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Melì is a language in the Valley group of the Western language family, spoken along the coastal corridor, a thin strip of land between the sea and the Western Plateau on the west coast of Peilaš . It is a direct descendant of a dialect of Empotle7á, which was spoken in the same region around 2000 BP.

Period 1200-900 BP
Spoken in Coastal Corridor
Total speakers unknown
Writing system none attested
Classification Western
Basic word order VSO
Morphology agglutinating
Alignment ERG-ABS
Created by Mouse-tache


The prestige dialect of Melì, the one described in this grammar, is spoken in and around the small town of Kesàmade around 1100 BP. Kesàmade, sometimes known as Topaḍi was founded as a trading post for vessels hailing from the Lukpanic city-states early in their explorations of the coastal corridor and the Kipceʔ further to the south. These traders brought a more advanced society along with their superior technology, and the elites of Kesàmade have built a hybrid culture that draws considerably from Lukpanic society. Melì is unwritten, as the Lukpanic languages were at this early stage.

The local name for the coastal corridor is Asodeá. It is unclear how far from the town Melì is spoken, or whether it is mutually intelligible with other Valley dialects in the region, but the elites of Kesàmade clearly see it as their own sphere of influence in their dealings with traders from the north. The ruling family is alternately known as Tamazinò or Masìm, their adopted Lukpanic name (there is no evidence for this name in any Lukpanic language, suggesting that it is a local calque).

Religion at Kesàmade is highly syncretic. The indigenous concept of kozú, or life essence, is the focus of personal hygiene and moral purity, but cannibalism has disappeared completely. Instead worshipers appeal to a series of deities to guide them in cultivating their kozú, most of whom have transparently Lukpanic origins. Buckwheat never took root in the coastal corridor, but some new crops have become an important part of local agriculture, such as figs and Lukpanic varieties of beans. Millet is by far the most important source of calories, with strained yogurt and leafy herbs rounding out most meals. The region's sole contribution to agriculture is a local herb with edible seeds tasting something like a mix of coriander and fennel.

Sound Changes

These are the sound changes from Empotle7á. It's not entirely clear what dialect of Empotle7á Melì derives from, and some of the later changes on this list are dialectal or incomplete.

Loss of Glottal Stop

ʔ → 0

Merger of Back Vowels

ɯ/u → 0 / N_#, ʔ_#, l_#

ɯ/u → ɨ/ʉ → i/y / _N, _j

ɯ/u → ɤ/o

Loss of Allophonic Rounding

ɤ → o

y → i

ø → e

ɒ → a

Loss of Voiceless Laterals

tɬʰ → tʰ

tɬ → t

ɬɬ → s

ɬ → l / V_, N_

Loss of Labiovelar Approximant

wa → o

wo → u

we, wi → y

oo → o (only within morphemes)

Secondary vowel rounding

im → ym / _#

Vowel Deletion

o, u → 0 / Vl_C

Consonant Shift

p → b / V[low]_

t → d / V[low]_

ts → dz → z / V[low]_

k → g / V[low]_

p → b / N_

t → d / N_

k → g / N_

pʰ → p

tʰ → t

tsʰ → ts

kʰ → k

Hiatus Dissimilation

(propagates from the left to the right)

o → a / _o, _u

u → o / _u

Tonal Stress

V...V˥...V˩ → V˥...V˥˩...V˩

V...V˩...V˥ → V˩...V˩...V˥

V...V˥...V˥ → V˥...V˥...V˥˩

V...V˩...V˩ → V˥˩...V˩...V˩

V˥...V˥ → V˩...V˥ / #(C)_

V˩...V˩ → V˧...V˩ / #(C)_


N → ŋ / _#

ŋ → ˜j / _V

j → ˜j

Elision of High Vowels

i[-stress], u[-stress] → 0 / #s_C(C)V

Lenition of Stops

b → β / V_

Simplification of Vowel Clusters

i[-stress], e[-stress] → ˜j / V_V

u[-stress], o[-stress], a[-stress] → β / V_V

i[-stress], y[-stress] → yβ / _y


t → tɬ / _a



labial alveolar palatal velar
stops p b t d k g
affricates ts
fricatives s z
nasals m n
approximants l j

The lateral approximant is realized as a voiceless fricative ɬ word-initially. The voiced plosives b is realized as voiced fricative β after vowels. The palatal approximant j causes nasalization on the preceding vowel within the same word. None of these alternations are reflected in writing, though when these or other alternations occur in an example there will be a phonetic transcription.

The alveolar stop t is pronounced tɬ before the vowel a. This is optional, and some speakers continue to use t. In either case the change is not written.


