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Period -3000 YP
Spoken in Huyfárah/Isthmus region
Total speakers unknown
Writing system none
Classification Eigə-Isthmus languages
Basic word order SOV?
Morphology fusional
Alignment NOM-ACC
Created by Radius, Corumayas, Cedh

Proto-Isthmus was spoken perhaps a thousand years before Ndak Ta (ca. -3000 YP), in the isthmus region separating the main continent of Peilaš from the northeastern subcontinent of Siixtaguna. The Isthmus languages descended from it form one of the two divisions of the Eigə-Isthmus family; the other division is the Eigə Valley languages, comprising Ngauro, Meshi, and the Miwan languages.

Seven Isthmus languages are attested by the first millenium YP; they fall into two branches. In Western Isthmus we find the closely related sister languages Feråjin and Faraghin, spoken in Huyfárah, and the more divergent Boésin (Fáralo exonym), spoken in Qedik territory north of the Šišin Mountains. Three Eastern Isthmus languages survive on the north and northwest coasts of the Siixtaguna subcontinent (Kennan, Kietek, and Ka'alikora), and a fourth remains on the Isthmus itself, known in Fáralo as Doroh. Of them all, only Doroh and Kennan were spoken by a great number of people, perhaps half a million apiece in 100 YP, and only these and perhaps Feråjin (or rather, descendants of them) survived into the second millennium YP.

Diachronics of Proto-Isthmus

NOTE: not all diachronic changes between Proto-Isthmus and its daughters are listed, only those that are known at this time. However, the list of developments from Proto-Isthmus to Faraghin is more or less complete.

Phonemes that have been reconstructed for Proto-Isthmus are /p t ʈ ts k b d ɖ dz g f s m n l j a e i o u/.

Prefixes for pronouns included:

  • as- (genitive/accusative)
  • dza- (dative)

We will be using the pronouns of Isthmus languages to illustrate their development. The reconstructed personal pronouns of Proto-Isthmus are as follows.

1sg da asda dzada
1pl guʈ asguʈ  ?
2sg tujn astujn dzatujn
2pl fe asfe  ?
3sg-anim njo asnjo dzanjo
3sg-inan mis asmis  ?
3pl ludz asludz  ?
int/rel-anim kej askej  ?
int/rel-inan bej asbej  ?

Though we can posit the forms of the other dative pronouns, shown as "?" (e.g. **dzaguʈ), no reflexes of such forms can be identified in any Isthmus language. Indeed, Faraghin is the only Isthmus language to retain any of the dative pronouns, and their reconstruction - or if they were truly even datives - remains uncertain. The only corroboration comes from, firstly, certain locative adverbs in Doroh that appear to be reflexes of Proto-Isthmus nouns with the same morphology; and secondly, some adverbial noun forms that appear in archaic Boésin poetry, in which the meaning is directional (comparable to English -wards).

Western Isthmus

Pre-Western Isthmus

Developments leading to pre-Western Isthmus include the following.

  • First, stress moved to the first syllable of each word that had an onset of at least one consonant. Then, any unstressed vowels before the onset were lost. At some point after this, some final vowels were also dropped, particularly from grammatical words.
  • s became voiced when adjacent to a voiced consonant.
  • j was lost as a phone in all environments. At the beginning of words and between vowels, it merged into dz. It was also lost outright when adjacent to i, except that the sequences *tji *dji merged into tsi dzi, and medial *kji *gji became ksi gzi. After this, the sequences oj, ej, and aj merged into the diphthong ai, after which all remaining instances of j before or after a vowel merged into ɨ.

At this stage, the inventory of personal pronouns is reconstructed as follows.

1sg da zda dzad
1pl guʈ zguʈ
2sg tɨn stɨn dzatɨn
2pl fe sfe
3sg-anim znɨ dzan
3sg-inan mis zmis
3pl ludz zludz
int/rel-anim kai skai
int/rel-inan bai zbai

Western Isthmus

Further developments led to Western Isthmus, the last common ancestor of Boésin and the Ferogh languages.

  • Before or after s, or z, all stops became their corresponding fricatives:
    p t ʈ k b d ɖ g > ɸ θ ʂ x β ð ʐ ɣ / _s, _z, s_, z_
  • This included the affricates ts and dz. Then, s and z were lost not only from clusters with the new fricatives but also from all other clusters, no matter their position in the cluster. This too included the former affricates.
  • The fricative ɸ subsequently merged into the preexisting phoneme f. The retroflex fricatives then became postalveolar ʃ ʒ, and the retroflex stops became postalveolar affricates tʃ dʒ.
  • Sporadically, obstruents at the same POA in adjacent syllables dissimilate (e.g. dadaða- > daðada- "dance").

