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LotM - Oct 19: Amaian
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This public article was written by Admin Sheep on 2 Oct 2019, 03:59.

[comments] Menu 1. Phonology and orthography 2. Morphosyntax 3. More on Amaian 4. A Note on Amaian Our language of the month is dendana's amazing  Amaian, a very unusual language of southern Miraria, on Sahar. Read on to learn all about it!

[top]Phonology and orthography

Amaian phonology has a small inventory but does very exciting things with it. The basic inventory of stops and nasals is pretty normal: /p b t d k g/ and /m n/. There are also two affricates, /t͡s d͡z/ <c j>, and the alveolar fricatives /s z/. From there it starts getting interesting pretty fast. The only approximant in the inventory is /ɺ/ (transcribed <r>). The labiodental flap, [ⱱ] <ⱱ>, appears word-medially, almost always as an allophone of /b/ (although it occasionally contrasts). Finally, we get to the coolest consonants of Amaian, the whistled fricatives /sᵝ zᵝ/ <sw zw>.
These are similar to Shona's whistled fricatives, which have been described as labialized or retroflex, but unlike ordinary labialized or retroflex sibilants, have a distinct high-pitched whistling sound associated with them. These sounds are actually part of an areal trait in Eastern Vaniu, and are shared with Eastern Vaniuan languages such as  Balak and  Wamenan.

The vowel inventory of most varieties of Amaian is /i e a ɯ ʌ ɑ/ <i e ä y o a>. Strikingly, this contains no rounded vowels; the sole phonemic rounded vowel /u/ <u>, is found in some Eastern Amaian dialects. Additionally, after the whistled fricatives, vowels become allophonically rounded. If you guessed from this very symmetrical vowel inventory that there might be some interesting phonological processes happening, you'd be right! Amaian has total front-back vowel harmony, in which all segments in a word are either front or back. For vowels, this is an alternation between /i e a/ and /ɯ ʌ ɑ/; for most consonants it is an alternation between palatalized and non-palatalized. The exceptions are /k g/, whose back allophones are not [k g] but [q ʁ], and /t͡s d͡z s z/, whose front counterparts are [t͡ɕ d͡ʑ ɕ ʑ].

There are several other cool phonological processes, but we'll finish this section by highlighting word tone. Instead of each syllable getting its own tone or stress assignments, the entire word gets one of two tonal melodies. Tone 1 alternates between high tone on odd numbered syllables and low on even syllables, and tone 2 alternates in the reverse pattern. The initial syllable of each word receives primary stress.

[top]Morphosyntax

The Amaian case system is small but mighty. The four cases are direct, accusative, dative-genitive, and locative. Pronouns also have a combined instrumental-comitative case. Pretty simple, right? Well, these cases are a lot more complex than you might think at first blush.

The direct case is used not just for subjects, but also for indefinite and human objects, as a vocative, and in adverbial postpositional phrases such as zinitäk² tag¹ kaja¹ bird-DRDirect (case)
unmarked case, vs oblique or indirect
.PLPlural (number)
more than one/few
like fly-PFVPerfective (aspect)
completed action
.WITWitness (evidential)
speaker witnessed action
-3PThird person plural (person)
neither speaker nor addressee, they/them
"they flew like birds". The singular form is unmarked, but the plural form of the direct case inverts the tonal melody of the word, and adds a suffix which may depend on the word. The accusative is only used for nonhuman definite direct objects. Both the singular and plural are formed with a simple suffix, but the realization of this suffix varies based on the palatalization of the word, as well as whether it ends with a consonant or vowel. The dative-genitive (or oblique) case is used for the dative, genitive, partitive, with certain postpositions, and with definite human direct objects. The locative is used for location, for the causee of a causative, for a possessor in a predicative possessive, and for the majority of postpositions. Both of these cases have the same form for singular and plural, and always take tone 2. They are formed using a suffix which is lexically determined, and may be null.

The Amaian verb system is even more interesting. Amaian verbs conjugate for the person of the subject (including reflexive and reciprocal forms), and also for mood, aspect, evidentiality, and polarity. Mood is a simple realis/irrealis distinction, and aspect is a simple perfective/imperfective distinction (which collapses in the irrealis). However, the evidentiality distinction depends on which aspect is used. The perfective aspect has a distinction between witnessed (usually visual or auditory) and non-witnessed actions, whereas the imperfective aspect distinguishes direct (witnessed or felt, e.g. by mental state) from indirect (hearsay and deduction). Negative forms of the verb don't inflect for TAM at all, but they do still inflect for evidentiality, using the direct/inverse system. All of these inflections are formed by suffixes, which may be fused when multiple marked forms are used in the same verb form.

Our final stop on our tour of the Amaian verb is its many subordinate forms. These are split into non-relative and relative subordinate forms. The non-relative forms express meanings such as "since X happened", "because of X", "while X", or "without X". The relative forms are used to form what relative clauses. A relative clause in Amaian consists of the relative form of a verb, preceding the noun modified by it. For example, "I found the woman chopping the tree" would be expressed astaza¹ kapabon¹ binnän² jagmam¹ tree-ACCAccusative (case)
TRANS direct object; patient
.SGSingular (number)
one countable entity
chop-RELRelative.SUBSubject (argument).WITWitness (evidential)
speaker witnessed action
.AFFAffirmative (polarity)
positive, opposite of NEG
woman-OBLOblique (argument)
indirect or demoted object
find-PFVPerfective (aspect)
completed action
.WITWitness (evidential)
speaker witnessed action
-1SFirst person singular (person)
speaker, signer, etc.; I
. Separate verb forms are used for relativizing subjects and objects, as well as for singular and plural objects, and witnessed and nonwitnessed actions. The Amaian grammar article is very long and still under construction, so stay tuned for more Amaian in the future!

[top]More on Amaian

That wraps up our tour of Amaian! There's always more to explore, so check out Amaian's LexiBuild sets, translations, and grammar tables!

[top]A Note on Amaian

Got suggestions for how the next LotM should be written? See something in Amaian that wasn't covered and you wish it had been? Feel free to shoot us (protondonor, Hastrica) 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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