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Dilba (formally iktilih Dilba 'our tongue Dilba', assumed pronunciation [ʔihˈʨiliħ ʥɛlˈβä]) is an extinct language that was spoken by the Dilb people on the planet Lamuella.
The Dilb people migrated to another desert planet when the Lamuellan climate had become too moderate for them to live. When Lamuella was much later colonised, numerous hieroglyphic scrolls and rock inscriptions were discovered. By these means, the Dilba grammar and a large part of the lexicon have been reconstructed. The original pronunciation was subject to controversy but after compiling works of Dilba grammarians, a relatively plausible phonology has been established.
In this article, the Dilba hieroglyphs are mostly represented by Latin letters. Since the cultural contact with England, the Latin alphabet is also used on Lamuella. However, at this time the phonology has not been reconstructed yet, so the pronunciation of the Latin letters is rather unintuitive.
Most Dilba words, referred to as root words, are obtained from consonantal roots by inserting vowels, adding affixes and mutating the root consonants. In the following, these three morphological operations shall be discussed separately.
Root words have two vocalic positions, i.e. positions where vowels can be inserted. Root words that are built up by only one root consonant lack the second vocalic position.
- First vocalic position:
Definite Indefinite Singular a i Plural u
The terms used in the previous table might be deceptive. The indefinite forms are used to introduce the number of a subject of speech. Whenever there is no need to give information about the number, the definite form is used. The singular indefinite form can also be used emphaticly while the plural indefinite often yields collective nouns. In the following article, the terms singular and plural will always refer to singular indefinite and plural indefinite.
- The second vocalic position is always before the first vocalic position. This vowel connotes a deixis in either first (i), second (u) or third (a) person. By default, the second vocalic position is filled by y or left blank at word beginnings. Possibilities of translation are:
First person Second person Third person Possessive mine, our your his, her, its, their Local demonstrative this (close to me) this your's (close to you), also pejoratively yonder Temporal demonstrative this (just said / happened) – yonder (said / happened before) Referring to speaker said by me, us said by you said by him, her, it, them
For example, the declension of gt = man with the vocalic positions _g_t is:
|No deixis||First person||Second person||Third person|
There are four cases which are formed by attaching suffixes to a word. Dative, locative and ablative will be called local cases. To these three case endings, postpositions can be attached, whose meanings may change depending on the used case. The suffixes and their conjunction with the postposition s 'in' are shown in the following table.
|Dative||gata||to the man||gatas||into the man|
|Locative||gati||at the man||gatis||in the man|
|Ablative||gatu||from the man||gatus||out of the man|
By attaching the suffixes y after consonants or h after vowels, status constructi to the forms above can be build. The status constructus of the nominative corresponds to the case genitive, the use of status constructi of the local cases will be discussed later. The forms above will be referred to as status absoluti. This usage of the terms is not to be confused with that in semitic languages, where the status absolutus marks the possessor. The term has been chosen since the applications of the status constructi go far beyond possession.
|Nominative||gaty||of the man|
|Dative||gatah||to the man||gatasy||into the man|
|Locative||gatih||at the man||gatisy||in the man|
|Ablative||gatuh||from the man||gatusy||out of the man|
There are three main ways to translate these status constructi (with k_z_k = 'bird'):
- as genitives: gaty kyzak = the man's bird
- as adjectives: gaty kyzak = the male bird
- as attributes: kyzakih gat = the man at the bird (compare with gat kyzaki = the man is at the bird)
In addition, the status constructi can be used as new nominative absolutus forms. E.g. kazakih could be translated as 'something at the bird'. The new locative absolutus kazakihi would mean literally 'at something at the bird' and is used for 'close to the bird'. However, this application of the status constructi is quite seldom. For historical reasons, the status constructi of local cases with or without postpositions are also called inverse postpositions.
The proper name iktilih Dilba and the older form iktiil Dilba are translated literally 'Dilba at my tongue' (translation as attribute).
There is a group of consonants, so-called root consonants, that have two mutation grades. In Dilba hieroglyphs, these mutations have not been distinguished but sometimes the consonants which are allowed to be mutated are marked. When it is necessary to label mutated consonants in this article, this will be done by subscript numbers: t1 and t2 are the possible mutations of the unmutated t0. That a consonant is allowed to be mutated, will be announced by a subsript hash: t#.
By now, we can understand the informations included in the lexical form of a root word: The consonant root, the vocalic positions and the consonants which are allowed to be mutated. For example, the complete lexical form of 'bird' is k#_z_k#. Note that the vocalic positions are important properties of a root word as there is in general no relation between roots that differ only in vocalic positions. E.g. the word _k#z_k# means 'mountain' and is not related to 'bird' at all.
