The Grammar of Wenja

Preface: The Wenja People

Wenja is an Indo-European language spoken by a group of hunter-gatherers in the world of Oros. The Wenja are currently under attack by two other neighboring factions, the Udam and the Izila.  The Udam are a dying race of Neanderthals, and they do anything they can to survive. This often involves eating the Wenja.  The Izila are a technologically advanced tribe of humans to the south, who try to abduct the Wenja for cheap slave labor.

Brief Overview of Language

Wenja is a language which marks its verbs in different ways depending on the subject in question. When the subject is an agent (a ‘doer’) of an active verb (see below), Wenja speakers place endings on the verb, while non-agents and inactive verbs put these endings on a special word at the beginning of the sentence. Word order is strictly SOV : subject + object + verb. Nouns may be classified as animate and inanimate, and only animate nouns may trigger endings on the verb.

Endings

The Wenja classify their nouns and pronouns (nominals) as either active or inactive. Active nominals trigger endings on the verb, while inactive nominals trigger endings on the sentence-initial “special word” chain (see very bottom). Note that inactive nominals can also be marked through stand-alone versions of the pronouns (see next section), if there is no sentence-initial special word.

Active nominals are:

  • agents of transitive verbs: He eats birds.
  • agents of active intransitive verbs: He

Inactive nominals are:

  • subjects of nominal predication: He is sad; He is a hunter.
  • subjects of inactive intransitive verbs: He falls (unintentionally).
  • objects of transitive verbs: He eats

For Wenja, intentionality of the subject is what separates verbs from being treated as active vs. inactive. So, the subject of the verb ‘fall’ can either be treated in either way, depending on whether the fall was intentional or not:

  • I fell (by accident): nu-m
  • I fell (intentionally): nu pata-m.

Verb endings are as follows:

sing plur
1 -m -mas
2 -ta -tan
3 ø (-sa for emphasis) -(a)rsh

Thus:

“He eats an apple”

Nu-ø                           mara                           hada-ø

Nu-3.sg.inactive      apple                           eat-3sg

“He hits me”

Nu-m kayda-ø

(or I am hit)

“You hit me”

Nu-m kayda-ta

“I hit him”

Nu-ø kayda-m

The ending -ra marks reflexive and is used when the agent and object are the same. With reflexives there is no marking on the verb (that is, these are treated more like inactive constructions than active ones).

“I hit myself”

Nu-mra kayda-ø

“He falls”

Nu-ø pata

“I fall”

Nu-m pata

Stressed Pronouns

The endings above also have a stand-alone version, which can be used for inactive nominals when there is no sentence-initial special word. This happens regularly for:

  • nominal / adjectival predicates (“We are warriors.” / “We are strong.”)

The stressed pronouns can also be used for:

  • intransitive subjects    (“We are hurt.”)
  • direct objects    (“The Izila hurt us.”)

Using the stressed version of the pronouns can also convey additional emphasis/contrast.

The stressed versions of the pronouns are as follows:

sing plur
1 mu mas
2 ta tan
3 sa say

Nominal predication:

Mu Wenja.

“I (am) Wenja.”

Say shnar-hadan.

“They (are) cannibals.”

Mas lasiwa.

“We (are) weak.”

Intransitive subjects:

Mu pada.

“I fall (unintentionally).”

Direct objects:

Mu kayda.

He hits me.

Mas kayda.

He hits us.

Animate vs. Inanimate Nouns and Agreement

Wenja speakers view the things within their world as either living (animate) or non-living (inanimate). For the Wenja, anything animate has a soul.  Animate nouns are people, gods, and animals. Inanimate nouns are objects, such as rocks, weapons, and food.

Recall that the Wenja only use endings on their verbs when the subject is animate. It is for this reason that there is no ending on the verb in the following sentence:

The apples are killing me

Nu-m mara-ø gwan-ø

[the apple gets ø marking even though it’s the agent, because it’s inanimate.]

