An Introduction to Altaii

by Andreas Johansson

Altaii belongs to the "Vaikic" language family (Altaii: Am Vaiki Kandista "The Vaikic languages"), which also includes Zenevin and Eθínin. The Vaikic languages are, as far as known, not related to the Klaišic ones, but millennia of more or less close contact has left its mark in large numbers of loans in both directions, as well as many grammatical similarities between the two families. Altaii's ancestor Classical Vaikin was the second most important language of the Federation of Planets, after Classical Klaiš. Altaii itself is the official language of Altaia, one of the major Tšánaian powers, and neighbour both of Taireza and Steiene.

This article, as suggested by the title, aims at being an "introduction" to the Altaii language - it does not attempt to be anything like a complete grammar. It might, one day, be expanded to a such, or at least one comparable to the grammars of Tairezaž and Steienž, but that's for the future to see.

NB: Altaia and Altaii have nothing to do with the Altai Mountains of Earth; the resemblance is purely due to random chance.


The consonant phonemes of Altaii:
Stopsp bt dš žk g
Fricativesf vs z
Nasalsmn ñ

Phonetically, š and ž are, as the spelling suggests, not stops but fricatives, but they are phonemically treated like stops.

No initial or final clusters are allowed; allowed medial clusters consist of -st-, -zd-, or of any stop preceeded by a liquid or a homorganic nasal. In clusters, /š/ and /ž/ are written -tš- and -dž-, which reflects pronunciation. The oddities regarding the treatment of š and ž are largely due to the decay of the palatal series of Classical Vaikin - the original palatal stops become affricates, drifted to postalveolar position, and then lost the stop part except in clusters, but remain in the same phonemic class as the other stops.

Final nasals have been lost in Altaii - the -i in "Altaii" is actually the same ending as the -in seen in Vaikin, Zenevin, Eθínin. The nasals return with the adding of endings, eg altaiini "Altaian (pl)".

The vowels are the classical five i e a o u, plus y [y], which the language is somewhat (in-)famous for - none of the other great languages of Tšána has this vowel, wherefore outsiders often have trouble to pronounce it correctly. The diphthongs are ei ai oy uy. The language is quite tolerant of hiatic combinations - the chief exception being that i and y cannot stand after another vowel. Where this would occur, the first vowel is lost if it is i, y, e or a - if it is o or u, a diphthong oy or uy results instead.

(It should perhaps be pointed out that these contractions don't affect the phonemic diphthongs ai and ei, but only hiatic combinations that would have arisen from derivation or inflection. Note also that the final element of a diphthong does not count as an "i or y" for this purpose. The very word altaii ilustrates both these phenomena.)

Stress falls on the final syllable of a polysyllabic word if it contains a diphthong, otherwise on the antepenult. If the stressed vowel is a monophthong in an open syllable, it tends to be lengthened - eg, mara ['ma:ra] "new", but arta ['arta] "good".

Nouns only inflect for number - singular, plural and collective.

The singular is the basic form out nouns. The plural is formed with the ending -i, which replaces final vowel other than o or u, in which cases a dipthong is formed instead. It not infrequently resurrects a lost final nasal. The use of these numbers should require no explanation after one is familiar with those of the collective.

The collective denotes an entire class or category. General statements about "the cat (as species)" or "the Communists" would use the collective. It also used of a group of persons or things that are seen to act as one - "the guards threw us out" would use the collective of "guard". The collective is formed by the ending -sta, which is added to the singular of nouns ending in -o or -u, otherwise to the plural.

The number forms of nouns of various shapes:
(a) cheeseiziiziizista

The Article
The definite article an is indeclinable, but the nasal assimilates in PoA with the following consonants, if any, and this is recognized in writing - cf Am Vaiki Kandista "The Vaikic Languages" above, and añ ñazega "the eater". Such orthographic mistreatment of the article is now found in many Tšánaian languages - it appear to have spread from Tairezan writing habits.

