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Sound changes from Proto-Western

Regular sound changes between Proto-Western and Proto-Coastal-Western are as follows (note that whenever PW or intermediate forms are quoted, [a] stands for a back vowel and that throughout the changes nasalisation is preserved unless explicitly stated otherwise):

  1. Plain velar consonants became palatalised before a front vowel or [j].
  2. [a] and [e] became [ɛ] and [ɪ] respectively when the next syllable contained [i].
  3. [a], [e] and [i] became [o], [ø] and [y] respectively when the next syllable contained [u].
  4. [a] also became [o] after labiovelar consonants and [w].
  5. Plain alveolar consonants became retroflex after [o] and [u].
  6. Progressive assimilation of retroflexion occurred wherever a retroflex consonant was followed by a plain alveolar one.
  7. [ɛ], [ɪ], [ø] and [y] merged with [e], [i], [o] and [u] respectively.
  8. The retroflex lateral fricative merged with [ɭ] in coda and with [ʂ] elsewhere.
  9. Velar, labio-velar and palatalised velar fricatives became voiceless.
  10. Non aspirated labio-velar, palato-alveolar and palatalised velar consonants became voiced.
  11. Palatalised velar consonants merged with palato-alveolar (occlusives became affricates in the process).
  12. Labio-velar consonants merged with plain velar consonants and palato-alveolar consonants merged with plain alveolar consonants.
  13. Retroflex consonants merged with plain velar consonants.
  14. Velar affricates became simple stops.
  15. Oral vowels became nasalised preceding nasal consonants.
  16. Oral vowels gained a high tone while nasal vowels gained a low tone and were denasalised.
  17. A high tone vowel became low tone if the following syllable contained a low tone (not recursive).
  18. Occlusives became [ʔ] word-finally and when preceding a non-approximant consonant.
  19. Fricatives became [h] word-finally and when preceding a non-approximant consonant.
  20. [ɬ] became [l] after [ʔ] or [h].
  21. [mj], [nj] and [ŋj] merged with [ɲ].
  22. When following a consonant, [j]V and [w]V segments were metathesised to V[j] and V[w] respectively.
  23. When [j] and [w] occurred in coda position they were vocalized to [i] and [u] respectively, while the preceding vowel was deleted (the tone was transferred on the vocalised approximant).
  24. [ʟ] became [ɫ].
  25. [l] became [ɫ] after a velar or glottal consonant.
  26. [l] became [ʎ].

Various irregular sound changes also operated between Proto-Western and Proto-Coastal-Western. These are especially seen operating on high frequency bound morphemes. Examples include the haplology in multisyllabic affixes and the deletion of coda consonants. When low, the tone from deleted syllables was often reassociated with a following syllable or syllables; when deleted coda consonants had been voiced they often left a low tone on the preceding vowel.


Consonant inventory

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop pʰ p b tʰ t d kʰ k g ʔ
Affricate tsʰ ts dz
Fricative ɬ s z x ɣ h
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Approximant w ɫ ʎ j

Consonants are written in IPA with the following exceptions:

  • Aspiration is denoted by a subsequent h.
  • The lateral alveolar fricative is written ł.
  • The voiced velar fricative is written ğ.
  • The palatal nasal is written ň.
  • The velarised alveolar lateral approximant is written l.
  • The palatal lateral approximant is written ľ.

Vowel inventory

Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open ɐ

Vowels are written as IPA with the exception of the open central vowel which is written as a.


Each vowel has an inherent tone, either high (unmarked) or low (written with a grave).


Syllables have a rigid (C)CV(C) structure.

  • Onset clusters: ʔl-, pľ-, pł-, bľ-, bł-, tľ-, tł-, dł-, kl-, gl-, gł-, xl-, ğl-, hl-.
  • Coda consonants: -ʔ -h -l -ľ.

Consonant clusters of more than two consonants were not permissible.

Morphophonological processes

Vowel affection

A frequent internal sandhi process is the so-called i-affection and u-affection, where a vowel has caused the preceding vowel to change quality during affixation.

i-affected u-affected
i (i) u
e i o
a e o
o e (o)

These processes are caused by a directly following etymological /j/ or /w/ as well as an /i/ or /u/ in the next syllable. The two affections can sometimes occur one after the other; e.g. a would be changed into e by following /i/, which would then be changed into u by a following /u/. The result is that the two processes are not completely transparent, especially in the case of prefixation, as the syllable causing i- or u-affection does not necessarily contain an i or a u - and likewise a syllable containing i or u does not always cause the expected affection. These peculiarities will be pointed out whenever they are relevant.

Tone sandhi

Another important process is tonal sandhi. Whenever a vowel precedes a nasal consonant as a result of affixation or other morphological processes, it becomes low-tone. Moreover, wherever a low tone vowel is suffixed to a word (or appears as the result of a nasal consonant), the preceding vowel becomes low tone too (the process is, however, not recursive).

