Andaidu tod te nok naito. Lino Berulan te nok naito ama ama Andaidu tod, wati tod dabai rêai.

There is a lot of dialectal variation, to the point that it is unclear whether Kunesian is one language or nine. In any case, this description focuses mostly on the standard variety which is based on the coastal dialects.



Broadly speaking, Kunesian has these consonants:

Labial Dental Palatal Velar Uvular
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop Voiceless p t k q
Voiced b d g
Affricate Voiceless t͡s
Voiced d͡z ɟ͡ʝ
Fricative ɸ s, θ, (ɬ) x~χ
Approximant β (ð) l ɰ
Rhotic r

The actual number of consonants is considerably larger as most of these "broad" consonant phonemes have several variants, also known as the "narrow" consonants. The exact inventory of narrow consonants varies considerably between different dialects, but in Standard Kunesian:

  • Voiceless stops distinguish aspirated and non-aspirated variants word-initially.
  • Every consonant except /q/, /ɟ͡ʝ/ and the rhotics has a palatalised version.
    • Voiceless stops, particularly the aspirated ones, become affricates when palatalised. These are transcribed as [p͡ç t͡ɕ c͡ç] respectively. /g/ also becomes and affricate and merges with /ɟ͡ʝ/.
    • The palatalised variants of /n/ and /ŋ/ merge as [ɲ].
    • The palatalised variants of /l/ and /ɰ/ are [ʎ] and [j] respectively.
  • Like all other varieties of Kunesian, it does not have all three of /θ ð ɬ/, and like all coastal dialects, it merges /ɬ/ with /θ/ and /ð/ with /l/.
  • Between vowels, the only rhotic is [ɾ].

Consonant clusters only appear between vowels. The following ones are possible:

  • Nasal + stop. The nasal is always pronounced at the same POA as the following stop.
  • /r/ + coronal consonant. These clusters are realised as retroflex consonants, often preceded by a faint [ɻ].
  • [ɾχ] and its palatalised variant [ɾç].
  • [st] and its palatalised variant [ɕt͡ɕ], which, especially in colloquial speech, is often realised as [ɕː].

Word finally, only the basic variants of /m n ŋ p t k q ɸ s θ ɬ x l/ appear. The word-final consonant which is realised as /x/ in Standard Kunesian is realised as a rhotic in some other varieties.


In stressed syllables, the following monophthongs occur:

Front Cenral Back
Unrounded Rounded Unrounded Rounded
Close i y ~ ʉ ɨ ~ ɯ u
Mid ɛ ~ e œ ~ ø ʌ ~ ɤ ɔ ~ o
Near-open æ
Open a

In addition, there are four stressed diphthongs: /aɨ̯/, /ei̯/, /ɔɨ̯/ and /aʉ̯/. /aʉ̯/ only appears in the word /kʰáʉ̯/ "swamp", where it contrasts with /kʰáɨ̯/ "he, she".

In unstressed syllables, only /ɐ e ɨ ʊ/ and sometimes /əɨ̯/ occur. However, /əɨ̯/ merges with /ɨ/ for some speakers.


Most Kunesian words are stressed on the first syllable, but a few are stressed on the second instead. The stressed syllable can have either a high or a low tone, and in addition each word may be pronounced with either modal or creaky voice. While phonation applies to a word as a whole, unstressed syllables tend to be pronounced with a medium tone regardless of what tone the stressed syllable has.


A few phonological processes take place at word boundaries:

  • Unaccented final vowels are lost if the following word begins with a vowel: nitote ad /ɲýt͡ɕe à/ --> [ɲýt͡ɕà].
  • /ɰ/ at the beginning of a word is dropped if the preceding word ends in a consonant, leaving creaky voice: eras hai /ǽɾɐs ɰáɨ̯/ --> [ǽɾɐ̄sá̰ɨ̯].
  • Final /x/ contracts with a following dorsal consonant to /ɾχ/ or /ɾç/: gor kolu /gʌ̰̀x kólʊ/ --> [gʌ̰̀ɾχólʊ̄].


