The Gwr Language

(preliminary version)

The Gwr language family--general comments. It is a large family, whose widely-varying members are spoken on both Nocaniki and Hanjomim continents, generally north of 30° latitude. It is not entirely clear which continent was the original homeland-- Nocaniki is currently the area of greatest diversity, but Hanjomim, in ancient times, was also home to several distinct language groups, most of which have vanished in the last several thousand years due to the expansion of the Ang Lay people, whose language-- now a standardized national language-- is to all intents the only one spoken in Baw Da, the nation that occupies all the north of Hanjomim.

Whatever the case, there was clearly a very early break-up of the proto-language; and since ancient Gwr peoples were not enthusiastic or skilled sailors, the most likely hypothesis is that there were migrations from one continent to the other during periods of glaciation, when it would have been possible to move across the ice, with, perhaps, short sea crossings from island to island. Detailed discussion of Proto-Gwr, unfortunately, is not possible at this time, in the absence of reliable data from the languages of Nocaniki.

This page, therefore, describes the Gwr language spoken over most of the territory of the nation called Bau Da ('Great North'), which occupies the northern portion of Hanjomim continent. This language derives mainly from the dialect originally spoken in the western third of the territory, centered on the bay and city called Ang Lay, which early on was becoming an organized and populous state with a quite standardized language and (oral) literature. Much of the territory to the east was sparsely populated, with the exception of a small trading state and seaport on the far east coast. Beginning around 1000 P.M. (Old Count, i.e. approximately 2500 Cindu y.b.p), the Ang Lay people began their expansion, gradually conquering and absorbing the weak and less-developed areas that made up the eastern two-thirds of the territory; settlers and administrators followed (and of course their language and culture). Most of the peoples of the conquered areas already spoke languages/dialects related to the Ang Lay dialect and adapted to the new "official" language without difficulty, but some dialect forms made their way into the new standard language, too-- these show up in some of the irregular sound changes that are seen in the lexicon. The far-eastern trading state, and some indigenous tribal groups, however, were linguistically quite distinct; the former, now the province of Tsay-yè ('New East'), has over time adopted the national language, though traces of the original one still survive in the countryside. The tribals, on the other hand, were generally unwilling to assimilate culturally or linguistically, and retreated (or were pushed) into the mountains, where they survive with considerable autonomy to this day. They are viewed as curiosities by the larger population.

Complete and effective control of the entire territory, "from sea to icy sea", was achieved by ca. 1600 P.M.

After The Destruction (the nuclear war of 2703 P.M., about 755 Cindu years ago) some of the survivors were moved to the southern end of Hanjomim, to islands in the far southern seas, and even to the fringes of the South Polar continent-- but as the home nations rebuilt, many of these transmigrants returned to the north.

Bau Da Gwr

1. The language is monosyllabic (though with many compound words) and tonal. (The correct tonal pronunciation, by the way, is bawH daH gwrR

2. The sound system is as follows (romanized equivalents in parens.):

CONSONANTS  bilabial dental retroflex palatal velar uvular glottal
stops-vl p t     k q ʔ (-q)
stops-vd b d     g    
nasals m n     ŋ (ng)    
affricates-vl   ts tr tš (ch)      
affricates-vd   dz dl (ll) dž (j)      
fricatives f s   š (sh) x   h
lateral   l          
resonants w     j (y)      
(The only oddities are /tr/ and /dl/-- the former is a retroflexed [t] with retroflexed apical [s] release IPA [ʨ]; the latter is a retroflexed [d] with lateral release-- to American ears, it might be confused with /gl.../ as in "glue".)

All consonants may occur in initial position (except w before u and y before i-- see below re "Vowels"). There are consonant clusters of /Cw-, Cy-/, but they may also be analyzed as C + y/w diphtongs/triphthongs; in final position, only /ng, h, q/ occur-- /-q/ is realized as a glottal stop, /-h/ sometimes with pharyngeal or uvular friction. Finals do not occur after /r/, but may occur after diphthongs.

VOWELS  front central back
high i ɨ (ÿ) u
mid e ɝ (r)
low æ (è) a ɔ (ò)
There are 20 falling diphthongs (vowel except /r/ + glide i, ÿ, u, romanized as -y, -ÿ, -w)-- ey, èy, ÿy, ay, uy, oy, òy-- iÿ, eÿ èÿ, uÿ, oÿ, òÿ-- iw, ew, èw, ÿw, aw, ow, òw. Historically, diphthongs of V+homorganic glide (e.g. iy, ÿÿ, uw) existed, but have become long vowels.
--Historical note: these diphthongs generally descend from a variety of sources, e.g. forms where (1) the penult V was stressed and the medial C was a glide, or (2) the unstressed V in a final closed syllable affected the stressed V of the penult. Where the surviving final C was *r, all resulting -VVr# sequences ultimately reduced to (vocalic) /r/.