Coronal backing

Yet another frequent morphophonological process is coronal backing. This occurs where an etymological coronal consonant comes to follow a high or mid-high back vowel /o u/ as the result of morphological processes. /o/ formed from the u-affection of /a/ triggers this process, but /o u/ formed from the u-affection of /e i/ do not. The coronal consonant is typically backed to a velar consonant as a result of this contact. However, the palatal lateral, which is etymologically descended from a coronal lateral, is also affected by this process and becomes coronal. The table below shows consonants and their backed outcomes:

original backed
t k
th kh
d g
ts k
tsh kh
dz g
s x
ľ l
ł x
n ŋ

Coda /h/, where descended from etymological , is also affected by this process, resulting in /l/.


Nominal morphology

Proto-Coastal-Western nouns, while preserving many aspects of the Proto-Western noun, also saw several important innovations, the most striking of which was the development of a simple system of grammatical gender contrasting “animate” with “inanimate”.

The first element of the change was maybe connected with the evolution of PCW cognitive perception of the world - as they shifted toward more cannibalistic practices than their PW ancestors, “edibility” came to be strongly associated with “animacy”, and eventually, the edible/non-edible distinction made in the singular absolutive was reanalysed as animate/inanimate. This was further accented when inanimate nouns, perceived as inherently passive, lost the ergative case, becoming confined to the more patientive absolutive and construct cases.

The last peculiar development affected number: the dual came to be associated with natural animated pairs (notably twins, but by extension, any pair of brothers, father and son, or even simply members of the same patrilineage), and eventually became the plural number of animated nouns, while the original plural was carried on inanimated nouns (thus the dual disappeared as a category, but its morphemes are preserved).

Thus, the resulting system distinguishes two genders (animate and inanimate), two numbers (singular and plural), and three cases (ergative, absolutive, and construct, with the ergative case existing only in the animate gender). The genders, unlike those of the parent language, are associated with lexemes and not referents; various oddities where the animate/inanimate distinction does not fully explain the gender of given lexical items are remnants of the older system of referent edibility/inedibility. For example, the words for many insects are inanimate nominals (such as dzìʔì- “bee”) as is the word for “friend” (gatsa-), but the words for various body parts are animate (such as dzehda- “heart”).

Sound changes have affected the regularity of the system enough for a basic system of declension to appear, based on the thematic vowel of the noun (tone doesn't affect declension, i.e. nouns in -a- decline just like nouns in -à-).

Nominal declensions

The table below shows the suffixes marking case and number on nominals:

animate inanimate
singular absolutive -h
ergative -ʔi (does not occur)
construct -ʔu -ʔu
plural absolutive -h
ergative -łi (does not occur)
construct -łu -gu

As expected, the construct suffixes trigger u-affection in the preceding syllable, the ergative suffixes trigger i-affection in the preceding syllable and, due to the effect of coronal backing, the animate construct plural form becomes -xu wherever it follows an underlying -a, -o, or -u. Below are tables showing the declension of example animate and inanimate nominals:

Example animate nominals

i e a o u
łèzi- “horse” ʔàzè- “woman” głèʔhà- “game animal” łàğlawo- “priest” guxu- “wolf”
singular absolutive łèzih ʔàzèh głèʔhàh łàğlawoh guxuh
ergative łèziʔi ʔàzìʔi głèʔhèʔi łàğlaweʔi guxuʔi
oblique łèzuʔu ʔàzòʔu głèʔhòʔu łàğlawoʔu guxuʔu
plural absolutive łèzih ʔàzèh głèʔhàh łàğlawol guxul
ergative łèziłi ʔàzìłi głèʔhèłi łàğlawełi guxuxi
oblique łèzułu ʔàzòłu głèʔhòxu łàğlawoxu guxuxu

Example inanimate nominals

i e a o u
tshèkhà- “earth” dudze- “sky” dzìʔì- “bee” khapòkù- “forest” ľağo- “smoke”
singular absolutive tshèkhà dudze dzìʔì khapòkù ľağo
oblique tshèkhòʔu dudzoʔu dzìʔùʔu khapòkùʔu ľağoʔu
plural absolutive tshèkhàʔ dudzeʔ dzìʔìʔ khapòkùʔ ľağoʔ
oblique tshèkhògu dudzogu dzìʔùgu khapòkùgu ľağogu

Possession marking

Two classes of nouns are found in Proto-Coastal-Western: inalienably and alienably possessable nominals. The former type must be explicitly marked for possessor; the latter only optionally so. Both types of nominal may be marked as possessed by appearing preceded by the possessed nominal in the construct case, but inalienably possessed nominals take prefixes to agree with their possessor also.

The set of possessed prefixes agree with the possessing nominal for gender, number and person. The prefixes have three forms: a set when attaching to a nominal the first syllable of which causes i-affection; a set when attaching to a nominal the first syllable of which causes u-affection; and a default set. In fact, the i- and u-affected forms of the prefix are regularly derived from the default set by the application of the i- and u-affection rules given above; the forms are listed for reference, however. Note also that if prefixed to a nominal beginning with a nasal consonant or with a low tone in the first syllable historically derived from a process other than tone sandhi, tone sandhi applies and lowers the tone of the vowel in the final syllable of the prefix. The prefixes are shown in the table below:

animate inanimate
singular plural singular plural
default 1st person na- ʔìła- na- ʔìgo-
2nd person dze- tłe- dze- ʔiʔge-
3rd person ʔe- łe- ʔe- ge-
i-affected 1st person ne- ʔìłe- ne- ʔìge-
2nd person dzi- tłi- dzi- ʔiʔgi-
3rd person ʔi- łi- ʔi- gi-
u-affected 1st person no- ʔìło- no- ʔìgo-
2nd person dzo- tło- dzo- ʔiʔgo-
3rd person ʔo- ło- ʔo- go-

Certain nominals have different meanings when treated as inalienably or alienably possessable. Examples include alienably possessable ʔàzè, meaning “woman”, compared with inalienably possessable -ʔàzè, meaning “wife”, and alienably possessable łàğa, meaning “guard, guide”, compared with inalienably possessable -łàğa, meaning “eye”.