The reconstructed pronoun table for Western Isthmus follows.

1sg da ða ðad
1pl gutʃ ɣutʃ
2sg tɨn θɨn ðatɨn
2pl fe fe
3sg-anim ðan
3sg-inan mis mis
3pl luð luð
int/rel-anim kai xai
int/rel-inan bai βai

Ferogh Languages

It was a change in grammar rather than a change in sounds that most greatly marked the initial divergence of Western Isthmus into Boésin and the Ferogh languages. Many of the genitive/accusative personal pronouns had merged with the nominatives in Western Isthmus, leaving the pronoun system highly defective. In Proto-Boésin, the loss of many gen/acc forms was simply tolerated, while in pre-Proto-Ferogh, it was resolved by the suffixation of postpositions. The nominative forms were left alone, while new accusatives were formed by suffixing -iθ to the nominatives, and new genitives were formed by suffixing -um to the old genitive/accusatives. This resulted in:

NOM    ACC    GEN    DAT
1sg da daiθ ðaum ðad
1pl gutʃ gutʃiθ ɣutʃum
2sg tɨn tɨniθ θɨnum ðatɨn
2pl fe feiθ feum
3sg-anim nɨiθ nɨum ðan
3sg-inan mis misiθ misum
3pl luð luðiθ luðum
int/rel-anim kai kaiiθ xaium
int/rel-inan bai baiiθ βaium

Sound developments that led to Proto-Ferogh include the following.

  • s > ʃ
  • θ > s
  • dʒ, ʒ > ɻ
  • ɻ > ∅ / V_V, l_V, n_V
  • ð, ɻ > r
  • l > r / $C_V, V_C$
  • Sequences of vowels are resolved according to this chart:
-a -ai -au -e -i -o -oi -u
a- a(ː) ai au ai ai ai au ai au
ai- ai ai  ?ai or au ai ai ai ai ai ai
au- au ai au ai ai ai au ai au
e- e(ː) ai au e(ː) ai ai au ai au
i- e(ː) ai au i(ː) i(ː) i(ː) ɨ(ː) i(ː) ɨ(ː)
ɨ- a ai au e i ɨ(ː) o oi u
o- o(ː) oi u(ː) oi oi oi o(ː) oi u(ː)
oi- oi oi  ?oi or u(ː) oi oi oi oi oi oi
u- o(ː) oi u(ː) ɨ(ː) ɨ(ː) ɨ(ː) u(ː) ɨ(ː) u(ː)

(Long vowels only occurred in the dialect that became Feråjin.)

  • e > ɛ
  • o oi > ɔ ɔi
  • n > ∅ / finally after unstressed vowels, except in certain suffixes
  • Some pronouns and other grammatical forms were contracted to monosyllables, but not all.
  • The remaining dative forms became used for both singular and plural, instead of being restricted to singular as in Western Isthmus.
  • The dative forms also took on a locative function; and for 3sg-inanimate, 3-pl, and interrogative/relative, the genitive pronouns took on the additional functions of both dative and locative.

After these sound changes, the Proto-Ferogh pronouns were as follows:

NOM    ACC    GEN    DAT
1sg da dais raum rad
1pl gutʃ gutʃis ɣutʃum rad
2sg tɨn tɨnis sum ratɨ
2pl fais faum ratɨ
3sg-anim nis num ran
3sg-inan miʃ mis miʃum miʃum
3pl lur luris lum lum
int/rel-anim kai kais xaim xaim
int/rel-inan bai bais βaim βaim


The development of Faraghin from Proto-Ferogh included the following sound changes:

  • ɛ, ɔ > a
  • i > e
  • ɨ > i
  • ai ɔi > oi
  • au > eu
  • β > b
  • t > tʃ / _i
  • i > ∅ / tʃ_#
  • u > o / except before n or labials, or after the second syllable
  • x > k / _s,ʃ (maybe also ɣ > g)
  • t + s > tʃ / V_V (but remains ts / _#, and in loans from Ndak Ta)
  • ʃ + s > s
  • t > ∅ / _m,n
  • sporadic syncope of unstressed vowels

Thus, the personal pronouns of Faraghin (in phonemic transcription) are:

NOM    ACC    GEN    DAT
1sg da dois reum rad
1pl gotʃ gotʃes ɣotʃom rad
2sg tʃin tʃines som ratʃ
2pl fa fois feum ratʃ
3sg-anim ni nes nom ran
3sg-inan meʃ mes meʃom meʃom
3pl lor lores lom lom
int/rel-anim koi kois xoim xoim
int/rel-inan boi bois boim boim


The Feråjin began as a tribal division of the Faraghin. Later their speech diverged. The following developments left Feråjin in the position of being neither clearly a dialect of Faraghin nor clearly a separate language.