Front Central Back
High i y u
Mid e o
Low a

Syllable Structure

Melì has a simple syllable structure of (C)V(N,l), where N is a homorganic nasal. At the end of a word this nasal is pronounced ŋ and written n.

Every word belongs to one of a finite set of stress patterns. Stress patterns are not contrastive on words of one syllable, and all syllables before the last three can be predicted from the last three.

no pattern a ... a ... a
rising pattern a ... a ... á
falling pattern 1 a ... a ... à
falling pattern 2 a ... à ... a
falling pattern 3 à ... a ... a

Words of the rising pattern have an acute mark on the stressed syllable, which is always final. The stressed syllable has a high tone, while all previous syllables, except sometimes the first, have a low tone. In words of more than two syllables the first syllable will have a medium tone. The penultimate syllable is often pronounced long.

The falling patterns have a stressed syllable among the last three syllables, with a grave mark. The stressed syllable has a falling tone, while all previous syllables, except sometimes the first, have a high tone. If two or more unstressed syllables precede the stressed syllable, then the first syllable has a low tone. All syllables after the stressed syllable have a low tone.

Some suffixes impact word stress. These suffixes are marked with a circumflex in this grammar, e.g. the evidential marker ê. After adding such a suffix, words with no pattern or falling patterns 2 or 3 take a rising pattern, while words with a rising pattern take falling pattern 1, and words with falling pattern 1 remain unchanged. Suffixes without a circumflex simply add unstressed vowels to the end of the word, changing rising or falling pattern 1 to falling pattern 2, falling pattern 2 to falling pattern 3, and falling pattern 3 to no pattern.

Word Formation

Nearly every root in Melì is one to three syllables. Besides verbs, nouns, and adjectives, there are two classes of adpositions, personal pronouns, demonstratives, numerals (collectively treated under Modifiers), adverbs, pronouns and demonstratives, and discourse particles. Verbal roots are classified by their inherent transitivity (either transitive or intransitive; thereare no ditransitive roots), but they also have other features that may be mentioned in the lexicon. For example some verbs of motion are inherently perfective or imperfective. A small closed class of nouns are inalienably possessed, and must carry a possession prefix. Adpositions come in two varieties: free and affixed. Free adpositions precede the head noun, and are uninflected. Affixed adpositions appear at the end of the noun phrase and affix to the final word in the phrase. In addition to their inherent meaning, roots can take on non-predictable meanings through derivational suffixes. Several derivational suffixes have been inherited from Empotle7á, many of which have become nearly obsolete. The chart below is not exhaustive, and only shows the most common examples.

Root Suffix Meaning
verb null an instance or example of an event
verb lo agentive, "-er"
noun kin added to animal names to specify a female
verb jen associated location
noun associated location
verb result
noun one augmentative
noun u diminutive

Root Suffix Meaning
verb ado intensive, emphasis on completion or finality
verb da makes causative transitives from intransitives
noun to seek or become something
noun ê to be something
noun to do something
noun lan to be similar to something

The Verb

Compared to Proto-Western, or even Empotle7á, Melì has a very simple, mostly agglutinative verbal morphology. The only obligatory part of a grammatical verb other than the stem itself is a prefix that agrees with the gender of the absolutive argument. The structure of the Melì verb is as follows:

Agreement (Tense) Verb Stem (Incorporated Stem) (Evidentiality/Aspect) (Antipassive)


Agreement prefixes agree with the absolutive argument of the verb, regardless of the number of arguments or the transitivity of the verb. They are identical to noun classifiers and have the same meaning. o- denotes male humans and large or impressive animals. ta- denotes female humans and small or domesticated animals ko- (ka- before the future tense marker or a root starting with o) denotes everything else. For some animals, like horses, the prefix matches the sex of the animal, as it would for humans. When it comes to supernatural referents, agreement is a mix of logical and lexical. The prefix used for animal spirits and clan totems may match the sex of the animal, or default to o-. Most deities are of Lukpanic origin, and use o- except for a small number of masculine deities which confusingly use ko-. Ideas and other nonphysical things generally use ko-, but a closed class of nouns, mostly having to do with traditionally feminine work, use ta-. The names of people almost always match the sex of the person, not the etymological root, but there are exceptions among mythical figures and heroes. Places that do not have a lexically transparent origin use ko-; place names that do have an obvious meaning will usually use ko-, but in some cases will use the marker appropriate to the etymological root.



