Skip to Content

Night Speech

https://www.jamescolton.com/worldbuilding/night-speech/

Introduction

Night Speech is an analytical, head-first language. Its grammar is driven by two main systems: morphology is controlled by consonantal root templates, while syntax is controlled by syntactic particles. Some other interesting features include:

  • Free word order
  • Ergative-absolutive alignment
  • No plural inflections
  • No tense inflections
  • No adjectives or adverbs
  • An octal number system

Linguistic Notation

This guide uses the following typographic conventions:

Typographic Conventions in Linguistic Notation
[m] Phonetic Transcription Characters within brackets represent precise, individual sounds where subtle variations matter.
/m/ Phonemic Transcription Characters within slashes represent groups of similar sounds. A language considers all members of a group to be a single sound in spite of any subtle differences.
⟨m⟩ Orthographic Transcription Characters within chevrons represent the written letters a language uses to represent a sound.

Phonetic and phonemic transcriptions use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Most of the IPA pronunciations can be heard at the following links:

Language samples may include gloss notation, the rules for which can be found here: Leipzig Glossing Rules.

Phonology

Phonemic Inventory

Consonants
Labial Coronal Dorsal
Nasal /m/ /n/ /ŋ/
Plosive /t d/ /k/
Fricative /v/ /θ ð s z/ /x~χ/
Liquid /l/ /ɰ~ʁ/
Vowels
Front Mid Back
High /ɪ/ /ʊ/
Low /ɐ/

Night Speech has only a single diphthong: /ɐɪ/.

Pronunciation and Romanization
IPA Pronunciation Romanization
/m/ English ⟨m⟩ as in mortal ⟨m⟩
/n/ English ⟨n⟩ as in night ⟨n⟩
/ŋ/ English ⟨ng⟩ as in song ⟨n⟩
/t/ English ⟨t⟩ as in time ⟨t⟩
/d/ English ⟨d⟩ as in dark ⟨d⟩
/k/ English ⟨k⟩ as in kill ⟨q⟩
/v/ English ⟨v⟩ as in void ⟨v⟩
/θ/ English ⟨th⟩ as in thin ⟨th⟩; ⟨thh⟩ when geminated
/ð/ English ⟨th⟩ as in this ⟨dh⟩; ⟨dhh⟩ when geminated
/s/ English ⟨s⟩ as in sigh ⟨s⟩
/z/ English ⟨z⟩ as in zone ⟨z⟩
/x~χ/ German ⟨ch⟩ as in buch ⟨qh⟩; ⟨qhh⟩ when geminated
/l/ English ⟨l⟩ as in light ⟨l⟩
/ɰ~ʁ/ French ⟨r⟩ as in notre ⟨r⟩
/ɪ/ English ⟨i⟩ as in miss ⟨i⟩
/ʊ/ English ⟨oo⟩ as in book ⟨u⟩
/ɐ/ English ⟨a⟩ as in far ⟨a⟩
/ɐɪ/ English ⟨i⟩ as in spine ⟨ai⟩

Unless otherwise stated, geminated consonants and long vowels are simply written twice.

Voicing onset time is late; in fact, a geminated voiced consonant may be realized as an unvoiced consonant followed by a voiced one (e.g., /vː/ may be realized as [fv]).

/ŋ d ð s/ only occur as a result of sound changes.

/v/ may be realized as [ʋ] following plosives.

All vowels are unrounded.

/ɪ ʊ ɐ/ may be realized as [ɛ ɤ̞ ä] word-initially, or [i ɯ ə] word-finally, especially if vowels would otherwise blend together across word boundaries.

Word-initial vowels are never preceded by a glottal plosive (a click in the back of the throat); /ɐv/ should be pronounced [ɐv], not [ʔɐv].

Stress

  1. Stress the final syllable
  2. If the final syllable ends with a non-diphthong vowel, move the stress to the penultimate syllable

Sound Changes

Morphological processes may result in patterns that are subject to sound changes. Sound changes are applied starting at the end of the word. All of these changes are reflected in romanization.

