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Ustekkli: a new project (longish)

From:Dirk Elzinga <dirk_elzinga@...>
Date:Wednesday, January 30, 2002, 23:38

I thought I'd introduce some features of a new project that is
underway. This is something that I don't usually do; while I enjoy
the discussions here, I tend to view conlanging as a solitary
activity, and I have been reluctant to share volatile features of
projects in progress. So I'm new at this :-). That said, here are
some things I find interesting in my latest project, tentatively
called Ustekkli ["ust@kli] (nominalized plural of the perfective
_ust_ of _usta_ 'speak', hence 'words'. I know, I know, but I gotta
call it something).



p       t               kj      k
b       d               gj      g
f       th      s       sj              h
m               n
w                       j

The consonants are presented in the orthography with one exception;
<th> is written with <thorn>. <kj, gj, sj> are alveopalatal
consonants rather than clusters; <kj> and <gj> are voiceless and
voiced affricates, respectively, <sj> is [S]. <j> is jod.

Vowels are divided into simple vowels and diphthongs. Simple vowels
can be long or short:

simple vowels

ii              uu      i               u
ei              ou      e       @       o
        aa                      a

Again, the inventory is presented in orthography with the exception
of [@] which is written <e>. <ei> and <ou> are simply [e:] and [o:].
Otherwise the vowels have expected values. <e> and <o> tend to be
open and <ei> and <ou> tend to be close. The distinction between long
and short vowels is only apparent in stressed syllables and is
related to the notion of syllable contact (see below).

Diphthongs are divided into two groups: breaking diphthongs and sound
diphthongs. The distinction between falling and rising is only
apparent in stressed syllables; breaking diphthongs thus pattern with
long and short vowels in this respect.

breaking diphthongs

falling                 rising

ie      uo              je      wo
ea      oa              ja      wa

sound diphthongs

ai      au
oi      eu
ui      iu

The falling diphthongs have schwa as their second member; thus, <ie>
= [i@], <ea> = [e@], <uo> = [u@], and <oa> = [o@]. The rising
diphthongs are introduced by a glide -- either [j] or [w].

The sound diphthongs are all falling diphthongs, with values as
expected based on the representations above.


phonological processes

There is only one bona fide phonological process which I understand
right now -- schwa deletion:

@ -> 0 / _ V

Schwa deletion applies between words. I don't know of any examples
where a stem ending in schwa adds a suffix beginning with a vowel; I
suspect that deletion would apply there as well.

syllable contact

The driving force of Ustekkli prosody is syllable contact. Syllable
contact refers to the nature of the connection between a vowel and a
following consonant. Two kinds of contact are distinguished: close
contact and loose contact (these are translations of Jespersen's 1912
'fester Anschluß' and 'loser Anschluß'). Close contact describes the
connection between a short vowel and a consonant within the same
syllable, while loose contact describes i) the connection between a
long vowel and a consonant within the syllable or ii) the connection
between a vowel of any length and a consonant in the next syllable.
(Trubetzkoy 1939 [1969] discusses this kind of prosodic distinction
and makes the claim that loose contact is the unmarked member of the
pair -- hence its wider distribution.)

Here is how syllable contact plays out. In Ustekkli, stressed
syllables must be heavy; this is accomplished by gemination or vowel
lengthening. The choice between the two depends on if there is close
contact or loose contact between the vowel of the stressed syllable
and the following consonant. If there is close contact, the consonant
is geminated; this creates a heavy syllable:

nikk-r  /nikr/  ["nIk.k=r]  (close contact)

If there is loose contact between the vowel of the stressed syllable
and the following consonant, the vowel is lengthened, which also
creates a heavy syllable:

nik-r   /nikr/  ["ni:.k=r]  (loose contact)

Alternations between rising and falling diphthongs also depend on
close/loose contact: close contact requires a rising diphthong; loose
contact requires a falling diphthong:

oatt-n  /oatn/  ["wat.t=n]  (close contact)
oat-n   /oatn/  ["o@_^.t=n]  (loose contact)

The distinction between close and loose contact is represented by
orthographic gemination; a vowel followed by an orthographic geminate
is in close contact with the following consonant, while a vowel which
is not followed by an orthographic geminate is in loose contact with
the following consonant.

