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Spoken Vodholk basic grammar
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overview of SVOK syntax & morphology
This public article was written by severy, and last updated on 5 Jan 2020, 01:51.

[comments] Menu 1. Parts of speech 2. Syntactic rules 3. PRONOUNS 4. VERBS | Tense and mood 5. VERBS | Aspect 6. VERBS | Agreement and little-v 7. VERBS | Morpheme ordering 8. AUXS | The auxiliaries 9. AUXS | Aspect 10. AUXS | Mood 11. AUXS | Non-agreement & little-v 12. AUXS | Morpheme ordering 13. NOUNS | Number 14. NOUNS | Case & narrative animacy 15. NOUNS | Familiarity 16. NOUNS | Determiners 17. NOUNS | Ordering [Slightly out-of-date: Spelling of <t> for /θ/ (old: <th> or <þ>), presence of <ʔ ɂ '> /ʔ/, lack of /i u/.]

Vodholk has three modes: spoken, signed, and tactile. Although they are overall very similarly structured, there are certain aspects which are unique to each register. This article will specifically cover SVOK (spoken Vodholk), although generalizations often carry across to the other two modes.

SVOK is a highly agglutinative, morphologically rich language.

VOK article series:
  1. SVOK Phonology
  2. MVOK Phonology & sign glossing
  3. Pronouns & agreement
  4. Action-direction
  5. Case morphology

[top]Parts of speech

SVOK has fewer parts of speech, especially with regard to lexical items, than most languages. Adverbs and adjectives are both represented as verbs.


Major/minor constituents

Major nouns are the topic of a sentence. Minor nouns are not. The major noun is usually the nominative or accusative argument, but not always.

Sentences in Vodholk often contain many verbs, which may be within the same clause. The 'major' verb is the one which carries the most action, or is the topic focus of the clause. 'Minor' verbs include adjectival, adverbial, emotional, and other verbs which happen to be less important than the major verb within a particular clause.

Major/minor constituents behave alike at the morphological level (meaning minor verbs can have tense, aspect, etc), but differently at the syntactic level (i.e. occupy specific positions in the sentence).

Grammatical POS

Grammatical POS are similarly reduced in complexity. There is no distinction between types of auxiliaries, types of determiners, etc. Quantifiers, demonstratives, and adpositions all fit under determiners. They are all treated the same by the syntax.

[top]Syntactic rules

Word order is very free in VOK. Thanks to the comprehensive case and agreement system, sentence structure is relatively unneeded. A few constituents must occur in certain places with respect to each other, however. There are also certain hierarchies which determine which constituents appear where.

The basic rule of word order is head first. More specifically:
  1. Genitive possessors follow their possession
  2. Verbal auxiliaries & particles follow their verb
  3. Minor verbs follow their major constituent
  4. Determiners, quantifiers & adpositions follow their noun
  5. Subordinate clause order: topic-comment
    1. major/topic constituents first
    2. major verb must appear before any minor verbs

  6. Exceptions
    1. volitional determiners (e.g. kla) can appear before their noun
    2. the yes-no AUX tha appears before its verb
    3. the late AUX appears subordinate clause-initially

With regards to rule 5, in subordinate clauses - while the topic noun may precede the topic verb, it can only do so if it does not have any minor verbs (such as adjectival verbs) attached to it. If there are adjectival verbs, the major verb must be initial.

Question syntax
Yes-no questions are formed from declarative sentences by adding a tense/mood prefix (see below); this is fairly simple. WH-questions are somewhere more complex.

WH-questions also have a tense/mood prefix, but also take question pronouns. The questioned word appears in-situ in a main clause, but clause-initially in a subordinate clause. (This is the general rule for focused elements in Vodholk). Since main clauses have very free word order, this means that the WH-word can appear nearly anywhere in a main clause.

If a WH-clause has no question word, it is assumed to have the meaning of "why?"


Personal pronouns are relatively simple in SVOK. They generally take no case other than the genitive, and the only other marker they can take is the antagonistic marker -a. Therefore the only thing pronouns are inflected for, in general, is number (singular or plural).

first internal11ethethel
first inclusive12fefele

In-depth article on pronouns, persons and agreement

The impersonal pronouns in SVOK include demonstrative and generic pronouns. They function identically to regular nouns, so their morphology is covered in the noun section.

[top]VERBS | Tense and mood

One of the few fused morphemes in SVOK is the mood-tense morpheme. There are only two verbal tenses: past and non-past. There are also seven verbal moods, five of which fuse with tense: declarative, yes-no interrogative, WH-interrogative, conditional, and imperative. The imperative can only occur in the non-past tense.

Y/N?tha e(')-#↑
CONDdhe- -fo↑#↓
Y/N?tha Ø-#↑
CONDea- -fo↑#↓

The suffix indicated on conditionals marks the end of the conditional clause, and appears on the late auxiliary thos.