Proto-Coastal-Western retains the “classifier” affixes of Proto-Western as bound classifier-pronouns. These have various, disparate uses which are dealt with in the appropriate sections of the grammar below. All nine of Proto- Western's classifiers are retained (although with somewhat shifted meanings) in Proto-Coastal-Western and a new morpheme is found: -jatha-, etymologically a truncated form of jathapa “garden”. With the development of gender into a lexically specified category, the majority of the classifier affixes have gained gender specification.

All of the classifier affixes may be affected by i- and u-affection and by tone sandhi as expected based on the environment in which they are found. Additionally, some trigger these processes on preceding syllables. The forms, their glosses, their gender specification, any morphonological processes that they trigger and then numbers used to refer to them in abbreviations are found in the table below:

affix gender triggers gloss number
-dze- unspecified - soft foodstuffs I
-ğù- inanimate u-affection, tone sandhi sticklike or long nominals II
-jatha- inanimate i-affection limited planes; buildings III
-je- inanimate i-affection liquid, incorporeal or gaseous nominals IV
-hdzi- unspecified i-affection granular masses V
-ta- animate - solid, non-human nominals VI
-tsa- inanimate - solid spherical or irregularly shaped nominals VII
-tshu- inanimate i-affection, u-affection soft non-foodstuffs VIII
-wo- unspecified u-affection beings capable of speech IX
-zi- inanimate i-affection intangible or abstract nominals; unlimited planes X

Note that the h of the granular masses classifier -hdzi- is etymologically derived from and so becomes l under the influence of coronal backing.

Independent pronouns

Personal pronouns

The personal pronouns of Proto-Western are preserved in Proto-Coastal-Western; they refer only to interlocutors. As interlocutors cannot typically be inanimate, no gender distinction is made in the personal pronouns and the etymological plural form survives as a distributive plural. The pronouns distinguish person, number and case, and are normal (albeit somewhat irregular) nominals, always taking full word stress. They are found in the table below:

absolutive ergative construct
1st person singular na neʔi noʔu
plural nah nełi noxu
distributive sa seʔi soʔu
2nd person singular ta teʔi toʔu
plural tah tełi toxu
distributive taʔ tegi togu
Phoric-demonstrative pronouns

The phoric-demonstrative pronouns of Proto-Coastal-Western are best described in terms of template morphology. The template of the phoric-demonstrative pronoun is as follows:

demonstrative pronoun, phoric pronoun classifier suffix number and case agreement suffix

Of the demonstrative and phoric pronouns, at least one must be present; one of each type may co-occur, but not more than one of a single type. The classifier suffix and case/number agreement suffix are mandatory. When both are present, the order of the demonstrative and phoric pronoun morphemes within their slot is variable; in the most common order the demonstrative precedes the phoric pronoun, but this order may be reversed for emphasis (this phenomenon of variable ordering of bound morphemes is extremely rare but is attested elsewhere). For details of the meanings of these morphemes, see the syntax section and semantics.

The number and case agreement suffixes are the same as those found on regular nominals, and they are selected to agree with the referent nominal. The classifier suffix is selected from the classifiers. The demonstrative and phoric pronoun morphemes are shown in the table below:

-dze- this, near me
-da- that, near you
-tshe- that, visible over there
-tha- that, neither visible nor near an interlocutor
phoric pronouns
-ja- anaphoric pronoun
-gi- cataphoric pronoun

All of these morphemes may be subject to morphophonological processes as appropriate according to their environment. Additionally, the cataphoric pronoun causes i-affection on a preceding syllable.

Numerals and quantifiers

Cardinal numerals and non-numeral quantifiers take mandatory classifier suffixes to agree with their nominal referent. Ordinal numerals take optional classifier suffixes when standing independently but may not when standing as a part of a cardinal (see below). Like its parent, Proto-Coastal-Western uses a base eight system of numerals. The quantifiers may be found in the lexicon; the numerals are as follows:

cardinal ordinal
1 tago- tagogu
2 zi- zudu
3 nolku- nolkugu
4 mètsa- mètsogu
5 ʔuga- ʔugogu
6 mìdzi- mìdzudu
7 neľzi- neľzudu
10₈ ňağo- ňağogu

Multiples of 10₈ are formed using the appropriate ordinal preceding ňağo-. Other numbers are co-ordinated.

