Keneak Grammar


A lot of details are missing from this grammar in its current state, and there are a few bugs that still need to be worked out. In particular, everything is wrong. However, in the interest of getting a first draft done quickly, I've gone for breadth rather than depth. More examples and more detailed explanations are on the way.

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Overall Typology


Keneak is largely isolating, with some inflection. Verbs inflect for valence, volitionality of their subject, dynamicity, and aspect. Nouns take suffixes to distinguish six numbers, and inflect for two cases: nominative (zero-marked), and causative (marked by a suffix). Distinctions of tense and mood are made by particles.

First-person plural pronouns have a two-way clusivity distinction. The second-person singular distinguishes normal from familiar forms. There are many third-person pronouns which distinguish among over 50 noun classes but do not distinguish number. There is another set of third-person pronouns, normally used only for animates, that distinguish number and (biological) gender but do not distinguish noun class.


The least-marked word order in transitive clauses is SOV, but SVO is often used for pragmatic reasons. Tense, mood, and evidentiality are marked by a particle which begins the sentence. Word order in noun phrases is (Noun)(Adj)(Relative Clause), but possessives precede the head noun.

There is an implied causal relationship between adjacent independent clauses. To express "A chicken wounded the king" in Keneak, you'd say, in effect, "A chicken attacked; the king was wounded".

Because of the causal semantics of adjacent clauses, many predicates that would be expressed in English by a transitive or ditransitive verb are broken up into several intransitive verbs. For example, the verb vat- "give" can either be transitive, in which case the gift is the object, or intransitive, in which case the transitive verb car- "be located" usually follows in another clause, with the gift and recipient as its arguments. To make matters more confusing for English speakers, many concepts that are expressed by intransitive verbs in English only exist as adjectives in Keneak.

Space and Time

Spatial deixis in Keneak obligatorily distinguishes time as well as space; there are separate deictics for describing the location of something relative to the speaker's past location, and for indicating that an event occurred "here" in the past. For present-time spatial deixis, there is a four-way distinction:

  • within arm's reach of the speaker
  • out of reach but within sight
  • nearby but visually obscured
  • distant, out-of-sight

There are demonstrative pronouns (analogous to this, that) but demonstrative adjectives are conflated with the adverbs corresponding to here and there—effectively, to say this house you'd say "the house here".

Metaphors of time use an inside-outside dichotomy to map time onto space. While English speakers conceptualize the future as being ahead or to the right, Keneak speakers think of the future as being "outside" and the past as being "inside". Outside or inside what isn't so clear, but it likely has some relation to Keneak concepts of experiential liminality—the boundary between experience and non-experience. Speaking of which...

Experiential liminality plays a large role in determining which of Keneak's two tenses is used for a clause, although it's by no means the only factor. The two tenses, termed proximal and distal, can be used to distinguish present from nonpresent events, nearby events from faraway ones, events within the experience of the interlocutors from those outside their experience, and immediately relevant events from less relevant ones.


Keneak eschews binary logic in favor of a four-way opposition: there are words corresponding roughly to "yes/true", "no/false", "proposition makes unfounded assumptions", and "proposition is unfalsifiable". Some examples of statements that fit these truth values:

  • This sentence is in English. (true)
  • This sentence is in French. (false)
  • The King of France is bald. (unfounded assumption—as of this writing, there is no King of France)
  • This computer program will eventually halt. (in general, unfalsifiable)



Keneak has an unusually large number of basic color terms, mostly because many "color" words also encode information about texture and emotional association. For example, there are two words for "black", which distinguish glossy or reflective black (e.g. to describe water, obsidian, and hair) from flat black surfaces (black cloth, the night sky). Words for "yellow" and "brown" distinguish the color of sickly or unripe things from the same color with cheerful associations. Warm and cool gray have separate sets of color terms; the various words for "gray" or "silver" distinguish reflectivity, texture, the hardness of the surface, and the amount of color variation across the surface. There is a set of color words used only of animals that describe the patterning of fur and feathers. As in many languages, there is a set of terms used only to describe human hair color, although in Keneak these words also encode textural information.

Because of the rich set of color terms, Keneak tends to use color metaphor to describe the qualities of abstract concepts. Additionally, color terms are often used to describe the weather.

