Tlharithad Grammar

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Tlharithad Language

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Phoneme inventory (in X-SAMPA):

/p b t d k g s z/
/S Z T D K K\/
/R\ m n N 4 C/
/a E i O/


< p b t d k g s z >
< sh zh th dh lh l >
< rh m n nh r hy > [Exception: /Nk Ng/ is written < nk ng >]
< a e i o >


The default rule is that light stress falls on alternate syllables, starting with a stressed syllable. Heavier stress falls on the first syllable of the root.

If the default rule would cause the first syllable of a root to be unstressed, stress it and destress the immediately preceding syllable. For example, say foo- is a prefix and barbaz is a root, forming the word foobarbaz. The default stress rule gives FOObarBAZ. But this causes bar to be unstressed, so stress it and destress foo. The correct pronunciation would be fooBARBAZ (with the stress on BAR heavier than the stress on BAZ).

"Roots" to which this exception applies include verb stems, Methods (not Origins) of motion verb stems, and free noun stems -- NOT incorporated noun stems.


  • Permitted consonant clusters:
    /tS dZ st zd ts dz St/ permitted anywhere
    /tK dK\ T4 D4 Zd (plosive)4/ not permitted word-finally
    /Zd mp mb nt nd Nk Ng/ not permitted word-initially
    /(nasal)4 4(nasal) 4(plosive)/ only permitted word-medially
  • Permitted diphthongs:
    /ai Ei Oi aO/ permitted anywhere
    /ia iO/ not permitted after /K\/ or /C/


When a nasal immediately precedes a plosive, the nasal assimilates to the plosive's place of articulation.

/E/ --> [e] (unstressed)
/O/ --> [o] (unstressed)

Yes, I realize that it's unusual for unstressed vowels to be farther from central. I did that to make really sure that they wouldn't get reduced to schwa (which I dislike).

The E and O rules are provisional. Since I've started to have enough Tlharithad text to read aloud, I find that my "natural" pronunciation of /E/ and /O/ is conditioned partly by stress and partly by the surrounding phonemes. I could just live with my lousy American accent, or I could rewrite the allophony rules. Leaning toward the latter.


I don't know where to draw the dividing line between morphology and syntax. This section is pretty short for now. I need to invent a lot of the grammar, and I need to rewrite the descriptions of the grammar I do have. Information will appear gradually.

Typology stuff

Tlharithad's default word order is VSO. S or O can be topicalized by fronting. This default order is also often rearranged in questions, relative clauses, etc.

Tlharithad is somewhere between fully agglutinative and fully isolating, but more agglutinative than English. Eventually I will go through some representative sentences and quantify it using that average-morphemes-per-word business.

On verbs, Tlharithad mainly uses prefixes. On nouns, I have to do more work before I can tell. Please Note: Most affixes have an 'optional' sound at their 'attachment point' (the end of a prefix, the beginning of a suffix). These optional sounds will be shown in parentheses. When the optional sound is a nasal, you have a choice of dropping it or (if the next morpheme begins with a plosive) assimilating it to the plosive's place of articulation.

Tlharithad has no adjectives or adverbs. Most adjectives are verbs like "be red". Adverbs are expressed by special usages of verbs, or of verbified nouns.

Morphosyntactic Alignment

Tlharithad is fluid-S. The subject of an intransitive verb can appear as either an Agent or Patient, depending on whether the action was done voluntarily / with control.

  1. Kanhaimihya thare.
    k-anha-i-mihya tha-re
    WK-PST-NONEV-sleep 1sg-ERG
    I slept / I went to sleep.
  2. Kanhaimihya thasi.
    k-anha-i-mihya tha-si
    WK-PST-NONEV-sleep 1sg-ACC
    I had to go to sleep / I fell asleep (despite trying to stay awake).

Unfortunately, this distinction can only be made for intransitive verbs. To show this distinction in a transitive verb, you can make it intransitive by incorporating the Patient. This process has limits (see the section on Noun Incorporation).

Basic Form of Nouns and Verbs

(Items in parentheses are optional. This item is self-referential.)

The basic form of a Tlharithad noun is:

The basic form of a Tlharithad verb is:
(tense)-evidential-root-(incorporated object)

Tlharithad has no noun classes or genders.

Noun Cases

Ergative: -(a)re (Agent of transitive verb, Agent-like Subject of intransitive verb)

Accusative: -(o)si (Patient of transitive verb, Patient-like Subject of intransitive verb)

Genitive: -(a)na (Possessor)

Dechticaetiative: -(e)lhi (Theme of ditransitive verb (e.g. the given object Y in "X gave Y to Z"))

These are suffixed to nouns.
Sometimes a noun may appear without a case suffix. For example, in copular statements, neither noun takes any case suffix.

