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Night Speech Grammar

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

Parts of Speech

The Night Speech lexicon is organized into six parts of speech:

Most words undergo some form of inflection. Night Speech uses mostly fusional suffixes, although prefixes and agglutinative inflections also occur.

Nouns

Noun roots are the core of Night Speech, forming the basis for nearly all other words in the lexicon. There is no verb or descriptive that does not derive from a noun, and many determiners and numbers derive from them as well.

Night Speech nouns decline by number and case by applying a declension suffix:

Singular Paucal Plural Comprehensive Null
Ergative ⟨aa⟩ ⟨uu⟩ ⟨ym⟩ ⟨ii⟩ ⟨ach⟩
Absolutive ⟨yr⟩ ⟨ur⟩ ⟨yrym⟩ ⟨yri⟩ ⟨yrach⟩
Reflexive ⟨aar⟩ ⟨uur⟩ ⟨aarym⟩ ⟨aari⟩ ⟨aarach⟩
Locative ⟨re⟩ ⟨ru⟩ ⟨rym⟩ ⟨ri⟩ ⟨rach⟩
Lative ⟨avtre⟩ ⟨avtru⟩ ⟨avtrym⟩ ⟨avtri⟩ ⟨avtrach⟩
Ablative ⟨anai⟩ ⟨anui⟩ ⟨anym⟩ ⟨anyri⟩ ⟨anach⟩
Nominal Declension

If the root ends in a consonant, simply append the suffix. If the root ends in a vowel, the suffix replaces the final vowel. This replacement may split up diphthongs. If a replacement results in three identical consecutive vowels, drop one of them (e.g., ⟨aaa⟩ becomes ⟨aa⟩).

The citation form for nouns is the locative singular.

Night Speech has five grammatical numbers:

Singular
Singular is used when there is exactly one of a thing (e.g., a tree), or if the thing is uncountable (e.g., water).
Paucal
Paucal can be used for any quantity greater than one, but less than half of the total quantity (e.g., in a group of eight trees, paucal may imply 2–3 trees). In practice, it is reserved for when the speaker wants to emphasize the quantity’s smallness (e.g., a few trees, some trees, a minority of the trees).
Plural
Plural can be used for any quantity that represents half or more of the total quantity, but not all of it (e.g., in a group of eight trees, plural may imply 4–7 trees). In practice, it is used when the speaker wants to emphasize the quantity’s largeness (e.g., several trees, many trees, most trees). Plural also serves as a default when the speaker is unsure which grammatical number to use (e.g., there are trees).
Comprehensive
Comprehensive is used to refer to all members of a given group (e.g., each tree, every tree, all of the trees). This frequently occurs when speaking of a nationality or organization (e.g., Germans, the Boy Scouts).
Null
Null is used to exclude all members of a given group (e.g., no tree, none of the trees).

Night Speech has six cases:

Ergative
The ergative case is used for active subjects (i.e., the subject is doing something).
Absolutive
The absolutive case is used for direct objects and passive subjects (i.e., something is happening to the subject).
Reflexive
The reflexive case is used for subjects that perform actions on themselves or—in the case of multiple subjects—each other.
Locative
The locative case is used alongside a preposition to describe static relationships (e.g., in a house, during the battle, of the king). When combined with the relational preposition, it may signify possession. It may also be used without a preposition as a catch-all for any situation not covered by the other cases (e.g., exclamations, direct addresses, etc.).
Lative
The lative case is used alongside a preposition to describe dynamic positive relationships (e.g., into the house, until the battle, for the king).
Ablative
The ablative case is used alongside a preposition to describe dynamic negative relationships (e.g., away from the house, since the battle, against the king).

Nouns may also be modified by a number of derivational inflections to create new nouns:

Derivation Prefix Suffix
Augmentative ⟨adh⟩
Diminutive ⟨us⟩
Positive ⟨a⟩
Negative ⟨u⟩
Moderative ⟨y⟩
Associated Agent ⟨uz⟩
Associated Patient ⟨ul⟩
Associated Place ⟨nyn⟩
Associated Container ⟨svulc⟩
Associated Object, Result, or Instance ⟨yt⟩
Associated Collection ⟨hant⟩
Derivational Inflections

These derivations are formed prior to the addition of declension suffixes. Not every noun will make use of every derivation.

