Inner Coastal and Cherani Trade Speech Grammar

Jouevyaix Thuvaisshet dli Jouevyaix Cherani

Return to Cherani Home Page
Return to main language page
Copyright © 2003 Elyse M. Grasso


The basic sentence in the pidgin that developed into Inner Coastal Trade speech was a string of uniniflected roots that combined with some hand and tail gestures to constitute a contract.

Morning I you trade-with fish fruit beach.
rre nar in jou tois yeill thuvais
Or -- morning I trade-with you fish fruit beach.
rre nar jou in tois yeill thuvais
Or -- I trade-with you fish fruit beach morning.
nar jou in tois yeill thuvais rre
Or -- I you trade-with fish fruit beach morning.
nar in jou tois yeill thuvais rre

That primordial sentence is still perfectly valid (and legally binding) in modern Cherani Trade Speech, but in modern usage the individual components can all be elaborated:
In the morning tomorrow I will trade-with(contractual mode) you
eul rre shalür nar in shafa jou
in fish for fruit on the beach south of here.
oi tois ye yeill ka thuvais oing dreith os
Or in a declarative mode:
In the morning yesterday two seamen foreign were trading-with a farmer local
ngoij rre dilür llith
in many fish large for heaps of fruit fresh on the beach sandy south of here.
oi eidh tois tïch ye ga rraig yeill zeidth ka thuvais rail oing dreith os

Classes of Words

Trade Speech speakers recognize four kinds of word components: roots (they actually call them word seeds or kernels), affixes, combining particles which take affixes, and non-combining particles which usually do not take affixes (mostly prepositions, circumpositions and conjunctions).

Roots are uninflected except for mode, more or less by definition. Sticking anything other than a modal suffix on a root is considered to create a new word. And the difference between a compound word and a term plus modifer is partly determined by whether a modal can go between the two root pieces.

Combining particles form the basis of specifier structures that can look like quantifiers (in nounlike contexts) or auxiliary verbs (in verblike contexts). However, a single specifier cluster can carry both kinds of information, especially in neutral statements of existence or presence which do not need an explicit verbal root.

Phrase structure

The maximal phrase structure in Trade Speech is (begin-circumposition) (preposition) (specifier(+modal)) root(+modal) (modifier(+modal))* (end-circumposition), where modifiers may be phrases themselves.

This structure scales. Adverbs and adverbial phrases related to time or repetition tend to drift toward the beginnings of sentences or clauses because they are felt to be specifier-like. Other adverbs follow the usual modifier pattern of following what they modify.

Sentence Structure

Return to top


Return to main language page
Return to top

Modals typically exist both as affixes which can nbe applied to any root to modify it, and as particles that function at the clausal level.


Return to top

Particle sae, sa, -se, preposition se- (without)

Question and Referent

query: rrü,etu -rrü, rrüe,

referent (anti-query) -ro, ro

Return to top


Return to top

evidential/contractual: fatu (evidence), thüfad (contract), -fa, fae


Return to top

xae, -xa, xao


Return to top

-zu, zue

Nominalizer and Collectivizer, and the Comparative Tag

Return to main language page
Return to top

The affix -tu is a nominalizer and collectivizer. When -tu is attached to an adjectival or verbal root, it nominalizes it.
gan Red (is-red) gantu (redness, the state of being red)
nus Travel nustu (the activity of traveling)

When it is attached to a countable noun, -tu makes it abstract, generic, or collective. English sentences like "The elephant (abstract) has a trunk" or "Elephants have trunks" would translate into Trade Speech using a noun+tu. However, a specific herd of elephants would also commonly be referred to as elephant+tu, unless they were being counted or specific individuals were otherwise being singled out in some way. (Animals that usually live alone, like bears, would be less likely to be referred to using -tu. Grapes and bananas would use -tu, apples, less commonly.)

Nouns in -tu always take quantitative rather than numeric specifiers (much rather than many). They are on the ergative side of the accusative/ergative split, even when the noun without -tu takes the accusative.