  • Mat tha mirhao.
    mat-0 tha mirhao
    IME-COP 1sg cat
    "I am a cat."

Noun Number

Singular: (unmarked)
Dual: -(a)th
Plural: -(a)dza
Collective: -(a)tsh

The Collective number is used when the items go together naturally, in some way that's important outside of this particular context, or outside of one's immediate "neighborhood". It's a little like a clade in evolutionary biology, or a natural class of phonemes. So, "stops" or "the phonemes in French" are collective, while "the phonemes I like" or "the phonemes I have to learn to pronounce for my Intro to Phonology homework tonight" are not collective. Collective number is also used when speaking about, say, "all dogs" or "dogs in general", as opposed to some particular dogs.

Plural number is used for more than two items that are not collective. Dual number is always used for two items, no matter whether they fit together collectively or not.

Number System

0 tset
1 meth
2 eth
3 ro
4 bi
5 tsa
6 sha
7 tlhe
8 doi
9 ali

In formal, technical, or scientific contexts, scientific notation is always used for numbers beyond 0-9.

x10^: gai
decimal point: no
negative: zen (the negative evidential prefix)

  • 500 = 5x10^2: tsa gai eth
  • -5 million = -5x10^6: zen tsa gai sha
  • 525,600 = 5.256x10^5: tsa no eth tsa sha gai tsa
  • π = 3.1415926... = ro no meth bi meth tsa ali eth sha...

In everyday, nontechnical contexts, there are shortcuts for tens and hundreds: -ra ten, -(g)aith hundred. (Scientific notation is always used for numbers larger than 999.)

10 methra
11 methra meth
12 methra eth
20 ethra
30 rora

100 methaith
101 methaith meth
110 methaith methra
111 methaith methra meth
500 tsagaith


Besides numerals, there are quantifier words such as many, few, some, every, part of, the entirety of. To quantify a noun, just place the quantifier word right after it.

rhaisha tree (singular)
rhaishatsh all trees; trees in general
rhaishadza bi four trees
rhaishatsh bi a set of four trees; the four trees

Many quantifier words have different but analogous meanings depending on whether the noun is plural or singular.

rhaishadza rhoshin every tree; all of the trees
rhaisha rhoshin the whole tree; the entirety of a tree
rhaishadza brego many trees
rhaisha brego most of a tree
rhaishadza dhinte few trees
rhaisha dhinte a little bit of a tree
rhaishadza nhase some trees
rhaisha nhase part of a tree; some of a tree

Pronoun System

1st person: tha
1.5th person: mas
2nd person: nhao
3rd person: tse

The above are all free pronouns. (Verbs do not agree with the person or number of their participants.) These are the basic singular forms. To pluralize them, just apply the regular pluralization suffixes.

1.5th person basically means inclusive we. (Plurals of the 1st person are always exclusive.) A 1.5th person pronoun of X number indicates X of you and X of me. 1.5sg means just two people, you and me. 1.5du means me and one person associated with me, plus you and one person associated with you. 1.5pl and 1.5coll mean some number of you and some number of me.

With 1.5pl and 1.5coll, the number of yous and the number of mes need not be equal: 1.5pl could mean 5 of you and 5 of me, or 5 of you and 10 of me. However, 1.5pl cannot mean (for example) 1 of you and 5 of me. In that case, a circumlocution such as "2sg and 1pl" must be used.


The main verb of every sentence must carry one of the following evidential/epistemic/mood prefixes. Verbs in non-main clauses, such as relative clauses, may or may not carry an evidential prefix. (I'll call them all evidentials for brevity's sake. They all behave the same way, even though many of them are technically not evidentials.)

ma(t)- In my experience, from firsthand observation
i(t)- Nonevidential; obvious fact, the evidentiality is not worth stating (e.g. "the sky is blue")
loi(t)- From a reputable source
nar(o)- In my informed but not professional opinion (if your opinion is professional, use the "reputable source" evidential)
shio(n)- Inference
hyai(r)- Rumor
ap(a)- Apparently; from a source of unspecified reliability
ta(dh)- Likely
sta(dh)- Unlikely
thi(b)- Oversimplification -- the truth is more complicated but this will do for now (named after Mr. Thibodeaux, who prefixed every class with this disclaimer)
ze(n)- Negative
dzha(n)- Joking/Sarcastic

These prefixes may also be placed on nouns. In that case, the sentence's main verb must take the Non-evidential prefix.

  • Tasezhdi rhondere mirhaosi.
    ta(dh)-sezhdi rhonde-re mirhao-si
    LKLY-chase dog-ERG cat-ACC
    It's likely that a dog chases a cat.
  • Isezhdi tarhondere mirhaosi.
    i(t)-sezhdi ta(dh)-rhonde-re mirhao-si
    NONEV-chase LKLY-dog-ERG cat-ACC
    Something, likely a dog, chases a cat.