So those are some of the phonological musings thus far. Of course,
there are lots of things which I still need to think about.


Morphosyntax isn't as well developed, but there are a couple of
interesting features.

noun inflection

Nouns are marked for a distinction which in Uto-Aztecan is called
'absolutive'. This is *not* a case marking. Nouns are marked as
absolutive when they are not possessed, compounded, or the objects of
prepositions. In this respect, it's more like the distinction made in
Hebrew between the absolute and construct states. The absolutive
suffixes are -r, -n, and -l.

shoe    stubn   stub-n
water   luotn   luot-n
man     hrenkl  hrenk-l
woman   jettr   jett-r
book    orml    orm-l
word    ustekkl ust-ekk-l

Nouns are inflected for case; subjective is unmarked, oblique is
marked by -e (pronounced [@]; the oblique suffix is deleted before a
vowel in accordance with  the rule of schwa deletion).

shoe    stubne
water   luotne
man     hrenkle

Nouns are also inflected for number; singular is unmarked, plural is
marked by -i.

shoe    stubni  (stubnie 'OBL')
man     hrenkli  (hrenklie 'OBL')


Verbs do not agree with their subjects, but do carry object prefixes
if transitive. The object prefixes are:

    sg    pl

1  ne-   te-
2  me-   pe-
3     o- (refl)

(The prefix _o-_ is only used in reflexive sentences; there is no
object prefix for non-reflexive third person objects.)

Verbs do show aspect distinctions; imperfective verbs are unmarked,
while perfective verbs truncate the final vowel, if present.

usta    'speak'
ust     'spoken'

hipi    'drink'
hip     'drunk'

bieme   'jump'
biem    'jumped'

(Object prefixes and truncation are shamelessly stolen from O'odham,
a Uto-Aztecan language of central and southern Arizona and
neighboring Mexico.) There is a derivational process of reduplication
which carries an iterative meaning; so from _hipi_ 'drink' there is
also _hippi_ 'sip' (some opaque phonological alternations going on
there), and from _bieme_ 'jump' you get _bibieme_ 'hop'.


There is a set of auxiliaries which inflect for the person and number
of the subject, present and past tense (actually past and non-past),
and for main or embedded clause status. Third person does not
differentiate between singular and plural. They are:

present indicative

1  en   et
2  em   ep
3    se

past indicative

1  ant   att
2  amt   apt
3     ast

present subjunctive

1  eln   elt
2  elm   elp
3     els

past subjunctive

1  alnt    altt
2  almt    alpt
3      alst

The auxiliaries always occur in the second position of the clause.

Here are some sentences in orthography, X-SAMPA, morphological parse,
interlinear gloss, and translation:

hippi se a hrenkli a luotne
hippi se    a   hrenk -l   -i  a   luot  -n   -e
sip   AUX:3 DET man   -ABS -PL DET water -ABS -OBL

The man sips the water.

a hrenkl se hippi a luotne els touth
a   hrenk -l   se    hippi a   luot  -n   -e   el      -s touth
DET man   -ABS AUX:3 sip   DET water -ABS -OBL AUX:SUB -3 pour:PERF

The man sips the water which he poured.

a hrenkl ast hipp a luotne alst touth
a   hrenk -l   a   -s -t    hipp
DET man   -ABS AUX -3 -PAST sip:PERF

a   luot  -n   -e   a   -l   -s -t    touth
DET water -ABS -OBL AUX -SUB -3 -PAST pour:PERF

The man sipped the water which he poured.

hippi ne a luotne alnt touth
hippi ne     a   luot  -n   -e   a   -l   -n  -t    touth
sip   AUX:1s DET water -ABS -OBL AUX -SUB -1s -PAST pour:PERF

I sip the water which I poured.

Not too exciting right now, but there are some promising features, I think.

Dirk Elzinga                                  

"Speech is human, silence is divine, yet also brutish and dead;
therefore we must learn both arts."
- Thomas Carlyle


And Rosta <a.rosta@...>