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LotM - Sep 17: Ukamayan
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As an unseasonably warm September rolls in, beat the heat with a super cool language, Egil's Ukamayan! It's got hierarchical alignment, complex verb constructions, and a neat minimalist phonology.
This public article was written by Admin Sheep on 2 Sep 2017, 04:38.

[comments] Menu
1. Phonology and Orthography
2. Morphology
3. Syntax
4. More on Ukamayan
5. A Note on LotM

The language of the month, Egil's  Ukamayan, combines a lovely minimalistic phonology with a complex and deep morphosyntax.

[top]Phonology and Orthography

Ukamayan has a quite minimal phonology, inspired by Japanese, Polynesian, and Tagalog. There are only four vowels, /i e a o/, although /io/ can coalesce into [ɯ:]. Furthermore, /i/ is realized as [i̥] between voiceless consonants. The consonant inventory is also small. There is a full complement of nasals, /m n ŋ/, but there is no bilabial stop. Instead, the stop inventory is /t k ʔ/. Fricatives are /f s/, with /s t/ becoming [ɕ tɕ] before /i/. Finally, the tap /ɾ/ rounds it out. The orthography uses Latin characters, and is overall a quite simple and clean mapping of phoneme to grapheme. Like its Polynesian inspirations, Ukamayan has a simple syllable structure: all syllables are V or CV.

Finally, the part of Ukamayan phonology that deserves the most attention is the pitch accent system. Pitch accent interacts with stress; stress is placed on the first syllable of the word, after any clitic syllables. The default pitch accent pattern is for the last syllable to be high and all preceding syllables to be low. However, either the stressed syllable, the final syllable, or both, may carry a different accent. The interaction of stress position, accent on the stressed syllable, and accent on the final syllable produces a wide array of tonal melodies in different words.


Ukamayan has a hierarchical morphosyntactic alignment, similar to many Algonquian and Oto-Manguean languages. That is, the form of a transitive verb is determined by the animacy of the subject relative to the object. If the subject has higher animacy, the verb is unmarked. If the subject has lower animacy, then the inverse marker, io, is added to the end of the sentence. The Ukamayan animacy hierarchy is very intricate, with 12 different levels of animacy ranging from primordial (including deities, monarchs, and heroes) to immaterial (insects and bacteria), with verbal nouns coming in at the very bottom of the hierarchy.

Ukamayan also has a verbal trigger system, which allows arguments to be focused. By default, the focused argument is the one with the highest rank. Several postverbal particles allow other arguments to be triggered. The non-triggered argument of a clause is then marked with an indirect case prefix. These prefixes depend on the noun's role in the animacy hierarchy. Other than that, Ukamayan has no cases, leading to a simple noun morphology. Aside from the trigger system, verbs conjugate for two main features: mood and aspect. Aspect is either perfective or imperfective, and mood may be indicative, conjunctive, conditional, or optative. They also have an infinitive form.

Before we go on to syntax, let's take a brief tour of the other parts of speech. Pronouns are pretty simple, but may seem alien from a English point of view. Only the first person distinguishes number, and it has separate exclusive and inclusive forms. The second person has separate formal and informal versions. The third person pronoun is almost always elided, unless that would create ambiguity. Finally, instead of being independent words, all pronouns are clitics, and are usually attached to the front of the verb, but may also come after prepositions or possessed noun phrases. Determiners have both clitic pronominal forms and standalone forms; the standalone forms are based on the clitic form with a syllable added. Adjectives as such do not exist; instead, Ukamayan uses stative verbs.


The basic word order of Ukamayan is based on its hierarchical nature. In addition to governing the use of the inverse particle io, the animacy hierarchy also controls the word order. The verb comes first, followed by the more animate argument, then the less animate argument. So the basic word order in a transitive clause with a more animate subject is VSO, but in a transitive clause where the object is more animate, the basic word order is VOS with the particle io coming after the subject.

Ukamayan has some complex constructions, including serial verbs and subordination. Subordinate clauses are formed by placing the subordinate verb in the infinitive; an explicit subordinator doesn't have to be added. Serial verbs are formed with the conjunctive mood, and without using any pronominal prefixes. They may be used to indicate the conjunction of two actions, or a causal relationship between them. They also are typically used to indicate adverbials.

Finally, we come to non-indicative sentences. Negation uses a negative auxiliary verb, 'ei, which takes the pronoun marking in the sentence. Questions are formed by taking a declarative statement, adding a proposed answer, and finishing with the question particle . Syntactically, all questions in Ukamayan are yes/no questions.

[top]More on Ukamayan

If you want more, check out its articles, lexibuild sets, or translations, and make sure to read this great article on the Ukamayan number system.

[top]A Note on LotM

Got suggestions for how the next LotM should be written? See something in Ukamayan 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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