Root words can have either two, one or none mutable consonants. Especially those with two show very often a predictable pattern, which is sketched in the following table. One ought to consider that these patterns are just often occurring and not universal. gt = 'man' is one of the few words that have every possible mutation.
|Mutation pattern||Translation||Example: _g#_t#|
|0 0||basic form, concrete noun||man|
|0 2||transitive verb||make a man|
|1 0||intensification, durative||fight (to become a man)|
|1 1||abstract noun||humanity|
|1 2||intransitive verb, reflexive||become a man (actively, by doings)|
|2 0||initiator, profession||god (the 'man-maker')|
|2 1||implement, attribute, means||penis|
|2 2||causative verb, passive||become a man (inactively, by age)|
Some regular words that have only one mutable consonant can form the first three patterns, some may also expand their consonantal root by t# to the left to gain access to more patterns. Again, note that in Dilba hieroglyphs e.g. 'man' and 'god' are indistinguishable in this script. However, the term g2at0 is an often used epithet for gods.
Orthography and Phonology
The Dilba consonants are arranged depending on the number of possible mutation. As mentioned above, the first group are the root consonants, which have two possible mutations. It turns out that the first kind of mutation changes stops to fricatives, the second to nasals. Voiceless stops were formerly mutated to voiceless nasals, which got later in free variation to [h] (as in [ʔihˈʨhiliħ]).
|Pronunciation of the first mutation||[ɸ]||[β]||[s]||[z]||[ɕ]||[ʑ]||[x]||[ɣ]||[χ]||[ʁ]|
|Pronunciation of the second mutation||[m̥]||[m]||[n̥]||[n]||[ɲ̊]||[ɲ]||[ŋ̊]||[ŋ]||[ɴ̥]||[ɴ]|
There is a second group of root consonants which are represented by the upper-case versions of the letters above. These phonemes are pronounced the same as the lower-case letters but affect the pronunciation of adjacent vowels. The third group are the so-called linking consonants because they often are the middle consonant in a three consonant root. These consonants do not have mutations anymore with the exception of s which has preserved the old mutation h. Unlike in the Latin script, the Dilba hieroglyphs do not distinguish between s and h. However, this mutation is no longer productive.
A characteristic of n is that its place of articulation can be changed by directly adjacent root consonants, e.g. anb [ämp]. The intervocalic, word final and initial pronunciation is [n]. The fourth and last group are consonants that have vocalic realisations under certain circumstances. The consonantal and vocalic realisations are written with different letters in the Latin script. The letter a has a mutation to y. Again, both this mutation and the vocalic or consonantal realisations are not distinguished in the hieroglyphic script.
Note the ambiguity of the letter h in the latin script: It denotes either the consonantal realisation of a or the mutation of s. In Dilba hieroglyphs, these two versions of h are distinguished but as well s and h as a and h overlap. The four vowels a, i, u and y have different pronunciations adjacent to upper-case root consonants, which are shown in the following table. How this effect works in detail, can only be understood with more knowledge of Dilba hieroglyphs.
Eventually, all possible characters of the Latin script are summarised in the following table. The first line treats the letters as introduced in this section, the second line respects mutations and uses subscript numbers. The third line imitates the differentations made in the hieroglyphic script.
A Dilba noun phrase consists of one head noun at the end and an arbitrary number of nouns in the status constructus before. To sort constituents of a noun phrase, two particles are helpful: sa and ru. Dilba particles have the ability to change the order of its phonemes in order to prevent that at the boundary to the following word either two consonants or two vowels converge. Both sa and ru can be translated by 'and' but have the important difference that sa connects to individual entities whilst ru connects to elements describing the same entity. Thereby, it is possible to differentiate between the following three phrases:
Bahah gaty kyzak
[bɔˈħäħ ˈgäʨə qəˈʒäq]
'The bird of Baha's man'
Bahah sa gaty kyzak
[bɔˈħäħ ʃä ˈgäʨə qəˈʒäq]
'The bird of the man and Baha'
Bahah ru gaty kyzak
[bɔˈħäħ ru ˈgäʨə qəˈʒäq]
'The bird of the man Baha'
A simple sentence consists at least of two noun phrases in nominative absolutus. The first noun phrase is interpreted as subject of the sentence, the second as predicate. If the first noun phrase is just a personal pronoun, it can be omitted and expressed as deixis of the predicate.
'The man sleeps'
The first vocalic position of the predicate does not have to coincide with that of the subject. Thereby the number of the action is determined. A singular predicate implies a one-time action, whilst a plural predicate connotes intensification, iteration or duration.
'Men are sleeping (right now)'
'A man is sleeping (continuingly)'