Without twisting the truth too much, this can be called a mess.


Classifying particles

Nouns may be followed by a classifying particle. In principle any noun may be used with any particle, though many combinations have lexicalised meanings, as is shown by the following examples:

  • erai "word" > Erai Pe "Kunesian"
  • abok "root" > abok itu "carrot"
  • dsile "sky" > dsile nô "roof"

In addition, some nouns exclusively, or almost exclusively, occur with one particular particle, such as gâlo kem "poison", with just gâlo being ungrammatical outside the phrase gâlo nênte "to poison".

Nominal classifiers and their meanings include:

  • ap: people
  • itu: food
  • : buildings and other human constructions
  • at: language, speech
  • ils: day, light
  • oko: night, darkness
  • hêkai: nature, weather conditions
  • ira: big things
  • lid: small things, small quantities
  • tai: large quantities
  • ere: old things
  • e: good things
  • kem: bad things
  • sio: despective
  • pe: beautiful things
  • ad: something similar, usually occurs in lexicalised combinations
  • tod: places and times, frequently forms adverbials
  • nai: abstract, can be used very freely to derive nouns from adjectives and verbs
  • ô: no clear meaning, only occurs in certain fixed combinations such as harid ô "knot" and sanap ô "family"


Plurals can be marked by the particle ti. Frequently it is combined with the classifier tai. Plural marking is not obligatory and is generally used either to stress that one is talking about a large group, or as a collective.

ti potrai tai
/t͡ɕí pʌ̀ʈɨ tʰáɨ̯/
PL house CL(many)
houses, many houses, a village

Plurals are also used when making general statements.

Ti nilaip nok nipu.
/t͡ɕí ɲílɨp nʌ̀k ɲýpʊ/
PL apple GNOM red
Apples are red.

Relational particles

To indicate a noun's relationship to another one, Kunesian uses relational particles. Some of the most important relational particles and their uses are:

  • li: possession, focus on possessed rather than possessor.
    • potrai mela li: the man's house
  • du: possession, focus on possessor rather than possessed.
    • mela potrai du: the man who has a house
  • me: the last noun is an important part of the first one.
    • potrai nipit me: house with books = library
  • to: the last thing is located inside the first one.
    • mura rente to: a forest with monkeys
  • kim: the first thing is inside the last.
    • rente mura kim: a monkey in the forest
  • anku: the two nouns refer to the same.
    • mela kusto anku: the man who is a liar


Adjectives are placed before the nouns they modify and are often combined with a classifier with a similar meaning. They can be intensified by reduplication.

sai mela ere
/sáɨ̯ mʲélɐ ǽɾe/
old man CL(old)
an old man
ara ara akko pe
/áɾɐ áɾɐ àkɐ p͡çé/
handsome handsome boy CL(beautiful)
a very handsome boy

Comparisons are expressed using the relation particle anku. One can distinguish three types of comparisons:

  • Equality, expressed with a single adjective
  • "More than", expressed with a reduplicated adjective
  • "Less than", expressed with the negative particle ku.
Paki mela ira kigat anku.
/pʰǽc͡çɨ mʲélɐ íɾɐ c͡çìgɐt à̰ŋkɨ/
big man CL(big) tiger as
The man is as big as a tiger.
Zata zata tôla pattu anku.
/d͡záθɐ d͡záθɐ tòlɐ pʰàtʊ à̰ŋkɨ/
strong strong sun wind as
The sun is stronger than the wind.
Ku laipi no paik anku.
/kɯ́ láɨ̯p͡çɨ nʌ́ pʰɯ́k à̰ŋkɨ/
NEG smart 1SG.SUBJ 2SG.OBJ as
I'm not as smart as you.


Person Singular Plural
Inclusive Exclusive
1st no, naik ninke, lâm bunai, pod
2nd pas, paik nili, paik
3rd kai, te enni, ten
4th nuro laite
All tola
Some kosse
No(ne) pige
Interrogative suk
Demonstrative ama

When two forms are given, the first one is the subject form and the second one the object form.

