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Phonology and Orthography


Consonant Inventory
Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n
Plosive p b t d k g
Fricative ɸ s x
Affricate ts
Trill r
Approximant w j
Lateral app. l

Consonants are generally single. The only consonant combinations permitted within a morpheme (either a root or an affix) are consonant + liquid (/l/ or /r/) at the start of a syllable and semivowel (/j/ or /w/) + consonant at the end of a syllable. Other combinations and geminate consonants may occur across syllable boundaries as a result of affixation and compounding.

The following processes of assimilation occur when certain sounds come into contact across syllables:

  • voiced plosives /b, d, g/ are devoiced before voiceless plosives or fricatives /p, t, k, ɸ, s, x/.
  • voiceless plosives /p, t, k/ are voiced before voiced plosives and nasals /b, d, g, n, m/.
  • /t/ and /d/ assimilate to any following plosive or /n/
  • /n/ assimilate to a following liquid /l, r/.


  Front Near- front Central Near- back Back
Blank vowel trapezoid.svg

The primary vowels /a, e, i, u/ may be long or short, but /ə/ is always short. Long vowels within the roots of words are originally the result of derivation from an active to a passive root, e.g. ker- "rule" > keer- "(is) ruled", but subsequent development of the derivatives of long and short roots has led to vowel length being phonemicised.

The semi-vowels /j/ and /w/ may occur after any vowel, effectively creating diphthongs, though for the purposes of syllable structure these are analysed as combinations of vowel + consonant: /aj, ej, uj, ij, əj, aw, ew, uw, iw, əw/. The combinations /ij/ and /uw/ may be analysed as [iː] and [uː]. The primary vowels may still be lengthened in these combinations, e.g. aay /aːj/, eew /eːw/. /iːj/ and /uːw/ are therefore equivalent of [iːː], [uːː].


Proto-Rathmosian is written with the Roman alphabet using the following graphs.

a b d e f g h i k l m n p r s t ts u w y ə

The following table shows the sound to spelling correspondences:

graph a aa b d e ee f g h i ii k l m n p r s t ts u uu w y ə
IPA a b d e ɸ g x i k l m n p r s t ts u w j ə



Most lexical items in Proto-Rathmosian (particularly inflected words) consist of a root plus various derivational and/or morphological affixes. Roots are monosyllabic and must have the minimal form VC in which V represents any primary vowel (a, e, i, u) and C any consonant. Most roots will also have an initial consonant (vowel-initial roots are relatively rare and may have developed from the loss of an initial /h/ or glottal stop /ʔ/, e.g. */had, ʔad/ > ad-).

Consonant clusters are limited to CL in onset position, in which L represents a liquid (l or r) and C any consonant except l, r, w or y. In coda position the only consonant cluster permitted is GC, in which G represents a glide (w or y) and C any other consonant. Within root boundaries, geminates are permitted only in coda position as a result of the process known as diminutive gemination.

The vowels of primary roots are always short. However, vowel length may be altered by derivation or morphology in predictable ways, either lengthened to create a double vowel (VV or /Vː/), or deleted. In some cases, deletion of a root vowel results in an unpronouncable syllable which is filled by the reduced vowel ə /ə/. Vowels followed by glides y or w effectively create diphthongs. These vowels may also undergo lengthening (e.g. reyk- > reeyk-) or deletion. In the latter case, the semivowel is treated as either i /i/ or u /u/ (e.g. reyk- > rik-).

  • CVC, e.g. ret- "go, move", ker- "rule"
  • CLVC, in which L represents a liquid (l or r), e.g. glis- "live, stay", mlak- "be dead"
  • CVGC , in which G represents a glide (w or y), e.g. tiyk- "touch, feel", reyk- "love"
  • CLVGC, e.g. trayh- "strangle, choke", sluyn- "seep, ooze".
  • VC, e.g.
  • VGC, e.g.

Vowels for basic roots are always short, but derivational and morphological processes can result in vowel lengthening or deletion.

Exceptions to the strict criteria for roots are grammatical words such as conjunctions and particles, plus a number of onomatopeic or child-talk words (see below).

Syllables and Roots

Words are constructed from a root plus various derivational or morphological affixes. Roots are almost always monosyllabic and usually begin and end with a consonant, though some vowel-initial roots do occur. They may take one of the following forms:

Affixes may be V, VC, C, CV, CVC.



Nouns belong to one of three classes and are declined into eight cases and three numbers.

