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LotM - Apr 17: Kisaangan
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Happy April and congrats to our latest LotM winner, severy, for their amazing language Kisaangan! Kisaangan is a polysynthetic language with a complex phonology inspired by Iroquoian and Athabaskan languages, and it has tons of cool grammatical features including obviation, switch-reference, complex verb morphology, and a total absence of independent pronouns. Read on to learn about this fascinating conlang!
This public article was written by Admin Sheep on 1 Apr 2017, 02:31.

[comments] Menu
1. Phoneme inventory
2. Phonological processes
3. Orthography
4. Morphology and syntax
5. More on Kisaangan
6. A Note on LotM

Happy April and congrats to our latest LotM winner, severy, for their amazing language  Kisaangan! Kisaangan is a polysynthetic language with a complex phonology inspired by Iroquoian and Athabaskan languages, and it has tons of cool grammatical features including obviation, switch-reference, complex verb morphology, and a total absence of independent pronouns. Read on to learn about this fascinating conlang!

[top]Phoneme inventory

Kisaangan has a moderately sized phoneme inventory, with some notable quirks. There are four places of articulation for stops: alveolar, velar, labiovelar, and glottal. Stops have a plain/ejective contrast, as do some of the fricatives and affricates. There are phonemic fricatives at eight different places of articulation: dental, alveolar, alveolar lateral, post-alveolar, velar, labiovelar, uvular, and glottal. Two of these are voiced fricatives, /ʒ/ and /ɣʷ/, but they don't contrast with voiceless fricatives at the same place of articulation. Rounding out the obstruents are three affricates: /ts t͡ɬ t͡ɬʼ/. In contrast to this extravagant fricative inventory, it has only one phonemic nasal, /n/, which can occur at 4 different allophonic places of articulation. There are also four sonorants, /l ɾ j w/. Finally, there are absolutely no phonemic labial consonants—only labiovelars and /w/.

The quirky consonant inventory is matched by an equally quirky vowel inventory. The basic vowel qualities are /ɪ ẽ ɛ̃ a ə ɑ̃ o/, but that's only half the story, because vowels can be oral or nasal and have high, mid, or low creaky tone. However, not every combination of vowel, nasality, and tone actually occurs. The vowels /ɪ a o/ are always oral, but /ẽ ɛ̃ ɑ̃/ only occur as nasal vowels. Each of the oral vowels can occur in high or mid tone, /ẽ/ can only take high tone, /ɛ̃/ can take mid or low creaky tone, and /ɑ̃/ can take any tone. Finally, the schwa only occurs as voiceless /ə̥/, which can also be pronounced as aspiration of the preceding consonant or as long [h]. In certain situations the quality of /o/ can change to [u] and /ɑ̃/ to [ɔ̃].

[top]Phonological processes

Kisaangan has three main phonological processes, which produce a dizzying array of allophones and a quite complex relationship of surface and underlying forms. These processes are nasal insertion, nasal assimilation, and phonation assimilation. Nasal insertion occurs when a nasal vowel precedes a stop, and its effect is to insert /n/ before the stop. Nasal assimilation follows nasal insertion, and causes /n/ to become [m] before labiovelars, [ɲ] before palatals and postalveolars, and [ŋ] before plain velars. It also causes the glides /j w/ to be deleted after /n/ has assimilated to [ɲ m]. Finally, phonation assimilation causes a variety of phonation changes in stops and fricatives. Plain stops become aspirated at the beginning of a word or between another obstruent and a high tone vowel. Between two voiced vowels, stops become voiced. Stops and fricatives become voiced after a nasal at the beginning of a word, or after a stop-nasal cluster. The two voiced fricatives, /ʒ/ and /ɣʷ/, devoice after a voiceless stop. /w/ becomes [ʍ] before a voiceless vowel and before or after /h/. Finally, the voiceless vowel [ə̥] may become voiced next to a voiced fricative or a different vowel.

[top]Orthography

Although Kisaangan has no native script of its own, its complex, deep phonology is matched by a complex and deep romanization. The romanization represents phonemes rather than surface forms, which leads to some odd spellings, such as kzúnwa [kʃóma] or in the name of the language itself, kisáoka [kɪsáɑ̃ŋka]. Many of the letters in the romanization match the IPA, but there are distinct letters for a variety of phonemes, including many of the fricatives, labiovelar sounds, ejectives, and nasal vowels. The romanization follows some internally consistent rules, such as the use of acute and grave accents for high and low tone, the use of a dot over a consonant as in <q̇> to mark ejectives, the use of <u> after <g q q̇> to mark labiovelars, and the use of a cedilla for lateral fricatives. Perhaps the most surprising is the use of the apostrophe, not to mark ejectives, but to represent the voiceless vowel /ə̥/.

[top]Morphology and syntax

It's not just the phonology of Kisaangan that's complex; it has a formidable morphology to match. Since Kisaangan is a polysynthetic language, by far the most complex part of the morphology is the verb. First come the TMNE, or tense, mood, negation, and evidentiality prefixes. These prefixes are fused, so that a single prefix, e.g. a-, can mean non-past positive inferential. The serial verb prefixes, j'- (positive) and guu- (negative), are also part of this system. Next, verbs take aspect and mood prefixes, such as optative uw- and habitual lú-. Verbs agree with both the subject and object through a system of fused personal prefixes. Included in these prefixes is a distinction between proximate ("3rd person") and obviative ("4th person") 3rd person referents, as well as a switch-reference system used in subordinate clauses. There is also a separate set of prefixes used when an object is incorporated. Finally, verbs can take suffixes indicating the number of subject and object. Altogether, this can lead to some very long verb forms such as suwúuaquútásinyú "never pet a bear" (gloss: NEGNegative (polarity)
not
-IMPImperative (mood)
command
.2Second person (person)
addressee (you)
>INCOIncorporated (affix)
object infixed into verb
-bear-pet).

Nouns are not quite as complex, but they still have a large number of forms, indicating animacy, case, and possession through a variety of fused prefixes. Pronouns, however, are completely absent from the language, and pronominal meanings are expressed entirely through affixes on verbs and nouns. Finally, syntax is predominantly OSV and head-final.

[top]More on Kisaangan

If you want more, check out some articles about Kisaangan, Kisaangan grammar tables, the Kisaangan lexibuild sets, or the large library of of Kisaangan translations.

[top]A Note on LotM

Got suggestions for how the next LotM should be written? See something in Kisaangan that wasn't covered and you wish it had been? Feel free to shoot us (phi2dao, argyle, protondonor, or Avlönskt) a PM with your questions, comments, and/or concerns. Also feel free to drop by the LotM clan if you have other feedback, want to join in the voting process, or nominate a language!
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