The other two verbal moods are evidential: the (ad)mirative -o'o and the belief -loso. There are no other forms of grammatical evidentiality in SVOK. Other tenses and moods appear on the auxiliary complex.

[top]VERBS | Aspect

There are two verbal aspects: progressive and gnomic. These may appear together. Both are formed through reduplicative processes.

The progressive (or continuous) aspect is formed by reduplicating the last rime of the stem (that is, the last vowel and consonant). If necessary, the entire previous syllable can be copied.

  • lath-ath-ak 'I am lost'

The gnomic aspect is formed by reduplicating the tense morpheme. If there is no tense morpheme (because it is in non-past declarative or Y/N? mood), gnomic is communicated on the auxiliary, with the suffix -sa.

  • e'-e-kaef-ath 'This was known'
  • kaef-ath a-sa 'This is known'

[top]VERBS | Agreement and little-v

Verbs take nominative and/or elsewhere agreement depending on the constituents they modify. If there is a nominative argument it must agree with the verb. If there is no nominative argument an elsewhere argument must agree with the verb. If there are multiple arguments, the nominative argument and the most patient-like elsewhere argument (generally the accusative) must agree with the verb.

Agreement particles indicate person and number. The nominative agreement always occurs before the

In-depth article on pronouns, persons and agreement - including the agreement paradigms.

Little-v devices (Passive, reflexive & reciprocal)
The active voice is unmarked. The eventive passive voice is only rarely used, since the lowest-volition marker kla (see action direction) can generally take its place. However it can also be communicated with the verbal suffix -sko, which takes the place of nominative agreement.

The reflexive/ reciprocal suffix -alth functions similarly, but takes the elsewhere agreement slot. It functions as a reflexive for singular arguments and a reciprocal or reflexive, depending on context, for plural arguments.

fathea e-opfol-sko-as deer PST-skin-PASS-4sg 'the deer was skinned' 'ek'e-k-alth hit-1SG-REFL 'I hit myself' aeáko mos ske'a-adho-alth bear.PL two attack-3PL-REFL 'two bears attack each other'
Other little-v devices such as causatives are not part of the verb morphology, but appear in auxiliary or determiner complexes.
[top]VERBS | Morpheme ordering
The ordering of verbal morphemes (required morphemes in bold) in SVOK is:
  1. M1 - NEG and evidential moods
  2. T/M - fused tense/mood prefix
  3. ASP1 - gnomic aspect (reduplicated T/M)
  4. root - the actual verb
  5. ASP2 - progressive aspect (reduplicated verb rime)
  6. v - agreement and little v
    1. v1- nominative agreement or passive voice marker
    2. v2 - elsewhere agreement or reflexive/ reciprocal marker
An example dissection of a fairly complex verb, peaea'apsosothas:
'If it doesn't (usually) fall (there)' In a sentence:
lafa peaea'apsosothas 'opak, thosfo... rain NEG-COND-GNO-fall-PROG-3SG-4SG south-LOC, AUX-COND... 'If rain does not (usually) fall in the South, then...'
...loeloethektho losá kas? WH?-GNO-be.there-3PL-4SG tree.PL many? '...why are there so many trees there?'
[top]AUXS | The auxiliaries
While auxiliaries are not necessary for a grammatical sentence in SVOK, when they are present they can be quite complex, conveying a fair amount of information. Besides the basic information carried by the auxiliary itself, they can take modal, aspectual, and little v suffixes.
far futureloeskaREM.FUT
All auxiliaries immediately follow their verb, with the exception of the late auxiliary, which functions as something of a subordinator, and marks the beginning of a subconditional or subcausative clause. The minor auxiliary can only appear after minor verbs (see parts of speech, above), and is the only auxiliary other than the future which can do so. Most auxiliaries can have any auxiliary morphemes attached to them, as explained in the following sections.
[top]AUXS | Aspect
There are three main aspects in SVOK - progressive, gnomic, and habitual. PROG and GNO are both verbal aspects. HABT is its own auxiliary. There are, however, many other aspects in SVOK, which are suffixed to auxiliaries. These form three classes.
  1. temporal
    • simple - Ø
    • inchoative (beginning a state) -pof
    • inceptive (starting an action) -fela
    • cessative (ending a state) -posk
    • terminative (ending an action) -pefla
    • pausative (pausing an action) -sap
    • resumptive (resuming a paused action) -soel
  2. success of action
    • successive (succeeded) - Ø
    • imperfective (didn't quite succeed) -'eska
    • defective (failed outright) -oksa
    • attemptive (tried; failed) -ethsa
  3. intent
    • basic - Ø
    • intentional (focused intent) -fal
    • accidental (accidentally) -thefo
An auxiliary can carry up to three aspects - one from each group. (Four aspects, if the auxiliary itself is the habitual.)
[top]AUXS | Mood
Some basic moods are expressed in a fused tense-mood verbal prefix (see above). Most, however, are suffixed to an auxiliary.
debitiveshould, ought-kas
capacitativecan, could-oef
desiritivewish, want-koak
dubitivemight notNEG- -ko
Some of these moods are blocked from appearing with past-tense main verbs.
[top]AUXS | Non-agreement & little-v
The auxiliary complex can also contain a few little-v/ agreement markers. The static passive indicates that an argument has been put into a state (instead of simply having an action done upon it). It is marked with the auxiliary suffix -el. There is also a special marker called the non-agreement marker, -peth, who appears on auxiliaries in subordinate clauses. Its sole purpose is to indicate that a third person agreement marker in the sub-clause is not co-indexed (does not refer to the same argument) that appears in the main clause.
ea'alpakath thosfo maskoth eospeth COND-hurt-1SG-3SG AUX-COND cry-3SG FUT-N.AGR 'if I hurt him, she will cry'
[top]AUXS | Morpheme ordering
  1. root
  2. v - static passive, or N.AGR marker
  3. M - modals
  4. ASP1 - temporal
  5. ASP2 - success
  6. ASP3 - intent
A complex auxiliary, eoselkasposk deconstructed:
'(it) should not longer be (put into a state)' In a sentence:
folath eoselkasposk love-3SG FUT-PASS-DEB-CESS 'he should no longer be loved'