There is a domestic animal called a küliis. (Shaped like a hadrosaur, culturally the equivalent of a very mellow camel, or a really huge llama). So --
Examples (particles in parentheses are usually omitted).

küliis ka gezh i hran
NOM küliis at tree DURATIVE is-wild
The küliis by the tree is wild.

i seshü (so) küliistu hran
DUR is-un-spotted (ERG) küliis+COLL wild
Wild küliistu are solid-colored.

Sefirren e kel küliis eon.
NOM Sefirren ACC five küliis is-associated-with
Sefirren has 5 küliis(es).

i zriha gan vou (so) küliistu on Sefirren
DUR is-splotched red white (ERG) küliis+COLL ASSOC Sefirren
Sefirren's küliistu have red and white splotches. (Like pinto horses or Holstein cows.)

küliis ve soja Sefirren i xarru
NOM küliis most is-favored Sefirren DUR brave
Sefirren's favorite küliis is brave.

nge küliistu on Sefirren ja dhovu so zoushtu
ABS kü,liis+COLL ASSOC Sefirren PAST+HAB carry ERG tradegood+COLL
Sefirren's küliistu carried trade-goods. (Usually, repeatedly, etc.)

küliis ve soja Sefirren e zhe di dhovu
NOM küliis most is-favored Sefirren ACC COG/SENT PAST carry
Sefirren's favorite küliis carried him (Sefirren). (to town yesterday)

The particle related to -tu is ta. It establishes an environment of comparison or equivalence: the two things that follow it are being asserted to be equivalent unless one is marked with a comparative quantifier. This is one way of handling predicate nouns (besides adjectivalizing them). (There's a verb that means "to exist", but no actual "to be" in the "X is Y" sense.)

Noun Phrase structures

Return to top

Noun phrases: [Preposition] Quantifier Noun-root{+modal} Modifiers


Return to main language page
Return to top

Prepositions have a number of functions, including indicating spatial and temporal relationships and marking the cases of noun phrases. Case markers are optional when the noun phrases are in the default locations within a clause and there is no danger of confusing their boundaries.

Case Markers
na, naevocative
(zero marker)nominative
yetransfer to subject
oitransfer to object
aidalong a route, across space
arrin (an enclosure)
athinto (an enclosure)
eishared, interchanged, reflexive
eulat (a time)
kaat a location, beside
ngoijduring (a stretch of time)
ngotharound (go around the barrier)
nosaround, surrounding
oingtoward a location or direction
otthfrom, beginning at
tlato, as far as, ending at
tsedown- slope, wind, current
vraiout of (an enclosure)
woagainst the stream, upwind, uphill
ünaway from


Return to top

Quantifiers take the form [Determinant] [Quantitative]. They are not quite optional: it is polite to quantify a noun or pronoun the first time it comes up in a conversation or discussion. After that, any mention of the same noun or pronoun without a quantifier is assumed to be a reference to the one previously defined. Alternatively, a sufficiently identifible chunk of a previously used quantifier can serve as a third person pronoun.

Note that distance specifications (e.g this vs that) happen in the modifiers, not the quantifiers, except when a quantifier cluster is being used as a pronoun.

There are 6 core quantifier flags used with nounlike root terms. Abstract, Territorial and Substantial quantifiers expect the use of measurement terms. Sentient/Cognitive, Animate and Inanimate things are counted.

Quantifier Type Classes
Abstract (-ei-)
General The concept of fishness or stoneness
Specific The word 'fish', the word 'stone'
Substantial, collective (-ai-)
General Stone: The material the path is paved with

Fish:What's in the stew besides vegetables
Plural Stones: marble and granite

Fishes: trout and salmon
Specific: stone: granite not marble

fish: trout not salmon
Definite: Stone: the truckload I just bought

Fish: the filet in my market basket
Indefinite: Stone: the stone I'm looking for for my project

Fish: what I need to buy for the recipe
Inanimate (-o-)
Indefinite Plural
Indefinite Collective
Indefinite Collective Plural
Definite Plural
Definite Collective
Animate (-ü-)
Indefinite Plural
Indefinite Collective
Indefinite Collective Plural
Definite Plural
Definite Collective
Territorial or geographic (-au-)
Cognitive/Sentient (-e-)

Verbal Specifiers

Verbal specifiers are markers for aspect, tense and sometimes mode, though modes can also be affixed to the root. Their 'core' is a null or zero marker. They include:

japast habitual
chepassivizer, detransitive

In addition, the -tu modal affix can turn a verb into a noun, which may continue to use the verbal specifiers. Verbs are adjectival (or adjectives are verbal) so nothing very special needs to be done to make them modify nouns.

