lemÌc. Lemizh grammar and dictionary

Nutshell 1. From sounds to sentences

Letters and sounds

The alphabet of the language is phonetic: each letter corresponds to a certain sound, and each sound is represented by a single letter. The direction of writing is left to right.


Lemizh has eight vowels that form a regular pattern. The vowel trapezium depicts their pronunciation. The position of a vowel in the diagram corresponds to the approximate position of the tongue. The top row contains the close vowels i U - y u (transcription: i ü – y u, pronunciation: [i y – ɯ u]), the bottom row the open-mid vowels e O - a o (transcription: e ö – a o, pronunciation: [ɛ œ – ʌ ɔ]). Of two neighbouring vowels, the right one is pronounced with rounded lips.

Positions of vowel articulation. Top row: front: i ü, back: y u. Bottom row: front: e ö, back: a o.

Lemizh uses moræ for structuring words: A short syllable equals one mora, and a long syllable equals two. In Lemizh, every vowel is the centre of a mora; consequently, two vowels result in two moræ or one long syllable.


Here are the approximate places of articulation for the consonants. Of two consonants in the same cell, the left one is voiced and the right one unvoiced.

Positions of consonant articulation. 5: between the lips, 4: tip of tongue against upper teeth, 3: back of tongue against gum ridge, 2: back of tongue behind gum ridge, 1: root of tongue against soft palate.5 (bilabial)4 (dental)3 (alveolar)2 (postalveolar)1 (velar)
liquidslateral approximantl l [l]
approximantR rh [ɹ]
trillr r [r]
nasalsm m [m]n ng [ŋ]
plosivesb b [b] • p p [p]d d [d] • t t [t]g g [ɡ] • k k [k]
fricativesw w [β] • f f [ɸ]v dh [ð] • q th [θ]z z [z] • s s [s]c zh [ʒ] • h sh [ʃ]j gh [ɣ] • x x [x]


Lemizh has got a two-way pitch-accent system, in that accented moræ are not only spoken louder (as in English), but also have either a lower or a higher pitch than the surrounding unaccented ones:

Accent typeSymbolAccented vowelsTranscription
low `à è Ì ì ò Ò ù Ù` (à etc.)
high ´á é ý í ó Ó ú Ú´ (á etc.)

Diphthongs and long vowels can carry accent on their first or on their second mora.

Pauses of speech

Words can be separated by three types of pauses:

spacespacespacebarely audible
comma ,,a bit longer
full stop ..the longest one

Word composition

All words are composed of the following parts:

Prestem + inner case + poststem + outer case

Prestem and poststem form the stem, or the lexical part, of the word. The division of the stem into two portions is similar to the English verb sing/sang/sung, where the lexical part is ‘s–ng’ while the vowels ‘i/a/u’ convey grammatical information. The stem always denotes an action (but never a state, a person, a thing, a property, etc.) and thus resembles our verbs. We will use the term ‘verb’ interchangeably with ‘word’.

The inner case is represented by one of the eight vowels, optionally followed by a liquid (the so-called primary case suffix) and/or a nasal (the secondary case suffix). The outer case has the same structure. For the first word in each sentence, the main predicate, the outer case is missing.

Level of words

There is only one more grammatical category: the level of a word. A word can be of first level (the highest), of second level (the next highest), of third level (still one level lower) and so on; there is no limit for the number of levels, but non-positive word levels (zero, −1, etc.) are forbidden.

The first word in a sentence (the main predicate, as you remember) is of first level by definition. The level of the next word is determined by the main predicate’s accent and by the type of pause between the two words, the level of the third word is determined by the accent of the second and the pause between these two, and so on.

Here is the complete list of pause/accent combinations. (The meaning of an agentive level will be explained in nutshell 2; it is not important right now.)

Following pauseAccented vowelType of accentThe level of the next word is …
spaceinner caselowlower by 1
highlower by 1, and agentive (abbreviated a )
outer caselowequal
highhigher by 1
comma (,)inner caselowhigher by 2
highhigher by 3
outer caselowhigher by 4
highhigher by 5
full stop (.)inner caselownone; end of sentence

In interlinear glosses, words are given in their English rendering, followed by the abbreviations of inner and outer cases (which are listed below) and a superscript number for the level. Pronoun stems have special abbreviations starting with a ‘P’; they are treated in nutshell 4.

  Now look at these examples and follow the word levels from the main predicate to the last word:
speaká kRenseè hemysì lày.
speak-fact1 Trance-nom-nom2a Seamus-acc-dat2 do-fact-acc2.
làxt learnày fateày zèi, hemÌse engineerèy.
want-fact1 learn-fact-acc2 fate-fact-acc3 PIn−3-nom-dat4 Seamus-acc-nom2 engineer-nom-acc3.

Rule One of sentence grammar. Sentence structure

The word levels determine the structure of a sentence.

All words of second level are subordinate to the main predicate (which has first level). A word of third level is subordinate to the next second-level word in front of it, and so on. The main predicate itself is subordinate to the parole, the action of speaking (or writing) the sentence in question, which consequently has level zero. Think of it like this: instead of saying ‘X’, you can say the equivalent ‘I say X’ — then ‘I say …’ is the parole.

  Here is a schematic ‘sentence’ with the words represented by their level numbers:

The strict formulation of Rule One is as follows: A word of level n is subordinate to the nearest word of level n−1 in front of it; the parole is of level zero.