  • ɔ(ː) ɔi > ɒ(ː) ɒi
  • u(ː) > o(ː)
  • ɨ(ː) > u(ː) (stressed)
  • ɨ(ː) > i(ː) (unstressed)
  • ɛ(ː) > e(ː)
  • ai > eː
  • au > aː
  • ɒi > ɒː
  • a(ː) > æ(ː)
  • β > w
  • ɣ > j
  • tʃ > ʃ
  • Vr, Vl > Vː / _C, _#
  • Vm > Vː / _#
  • Separate dative forms were lost. The functions of dative and locative were taken on, as in some of Faraghin's pronouns, by the genitive form.

After these changes, the table of Feråjin pronouns was as follows:

1sg deːs ræː
1pl goʃ gos joʃoː
2sg tin tins soː
2pl fe feːs fæː
3sg-anim ni nis noː
3sg-inan miʃ mis miʃoː
3pl loː loːs loː
int/rel-anim keː keːs xeː
int/rel-inan beː beːs weː


Eastern Isthmus

Developments between Proto-Isthmus and Eastern Isthmus, the last common ancestor of Doroh, Kennan, Kietek, and Ka'alikora, include the following:

  • p t ʈ ts k > [+asp]
  • b d ɖ dz g > p t ʈ ts k / [-voice]_, _[-voice], _# (but no aspiration gained)
  • l > ɬ / [+asp]_
  • n l s > ɳ ɭ ʂ / [+rflex]_, _[+rflex]
  • mf ms ns > mpf mps nts
  • a > o / _C+(o,u) when unstressed
  • C > Cʷ / _u, except /j/ was not labialized
  • "V > V: / _[+vcd], unless _CC$ or _CC+ or part of a diphthong other than jV
  • (s)C > (sʲ)Cʲ / _j, _i (swallowing the j) except where C = /ɬ/ or a retroflex
  • jC > Cʲ / _# with the same exceptions
  • i: u: > ij uj
  • ij uj > ej oj
1sg da asta
1pl gʷuʈ oskʷuʈʰ
2sg tʰʷunʲ ostʰʷunʲ
2pl fe asfe
3sg-anim nʲo osʲnʲo
3sg-inan mʲis asʲmʲis
3pl lʷuts oslʷuts
int/rel-anim kʰej askʰej
int/rel-inan bej aspej


Phonetic developments leading to Proto-Doroh most notably include lenition of intervocalic plosives on the one hand and the appearance of front rounded vowels on the other. The latter appears to have been an areal development that Doroh has in common with its neighbours Lotoka and Affanonic.

  • ʰ > ∅ / _#
  • f > ʷ / C_
  • s > h / V_C, except where the s is palatalized
  • hl > ɬ
  • b d ɖ dz g > β ɾ ɻ z ɣ / V_(ʲ,ʷ)V
  • p t ʈ k > b d ɖ g / V_V
  • n l > ɲ j / _ʲ (but not if preceded by sʲ zʲ)
  • s z > ʃ ʒ / _(i,ʲ)
  • ʂ sʷ > ʂʷ
  • ɻ ɾʷ > ɻʷ
  • zʷ > ʐʷ
  • tsʷ > ʈʂʷ
  • dzʷ > ɖʐʷ
  • Cʲa Cʷa > Cʲe Cʷo
  • Cʲo Cʷe > C(ʲ,ʷ)ø
  • Cʲu Cʷi > C(ʲ,ʷ)y
  • pʲ bʲ tʲ dʲ > ps bz ts dz
  • tsʲ dzʲ kʲ gʲ > tʃ dʒ tʃ dʒ
  • ɾʲ ɣʲ > j
  • fʲ βʲ > ʃ ʒ
  • pʷ bʷ > pf β
  • βʷ ɣʷ > w
  • ʲ ʷ > ∅
  • dz dʒ ɖʐ > z ʒ ʐ / #_, C[+voice]_

The development from Eastern Isthmus to Proto-Doroh is marked by a proliferation of suffixed case forms, with the old ACC/GEN becoming the accusative, but also forming the stem of the oblique cases, except for the locative.

Following standard Dorological practice, retroflexes are written with an underdot, /ɬ/ is written ł.

