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Pronunciation ['kä˩cu˥]
Created by
Setting Rttirria
Spoken natively in Rtuha, Uya, northern Ttyami, northeastern Umairri, eastern Manamuki
Region Southeast Asia
Native speakers 928,000  (2015)
Language family
Writing system Latin (unofficially), Rttirri
ISO 639-3

Gaju (English: /'gɑːd͡ʒuː/, Gaju: ['kä˩cu˥], Rttirri: [ˈkɑcu]) is a minority language in Rttirria, spoken by the Gaju people in the eastern part of the country. It is a member of the Rttirrian language family, descended from the Proto-South-Rttirrian langauge that is also the ancestor of modern Rttirri, the nation's official language.

The language has been documented from the Old Gaju period in the 14th century. While it was used widely across much of eastern Rttirria at that time, its homeland has slowly shrunken over time into the countryside, small towns, and jungles as Rttirri has come to dominate the national landscape. The Gaju community, as well as some ethnically Rttirri Easterners resenting Western cultural influence, has pushed for greater recognition and representation of Gaju and other minority languages. In the 1970s, it became an official language of all of Rttirria; citizens have the right to receive voting ballots, drivers' license exams, court interpreters, and other official documents and proceedings in the Gaju language.

Gaju is a nominative-accusative language. Typically of languages in the Southeast Asian sprachbund, it is also primarily analytic and isolating in morphology, though it contains some elements of agglutinative and fusional languages. It has a large vowel inventory consisting of 9 vowels, and a moderate-sized consonant inventory of 26 consonants. It is variously written in the Latin alphabet, the Rttirri abugida—which is a Brahmic script—the Burmese script, and even Chinese characters.


See also: Proto-Rttirrian and Old Gaju

Gaju is a member of the South Rttirrian branch of the Rttirrian language family of Southeast Asia; the dialects of Proto-South-Rttirrian that would become Gaju split off from those that would become Rttirri around the 3rd to 5th century CE, probably in southeastern Rttirria.

Gaju is considered more linguistically innovative than Rttirri, having undergone many phonological and grammatical changes from Proto-South-Rttirrian that did not occur in Rttirri. The main such changes are summarized here:

  • The loss of the retroflex series. */ʈ ɖ ɳ/ merged into /t d n/, while */ɻ/ became [w] and */ɽ/ merged with onset */ʟ/ as [l]. However, the original three vowels */a i u/ had developed allophones after retroflex consonants, and these became independent phonemes: /ɑ e o/. */ɑ/ would later raise and round to /ɔ/.
  • Gradual development of a tone system. First, coda */ʟ/ disappeared and left a low tone on the preceding vowel, all vowels took a low tone before stops, and various grammatical particles and affixes took low tones—other syllables took high tones. From there, further phonological elision and grammaticalization of morphemes led to a contour tone system.
  • The gradual allowance of a few nasal consonants in coda position: /m n ŋ/.
  • The simplification of stop-stop clusters, which in Rttirri would develop into ejectives. The initial element of the cluster was fricativized, e.g. */tk/ > /sk/, and then an epenthetic /ə/ with a low tone was inserted, e.g. */ski˥/ > /sə˩ki˥/. In some function words and affixes, though, the second stop was lost altogether, e.g. */tk/ > /s/.
  • The development of several unusual voiceless consonants. In clusters ending in */m n ɻ ɽ/, the first consonant (which was always voiceless) disappeared, which left /m̥ n̥ ʍ l̥/ as new phonemes.
  • The development of the vowels /ɛ ɪ/, which started as allophones of /e/ and /i/ that dissimilated after palatal consonants.
  • A chain shift from voiced stops, to voiceless stops, to aspirated stops.
  • Much of Proto-South-Rttirrian's agglutinative morphology being lost, in favor of a more analytic system. For example, the subject and object verb prefixes became freestanding pronouns, and the adoption of the third-person singular and third-person plural pronouns (-ge and -di) as new accusative affixes on nouns contributed to the development of a noun case system.
  • The reappropriation of the Proto-South-Rttirrian evidential particles as a fused politeness-aspect system.



Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m /m/
hm /m̥/
n /n/
hn /n̥/
ny /ɲ/ ng /ŋ/
Plosive p /pʰ/
b /p/
t /tʰ/
d /t/
ty /cʰ/
j /c/
k /kʰ/
k /k/
Fricative f /f/ s /s/
sh /ʃ/
sy /ç/ kh /x/ h /h/
Affricate ts /t͡s/
ch /t͡ʃ/
Approximant w /w/
hw /ʍ/
l /l/
hl /l̥~ɬ/

In addition, the following consonants are allowed in loanwords: hng /ŋ̊/, hny /ɲ̥/, y /j/, hh /ʔ/, r /ɹ~ɻ/.


Front Central Back
High i /i/ u /u/
Near-high ê /ɪ/
Mid e /e/ ơ /ə/ o /o/
Near-low â /ɛ/ ă /ɔ/
Low a /ä/


Gaju distinguishes four tones: high, low, rising, and falling. They are distinguished in the Latin script as follows:

  • High: a â ă e ê i o ơ u
  • Low: ạ ậ ặ ẹ ệ ị ọ ợ ụ
  • Rising: á ấ ắ é ế í ó ớ ú
  • Falling: à ầ ằ è ề ì ò ờ ù

The rising and falling tones are uncommon, being found only in loanwords and in a small number of native words where elision of VCV sequences has caused high-tone and low-tone syllables with the same vowel to occur adjacently to each other.

An example of four words distinguished only by tone:

  • High: ga ("day"), cognate to Rttirri ya
  • Low: gạ ("room, chamber"), cognate to Rttirri yau
  • Rising: ("sir"), cognate to Rttirri yaya ("socialite")
  • Falling: ("garbage"), a borrowing from Thai กาก gàak


Gaju places very tight restrictions on syllables: maximally, CVN syllables are allowed, where C is any consonant and N is any of the voiced non-palatal nasals: /m/, /n/, or /ŋ/.

Loanwords containing syllables ending in a consonant other than one of these, or containing consonant clusters, usually make use of an epenthetic /ə/:

  • pânsệlợ [pʰɛn˥.sɪ˩.lə˩] "pencil"
  • âlợchợbợlợ [ɛ˥.lə˩.t͡ʃə˩.pə˩.lə˩] "algebra"
  • shợnânụpaị [ʃə˩nɛ˥nu˩pʰä˥i˩] "comics" (from Rttirri)


The Rttirri native script in handwritten form, as it is used for Rttirri.

The Rttirri script was codified in the mid-14th century. It was based on the Pallava script, which is a Brahmic abugida that is also the ancestor of the Thai, Lao, Burmese, and Khmer scripts.

As an abugida, the Rttirri script is written with consonantal letters that are mutated for the different vowels. /i/ is the inherent vowel - for example, the character for /m/ is pronounced /mi/, but when given the diacritic for /u/, it is pronounced /mu/.

Although the orthography of Rttirri has become fairly non-phonetic, Gaju has only been consistently written in the Rttirri script since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so relatively few sound changes have occurred since then.

In the late 19th century, when Rttirria was a colony of Britain, English linguists designed a Latin transcription system for Rttirri and, with it, other indigenous languages such as Gaju. Some Gaju separatists and nationalists choose to use this Latin script, or other scripts such as Burmese or even Chinese characters, to write their language.


Gaju has historically featured very few of the Sanskrit and Arabic loanwords that abound in Rttirri. However, the Gaju community's close proximity to Myanmar has given their language numerous loanwords from local languages, such as Burmese, Thai, and the Karen languages. It has also taken on some loans from Rttirri.


Being spoken over a smaller area and by far fewer people, Gaju is considered less dialectally diverse than Rttirri. However, differences exist in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.

