lemÌc. Lemizh grammar and dictionary

Unit 2. Words and sentences

The poem is never done.
The music never ends.
Not so long as you remember the words.
Not so long as echoes remain.

(Robert Hewitt Wolfe. Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, ‘Coda’)

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’.

Lemizh stems correspond more or less to the type of verbs called eventive (‘laugh, spit, speak, happen’), not to stative ones (‘sit, owe, be’).

The prestem can contain any sounds, or it can be zero (i.e. consisting of zero sounds). The poststem can only contain fricatives and plosives, or it can be zero as well.

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 zero.

  Identify the parts of these words, assuming they are main predicates:
lemàrc —Solve
rÌj —Solve
nÌm —Solve
  Identify the parts of these words, assuming they are not main predicates:
— swirhÌ —Solve
— veè —Solve
— blalý —Solve
— Ìnhwe —Solve

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 unit 3; 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

There are no unstressed words (clitics) in Lemizh.

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, with an optional a for ‘agent’. Pronoun stems have special abbreviations starting with a ‘P’; they are treated in unit 6.

  Now look at these examples and follow the word levels from the main predicate to the last word:
tellá kRenseè hemysì lày.
tell-fact1 Trance-nom-nom2a Seamus-acc-dat2 do-fact-acc2.
wantà learnày fateày zèi, hemÌse engineerèy.
want-fact1 learn-fact-acc2 fate-fact-acc3 PIn−3-nom-dat4 Seamus-acc-nom2 engineer-nom-acc3.
  Identify the level of each word in these sentences:
tellá kRensèe stareé hemysì warày strangeÌy.Solve
strangeìl warày tellýy kRenseè hemÌsi, terribleÌy.Solve
assumeá veì wantáy kRenseè tellày waraÌ hemÌsi eagerèy hearày sàly.Solve

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.

  Identify the objects of each main predicate:
tellá kRensèe stareé hemysì warày strangeÌy.Solve
strangeìl warày tellýy kRenseè hemÌsi, terribleÌy.Solve
assumeá veì wantáy kRenseè tellày waraÌ hemÌsi eagerèy hearày sàly.Solve

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? Or, to use a technical term: what is the thematic relation of an object to 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:
tellá veè sheÌi.I tell her.
tell-fact1 PIn−2-nom-nom2a she-acc-dat2.
tellá sheyèi.She tells me.
tell-fact1 she-acc-nom2a PIn−2-nom-dat2.

‘I’ and ‘she’ are the ones who do the 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:
tellá sheyè 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.
tell-fact1 she-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.

The remaining four rules will have to wait until later.

Case descriptors

Here is a table showing all primary cases, those without a secondary suffix. Don’t try to memorise all of them right now; we will get to most cases during this tutorial. The secondary cases, those with a secondary suffix, are treated later.

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 tellá veè sheÌi., the nominative object (‘I’) describes the sender of its predicate, the telling. Correspondingly, tellè. (the stem of the word ‘tell’ plus an inner nominative) is the sender of telling, the one who tells something, the teller. Just as with outer case, tellè. is not necessarily a single person; but I will not mention that every time we encounter a noun.

tellì. is the recipient of telling, the one who is told something. tellÌ. is the content, the tale. tellàr. is the place where something is told. tellà. is the action of telling, equivalent to our infinitive ‘to tell’ as in ‘You are not allowed to tell lies’, or the gerund ‘(the) 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 unit 4 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?
tellè warày.
tell-nom1 war-fact-acc2.

Of course, the war is not the teller’s content, but the content of the telling: the phrase means ‘the one telling 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.

helpá veè sheÌi.Solve
helpá sheyè vèi.Solve
loveè sheÌi.Solve
loveì tellèe warày.Solve


There is no particular word order between sibling objects: they can change places whenever desirable. It is a different matter with words in a predicate-object-relationship, since the predicate comes first by definition. However, the main predicate and one of its objects can change places by a process called inversion (symbol: ), swapping inner and outer cases of the initial object.

  helpà tellèi.[Someone] helps the teller.
help-fact1 tell-nom-dat2.
tellá helpìe.The one being helped tells [something].
tell-fact1 help-dat-nom2a.