It is done. (literally "It is made")



They (said they) asked him/her. (absolutive could be a man, or possibly certain goddesses)



I have arrived. (literally "I have reached it")


The only tense marker is the optional future tense, marked with -ode-. The non-future is unmarked, but the absence of a tense marker does not rule out the possibility of a future interpretation. Generally marked future tense indicates uncertainty or intention, not definite facts about the future, though ironically it is often used with the evidential suffix -u to emphasize things that will surely come to pass. It is also used in interrogative sentences for polite requests.



She will (obviously) succeed. (casual certainty about an accepted fact)



She will probably succeed. (intention or prediction of future facts)



She will definitely succeed. (emphatic assertion of fact)


Nouns and verbs can be incorporated into a matrix verb, but this process is not productive, and some combinations are not predictable. Some patterns of incorporation could be classed more as a form of derivation than syntax. For these reasons, incorporations are dealt with primarily in the lexicon.


Evidential suffixes are not mandatory for all finite verbs, but most main verbs will have one in a typical discourse. Some of the suffixes also carry aspectual information.

direct experience, perfective
-mbel direct experience, imperfective
-sî indirect knowledge, perfective
-on indirect knowledge, imperfective
-u gnomic

Direct experience suffixes mark direct sensory input, usually sight or sound. This implies that the speaker was present when the event occurred. They are almost never used in combination with -ode. Indirect knowledge suffixes mark reported speech or hearsay, whether dubious or certain. The gnomic suffix marks inferred or obvious information, and is often used for emphasis or to indicate a conclusion. By extension, it is also used to indicate controversial or surprising information, or sarcastically to indicate something highly dubious. Perfective suffixes mark events that have a clear ending, while imperfective suffixes mark events that are inherently atelic, or ongoing. The null suffix is also very common. It is used when the speaker does not consider any of the above information important, or when the same information would be repeated many times. The null suffix is also the most commonly used when the speaker is a participant in the event they are describing.

obué laná

[I saw that] he cooked eggs.


[They say that] she cooks.


It will obviously end.


The antipassive causes the agent of a normal transitive verb to become the subject of an intransitive verb, marked in the absolutive as usual. More information about transitivity and omitted arguments appears in the Arguments section.

kaozòu uzí

AGR-eat-EVID fish-ABS cat-ERG

cats eat fish

kaozouná uzí taé

AGR-eat-EVID-ANTIP fish-ABS also

Fish also eat.


Melì uses an absolutive-ergative system. The subject of intransitive verbs and the patient of transitive verbs (with some exceptions below) take the unmarked absolutive case, while the agent of transitive verbs takes the ergative suffix -î (or - after nasals). The vowel in the ergative suffix lowers to -ê when the previous syllable has a low vowel. The absolutive is also used for genitives and objects of adpositions.

koìbida nèma

AGR-float ship

The boat floats.

aozó Alsenaé ùsae

AGR-eat Alsèna-ERG fig-ABS

Alsena ate a fig.

aozó ùsae Keda


He ate Keda's fig.

olabè Alsenaé eòna najolá

AGR-steal-EVD Alsèna-ERG chest-ABS POS-brother-ABS

Alsena stole my brother's chest.

Intransitive verbs can take absolutive arguments, or no arguments, but never ergative ones. The absolutive argument, or subject, can have a variety of roles depending on the verb, but usually functions as an experiencer. Transitive verbs can take absolutive and ergative arguments, or none. If a transitive verb has an ergative argument, then it must also have an absolutive argument, but the absolutive argument may appear alone. In this case the verb has a passive or intransitive meaning. If the speaker wishes to supply the agent but not the patient of a transitive verb, the antipassive - is used. Any omitted argument usually implies that the information is unimportant, unknown, or previously established and not worthy of repetition.

olaosàu Suma


[He] saw Suma.

olaosauná Suma


Suma saw [it].

The last lexical class is split verbs, which are transitive and take arguments that use the same markings as transitive verbs, but with opposite meanings: the "ergative" is actually an agent and the "absolutive" is actually a patient. As with any other verb, the argument marked "absolutive" can appear alone (in which case the verb has a stated agent and an implied patient), but the "ergative" cannot. These verbs are indicated in the lexicon, but the terms "ergative" and "absolutive" will be used throughout this grammar.

taòdeda ne kimé

AGR-kill me-ERG shark-ABS

I killed a shark. (normal transitive)

tàsay na kimeì

AGR-fight me-ABS shark-ERG

I fought a shark. (split transitive)

tàsay na

AGR-fight me-ABS

I fought.

