|Region||six towns in Moselle, France|
|Native speakers||< 200 (2012)|
|Writing system||Latin script|
Sprik: A survey
This brief work is intended to describe the salient features of Sprik, a minor West Germanic language reported in six towns in France near the Luxembourgish border. Almost solely older residents belonging to the merchant class speak the language to a fully fluent level. It is believed that the unusual and highly irregular development of the language is a result of its use as a cant and the roving habits of those who spoke it, before the immigration laws of the 20th century restricted it to its present range.
This survey is intended to allow any reader with experience in West Germanic languages to comprehend text written in Sprik, and to elucidate the prominent features of the language.
There are four cases: nominative, genitive, accusative and dative (all words that are declined will be declined in this order). Nouns only inflect for one of them, the genitive. The genitive is regularly formed identically for singular and plural by suffixing the noun with –s; if it ends in a vowel, with –jes. Some nouns undergo umlaut as well, but this is nowadays rare outside of the countryside, and can be safely ignored. Almost all nouns are pluralized in the nominative, accusative, and dative by adding –e (or –n if they end in an e already); speakers from the South may use –(e)n for all nouns instead, as will any speaker when trying to appear formal. Nouns have one of two genders, common and neuter; they are only distinguished in a few situations and a noun’s gender may easily be forgotten or confused. New borrowings are always of the common gender.
Adjectives are inflected for all oblique cases in certain situations. Adjectives normally precede a noun; when used postpositively, they do not inflect. They always inflect for the genitive, singular and plural, in an identical manner to the nouns, except that there is never umlaut. Adjective inflection also produces what is called the “attributive form”, used before a noun belonging to the common gender in the accusative and dative cases for both singular and plural nouns. The attributive form is produced like the noun plural, except that adjectives that already end in e take –ne and the attempt at formality described above almost never occurs, being seen as a sign of poor education when misapplied to adjectives.
- Personal pronouns and possessive adjectives.
The possessive adjectives are as follows: mijn (my), dijn (your), hijn (his), schijn (her), ijen (its), vijn (our), jijn (your pl.), dijen (their). They act like normal adjectives in the nominative and genitive cases, except for the fact that the attributive form is only used postpositively. The possessive adjectives are thus indeclinable in regard to the accusative and dative cases when used before a noun, as they normally are. Due to the existence of the possessive adjectives, the personal pronouns have no genitive forms, but all decline for the other cases. No second-personal plural exists; the second-person singular is used instead or the second-person plural possessive adjective is used if there is ambiguity. However, there is a separate third-person singular form for both natural genders and the grammatical gender, neuter; masculine forms are generally used to refer to objects referred to by the common gender. Sprik is not a pro-drop language, so the personal pronouns are essential, and often allow for inconsistency in using or pronouncing the conjugated forms of verbs. The personal pronouns are as follows: I: mij, mij, mei; you: u, ju, ooi; he: hij, hen, hooi; she: schij, hen, schei; it: et, et, ijt; we: vij, uins, ijch; they: dije, dij, deie.
Verbs have as a lemma form their infinitive, which always consists of the verbal stem followed by –in. For the following discussion, we will use the verb sprikin (“to speak”). Verbs undergo a complex conjugation in the present tense, which is regular for the vast majority of verbs. However, the verbs can still be considered according to principal parts, of which there are three: the first-person singular (in this case, sprek), the neuter third-person singular (sprich) and either the infinitive or the past participle, both of which preserve the verbal stem (sprikin and gesprikt respectively). The first-person singular, second-person singular, and third-person plural change the stem’s vowel; the remaining forms change the stem’s final consonant. Verbs have no second-person plural form, and ignore gender except in the third-person singular, where common gender nouns take a different form from neuter ones. Sprikin is conjugated thus: mij sprek, u sprekin, (sc)hij spricht, vij sprichin, dije sprekin, et sprich.
- Conjugation continued.
Regular conjugation always follows the same rules to produce the vowel change and the consonant change, one of which (never both) is found in each conjugated form. The vowel shifts are as follows: ij becomes ie, i becomes e, e becomes ij, ie becomes i, u(i) becomes oo(i), and oo(i) becomes u(i). The consonant shifts are more limited, and are only in the following cases: k becomes ch, ch becomes g, t becomes d, and v becomes f. The past participle is formed from the verbal stem prefixed with ge- and suffixed with –t; it is an adjective and declines normally. The present participle is identical to the infinitive, and declines normally; although the attributive form is proscriptively suffixed with –de (so sprikinde, for example) few speakers actually say this. It is variously spelt as sprikine or sprikinne when reflecting the spoken form. There are also two nouns regularly derived from verbs, one of which is the verbal stem, which takes on the meaning of “that which is acted upon by the verb” and is of the neuter gender, and the other which is the verbal stem suffixed with –ijt (“-ness”) and is of the common gender.
