Cân Gert

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Cân Gert
Pronunciation /kaːn gɛrt/
Created by Frederic Bayer
Sources Scottish Gaelic
Language family
Writing system Latin

Cân Gert is a philosophical, artistic language created by Frederic Bayer. Its name means "short language" in Cân Gert, and brevity is among its major design goals. It features a strongly isolating but partly agglutinating morphology. The name is a nod to its original inspiration, Toki Pona, whose own name means "good language".

The language is a priori in the sense that it is not derived from another language by way of regular sound changes and identifiable diachronic grammatical developments. However, as its vocabulary is mostly derived (albeit often in opaque ways) from the Scottish Gaelic lexicon, it could arguably be described as an a posteriori language, depending on the definition applied.



Toki Pona

The creator was first inspired to create Cân Gert while reading up on Toki Pona. He was intrigued by the idea of linguistic minimalism, and this sparked the idea of trying to create a language that featured more of a compromise between minimalism and pragmatism.

Several features of Toki Pona did not meet his own understanding of what would constitute a pragmatic-minimalistic language. Primarily, he considered brevity, clarity and ease of use to be important features/results of such a compromise philosophy. In that light, he identified several aspects which he wanted to approach differently, and which became part of Cân Gert's design goals.

Scottish Gaelic and others

Most of Cân Gert's root lexicon is taken (sometimes transparently, but often less so) from Scottish Gaelic. For instance, "cân" derives from cànan (language), and "gert" derives from goirid (short). A few aspects of Cân Gert's grammar are also inspired by it.

Occasionally, words from other languages contribute to choices of root words. For example, meaning "water, liquid, juice" is ostensibly derived from Gaelic sùgh (juice), but this choice is also influenced by Turkish su (water). Otherwise, a root may have been created based on Gaelic uisge (water) instead.

Design goals

As mentioned above, the guiding principles for Cân Gert are brevity, clarity, and ease of use.

Lexical minimalism

Applying minimalism to phonology and phonotactics, as Toki Pona does, limits the number of possible syllables. This results in long (i.e. polysyllabic) root words. A language with minimalistic phonology thus, in a sense, becomes lexically maximalistic. Bayer wanted to take the opposite approach by prioritising monosyllabic roots and instead allowing for a larger phonological inventory than Toki Pona.

Integrated compounds

Toki Pona allows concatenating root words in order to describe more complex concepts. However, these do not compound into a single lexeme orthographically, instead retaining spaces between each root term (separated compounds). This can make it more difficult to parse sentences, and also makes sentences appear longer due to the high prevalence of spaces.

For Toki Pona this makes sense, as compounding several polysyllabic roots could result in absurdly long words (e.g. "band", kulupu pi ma kalama musi > kulupupimakalamamusi). Also, the fact that roots are variously mono- or polysyllabic could create ambiguity in a compound - e.g. pini appearing in a compound could be either pi ni or pini.

Having only monosyllabic roots obviates both of these issues, which is why Cân Gert instead features integrated compounds.

Root lexicon size

A key feature of Toki Pona is its minimal lexicon of root words. While keeping roots to a minimum is important for a minimalist language, Bayer believes that both brevity and ease of comprehension are aided by allowing for a larger lexicon.


The creator believes on the basis of the egocentric predicament that it is impossible for anything a single person or group of people creates to be reflective of universal human experience. This is well-demonstrated in the area of constructed languages by the many problems that plague auxiliary languages in the area of semantics.

Hence, rather than an attempting to be a universal language – a language to suit everyone – Cân Gert makes no apologies for betraying its creator's own biases in its design. For instance, it has an easily recognisable, distinctly Scottish character.

Scottish influences

Besides the fact that the actual lexicon itself is mostly derived (in an irregular fashion) from the Scottish Gaelic lexicon, Cân Gert shows many other Scottish influences.

In vocabulary terms, the choice of what is assigned a root word against what is described by a compound is often based on how fundamental it would be considered in Scotland. For example, wheat, barley and oats all have their own roots (crin, iorn and corc respectively), but other cereal grains like corn, rice, rye and spelt use compounds (buîgran, bân·gran, fadiorn, sencrin – yellow grain, white grain, long barley, old wheat).

The phonology of the language is also strongly influenced by phonological features found in Scotland. The most palpable example of this is the positional allophony of [ɾ] and [ɹ] for the phoneme /r/, a feature common to many dialects of Scottish English and Scots.


Cân Gert distinguishes 18 consonant phonemes and 10 vowels, not including allophones.


The following vowels are distinguished in Cân Gert:

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

a, aː

Permissible diphthongs are /aɪ/, /aʊ/, /ɛɪ/ and /ɔɪ/


Bilabial Labio-dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive p b t d k g ʔ
Fricative f v s h
Approximant w j
Flap or tap r
Lateral app. l


Rhotics, /h~x/ initial/medial/final


Analyse licit consonant clusters!