Canonical word order is VOS or VSO. Absolutive arguments have a tendency to appear before ergative arguments, and new or emphasized information has a tendency to appear later among the arguments. Adverbs and adverbial phrases or clauses follow a free word order, but rarely appear between the subject and object of the clause in which they appear, and never split up other phrases. Arguments can be emphasized and moved in front of the verb with no morphological change. Nouns that are not subject or object may also appear before the verb to establish new topics, but in this case the noun phrase usually takes the orientative affix -â.

ta kadagomé

ANAP-ABS AGR-important

That is what's important.

Nested Clauses

Entire clauses can behave like arguments. There are two ways to do this grammatically. One is with substantives, made by combining the cataphoric pronoun with a relative clause, and then treating the cataphoric pronoun as an argument. The other is to use a normal, unmodified clause. The latter is fairly restricted, mostly limited to psychic action, reported speech, or knowledge.

[example: "tell her what happened."]

[example: "forgot that..."]


Adverbs are any words that modify verbs, but not as subjects or objects. The semantic line between adverbs and nouns is thin (and a small set of roots can be both without derivation or changes in syntax, such as tso and soda), which is why they are both listed under “arguments.” Adverbs primarily provide information about time or manner. They generally appear immediately after the main verb or at the beginning or end of the clause, though they can appear almost anywhere that does not split a phrase. Nouns accompanied by an adposition can act like adverbial phrases. Entire clauses can also fill this role. Some common adverbs and a few examples of other adverbial constructions are given below. Note that some adverbs listed here function also as a type of conjunction linking clauses together. In these cases normal syntax applies; the adverb does not need to appear exactly between two clauses, since they are not true conjunctions (formally there are no clause conjunctions in Melì that cannot be explained as adverbs or particles, so they are not mentioned anywhere in this grammar).

ja although even though
tso yesterday
soda tomorrow
ne always
saezae sometimes, rarely
etỳ irrealis (marks hypotheticals and conditions)
mède yet, still
màlta already, anymore
taé also
sin and then
sàmosan (sàmo+san) to completion
tolaosá looking forward, planning for the future

ne aozàon luigàe sàmosan

always AGR-eat(transitive)-EVID meat-ABS completely

He always eats up all the meat.

aozàon sàmosan ne luigàe

AGR-eat(transitive)-EVID completely always meat-ABS

Someone keeps eating up all the meat.


Adpositions have split into two groups. The first have remained as separate words and appear before the head noun, becoming prepositions (listed as “free” in the chart below). The second have stayed at the end of the noun phrase, but suffixed to the previous word, becoming clitics (listed as “affixed” in the chart below). The first class is larger and perhaps not entirely closed, while the second class is very small and closed. The suffix kê can change the stress pattern of the word.

-san locative, used spatially, temporally, or metaphorically

amà with (for people)
kambé towards, until, facing, before
kotsó after, behind, from (for space or time)
mèlan along (an edge), during
tay on, at, in (used mainly for places and containers)
naokè (rising) up to
taza similar to
sekè down to, as far as (for distance)
èel in order to, following
èdo resulting in

sekè une làugo

as_far_as island near-AGR far as the nearest island

une laugoá

island near-AGR-ORI navigating around the near island

kotsó kumo

from magistrate

...from the magistrate



...officially, by civic authority


This section generally deals with words, phrases, and clauses that modify, or in some cases replace, nouns and noun phrases. Many of these words require agreement suffixes. These are the same as the agreement prefixes of verbs: -ô, -ta, and -go (-ko after a grave mark). The same ambiguity exists as among agreement prefixes. The suffix for male humans may also be used for female goddesses and some animals, while the female suffix can be used for a wide variety of humans, animals, and in some limited cases other things. Whenever a noun's agreement is not obvious, it is specified in the lexicon.

The order of modifiers after a noun is: adjective, genitive, number, relative clause. Attributive pronouns are classed as adjectives, but they may also appear after genitives or numbers to emphasize the limiting effect of the pronoun.


Adjectives are their own part of speech, separate from nouns and verbs, although semantically there are stative intransitive verbs that function like predicate adjectives. The syntax of adjectives and quantifiers is identical, so they are treated together. Both types of modifier follow the head noun, and take an agreement suffix. The only real distinction between them is that quantifiers are mutually exclusive with cardinal and ordinal numbers. Partitive constructions like “a few of the ten people” use a longer construction with the anaphoric pronoun, which takes an otherwise defunct partitive prefix la-. Numbers are treated in more detail later in this section.

kòtagon kená tongo kòbogyn

AGR-important horn-ABS long-AGR cow-ABS

The cow's long horn is important.

ko la oneó lanaò

man-ABS big-AGR many-AGR

There are many big men.