NOM    ACC    GEN    BEN    INST    COM    LOC    LAT    ABL   
1sg da ahta ahtajin ahtała ahtawum ahtamina dajits ahtajila ahtanogum
1pl guṭ ohkuṭ ohkuḍin ohkuḍła ohkuḍum ohkuṭmina guḍits ohkuḍila ohkuṇogum
2sg tuñ ohtuñ ohtuñin ohtuñeła ohtuñum ohtuñemina tuñits ohtuñila ohtuñogum
2pl fe aṣø aṣøjin aṣøła aṣøwum aṣømina fejits aṣøjila aṣønogum
3sg-anim ñø ošnø ošnøjin ošnøła ošnøwum ošnømina ñøjits ošnøjila ošnøgum
3sg-inan mis ašmis ašmišin ašmiła ašmiṣum ašmihmina mišits ašmišila ašmihnogum
3pl luts ołuts ołučin ołutła ołuṭṣum ołutsmina† lučits ołučila ołutsnogum†
int/rel-anim kej ahkej ahkejin ahkejła ahkejum ahkejmina kejits ahkejila ahkejnogum
int/rel-inan bej ahpej ahpejin ahpejła ahpejum ahpejmina bejits ahpejila ahpejnogum

†Or ołuhmina, ołuhnogum.

Central Doroh

This is a somewhat idealized representation of the pronoun forms of the central cluster of Doroh dialects, ca. -500 YP.

Preaspiration on plosives simplified to geminates by -500. This change also occurs in Western dialects, though at a later date. In the case of the Central group only, /hm hn/ simplify to voiceless /m̥ n̥/.

The animacy distinction collapsed, with the kai and bai series being reassigned according to grammatical role, and the ñø and mis series retained as competing forms with the same meaning.

The comitative case fell out of general use and was replaced by the instrumental, but it remained for singular personal pronouns only.

Finally, the 2pl began to take on a formal singular role alongside its original plural sense. The comitative aṣømina was only used in this singular role.

NOM    ACC    GEN    BEN    INST    COM    LOC    LAT    ABL   
1sg da atta attažin attała attavum attamina dažits attažila attanūm
1pl guṭ okkuṭ okkuḍin okkuła okkuḍum guḍits okkuḍila okkunūm
2sg inf. tuñ ottuñ ottuñin ottuñeła ottuñum ottuñemina tuñits ottuñila ottuñūm
2pl ve aṣø aṣøžin aṣøła aṣøvum (aṣømina) vežits aṣøžila aṣønūm
3sg-A ñø øšnø øšnøžin øšnøła øšnøvum øšnømina ñøžits øšnøžila øšnȳm
3sg-B mis ašmis ašmišin ašmiła ašmišum ašmim̥ina mišits ašmišila ašmin̥ūm
3pl luts ołuts ołučin ołutła ołuṭṣum lučits ołučila ołun̥ūm
interrogative kai akkai akkežin akkałja akkežum kežits akkežila akkanjūm
relative bai appai appežin appałja appežum bežits appežila appanjūm


Ṭømjuñar was a widely-spoken Central Doroh dialect originating in the city-state of Ẓaṛmott. This describes the state of the language ca. 800.

The 3sg pronouns resolved in favor of the mih form. The original 2pl form ve supplanted the singular, while a new suffixed form venah supplied the new 2pl.

NOM    ACC    GEN    BEN    INST    COM    LOC    LAT    ABL   
1sg da atta attarin attaþ attavum attamin daris attaril attanum
1pl guṛ okkuṛ okkuṛin okkuþ okkuṛum guṛis okkuṛil okkunum
2sg ve aṣø aṣørin aṣøþ aṣøvum aṣømin veris aṣøril aṣønum
2pl venah aṣønah aṣønašin aṣønaþ aṣønašum venašis aṣønašir aṣønaþum
3sg mih ašmih ašmišin ašmiþ ašmišum ašmifin mišis ašmišir ašmiþum
3pl lus oþus oþučin oþut oþuṭum lučis oþučir oþuþum
interrogative kai akkai akkerin akkaþi akkerum keris akkeril akkanjum
relative bai appai apperin appaþi apperum beris apperil appanjum

A Preliminary Sketch of Proto-Isthmus Grammar

This sketch summarizes most of what is currently known about Proto-Isthmus grammar. More information may be added as research progresses.


Proto-Isthmus nouns were inflected for number and case.


Two numbers were distinguished: singular and plural. The plural was marked with a suffix which varied depending on the phonological form of the word. For the most part, nouns ending in a consonant formed their plurals by adding a suffix -o, while nouns ending in a vowel formed their plurals by changing the final vowel. The most common patterns are shown here:

Consonant Unstressed vowel Stressed vowel
SG -C -a -e -i -o -u -V
PL -Co -a -ja -o -V (no change)

Nouns already ending in -a or -o, as well as those ending in a stressed vowel, had no overt marking of the plural.