Urban Gaju

See also: Eastern Rttirri

Spoken by most Gajus closer to Rttirria's southern coast, such as in the far-eastern suburbs of Iharnara, Urban Gaju is characterized most notably by significant influence of the Eastern dialects of Rttirri. It is identified by the following features:

  • Mergers between the voiceless consonants /m̥/ and /n̥/ and their voiced counterparts. Similarly, /ʍ/ may be merged into either /w/ or /f/, and /l̥/ into either /l/ or /t/. Younger speakers, women, and Gajus with weaker ethnic identification are more likely to show these mergers.
  • Lowering of /ɛ/ to [æ], possibly with some rounding to [œ~ɶ̝].
  • Raising of /ə/ to [ɘ~ɨ].
  • Reversal of the original voiced stop > voiceless stop > aspirated stop chain shift, such that (for example) /t/ and /tʰ/ are now pronounced [d] and [t].
  • Merger of /h/ into /x/.
  • Significant flattening of the tone system, especially the higher tones; the high and rising tones, and the low and falling tones, may be merged altogether. Younger speakers, men, and Gajus with weaker ethnic identification show more deteriorated tone systems.
  • Greater use of the female third-person singular pronoun hni, including its inflected forms, which are often realized as hning (accusative) and hnìm (genitive) instead of hni ke and hni fóm. Younger speakers will often suffix noun phrases referring to women or girls with these pronouns, which has convinced some Gaju scholars that Urban Gaju is taking on a grammatical gender system.
Na nam emshang-e bo-bạkạ.
1SG.NOM PERF chicken-ACC PST-shoot
I shot the rooster.
Na nam emshang hning bo-bạkạ.
1SG.NOM PERF chicken F.ACC PST-shoot
I shot the hen.

Jungle Gaju

This dialect is spoken in the more remote and sparsely populated regions farther north, as well as in the mid-sized Rtuha city of Ppisinurtu. It is identified by the following features:

  • Optional pronunciation of /l̥/ as the lateral fricative [ɬ], and by analogy, /l/ as its voiced counterpart [ɮ]. This fricativization is generally avoided in loanwords, but especially common when preceding a syllable containing a voiceless consonant (only within the same lexical unit). As such, Gaju scholars believe the lateral approximants and lateral fricatives may be undergoing a phonemic split.
  • Downglides of front vowels to [a~ɐ~ə] before coda /m/, e.g. nim "around" [nia̯m˥]. Male speakers (of all ages) show higher and backer offglides than female speakers.
  • Chain shift of back vowels downward before coda /n/ and /ŋ/:
  • /u/ > [o]
  • /o/ > [ɔ]
  • /ɔ/ > [ɑ~ɒ]
  • Pronunciation of high back vowels (when not preceding a coda nasal) with a more unrounded articulation: /u/ as [ɯ] and /o/ as [ɤ].


Gaju morphology is significantly more analytic than that of Rttirri.


The following slots are allowed for affixes on the verb.

Verb Slot Allowable Inputs
Mood fa- (polite imperative)
nang- (subjunctive)
kan- (conditional)
khă- (imperative)
Tense -bu-/-bo-/-du-/-do-/-ju-/-jo- (past)
-mi-/-me-/-ni-/-ne-/-nyi-/-nye- (future)
Verb Root any verb
Auxiliary Verb -(k)ạng ("to be able to")
-(ạ)kạ ("to need to")
-(d)ẹng ("to want to")
-(g)ụng ("to force to")
and others

The particular tense affixes chosen depend on the first syllable: specifically, the initial consonant's place of articulation and the height of the vowel. There are few irregular verbs. This system has been maintained from Proto-South-Rttirrian and is greatly simplified in Rttirri.

Labial Alveolar Palatal,
Starts with
/i/, /u/ -bu-
Any other


Ma gịka-ge ma mạ nye-gạkung.
1PL.NOM parent-ACC PL 1PL.GEN FUT-visit
We will visit our parents tomorrow.

Noun phrases

Nouns can take the following cases:

Case Suffix
nominative (none)
accusative -(g)e (singular)
-(d)i (plural)
dative -(ty)á
ablative -(d)a
locative -(l)í
comitative -(ă)dă
instrumental -(w)àm
vocative -(a)să

The particle tan, once used to mean "behind"—its Rttirri cognate, fani, is still used that way—has been reconfigured as a genitive marker.

cat PERF Mary GEN lap-DAT PST-jump
Motị nam Meợrị tan nakợtị-tyá bo-fala.
The cat jumped into Mary's lap.