Augmentative
The augmentative can be loosely translated as “big X” (e.g., ⟨sword⟩ becomes ⟨greatsword⟩).
Diminutive
The diminutive can be loosely translated as “small X” (e.g., ⟨sword⟩ becomes ⟨dagger⟩).
Positive
The positive derivation is similar to the augmentative, and there is no hard and fast rule about when to use which. Often, the positive derivation is used for subtle variations on a concept rather than a completely new concept, or for variations that are more abstract than physical size (e.g., ⟨posture⟩ becomes ⟨standing posture⟩).
Negative
The negative derivation is similar to the diminutive, and there is no hard and fast rule about when to use which. Often, the negative derivation is used for subtle variations on a concept rather than a completely new concept, or for variations that are more abstract than physical size (e.g., ⟨posture⟩ becomes ⟨lying posture⟩).
Moderative
The moderative derivation lies in the middle of the positive-negative axis, and emphasizes averageness or compromise (e.g., ⟨posture⟩ becomes ⟨sitting posture⟩).
Associated Agent
An agent is a person or device that performs an action associated with the noun (e.g., ⟨pursuit⟩ becomes ⟨hunter⟩).
Associated Patient
A patient is a person or object that receives an action associated with the noun (e.g., ⟨pursuit⟩ becomes ⟨prey⟩), often at the hands of the agent.
Associated Place
A place is a building, room, or geographical location where one would expect to encounter the noun (e.g., ⟨monarch⟩ becomes ⟨palace⟩).
Associated Container
A container is similar to a place, but differs in scale; a container is something one might conceivably carry on their person (e.g., ⟨birth⟩ becomes ⟨egg⟩).
Associated Object
The object derivation is mostly used to distill an abstract noun into something more concrete (e.g., ⟨commerce⟩ becomes ⟨money⟩), or an uncountable noun into something countable (e.g., ⟨water⟩ becomes ⟨droplet⟩). It may also be a tool used by an associated agent (e.g., ⟨child⟩ becomes ⟨toy⟩).
Associated Collection
An associated collection is, as the name implies, a grouping of multiple instances of the base noun (e.g., ⟨bone⟩ becomes ⟨skeleton⟩).

Two or more nouns may be concatenated to form a compound noun. The first noun acts as a modifier to the second, or base noun. Any resulting medial consonant clusters must then be altered to respect Night Speech’s phonotactics.

The determiner ⟨shi⟩ may be placed before any noun to turn that noun into a query noun (e.g., “thing” becomes “what”, “person” becomes “who”, “sword” becomes “which sword”). Unlike in English, query nouns are not used for subordination. They are used exclusively for forming questions.

Determiners

Singular Paucal Plural Comprehensive Null
This /kɤ/
That /zɐɪ/
Which? /ʃɪ/
My /ʒɐ/ /ʒɤ/ /ʒɪɱ/ /ʒɪ/ /ʒɐx/
Your /θɐ/ /θɤ/ /θɪɱ/ /θɪ/ /θɐx/
His/Her/Its /nɐ/ /nɤ/ /nɪɱ/ /nɪ/ /nɐx/
Determiners

Determiners must always immediately follow the noun they describe. Night Speech has three types of determiners:

  • Articles
  • Possessives
  • Quantifiers

Night Speech does not have indefinite articles, but it has two definite articles which double as proximal and distal demonstratives. When deciding which—if any—to use, ask these two questions:

  • Is the listener familiar with the entity in question (e.g., “a wolf, you don’t know which one I mean” vs. “the wolf, you know the one”)? If not, don’t use an article
  • Is the entity in question observable by the speaker (e.g., the speaker can see, hear, or touch the wolf)?
    • If so, use the proximal definite article ⟨cu⟩
    • If not, use the distal definite article ⟨zai⟩
    • When in doubt, use ⟨zai⟩

If the conversation involves two known topics, ⟨cu⟩ is used for the one that can be observed most directly, and ⟨zai⟩ for the one that can be least. For example, a wolf that is seen is more observable than a wolf that is only heard. A wolf that is seen and touched is more observable than a wolf that is only seen.

Night Speech is not as liberal with its definite articles as English. Proper nouns almost never take a definite article; where English would say “the Atlantic Ocean”, Night Speech says “Atlantic Ocean”. There’s only one, so the definite article is redundant. It’s similar to how an English speaker would never say “I went to the New York to visit the David.” As a general rule of thumb, terms that are capitalized in Night Speech don’t take definite articles.

The article ⟨shi⟩ turns the attached noun into a question word (e.g., “person” becomes “who”).

Possessive determiners are equivalent to the English possessive pronouns ⟨my⟩, ⟨your⟩, ⟨its⟩, etc. They inflect based on the grammatical number of their referent, not the number of the noun to which they are attached.