There are rising diphthongs (glide i,u [romanized as y,w] + vowel including /r/)-- but the writing system indicates these as modifications to the consonant character-- yè, yÿ, yr, ya, yu, yo, yò; wi, we, wè, wÿ, wr, wa, wò; again, yi, wu, ÿa, ÿÿ became long vowels i:, u:, a:, ÿ:. Usually, homophonous forms like /pi:/ < *pyi or *piy are distinguished by tone.

There are also triphthongs, /y,w/ + those falling diphthongs and long vowels that do not have initial /i,u/ respectively.
--Historical note: rising diphthongs result from original *-/i,u/CV(C)# where the ultima vowel was stressed, with lenition/loss of the medial C and voiceless final stops, if present.  The triphthongs usually arose from *-/i,u/CVC#-- either syllable might be stressed, and the medial C lenited/dropped, but importantly, the final was a voiced stop: these lenited as follows:  *-b > **w, *-d > **y, *-g > *γ (which ultimately > modern /ÿ/ or vowel length.)

The initial sequences w + w, y + y, w + y, y + w, retroflex + w,y, and palatal + y do not occur; labial + w is rare; dentals/velars + y became affricates /ts dz, ch, j/ and *sy > /sh/. All diphthongs (except yr, wr) may be followed by a final /q, ng, h/.

All syllables ("words") have an inherent tone, except for a few grammatical particles that have none-- they adopt the tone of the word they follow or precede. There are 5 tones: high, high-falling, mid, low, and low-rising; they range over approximately a musical fifth/sixth interval. We are still experimenting with the representation of the tones in text, whether with numbers, letters (superscript or not) or symbols. For the moment we have opted for superscript letters, thus superscript H = high, F = high-falling, L = low, R = low-rising; MID tone is unmarked.

Thus on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 or 6 (highest), high tone is approximately 5~6, high-falling moves from 5 to 3 or 6 to 4; mid tone is approx. at level 3, low tone is 1, low-rising moves from 1 to 2~3.

3. The writing system. Gwr is written left-to-right; anciently it was written vertically, alternating top-to-bottom then back up etc., and occasionally still is for artistic purposes.

The syllables are written en bloc-- initial consonants are at the top connected to a bisecting horizontal line; a following /w,y/ is indicated with a tag at the beginning of the line; vowels/diphthongs are written below the line and finals are written to the right of the block. The tone marks are written above the bar, approx. in the center of the bloc. (A page devoted to the script and its font is here.)

4. Word order is generally head-last, i.e. prepositions, adjectives and possessives precede their noun; sentence word order is generally SVO. Plurality (optional), possession, and some verbal tenses are indicated with post-posed non-tonal particles.

5. NUMERALS. Having only 4 fingers on their hands, the Gwr anciently developed a Base-8 counting system; but during the period when they held colonial sway over the Kash lands (about 500 years before The Destruction, around 1200 years BP), through trade they became accustomed to the Kash decimal system, and adopted it. Thus, maqH 'ten' originally referred to a quantity of eight; maq-paqHM '10 vast' or '10 x itself' = 100 (64) was replaced with loq (< Kash rongo '100'), and Kash fanu, sana '8, 9' were borrowed. ChihF was the old word for 'thousand (base 8=512)' but now refers to 'thousand (base 10)'.
one: ayH six: ho teens: ping + unit
two: niH seven: shrF decades: unit + maqH
three: hrR eight: fang hundred(s): (unit +) loq
four: kongL nine: sang thousand(s): (unit +) chihF
five: dziL ten: (ayH maqH million(s): (unit +) chihFmaq

(NB: maqH 'ten' vs. maq (mid) 'vast'; but in mathematics, NUM maq 'times itself/squared ~to the power of...', e.g. hrR maq 'three squared' or NUMa maq NUMb means 'NUMa to the NUMb power'.)

6. PRONOUNS. (the plural marker /-de/ is usually used)
person singular plural
first mo sÿ:qF
second dawH daw-deH
3rd, masc. ye ye-de
3rd, fem. yehH yeh-deH
3rd, neut. oH o-deH

The demonstrative pronouns are: iF 'this', oH 'that (nearby)' and 3rd pers. neuter 'it'; and a:qF 'that (far)'

The interrogative pronouns are: joL 'who?', jaL 'what?" and sha 'which'; a particle ko is often appended at the beginning or end of a question.

(Take a look, too, at the complete story of Gwr sound changes, from proto- to modern Baw Da Gwr.)


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