An Introduction to Meghean

by Andreas Johansson

Meghean [me'Zan] is the language of an Elvish people which lives in a number of enclaves spread over a large area west and southwest of the Shavarian Mountains. Politically they are organized into a number of feudal entities known as camant (sg camath), which in turn form a loose confederation. Each camath is lead by a hereditary can "lord" or cea "lady", to whom each individual member of the camath owes personal allegiance.

While Meghean-speakers do not currently possess any great political power outside their own communities, they have considerable cultural and commercial influence over a wide region, wherefore their language is relatively widely known among neighbouring peoples, and the source many loans in their languages. Its writing system have been adapted for several neighbouring tongues.

Orthography and Phonology
The Meghean alphabet was constructed long ago, and no doubt eminently suited to writing proto-Meghean. Many years and sound-changes later, it has rather too few letters for representing all the sounds of the modern language, which is compensated by the use of digraphs and similar fixes. The resulting orthography is far from phonetic, but apart from some built-in ambiguity quite regular and not too complex.

The alphabet has eighteen letters, romanized as follows:

p b m t d n c g ˝ r l s i e a o u h

The nine first letters are known as raca or "hard" letters, and in their basic functions denote bilabial, dental, and velar triplets of voiceless, voiced, and nasal stops. Note in particular c = [k] and ˝ = [N]. When combined a h they become dehecai or "weakened", which is to say fricativized. Thus, ph = [P], dh = [D], etc. Note in particular the nasal fricatives mh = [B~], nh = [D~], and ˝h = [G~]. The fricatives have historically arisen by fricativization of stops, and the relationships between hard consonants and their weakened forms are often obvious in morphology - see below.

Before front vowels (i and e) certain hard and weakened consonants palatalize; specifically, t d c g ch gh ˝h become [tS dZ tS dZ S Z Z~]. Note that while the distinction between t d and c g is obliterated by palatalization, that between the corresponding weakened forms, th dh and ch gh is not. Palatal consonants are refered to as oidhea, or "wet".

The letters r l s are refered to as cerech, meaning "middle" or "intermediate". The first two are simply [r l], whereas s, while basically [s], can be "weakened" to [h] (written sh) and palatalized to [S]; like t d it does not palatalize when weakened. For this reason it is called racaoete, or "hard-like".

The vowel letters i e a o u are called meach or "soft" - they form a straightforward vowel system [i e a o u] (yup, those are mid-high vowels, not [E O]). Additionally, e and o do double work as the semivowels [j w]. This does not cause much ambiguity, since the semivowels only occur before vowels, and moreover [j] only before a o u, and [w] only before i e a. When [j] follows a palatalizable consonant, it merges with it into a palatal consonant; eg the name Meghean itself, [me'Zan], for /meGjan/. When used in this way, e and o are refered to as, respectively, maoidheai "wettening" and mathi˝cei "drying". Examples include rean [rjan] "lithe" and coar [kwar] "to eat".

Diphthongs are rare in roots, but commonly arise in inflection; they all end in a high vowel. They're simply their component vowels run together, except ii [ej] and uu [ow]. An added complication is that, for morphological reasons, [-w] in diphthongs is sometimes written as -o - see below. The somewhat amusing result is that [ow] can be written four ways: oo ou uo uu.

The final letter, h, is sometimes called ecaiear or "weakener", for understandable reasons. More commonly, however, it's simply called ha [ja]. As this name shows, when not used to weaken other consonants, it provides an alternative way of writing [j], normally used when the semivowel consitutes the definite inflection (see below), or breaks up a hiatic combination. It occurs silently before i e to indicate the theoretical presence of a definite marker, and to break up orthographic hiatus (eg. in dehecai [dZe'ekaj]).

In foreign words that have a non-palatalized consonant before a front vowel, a silent o is sometimes inserted to indicate the lack of palatalization. This, however, makes little to remove ambiguity, since instead of having to wonder whether, say, di means [dZi] or [di], we get to ponder whether doi means [di] or [dwi] or [doj]. The last ambiguity, of course, is a problem in native words too.

Stress is unmarked, and falls on an unpredictible root syllable - for words with polysyllabic stems the position of the stress must simply be remembered. There is some tendency for the stress to fall on the vowel preceding the last consonant of the stem, but exceptions abound.

Nominal Morphology
A noun can take up to four "modifications" - it can be marked as definite, plural, accusative and possessive. The corresponding unmarked noun is therefore indefinite, singular, nominative and, well, non-possessing.

An uninflected noun never begins in a weakened consonant; weakening it an initial consonant turns it definite, eg creach [krjax] "castle", chreach [xrjax] "the castle" and cea [tSa] "lady", chea [Sa] "the lady", and sem [Sem] "tree", shem [hem] "the tree". Non-weakenable consonants are unchanged, obliterating the distinction between definite and indefinite in speech for nouns beginning in such, but orthographically an h is nonetheless inserted after the initial consonant, eg ruch "foot", rhuch "the foot", both [rux]. Nouns beginning in an (orthographical) vowel get a h prefixed, pronounced [j] before [a o u], silent otherwise.

Plurals are formed by adding -an, or, after vowels, simply -n, except when nouns end in a weakened consonant, in which case the weakened consonant becomes hard (AKA, the h is dropped) and a homorganic nasal is inserted before the newly-born stop. Eg cean "ladies", canan "lords" (sg can), but crea˝c "castles". With nasal fricatives, the result is just a nasal stop, eg gromh "night", grom "nights".