Verbal morphology


The eight evidentials of Proto-Western collapse into six in Proto-Coastal-Western and the marking of evidentiality becomes mandatory. The evidentials are suffixes attaching directly to the verbal stem. The forms of the evidentials, the morphophonological processes which they trigger and their etymologies are shown in the table below:

evidential morpheme processes etymology
direct participation -ja- i-affection < PW visual sensory *-ya-
visual sensory -dzi- i-affection < PW aural sensory *-dži-
non-visual sensory -ľzi- i-affection < PW certain hearsay *-lši-
inferred -ľu- u-affection < PW inferred from physical evidence *-luʔki-¹
assumed -ge- < PW inferred from past experience *-kʷe-
hearsay -bà- tone sandhi < PW doubted hearsay *-bã-

¹) Note irregular haplology: the regularly descended form would have been *-ľuʔdzi-

Participant reference

Proto-Coastal-Western verbs take mandatory concord markers, agreeing with their absolutive and ergative arguments. The order of these markers has changed compared with that found in Proto-Western. Where one or both markers are interloctors (that is, are first or second person), the absolutive participant agreement marker precedes the ergative agreement marker, directly following the evidential. Where both are third person, the ergative marker precedes the absolutive. First and second persons are marked with the following markers:

absolutive ergative
1st person -na -ne
2nd person -tha -tshe
2nd person (impolite) -thà -tshè

The second person impolite form descends from the PCW plural form which, in other cases, evolved into the inanimate plural; as such it is used to imply the stupidity or inferiority of the listener, or to accord them sub-human status.

Third person absolutive arguments are marked using the classifier suffixes. Animate singular third person ergative arguments are marked with the suffix -ge-, an irregularly reduced form of older *-geʔi-, while animate plural third person ergative arguments are marked with the suffix -gełi-.

Floating verbal morphemes

Various bound morphemes may be found marked on the verb in Proto-Coastal-Western that do not fit into the above categories. These include the mirative markers -pù- and -ʔu-, marking doubt and surety respectively, as well as bound adverbs and speech-act particles. The speech-act particles are a small, closed class of affixes, comprising the negatives -je and -ʔihma, and the interrogative -ği. The most typical position for these morphemes was finally, following both evidentiality and participant reference; however, they can also occur directly following the evidential. This position was especially typical of the mirative markers.


The syntax of Proto-Coastal-Western has many of the same head-final features of its parent plus, you know, some changes innit.

Basic phrase structure

The verb phrase (VP)

The Proto-Coastal-Western VP is head-final: the head is an inflected verb. Intransitive and monotransitive verbs may take a single complement NP which takes the absolutive case. Ditransitive verbs may take two such complements. Complements precede the head V; the direct object of a ditransitive verb comes closer to the verb than its other complement. Note that the morphological marking for the single argument of an intransitive verb and the absolutive argument of a transitive verb may be the only reference to these arguments: the NPs may be omitted (Proto-Coastal-Western is pro-drop). However, the second (recipient) complement of ditransitive verb may not be omitted.

Additionally, any VP may take an additional adjunct: this may be a PP, an adverbial phrase or an adverb. In Proto-Western, adjuncts followed the verb; however, with the evolution of the heavy constituent postposing rule (see below) and in light of the fact that adjuncts very often are heavy constituents, this position has been reinterpreted as derived. In Proto-Coastal-Western the adjunct precedes verbal complements.

Below are found examples of VPs. In the first example the verb is intransitive and stands alone as a VP; in the second example it is intransitive and takes an adjunct PP; in the third example it is monotransitive and takes a single absolutive complement; and in the fourth example it is ditransitive and takes two absolutive complements.

  • Zedzijana.

    I ran.
  • Geľah khakholziwo, jàmogu ľaʔ.
    geľa-h khakho-ľzi-wo jàma-gu ľaʔ
    child-ABS laugh-NVIS-IX sun-CON.PL under

    The child laughs in the sunlight.
  • Tshejòhxù tshìňathejatsane.
    tshejòhxù-Ø tshìňatha-ja-tsa-ne
    wall-ABS.SG build-DIR-VII-1.ERG

    I am building a wall.
  • Tshi naľah ʔòbľùxah ʔèdagedze.
    tshi na-ľa-h ʔe-bľùxa-h ʔèda-ge-dze
    yesterday 1SG-husband-ABS 3SG-meat-ABS give-3.ERG-I

    He gave my husband its meat yesterday.

The noun phrase (NP)

The NP consists of a head nominal and any number of modifiers. Modifiers generally precede the head nominal, with a few exceptions. Defective matronymics formed with the suffix -ğiwogagawo following the head nominal. By association with these, certain honorifics, morphologically nominals in the construct case, were also able to follow the head nominal: phugoʔu “chief”, bèdzànoʔxuwogajoʔu “(my) relative”, meʔluduʔu “warrior”, ğùgoguʔu “prosperous person, rich person”, and pèľoguʔu “fat person”.

Examples of well-formed NPs are shown below:

  • noxu thaja
    noxu thaja
    1PL.CON milk

    our milk
  • nèmìna

    my mother
  • ʔàzòʔu ʔiľa
    ʔàzè-ʔu ʔi-ľa
    woman-CON.SG 3SG-husband

    the woman's husband
  • łàğlawo bèdzànoʔxuwogajoʔu
    łàğlawo bèdzànoʔxuwogajoʔu
    priest relative

    the priest, my relative

The adpositional phrase (PP)

Adpositional phrases consist of a head adposition and complement NP. The headedness of PPs is lexically specified: the majority of adpositions are postpositions, forming head-final PPs, but two adpositions are prepositions, forming head-initial PPs. These adpositions are gòdu “on top of” and zuwo “through, into the middle of”; they are transparently related to nominals meaning “head” and “guts” respectively. The NP complement of a PP takes the construct case.