  • /n/ assimilates to the place of a following adjacent dorsal plosive or fricative: /nk nx/ → /ŋk ŋx/
  • Intervocalic /t k/ excrete a following /v/: /ɐtɐ ɐkɐ/ → /ɐtvɐ ɐkvɐ/
  • Word-final plosives lenite to fricatives: /t k/ → /θ x~χ/
  • /t θ/ voice to /d ð/ following an adjacent /n l ʁ/: /nt nθ lt lθ ʁt ʁθ/ → /nd nð ld lð ʁd ʁð/
  • Word-medial /t/ dissimilates to /d/ before a non-adjacent /t/: /t_t/ → /d_t/
  • Word-medial /θ/ dissimilates to /ð/ before a non-adjacent /θ/: /θ_θ/ → /ð_θ/
  • Word-final /z/ devoices to /s/
  • In any pattern of ʁVCʁ, the last /ʁ/ is dropped and the C is geminated: /ʁɐzʁ/ → /ʁɐzz/
  • In any pattern of ʁVCCʁ, the last /ʁ/ is dropped: /ʁɐztʁ/ → /ʁɐzt/
  • In any pattern of CCː, the geminated consonant becomes ungeminated: /θʁʁ/ → /θʁ/

Phonotactics

  • The syllable structure is (C)(C)V(C)
  • Any consonant may be geminated
  • Voiced consonants may be followed by another voiced consonant or /k x~χ/
  • Nasals may be followed by plosives or fricatives at the same or forward place of articulation, or /ɰ~ʁ/
  • Plosives may be followed by /ɰ~ʁ/, or /v/ in onsets
  • Fricatives may be followed by plosives, fricatives formed farther forward, or /ɰ~ʁ/
  • Liquids may be followed by any other consonant
  • Onset clusters are only allowed word-initially if the first consonant is a non-geminate plosive, or word-medially if the second consonant is /v ɰ~ʁ/
  • All other consonant clusters are forbidden
  • Plosives may not appear word-finally
  • Diphthongs may only occur word-finally

Legal initial consonant clusters:

  • /tv tʁ/
  • /kv kʁ/

Legal medial consonant clusters:

  • /mm mmʁ mv mvʁ mʁ/
  • /nn nnʁ nd ndʁ nv nð nðʁ nz nzʁ nʁ/
  • /ŋk ŋkʁ ŋx ŋxʁ/
  • /tt tv ttʁ tʁ/
  • /kk kv kkʁ kʁ/
  • /vt vtv vtʁ vk vkv vkʁ vv vvʁ vʁ/
  • /θt θtv θtʁ θk θkv θkʁ θv θvʁ θθ θθʁ θʁ/
  • /zt ztv ztʁ zk zkv zkʁ zv zvʁ zθ zθʁ zz zzʁ zʁ/
  • /xt xtv xtʁ xk xkv xkʁ xv xvʁ xθ xθʁ xz xvʁ xx xxʁ xʁ/
  • /lm lmʁ ln lnʁ ld ldv ldʁ lk lkv lkʁ lv lvʁ lð lðʁ lz lzʁ lx lxʁ ll llʁ lʁ/
  • /ʁm ʁmʁ ʁn ʁnʁ ʁd ʁdv ʁdʁ ʁk ʁkv ʁkʁ ʁv ʁvʁ ʁð ʁðʁ ʁz ʁzʁ ʁx ʁxʁ ʁl ʁlʁ ʁʁ/

Legal final consonants:

  • /m/
  • /n/
  • /v/
  • /θ/
  • /s/
  • /x/
  • /l/
  • /ʁ/

Consonantal Roots

The Night Speech lexicon is derived almost entirely from consonantal roots composed of one to three consonants (C₁₋₃). Each root is also associated with a characteristic vowel (V). These roots are cast into derivational templates to create actual words. Each template varies based on how many consonants make up the root.

Derivational Templates
Root Type
C₁C₂C₃ C₁C₂ C₁ Part of Speech Meaning
Basic C₁VC₂VC₃ VC₁VC₂ VC₁ Noun Basic or abstract concept
Augmentative C₁aC₂C₃avtra aC₁C₂avtra aC₁avtra Noun Greater form
Diminutive C₁iC₂C₃iv iC₁C₂iv iC₁iv Noun Lesser form
Agentive C₁aC₂C₃ar aC₁C₂ar aC₁ar Noun Actor or tool
Patientive C₁aC₂C₃riath aC₁C₂riath aC₁riath Noun Experiencer or result
Locative C₁iC₂C₃iri iC₁C₂iri iC₁iri Noun Place, time, container, or context
Possessive C₁VC₂VC₃ra VC₁VC₂ra VC₁ra Verb Occupant or possession
Collective C₁iC₂C₃im iC₁C₂im iC₁im Noun Group
Partitive C₁iC₂C₃is iC₁C₂is iC₁is Noun Piece or instance
Identitive C₁aC₂C₃anna aC₁C₂anna aC₁anna Verb Identity; to be
Stative C₁aC₂C₃rial aC₁C₂rial aC₁rial Verb State; to have or exist
Active C₁uC₂C₃ur uC₁C₂ur uC₁ur Verb Action; to do

These derivations can trigger sound changes in certain situations.