The fourth person refers to things not mentioned earlier in the sentence, but only if there already is a third person. Compare:

No te tânku.
/nʌ́ t͡ɕé tà̰ŋkɨ/
I hit him.
Kai te tânku.
/kʰáɨ̯ t͡ɕé tà̰ŋkɨ/
He hits himself.
Kai nuro tânku.
/kʰáɨ̯ nɯ́ɾɐ tà̰ŋkɨ/
3SG.SUBJ 3SG hit
He hits him (someone else).

All pronouns can be used either independently or adjectivally. When a personal pronoun is used adjectivally, it is possessive.

Te and ten may be placed after a noun or a non-personal pronoun to indicate that it is the object. This is particularly common when the object has been fronted or when there is no overt subject.

Numa and nuq

Numa and nuq are pronouns which refer to place and time respectively. They can be combined with the other pronouns to form combinations such as pige numa "nowhere" or ama nuq "then". When used alone, they tend to mean something like "here" and "now", though the exact meaning depends on the context.



Kunesian uses a duodecimal number system. The numbers 1-12 are:

  1. son
  2. pon
  3. tara
  4. naike
  5. ogat
  6. sinai
  7. tirai
  8. oras
  9. korotan
  10. sentil
  11. mese
  12. irek

Larger numbers are expressed as twelves - irek - units:

  • irek ogat = 17 (12 + 5)
  • tara irek sinai = 42 (3 * 12 + 6)

The powers of twelve are pinai (144), belu (1728) and ilarai (20736).

The first two ordinals are hiôla "first" and mahai "second". Other ordinals are expressed as numeral - mahai:

  • tara mahai = third
  • naike irek sinai mahai = fifty-fourth


The verbal complex consists of at least one verb and a number of particles which indicate tense, aspect, mood, evidentiality and the speaker's opinion. The general formula for the verb complex is:

  • Evidentiality
  • Tense/aspect I
  • Verb root(s)
  • Tense/aspect II
  • Mood
  • Speaker's opinion


There are three evidential particles: akai (inferential), namai (belief; the word is identical to the word for "think") and palai (hearsay).

Ku naik jêtte mapot era. Te akai ne saiku ku.
/kɯ́ nɯ́k ɟ͡ʝèt͡ɕe mápɐt ǽɾɐ. t͡ɕé ákɨ ɲé sɔ́ɨ̯kʊ kɯ́/
NEG 1SG.OBJ bike find can / 3SG.OBJ INFER TEL steal PST
I can't find my bike. It must have been stolen.
Mura tod kai namai molas.
/mɯ́ɾɐ tʰʌ̀ kʰáɨ̯ námɨ mʌ́lɐs/
forest CL(place) 3SG.SUBJ think be
I think he's in the forest.
Rente tola ti pinokas lâm li palai ne peste ku.
/ræ̰̀nt͡ɕe tʰʌ́lɐ t͡ɕí p͡çɯ̰́kɐs làm ʎí pʰálɨ ɲé p͡çèɕːe kɯ́/
monkey all PL banana 1PL.INCL.OBJ of HS TEL eat PST
They say a monkey ate all our bananas.

Tense and aspect

Tense and aspect are marked by a variety of particles, some of which come before the verb and some after it. The particles that come before the verb are:

  • ne: telic, indicates an action with a defined endpoint
  • tad: habitual, indicates a habit
  • es: dynamic, indicates a change
  • nok: gnomic, indicates general facts
  • se: momentane, indicates something which was done exactly once
  • nhi: repetitive, indicates a repeated action

The particles that come after the verb are:

  • mai: present
  • ku: past perfective
  • kju: past imperfective
  • lai: past inceptive
  • tire: future

Each verb may have one particle of either type, though for obvious reasons some combinations of tense/aspect particles are more common that others. A few specific combinations deserve extra attention:

  • es ... ku: this indicates the end of an action, as opposed to es ... lai, which marks the beginning.
  • nok ... mai: this combination means "already". Apart from this combination, nok is always used without post-verbal tense particle.