Singular Paucal Plural Comprehensive Null
First-Person ⟨zhe⟩ ⟨zhu⟩ ⟨zhym⟩ ⟨zhi⟩ ⟨zhach⟩
Second-Person ⟨thi⟩ ⟨thu⟩ ⟨thym⟩ ⟨thyri⟩ ⟨thach⟩
Third-Person ⟨ne⟩ ⟨nu⟩ ⟨nym⟩ ⟨ni⟩ ⟨nach⟩
Possessive Demonstratives

Numbers may be used as quantifiers, and do not inflect when used as such. Naturally, “zero” may only be attached to null nouns, “one” to singular nouns, and all other counters to paucal, plural, or comprehensive nouns.

A quantifier may be prefixed to any other determiner (e.g., the three swords). The resulting compound determiner must adhere to Night Speech’s phonotactics.

Prepositions

Prepositions must always immediately precede a noun in either the locative, lative, or ablative case (the prepositional cases) to form a prepositional phrase. The exact meaning of a preposition depends on the case of the noun it preceeds.

Preposition Locative Lative Ablative
/tsɤ/ under down, off of up, onto
/tsɪ/ middle (height-wise) inward (height-wise) outward (height-wise)
/tsɐ/ on, over up, onto down, off of
/lɤ/ behind behind, back ahead of, forth
/lɪ/ middle (length-wise) inward (length-wise) outward (length-wise)
/lɐ/ in front of ahead of, forth behind, back
/kvɤ/ to the right of rightward leftward
/kvɪ/ middle (width-wise) inward (width-wise) outward (width-wise)
/kvɐ/ to the left of leftward rightward
/dɤ/ at, through into out of
/dɪ/ at, near, by toward away from
/dɐ/ around, near out of into
/ɱɤ/ before back in time forward in time
/ɱɪ/ during until since
/ɱɐ/ after forward in time back in time
/xɤ/ without, lacking
/xɐ/ with, via, by
/vɤ/ originating from, owned by
/vɐ/ causing
/kθɤ/ against, to the detriment of
/kθɐ/ for the benefit of, on behalf of
/ʁɤ/ unlike, dissimilar to, is not
/ʁɐ/ like, similar to, is
Prepositions

In many situations, one preposition’s lative object is another’s ablative. The lative places the focus on the object you are moving toward, while the ablative focuses on what you are moving away from (e.g., moving away from the top vs. moving toward the bottom).

Night Speech does not have adjectives or adverbs. These roles are instead filled by prepositional phrases, which must always immediately follow a noun or verb.

Verbs

All verbs are derived from nouns by applying two required conjugation suffixes. The first suffix determines the verb’s type and aspect.

Perfective Inceptive Completive
Identity ⟨ysv⟩ ⟨asv⟩ ⟨usv⟩
Property ⟨ycv⟩ ⟨acv⟩ ⟨ucv⟩
Action ⟨yz⟩ ⟨az⟩ ⟨uz⟩
Verbal Type-Aspect Conjugation Suffixes

A verb’s type determines what kind of “action” it represents. There are three types:

Identity
Describes what the subject is, its essence or permanent state (i.e., “to be”)
Property
Describes the subject’s possessions, characteristics, or temporary states (i.e., “to have”)
Action
Describes what the subject does (i.e., “to do”)

The aspect focuses on a certain temporal part of the verb’s duration. There are three aspects:

Perfective
Deals with the verb’s entire duration, or as an ongoing event (i.e., “to be”, “to have”, “to do”)
Inceptive
Deals with the start of a verb (i.e., “to become”, “to gain”, “to begin”)
Completive
Deals with the end of a verb (i.e., “to un-become”, “to lose”, “to stop”)

The second required conjugation suffix identifies the verb’s tense and mood.

Past Present Future
Indicative ⟨uar⟩ ⟨aan⟩ ⟨ai⟩
Optative ⟨uyr⟩ ⟨iin⟩ ⟨ii⟩
Hypothetical ⟨uur⟩ ⟨uun⟩ ⟨ua⟩
Neg. Indicative ⟨uarach⟩ ⟨aanach⟩ ⟨aich⟩
Neg. Optative ⟨uyrach⟩ ⟨iinach⟩ ⟨iich⟩
Neg. Hypothetical ⟨uurach⟩ ⟨uunach⟩ ⟨uach⟩
Verbal Tense-Mood Conjugation Suffixes

Tense describes when a verb takes place. There are three tenses: past, present, and future. Their use is straightforward.

Mood determines the factuality of the verb. There are three moods, plus a negative mood which can be combined with any of the others:

Indicative
Expresses statements of fact
Optative
Expresses desires, commands, exhortations, or granting of permission (e.g., English “should”, “must”, “wish”)
Hypothetical
Expresses possibility (i.e., English “can”, “could”, “might”)
Negative
Inverts the meaning (i.e., English “not”)

If a verb is given a nominal declension suffix, it becomes a gerund.