Template suffixes may be isolated and appended to any word to create further derivations:

⟨talvarim⟩
/tɐl.vɐ.ˈʁɪm/
TLV.AGT-COL
group of writers

Particles do not participate in the consonantal root system.

Nominal Derivations

The Basic Derivation

The basic derivation (BAS) has no true pattern of meaning, except that most high-level abstract concepts take this form. But the basic derivation may also be used for physical objects, people, sensations, places—virtually anything. Usually, the other derivations use this form as their semantic base.

⟨tiliv⟩
/tɪ.ˈlɪv/
TLV.BAS
writing
⟨umuv⟩
/ʊ.ˈmʊv/
MV.BAS
darkness

The Augmentative Derivation

The augmentative derivation (AUG) takes a basic term and magnifies it. If the basic term is a concrete thing, then the augmentative may be used to form an abstract concept. Most of the time, however, it simply creates a larger or more intense form.

⟨talvavtra⟩
/tɐl.ˈvɐv.tʁɐ/
writing.AUG
literature
⟨lalvavtra⟩
/lɐl.ˈvɐv.tʁɐ/
speech.AUG
shouting

The Diminutive Derivation

The diminutive derivation (DIM) is the opposite of the augmentative; it takes the basic term and reduces it. As with the augmentative, this reduction may be literal or figurative.

⟨tilviv⟩
/tɪl.ˈvɪv/
writing.DIM
literature
⟨imviv⟩
/ɪm.ˈvɪv/
darkness.DIM
dimness

The Agentive Derivation

The agentive derivation (AGT) represents a person or tool that would actively perform an associated action. As a result, the words for a tool and the one who uses the tool are often the same.

⟨talvar⟩
/tɐl.ˈvɐʁ/
writing.AGT
author; pen
⟨amvar⟩
/ɐm.ˈvɐʁ/
darkness.AGT
veil; mask

The Patientive Derivation

The opposite of the agentive is the patientive derivation (PAT). If the agentive performs an associated action, the patientive is the object of that action.

⟨talvriath⟩
/tɐl.vʁɪ.ˈɐθ/
writing.PAT
paper; writing surface
⟨amvriath⟩
/ɐm.vʁɪ.ˈɐθ/
darkness.PAT
secret; hidden thing

The Locative Derivation

The locative derivation (LOC) creates a place, time, or container within which the basic form may be found.

⟨tilviri⟩
/tɪl.ˈvɪʁ.ɪ/
writing.LOC
library
⟨imviri⟩
/ɪm.ˈvɪʁ.ɪ/
darkness.LOC
night

The Possessive Derivation

The possessive derivation (POS) complements the locative, representing a noun that may be found within the basic or locative form.

⟨luruvva⟩
/lʊ.ˈʁʊv.vɐ/
water.POS
fish
⟨umuvra⟩
/ʊ.ˈmʊv.ʁɐ/
darkness.POS
moon

The Collective Derivation

The collective derivation (COL) represents a group of something, but this must not be confused with a plural inflection; Night Speech has no true plural.

⟨thilrim⟩
/θɪl.ˈʁɪm/
person.COL
crowd
⟨ithvim⟩
/ɪθ.ˈvɪm/
bone.COL
skeleton

However, sometimes it is acceptable to translate a Night Speech collective as an English plural. Context is key here.

The Partitive Derivation

The partitive derivation (PRT) is used to form a part of a greater whole, or a concrete instance of an abstract concept.

⟨lirvis⟩
/lɪʁ.ˈvɪs/
water.PRT
drop of water
⟨mirvis⟩
/mɪʁ.ˈvɪs/
goodness.PRT
a righteous act

Verbal Derivations

The Identitive Derivation

The identitive derivation (IDT) means to be X, where X represents the basic form:

⟨qhalzanna⟩
/xɐl.ˈzɐn.nɐ/
cat.IDT
to be a cat

But note that this does not cover all cases of English’s to be. The identitive is reserved for permanent identities, such as species or gender.