Note that all of these particles are optional and that they are normally left out when several consecutive verbs have the same tense and aspect.


There are four modal particles:

  • era: potential, indicates a possibility or an ability
  • pin: obligative, indicates an obligation
  • pot: necessitive, indicates a necessity
  • hai: optative, indicates a wish

Speaker's opinion

The speaker's opinion can be indicated with the particles kib (positive opinion) and moê (negative opinion).

No qaite arai moê.
/nʌ́ qʰáɨ̯t͡ɕ͜ áɾɨ mè/
1SG.SUBJ headache be.ill MOÊ
I have a headache.

The combination hai kib has been grammaticalised as an adhortative.

Eras hai kib!
/ǽɾɐs͜ á̰ɨ̯ c͡çỳ/
Let's go!

Compound verbs

Instead of a single verb root a verbal phrase may also contain several roots after one another. In such cases the first root is the main root while the following one(s) modify it. Many verbs have slightly different meanings than normally when used in such compounds. For example, nuli, which usually means "to see", means "to intend" in compounds.

No baistak nuli ôno lsi.
/nʌ́ bàɨ̯stɐk núʎɨ ónɐ θì/
1SG.SUBJ leave intend morning rise
I intend to leave tomorrow.

Somewhat relatedly, many combinations of verbs and nouns also have idiomatic meanings. An example is qotte nênte "to interrupt", which literally means "to carry a wall".

Es nerep lai, hêtai no qotte nênte.
/èɕ ɲéɾep láɨ̯, jèθəɨ̯ nʌ́ qʰʌ̀t͡ɕe nḛ̀t͡ɕe/
DYN speak PST.INC, but 1SG.SUBJ wall carry
He started to speak, but I interrupted him.

Word order

The basic word order of Kunesian is SOV.

Kigat allai peste.
/c͡çìgɐt àləɨ̯ p͡çèɕːe/
tiger rat eat
The tiger eats a rat.

Adverbs are usually placed at the end.

No nok naito nhaiki.
/nʌ́ nʌ̀k náɨ̯θɐ ŋáɨ̯c͡çɨ/
1SG.SUBJ GNOM speak quick
I speak quickly.

Deviations from the default word order are common. Often one part of the sentence is topicalised, which causes it to be moved to the very beginning of the sentence.

Allai te kigat peste.
/àləɨ̯ t͡ɕé c͡çìgɐt p͡çèɕːe/
rat 3SG.OBJ tiger eat
The rat is eaten by a tiger.

Complex sentences

Complex sentences are formed by means of various subordinating and coordinating particles.


The particle ed generally indicates that a subordinate clause follows the main clause.

No te ed nerep ku, ku ama naira.
/nʌ́ t͡ɕé è ɲǽɾep kɯ́, kɯ́ ámɐ náɨ̯ɾɐ/
1SG.SUBJ 3SG.OBJ SUB say PST, NEG that know
I've told him that I don't know that.

It can also be followed by a noun phrase rather than an entire sentence.

Nanak hêkai ama ed setai, nezu nitote ad.
/nánɐk jèkəɨ̯ ámɐ è ɕéθɨ, ɲǿd͡zʊ ɲýt͡ɕe à/
snow CL(nature) that SUB be, cold rain CL(similar)
Snow is a kind of cold rain.


Man indicates a conditional clause. It is placed at the very end of the clause.

Haiwi tede man nok qiwise tire.
/ɰɔ́ɨ̯jɨ t͡ɕḛ̀ màn nʌ̀k qʰýɕe t͡ɕíɾe/
beer drink if GNOM drunk FUT
If you drink beer, you get drunk.

It is used more often than "if" in English, and may sometimes better be translated using a relative clause.

Nilaip lino minte, no ne peste ku man.
/ɲílɨp ʎínɐ mʲḭ̀t͡ɕe, nʌ́ ɲé p͡çèɕːe kɯ́ màn/
apple tongue confuse, 1SG.SUBJ TEL eat PST if
The apple I just ate tasted weird.


Other particles