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LotM - Dec 20: Yawó
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Happy holiday season all you conlangers! December brings with it some chilly weather, but never fear! Get cozy and warm with the spiciness that is @w’s Yawó!
This public article was written by Admin Sheep on 5 Dec 2020, 17:10.

[comments] Menu 1. Phonology 2. Grammar 3. Background 4. More on Yawó 5. A Note on Yawó We’re ending 2020 on a high note with  Yawó by @w, a gorgeous a priori with a three-level tone system, noun-verb ambiguity, noun classes, and of course the notorious argument indexing!


Yawó features a medium-sized consonant inventory, with 20 phonemes. Stops and nasals are contrasted in four places of articulation: bilabial /m p ᵐb/, dental /n̪ t̪ ⁿd̪/, alveolar /n̠ t̠ ⁿd̠/, and velar /ŋ k ᵑg/. The dental-alveolar contrast arises from a historical palatal series, resulting in the dental series being notably more common than the alveolar series. One notable characteristic is that, unusually, all the voiced stops in Yawó are prenasalized. Other parts of the inventory are considerably less symmetrical. There are two fricatives, /s/ and /h/, and a single affricate /d̠͡ʒ/. There are four approximants, /l j w ɰ/ and a flap /ɾ/.

Yawó has quite a large and interestingly unsymmetrical vowel inventory, with 7 vowel quality contrasts: [i ʉ e̞ ø o ɔ ɐ]. Vowels also contrast three phonetic pitches (high, low, and rising), arising from an underlying three-level tone system (high, mid, and low) which assigns bimoraic tone melodies to pairs of syllables or diphthongs from the left edge of the word. This results in, on the surface, four contrastive tone melodies on disyllabic words (in order of frequency):
HH - e.g. báyú [ᵐbɐ́jʉ́] "thing, object"
LL - e.g. ngùgyè [ŋʉ̀ɰè̞] "to be unlikely"
LH - e.g sàuhé [sɔ̀hé̞] "to want, desire"
LR - e.g. hùke [hʉ̀kě̞] "hammer; benis”

There is an RR melody which occurs on monosyllables but which on disyllables spreads into a LH melody.

Yawó also features some fun allophonic processes, like vowels assimilating in rounding to neighbouring rounded vowels, e.g. /sìø̀/ > [sỳ͡ø̀]. The sequence /we/ regularly monophthongizes to [ø], which, along with consonant mutations leniting /p/ to /w/, results in alternations like pè /pè̞/ "blade, knife" with plural being, wait for it… jiòe /d̠͡ʒỳ͡ø̀/ (underlying /d̠͡ʒì-wè̞/), which is honestly terrifying.


Yawó is a highly synthetic and agglutinative generally VSO language. The concept of part of speech is quite blurred in Yawó, in fact it is not particularly useful to divide Yawó PoS into nouns, verbs, etc. and rather more accurate to make a distinction between predicate elements (i.e. elements that can take person marking and act as an independent clause) and peripheral elements (i.e. elements that do not take predicate marking and often occur with a preposition).

While nouns are not that different from Yawó verbs, they do have some interesting quirks: the first is that every noun belongs to one of eight noun classes, and the second is that nouns inflect for number in three ways:

1. The most common way is through the predicate system (which we’ll get to in a second). For example, rdigè “canoe” and jì-rdigè “canoes” (jì is the class 10 plural agreement proclitic).
2. Some nouns have lost their plural forms entirely and rather the plural is marked with the postposition wó. For example hú “lizard” and hú wó “lizards.”
3. Finally, the most fun method is (at least in my opinion) is using an irregular plural. For example rdi “tree for making a canoe” and rtí “trees for making canoes.”

Now let’s get to the meat of Yawó grammar: predicate marking! The Yawó predicate marks person, noun class, and the number of the subject, but not the object. The general layout of the predicate is as follows:
Subject procliticObject prefixFirst number prefixClassifier consonantSecond number prefix

The subject proclitic marks the number and noun class of the subject, the object prefix marks the noun class of the object (several object prefixes are vowelless, requiring the insertion of a vowel - the first number vowel), and the classifier consonant is a single consonant prefix marking noun class. What the classifier consonant agrees with is determined by the hierarchy plural > object > subject, i.e. if there is a plural argument, the classifier consonant agrees with it in noun class, otherwise it agrees with the object, and so forth. The classifier consonant is not obligatory and only occurs if there second number vowel is present, which itself only occurs if the subject or object is plural. Furthermore, Yawó features initial-consonant mutation, and what triggers this mutation is often not predictable, which further complicates, well, everything.

An example of the argument indexing on predicates is the following sentence:

hoe hàsàliyèliyè sìrdigè li lu kǎu dàya ha sagyè si jo dàya

Which broken down is:

2PSecond person plural (person)
addressee (plural)
=2Second person (person)
addressee (you)
-PLPlural (number)
more than one/few
quantifies and/or replaces nouns
:construct-PLPlural (number)
more than one/few
-NEGNegative (polarity)
quantifies and/or replaces nouns
:construct-PLPlural (number)
more than one/few
CNSConstruct state
noun being possessed
quantifies and/or replaces nouns
:large.animal-PLPlural (number)
more than one/few
3PThird person plural (person)
neither speaker nor addressee, they/them
quantifies and/or replaces nouns
:large.animal-PLPlural (number)
more than one/few

”Don't leave your boats outside at night otherwise giants will steal them.”

Be sure to read this article for an explanation on what is going on in this sentence and some more information on this really well thought-out and awesome part of Yawó. Oh and also there’s a nifty flow chart!


Yawó is spoken in the CWSP country of Kaiyyo on the island of Lahan by around 2,000-8,000 people. The Yawó homeland was colonized by Nevirans in the late 17th century, who responded to the indigenous people’s unrest by removing indigenous children from their families and passing language policies which greatly prohibited the use of Yawó. Yawó speakers were further decimated by infectious diseases and constant conflicts with the Nevirans. As such, the language is now in decline.

[top]More on Yawó

That wraps up our tour of Yawó! There's loads more to read, so check out the LexiBuild sets, articles, and translations!

[top]A Note on Yawó

Got suggestions for how the next LotM should be written? See something in Yawó that wasn't covered and you wish it had been? Feel free to shoot me (@litrobotix) 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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