The Stative Derivation

Although in practice the stative derivation (STV) will often be translated to be X, a more literal translation would be to have X or for X to exist. The stative is used for temporary or inessential attributes, such as location, color, or possessions:

⟨qhalzrial⟩
/xɐl.zʁɪ.ˈɐl/
cat.STV
to have a cat
⟨amvrial⟩
/ɐm.vʁɪ.ˈɐl/
darkness.STV
to be dark

The Active Derivation

The active derivation (ACT) represents an associated action, usually that which is performed by the root’s agentive derivation. It corresponds with the English to do X:

⟨umvur⟩
/ʊm.ˈvʊʁ/
darkness.ACT
to darken

Syntactic Particles

Syntactic particles are the heart of Night Speech syntax. They precede words and determine their role in the sentence. Nouns and verbs must always take at least one particle.

Syntactic Particles
Particle Type Meaning
Absolutive ⟨i⟩ Aligning Patient or experiencer of the verb
Ergative ⟨mir⟩ Aligning Agent or actor, actively performing the verb
Reflexive ⟨a⟩ Aligning Both patient and agent, acting upon itself
Instrumental ⟨za⟩ Prepositional Context, position, means, attribute, equal comparison
Dative ⟨qir⟩ Prepositional Goal, destination, purpose, beneficiary
Genitive ⟨vil⟩ Prepositional Origin, cause, owner, general association
Revertive ⟨qhar⟩ Prepositional Obstacle, adversary, victim, unequal comparison
Perfect ⟨u⟩ Verbal Single, completed actions
Continuous ⟨zai⟩ Verbal Ongoing actions
Habitual ⟨tul⟩ Verbal Actions repeated over time
Hypothetical ⟨tvai⟩ Verbal Possible or uncertain actions
Jussive ⟨qvi⟩ Verbal Intentions, desires, or commands
Unitive ⟨il⟩ Conjunctive Both…and, but, and then
Disjunctive ⟨ur⟩ Conjunctive And/or
Biconditional ⟨zul⟩ Conjunctive Both or neither
Negative ⟨naqh⟩ Other Not, non-, except
Subordinate ⟨va⟩ Other Creates subordinate clauses
Interrogative ⟨qu⟩ Other Creates questions

Aligning Particles

Aligning particles are used to relate the major nouns of a sentence to the main verb. They are usually placed before nouns, but they may also be placed before a verb to turn that verb into a gerund.

The aligning particles are what enables Night Speech’s free word order.

The Absolutive Particle

The absolutive particle (ABS) marks its noun as the experiencer of the verb. This often corresponds with English’s direct object, but it may also represent a passive-voice subject. Passivity is the key attribute of an absolutive noun; it isn’t actually doing anything.

⟨U uztur i zavrar.⟩
/ʊ ʊz.ˈtʊʁ ɪ zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ/
PRF die ABS ruler
The ruler died.

The Ergative Particle

The ergative particle (ERG) marks its noun as the performer of the verb. This corresponds with English’s active-voice subject. In contrast to the absolutive, an ergative noun is an active participant in the sentence and the direct cause of the primary verb.

⟨U uztur i zavrar mir qhalas.⟩
/ʊ ʊz.ˈtʊʁ ɪ zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ mɪʁ xɐ.ˈlɐs/
PRF die ABS ruler ERG cat
The cat killed the ruler.

The distinction between absolutive and ergative eliminates the need for certain transitive-intransitive verb pairs found in English, such as kill/die.

The Reflexive Particle

The reflexive particle (REF) combines the absolutive and ergative, marking its noun as both the performer and the experiencer of the verb:

⟨U uztur a zavrar il qhalas.⟩
/ʊ ʊz.ˈtʊʁ ɐ zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ ɪl xɐ.ˈlɐs/
PRF die REF ruler and cat
The ruler and the cat killed each other.

Note that this eliminates the need for reflexive pronouns like English’s himself, herself, itself, etc.

Prepositional Particles

Prepositional particles are used to create prepositional phrases, which act as adjectives or adverbs modifying the words they follow. They usually mark nouns, but like aligning particles, they can also be used to convert verbs into gerunds.

Chained prepositional phrases only modify their immediate predecessors:

⟨zavrar za qhalas za nazaqh⟩
/zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ zɐ xɐ.ˈlɐs zɐ nɐ.ˈzɐx/
ruler INS cat INS evil
the ruler with evil cats

In order for the phrases to all modify a single head phrase, they must be combined with conjunctive particles.