On the other hand, the prefix i- turns a nominal root into something that can function as a verb or adjective. The exact relationships between the meanings of the noun and the related verb or adjective in i- are somewhat unpredictable.

Directions and Locations

Return to top

If hominids are erect bipeds that evolved on the plains of Africa, Shayanans are quadrumanes that evolved in bayous or mangrove swamps: a place where the main features of the landscape were trees and waterways, not land. In their gross anatomical structures Shayanans resemble shiny, hairless, venomous, marsupial spider-monkeys. (I suspect they evolved from what their world did instead of having frogs.) They have a head with a stinger in the mouth, a prehensile tail, 4 limbs each equipped with 4 opposable digits, and an abdominal pouch which is used as a handy pocket when it doesn't have a baby in it. Their shoulders and hips are more flexible and less stable than humans', so they can reach behind them more easily without dislocating anything. Some subspecies are more aquatic than others, and tend to be less spindly.

Personal directions

Humans tend to recognize 6 directions relative to their own centers: up, down, front, back, left, and right. Shayanans who speak Trade Speech recognize 8 directions relative to themselves:
a direction glorr that can be reached most easily with the head and stinger,
a direction wirr that can be reached most easily with the tail,
4 directions that can be reached most easily with the left anterior arm, saim
right anterior, tarr
left posterior, tsidth
and right posterior, woun, and
a direction ang that corresponds to the itchy place between your shoulder blades and
one, shoull that is its opposite.

The dorsal ang direction is thought of as the vulnerable one: there are six appendages available to defend the abdomen and pouch.

When these direction terms are used they are almost always marked to indicate the individual whose point of view is being described: if 'I' am standing bipedally, 'you' are in a quadrupedal stance and 'he' is hanging by the tail from a tree branch or diving into the water, the directions will mean very different things to the three of us. When the markings are omitted, is assumed that the reference frame is obvious from context.

Environmental directions

Trade Speech does not have words that correspond exactly to 'up' and 'down' as they are used in human languages. There is a word sakh that means, approximately, 'away from the surface', which is the equivalent of 'up' in the trees and 'down' in the water. There is a corresponding word, dzan, that means 'toward the surface'. Mines work like water, more or less: you go 'away from the surface' at the entrance even if the mine tunnels slope uphill. This also applies to traps and mazes.

There is a word khem that means the top of the trees or the bottom of the water. Saying "he's reached the khem" is the equivalent of saying in English "he has nowhere to turn". The opposite of khem is audki (surface, approximately).

A 'south beach' or 'south coast' has water on the north side of it. Beaches and coasts are ka khem (at the top) for boats, but not for people swimming.

North and south are ngais and dreith. The words for east and west , vozuv and aih are related to roots for climbing and diving in one of the Tradespeech parent languages. [There may be six surface directions rather than four, but I'm not sure how that works yet.]


Locations tend to be described in terms of landmarks and the routes and distances between them. They recognize areas of influence (which can interlace) rather than geographic borders.

On the other hand, the idea of enclosure is very important. Shayana has very large, very dangerous animals, and Shayanan settlements are built inside defensive perimeters (or spheres, actually). The center of the settlement is the safest place for the children (who usually don't have potent venom), so you can tell who the most influential person in a settlement is by looking for the person who controls the center. (The Hasri is 'Your Innerness', not Your Highness).

A settlement can be viewed as a geographic location (a place to be 'at') or as a structure (a place to be 'in'). This also applies to smaller, enclosed structures like family compounds, houses or buildings, rooms, etc.