Verb Tenses

The present tense is unmarked. Tense prefixes have two parts. One indicates the distance from the present, and the other indicates the direction (past or future). These prefixes are regularly analyzable, but the distance and direction parts never occur separately. So I suppose these are technically hypermorphemes.

Week-scale: k-
Year-scale: hy-
Human-/historical-scale: pr-
Geological-/astronomical-scale: dhr-

Past: -anh(a)-
Future: -iost(o)-

Week-scale and year-scale are pretty self-explanatory.

The range of human-scale usually goes from about 2 years to several milennia; geological-scale is used outside that range. In practice, it depends what sort of events are being described. If you're describing geological or astronomical events, use the geological-scale unless the events occur within about a millennium from the present. If you're describing human history or human evolution, use the human-scale unless the events occur outside several tens of thousands of years from the present (then use the geological-scale). General or non-human evolution is treated as a geological/astronomical event.

Passages translated from the Bible or similar religious texts should use exclusively the human-scale past (and the "reliable source" evidential); see the Babel text page. Possibly the first couple of verses of Genesis, before humans appear, could use the geological-scale past.

To pinpoint the time of an event with greater precision, use adverbs or other time words. ...which have not been invented yet.

Motion Verbs

The form of a motion verb root is this:

(For brevity's sake, I'll use the term Point for both Origins and Destinations.)

Points are words with meanings like here, there, school, house, work, up, down, right, left, north, south, east, west, in, out, etc. Some of these (here, there, school, house, work) can stand by themselves as full nouns. The others are directions (up, right, north, in), and I still have to decide what else these can do.

There is also a special Point, mao, for nondirected motion. It almost always appears as a Destination. Mao includes these meanings (given with the Method "walk"): to walk about, to go for a walk, to do the physical action of walking. If nondirected appears as the Origin, the Destination must be a specific location. In this case, the verb means "to go about nondirectedly and end up at Destination."

Methods are verbs with meanings like walk, run, drive, go by bicycle, tumble, waddle, journey/voyage, go awkwardly, go sidewaysly (like a crab), etc. Often, the word for a vehicle will be a nominalized form of the corresponding Method. For example, "car" might translate to Tlharithad "thing you drive; thing that drives". (This is never true of transport animals, such as horses.) Evidential and tense prefixes go before the Origin, but redup>NOM is performed on the Method, not on the Origin (if any is given).

A motion verb may have null Origin, null Destination, or null both, if they are unspecified or unknown. The Method cannot be null. If the Method is unspecified or unknown, use the semantically empty verb she, "go". She is pretty much a placeholder for undergoing verbal processes such as redup>NOM.

The attachment of Points to Methods may be considered a special case of Tlharithad's general noun incorporation.

Example motion verbs:

  1. shemio she-mio "go up; ascend"
  2. manehyenabertor mane(t)-hyena-bertor "walk from home to school"
  3. reinharatha reinha-ratha "arrive here by car"
  4. getlhankomri getlhan-komri "journey from the east"
  5. laitamao laita-mao "run around; go for a run"

On 'And'

There are three versions of 'and', describing different types of coexistence:

  • do: two things or states simultaneously
  • alat: two states alternating
  • kia: one state, then the other (not changing back)

When listing several things, place an 'and' before each item. This helps avoid ambiguities such as "The solutions to homework 3 and homework 4 have been posted" -- what was posted, homework 4 or its solutions?

  • Sezhdi rarhondetshare do barasi do astesi do serihyasi.
    sezhdi ra-rhonde-tsh-are do bara-si do aste-si do serihya-si
    chase DEF-dog-COLL-ERG and man-ACC and woman-ACC and child-ACC
    "The pack of dogs chases a man, a woman, and a child."

Sample Sentences

Key to Abbreviations

  1. Thromezhaihyorma kanhamihya nhaosi?

    throme-zhai-hyorma k-anha-mihya nhao-si

    Q.NO-in.manner.of-thoroughness WK-PST-sleep 2sg-ACC

    "You couldn't sleep well, could you?"

  2. Paredzalhi brego kanhamadzein thare tsedzasi.

    pare-dza-lhi brego k-anha-ma-dzein tha-re tse-dza-si

    fruit.TOP-DCH many WK-PST-IME-give 1sg-ERG 3-COLL-ACC

    "I gave them lots of fruit."

  3. Do dairedh do madhor rarhaishadza.

    do dairedh do madhor ra-rhaisha-dza

    and and be.yellow DEF-tree-PL

    "The trees are red and yellow."