There are six pronouns in Melì: the anaphoric and cataphoric pronouns, two indefinite pronouns, and two personal pronouns. All of them can take the place of nouns or, in their attributive form, modify nouns. The anaphoric and cataphoric pronouns are the main demonstratives in the language. They are especially important in copular and relative clauses.

Anaphora Cataphora
Absolutive ta ko
Ergative taé koí
Attributive eò/età/èko koó/kodá/kogo

Indefinite demonstratives come in two forms, pa and tada. The former is used for specific things unknown to the listener or hypothetical things, while the latter is used for comparisons or to indicate free choice. Both can be used in questions or conditional clauses using the irrealis etỳ.

Indefinite 1 Indefinite 2
Absolutive pa tada
Ergative paé tadaé
Attributive paó/padá/pago tadaó/tadadá/tàdago

The personal pronouns do not have attributive forms. For alienably possessed nouns, personal pronouns follow the modified noun in the absolutive to show possession, like a genitive noun. Inalienably possessed nouns take obligatory possessive prefixes na- and ta-. The forms in parentheses in the table below are more formal, mostly reserved for speaking to or about elders and people of high social status.

1st Person 2nd or 3rd person
Absolutive na ta (sa)
Ergative ne te (se)

Relative Clauses

Relative clauses follow the noun they modify, but need not immediately follow it if another core argument is found in the matrix clause. The verb in a relative clause has no special marking, but the argument within the relative clause that matches the modified noun in the matrix clause will always be the anaphoric demonstrative. The cataphoric demonstrative may also stand in for the modified noun, creating a substantive.

le kaozú soban taí

snake-ABS AGR-eat mouse-ABS ANAP-ERG

The snake that ate the mouse.

soban kaozú leì ta

mouse-ABS AGR-eat snake-ERG ANAP-ABS

The mouse that the snake ate.

kaodeozó ne ko kabu ta te


I will eat what you cook.


The Melì number system is a hybrid of native Western and adopted Lukpanic numbers. Cardinal numbers up to eight precede the head noun, while cardinal numbers above eight and all ordinal numbers follow the head noun. All numbers up to eight use native roots, while numbers above eight use Lukpanic roots. There are two exceptions to this rule: the native word jalesé (sixty four), used only as a cardinal number, and the Lukpanic word niun (five), used as a cardinal or isolated number only for non-human referents. Very often jalesé is used metaphorically to mean “a large number.”

The number system hides a great deal of synchrotism and compromise. The suffixing attributives of Lukpanic languages are unknown in Valley languages, and the Lukpanic suffixes attach to agentives sab and tab. The latter is also used optionally for native ordinal numbers when used in isolation. The use of tab allows the complete absence of Lukpanic u, and nu has also disappeared in recent times. The description given here is the most common system used in Asodeá, but many competing standards exist up and down the coast. Some Valley speakers use native or Lukpanic numbers exclusively. Others use only native numbers for people and only Lukpanic numbers for everything else. Some have a hybrid system similar to Melì, but with one or more terms reanalyzed (one common strategy is to use senal to mean ten when counting people, replacing it with Lukpanic terms for non-humans). Phonologically, the numbers are subject to numerous irregular sound changes, specifically vowels and tones changing to match those of an immediately adjacent number. The word eḍá should by oḍá according to regular sound changes, but is presumably influenced by nearby mená.

Cardinal Isolated Ordinal
1 tau - tabó / tausí / tàugo (ta) taù
2 si - siò / sisì / sìgo (ta) sio
3 nasó - nasoò / nasosì / nasògo (ta) naso
4 mená - menaò / menasì / menàgo (ta) mènao
5 (edá) - niun edaó / edasí / èdago / niun (ta) èdao
6 minì - miniò / minisì / minìgo (ta) mìnio
7 jasé - jaseò / jasesì / jasègo (ta) jàseo
8 senal - senaló / senasí / sènaso (ta) jào
9 - sàdu niun sàdu niun tàdu niun
10 - mìbai mìbai ta mìbai
11 - sàsu mìbai sàsu mìbai tàsu mìbai
12 - sàmi mìbai sàmi mìbai tàmi mìbai
13 - sàbul mìbai sàbul mìbai tàbul mìbai
14 - sàdu mìbai sàdu mìbai tàdu mìbai
15 - ùlai ùlai tabùlai

mená kesá

four stones

kesá mènao

the fourth stone

tazeè menàgo

I want four.

oadalu na tau poalé nasó lada

AGR-accuse-EVID me-ABS one people-ERG three PART-ANAP

One of the three made accusations against me.