Contrast this with a plural animate noun, which triggers the ending -rsh on the verb:

The mammoths are killing me

Nu-m mamaf gwana-rsh

Possessive Pronouns

The possessives are all unstressed words added to the very beginning of what it describes.

sing plur
mi- ‘my’ mash- / masi- ‘our’
ti- ‘our’ tay- / tani- ‘y’all’s’
si- ‘his; her; its’ arsh- / arsi- ‘their’

For the singular forms and long plural forms, if the host word begins in a vowel, insert a < y >.  Thus, /anna/ ‘mother’ → miy-anna ‘my mother’.

The long plural forms are only used with prepositions; see the next section for more.

Prepositions

While English places its prepositions before the noun or pronoun it modifies (“in Wenja”, “before Roshani”), Wenja places their prepositions after (Wenjasu “Wenja in”, Roshani parshay “before Roshani”). The basic prepositions of Wenja are as follows:

  • “of, possession” :                               -s
  • “to, for” :                                             -i/-y (-i after consonant, -y after vowel)
  • “in, on, at” :                                         su
  • “with” :                                                ha
  • “from, by, than (comparison)” :         bi
  • “towards”, “into”, “onto” :                  m

In a string of nouns, these prepositions need only be used once:

And sniffing you come … for what? (for) food? (for) peace?

nu    salka    gwam-ta…    kway-i?     hatra-(y)? kwayta-(y)?

Postpositions only attach to the main noun that they modify:

with one spear

sam gwaru-ha

NOT    sam-ha gwaru-ha

When using personal pronouns as the object of the preposition, use the possessive form. The plural form will make use of the “long” form.

  • tani-s ‘of y’all, y’all’s’
  • mi-yi ‘to, for me’
  • si-su ‘on him/her/it’
  • arsi-ha ‘with them’
  • ti-bi ‘from you’
  • masi-m ‘towards, into, onto us’

Nominal Derivation

Like English, Wenja uses certain suffixes to create new nouns. These include:

1.     Agent/Participle: add -n- to the verb stem.

  • fumaygan ‘pisser; piss man; pissing’
  • lajan ‘gatherer; gathering’
  • sajan ‘winner; winning’
  • awan ‘carer; caring’

2.   Patient: add -ta- to the verb stem.

  • fumayta ‘pissed, pissee [thing pissed on]’
  • lashta ‘gathered; gatheree [thing gathered]’
  • sashta ‘winnee [thing won]; won’
  • awta ‘caree [thing cared for]; cared’

3.   Instrument: add -tar to the verb stem.

  • lajatar/lashtar ‘tool of gathering; scythe’
  • sajatar/sashtar  ‘tool of winning; battle-tool’
  • awtar ‘tool of caring; sponge’

4.   Action: add -man to the verb stem.

  • lajaman/lashman ‘gathering’,
  • sajaman/sashman  ‘winning’,
  • awman ‘caring’

5.    Abstract: add. -ti to the verb stem.

  • lajati/lashti ‘idea of gathering’,
  • sajati/sashti ‘idea of winning’
  • awti ‘idea of caring’

More on Verbs

Wenja has two tenses: past and non-past. Non-past is unmarked, and can indicate the present as well as the future.

The past may be (but doesn’t have to be) marked by adding unaccented hu– before the verb root.

“The apple is killing me.”

Nu-m mara-ø gwan-ø

“The apple killed me.”

Nu-m mara-ø hu-gwan-ø

Repetition (iterativity) is marked by copying the first syllable of the verb. It works with both the past and the non-past:

“The apple keeps killing me (over and over).”

Nu-m mara-ø gwa-gwan-ø

“The apple killed me repeatedly (the apple really killed me).”

Nu-m mara-ø hugwa-gwan-ø

When copying the first syllable of past verbs, Wenja can also express completion and complete affectedness of the object (the apples really killed me).

In a sequence of narrated events, the past marker hu– is not indicated after the first clause.

“I ate an apple, and it killed me.”