Noun Classes

Nouns are divided into two main classes: animate and inanimate. The fundamental distinction between these two classes is that animate nouns may be the agent of a verb, i.e. they may actively carry out the action of a verb, whilst inanimate nouns may not. Animate nouns therefore include all humans, deities and spirits, animals and certain celestial bodies such as belan "the sun". Inanimate nouns include all other common objects, plants and abstracts.

The class of animate nouns is further divided into masculine and common nouns. The distinction is based on natural gender, so that all male humans, deities and spirits are masculine, as are male animals where the sex is known. All other animate nouns are common. Masculine nouns are generally marked forms, with a base form usually ending in l or k. Thus, ker means "ruler; queen" and is common, but keril means "lord, king" and is masculine.

Summary of Noun Classes
Animate Common Female humans, deities and spirits; female animals and those with unspecified gender
Masculine Male humans, deities and spirits; specifically male animals
Inanimate All plants and non-living objects; abstracts


Nouns are declined according to eight cases:

  • Absolutive denotes the subject of an intransitive verb and the object of a transitive verb.
  • Ergative denotes the subject of a transitive verb.
  • Dative denotes the indirect object of a verb and describes motion towards.
  • Genitive denotes the possessor of an object.
  • Ablative denotes motion away from.
  • Instrumental denotes use of.
  • Locative denotes location in, at or on.
  • Comitative denotes location with or beside.


There are three numbers: singular, plural and collective, the last of which may denote a discrete group of objects or a class as a whole.


Animate Common (negu "woman")
Singular Plural Collective
Absolutive - negu -ṷa neguṷa -r negur
Ergative -s negus -ns neguns -ru neguru
Dative -(i̯)ep negui̯ep -nep negunep -rep negurep
Genitive -i negui̯ -ni neguni -ri neguri
Ablative -ta neguta -nta negunta -rta negurta
Instrumental -ra negura -rra negurra -rra negurra
Locative -(i̯)en negui̯en -nen negunen -ren neguren
Comitative -kun negukun -nkun negunkun -rkun negurkun


Verbal conjugation is agglutinative and verbs may be marked for aspect (imperfective, perfective), valency (transitive, intransitive, antipassive, causative), and argument (absolutive, ergative).

The primary division in verbal morphology is made between dynamic (Class I) verbs and stative (Class II) verbs. Dynamic verbs denote actions and verbs of motion while stative verbs refer to states of being and include the large class of adjectival verbs, such as dreh- "to be red", mlak- "to be dead". A verbal stem belongs primarily to one or other class, depending on its semantics but the boundaries are not inflexible.

Class I verbs are marked for aspect. The imperfective, denoting incompleted or continuous action and often understood as non-past, is marked with the infix -n-. The perfective, denoting completed action and usually referring to the past, takes -t-. For example yur- "run" → yurn- "runs, running", yurt- "ran". Class II verbs are not marked for tense. As stative verbs they are understood to be imperfective and general in time. Because of the way aspect marking occurs, verbs are able to pass between classes. Class I verbs may be treated as Class II (i.e. unmarked) in order to give a gnomic sense, though this is generally restricted to poetic and proverbial usage hedər hedus "birds fly". Far more common is the use of Class II roots with Class I aspect markers to give an inchoative sense, e.g. mlak- "be dead" → mlakn- "become dead die", mlakt- "became dead, died".

The aspect markers, or the root directly in Class II verbs, are followed by valency markers: -a- for intransitive verbs, -i- for antipassive verbs and -u- for transitive verbs. The antipassive promotes the ergative agent of a transitive verb to the absolutive subject with no direct object, e.g. reykusem "I love him" → reykip "I love"

Conjugation is agglutinative, formed mostly with suffixes though there are several prefixes and changes to the stem of the verb.

Elements of the Verb
Prefixes Root Derivation Aspect Marker Valency Marker Absolutive Ergative

The aspect markers are -n- for the imperfective and -k- for the perfective in Class I. Class II verbs are not marked for aspect.

The valency markers are -a- for intransitive verbs, -i- for antipassive verbs and -u- for transitive verbs.

The absolutive markers agree with the subject of a intransitive verb or the direct object of an transitive verb. The 3rd person may be animate or inanimate. The 1st and 2nd person forms differ depending on whether they are followed by an ergative marker.

Absolutive Markers
Singular Plural
1 -f-, -p -mf-, -mp
2 -h-, -k -nh-, -nk
3an -s- -ns-
3in -b- -w-

The ergative markers agree with the subject of a transitive verb. Since inanimate nouns cannot be the agent of a verb, by definintion, there are no inanimate ergative markers.

Ergative Markers
Singular Plural
1 -em -ib
2 -en -ig
3an -er -id