There are variations of demonstratives related to concentric levels of enclosure. They include:

oshere (near, within this level of enclosure)
chetein here (emphasizing the enclosure)
evthere (away, but within this same level of enclosure)
dezhet in there (in a place that's more enclosed than the current point of reference)
eng out there (outside the enclosure containing the current point of reference)
zhremyonder (away, outside any enclosure)
shuzhrem inside yonder (in an enclosure at the other end of a route from here)

These locational variatons interact with the pronouns in complex ways. There is a religion with somewhat Olympian deities that are often colloquially referred to as Them Most-Inside-Yonder. At the other extreme, a different religion uses We-In-Here-Dual-Inclusive when it addresses parayers to a deity (this is an intimate mode that would also be used in either direction between parent and child).

Noun classes and Personal Pronouns

Return to top

All of these can be inflected by the location indicators and by modals for query, negation, some, every, definiteness, etc. In ordinary nouns, plurals are marked on the specifier particle. Only pronouns have internal plural inflections.

inyou singular
zhe3rd person, sentient/cognitive singular
ez3rd person, sentient/cognitive dual
ein3rd person, sentient/cognitive plural
voi3rd person, animate singular
auv3rd person, animate plural
yon3rd person, inanimate singular
ou3rd person, inanimate plural

Location (where) pronouns consist of the location indicators inflected by the modals.

There are also pronouns for time (when) yir, and method/manner/action (how/what did you do) (veig and aif) and reason/cause (why) haish, that can be inflected by the modals.

Geographic locations are only locations. Structures are inanimate.

Trees can be locations, inanimate, or animate depending on the context (and to some extent the type of tree). They are least likely to be treated as inanimate when they are alive.

The sentient/cognitive category includes people and ideas and literary works.


Return to top

Intrinsic possession ("Joe's hand") is often indicated by simple juxtaposition: "hand Joe" or "Joe hand", depending on whether the focus is on Joe or the hand (modifiers follow the thing modified, specifiers precede it). If the possessor is a complex phrase or clause, it may take an adjectival case marker.

Possessors can can also take either a genitive or an associative case marker.
When discussing Joe's fish (in his aquarium) Joe takes the associative marker on.
When discussing Joe's fish (on his plate, that he will be eating momentarily) Joe takes the adjectival marker i-.
When discussing Joe's fish (in his warehouse, to be sold) or Joe's fishing tackle that he bought or manufactured, Joe takes the genitive dil.

Relatives and ideas are associational. When talking about one's own relative it is actually more common to use juxtaposition with 'we' ("sibling we", or "sibling of us") and the "we" can be marked as dual, inclusive or exclusive depending on the situation and the point being made. "My idea" is idiomatically "idea we-dual-exclusive", and "your idea" is, more regularly, "the idea associated with you". The term "intellectual property" is hard to translate into Trade Speech, where artifacts are created, but ideas, songs and stories, like children, are procreated.

Structures can be possessed, but geographic locations and routes are associational, not owned. This was a problem when the Imperials arrived, since they are strongly territorial.


Return to top

Jouevyaix adjectives are verbs: "is-blue", "is-brave", etc. Most, more, less, least tend to be treated as quantifiers, which go before the thing quantified, while things like "very" tend to go in the modifier slot, which follows the thing modified.

Negative affixes can go almost anywhere, giving a very fine differentiation of what's being negated:

onn wul is-blue is-complete: completely blue
se-onnwithout-is-blue (without blueness)
onn-seis not blue
ve onnmost blue, bluest
ve onn-semost non-blue
vese onnnot the most blue
onn wul-senot competely blue
onn-se wulcompletely not blue


There's a standalone negative particle sa that negates the nominal phrase or clause that follows it. (Adding a -se affix within the clause provides emphasis.)

There's also a particle ta that establishes an environment of comparison or equivalence: the two things that follow it are being asserted to be equivalent unless one is marked with a comparative quantifier. This is one way of handling predicate nouns (besides adjectivalizing them). (There's a verb that means "to exist", but no actual "to be" in the "X is Y" sense.) The ta particle is related to the -tu affix, which is a nominalizer and collectivizer.

Verb Phrases and Predicate modifiers

Return to top

Particles Verb-root[+modals] [Time] [Location] [Instrument] {Recipient and Object} [Predicate modifier (= Motivation)]


Return to top

dho -- with

dli -- and

Return to main language page
Return to top