- Prefixed verbs.
Verbs have two kinds of prefixes, separable and inseparable. Inseparable prefixes, like un-, simply become part of the verbal stem and do not change what case the verb takes if it is transitive (the default is the accusative). Separable prefixes are prepositions in their own right, and the verb once thus prefixed will take whatever case the preposition does (usually the dative). The most common such prefix is fer-', which as an independent preposition means “for” but as a prefix renders an intransitive verb transitive; we shall use fersprikin (“to tell”) as an example. The prefix is removed from the front and placed after the verb in all the conjugated forms to produce mij sprek fer hooi (“I tell him”) and et sprich fer hooi (“it tells him”). The past participle places ge- between the prefix and the stem, as in fergesprikt. If one wanted to say “he speaks for him”, it would be necessary to put the object in the genitive (and if it is a pronoun, to substitute the appropriate possessive adjective for the nonexistent genitive) as hij spricht fer hijn. A bitransitive verb will normally take the second object in the dative case or use an intervening preposition to make the meaning clearer, but bitransitive verbs that take the dative case (mainly verbs with separable prefixes) take the second object in the genitive case.
- Irregular verbs.
All but two of the twelve irregular verbs are auxiliaries (the exceptions are duin, “to do” and gooin, “to go”). Some also have nonauxiliary uses as independent verbs in their own right; only the auxiliary uses will be discussed here, but the irregular verbs will be glossed with their nonauxiliary meanings (where such meanings exist) before their auxiliary ones in the list at the end of this paragraph. Zijin (“to be”) can be followed with the present or past participle; in the former case, it forms the present progressive tense, and the latter, the passive perfect tense. Hijbin (“to have”) is followed by the past participle to form the active perfect tense of all regular verbs, and most irregular verbs, but for the irregular verbs zijin, zolin, mochin, kijnin, gooin, and bruin (this last one only when used as an auxiliary) the verb zijin fills this function instead. All irregular verbs used as auxiliaries except zijin and hijbin are always followed by the present participle. The list of irregular verbs is: zijin (“to be”), hijbin (“to have”), vielin (“to want”), zolin (“shall”), mochin (“may”), mokin (“to make, cause to”), vijsin (“to know, know how to”), kijnin (“to be able”), gooin (“to go”), bruin (“to burn, must”), and duin (“to do”). They are all fully conjugated in the appendix at the end of this guide.
- Articles and numerals.
The definite article is dij, dei, den, dei. The indefinite article is ij, ei, ei, ei. If the next word begins with a vowel, or if the article is the last word of a sentence or standalone statement, -n will be added to the indefinite article to produce ijn, ein, ein, ein. Many speakers will not decline the articles in rapid or informal speech, instead using the forms de and e(n) (rarely written, so the spelling may vary). The indefinite article is also used for the number one, in which case it is always fully pronounced and declined. No other numbers decline. The cardinal numbers one to twenty are ij(n), tvei, trie, fer, fief, zij, zefin, ijcht, nefin, tijn, ijten, tveten, treten, ferten, fiften, zijten, zeften, ijchten, neften, tveintik. In the towns, where the digraph ch is pronounced more softly, it is common to hear ijkten for eighteen to avoid confusion with ijten. There is no word for zero, but nijn (“none”) is commonly accepted in such use. The ordinals are regularly declining adjectives, and are used to form fractions as well (so "one half" is ij tveidt).
Sprik has borrowed many words from the Latinate wordstock, often by taking a French word and later having it be modified to better match its Neo-Latin source, and sometimes via the German lects. A detailed study of such borrowings is beyond the scope of this overview, but a few examples may assist the reader in recognizing relevant patterns: Lat. qualitas → Spr. kfaalitijt (“quality”), Lat. essentia → Spr. essenz (“essence”), Lat. Cæsar → Spr. keizer (“king”), Lat. scientia → Spr. schienz (“science”), Lat. etymologia → Spr. etiemologij (“etymology”), Lat. imitatio → Spr. imitaasjen (“imitation”). Recent borrowings are chiefly from English and attempt to match the original pronunciation as close as possible, as in odijefooil (“audiofile”). Often there are native words that are synonymous to borrowings, and any may be used, as in the native word vijsinkraft, which is synonymous to Latinate schienz and German-derived vijsinschaft.