  • toxu dzìdzìpàtògùʔu meʔ
    toxu dzìdzi-pàtògù-ʔu meʔ
    2PL.CON straight-road-CON.SG by_means_of

    by means of you people's straight road
  • gòdu łàğlawoʔu
    gòdu łàğlawo-ʔu
    on_top_of priest-CON.SG

    on top of the priest

The clause (S)

The clause is built from a mandatory VP and, where the head V of the VP is monotransitive or ditransitive, an optional ergative NP. Two possible orders of VP and NP within the clause are found. In the older, more basic ordering the NP precedes the VP; this remains the more common ordering. However, an innovation of using relative clauses as standalone utterances to give special emphasis to a specific participant in combination with an innovation allowing these relative clauses to omit their cataphoric pronoun lead to the reinterpretation of these relative clauses as head-initial clauses. They are, however, non-basic and are dealt with in the transformations section.

Below are found examples of clauses:

  • Ľegiʔi mòğuh ľaʔpologeta, woki.
    ľegi-ʔi mòğu-h ľaʔpa-ľu-ge-ta woki
    boy-ERG.SG sheep-ABS steal-INF-3.ERG-VI day_after_tomorrow

    The day after tomorrow the boy will try to steal your sheep.
  • Toʔu dłukukoʔu thùŋèʔi nàʔàzèh wolkàbàgowo!
    toʔu dłukuka-ʔu thùŋà-ʔi na-ʔàzè-h wolka-bà-ge-wo
    2SG.CON family-CON.SG headman-ERG.SG 1SG-wife-ABS hit-REP-3.ERG-IX

    The headman of your family hit my wife!

Embedded clauses

Complement clauses

Complement clauses contain a head NP, which is a pronoun formed with the anaphoric morpheme and the intangible classifier -ja-zi-, and a VP. The VP precedes this head pronoun. The pronoun is marked as absolutive; it is usually marked as singular, but may be marked as plural to indicate that the VP describes a repetitive or habitual event. Thus the two forms taken by the pronoun are jezi and jeziʔ. Note that as the pronoun takes the intangible classifier it must marked as inanimate and so cannot take ergative case; thus complement clauses may not stand as ergative arguments. They may, however, stand as the absolutive arguments of verbs or as the construct case arguments of adpositions. Below are found examples of utterances containing complement clauses:

  • Phugeʔi ʔedzehdzah jàsahpolugedze jezi nòbujezine.
    phuga-ʔi ʔe-dzehdza-h jàsahpa-ľu-ge-dze ja-zi-Ø nòbu-ja-zi-ne
    chief-ERG.SG 3SG-heart-ABS eat-INF-3.ERG-I ANA-X-ABS.SG think-DIR-X-1.ERG

    I think that the chief ate his heart.
  • Jadameʔliʔu ʔoʔujadzałaʔ łijahpejoğùŋe jeziʔ dzijijezine.
    jada-meʔli-ʔu ʔe-ʔujadzała-ʔ łijahpa-ja-ğù-ne ja-zi-ʔ dzije-ja-zi-ne
    old-bear-CON 3SG-wound-ABS.PL heal-DIR-II-1.ERG ANA-X-ABS.PL want-DIR-X-1.ERG

    I want to heal the old bear's wounds.

Relative clauses

A relative clause, which modifies a nominal, is a clause one of the arguments of which must be a cataphoric pronoun agreeing with its antecedent for classifier and number. A second relative clause formation, in which the cataphoric pronoun could be omitted, has been reinterpreted as a type of head-initial main clause and is dealt with in the transformations section.

  • gitah wodzedzàbàtatshe guxu
    gi-ta-h wodzedza-bà-ta-tshe guxu
    CATA-VI-ABS kill-REP-VI-2.ERG wolf

    the wolf that I heard that you killed
  • guweʔi sabajedzithage ľeʔi sa gidzedzeh ʔèdejagedze wopha
    gi-wo-ʔi sabaja-dzi-tha-ge ľa-ʔi sa gi-dze-dze-h ʔèda-ja-ge-dze wopha
    CATA-IX-ERG.SG fight-VIS-2-3.ERG man-ERG.SG 1.DISTR.ABS CATA-this-I-ABS give-DIR-3.ERG-I beans

    these beans that the man who I saw fight you gave each of us

Adverbial clauses

The adverbial clauses of Proto-Western were PPs taking a nominalised verb object, itself governing a subordinate NP. This type of adverbial clause has all but disappeared: it remains in a handful of fossilised phrases, but is no longer productive. A new construction has arisen on the model of complement clauses: the verb phrase is formed as normal, but the S is headed by an NP containing an anaphoric, intangible pronoun marked for construct case. This S is then the object of the adposition. Examples are found below:

  • Meʔlih ğoguʔlawoʔogugitane, dzìʔìkha ʔùkalpedzigedze jezuʔu sàʔ.
    meʔli-h ğoguʔlawoʔogu-dzi-ta-ne dzìʔìkha-Ø ʔùkalpa-dzi-ge-dze ja-zi-ʔu sàʔ
    bear-ABS escape_from-DIR-VI-1.ERG honey-ABS.SG eat-VIS-3.ERG-I ANA-X-CON.SG while

    We sneaked away from the bear while it was eating honey.
  • Jeʔogukha jezuʔu guku zedzeʔogùbèdzagòğù.
    jeʔogu-tha ja-zi-ʔu guku zedzeʔogùbèdza-ge-ğù
    leave-2 ANA-X-CON.SG after steal-3.ERG-II

    He'll steal it (a sticklike object) after you leave.