Material Compounds

Many nouns for artificial things are compounds of two words for materials, such as wood, water, metal, and glass. A compound X+Y can be literally translated "Y for X". The first element of the compound can also be a verb root. Some examples:

  • bejkay paper+wood "pencil"
  • nartec fire+glass "lamp"
  • tumkay sit+wood "chair"

Postural Verbs

There is a set of verbs that all more or less mean "be located", but encode additional information about the posture or position of an object. For example, tum- "sit on a raised object or platform", tav- "be moving about in an area", kat- "be draped over something".



Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m
Stop b
Fricative v
x z
/ʂ ʐ/
Affricate c j
/t͡ʂ d͡ʐ/
Approximant l
Ejective tt

Voiceless stops typically voice after a vowel, except in clusters. Ejectives become pulmonic voiceless stops syllable-finally. /h/ becomes [x] after a vowel.

Between two vowels of differing backness, certain consonants become velarized (after a back vowel) or palatalized (after a front vowel). t, b, k, v, m, n, l can all be affected by velarization and palatalization. Labial consonants acquire a labial offglide in addition to being velarized.


/l/ is alveolar after /u/.


Front Back
High i
Mid e

/ɔ/ becomes [a] in a syllable following /i/, before /j/, and word-finally. /ɔ/ becomes [ɒ] in a syllable following /ɛ/. /ɔ/ is less rounded in monosyllables.

The sequence ia is realized /æ/ in stressed syllables, and /i.a/ elsewhere.

Before r, /ɔ/ and /ɛ/ are raised to /o/ and /e/.

Vowels are usually nasalized before a nasal consonant. Vowel nasalization begins about midway through the duration of the vowel.

The sequence ka is usually realized [kʷa].

Keneak's distribution of vowels is notably skewed. The mid vowels are about 5 times more common than the high vowels. The most common vowel, /ɛ/, is about ten times more frequent than the least common vowel, /u/.


The formula for a syllable is (fricative) (C) (approximant) V (fricative or nasal) (C).

The palatal stop d may only appear intervocallically.

Stress and Timing

Stress is penultimate if the penultimate syllable is closed; otherwise, the antepenult is stressed.

Keneak is stress-timed.

Noun Phrases


Nouns are inflected for six numbers:

  • General (unmarked)
  • Singular, suffix -(e)c
  • Dual, suffix -yat
  • Partitive, suffix -yen
  • Plural, suffix -rim
  • Class Plural, suffix -ran

The general number is unspecific as to the actual number of the referent; it could be singular or plural. The dual is used only for pairs of things—for two unrelated items, you'd use the numeral tat "two". The partitive is used when picking out a subset of items from a larger group; it basically corresponds to the English construction some of the Xs. The class plural is used for talking about all instances of a type of thing, and most often used when expressing generalizations: mlavrath vexta mato "sheep eat grass".


Numerals immediately follow the noun, which must be marked for general or partitive number. Partitive nouns may also be preceded by a numeral indicating the size of the set from which the noun's referents were taken.

bus tat

two cows

atamyen min

one of the people

kan atamyen min

one of the four people

kan atamyen

some of the four people

The numerals from zero to ten are:

  • 0 - lið
  • 1 - min
  • 2 - tat
  • 3 - anem
  • 4 - kan
  • 5 - xenk
  • 6 - riy
  • 7 - zjakk
  • 8 - yuh
  • 9 - ki
  • 10 - min jek

The numbers 11 through 19 are formed by adding the numbers min through ki after min jek—11 is min jek min, 12 is min jek tat, and so forth. 20 is, as you might expect, tat jek, and the pattern continues through 99 (ki jek ki).

For numbers 100 and greater, the digits are simply listed in order from most to least significant. When the tens place is reached, jek is added after it, and then the ones place value (if nonzero) is added. So 1024 is min lið tat jek kan, and 200 is tat lið jek.