The Instrumental Particle

The instrumental particle (INS) marks its noun as a context. This can have a wide range of meanings, including a position in space or time…

⟨za ildiri⟩
/zɐ ɪl.ˈdɪʁ.ɪ/
INS house
at the house
⟨za imviri⟩
/zɐ ɪm.ˈvɪʁ.ɪ/
INS night
at night

…a companion

⟨za zavrar⟩
/zɐ zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ/
INS ruler
with the ruler

…an ordinal number

⟨qhalas za thitvir⟩
/xɐ.ˈlɐs zɐ θɪ.ˈtvɪʁ/
cat INS four
the fourth cat

…a compound number formed via addition…

⟨zinir-za-nalar⟩
/zɪ.ˈnɪʁ zɐ nɐ.ˈlɐʁ/
eight INS two
ten

…a method or tool

⟨u uztur za ziqhith⟩
/ʊ ʊz.ˈtʊʁ zɐ zɪ.ˈxɪθ/
PRF kill INS saber
killed via saber

…an attribute or possession

⟨qhalas za umuv⟩
/xɐ.ˈlɐs zɐ ʊ.ˈmʊv/
cat INS blackness
a black cat

…or a point of reference for a comparison between equals:

⟨I zavrar zai zandhrial za qhalas.⟩
/ɪ zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ zɐɪ zɐn.ðʁɪ.ˈɐl zɐ xɐ.ˈlɐs/
ABS ruler CONT has.height INS cat
The ruler is as tall as a cat.

Night Speech lacks precise prepositions like in, on, during, after, or near; such specificity must instead be achieved by chaining multiple prepositional phrases:

⟨za zindhiri vil ildiri⟩
/zɐ zɪn.ˈðɪʁ.ɪ vɪl ɪl.ˈdɪʁ.ɪ/
INS top GEN house
on the house
⟨za mirdhiri vil imviri⟩
/zɐ mɪʁ.ˈðɪʁ.ɪ vɪl ɪm.ˈvɪʁ.ɪ/
INS future GEN night
after night

However, such verbose phrases are resorted to only when necessary.

The Dative Particle

The dative particle (DAT) marks its noun as a goal or beneficiary:

⟨qir ildiri⟩
/kɪʁ ɪl.ˈdɪʁ.ɪ/
DAT house
to the house
⟨qir imviri⟩
/kɪʁ ɪm.ˈvɪʁ.ɪ/
DAT night
until night
⟨qir zavrar⟩
/kɪʁ zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ/
DAT ruler
for (the benefit of) the ruler
⟨qir uztur⟩
/kɪʁ ʊz.ˈtʊʁ/
DAT kill
in order to kill

As noted before, greater precision can be achieved when necessary by chaining multiple phrases together:

⟨qir niqhziri vil ildiri⟩
/kɪʁ nɪx.ˈzɪʁ.ɪ vɪl ɪl.ˈdɪʁ.ɪ/
DAT inside GEN house
into the house

The Genitive Particle

The genitive particle (GEN) marks its noun as an origin

⟨vil ildiri⟩
/vɪl ɪl.ˈdɪʁ.ɪ/
GEN house
from the house
⟨vil imviri⟩
/vɪl ɪm.ˈvɪʁ.ɪ/
GEN night
since night

…an owner

⟨vil qhalas⟩
/vɪl xɐ.ˈlɐs/
GEN cat
the cat’s

…or a cause:

⟨vil mimiv⟩
/vɪl mɪ.ˈmɪv/
GEN illness
because of illness

It may also indicate composition

⟨vil uthuv⟩
/vɪl ʊ.ˈθʊv/
GEN bone
(made) of bone

…or general association:

⟨vil avar⟩
/vɪl ɐ.ˈvɐʁ/
GEN realm
of the realm

The genetive particle is used with numbers to indicate quantity

⟨thitvir vil qhalas⟩
/θɪ.ˈtvɪʁ vɪl xɐ.ˈlɐs/
four GEN cat
four cats

…as well as to form compound numbers via multiplication:

⟨nalar-vil-zinir⟩
/nɐ.ˈlɐʁ vɪl zɪ.ˈnɪʁ/
two GEN eight
sixteen

The Revertive Particle

The revertive particle (REV) marks its noun as an obstacle, adversary, or victim. It generally represents movement or intention contrary to something:

⟨qhar azvar⟩
/xɐʁ ɐz.ˈvɐʁ/
REV wind
against the wind
⟨qhar zavrar⟩
/xɐʁ zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ/
REV ruler
against the ruler

It is also used to mark a point of reference when making a comparison between unequal things:

⟨I zavrar zai nazrial qhar qhalas.⟩
/ɪ zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ zɐɪ nɐz.ʁɪ.ˈɐl xɐʁ xɐ.ˈlɐs/
ABS ruler CONT has.shortness REV cat
The ruler is shorter than a cat.