Non-verbal predicates

Nominal predicates

Of Proto-Western's two nominal predicate constructions, Proto-Coastal-Western has retained only one. The predicate nominal construction uses a zero copula; both nominals appear in the absolutive case. The construction found in Proto-Western in which one nominal in the construction took a stative verbalising suffix has shifted in meaning from indicating group or class membership to indicating similarity. The form of this verbalising suffix in Proto-Coastal-Western is -ʔaja (note, however, that the final vowel of the suffix changes to match the etymological final vowel of the root). Examples are found below:

  • ʔàzèh łağlawoh.
    ʔàzè-h łağlawo-h
    woman-ABS priest-ABS

    The woman is a priest.
  • ʔàzèh łağlawoʔajedzuwo.
    ʔàzè-h łağlawo-ʔaja-dzi-wo
    woman-ABS priest-VERBALISER-VIS-IX

    The woman is like a priest.

Adpositional predicates

Adpositional predicates are a recently innovated structure in Proto-Coastal-Western. They were innovated on the model of suffixed nominal predicates using the suffix -ʔaja. This suffix is added to the adposition; the phrase is otherwise identical to a normal PP. The prepositions are not found in these constructions. Examples are found below:

  • Guxuh toxu tukoʔu ğuʔajeľzita.
    guxu-h toxu tuka-ʔu ğu-ʔaja-ľzi-ta
    wolf-ABS 2PL.CON house-CON.SG outside-VERBALISER-NVIS-VI

    The wolf is outside your house.
  • Jàsoʔu ʔihmaʔajejana.
    jàsa-ʔu ʔihma-ʔaja-ja-na
    food-CON.SG without-VERBALISER-DIR-1

    I don't have any food (lit. I am without food).

Sentential particles

Proto-Western's speech-act particles have been reanalysed as bound morphemes, usually found within the verbal complex; however, discourse particles and indeclinable adverbs still do occur as free morphemes (although adverbs may also be incorporated into the verb).

Discourse particles

Discourse particles are a closed lexical class of indeclinable particles that has partially merged with the co-ordinator class of Proto-Western. It contains only seven members. These are: duʔ “therefore, in that case”, dzeʔ “however”, phà “then, next”, su “or”, tsah “also, and”, tsatsa “because”, and tshidzi “instead”. They occur directly following the head of the first phrase of the clause (most typically the ergative NP). Examples are found below:

  • Nah tshidzi jèmeʔihtsejana.
    nah tshidzi jèma-ʔihtsa-ja-na
    1PL.ABS instead row-forwards-DIR-1

    Instead, we rowed onwards.
  • Mu tsatsa neğlàgłàmah ʔùkalpagoʔugedze!
    mu tsatsa neğlàgłàma-h ʔùkalpa-ge-ʔu-ge-dze
    because completely mushrooms-ABS eat-ASS-surety-3.ERG-I

    Because I know from experience that he will eat all the mushrooms!


Adverbs are an open class of indeclinable particles. Various monomorphemic adverbs are found, but they are also productively derived from words of other classes using derivational morphology. Like adverbial clauses and PPs, adverbs occupy the adjunct slot of the VP (preceding verbal complements but following any ergative NP); they may also be found incorporated onto the verb, in which case they may follow the evidential but more commonly follow the personal marking. Examples are found below:

  • Zedzotsu phitageľeʔi khapa thòbugedzigòğù.
    zedzotsu phita-geľa-ʔi khapa-Ø thòbuga-dzi-ge-ğù
    quickly weak-child-ERG.SG tree-ABS.SG chop_down-VIS-3.ERG-II

    The weak child felled the tree quickly.
  • Khakhoku thowołu tupi khajaʔajàbèjathomu.
    khakhoku tha-wo-łu tupi-Ø khajaʔaja-bà-jatha-mu
    amusingly that-IX-CON.PL house-ABS.SG burn-REP-III-completely

    Amusingly, their house burnt down.


Heavy constituent postposing

Certain constituents considered “heavy” may be moved from their basic position to clause-final position. This process only applies to constituents acting as verbal adjuncts, complement clauses and relative clauses: NPs may never be postposed by this rule, and nor may PPs that aren't verbal adjuncts. It is difficult to define exactly what can and cannot count as heavy: a minimum of two words and four syllables appears to be required, but exact rules cannot be determined. The longer a constituent, the more likely it is to undergo postposing; however, leaving even an extremely long constituent in situ remains grammatical and, in the case of verbal adjuncts, postposing even constituents shorter than the aforemention minimum length appears to be grammatical (although in both cases unnatural). Examples are found below:

  • Pławojana mòxuğeľuduʔu noʔu.
    pławo-ja-na mòxu-ğeľudu-ʔu noʔu
    walk-DIR-1 wide-mountain-CON.SG up_towards

    We are walking to the wide mountain.
  • Ľeʔi bèdzedzigedze guwoh wetaʔihtsowone.
    ľa-ʔi bèdza-dzi-ge-dze gi-wo-h wetaʔihtsa-wo-ne
    man-ERG.SG have-VIS-3.ERG-I CATA-IX-ABS meet-IX-1.ERG

    The man who I met has the food.