Because Cân Gert is designed for clarity, its derivational and inflectional morphology generally features little phonological alternation, with a few minor exceptions.


A short vowel will dissimilate from an adjacent /a/ or /aː/:

  • /ɛ/ adjacent to /a/ or /aː/ → /e/
  • /ɔ/ adjacent to /a/ or /aː/ → /o/

This is not indicated in the orthography.

Iotic epenthesis

Iotic epenthesis is the addition of a /j/ wherever two /eː/s, two /ɛ/s, or an /eː/ and an /ɛ/ are adjacent to one another. This is not orthographically marked.

Internal excrescence

Internal excrescence refers to a process in Cân Gert where a glottal stop is inserted at a word-internal morpheme boundary with two vowels (or semivowels) where one of the following applies:

  1. The final vowel of the first morpheme is an ɪ or ʊ and is not occurring as part of a diphthong, unless the first morpheme is the verbal clitic ni
  2. All the adjacent vowels would form a licit diphthong
  3. The immediately adjacent vowels (or semivowels) are identical (except where the vowels are /eː/ or /ɛ/)
  4. The first vowel is long


dro + ât (bad + place) → droât [dɾo.ˈaːt] (hell, damnation)


+ ât (good + place) → mâ'ât [ˈmaː.ʔaːt] (heaven, exaltation)

The reason for this process is partly phonaesthetic, but mostly to prevent morphemes from being ambiguated. The process is also marked orthographically with an apostrophe. Glottal stops do not occur anywhere else in the language except due to prothetic sandhi (see below), and nor do apostrophes, so the apostrophe is functionally the orthographic representation of a glottal stop.

Prothetic sandhi

Prothetic sandhi occurs when a word beginning with a vowel follows a word ending in a vowel, in which case a glottal stop is prepended to the second word. This is not marked orthographically. For example:

tei âl → [tɛɪ ʔaːl] "beautiful house"

Nasal assimilation

In speech codaic nasal consonants assimilate to the place of articulation of the onset consonant in the following syllable. This is not marked orthographically. For instance:

⟨sencrin⟩ (spelt) → [sɛŋ.kɾɪn]

This process normally only occurs at word-internal morpheme boundaries, but may also occur across word boundaries in rapid speech. For instance:

⟨aum gert⟩ (short time) → [aʊŋ gɛɹt]

Stress and prosody

Length and stress. Importance of prosody to distinguish compounds from separated morphemes


Currently, Cân Gert is written using a modified version of the Latin alphabet. The creator intends to eventually create a logographic system not unlike Toki Pona's sitelen pona, with basic glyphs representing root words and some combined glyphs to represent common compounds.

The short vowels /a ɛ ɪ ɔ ʊ/ are represented by ⟨a e i o u⟩, and the long vowels /aː eː iː oː uː/ by ⟨â ê î ô û⟩.

Most consonant letters used in the orthography correspond to their IPA phonemes, with the following exceptions:

IPA Cân Gert
/ŋ/ ⟨ng⟩
/k/ ⟨c⟩
/w/ ⟨u⟩
/j/ ⟨i⟩
/ʔ/ ⟨'⟩


As well as the apostrophe which marks the excrescent glottal stop, Cân Gert uses the interpunct (·) to separate a morpheme ending in ⟨n⟩ from a morpheme beginning with ⟨g⟩. This clarifies that it is not the digraph ⟨ng⟩, which could otherwise create ambiguities between roots within compounds.

In all other respects, Cân Gert follows the punctuation conventions of Scottish Gaelic.


Cân Gert fundamentally distinguishes three types of words:

  • Roots, the most basic units of speech, i.e. morphemes.
  • Proper nouns, representing names of specific people, places, or other entities.
  • Compounds, consisting of several concatenated roots.

Roots, affixes and clitics

All root words in Cân Gert are monosyllabic, and are generally inspired by Scottish Gaelic words related to the meaning of the root. Roots can be further subdivided into the following categories:

  • Substantive roots – The most common type of root, these refer to a thing, action, or idea. They can be turned into verbs and adjectives through affixation.
    • General roots – These are semantically broad and cover multiple meanings. They are highly productive in forming compounds. E.g. dîn, "action, creation".
    • Common roots – These are semantically narrow, referring to commonly used concepts. They are less productive in forming compounds. E.g. corc, "oats".
  • Functional roots – This includes grammatical function words like conjunctions, prepositions, demonstratives, and others. Whether or not these compound depends on the individual root; as a general rule, prepositions can compound while conjunctions, demonstratives, and other particles cannot. E.g. hiûn, "of, from, since".
  • Bound roots – Affixes and clitics, which can only occur in compounds, not as independent words. E.g. -al, the generic adjectival suffix.

Some roots exist in two categories, for example the verbal clitic "ni" which can also appear as an independent particle under certain circumstances – see #Verbal morphology.