For very large numbers, this obviously gets a bit cumbersome, especially if there are many trailing zeroes. Fortunately, there's a construction that allows you to specify the exponent of a large number, and then list only the most significant place values. The exponent is expressed first, as the number of digits beyond the tens place, and followed by hay. So 200 could alternatively be expressed as min hay tat, and 1.3 million would be xenk hay min anem. If you get all the way down to the tens place, you still insert jek; 1,234,567 is xenk hay min tat anem kan xenk riy jek zjakk.

If you have a lot of zeroes in the middle of a large number, you can avoid awkwardly reciting them all by using so "and" for addition: 1,000,001 can be expressed xenk hay min so min—much handier than the alternative, xenk hay min lið lið lið lið lið jek min.

hay can also be used with no following numeral to denote an order of magnitude: yuh hay "billions".


1st Incl. xen xel
1st Excl. xem
2nd cel leth
tar jeth

Number affixes can be added to almost all the nonsingular forms; the only irregular form is jath "all of them".

The first-person plural pronouns make an inclusive-exclusive distinction—xel is used when you are included in we; otherwise, xem is used.

The use of the familiar 2nd-person pronoun is highly restricted: it's used only with one's immediate family, spouse or lover, and very close friends. A general rule of thumb is only to use it with people you've lived with for a long time, although there are exceptions. Use of the familiar pronoun is generally avoided when in the presence of people with whom you'd use the normal second-person pronoun, even if you're not speaking to them. Because of this highly restricted usage, the regular 2nd-person singular form has no connotations of formality. It's simply the only option available in many situations.

All the 3rd-person pronouns in the above table are usually used to refer to animate beings, although the generic and plural forms are sometimes used of inanimates when it's important to specify number for some reason. It's much more common for inanimates to be referred to with their class pronoun, but the class pronouns are so numerous that there's a separate section in this grammar for them.

The impersonal pronoun is used for talking about an unspecified or typical person, similar to the way we use one or the rhetorical you in English.

Nominal Modifiers

The formula for a noun phrase is:

NP → (possessive) N (numeral) ADJ* PP* [relative clause]*

That is, a noun phrase consists of an optional possessive, followed by the noun, followed by an optional numeral, zero or more adjectives, zero or more prepositional phrases, and zero or more relative clauses.

xna atamrakk anem kurlem met saket ve av sugta kkaru

My three loud robots in a box who assemble celery

Coverage of relative clauses will be left for later, since knowledge of how sentences are put together is necessary to understand their internal mechanics. However, all the other modifier types will be dealt with in this section. The use of numerals has already been covered; if you didn't read that section you can go back to it via the miracle of hypertext.


Only possessive pronouns can fill the possessor slot of a noun phrase. The possessive pronouns usually used for animates are as follows:

1st Incl. xna xla
1st Excl. xema
2nd cela lethra
tara ja

As with the nominative personal pronouns, the nonsingular possessive forms can take number affixes. However, these are inserted before the final -a, and restore the stem to its nominative form, giving e.g. xelyana "some of our", lethrima "your (pl.)", jethyata "of them two". Note the irregular form jatha "of all of them".

What if you want the possessor to be a noun, or a name? A possessive pronoun can refer back to an earlier-stated noun phrase, as long as the pronoun agrees with the noun phrase. Often, a class-specific pronoun will be used. A common class-specific possessive pronoun is ara, which refers to members of the human class. Thus, you can say:

xna selna ara boas

xna selna ara boas

my sister her cow

My sister's cow

There will often be multiple pronouns that can agree with any given noun phrase. As an easy example, note that the class-neutral pronoun tar can agree with any semantically singular noun or proper noun (most often an animate one). Note that the noun doesn't have to be morphologically marked as singular to agree with the singular pronoun. The speaker just has to have a singular referent in mind.

xna selna tara boas

xna selna tara boas

my sister her cow

My sister's cow

Prepositional Phrases

The formation of prepositional phrases is straightforward; they simply consist of a preposition followed by a noun phrase.

Prepositions optionally inflect for the class of the noun they modify.

One complication is that when a noun is modified by multiple prepositional phrases describing location, they must occur in order from most to least specific.


Attributive adjectives simply follow their head noun. Adjectives may themselves be modified, most commonly by intensifiers, deintensifiers, and comparative and superlative phrases.

Intensifiers and Deintensifiers

Intensifiers and deintensifiers are bound morphemes which are prefixed to the adjective they modify.