Sound changes from Proto-Eigə-Isthmus to Proto-Isthmus produced various complications. A couple of these were entirely regular: syllable constraints caused nouns ending in -Cli to form their plurals with -Cla instead of -Clja, and (less obviously, perhaps) nouns ending in -Cji regularly formed their plurals with -Cuja. Others were synchronically unpredictable: some nouns ending in -Cju formed their plurals with -Cjo, but some used -Cja or -Cuja instead; similarly, some nouns ending in -Clu had plurals with -Clo but some used -Cla instead.

A number of nouns had consonant and/or vowel alternations in the plural. The most common of these affected nouns ending in the retroflex stops -ʈ -ɖ: before the plural suffix, the retroflexes became dentals (-to -do) in some nouns and velars (-ko -go) in others. Some nouns ending in -ʈu -ɖu had a related alternation in which the retroflexes became labials (-po -bo) in the plural. Other consonant alternations behaved similarly, but were less common (and less predictable): these included -s-tso, -su-fo, -n-jno, and -nu-mo.

Moreover, when any of these alternating consonants was preceded by the vowel i, this vowel regularly changed as well, becoming ju in the plural—unless there was already an onset cluster immediately preceding it, in which case it became u. Less predictably, in some (but not all) nouns that contained the sequence [labial onset]+[rounded back vowel]+[alternating consonant] another vowel alternation applied in the plural: uju and oe. All three of these vowel alternation patterns also occured in some (otherwise regular) nouns ending in -s, -n, or -l.

Finally, some nouns ending in -j formed their plurals with -jno (rather than -jo), and some vowel-final nouns added -dzo in the plural instead of changing the final vowel. These changes were not regularly accompanied by vowel alternations.

Some of these inherited irregularities were probably smoothed away by analogy, either in Proto-Isthmus itself or in its descendants. More data and examples are needed!

(Faraghin tekh 'sword' → tekha 'army' is an example of a lexicalized plural, from Proto-Isthmus tisktisko.)


Three cases were distinguished in Proto-Isthmus: nominative, genitive, and dative. The nominative was unmarked, while the other two cases were marked with prefixes:

GEN as-
DAT dz(a)-

The vowel in the dative prefix dz(a)- was probably omitted when the noun began with a vowel; however, this detail is uncertain since there are very few reflexes of dative forms to compare. In fact, even the actual function of the Proto-Isthmus dative is uncertain (see the discussion of the dative above).

The functions of the other two cases are much better understood, but they were slightly different from what their names might suggest. The nominative was originally used not only for subjects, but also for direct objects; inanimate nouns behaved this way in Proto-Isthmus, and still do in many of its attested descendants. However, for Proto-Isthmus pronouns, and possibly also for animate nouns, the genitive prefix as- came to be used to mark direct objects as well as possessors (for this reason it's sometimes called genitive/accusative, especially when discussing the pronouns). The following table summarizes this situation:

Pronouns Animates Inanimates
Direct Object as-  ?
Possessor as- as- as-

It's probably impossible to tell which pattern animate nouns followed in Proto-Isthmus: in some descendant languages they behave like the pronouns, while in others they behave like inanimate nouns, and either pattern could easily have spread by analogy.

(While the case prefixes are mostly no longer productive in the Ferogh languages, there are a few words that descend from old lexicalized genitives; in fact, Ferogh is an example, from Proto-Isthmus as-pes-dosg 'of the people of the camp'.)


A third category affecting nouns in Proto-Isthmus was gender: all nouns were inherently either animate or inanimate. Gender assignment was semantic—that is, which gender a noun belonged to was predictable from its meaning, with at most a handful of exceptions. Gender may not have affected the behavior of the nouns themselves (unless animate direct objects took genitive/accusative marking like the pronouns), but it did affect agreement: pronouns, and probably verbs as well, had distinct animate and inanimate forms in the third person singular, and there may also have been adjective agreement.


A few derivational processes affecting nouns can be traced to Proto-Isthmus.


Two types of compound nouns are attested in Faraghin: adjective-noun and noun-genitive. It's likely that both patterns go back to Proto-Isthmus.

(An example of an old adjective-noun compound is Faraghin khoir 'goat', from Proto-Isthmus (as)-koɖ[V] 'good' + idz 'head of livestock, domesticated animal'; a similar noun-genitive example is Faraghin nagho 'bear', from Proto-Isthmus nag(a)-su[n] 'lord of the forest'.)


It's possible that nouns could be treated as verbs simply by adding verbal morphology; the Faraghin wordlist contains a couple of causative verbs built on nominal roots in this way (bar 'master' → baroin 'appoint, bestow' and bran 'face, front' → branoin 'advance, march').

Although Proto-Eigə-Isthmus had a suffix that derived adjectives from nouns, and Faraghin has developed two more such suffixes, it may be that none of these were productive at the Proto-Isthmus stage; see the discussion under Adjectivization below.