- Syntax and conversation.
Word order and syntax follows other West Germanic languages closely, and the only noticeable deviation from a generalised Afrikaans word order is that in a simple declarative sentence, the verb is often placed last. In complex sentences, the STOMPI rule generally holds, and the reader is advised to research this unless (s)he already speaks Afrikaans. Negation is accomplished by placing nit (“not”) immediately before the verb; double negatives are nonstandard. Dependent clauses are most often introduced by vyt (“what; that”) but other common words in this use are on (“and”), zo (“so”), onzo (“therefore”), as ("if"), vie (“who”), and ver (“where”). There is no distinction between interrogative and relative pronouns. Some simple responses are: hooi (“hello”), jij (“yes”), nij (“no”), and midt Godt (“goodbye”, literally “[go] with God”). Note that in speech hooi ("hello") is distinguished from hooi ("to him") by pronouncing the /h/ as [x].
Sprik has no agreed-upon phonology, in part because of the lack of a standard prestige dialect, and in part due to lack of study. Recordings have only been made of male speakers in the northwest sector, specifically from the town of Mont St. Gerard, and are reported to resemble “if you got a Dutch guy, and an Australian guy, and tried to make them compete to see whose vowels could overpower the others” (Meredith 2013).
This following analysis is the most complete to date, and yet important features like glottal stops that occur regularly in native speakers' speech are still completely ignored. It is simply given as a general guide. Below is a table that shows correspondences between the orthography and the phonology in IPA, although one should remember that although <a> and <r> are represented in this analysis as [a] and [r], they are more likely closer to [ɑ] and [ɻ] to many speakers. This analysis is biased toward the highly incomplete and imperfect studies done to date, and is not representative of all speakers.
|a||[a]||[ɑː] when doubled|
|b||[b]||[p] at ends of words|
|ch||[ç]||often [h] when preceded by a vowel and followed by a consonant|
|d||[d]||[t] at ends of words|
|e||[ɛ]||[ə] when unstressed or at the ends of words|
|g||[g]||[k] at ends of words|
|h||[h]||[x] on occasion; see below|
|i||[ɪ]||[ə] when unstressed or at the ends of words|
|ie||[i]||[iː] in most positions|
|ij||[əi̯]||considered a single letter|
|n||[n]||[ŋ] before [g] or [k]|
|o||[ɔ]||[oə] when doubled|
|r||[r]||[ʁ], [ɚ] or absent at the ends of syllables|
|v||[ʋ]||[v] to many speakers|
|y||[ə]||variable realisation, often around [ɵ]|
Final voiced consonants are regularly devoiced, with the exception of /z/. The phoneme /h/ is often pronounced as [x] at the beginning of a sentence, and in a few cases it does seem to be phonemic (as noted above, in differentiating hooi ("hello") and hooi ("to him")). It should be noted that *dtt is an illegal consonant cluster, and is resolved as dt where it may be predicted in a verb's conjugational pattern. Similarly, an adjective or noun that ends in -dt in its lemma form would inflect by deleting the t before adding an inflectional suffix.
Stress is irregular, but the default stress is penultimate. For verbs, the past participle takes ultimate stress. For adjectives and nouns, inflectional suffixes do not move the stress from its position in the lemma form. Borrowings are usually stressed as they were in the language they are being borrowed from, although when Latinate words are borrowed, if the Sprik form has less syllables than the original Latin form, the original stress is usually ignored and penultimate stress is applied. Compounds generally take the stress of the words being compounded, wherein the stress of polysyllabic words overrides the stress of words with less syllables, and compounds where all the elements are monosyllabic take penultimate stress.
What follows is the full conjugation of the twelve irregular verbs, in the following order: infinitive, 1st-person singular, 2nd-person singular, 3rd-person singular, 1st-person plural, 3rd-person neuter singular, past participle.
Zijin, bien, bit, it, zen, zen, it, gezent
Hijbin, hib, hijn, hijt, hijb, hijb, het, gehijt
Vielin, viel, vien, viet, vijl, vijl, vit, gevilt
Zolin, zuil, zon, zot, zooil, zooil, zot, gezolt
Mochin, mijch, mochin, mocht, mol, mol, mot, gemokt
Vijsin, vijs, vijin, vit, vije, vije, vit, gevijt
Kijnin, kijn, ken, ket, kijl, kijl, kit, gekijt
Gooin, gooi, gon, got, gol, gol, git, gegooit
Bruin, bren, brenin, brit, brin, brenin, brit, gebruicht
Duin, dooi, dun, dit, duil, duil, dyt, gedunt