Verbal Particles

Verbal particles are used to set a verb’s aspect or mood. Although Night Speech has no official tense system, each verbal particle can be used to imply a certain tense in the absence of any overruling temporal context.

The Perfect Particle

The perfect particle (PRF) marks its verb as a single, complete action. In the absence of any overruling temporal context, it implies past tense:

⟨u uztur⟩
/ʊ ʊz.ˈtʊʁ/
PRF kill
has killed

The Continuous Particle

The continuous particle (CONT) marks its verb as an ongoing action. In the absence of any overruling temporal context, it implies present tense:

⟨zai uztur⟩
/zɐɪ ʊz.ˈtʊʁ/
CONT kill
is killing

The Habitual Particle

The habitual particle (HAB) marks its verb as a repeated action. In the absence of any overruling temporal context, it implies present tense:

⟨tul uztur⟩
/tʊl ʊz.ˈtʊʁ/
HAB kill
(often) kills

The Hypothetical Particle

The hypothetical particle (HYP) marks its verb as a possible or uncertain action. In the absence of any overruling temporal context, it implies future tense:

⟨tvai uztur⟩
/tvɐɪ ʊz.ˈtʊʁ/
HYP kill
can or might kill

The Jussive Particle

The jussive particle (JUS) marks its verb as a desired, intended, or commanded action. In the absence of any overruling temporal context, it implies future tense:

⟨qvi uztur⟩
/kvɪ ʊz.ˈtʊʁ/
JUS kill
(I intend or command you to) kill

Conjunctive Particles

Conjunctive particles are used to create compound phrases or sentences.

As noted earlier, they are required in order to modify a single noun or verb with multiple prepositional phrases:

⟨zuldur za viqhis il qhar qhalas⟩
/zʊl.ˈdʊʁ zɐ vɪ.ˈxɪs ɪl xɐʁ xɐ.ˈlɐs/
fight INS street UN REV cat
to fight in the street against cats

If a noun or verb is preceded only by a conjunctive particle, then it inherits the role of the most recent marked word of the same part of speech:

⟨zavrar za qhalas il nazaqh⟩
/zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ zɐ xɐ.ˈlɐs ɪl nɐ.ˈzɐx/
ruler INS cat UN evil
the evil ruler with cats

If two sentences are joined to form a compound sentence, and they share the same verb, absolutive, ergative, or reflexive phrase, then the second instance of the shared element is deleted.

Some ambiguity can arise when using conjunctions: does the conjunctive particle connect two phrases or two sentences? To resolve this, the two halves of a compound sentence are usually separated by a pause just before the conjunction in spoken language, or a by a comma when written.

The Unitive Particle

The unitive particle (UN) generally corresponds to the English both…and construct:

⟨zavrar il qhalas⟩
/zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ ɪl xɐ.ˈlɐs/
ruler UN cat
both the ruler and the cat

However, it may also be used as a translation for but, which means the same thing as and, but draws attention to contrast or surprise. Night Speech has no such distinction; the above example could be translated as “the ruler but also the cat”.

The unitive particle may also be used to mean and then (a “chronological and”):

⟨uztur il nuthrur⟩
/ʊz.ˈtʊʁ ɪl nʊθ.ˈʁʊʁ/
kill UN eat
to kill and then eat

The Disjunctive Particle

The disjunctive particle (DIS) corresponds to English’s inclusive or:

⟨zavrar ur qhalas⟩
/zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ ʊʁ xɐ.ˈlɐs/
ruler DIS cat
the ruler or the cat (or both)

The Biconditional Particle

The biconditional particle (BIC) is the “all or nothing” conjunction, for which there is no fantastic translation in English:

⟨zavrar zul qhalas⟩
/zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ zʊl xɐ.ˈlɐs/
ruler BIC cat
either both the ruler and the cat, or neither of them