Diminutive and Augmentative

Nouns could also be made diminutive or augmentative with suffixes:

DIM -(a)ɖu
AUG -(a)t

The linking vowel (a) was probably used when these suffixes followed a consonant.

(Traces of the diminutive suffix can be seen in some Faraghin kinship terms: cf. badeu 'father' < Proto-Isthmus [V]bad-aɖu and deu 'daughter' < [V]da-ɖu. The augmentative suffix can be seen in kert 'anger' < [V]kisd-at, khunt 'devil' < as-kun-at, mašt 'house, palace' < mas-at, nagat 'lord, baron' < naga-t, and maybe sat 'gold' < tso-t.)


The personal pronouns of Proto-Isthmus were as follows:

1SG da asda dzada
1PL guʈ asguʈ  ?
2SG tujn astujn dzatujn
2PL fe asfe  ?
3SG.ANIM njo asnjo dzanjo
3SG.INAN mis asmis  ?
3PL ludz asludz  ?
INT/REL.ANIM kej askej  ?
INT/REL.INAN bej asbej  ?

Though we can posit the forms of the missing dative pronouns (e.g. **dzaguʈ), no reflexes of such forms can be identified in any Isthmus language (see the discussion above).


Proto-Isthmus verbs were inflected for aspect, voice, and subject agreement. Verbal inflection is both more complex and less well-understood than nominal morphology, and many details of what follows are uncertain.

The structure of the Proto-Isthmus verb can be described by this template:

(prefix or reduplication)- INNER STEM -aspect -(stem consonant) -voice -subject agreement

Here are a couple of examples of fully inflected verbs:

‘it’s been stolen’
‘they danced and danced’

Verbal Prefix(es)

Proto-Isthmus had at least one verbal prefix of the form Vs-. While this has been identified with the adjective-intensifying prefix as- (see Intensification below), with verbs the prefix's function seems less clear: cf. as-gosp- 'steal', as-kjustil- 'bequeath', as-pusg- 'make, craft', and maybe as-gont- 'fly'. Perhaps there were multiple Vs- prefixes that we haven't quite sorted out yet.


Aspect marking in Proto-Isthmus is probably best thought of as derivational (with the possible exception of the imperfective/durative n-grade, which is said to form a consistent aspectual operation in Kennan). The values marked included perfective/punctual, imperfective/durative, resultative, inceptive/inchoative, and iterative/intensive. (These names are intentionally slightly vague; the precise meanings that most of these categories had at the Proto-Isthmus stage are not known for certain.)

Forms: the Grades

The forms that expressed these categories are traditionally called grades, and are a somewhat mixed bag. The iterative/intensive was formed by reduplicating the first CV of the verb, while most of the others were formed with infixes in some verbs and suffixes in others—thus forming two major inflectional classes, infixing verbs and suffixing verbs.

The forms found in Proto-Isthmus included the following:

Grade Infixing Suffixing
Perfective/Punctual Zero-grade - -
Imperfective/Durative N-grade <(i)n> -(i)n
Resultative S-grade <(u)s> -(u)s
Inceptive/Inchoative J-grade <i>, <j> -j
Iterative/Intensive Reduplicated grade REDUP~ REDUP~

There may have been other grades as well; the possibilities include an l-grade (similar to the n- and s-grades) and maybe a retroflex grade (which would turn root-final stops into retroflexes). It's not known what categories such grades might have marked.

Various inflectional subclasses probably existed. At the least, both infixes and suffixes had syllabic and non-syllabic allomorphs (though the j-grade suffix was probably never syllabic). The syllabic forms of the n-grade and s-grade might each have had several variants.


As noted above, the n-grade may have been inflectional in Proto-Isthmus; if so, it probably marked a basic imperfective aspect, contrasting with the perfective zero-grade. (There is one possible example of a noun derived from an n-grade: Faraghin ghantač 'dragon', apparently cognate with Miwan kwintas 'bird'; but at present it's not clear whether the n in this word is an infix or part of the root.)

The s-grade could be used to derive resultative nouns, a process which was highly productive in Proto-Isthmus. S-grade forms could also be used as verbs: examples of this include dog- 'set down' → dosg- 'camp, stay', gop- 'take, carry' → (as)-gosp- 'steal', pleg- 'meet' → plesg- 'get to know, get or be used to', and perhaps meg- 'boil, behave wildly or badly' → mesg- 'raid, capture'.

The j-grade derived inceptive or inchoative verbs, i.e. verbs denoting the beginning of an action or (especially) a state. Examples include [V]dludz- 'be awake' → [V]dludzj- 'awaken', dzusn- 'be red' → dzusin- 'turn red', plun- (perhaps meaning 'cut' or 'cut up') → plunj- 'stab, slash', and possibly tlub- 'be married' → tlujb- 'get married'.