The pronominal system have rather few forms, and almost no inflection. The learner who appreciates this better like prepositions and syntax.

The personal pronouns are in the singular ma "I", le "you (sg)", eze "he", yza "she", da "it", in the plural zai "we", nosti "you (pl)" and seo "they".

There is also a variety of interogative, demonstrative and indefinite pronouns.

Adjectives preceed their nouns. They partially agree in number - before plural nouns, they take the plural ending -i just like nouns, but before collectives they take the uninflected "singular" form. Eg, šai izi "an old cheese", šaimi izi "old cheeses", šai izista "old cheese".

Comparation is handled by prepositions and adverbs.

Classical Vaikin had a quite complex verbal system distinguishing four fusional tense/aspect forms, and utilizing a number of auxiliaries to form more such, as well as several different voices and moods. Of this remains two tenses and three voices, on top of which a new future tense formed by suffixing an auxiliary onto the verbal root. Since various tense/aspect markers have been chosen as present and past markers in different classes of verbs, the language has, to make up for lost complexity, acquired a number of conjugations. The three most important ones are the consonantal conjugation, the u-conjugation and the a-conjugation, the tense forms of which are examplified below:

Verbal conjugations
to burn (intr)consonantalnal-nalanalazonaltšeza
to burn (tr)unalu-nalunaluanalušeza
to carryaanda-andaandazoandašeza

Besides the default active voice, there is a "passive" fromed by adding -ol- to the stem, and an "antipassive" formed by adding -eiz-. The uses of these voices are better explained in the context of syntax, wherefore we leave them for now. Notice that after either of these endings have been added, the verb behaves as if belonging to the consonantal conjugation.

Indefinite forms include an infinitive, which is simply the bare stem (minus any final nasal), an active participle in -yma and a passive one in -(o)ko. The active particle ending behaves abit oddly, in that it fails to displace the final -a of a-conjucation stems, but instead merges with it to produce forms in -aima. The verbal noun ending -iša behaves the same.

Prepositions, Conjunctions and stuff ...
Prepositions include a "at, on", muz "down(wards)", oys "up(wards)" and ve "of". The normal way of indicating possession is with ve, as in deruga vam medy "lover of the girl, the girl's lover", where vam is a contraction of ve and an "the", with assimilation in PoA with the initial consonant of medy "girl".

Conjugations include noy "and".

Common derivational affixes include -(e)ga, which turns verb stems into agental nouns, seen in deruga "lover" (cf deru- "to love"), and -i(n-), which turns nouns into adjectives, seen in Altaii. The ending -aiz forms abstract nouns from adjectives - mara "new", maraiz "novelty", soroyne "loyal", soroynaiz "loyalty", arta "good", artanaiz "goodness".

Altaii syntax is, quite rigidly, SOV. The reason for the rigidity is, basically, that the lack of case markers leaves the job of distinguishing subject and object to syntax. It will be noted that the language is synatctically accusative:

Eze yza gatua noy azua turazo.
he  her hit   and away ran
"He hit her and (he) ran away"

This example also shows that the adverbial azua "away" goes before the verb. This goes for all adverbials - the finite verb is always clause-final. So with a prepositional phrase thrown in we get sentences like eze seo a an dazuo reimazo "he saw them in the lair".

A transitive verb can drop either is subject or its object, but must then take a passive or antipassive ending. Eg:

Ma izi ñaza
ma izi    ñaz -a
I  cheese eat PRESENT
"I am eating a cheese"

Ma ñazeiza
ma ñaz -eiz        -a
"I am eating"

Izi ñazola
izi    ñaz -ol     -a
"a cheese is being eaten"

Calling the -ol form "passive" might be stretching the term somewhat - izi above remains an object, which can be seen from that a sentence like **am medy reimola noy azua tura "the girl is seen and runs away" is flatly ungrammatical - one has to say am medy reimola noy yza azua tura "the girl is seen and she runs away".

Adjectives preceed their nouns; am mentu "the spaceship", an šai mentu "the old spaceship".

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