Other Particles

The Negative Particle

The negative particle (NEG) may follow any other particle, always appearing last in a particle chain, to invert the meaning of the marked noun or verb. In such cases, it is equivalent to the English word not or prefix non-:

⟨tvai naqh uztur⟩
/tvɐɪ nɐx ʊz.ˈtʊʁ/
HYP NEG die
might not die
⟨naqh qhalas⟩
/nɐx xɐ.ˈlɐs/
NEG cat
a non-cat

When used alongside conjunctive particles, the negative particle can influence the precise meaning of the conjunction in ways that may or may not be obvious to an English speaker:

⟨zavrar il naqh qhalas⟩
/zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ ɪl nɐx xɐ.ˈlɐs/
ruler UN NEG cat
the ruler but not the cat
⟨naqh zavrar il naqh qhalas⟩
/nɐx zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ ɪl nɐx xɐ.ˈlɐs/
NEG ruler UN NEG cat
neither the ruler nor the cat
⟨zavrar ur naqh qhalas⟩
/zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ ʊʁ nɐx xɐ.ˈlɐs/
ruler DIS NEG cat
if the cat, then the ruler as well
⟨naqh zavrar ur naqh qhalas⟩
/nɐx zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ ʊʁ nɐx xɐ.ˈlɐs/
NEG ruler DIS NEG cat
either the ruler or the cat (but not both), or neither of them

The Subordinate Particle

The subordinate particle (SUB) is placed before a sentence in order to embed that sentence inside another as a subordinate clause. The subordinate particle must always be preceded by another particle in order to set the clause’s role in the parent sentence. Within the subordinate clause, all words take the particle they would if they were in a standalone sentence. If the subordinate clause modifies another word, the modified word need not be repeated (either explicitly or implicitly via a pronoun) in the subordinate clause itself.

⟨qhalas za va u uztur i zavrar⟩
/xɐ.ˈlɐs zɐ vɐ ʊ ʊz.ˈtʊʁ ɪ zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ/
cat INS SUB PRF kill ABS ruler
the cat that killed the ruler
⟨Zai qhulvur mir malaqh i va mir zinir-za-nalar vil qhalas vil thuluv u turvur i nimiv.⟩
/zɐɪ xʊl.ˈvʊʁ mɪʁ mɐ.ˈlɐx ɪ vɐ mɪʁ zɪ.ˈnɪʁ zɐ nɐ.ˈlɐʁ vɪl xɐ.ˈlɐs vɪl θʊ.ˈlʊv ʊ tʊʁ.ˈvʊʁ ɪ nɪ.ˈmɪv/
CONT believe ERG PROX ABS SUB ERG eight with two GEN cat GEN MED PRF frighten ABS DIST
I think your ten cats frightened her.

Subordinate clauses are also used to form mid-sentence quotations

⟨Mir zavrar u lulvur i va “I qhalas zai nazqrial!”⟩
/mɪʁ zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ ʊ lʊl.ˈvʊʁ ɪ vɐ ɪ xɐ.ˈlɐs zɐɪ nɐz.kʁɪ.ˈɐl/
ERG ruler PRF say ABS SUB ABS cat CONT is.evil
The ruler said, “Cats are evil!”

…as well as causative sentences:

⟨I va u tulvur mir nimiv u zuvrur mir malaqh.⟩
/ɪ vɐ ʊ tʊl.ˈvʊʁ mɪʁ nɪ.ˈmɪv ʊ zʊv.ˈʁʊʁ mɪʁ mɐ.ˈlɐx/
ABS SUB PRF write ERG DIST PRF cause ERG PROX
I made them write.

Except in very complex sentences, the end of a subordinate clause can often be discerned by a repetition of an aligning or verbal particle that has already appeared within the subordinate clause. For example, in the sentence above, the subordinate clause ends at the second instance of the perfect particle ⟨u⟩.

The Interrogative Particle

The interrogative particle (INT) is placed before a phrase to create a question focused on that phrase. It always appears first in a chain of particles. This usually creates a yes/no question, which is answered by either repeating the questioned phrase (for yes) or the negative particle (for no):

⟨Qu zai nuvtur i malaqh mir thuluv?⟩
/ʊ.ˈnɐx zɐɪ nʊv.ˈtʊʁ ɪ mɐ.ˈlɐx mɪʁ θʊ.ˈlʊv/
INT CONT love ABS PROX ERG MED
Do you love me?
⟨Zai nuvtur.⟩
/zɐɪ nʊv.ˈtʊʁ/
ERG PROX
Yes, I love.
⟨Naqh.⟩
/nɐx/
NEG
No.