Rule Two. Definition of objects

An object of a word in a sentence is a word that is subordinate to the former, plus all of its own objects. In the diagram above, the main predicate’s three objects are enclosed in ellipses. The first object of the main predicate is not only the second word, but consists of the four consecutive words with levels 2, 3, 3, 4, respectively. This may not seem important at the moment, but we will get back to it later. Objects of the same word are called sibling objects or just siblings, and the word they are subordinate to is their predicate. The first third-level word in the example sentence and the following third-level word (plus its fourth-level object) are siblings with the preceding second-level word as their predicate. Note that ‘predicate’ and ‘object’ are relative terms like ‘parent’ and ‘child’. Objects name certain circumstances of their predicate’s action: its sender, recipient, location, cause, and so on.

And here is the strict formulation: An object of a word in a sentence is a word subordinate to the former, its predicate, plus all of its own objects.

Rule Three. Outer case

What exactly does an object say about its predicate? This is determined by the outer case of its first word.

Outer case works very much like case in Indo-European languages such as Latin or German. Unfortunately, most English words do not distinguish case, so many native speakers are not familiar with the concept. English pronouns, however, do make this distinction.

  Therefore, pronouns serve nicely to illustrate the point:
speaká veèi.I speak to her. / I tell her.
speak-fact1 PIn−2-nom-nom2a female-acc-dat2.
speaká byèi.She speaks to me. / She tells me.
speak-fact1 female-acc-nom2a PIn−2-nom-dat2.

‘I’ and ‘she’ are the ones who do the speaking or telling; they are subjective or nominative forms. In Lemizh, the case which denotes the sender of the information is also called the nominative; it is represented by the vowel e. ‘Her’ and ‘me’, the recipients of the information, are (in Lemizh) dative cases, marked by an i. The accusative, as we will see in the following example, denotes the content; it is represented by an y. In general, each case is defined by its so-called descriptor (sender, recipient, etc.), which characterises the object’s relation to its predicate (or, strictly speaking, to its predicate’s stem, which denotes an action).

  We will sometimes show Lemizh cases in the translations like so:
speaká byè veì warày.She is the sender, I am the recipient, and the war is the content of the telling.She-nom tells me-dat about a war-acc.
speak-fact1 female-acc-nom2a PIn−2-nom-dat2 war-fact-acc2.

The strict formulation is: The outer case of the first word of an object defines its relation to its predicate’s stem via its descriptor; the outer case of a level 1 word (the main predicate) is zero.

Case descriptors

Here is a table showing all primary cases, those without a secondary suffix. Don’t try to memorise them all.

Primary case suffix
Plot casesCausal casesTemporal casesSpatial cases
1afactive (fact):
affirmative (aff):
fact (point in causal chain)
temporal (temp):
locative (loc):
2enominative (nom):
source, sender
causative (caus):
direct cause
ingressive (ing):
starting time
elative (ela):
starting point/region
3yaccusative (acc):
contextual (ctx):
causal context
durative (dur):
extensive (ext):
spatial extent
4idative (dat):
sink, recipient
consecutive (cons):
direct consequence, effect
egressive (egr):
closing time
illative (ill):
end point / ending region
5otentive (ten):
intentive (int):
intention (intended point in causal chain)
episodic (eps):
episode, ‘act’
scenic (sce):
scene, ‘stage’
6Ocomitative (com):
persuasive (psu):
digressive (dig):
time from which away
ablative (abl):
place/region away from which
7uinstrumental (ins):
means, tool
motivational (mot):
motivational context
progressive (prog):
time that is passed
prolative (prol):
crossing point/region
8Ubenefactive (ben):
final (fin):
purpose, aim
aggressive (agg):
time towards which, temporal aim
allative (all):
place/region towards which, spatial aim

A predicate has exactly one nominative (sender), one dative (recipient), and so on. Many cases are not stated explicitly (not overt) most of the time: none of the above example sentences names its persuasive (reason), but nevertheless implicitly has got one – in a very broad sense: it can also be ‘for no reason at all’, but it will still exist. On the other hand, there cannot be two senders, recipients and so on. There is, however, nothing hindering the recipient from being a set of several people (‘Dylan and Seamus’).

This is our first glimpse of the later rules of sentence grammar. We will keep coming back to this point.

Inner case

Just as the outer case describes a word’s relation to its predicate, the inner case describes its relation to its own stem. In the sentence speaká veè bÌi., the nominative object (‘I’) describes the sender of its predicate ‘speak’. Correspondingly, speakè. (the stem of the word ‘speak’ plus an inner nominative) is the sender of speaking, the one who tells something, the speaker. Just as with outer case, speakè. is not necessarily a single person; but I will not mention that every time we encounter a noun.

speakì. is the recipient of speaking, the one who is told something. speakÌ. is the content, the tale. speakàr. is the place where something is spoken or told. speakà. is the action of speaking, equivalent to our infinitive ‘to speak/tell’ as in ‘You are not allowed to tell lies’, or the gerund ‘(the) speaking/telling’ as in ‘Telling lies is bad behaviour’. Infinitives and gerunds will become important towards the end of this tutorial. The inner factive of some verbs can also be interpreted as an abstract noun with gerund-like meaning (‘the warring = the war, the loving = the love, the helping = the help, the behaving = the behaviour, the controlling = the control’).

In nutshell 3 we will learn how inner case is used to form concrete nouns (‘tail’) and adjectives (‘purple’).

Objects of ‘nouns’

You already know that the outer accusative of a word denotes the content of this word’s predicate.

  But what about this noun phrase?
speakè warày.
speak-nom1 war-fact-acc2.

Of course, the war is not the speaker’s content, but the content of the speaking: the phrase means ‘the one speaking about a war, the teller of a war’. Have a look at the exact wording of Rule Three: the outer case defines the relation to the predicate’s stem, which is an action.

Last significant change: 8 Nov 2014

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