The reduplicated grade formed iterative or intensive verbs; the sole example currently in the lexicon is daj- 'dance' → da~daj- 'dance and dance, dance a lot or intensely'.


Voice marking in Proto-Isthmus is not completely understood yet, but the system was probably simpler than in its ancestor Proto-Eigə-Isthmus. The primary voices were active, causative, and detransitive; in PEI these could be combined with one another to form compound voices such as detransitive of causative and causative of detransitive. The full set of inherited voice suffixes (traditionally called stem vowels) would have looked like this:

Active -a
Causative -i, -aj
Detransitive -u
Detransitive of Causative -ju
Causative of Detransitive -uj

But not all of these forms remained productive, perhaps even in Proto-Isthmus. In the branch of Isthmus that led to Faraghin, the simple causative suffix -i was replaced by the compound suffix -aj (except for a few fossilized forms such as dim-i- 'give'), while the detransitive suffix -u seems to be preserved only in the participle. It's not yet known at what stage the basic causative and detransitive forms were abandoned. Moreover, the detransitive of causative and causative of detransitive forms are entirely unattested in Faraghin, and it seems likely that they were not in fact found in Proto-Isthmus at all.

The exact function of the detransitive voice in Proto-Isthmus is unknown; it could have been a passive, an anticausative, a middle voice, or a general intransitivizer with several functions. (The Faraghin reflex appears to be a passive participle, but passives can easily develop from other kinds of intransitivizers.)

Subject Agreement

Verbs agreed with their subjects in person, number, and probably (for third person singulars) gender. The first and second person forms have not been determined yet; but the third person forms were probably marked with suffixes that were identical to the pronouns:

3SG.ANIM -njo
3SG.INAN -mis
3PL -ludz


The Participle

Proto-Isthmus had a verbal adjective, the participle, formed with the suffix -dja. The participle was inflected for voice; it may be helpful to list the voice forms separately:

Active -a-dja
Causative -i-dja, -aj-dja
Detransitive -u-dja

Here are some examples:


‘leaping goat’
‘lying devil’
‘slashing swords’


‘Fate who makes (us) dance’
‘your boring sister’
‘their little father who feeds (them)’


‘stolen gold’
‘deceived lord’
‘reddened knife’

Like other adjectives, the participle could be used as a noun with zero-derivation (see De-adjectivization below); this could be used to form agentive and patientive nouns. (The detransitive participle is the only form currently attested in Faraghin, whose lexicon includes several lexicalized examples.)

The Verbal Noun

There was probably also a verbal noun formed with the related suffix -di; this noun may have been inflected for voice much like the participle. (The cognate form in Ngauro and Old Eastern Miwan is an action noun formed with -ti; this was borrowed in early Faraghin as a nominalizing suffix -(a)č.)

The Resultative Noun

An important use of the s-grade was to derive a resultative noun, a nominalizing process which was highly productive in Proto-Isthmus. This noun was not inflected for voice; examples include gad- 'flow' → gasd 'stream', kid- 'be angry' → kisd 'anger', sud- 'go around, move in a circle' → susd 'circle, year', tsik- 'to call, to name' → tsisk 'name', and ʈuk- 'squeeze, clench' → ʈusk 'fist'.


Little is known about Proto-Isthmus adjectives so far. They seem to have behaved like verbs in some ways: in Faraghin they can take some verbal morphology (e.g. causative and negative affixes), and they may have had agreement marking (though probably not identical to verbal subject agreement). In other ways they seem somewhat noun-like; in particular, Faraghin allows adjectives to be used as nouns with zero-derivation, a process that does not seem to be available for verbs (see De-adjectivization below).


We do know a little about derivational processes involving adjectives.


Proto-Eigə-Isthmus had a suffix -ʔa or -ha that derived adjectives from nouns; but (aside from the participle suffix -dja, derived from the verbal noun suffix -di + -ʔa/-ha) it's not known whether this suffix remained productive in Proto-Isthmus.

Two later derivational suffixes that form adjectives are known from the Faraghin evidence: -(i)ts and -ujn (> Far. -s and -in). Both were probably grammaticalized after the Proto-Isthmus stage, but it's convenient to discuss them here.

  • The older of these was probably -(i)ts (glossed 'quality' in the Faraghin wordlist). It derived adjectives from various parts of speech, including nouns, verbs, and other adjectives. This suffix comes from the postposition its 'on'; it is tentatively dated to the Western Isthmus stage.
  • Probably somewhat younger was -ujn, which mainly derived adjectives from nouns. In the Proto-Isthmus lexicon it's treated as a separate word, tentatively glossed 'like'; perhaps it originally meant something like 'shape, likeness'.