Valence adjusting operations

Proto-Coastal-Western verbal valence is stricter than in its parent: where in Proto-Western reference to an ergative argument could simply be omitted altogether to emphasise an absolutive argument, Proto-Coastal-Western has innovated a morphological passive. This is formed using the suffix -zèʔaje, derived from a combination of the Proto-Western derivational suffixes -γẽ, which typically derived the location of the action of a verb, and the stative verbaliser -*ʔayV. Omitting reference to the ergative argument of a transitive verb is ungrammatical in Proto-Coastal-Western.

To reduce the valence of a transitive verb, its patient may be morphologically incorporated into it. This is a highly productive derivational operation compounding the verb and nominal. Unlike those of its parent, these compounds in Proto-Coastal-Western are head-final: the verb follows the noun.

Examples of these valence adjusting operations are found below:

  • Mòğuh jàsahpàzèʔajoľuka.
    mòğu-h jàsahpa-zèʔaje-ľu-ta
    sheep-ABS eat-PASS-INF-VI

    The sheep must have been eaten.
  • Nokhùŋàh mòğùjàsahpoluwo.
    na-thùŋà-h mòğu-jàsahpa-ľu-wo
    1SG-father-ABS sheep-eat-INF-IX

    My father must have eaten the sheep (lit. My father must have sheep-eaten).


In Proto-Coastal-Western, verbs and NPs may be left-dislocated for emphasis. In each case a pro-form is left behind in situ. For NPs this proform is an anaphoric pronoun agreeing with the NP for case, number, animacy and classifier; for verbs it is the pro-verb tha-, meaning “do”, which takes the same inflections as the fronted verb. NPs may be fronted from: subject position; from within the main VP; and from within PPs. As they are effectively a type of NP, complement clauses may be fronted anywhere that a normal NP could. NPs may not be fronted from within embedded clauses. Verbs may be fronted from within the main VP, but not from within embedded clauses. Examples are found below:

  • Phugoʔu thìʔpih, jowoh thùgùbàgowopù.
    phuga-ʔu thìʔpi-h, ja-wo-h thùgu-bà-ge-wo-pù
    chief-CON.SG daughter-ABS, ANA-IX-ABS have_sex_with-REP-3.ERG-IX-DUB

    The chief's daughter, that's who he apparently had sex with (but I doubt it).
  • Khapòkùʔu, jezuʔu gèʔdzi pławoʔogudzuwo.
    khapòkù-ʔu, ja-zi-ʔu gèʔdzi pławoʔogu-dzi-wo
    forest-CON.SG, ANA-X-CON.SG towards walk_away-VIS-IX

    The forest, that's where she left for.
  • Goguludzètshìdziʔge jeziʔ, jeziʔ tholudzètshè.
    gogu-ľu-dze-tshè-dziʔge ja-zi-ʔ, ja-zi-ʔ tha-ľu-dze-tshè
    cook-INF-I-2.ERG.IMP-repetitively ANA-X-ABS.PL, ANA-X-ABS.PL do-INF-I-2.ERG.IMP

    Kept on cooking it, that's what you did (you idiot).

Ergative postposing

Ergative arguments may also be emphasised by being postposed to clause-final position. In this construction, the headedness of the clause is reversed – the VP and all of its internal arguments precede the ergative NP. As mentioned above, this construction is etymologically derived from using a relative construction alone (or, arguably, with a zero-copula) to give special emphasis to a participant. When it became grammatical to omit the cataphoric pronoun from these standalone relative clauses, they were reinterpreted as head-initial main clauses. An example is found below:

  • Jiʔihtsedzuwo, dzuphugojuʔi!
    jiʔihtsa-dzi-wo, dzuphugoju-ʔi
    come-VIS-IX, fisherman-ERG.SG

    The fisherman is coming!


Negatives are formed using the negative speech-act particles -je- and -ʔihma-. These are roughly synonomous: -je- is the older form, but -ʔihma- is gaining ground against it especially when marked on the verb due to the ambiguity between it, classifier IV, and the i-affected form of the direct evidential. To negate the entire clause, these act as suffixes, coming in final position within the verbal complex or (less commonly) following the evidential. To negate a specific constituent, they are prefixed to the head of that constituent. Examples are found below:

  • Pławedzuweʔihma noxu ʔàma jèdzuʔu dze.
    pławo-dzi-wo-ʔihma noxu ʔàma jèdzi-ʔu dze
    walk-VIS-IX-NEG 1PL.CON with river-CON.SG to

    He didn't go with us to the river.
  • Pławojana jèdzuʔu jedze.
    pławo-ja-na jèdzi-ʔu je-dze
    walk-DIR-1 river-CON.SG NEG-to

    It isn't to the river that we're going.

