LotM - May 17: Wa Ñi
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Congrats to dendana for their language of the month! Wa Ñi is an analytic a priori conlang primarily inspired by Niger-Congo languages of West Africa, with loads of depth and details that give it a unique character. Read all about this wonderfully minimal yet complex conlang!
This public article was written by [Deactivated User] on 1 May 2017, 18:28.
[comments] wanlotm may 17lotm Wa Ñi, a wonderfully detailed a priori, analytic conlang, inspired by many West African languages. It's also the proto-language of a large family of conlangs called the Ngerupic languages, spoken in southwestern Miraria on Sahar.
Small and quirky is the theme of Wa Ñi phonology. The consonant inventory, has a large number of nasals and liquids, and a much smaller set of obstruents. In fact, there are only two fricatives, /ð/ (written <c>) and /h/. There's a typical complement of voiceless stops, /p t k ʔ/ <p t k x>, and one voiced stop /ɖ/ <d> to round them out. Next this tidy set of obstruents, we have an exuberant array of sonorants. The nasals are /m n ɲ ŋ/, with /ɲ/ written as <ñ> (as in the name of the language). The liquids are /l ɭ~ɫ ɾ ɻ/ <l ľ r ř>, with two glides /j w/ <y w>. Vowel qualities are also small and quirky, with the basic qualities being /i ə a ɑ̃ u/, written <i e a o u>. /ə/ can appear as [e] or [o] when next to /j/ or /w/, respectively.
Each vowel in Wa Ñi can take two underlying phonemic tones, low or high, but the surface forms undergo some fascinating changes. Underlying low tone, marked with a grave accent, is almost always realized as phonetic low tone. High tone, however, can be realized as high, mid, low, falling, or rising, depending entirely on its surroundings. Additionally, some morphemes have a floating tone. For example, take the phrase hàkete y Wa Ñi. (What does this phrase mean? "The tones of Wa Ñi", of course!). The particle y is a short form of yà, and has a floating low tone. This causes the preceding e to become falling tone. After that, further tone sandhi rules affect the tone on the remaining high vowels, making them either high or mid. So the whole phrase is pronounced as /hàkǝ́tǝ̂ j wá ɲī/. This is just a small sampling of the wonderful complexity of tone in Wa Ñi, which you can read more about in this article.
Wa Ñi nouns inflect primarily for gender, number, and possession. Sounds simple? Well, Wa Ñi combines gender and number inflection into 10 noun classes, each with its own distinct semantics and morphology. Additionally, there are multiple different ways that two noun classes can be combined into singular/plural or singular/dual pairs. Most noun classes are formed by suffixes on the root, but some may use circumfixes, prefixes, or tone changes. You can read about the full list of noun classes here. The gender/noun class system pervades the rest of the morphology: pronouns indicate class, and possessive affixes inflect for the class of both the possessor and the possessee. Pronouns also have separate ergative and absolutive forms, except in the case of the 2nd person, which has nominative/accusative alignment. Pronouns usually occur as clitics bound to the verb or adposition, and independent pronominal forms are rare. The possession system also distinguishes alienable and inalienable possession, leading to a dizzying array of possessive forms, which you can peruse in these two grammar tables.
Compared to the rich complexity of noun and pronominal morphology, verb morphology is relatively easy. In addition to the pronominal subject and object clitics, verbs may also take a negative clitic, although this clitic is usually bound to an explicit subject or object if any. Verbs only inflect for mood, which can be realis (citation form), irrealis, or conditional. The irrealis is formed by changing the first high tone of the realis form to a low tone. The conditional is formed from the irrealis by suffixing -àwa (for a monosyllabic root) or suffixing the last vowel (for a multisyllabic root). In addition to these inflections, there is a rich base of derivational verb morphology, including compounding with nouns, prefixing a body part or direction, or nominalizing and combining with a modal verb.
The basic order of a transitive sentence in Wa Ñi is S=V S O, where the first S is a pronominal clitic, and the second S is the explicit subject, if any. So depending on the sentence, it may appear to be SVO or VSO. Subject clitics are obligatory except in relative clauses, but explicit subjects may be dropped. Overall, syntax is head-initial, with modifiers following the noun. Questions are formed through the combination of movement and particles. In a polar question, the S=V complex moves to the end and is preceded by the particle ki. In a wh-question, the entire wh-phrase usually moves to the end. Complicating the syntax are several serial verb constructions, which may express causative, comparative, or perfective meanings.
Wa Ñi has a large vocabulary, with a rich set of agricultural vocabulary and tropical plant and animal names. In addition, it has a large number of ideophones, which are defined by sound symbolism. The longest, as well as the most evocative and poetic, words in the Wa Ñi lexicon tend to be ideophones. These include words like hìyaxkehipono "the feeling of being lost in music", kòòrokoxkox "the sound of rain on a gutter", and ñahaàdiñahaàdi "cranky".
[top]More on Wa Ñi
If you want more, check out some articles about Wa Ñi, Wa Ñi grammar tables, the Wa Ñi lexibuild sets, the library of of Wa Ñi translations, or the rest of the Ngerupic family.
[top]A Note on LotM
Got suggestions for how the next LotM should be written? See something in Wa Ñi 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! The language of this May is dendana's