However, if the interrogative particle precedes a word derived from the root ⟨QMV⟩ (e.g., which, who, where, etc.), it instead creates an open question. Such questions expect an answer that “fills in” the queried word:

⟨Qu mir qumuv i zavrar u uztur?⟩
/kʊ mɪʁ kʊ.ˈmʊv ɪ zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ ʊ ʊz.ˈtʊʁ/
ERG INT who ABS ruler PRF kill
Who killed the ruler?
⟨Mir qhalas!⟩
/mɪʁ xɐ.ˈlɐs/
ERG cat
The cat did!

Word Order

Sentence Order

Syntactic particles enable free word order at the sentence level. This freedom can be used for a variety of semantic or stylistic purposes. Some common constructions include topic-comment, in which context is established at the start of the sentence, while new information is emphasized at the end…

⟨I zavrar u uztur mir qhalas.⟩
/ɪ zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ ʊ ʊz.ˈtʊʁ mɪʁ xɐ.ˈlɐs/
ABS ruler PRF die ERG cat
As for the ruler, he was killed by a cat.

…and chiastic, in which the first and last components are linked and emphasized by a symmetrical sentence structure:

⟨U nuvtur mir zilil i tavar, il mir tavar i zilil u naqh nuvtur.⟩
/ʊ nʊv.ˈtʊʁ mɪʁ zɪ.ˈlɪl ɪ tɐ.ˈvɐʁ ɪl mɪʁ tɐ.ˈvɐʁ ɪ zɪ.ˈlɪl ʊ nɐx nʊv.ˈtʊʁ/
PRF love ERG woman ABS man but ERG man ABS woman PRF not love
A woman loved a man, but the man did not love the woman.

If the sentence is a question, the phrase marked by the interrogative particle often appears first in order to signal the question as early as possible.

In the absence of any semantic or stylistic requirements, the following order is preferred in formal language:

  1. Verb phrase
  2. Absolutive phrase
  3. Ergative phrase
⟨Zai qhalzrial i zirith mir nimiv.⟩
/zɐɪ xɐl.zʁɪ.ˈɐl ɪ zɪ.ˈʁɪθ mɪʁ nɪ.ˈmɪv/
CONT have.cat ABS three ERG DIST
They have three cats.

Alternatively, the absolutive and ergative phrases may be replaced by a single reflexive phrase. If a sentence contains an absolutive or ergative phrase, it may not also contain a reflexive phrase.

Each major component is optional as long as enough context has been established:

  • A lone verb phrase simply establishes what happened, without specifying a subject or object
  • A lone absolutive phrase establishes the object of an action, specifying neither the action itself nor its agent
  • A lone ergative phrase establishes the agent of an action, specifying neither the action nor its object
  • A lone reflexive phrase establishes that an agent performed some action on itself, without specifying what that action was

One notable result of this is that there are no “dummy subjects” in Night Speech; instead of saying it is raining, you simply say:

⟨Zai lurvur.⟩
/zɐɪ lʊʁ.ˈvʊʁ/
CONT rain
Is raining.

Except in the case of compound sentences, there may never be more than one of each major component. For example, a simple sentence may not have more than one absolutive phrase. If a verb operates on multiple absolutive nouns, those nouns are joined by a conjunctive particle within a single absolutive phrase:

⟨U uztur i zavrar il qhalas.⟩
/ʊ ʊz.ˈtʊʁ ɪ zɐv.ˈʁɐʁ ɪl xɐ.ˈlɐs/
PRF die ABS ruler UN cat
The ruler and the cat died.

Phrase Order

At the phrase level, Night Speech is strictly head-first:

  1. Syntactic particle(s)
  2. Root (or subordinate clause)
  3. Modifier (a prepositional or conjunctive phrase, or a subordinate clause)

The only exception to this is that phrases which modify a verb may be fronted in order to establish context:

⟨Za imviri mir qhalas za qhalath tul iztivur.⟩
/zɐ ɪm.ˈvɪʁ.ɪ mɪʁ xɐ.ˈlɐs zɐ xɐ.ˈlɐθ tʊl ɪz.tɪ.ˈvʊʁ/
INS night ERG cat INS whiteness HAB sleep
At night, the white cat sleeps.

Lexicon