Mara hu-hada-m, tu-m gwan-ø

Infinitives

The verbal stem also works as an infinitive.

“to kill beasts”

gwar gwan(a)

When there is a main verb + an infinitive, the main verb is always sentence-final.

“I need to kill beasts.”

gwar gwan dawsa-m

Note that psych verbs like “need”, “want”, etc. are construed as active verbs, and so the ending is attached on the verb, instead of the sentence-initial special word / stand-alone pronoun.

Constructions like “teach” (dachay(a)-) take two objects, same word order as above:

“Mother teaches me [to find healing herbs].”

“Mu mashtar [yakabush wayda] dachay.”

Verbal Valency

Causative

As in English, Wenja uses a specific word to indicate the causative, the construction which means “to make do something”.  Wenja uses the infinitive + daha ‘do, put’. This construction can make causatives to both transitive and intransitive base verbs. An alternative (and more archaic) suffix -ay- can also be added to roots to create causatives. Both formations are indicated below.

Intransitive base verbs

Nu-m shnar sasa daha. / Nu-m shnar sasay.

“The man made me sleep”

Nu shnar sasa daha-m. / Nu shnar sasayam.

“I made the man sleep.”

Transitive base verbs

Nu-m shnar mara hada daha. / Nu-m shnar mara hadayam.

“The man made me eat an apple.”

Nu shnar mara hada daha-m. / Nu shnar mara hadayam.

“I made the man eat an apple.”

Passive

In Wenja, a passive is not always necessary. When leaving out the underlying agent, (as in the second example), the sentence can equally mean “it killed me” or “I was killed”.

nu-m mara hu-gwan-ø

“The apple killed me.”

nu-m hu-gwan-ø

“It killed me./I was killed.”

However, if desired, a passive may be formed by indicating the demoted agent (the “by phrase”) with the Instrumental -ha.

nu-m mara-ha hu-gwan

“I was killed by the apple.”

(Of course, difference is more visible with other persons):

nu-m hu-gwan-ta

“You killed me.”

nu-m ti-ha hu-gwan

“I was killed by you

Sentence-Initial Special Word Chains

Many sentences in Wenja start with a special word chain, typically beginning with an adverb. These words not only help Wenja speakers connect their sentences (such as nu ‘now, yes’, tu ‘then, so’) but also indicate certain grammatical properties (such as ku, when asking questions, and aysh ‘could, should, would’).

  • nu (pre-vowel variant nw-): affirmative indeed, yes, now
  • na: negative no, not
  • ku (pre-vowel variant kw-): interrogative ???
  • (pre-vowel variant w-): imperative !!!
  • may: negative imperative don’t!!!!
  • tu (pre-vowel variant tw-): then (temporal sequence) so, then
  • ma: adversative but
  • ba: exclamative! whoa! hey!
  • ha: final (in order to) so that
  • aysh: subjunctive / optative could, should, would

In general, when no endings need to be place at the beginning of the sentence, these special adverbs can be omitted, unless they’re needed for the meaning.

To illustrate the function of these special words, note the following sentences:

I hit him (basic sentence).

kayda-m

Let me hit him! / May I hit him!

U kayda-m.

I should (could, would) hit him.

Aysh kayda-m.

Whoa, I hit him!

Ba kayda-m!

I hit him?

Ku kayda-m.

And then I hit him,

Tu kayda-m.

I didn’t hit him.

Na kayda-m.

May I not hit him!

May kayda-m.

2 thoughts on “The Grammar of Wenja

  1. Romain says:

    Sorry for my English. I do not understand why it’s “U warha” and not “U warhata” when you mean “Speak!”

    1. Winjapati says:

      Smarkaka, Romain. You *could* say “U warhata”, but since it’s an imperative form (vs. indicative), then you can optionally leave off the 2nd person singular clitic. This only holds true for the 2nd sg, however — you must say “U warhatan” for the 2nd pl., etc.

Comments are closed.

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