Substantive roots are generally treated and used as nouns, and turned into adjectives or verbs using appropriate clitics or affixes, but see #Adjectival morphology for further detail.

Proper nouns

As in English, proper nouns are distinguished through capitalisation. Proper nouns can be borrowed through a number of mechanisms:

  • Borrowed names are proper nouns that are not broken down into further meaning. These are usually borrowed from Gaelic or, failing that, English, without being reduced to monosyllables like roots are. E.g. Alabâ, "Scotland", from Gaelic Alba, and Colôn, "Cologne", from the English.
  • Translated names are proper nouns that are translated into Cân Gert. E.g. Êndînta Tormuintîr, "United Nations".

Due to Cân Gert's nature, translated proper nouns can often be broken down into far lower-level transparent morphemes than their English equivalents. For the above example:

  • Êndînta – "unified, united"
    • êndîn – "unification, unity"
      • ên – "one"
      • dîn – "action, creation"
    • -ta – perfective participle[note]
  • Tormuintîr – "nations"
    • tor – "many, [plural]"
    • muintîr – "nation"
      • muin – "(a) people, tribe, cohesive social group"
      • tîr – "country, land"

^Note The -ta suffix obviates the need both for the general-purpose adjectival suffix -al and for the verbal clitic ni that would occur at the beginning of niêndîn to mean "unify, unite". That suffix tends to form adjectives with a more active/progressive meaning, somewhat like a gerundive; êndînal would mean "unifying, uniting" rather than "unified, united".


Cân Gert morphology features both derivation and inflection, both of which create compounds. In Cân Gert this is distinguished by whether the compound is a lexeme, or a non-lemma form of an existing lexeme.

When adding a root to a word to create a new compound, the following test can be applied to determine whether the new compound is also a lexeme:

  1. Does the added root change the lexical class of the word (e.g. a noun into a verb, adjective, or participle)?
  2. Does the added root always effect the exact same transparent and predictable change in meaning when added to any other word?

If the answer to 1 is "yes" or the answer to 2 is "no", the new word is a lexeme. Otherwise, it is a non-lemma form of an existing lexeme. The process can be done in reverse, by taking away roots from a compound, to determine what form of a lexeme is its lemma form.

Example: Derivation

Appending din ("person, human") to the word bartei ("workplace, office", from bar, "work, job" + tei, "house, building, facility") creates the compound barteidin meaning "officer, official, office worker".

Appending din to just bar gives bardin meaning "worker".

While the connection between bartei+din and bar+din is somewhat logical (as logic, by creating clarity, is part of Cân Gert's design goals), it is not fully predictable or transparent; adding din to different words results in the creation of a noun that describes some kind of person, but the way in which it describes that person is not necessarily the same from one word to the next.

Therefore, this is an example of derivation, and barteidin is a lexeme, rather than a non-lemma form of bartei.

Example: Inflection

Prepending tor ("many, much") to the word bartei creates the compound torbartei meaning "workplaces, offices".

Prepending tor to just bar gives torbar meaning "instances of work, jobs".

This change in meaning is fully predictable and transparent: Prepending tor pluralises the modified root or compound.

Therefore, this is an example of inflection, and torbartei is a non-lemma form of bartei.

Derivational morphology

When concatenating substantive and/or functional roots and/or compounds, the first modifies the second. That is:

orn ("song") + ion ("bird") → ornion – songbird, a bird which sings


ion + ornionorn – birdsong, the song of a bird

This neatly disambiguates the meanings created by compounds from the meanings created by modifier nouns or adjectives. For example, with ûn "green" and "tea":

  • ûntî – green tea
  • tî ûn – a kind of tea that is green
  • tî ûnal – tea which happens to be green

Nominal morphology



The first, second, and third person singular pronouns are mi, hu, and san. The plural forms are generated by the plural prefix tor-.

To form possessive pronouns, the singular or plural pronoun is prefixed with the preposition ec meaning "at". This mirrors the Gaelic prepositional pronoun paradigm agam, agad, aige, etc.

Nominal TAM

Determiners and demonstratives

Emphatic circumduplication of determiners ("so ... so")

Verbal morphology

  • Verbal clitic
  • Null copula

Tense, aspect and mood

Non-finite verbs

Adjectival morphology

The generic adjectival suffix -al is generally avoided unless it is needed to disambiguate meaning, because adjectives follow nouns, and a noun following a noun is taken to modify that noun much as an adjective would. This is epitomised in the name of the language, which hypercorrectly would be *Cân Gertal, but is instead Cân Gert. This could be variously analysed as "short language" or "language of brevity".

Thus for example sen normally means "age, great age", and senal would mean "old, aged", but it is perfectly acceptable to use just sen for "old, aged" if the meaning is clear. For example, to say "I am twenty years old", you would normally say Mi fît blîn sen rather than Mi fît blîn senal.


Modifier nouns



Dependent clauses

Incidental and epithetical adjectives

Example texts

Other resources