There is a symmetry behind an inversion: in our example, both sentences claim that the sender of telling is the recipient of helping. The equation is tellè. = helpì.. This might seem like toying around at the moment, but we will encounter inversion in nearly every unit to come.

The above sentences also illustrate that you can omit any object in a Lemizh sentence (such as the nominative ‘someone’ or the accusative ‘something’) without the risk of getting an ungrammatical sentence. You might get an ambiguous or even incomprehensible sentence, though, if you omit too many objects.

In other words: there are no complements (necessary objects), only adjuncts (optional objects).

Any objects of the two inverted words have to be taken along.

  helpà tellèi warày3.Someone helps the teller of a war.
help-fact1 tell-nom-dat2 war-fact-acc3.
tellá help warày2.(‘war’ remains an object of ‘tell’)The one being helped tells someone about a war.
tell-fact1 help-dat-nom2a war-fact-acc2.

Inversion normally works only between the main predicate and one of its objects. Trying to invert a lower-level word and one of its objects would leave us with a word having two predicates, which is technically impossible. The one exception will be treated in unit 5.

From the viewpoint of a native Lemizh, inner case is inflection, not derivation: tellà. ‘tell’ and tellè. ‘teller’ are forms of the same word, like ‘tell’ and ‘told’ in English.

Partitive cases

From each of the primary cases we can form a corresponding partitive case (abbreviated part) by adding the secondary case suffix n: thus, en represents the partitive nominative, arn the partitive locative, etc.

Partitive cases are, of course, defined by their descriptors, which are a bit abstract: ‘the set from which the sender (recipient, place, etc.) is thought to be taken’ or more informally ‘the type of the sender (recipient, place, etc.)’. These cases correspond more or less to English ‘some (of the), one of the’.

  twinkleà stareèn hemÌsi.The stars are the set from which the sender of twinkling is thought to be taken.
That which twinkles is from the set of stars / is of the type ‘star’.
Some of the stars twinkle at Seamus.
twinkle-fact1 star-nom-partnom2 Seamus-acc-dat2.
Starry sky, representing the set of stars, with a few of them singled out as the twinkling ones.

Strictly speaking: since the partitive only states that the twinklers are from the set of stars, but not how many of them, we cannot exclude the possibility that all of the stars twinkle at Seamus. The point is that the above sentence does not demand that all stars twinkle at Seamus. That’s another issue we will keep coming back to.

The other secondary case suffix, m denoting the qualitative cases, is treated in unit 11.

Inner partitive

Now we can use an inversion to find the meaning of the inner partitive cases (and I apologise for the strange example sentences straight away).

  helpà tellèin.The tellers are the set from which the recipient of helping is thought to be taken.[He] is helping some of the tellers.
help-fact1 tell-nom-partdat2.
tellá helpìne.They who are being helped are from the set / of the type ‘teller’.The one(s) being helped, among others, tell something.
tell-fact1 help-partdat-nom2a.

1. A set of tellers, containing the subset of the one(s) being helped. 2. A set of tellers (or one teller), identical to the set of the one(s) being helped. Hence the inner partitive translates as ‘among others’. If this doesn’t make sense, draw an image like the one with the stars above.

Again, we cannot rule out the possibility that all of the tellers are being helped. The strict translation is ‘(possibly) among others’, but the point of the inner partitive is that it opens the possibility that some of the tellers are not being helped.

The fact that a predicate has only one object of each case can pose a problem with a number of cases, notably instrumental, causative and consecutive, which are often used to describe just one of several tools, causes, and consequences, respectively. The solution is to construct such objects with an inner partitive.

  twinkleà staratmosphereÌnel.Stars twinkle because of the atmosphere [among other things such as temperature and the physical law of refraction].Stars twinkle because of the atmosphere.
twinkle-fact1 star-nom-nom2 atmosphere-partacc-caus2.

The question why we don’t need an inner partitive for each and every object – after all, the stars twinkle at other people as well – is tackled in unit 9, where we will learn the remaining rules of sentence grammar.

  Invert the highlighted words and translate both the original sentence and yours: (Don’t worry about the difference between agentive and non-agentive.)
tellá loveíne allyé hemysì warày.Solve

Last significant change: 7 Jun 2014

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