Comparatives and Superlatives

Comparatives are formed with swi "like"

Superlatives are formed with frin "outside"

Some adjectives in English take an optional complement. For example, "full" and "near" do this: you can say "my hovercraft is full" or "my hovercraft is full of eels"; "the end is near" or "the train station is near the post office." In Keneak, adjectives never take complements; modifying words that do take complements are classified as prepositions, and adjectives may be derived from them by suffixing -e.

an xna revzik ban sleklim.

an xna revzik ban sleklim

my hovercraft full_of eels

My hovercraft is full of eels.

an xna revzik bane.

an xna revzik ban -e

my hovercraft full-ADJ

My hovercraft is full.

This method of deriving adjectives from prepositions is not limited to a few words, but can be applied to any preposition. Sometimes the transformation is straightforward, but sometimes there are idiomatic oddities.

Jexoa jori mete?

Jexoa jori met-e

Joshua located at -ADJ

Is Joshua there? (available to speak on the phone)

an tar tavi frine.

an tar tavi frin -e

he/she move_about outside-ADJ

He's out.

Nominative and Causative Case

Nouns inflect for two cases: nominative and causative. The nominative case is the default, unmarked case for nouns.

an sogtec jore met baor.

an sogtec jore met baor

cup.NOM located on table

The cup is on the table.

The causative case is formed by suffixing -ok to the nominative form. The use of the causative is covered in the section on syntax; for now, note that causatives precede other verb arguments, and don't fill the verb's valence slots.

an mwirramok sogtec jore n met baor.

an mwirram -ok sogtec jore n met baor

bartender-CAUS cup located to on table

The bartender puts the cup on the table.

Noun Classes

This list is (very) incomplete.

Nominative Possessive Causative Prepositional Affix Derivational Affix
Human ra ara arok -(a)ra -ram, -dir
Plant ta ata atok -(a)ta
Machine ov ovo ovok -(o)vo -rokk
Container ba aba abok -(a)ba -ab
System za aza azok -(a)za
Tool le ele elek -(e)l -(e)l



Keneak has four levels of spatial deixis for demonstrative nouns:

taokthis (within reach)
tokthis (out of reach, within sight)
harthat (nearby, out of sight)
foanthat (distant)

For demonstrative adjectives/adverbs, there are only two spatial levels, but the proximal adjectives distinguish time as well:

hinhere and now
kecelhere (past)
fawhere/there (past location of ego)

Clausal Anaphora

Sentences that involve a dependent clause are often framed using clausal anaphora, which refer to a preceding or following clause. The anaphor ar refers to a following clause. The less-frequently used tok can refer to a preceding clause.

an xen tiyr jeth ceno mero.

an xen tiyr jeth ceno mero

I INF them see want

I want to see them.

an xen ar mero tiyr jeth ceno.

an xen ar mero tiyr jeth ceno

I ANA want INF them see

I want to see them.

tiyr jeth ceno an xen tok mero.

tiyr jeth ceno an xen tok mero

INF them see I this want

To see them is what I want.

Verbal Morphology

Intransitive verbs in Keneak inflect for subject volitionality and dynamicity. Volitionality is the degree to which the participant in an action (the argument of the verb) wills that action to occur. In glosses, the presence of volitionality is indicated by +VOL or simply VOL. The distinction of dynamicity is syntactic rather than semantic: dynamic verbs take a following complement that indicates a state or location which the verb's participant is entering, leaving, or existing in. The verbal suffixes for the possible combinations of volitionality and dynamicity are as follows:

-∅ -e -a -i

Transitive verbs are marked only as being transitive, with the suffix -o. They are never dynamic; that is, they never take a following complement that indicates a state. The object of a transitive verb may precede or follow it. The least-marked word order is SOV.

Dynamic Verbs

A dynamic verb may be marked as inchoative or cessative, indicating that the verb's participant is entering or leaving the indicated state. Inchoative verbs are immediately followed by n, which is pronounced as part of the final syllable of the verb but allows raising to affect the verb's final vowel. Cessative verbs are similarly followed by c. The inchoative and cessative particles are bound morphemes, but are written as separate words for the aforementioned phonetic reason.

