Kirtumur nouns

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A typical Kirtumur sentence consists of a finite verbal form and, as a rule, one or more noun phrases. The verb form refers to a certain action and to its participants having roles in that action. Usually its participants are noun phrases. A noun phrase is, broadly speaking, a grammatical unit of one or more words which is in some case, expressed by an enclitic case marker which is attached to the last word of the noun phrase. A noun phrase can refer to one or more persons, animals, things, to a time, a place, etc., depending on the context. Case markers establish roles which noun phrases play in a sentence and also mark boundaries of the individual noun phrases.


A crucial point in describing the structure of a noun phrase is to establish its head – usually a noun, central to a noun phrase the same way, how a finite verb is central to a verb phrase. It determines both the general meaning and the general grammatical properties of the phrase as a whole. For instance, the following noun phrase:

ŋirak ēlnenues ...
ŋir-ak ēl-nen-u-es ...
person-PL word-3PL.POSS-1SG.POSS-ERG
"My witnesses ..."

The noun ŋirak "people" is the head of this phrase. It determines the general meaning of the phrase, which refers to a specific kind of "people". It also determines the gender of the phrase, which is animate, and thus it is the gender of the head noun, even though it also countains the inanimate noun ēl "word". The ergative marker -es shows the boundary of the phrase and that it performs the role of the agent (the complete sentence is not shown here, however). Most noun phrases have a noun as their head, but numerals, ideophones and nominalized phrases can also be used as heads of noun phrases.


Kirtumur nouns inflect for three numbers: singular, dual and plural, though only animate and a few naturally paired inanimate nouns can have dual forms.

The dual and plural of an animate noun are indicated with suffixes: -u (dual) and -ek/-ak (plural). The marker is attached directly to the animate noun regardless of its position in a noun phrase, while the plural marker is attached to the last word of a noun phrase, if the noun is inanimate, and has the form -ka/-kan depending on case markers, attached to it. Dual of naturally paired inanimate objects behaves the same way as the dual of animate nouns. The number marker always comes before any case markers and behaves either as a suffix or a clitic depending on the class of the noun, which it modifies: heimnen ninaknennei (house-3Pl.Poss child-Pl-3Pl.Poss-Loc – "in the house of their children").


Cases play an important role in Kirtumur. Every noun phrase is marked with some case, which shows, how the phrase is related to the verb or to other parts of the sentence. Kirtumur cases express syntactic functions such as the subject and the various types of objects. The category of case is expressed by enclitic case markers which are attached to the last word of the noun phrase the case of which they indicate. There are four cases in the modern language, but the fifth case, called vocative is often used by the nobility, preserved in their speech through Kērsalur influence. Kirtumur nouns belong to one of three declension types, based on their animacy and whether they end in a consonant or a vowel.

The case clitics are:

Case Animate Inanimate I Inanimate II
absolutive ŋiri khiŋ kōwa
ergative ŋires khiŋem kōwa
dative ŋirara khiŋex kōwōx
locative ŋirinei khiŋenei kōwōnei
Translation person day back

Rarely the case clitic -zur, called terminative, is used to indicate an end of action or a limit in time, though not every noun can be used with it, it is mostly restricted to a temporal meaning. Unlike in Kērsalur and other old languages, Kirtumur nouns do not have short forms which appear in more complex noun clauses in other Eastern languages, however noun case markers are clitics and are attached to the last word in a noun clause nevertheless. If a noun clause contains more than one noun, all case markers are stacked onto the last word in the order of those nouns, for example:

Kōl entiri ualennararax
kōl entiri ual-enn-ara-ara-ex
name god great-3rd.PL-DAT.AN-DAT.AN-DAT.INAN
"for the name of the great gods".

The dual of or plural markers are used with the noun they modify, although this particular example is from an old text. In modern colloquial language the word "gods" would be entirik instead, the second animate dative marker would be dropped too.


The ergative case is expressed with the enclitic case marker -es (animate) or -em (inanimate). A noun phrase in the ergative case expresses the agent of a transitive clause and in some cases the intransitive subject, when a clause is volitional. Here is an example of such a volitional contrast in an intranstive sentence: nō izilzil "a stone (absolutive case) rolls by itself" vs imem nimizile muitrau "a cloud (ergative case) rolls itself into a spiral shape". Volition is always expressed in Erepursal, but in Umunesal absolutive case would be preferred in both cases even though both options are acceptable. For semantic reasons, the ergative case is primarily found with human noun phrases, but it can be used with inanimate noun phrases as well. The xample below demonstrates the usage of the ergative case. The word Ŋaškiles is a proper noun (name) and displays the ergative case marker:

Ŋaškiles kōlnu neikartei
Ŋaškil-es kōl-nu na-i-kar-tei
Ngashkil-ERG name-3SG.POSS 3SG.IO-3SG.S-call-NFIN.PRF
"when Ngashkil had called his name".


The absolutive case is marked by -i (animate, not possessed) or by the absence of any case marker (inanimate). A noun phrase which lacks a case marker will be said to be in the absolutive case. In transitive clauses such a phrase usually expresses the direct object and in intransitive clauses the subject; it can also denote indirect objects with the meaning of motion, manner or purpose. Finally, in Umunesal the absolutive case is the form used when addressing somebody, while Erepursal has a special vocative clitic for this purpose.

The absolutive case marker -i derived from a certain kind of a definite article or a demonstrative, and in ancient inscriptions it could appear with inanimate nouns too. In Kirtumur it became fused with its modifying noun, but just as other clitics it did not participate in vowel harmony, which was still productive in early Kirtumur. A noun phrase in the absolutive case can have several different functions. In a transitive clause, it expresses the direct object. E.g.:

Heim eritikta
heim-Ø e-rit-i-k-ta
house-ABS PST-build-1AG.3PAT-DU-COM
"we built a house together".