Conjunctions

Conjunctions are placed between words, phrases, or sentences to connect them.

The following conjunctions are order-independent:

Conjunction Meaning Example
/ɪl/ both X and Y John and Mary both danced.
/ɤʁ/ at least one of X or Y John or Mary (or both) danced.
/ʒɤʁ/ exactly one of X or Y Either John or Mary danced.
/nɪl/ at most one of X or Y Either John or Mary might have danced, but not both.
/nɤʁ/ neither X nor Y Neither John nor Mary danced.
/ʒɪl/ either (X and Y) or (X nor Y) Either John and Mary danced together, or they didn’t dance at all.
/sɤɪʁ/ any number of X or Y John or Mary (or both) might have danced, or they might not have.
Order-Independent Conjunctions

The following conjunctions are order-dependent:

Conjunction Meaning Example
/sɪl/ X precedes Y John danced, then Mary danced.
/nsɪl/ X follows Y John danced after Mary danced.
/ðɤ/ X implies Y If John danced, then so did Mary.
/nðɤ/ X is implied by Y Since John danced, Mary must have danced.
/dvɤ/ X causes Y John danced, therefore Mary danced.
/nvɤ/ X is caused by Y John danced because Mary danced.
Order-Dependent Conjunctions

Null nouns and negative verbs can expand the meanings of conjunctions:

Example Meaning
X /ɪl/ Y-null John, but not Mary, danced.
X-null /ɪl/ Y John did not dance, but not Mary did.
X /ðɤ/ Y-null If John danced, then Mary did not.
X-null /ðɤ/ Y If John didn’t dance, then Mary did.
X /dvɤ/ Y-null John’s dancing prevented Mary from dancing.
X-null /dvɤ/ Y John’s lack of dancing made Mary dance.
X /sɪl/ Y-null John danced, but then Mary did not.
X-null /sɪl/ Y John did not dance, but then Mary did.
Effects of Null Nouns on Conjunction Meanings

Numbers

Night Speech uses an octal number system, meaning it only has eight digits (0–7). This is most likely because Nacdrel have four fingers on each hand (for a total of eight), but it may also bear some relation to the fact that Nacdrel revere the moon with its eight cardinal phases.

Decimal Digit Octal Digit Name
0 0 ⟨ev⟩
1 1 ⟨zut⟩
2 2 ⟨dul⟩
3 3 ⟨syth⟩
4 4 ⟨chat⟩
5 5 ⟨ez⟩
6 6 ⟨as⟩
7 7 ⟨en⟩
8 10 ⟨lur⟩
Numbers

Numbers larger than ⟨lur⟩ are formed via concatenation.

Decimal Digit Octal Digit Name
9 11 ⟨lurzut⟩
10 12 ⟨lurdul⟩
11 13 ⟨lursyth⟩
12 14 ⟨lurchat⟩
13 15 ⟨luryz⟩
14 16 ⟨luras⟩
15 17 ⟨luryn⟩
16 20 ⟨dullur⟩
17 21 ⟨dullurzut⟩
18 22 ⟨dullurdul⟩
19 23 ⟨dullursyth⟩
20 24 ⟨dullurchat⟩
21 25 ⟨dulluryz⟩
22 26 ⟨dulluras⟩
23 27 ⟨dulluryn⟩
24 30 ⟨sythlur⟩
32 40 ⟨chatlur⟩
Larger Numbers

This method allows numbers up to decimal 63 (⟨enluryn⟩, octal 77). Decimal 64 (octal 100) is formed by compounding ⟨arc⟩ (perfection) and ⟨lur⟩, resulting in ⟨arclur⟩.

Fractions are formed by suffixing ⟨ash⟩. Night Speech fractions are never used as ordinals like they are in English.

Ordinals are formed by suffixing ⟨ai⟩. Note that the ordinal “last” is derived not from a number, but from ⟨zyt⟩ (death). Ordinal forms are never used for fractions like they are in English.

When used as nouns, numbers take a nominal declension suffix. When speaking of the number itself (e.g., “four is a multiple of two”), the number almost always takes singular inflections. However, it may take plural inflections in rare situations, such as referring to all of the threes in a deck of cards.

When used as a quantifier to count things, as in “five swords,” the number is treated as a determiner.