The following adpositional particles are used:

Postposition English Translation
nụbom above
bom below
nọm in front of
nặng in back of
feso outside
tafợng far from
tyà across
bim between (2 people/things)
jen among (3+ people/things)
fom except
tu only
nim around
pala about
dung for
mishu like, similar to

Cases other than the nominative may be used alongside adpositional particles.

Shilia lashi fú khợti nam bụki- hwọ nụbom bo-fala.
fox red very quick PERF dog-LOC lazy over PST-jump
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.


The following pronouns are used. They were not affixed to the verb, but stood in the place of other nouns.

Singular Plural
Nominative Accusative Nominative Accusative
1st person na ni ma mi
2nd person kom kim tsa tsi
3rd person la ge daa di

Pronouns are traditionally considered grammatically necessary, but, like in Japanese and other East and Southeast Asian languages, may be left out when obvious by context.

Syâm-í nam ge do-tang.
store-LOC PERF 3SG.ACC PST-find
(I) found him at the store.

Genitive pronouns follow the nouns they modify. The third-person singular plural is a recent innovation, derived from fòkom ("there").

English Old Gaju
my nạ
your kọm
his/her/its fóm
our mạ
all of your tsạ
their dặ

Gaju essentially has no grammatical gender. However, speakers may optionally substitute hni for the third-person singular pronoun la, derived from hnini ("girl"), to explicitly communicate that someone is female. The accusative form of hni is hni ke, and the genitive is hni fóm. This usage is generally prescribed against and avoided in formal speech.


Words can be derived into other parts of speech with the following suffixes:

Noun Verb Adjective
or Determiner
To... Noun - -bum -dom
Verb -syợto (to do an X-like thing) - -dosyợ
or Determiner
-we -bi - -bi
Adverb -dem -


The following particles can be used to express aspect and politeness; the default is imperfective impolite.

Informal Formal
Imperfective tya
Perfective nam nyem
Habitual shu tya shu

The following question words are used:

English Gaju
who/whom ta
what ti
when dịn
where dáng
why dịtạ
how dúng

Word order

Due to Gaju's case system, subject and object are not distinguished by their order as in Old Gaju or in Rttirri, so they (and any other noun phrases) can be placed in any order. However, subject-object-verb (SOV) word order remains the standard for clauses, with object-subject-verb (OSV) being a common alternative.

The noun is always the head of the noun phrase, and modifiers are added in the following order:

Noun + case suffixes / Adjectives / Determiners, or plural particle (ma) / Possessive pronouns

A common usage of OSV word order is to draw attention to the object, such as to evoke pity:

Lạ-ge chang kung fóm nam la bo-bom.
child-ACC beautiful three 3SG.GEN PERF 3SG.NOM PST-abandon
He abandoned his three beautiful children.


The following conjunctions are used, and can be applied both to noun phrases and to clauses:

Postposition English Translation
pu and
she or (inclusive)
shem or (exclusive)
fa but
kinya because
khợtom before
nặku after
mamu until
wặku although

Relative and independent clauses

Relative particles are marked with the particle ợtyu, which can be declined for case.

Dáng demo ma ợtyu-ge na bu-pịpu?
where dumpling PL that-ACC 1SG.NOM PST-bake exist
Where are the dumplings that I baked?

Independent clauses are demarcated with the particle shu.

La nam du-dị shu la lă-tyá ợta-dẹng.
3SG.NOM PERF PST-say that 3SG.NOM home-DAT go-want.
She said that she wanted to go home.

Sample text

The Lord's Prayer in Gaju, as translated by early Christian missionaries to Rttirria:

English Gaju
Our Father who art in heaven, Fợtạkasă tya mạ tsạkunlí,
Hallowed be thy name. Isho kọm tẹm amạ.
Thy kingdom come. Chalạ tya kọm nyicha.
Thy will be done Dẹngbum tya kọm nyichi
on earth as it is in heaven. Bomshulí mishu tsạkunlí.
Give us this day our daily bread, Matyá tya bomlame khămà
and forgive us our trespasses, pu kiwoma ma khăhnang
as we forgive those who trespass against us, mishu ma neng ợtyu matyá hmalu hnang
and lead us not into temptation, pu wọkembumá nù khămihlang
but deliver us from evil. fa dắda khă hlo.

See also