Verbs of tranformation, which express that one object turns into another, are dynamic and take a following nominal complement.

ve tek mexi n salram.

ve tek mex -i n salram

she read-VOL.DYN INC scholar

She studied, thus becoming a scholar.

Factive verbs, which describe the creation of something, are dynamic and inchoative. They often take an additional complement in causative case to indicate the agent. The complement that follows the verb is always a pronoun that agrees in class with the thing being created.

ve tarok zik kkare n ba.

ve tar-ok zik kkare n ba

he -CAUS ship build INC it

He built a ship.

If a factive verb is used transitively, it suggests that the process of creation was not completed.

ve tar zik kkaro.

ve tar zik kkar -o

he ship build-TRANS

He worked on building a ship.

The Dummy Verb n-

The verb n- is used when a dynamic verb is syntactically required (due to the verb participant undergoing an explicit state change) but a semantically meaningful verb is not necessary to convey the speaker's intended meaning because the state itself carries all the semantic weight. The dummy verb is similar to a copula, but is also used to express changes of state.

ve tar ne n lost.

He/she fell asleep.

an xen ni c hin.

I'm leaving.

The dummy verb can be dropped in a main clause if it is non-volitional and neither inchoative nor cessative. However, it cannot be dropped in an embedded clause.


Verbs can be inflected for several aspects. All the aspects are marked by suffixes added after the volitionality/dynamicity/transitivity suffix.

The most common aspect suffix is -ni, which marks the perfect aspect.

an tek kkethani.

She has written.

an tekok mex kketheni n ba.

She has written a book.


Clause Structure

Sentences in Keneak are built on the following plan:

S → (NP) (TME-particle) NP* AUX* V (NP|MOD) ADV* PP*

That is, a sentence consists of an optional topic noun phrase, an optional particle that marks tense, mood, and evidentiality, zero or more argument noun phrases, zero or more auxiliary verbs, the main verb, an optional noun phrase or modifier phrase following the verb, zero or more adverbs, and zero or more prepositional phrases.

The important part is, of course, how each of these pieces contributes to the meaning of the sentence, which will hopefully become clear in the following sections.

The TME Particle

The particle that begins most sentences in Keneak marks the tense, mood, and evidentiality of the sentence. There are two tenses (proximal and distal), three levels of evidentiality, and eight so-called "major moods" (there are other "minor moods" that are denoted by auxiliary verbs). This section will cover each of the major moods in turn; this is probably the best way to organize a discussion of the TME particle, since the tenses change in meaning subtly depending on mood, and only indicative mood makes distinctions of evidentiality.

Proximal Distal
Indicative Experiential an ve
Hearsay dow ledow
Deduction say
Interrogative ma, ∅ gwa
Conditional kie aya
Causative he gow
Imperative a
Infinitive ed
Infinitive with Missing
Infinitive with Missing

Indicative Mood

The indicative is used for clauses that can be said to be true or false. The proximal tense is used when the situation described is of immediate relevance to the interlocutors; otherwise, the distal tense is used.

an keyl zar ceno.

an keyl zar cen-o

IND.PROX woman man see-TRANS

The woman sees the man.

ve naranok zar cen.

ve naran-ok zar cen

IND.DIST dream-CAUS man see

The man had a dream.

The criteria for "immediate relevance" are somewhat complicated. They basically boil down to the following—the more of these criteria are satisfied by an event, the more likely it is to be described in proximal tense:

  • The event occurred or is occurring at the place of utterance.
  • The event just happened, is ongoing, or is imminent.
  • The event contributed directly to bringing about the scenario in which the interlocutors find themselves.
  • The speaker expects the listener(s) to take some action or change their course of action based on information about the event.

The evidential distinctions are more self-explanatory. The experiential particles an and ve are used when the speaker has direct experience of an event, either from observing it, or participating in it. For events in the future, these particles indicate that the speaker is planning or intending to bring about the event. The hearsay particles indicate that the speaker has been told about (or has read about) the event, but did not experience it. The deduction particle indicates that the speaker is using evidence in the environment to reach a conclusion about past events. For future events, it indicates that the speaker is using knowledge of past events to predict the future event—in this case, it might be better termed "inductive".

