Innocence Seekers: The Black Rose – Datutan, a Donsilan language

This post will focus on one of the Donsilan languages I have in development. Datutan is the principal common language of the pendant holders and Alcea, and shares a great resemblance with the Indo-European languages (see my previous post for the reason). While it is still in its infancy, I can mention some things here.

First of all, the writing system. The canonical writing system is an abugida with 26 letters. However, it is not a pure abugida, as the vowels /i/ and /u/ are represented by dedicated letters. There are three diacritics, canonically representing /a/, /e/ and /o/, and vowel length is indicated by duplicating the diacritic. The lack of a vowel and the presence of a default vowel are both indicated by a lack of a diacritic; while this does lead to ambiguity, typically the pronunciation without a vowel is preferred. Unlike the other letters, the laryngeals and resonants have special pronunciations where a default vowel would be expected.

Of the 26 letters, two are never pronounced in isolation:

  • The zero consonant, transliterated as
  • The letter transliterated as E

Neither of these letters colour vowels, and the former cannot even occur without a vowel diacritic. The main difference between the two letters is that E is considered to be a laryngeal in determining pronunciation (to be specific, the mute laryngeal, the others being the light and heavy laryngeals), and thus can cause a neighbouring light or heavy laryngeal to be pronounced. Two E letters in succession without an intervening vowel are pronounced as [ʔ].

The other two laryngeals, the light laryngeal H, and the heavy laryngeal V, are only pronounced in certain conditions. The former is consistently pronounced as /x/, if it is pronounced, while the other is /v/ word-initially and /g/ in other environments. These two laryngeals also have the property of colouring short /e/, converting it to [a] or [o] respectively.

The rest of the letters are as follows:

  • P: /p/, /po/
  • B: /b/, /bo/
  • F: /f ~ v/, /fo ~ vo/
  • M: /m/, /um/
  • T: /t/, /te/
  • D: /d/, /de/
  • Z: /θ ~ ð/, /θe ~ ðe/
  • N: /n/, /un/
  • Þ: /θ/, /θi/
  • Ð: /ð/, /ði/
  • Ž: /θ ~ ð/, /θi ~ ði/
  • K: /k/, /ka/
  • G: /g/, /ga/
  • X: /x ~ ɣ/, /xa ~ ɣa/
  • Q: /k/, /ku/
  • C: /g/, /gu/
  • W: /x ~ ɣ/, /xu ~ ɣu/
  • S: /s/, /se/
  • L: /l/, /al/
  • R: /r/, /ar/
  • I: /j/, /i/
  • U: /w/, /u/

As can be seen above, the nasals are pronounced /uN/ in lieu of a default vowel, and the liquids /aR/. The two semivowels are simply pronounced as if they were vowels instead of getting a default vowel. The laryngeals E, H and V have the default vowels /e/, /a/, and /o/ respectively, with the laryngeal never being pronounced in the presence of the default vowel.

Note that there is overlap between the default and marked vowels. Indeed, such sequences are pronounced with the exact same sequence of phonemes, with the only difference being the placement of stress, as default vowels never take stress (the difference between ESeSTI and EeSeSTI, both pronounced /esesti/, is that in the former the second syllable is stressed and in the latter the first syllable is stressed).

Note that despite (maybe because of) all of the above, the Datutan writing system is not strictly phonemic.

I won’t go over the grammar in detail in this post (that’ll have to be at a later time), in general, nouns have three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), three numbers (singular, dual, plural) and nine cases. Verbs have three basic aspects (imperfective, perfective, stative), and itself can be inflected for two voices (active and mediopassive, although statives are “voiceless”), four “tenses” (past, present, future, conditional; all four also have perfect forms) and four moods (indicative, subjunctive, optative, imperative), in addition to displaying agreement. With regards to agreement, there is the typical agreement with the subject, along with object suffixes for the first and second persons.

While nouns have nine cases, they vary slightly depending on gender. Datutan is split-ergative, with masculine and feminine nouns taking nominative and accusative forms, and neuter nouns taking absolutive and ergative forms (the personal pronouns are tripartite, with separate intransitive, accusative, ergative and vocative forms). Gender is the sole factor in determining which alignment a noun takes. In general, the cases are as follows:

  • Nominative/Absolutive
  • Vocative
  • Accusative/Ergative
  • Genitive
  • Dative
  • Ablative
  • Instrumental
  • Locative
  • Allative

I’ll define the cases in more detail in a later post. In any case, the vocative is only distinguished from the nominative/absolutive in the singular, and in neuters the absolutive and vocative are only different in the thematic declension.

Adjectives behave similarly to nouns, except they inflect for gender as well. They must agree with the head noun in case, number and gender.

Subject-verb agreement is considerably complex. In general, there are three persons and three numbers, and a naïve interpretation would suggest nine different forms. However, this is incorrect, and in fact there are fifteen different combinations. While the singular is fairly simple (first, second and third only), the other combinations bear some explaining. To start off, there is an inclusive-exclusive distinction in the first person. There are specialised dual and plural forms, but there are also forms that do not distinguish between the dual and the plural, and they occur alongside the marked dual and plural. The end result is the following set of forms:

  • First person inclusive: dual (2), greater plural (3+), general plural (2+)
  • First person exclusive: singular (1), dual (2), greater plural (3+), general plural (2+)
  • Second person: singular (1), dual (2), greater plural (3+), general plural (2+)
  • Third person: singular (1), dual (2), greater plural (3+), general plural (2+)

This, combined with tense and mood forms, results in a total of 480 combinations for a single aspect in the active. The mediopassive is even more complicated, as there are also honorific markers, which increases the number of combinations to 1,920 in the imperfective and 1,200 in the perfective. The end result is that the combination of the three aspects and their voice forms results in a total of 4,560 unique combinations, and including derived forms (causative, desiderative and causative-desiderative) and negatives will result in a total of 36,480 combinations. And that is even before taking into account the object markers (that makes 2,954,880 finite forms and the grand total is 2,957,960, if you’re wondering; makes the thousand plus in Sanskrit rather tame in comparison).

That will be all for now.