Accusatives, serving as direct objects, are formed by suffixing -o. This suffix goes after the plural -(a)n, if present. On nouns ending in a (full) vowel it creates a diphthong in [-w]. This creates some ambiguity, since -eo can be either [-jo] or [-ew] (or simply [-o] after a palatal consonant, but this is in complimentary distribution wit [-jo]). Remember that oo and uo are both [ow]!

The possessive, finally, is formed by infixing an -i- , turning the stress-bearing vowel into an diphthong. The possessive goes after the thing possessed; chreach chain "the castle of the lord". A possessive echoes any accusative ending on the thing possessed, giving us things like chrea˝co chainano "the castles (acc) of the lords".

Subject personal pronouns and possessive pronouns are formally the same , and consists of proclitics attaching themselves to the finite verb and the thing possessed respectively. The forms are:

person  1st  2nd  3rd
sg      se-  ra-  te-
pl      me-  ea-  cha-

(Note the perfectly regular pronunciations se- [Se-], te- [tSe-] and ea- [ja-].)

Notice that this means that with pronominal possessors we've got the opposite WO compared to with nominal ones. Cf meghean "our words" with ghean thaiean "the orcs' words" (=Yargish). "Word", by itself, is gea - the subject and possessive pronouns cause weakening of the initial consonant of the stem, if applicable.

(Taea ['ta.ja] "orc", definite plural possessive thaiean ['Ta(j).jan], is from Yargish taya, the ergative of tay "orc". With stems of this unusual shape, the difference between normal and possessive forms easily gets mostly theoretical.)

The object personal pronouns are enclitics, attaching themselves to verbs and prepositions. They're descended from the same original independent pronouns as the subject/possessive ones - the ancestral language used only WO to distinguish case roles - which should be rather obvious from the forms:

person  1st  2nd  3rd
sg      -es  -ar  -eth
pl      -em  -ii  -ach

(Remember, ii is [ej].)

One can, of course, attach both a subject and an object pronoun to a verb; eg mechoareth "we ate it". Or with a preposition thrown in chaleaureth acem "they have sung it for us", cf ac "to, for". Notice how the -e- of the clitic affects the main word; ac [ak], acem ['atSem]. Similarly, when occuring without affixes, the verbal stem -choar- "eat" occurs as coar.

Verbal Morphology
The chief distinction made in verbs is imperfect vs perfect, the former being unmarked, the later indicated by infixing -u- in the stressed syllable of the verb stem, creating a falling diphthong in [-w]. The unmarked imperfect in effect often functions as a past tense, since the progressive form in -ebh is often used for ongoing processes but not for completed ones, but the raw imperfect is also used for "general truths", as an infinitive, and with auxiliaries. Still, taking coar- "to eat" as example, one can typically translate as follows: coar "ate", coaur "has eaten", coarebh "is eating" (pronunciatons: [kwar], [kwawr], ['kwareB]). The progressive marker only goes on imperfects, but except this the imperfect-perfect dichotomy cuts thru essentially the entire verbal system.

There are active participles in ma- and passive ones in de- ([dZe-]); both come in imperfect and perfect variants. Eg machoar "eating", machoaur "having eaten", dechoar "eaten", dechoaur "having been eaten". Notice how the prefixes causes weakening of the initial consonant of the verbal stem, if applicable. Unlike the case with weakening indicating definiteness, no silent -h-'s are used with non-weakenable consonants - eg lear- "to sing", malear "singing", not **malhear (the distinction is of course wholly orthographical). With verb stems beginning in a vowel (not including the semivowels [j] and [w] written e and o), one is inserted, pronounced [j] before back vowels and silent before i and e, as normal. This behaviour is of course the same as with subject and possessive prefixes, as illustrated by mechoareth above.

There are a number of modal auxiliaries, and one indicating future tense, namely beor-. Auxiliaries usurp the syntactic place of the main verb, which is supplied as a postposed bare imperfect, eg seleaur "I have sung", sebheour lear "I will have sung".

Transitives can be passived by the addition of the ending -imh. Eg sedhemheth "I heard it", passive tedhemhimh "it was heard". The dropped original subject may be reintroduced via the preposition ne; for instance tedhemhimh nehes "it was heard by me". This is very common way emphasizing pronominal subjects; nominal one are more typically emphasized simply by an extra strong stress accent.

(The forms nehes "by me", nehem "by us" and neheth "by it" are often shortened to nes, nem and neth. Similar shortenings are also found with other prepositions in -e.)

The basic syntax is SVO - we have already seen it with cliticized pronouns above, but it holds true with full nominal subjects and objects, eg Chan acarebh shemo "The lord sees the tree" (acar- "to see"). The presence of the accusative ending -o means, however, that the WO can be modified quite freely for emphasis or to conform to a metric pattern - Shemo acarebh chan would be an equally valid, altho more marked, way of saying the same thing.

As seen above, the language uses possessee-possessor syntax (except with pronominal possessors). Similarly, adjectives usually follow their nouns, eg chea magel "the evil lady". Like possessives, adjectives echoes any accusative ending on their nouns; cheao magelo. This is, of course, pronounced ['Saw ma'dZelo].

Main verbs immediately follow the finite auxiliary, allowing only clitics in between - futurizing the above example yields chabheoureth lear acem "they will have sung it for us"; **chabheoureth acem lear is quite ungrammatical. The other exception is with multiple auxiliaries, eg in sebheor subh acar chreacho "I will want to see the castle" (subh "to want, to wish" as modal auxiliary). Again, the only thing that can be inserted in the auxiliary-auxiliary-main verb chain is an object personal pronoun clitic, eg sebheoreth subh acar "I will want to see it".

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