Non-declarative speech acts


Interrogatives are formed using the speech-act particle -ği- (note that -ği- is etymologically derived from *γey and so does not cause i-affection). Following the model of the negatives, this particle may be suffixed to the verb to form a yes-no question concerning the entire clause, or may be prefixed to the head of a given constituent phrase to form a yes-no question concerning this specific constituent. Wh-questions are formed by prefixing the interrogative particle to a cataphoric pronoun; no wh-movement occurs. Verbs in sentences containing the interrogative particle are unmarked for evidentiality. Examples of interrogatives are found below:

  • Tshi guxuh khulpatatshiği?
    tshi guxu-h khulpa-ta-tshe-ği
    yesterday wolf-ABS catch-VI-2.ERG-Q

    Did you catch the wolf yesterday?
  • Tshi ğitshowoʔi guxuh khulpageta?
    tshi ği-tshe-wo-ʔi guxu-h khulpa-ge-ta
    yesterday Q-that-IX-ERG.SG wolf-ABS catch-3.ERG-VI

    Was it him who caught the wolf yesterday?
  • Tshi duʔ ğijatah khulpatatshe teʔi?
    tshi duʔ ği-ja-ta-h khulpa-ta-tshe teʔi
    yesterday then Q-ANA-VI-ABS catch-VI-2.ERG 2SG.ERG

    What did you catch yesterday then?

Optatives and invocations

There is no specific grammaticalised way of expressing wishes in Proto-Coastal-Western but certain somewhat idiomatic constructions are very common. One such is using the noun dzijeła, “wishes”, with a complement clause in a nominal predicate construction. Although not marked explicitly, it is taken that these are the speaker's wishes being stated. An example is found below:

  • Pławoʔogudzìtshà jezi dzijeła.
    pławoʔogu-dzi-tshà ja-zi-Ø dzijeła-Ø
    walk_away-VIS-2.IMP ANA-X-ABS.SG wishes-ABS.SG

    I wish you'd go away.


Meanings of nominal categories


The singular and plural numbers are relatively straightforward; the singular is the unmarked form and is found in situations where number is indeterminable and on collection nominals. The distributive number is also found marked on the personal pronouns. This number is used to describe a group of multiple individuals who are distinct and vary according to some important property or category. Thus it may be used to denote a group of individuals of different ages, sexes, families, etc. In the second person it is also used to include to denote a group containing one or more non-participants (i.e. third person referents) as well as one or more second person participants.


The meanings of the various classifiers are relatively straightforwardly evident from their descriptions above; only a couple of clarifications are necessary. The limited and unlimited plane evidentials are used for thin or effectively two-dimensional flat surfaces. The unlimited plane evidential is used where for the practical purposes of the speakers, the plane is unbounded: it is, for example, used for large landmasses, territories and areas. The limited plane evidential is used for obviously bounded planes, ranging from small items such as leaves to larger items such as gardens. The limited plane is used by extension for buildings and settlements.

Classifier IX, “beings capable of speech”, is used primarily for human referents. It is, however, also found in stories referring to animate gods, spirits and the like. It is also used for all birds, who, in Proto-Coastal-Western myth, are able to talk.

Phoric pronouns

Generally, the anaphoric pronoun is used for a referent that has either already been identified by the speaker or which the listener should be able to identify on the basis of inference, experience or general knowledge. The cataphoric pronoun is used for a referent that has not yet been identified and which the listener cannot be expected to identify, but which may be identified later in the discourse. Thus they may compared to a definite-indefinite distinction.

Meanings of verbal categories


The direct evidential states that the speaker was directly involved in the event described by the verb. This usually means that the speaker is also one of the arguments of the verb, but sometimes this may not be the case. For example, where the verb describes an individual taking part in an expedition or activity in which the speaker also took part. Contrastively, sometimes the direct evidential will not be used even though the speaker is one of the arguments of the verb. This usage implies a distancing and a lack of control or a lack of immediate, physical participation on the part of the speaker.

The visual sensory and non-visual sensory evidentials are used when the speaker directly experienced the event described by the verb. The non-visual sensory implies that the speaker did not see the event; however, the visual sensory does not imply that the speaker didn't also experience the event with non-visual senses.

The inferred and assumed evidentials are both used where the speaker has no direct experience of the event. The inferred evidential is used where the speaker has past or present evidence, typically physical evidence, of the event. The assumed evidential on the other hand is used where the speaker assumes the event on the basis of general knowledge, knowledge of the habits of others, knowledge of natural cycles, or unevidenced intuition.

The hearsay or reported evidential is used where the speaker has been told of the event by another individual. Notably, the reported evidential is found throughout traditional storytelling (with the exception of within direct speech).


The two mirative markers give further information about the attitude of the speaker concerning the information communicated by the clause in which they are found. The surety marker denotes that the speaker is especially sure of the validity of the information: it is often used in conjunction with the assumed, inferred and reported evidentials, or in other contexts where the reliability of the information might be put into doubt. The dubitative evidential denotes the opposite: it denotes that the speaker regards the information in the clause as unlikely, doubtful or untrue.

Sample text

The horse and the sheep