Syntax

Word Order

Sentence-level word order is usually defined in terms of the subject, object, and verb, under which terms Night Speech defaults to the order verb-object-subject (VOS). However, it makes more sense in Night Speech to refer to the verb, absolutive, and ergative (VAE). Therefore, the template for Night Speech sentences looks like this:

  1. Verb phrase
  2. Absolutive phrase (optional)
  3. Ergative phrase (optional)
  4. Conjunction + another sentence (optional)

Night Speech’s case system enables free word order at the sentence level, meaning the major components of a sentence (i.e., verb, absolutive, ergative) may technically appear in any order. However, one should be aware of the nuances imparted to a sentence by a chosen arrangement.

The key to understanding how word order affects meaning is emphasis. Night Speech places emphasis on the first and last things mentioned, with the last receiving the most attention. Therefore, the first component in a sentence is emphasized as the topic, a piece of information that sets the context for all that follows. The last component in a sentence is emphasized as the comment, a piece of new information, and the sentence’s raison d’être.

The following chart illustrates the differences between the six possible word orders for the simple sentence “I ate the fish.” The translations have been exaggerated to better highlight the nuances:

Order Night Speech English
VAE Nuthyzaan czaryr zai zhaa. On the subject of eating, the fish was eaten by me.
VEA Nuthyzaan zhaa czaryr zai. On the subject of eating, I did that to the fish.
AVE Czaryr zai nuthyzaan zhaa. As for the fish, it was eaten by me.
AEV Czaryr zai zhaa nuthyzaan. As for the fish, I ate it.
EVA Zhaa nuthyzaan czaryr zai. As for me, I ate the fish.
EAV Zhaa czaryr zai nuthyzaan. As for me, I ate the fish.
Word Order and Emphasis

In the absence of semantic requirements, individual speakers may favor any order for purely aesthetic reasons. The default VAE order, however, is considered the most polite.

Word order is more rigid at the phrase level. There are three types of phrases, which must adhere to the word orders given below.

  • Noun phrase:
    1. Noun
    2. Determiner (optional)
    3. Prepositional phrase (optional)
    4. Conjunction + another noun phrase (optional)
  • Prepositional phrase:
    1. Preposition
    2. Noun phrase
  • Verb phrase:
    1. Verb
    2. Prepositional phrase (optional)
    3. Conjunction + another verb phrase (optional)

Theoretically, there is no limit to the number of modifiers (descriptives, prepositional phrases, subordinate clauses) that follow the head (the noun, preposition, or verb). However, the more elements one adds, the harder it is to understand the sentence. As a rule of thumb, a phrase should contain either one prepositional phrase or one subordinate clause. This allows, for example, a prepositional object to itself be modified by a prepositional phrase or subordinate clause without introducing too much ambiguity. Keep things simple, and remember that the prototypical speakers, the Nacdrel, are infamous for their taciturnity.

Ommission

A single verb is all that is required to form a complete, grammatical sentence in Night Speech. Verb-only sentences are very casual, and rely heavily on context. A single verb may represent a question, a response, or an observation depending on the situation.

The voice of a sentence is determined by the presence of an ergative noun. With an ergative, it is active voice; without, it is passive.

Similarly, the transitivity of a sentence is determined by the presence of an absolutive noun. With an absolutive, it is transitive; without, it is intransitive.

If multiple clauses in a compound sentence share the same subject, object, or verb, all but the first occurrence may be omitted (e.g., “he came and he left” becomes “he came and left”).

If a clause’s subject and object are the same entity, as in reflexive or reciprocal sentences, the object must be omitted (e.g., “he hurt himself” becomes “himself hurt”).

In cases where English requires a dummy subject such as ⟨it⟩, Night Speech can simply omit the subject entirely (e.g., “it is raining” becomes “is raining”).

Subordination

Subordinate clauses are simply placed after the word they modify, as if they were descriptives. In writing, they are set off from the rest of the sentence by commas (e.g., “I ate the fish that the man caught” becomes “I ate the fish, the man caught it”).

However, native speakers consider such constructions to be clunky. They instead prefer to set up an appropriate context so that subordinate clauses are unnecessary (e.g., “I ate the fish that the man caught” becomes “I ate that fish”).

Questions

Questions may be formed in one of two ways:

  • Intonation
  • The determiner ⟨shi⟩

Intonation is the simplest method, but also the least explicit.

The determiner ⟨shi⟩ can prompt answers beyond simply “yes” or “no”. It may be placed after the verb, or after any noun to create a query noun. Whichever word it follows is the one being questioned.

When the nouns ⟨savre⟩ and ⟨hazre⟩ are used to answer a yes/no question, the case ending may be omitted (e.g., ⟨sav⟩). A plural inflection may be used to answer multiple questions at once (e.g., ⟨savri⟩ “yes to all of the above”) or to qualify an answer (e.g., ⟨savrym⟩ “yes for the most part”).