[top]NOUNS | Number

There are two numbers in VOK - singular and plurals; and three systems of pluralization in SVOK. These are basic plurals, -l plurals, and unmarked plurals. There are also a few irregulars that fit into none of these patterns.

Basic plurals are formed on nouns which have an inherent early-syllable stress. This is often but not always the very first vowel. The plural is formed by shifting the stress to the next vowel in the word.

-l plurals have an unmarked singular and take an -l or -ol suffix in the plural.

Unmarked plurals are just that - there is no difference between the singular and plural of the noun. These rely on context or quantifiers (see the demonstrative sections below) to have their number indicated.

There is no semantic reasoning to the distribution of nouns among the three cases. However, more frequent nouns are more likely to be basic plurals, while the least-frequent and/or borrowed nouns are most likely to be unmarked.

Some example nouns:


[top]NOUNS | Case & narrative animacy

SVOK nouns are obligatorily marked for one of thirteen cases. The first five cases, known as volitional cases, are also marked as either protagonistic or antagonistic - aligned with the speaker, or opposed to the speaker.

Volitional casesGlossProtagonisticAntagonistic
NominativeNOMNominative (case)
TRANS subject, INTR argument
AccusativeACCAccusative (case)
TRANS direct object; patient
GenitiveGENGenitive (case)
DativeDUnknown code-pe-op
InstrumentalINSInstrumental (case)
'with', 'using'

Non-volitional casesGlossMorpheme
LocativeLOCLocative (case)
'in, on, at' etc
AdessiveADEAdessive (case)
ElativeELAElative (case)
'out of, from'
AllativeALLAllative (case)
'to, onto'
EssiveESSEssive (case)
'as, similar'
VialisVIAVialis (case)
route, manner [along]
StativeSTATStative (case)
attribute assignment
ComitativeCOMComitative (case)
'together with'

For an in-depth explanation of the usage of each case, see Case morphology.

[top]NOUNS | Familiarity

Familiarity can be used as a form of demonstrative prefix to determine nouns. They are not mandatory and are in fact used fairly infrequently.

  • ak- familiar to all
  • ep- familiar to speaker
  • kos- unfamiliar to speaker

[top]NOUNS | Determiners

There are five types of determiners in SVOK: basic and volitional determiners, postpositions, quantifiers, and (locative) demonstratives. Syntactically, all determiners are treated identically, and follow their noun - except the volitional determiners, which have the option of appearing before.

  1. Basic determiners
    • there aren't actually any of these so far

  2. Volitional determiners
    • kla - lowest-volition marker
    • sel - obviative marker

  3. Postpositions
    • ekfe - to, towards
    • sko'e - benefactive

  4. Quantifiers
    • oa - all, collective
    • kas - many, much of
    • thof - few, some

  5. Demonstratives
    • koa - close to speaker
    • thoa - close to speaker and listener
    • foa - close to listener
    • oala - far from both speaker and listener

[top]NOUNS | Ordering

In comparison to verbs and auxiliaries, nouns in SVOK are exceedingly simple, with their maximum of four morphemes:


As the demonstratives are often not present and number is not always marked with an overt suffix, nouns are most commonly seen merely as root-case.

Some example nouns:

  • ak-lostho-l-p oala 'near those glaciers way over there'
  • ep-kápath-as 'using this job'
  • paop-o kas 'many mean dogs'
  • sel leoas-lak 'through the snow (LV)'
  • sothé lafa-kel foa 'those books about rain'
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