Interrogative Mood

The interrogative is used for questions. The proximal interrogative may be marked by the particle ma, or the particle may be left off. Independent clauses in interrogative mood usually do not use ma unless the speaker wishes to place emphasis on the fact that a question is being asked. Because of this, use of ma is avoided outside of informal contexts since it may appear too peremptory.

jethok boasrath ne n sazj?

jeth-ok boas-rath ne n sazj

they-CAUS cow -all DYN INC dead

Did they kill all the cows?

vamok xna kejka mateni n vean?

vam-ok xna kejka mat-e -ni n vean

who-CAUS my cat eat-DYN-PERF INC gone

Who ate my cat?

ma does see quite a bit of use, however, in subordinate clauses. Some verbs, like "to know" take an interrogative clause as an argument, to indicate that someone knows the answer to whatever question is posed by the ma clause.

an sow ar salo ma smilrim dome vin.

an sow ar sal -o ma smilrim dom-e vin

IND.PROX he this know-TRANS INT.PROX jewels sit-DYN where

He knows where the jewels are.

The distal interrogative is used for rhetorical questions, polite requests, offers, and other speech acts that are phrased as questions but are pragmatically something other than a request for information. Unlike the proximal interrogative, the distal interrogative marker gwa cannot be left off.

gwa web cel matas mero?

gwa web cel matas mer -o

INT.DIST maybe you food want-TRANS

Would you like anything to eat?

Conditional Mood

The conditional is used for the first half of an if-then type construction, in logical terms the antecedent of the conditional sentence. The proximal conditional is used when talking about hypothetical future situations that might actually occur. The distal conditional is used to talk about counterfactuals. The antecedent clause is followed by a consequent clause in indicative mood.

kie tsa mejka bato, an ak bato tsa.

If you punch a bear, it'll punch you back.

aya xen mejka, ve xen mejka kelem.

If I were a bear, I'd be a talking bear.

The distal conditional can be used without a consequent clause to form an optative expression:

aya xen ne sogjat!

If only I were a porcelain cup!

Causative Mood

The causative is used to express a causal relationship between its clause and a following indicative clause. Its tense semantics are the same as those for the indicative mood. Causative clauses match the tense of their following indicative clause.

gow sow xir ve sa boas ne n sazj.

gow sow zir ve sa boas ne n sazj

CAUS.DIST he cry IND.DIST his cow DYN INC dead

He's crying because his cow died.

Imperative Mood

The imperative is used for issuing commands. It does not make distinctions of tense.

a nalad ne n hal!

a nalad ne n hal

IMP door DYN INC closed

Close the door!

a xaha!

a xah -a

IMP dance-VOL


Infinitive Mood

The infinitive mood is used only in dependent clauses. An infinitive clause is essentially nominalized, and can function as a verb argument or the object of a preposition.


The polarity particles lam "no" and yam "yes, indeed" are added immediately after the TME particle to negate or affirm the clause. The one exception is the negative imperative, which has its own form, ava.

an lam xen cesalo mejkarim.

an lam xen cesalo mejka-rim.

IND.PROX NEG I know_about bear -PL

I didn't know about the bears.

ava nalad ne n hal!

ava nalad ne n hal

NEGIMP door DYN INC closed

Don't close the door!

Intransitive Clauses

Intransitive clauses take a single nominal argument. The verb is marked for the role of the argument (either active or passive), and dynamicity (whether or not the argument undergoes an explicit change of state). Dynamic verbs must be followed by a modifier phrase or noun phrase describing the state change; nondynamic verbs cannot have a following complement. The argument of an intransitive verb is in nominative case and precedes the verb. Additional noun phrases in causative case may precede the argument.

Transitive Clauses

Transitive clauses take two nominal arguments. The verb is marked only as being transitive; since each transitive verb specifies the semantic relationship between its arguments, the verb is not morphologically marked for the roles of its arguments. Transitive verbs cannot take a complement describing a state change of one of the arguments. The arguments take nominative case; any number of causative-case noun phrases may precede the arguments.