These two suffixes are similar in many ways. Their semantics appear to be nearly identical; both are sometimes glossed '-ish' in the Faraghin wordlist. Also, both of them sometimes seem to work in reverse in Faraghin, deriving proper nouns from adjectives: cf. čints 'on the left, north' → Čintsin 'the northern mountains', muns 'soft, weak' → Munsin 'weakish; the Ngauro', porat 'clean, pure' → Porats 'the river dividing Faraghin and Feråjin territory'. (The use of these forms as nouns is actually an example of zero-derivation; see De-adjectivization below.)


In addition to the adjectivizing suffixes, a much more obscure (and thus probably older) suffix -(a)k seems to have done the opposite, deriving nouns from adjectives. An example of this is Faraghin ghisk 'knife', apparently from Proto-Isthmus gujts 'sharp' + -ak; Faraghin českan 'to hide' may be another if it comes from an adjective ʈits (perhaps meaning 'over, covering') + -ak + verbal suffixes.

In Faraghin, adjectives can also be used as nouns with zero-derivation; several examples are found in the Faraghin wordlist. Perhaps this pattern developed by dropping the modified noun or pronoun from phrases like 'the hidden one', leaving a bare adjective ('the hidden', Far. českod). Whether this derivational process was available in Proto-Isthmus is uncertain.


Proto-Isthmus also had an adjective-intensifying prefix as-. Some intensified adjectives came to replace the corresponding unmarked adjective: e.g. Faraghin khar 'good' from Proto-Isthmus as-koɖ[V] 'very good'.


Very little is known about Proto-Isthmus syntax at present; this section briefly notes a few bits that can be inferred from the current evidence.

Word Order

It appears that Proto-Isthmus word order in general tended to be head-final: Proto-Isthmus had postpositions, adjectives preceded the nouns they modified, and auxiliaries apparently followed their main verbs (at least in the variety that led to Faraghin). However, its ancestor Proto-Eigə-Isthmus seems to have had a number of head-initial structures, and traces of these survived into Proto-Isthmus: for example, the case prefixes and noun-genitive compounds mentioned above. It's also possible that Proto-Isthmus kept some prepositions alongside its postpositions, or allowed genitives to follow their possessed nouns in full noun phrases (that is, not just in compounds).

Postverbal auxiliaries are typical of OV languages, and on this basis it's been posited that Proto-Isthmus had a basic SOV order. However, if these auxiliary constructions developed later (perhaps in Western Isthmus or Proto-Ferogh) the Proto-Isthmus order could have been different.


A few Isthmus postpositions are known so far (because they became case suffixes in daughter languages).

  • um 'of' became a genitive suffix in Ferogh. This morpheme dates back to Proto-Eigə-Isthmus, where it was probably a preposition (its cognate in the Eigǝ Valley languages is a prefix m-); how its use differed from that of the genitive prefix as- is unknown.

Some of the other postpositions may have been grammaticalized later from nouns and/or verbs; it's possible that a few of them didn't develop until after the Proto-Isthmus stage.

  • its 'on' (probably related to idz 'head') became both an adjectivizing suffix (see Adjectivization above) and an accusative suffix in Ferogh, and a locative suffix in Doroh. Its locational meaning can be seen in a few older derivations, e.g. tjunt 'left hand' → tjunt-its 'on the left, north', and probably gasd 'stream' → gasd-its 'boat'; Faraghin lets 'longsword' may be similarly derived from lit (a noun of unknown meaning) + its.
  • in (original meaning unknown) became a genitive suffix in Doroh.
  • mina 'with, together with' became a comitative suffix in Doroh.
  • ila 'to, toward' became an allative suffix in Doroh.
  • asla 'for, for the sake of' (possibly related to ila) became a benefactive suffix in Doroh.
  • nak 'outside' became an extraessive suffix in Faraghin.

Auxiliary Verb Constructions

Periphrastic constructions may have been used to express additional verbal distinctions (such as tense, aspect, and/or modal categories); certainly such constructions existed in later Isthmus languages. One example is represented by the Faraghin iterative suffix -čan, which appears to be a contracted form of an earlier auxiliary verb. At present it's not known whether this verb was used as an auxiliary as early as Proto-Isthmus, but it certainly could have been.


Proto-Isthmus clauses were negated by adding a morpheme pjuts[V] or (with what appears to be the intensifying prefix) aspjuts[V] immediately before the verb. This morpheme became a prefix (fis-) in Faraghin, but may have been a separate word in Proto-Isthmus.

Proto-Isthmus Lexicon

See Proto-Isthmus/Lexicon