In an intransitive clause, a noun phrase in the absolutive case expresses the subject. Thus Kirtumur follows an ergative pattern: the intransitive subject is treated in the same way as the direct object, and differently from the transitive subject.


A noun phrase in the dative case expresses an indirect or oblique object. It is expressed with the clitics -ara (animate) and -ex (inanimate):

Kaulaŋara Anturkuri enayitumē
Kaulaŋ-ara Anturkur-i e-na-yi-tum-ē
Kaulang-DAT Anturkur-ABS PST-3SG.IO-this-say-3AG.3PAT
"Anturkur said this to Kaulang".

A noun phrase in the dative case can also express the oblique object: pešeilex neimirauwite heim a house was hit by a volcanic bomb, where pešeil ("volcanic bomb") is in the dative case. It can also express direction or position on something: nayilateya pakethōsex "put it on the wall shelf (a niche)".


The locative case is used only in Umunesal and is marked by a clitic -nei. Erepursal usually denotes location on the main verb only, except for some fixed idioms. The locative is almost exclusively found with placenames but may also occur with other nouns: Erepurenei eaŋale "I used to live in Erepur" (in Erepursal this phrase would be: Erepur iniaŋil). in Umunesal this case marker is optional if the locative meaning is already expressed on the verb. The locative can also have the same uses as the local prefix ur- "on": Heimax mauzenē curitēni "There is a house, built on the mountain".

Other cases

Erepursal has two additional cases which are not used in Umunesal and in most other Kirtumur dialects. The first case is the vocative, which is used for a noun that identifies a person (animal, object, etc.) being addressed. This case is marked with the clitic and is still used by the Umu nobility occasionally: Ŋaškilē, kurōmet (Ngashkin, stay please"). The second is the terminative case, which is expressed with the enclitic case marker -(z)ur. A noun phrase in the terminative case expresses a destination. This destination can be one in place or time (as a temporal limit), but it can also be more metaphorically a purpose. Even in Erepursal its usage is quite limited: par iyata hi Iškilluzur "the road goes all the way to Iškillu"; nichyr yiranu khiŋ neinar ešne hōcutynzur (Erepursal: "at this time of the year a day lasts from four to eight o’clock"). Some fixed expressions can also be found in Umunesal, but the marker became fused to the stem: razur "forever" (lit: "until time"), šezur "for the third time". In Kērsalur the terminative case marker had a meaning of "changing into something", which was borrowed into Erepursal: yilōm ikhat khilōmzur "he/she made this sand into glass" (in Umunesal: yirixex eŋaram naxikhaē). The terminative case can express a purpose or function. It can then be translated as "for" or "as": namkultuminzur niyilapeyan "put it here as an offering" (in Umunesal: nalapeya yim yinamaula).


Some Kirtumur nouns can have reduplicated forms. It is a property they share with the adjectives and verbs, but, unlike the latter, nouns only have one type of reduplication: a full reduplication of a monosyllabic stem and a partial reduplication of a stem containing more than one syllable. Reduplicated nouns have collective and/or intensive and this they share with reduplicated adjectives as well. Reduplication occurs with nouns of inanimate class, while animate nouns can only be reduplicate if they were derived from inanimate nouns. It can be viewed as a special case of noun composition, where both parts are the same:


The standard spelling for a reduplicated noun is to write it twice, even though certain consonant clusters will simplify once formed in such compounds. Old reduplicated nouns also show ablaut, for example: kukkapir "column", formed with an additional suffix -ir and reduplication of kapa "to hold, support". Such forms of reduplication became non-productive already in East Kyrdan.


Possession is a category that describes an asymmetric relationship between two constituents: the possessor and the possessed. The possessed can be further divided into alienable and inalienable. When something is inalienably possessed, it is usually an attribute or a quality that can not be physically removed from the possessor and blood relations. A distinct inalienable category exists only for first and second persons in Kirtumur.

Like number, possession is marked with suffixes (inalieble possession is marked with prefixes instead), but they share some clitic-like behaviour with the case markers, for example: ōl ŋiwinnu nōsa phasanu (blue eye-du "his/her wide bright blue eyes", where -nu "his" is phrase-final, even though the possessed is ŋiwinnu "eyes". Since both "bright" and "wide" are stative verbs, they do not receive a possessive marker, but if an adjective is noun-like, a possessive marker will be used to denote the relation to the noun it modifies: uheim ukhinaušatnu "a magnificent palace" (palace magnificent-3sgPoss). Multiple possession suffixes can be used to mark more than one possessor, but, unlike case markers, they do not necessarily stack at the end of a phrase: ninnau hephenu "their child’s hair" (child-3duPoss hair-3sgPoss, but nini hephenunau is equally possible and is a marker of a noble speech), in this example the absolutive marker -i is not used with the noun, it is never used with possessed nouns.

The possessive suffixes are:

Type I Type II
singular dual plural singular dual plural
1st -u -au -em -yu -yau -me
2nd -šu -ašu -šen -šu -šau -šne
3rd -nu -anu -nen -nu -nau -nne
Type I Type II
singular dual plural singular dual plural
1st ani- anu- anne- an- anu- ann-
2nd ari- aru- arne- ar- aru- arn-

Type I are used after (or in case of inalieble markers - before) consonants when they are word-final (or word-initial), while Type II are used after or before vowels. The possessive markers are always placed before case clitics: phasa muphastur araltenunux "for his/her wide beautiful yard".