Verb arguments may be topicalized; that is, moved to the front of the clause, before the TME particle. This is easiest to do in intransitive clauses: the noun phrase is simply moved, and no other changes need to be made.

ve Jexoa xaj mwar.

Joshua dances well.

Jexoa ve xaj mwar.

As for Joshua, he dances well.

A noun phrase in causative case may similarly be topicalized with no side effects, if it is the only causative noun phrase in that clause. If there are multiple causative NPs, the first may be topicalized simply by moving it. To topicalize any of the others, a resumptive pronoun (in causative case) that agrees with the moved NP must be left in its place. Often, a class pronoun will be used.

ve Jexoak mejka niem ne n sazj.

Joshua killed three bears.

Jexoak ve mejka niem ne n sazj.

As for Joshua, he killed three bears.

ve Jexoak Mihlak mejka niem ne n sazj.

Joshua made Michael kill three bears.

Mihlak ve Jexoak arok mejka niem ne n sazj.

Michael was made to kill three bears by Joshua.

A resumptive pronoun is also required if a noun phrase is topicalized out of a transitive clause, unless it's the subject that is topicalized and the object follows the verb.

xen an mero kwah.

xen an mer -o kwah

I IND.PROX want-TRANS coffee

Me, I want coffee.

kwah an xen mero ox.

kwah an xen mer -o ox

coffee IND.PROX I want-TRANS it.LIQUID

Coffee, I want.

A topic can simply be added to a clause with a full set of arguments. The precise relationship of the topic to the following clause is left up to context to disambiguate.

Auxiliary Verbs and the Minor Moods

Auxiliary verbs express concepts of possibility, probability, compulsion, and permission. Some of them correspond to English auxiliaries; others cover concepts that would be expressed by adverbs or serial verb constructions in English.

Relative Clauses

Relative clauses are always the last of a noun phrase's modifiers in Keneak, although it may be useful to think of them as not part of the noun phrase at all, since they can stand as sentences in their own right, and other material (such as the verb of the main clause) can intercede between the noun phrase and the relative clause. Relative clauses always use resumptive pronouns that agree with the noun the clause is modifying. In English, resumptive pronouns are seldom used, but they do occur: "These are the guys who you wanted to know where they found the spaceship parts", not *"These are the guys who you wanted to know where found the spaceship parts". In Keneak, resumptive pronouns are required in every relative clause. It's as if you had to say "This is the man who he came to dinner" rather than "This is the man who came to dinner".

tam an ara revzik ne ban sleklim

the person whose hovercraft is full of eels

The proximal and distal tenses have a specialized use in relative clauses: rather than specifying the relevance of or spatio-temporal distance to an event, they mark a relative clause as being either specifying or modifying. A specifying relative clause is one that is used because the listener would not be able to identify the referent of the noun phrase without it. A modifying relative clause is one that merely adds descriptive detail to a noun phrase, and doesn't help the listener identify its referent. Another way to think about it is that modifying relative clauses convey new information about the noun phrase's referent that the listener doesn't yet know, while a specifying relative clause contains "old news".

English actually makes a distinction between specifying and modifying relative clauses in some instances, although prosodically rather than morphologically. A pause before a relative clause can indicate that it is being used as a modifier rather than a specifier:

The woman who was working on the engine glanced up. (specifying)

The woman, who was working on the engine, glanced up. (modifying)

In the first example, the woman in question has not been talked about before, or perhaps there are several women in the scene and the speaker is using the relative clause to single out a particular one to talk about. In the second example, the listener is assumed to know who is being talked about, and the relative clause just adds a descriptive detail.

In Keneak, the proximal tense marker an indicates that a relative clause is acting as a specifier, and the distal tense marker ve indicates that it is a modifier.

The Use of Infinitives

Infinitives are vital to many idiomatic constructions in Keneak that rely on conceptualizing actions and events as entities. Keneak tends to think of infinitives as function objects—entities that encapsulate a type of action and perhaps one or more of its participants as well, and which can be "invoked" by supplying any missing arguments (if that doesn't make any sense to you, don't worry; it's a computer science metaphor, and a pretty fuzzy one at that).

The verb sal- "to know" illustrates that constructions with infinitives are often idiomatic. When a finite clause is the object of sal-, it simply means "know" in the sense of "know that a proposition is true". However, when an infinitive with a missing argument is used instead, it means "know how".

an xen ar salo ve sow toke n met Jonqmar

I know he ended up in China.

an xen ar salo tiyr toke n met Jonqmar

I know how to get to China.

Not all verbs that can take infinitive clauses as objects can also take finite clauses. For instance, mer- "want" can only be used with infinitives.

an xen ar mero tiyr toke n met Jonqmar

I want to go to China.

Discourse and Pragmatics

Connected Clauses

Keneak has a set of connectives, particles that act like clause-level conjunctions. They express relationships between events or propositions that aren't covered by the major moods.

The connective yot emphasizes a contrast between two clauses or sentences:

an xen hiko aya jeth dome hin yot an lam.

an xen hik -o aya jeth dom-e hin yot an lam

IND.PROX I think-TRANS COND.DIST they sit-DYN here however IND.PROX not

I thought they'd be here, but they're not.

yot xearram an lam hiko ed tsion jore met koalrath.

yot xearram an lam hik -o ed tsion jor -e met koal-rath

however pirates IND.PROX not think-TRANS INF soul located-DYN at hat -all

The pirates, on the other hand, did not believe that hats had souls.

There are several connectives that indicate temporal relationships between events. For indicates that a process lasts until some event occurs.

jeth bada for lostnir.

jeth bad -a for lostnir

they walk-VOL until tired

They walked until they were tired.

Dway is kind of like a mirror-image of for—it indicates that some process begins when some event occurs, and continues for an unspecified length of time. English would usually use "when" where Keneak uses dway.

jeth losta dway lostnir.

jeth lost -a dway lostnir

they sleep-VOL when tired

They went to sleep when they were tired.

He made dinner while his grandmother slept.

The farmers stole the ship while the pirates were burning the village.

Press the button while the light is green.

Implicatures and Entailments of Numerals and Quantifiers

The entailments of numeral modifiers are different in Keneak than in English. In English, if somebody says there are three people in the house, it is implied that there are only three people in the house, but it is not a contradiction to say there are three people in the house; in fact, there are four people in the house. In Keneak, however, use of a bare numeral entails that there is no higher numeral that could be used to describe the situation. That is, it would be a contradiction to say the equivalent of there are three people in the house; in fact, there are four people in the house. English has a similar entailment for the numeral zero: in both English and Keneak, it's a contradiction to say there are zero people in the house; in fact, there is one person in the house, just as it's contradictory to say there is no one in the house; in fact, there is someone in the house.

English and Keneak also differ in the implicatures and entailments of their "universal quantifiers"—I put the phrase in quotes because Keneak arguably has no true universal quantifiers. The reason for this is precisely a matter of different entailments between the two languages. In English, it is a contradiction to say All sheep eat grass. This sheep does not eat grass. The use of "all" entails that there is no counterexample. But the equivalent sentence in Keneak, using the class plural -rath to express the meaning "all", does not have the same entailment; it merely implies that there is no counterexample.


The Lexicon is a work in progress, and will probably end up being totally revised.

Derivational Morphology


Deverbals are by far the most common derived lexemes in Keneak. A noun can be derived from a verb by adding a derivational suffix (which determines the class of the noun) to the verb stem. The same process can also be used to derive nouns from nouns.

mwir "alcohol" mwirram "bartender"
mej- "to lick" mejka "bear"
tam "person" tamrokk "(anthropoid) robot"

Derived Verbs

There are few derived verbs in Keneak, and even fewer productive derivation processes. One derivational affix that is productive is the infix -ots-, which, similarly to un- in English, derives verbs that indicate the reverse process from the base form.

kkar- "build" kkotsar- "tear down, scrap"
mer- "want" motser- "unwant, have buyer's remorse"
bad- "walk" botsad- "walk back"

For dynamic verbs however, the sense of English un- is conveyed by a cessative modifier phrase following the verb.

drahe c hac

drah-e c hac

pull-DYN CES tied

come untied by being pulled

Usage Examples of Selected Words

an tsa lam bad ceali n Mortor.

an tsa lam bad ceal-i n Mortor


One does not simply walk into Mordor.