lemÌc. Lemizh grammar and dictionary

Unit 6. Some important sorts of words

Is the soul greater than the hum of its parts?

(Douglas Hofstadter. The Mind’s I)

This unit is somewhat miscellany. It starts with a set of rules for forming compound words, continues with negators and finishes with pronouns.

Compound words

Rule One

A compound word is constructed from a two-word sentence – predicate and object of which become modifier and head of the compound, respectively – in the following way:

Illustration of the compounding of words. Explanation see text.
  1. Prestem:
    1. the object’s prestem
    2. the object’s inner case
    3. the object’s poststem
    4. an optional separator: -, ~ or ^
    5. the predicate’s prestem
  2. Inner case
  3. Poststem: the predicate’s poststem
  4. Outer case

Note that the object’s stem comes before the predicate’s; and also that the object’s outer case (and, less importantly, the predicate’s inner case) is lost. The separator can be used, for example, if the word boundary would be unclear otherwise, or for placing the second part of the word on a new line.

The object becomes the compound’s head, the predicate becomes the modifier, and the object’s inner case becomes the epenthetic case. We will symbolise compounding with .

Interlinear glosses of compounds consist of the head’s gloss, the epenthetic case, the modifier’s gloss, and the inner and optionally outer cases. In later units, in examples where compounds’ structures are not relevant, they are not always resolved.

dàxt qàzgy. qazg-dàxt.He must think. He has to think.
must-fact1 think-fact-acc2. think-fact-must-fact1.

This compound contains the information ‘the action of thinking is the X of having to do’. The missing case descriptor X has to be added from context. Thus, compounds are always a bit ambiguous.

Head and modifier can be compounds themselves, but be careful: the longer a compound gets, the more case endings are lost, which makes it more and more ambiguous.

Rule Two

In the relationship between the original predicate and object, the rules of sentence grammar are retained as far as applicable. (Forget this for the moment; we’ll get back to it in unit 9.)

Rule Three

Regarding all outward relations, cases (i.e. the compound’s inner case [not to be confused with its epenthetic case] as well as the outer cases of its objects) refer to the head.

av-kmàr mlÌvy.a place where one may eat sweets; a place for eating sweets
eat-fact-allow-loc1 sweet-acc-acc2.
nena-dàxt fÌta.He has to run fast.
run-fact-must-fact1 fast-acc-fact2.

A good way to think about this is that we first modify the head (we are not talking about a real action of eating but the permission to eat; we are not talking about a real action of running but the necessity to run), then add inner case and objects as if they were inner case and objects of the head (it’s about the location of eating, as opposed to the location of allowing; it’s about eating sweets, as opposed to allowing sweets; the running is fast, as opposed to the necessity; etc.).


Compounds from brackets

We can already express a number of subtleties with cumulative or partitive brackets or coordinations, yet compounding provides another possibility.

mèwd bÌe. bÌ mèwdy. mewdbè.a female waiterwaitress
waiter-nom1 female-acc-nom2. female-acc1 waiter-nom-acc2. waiter-nom-female-nom1.

By inverting the bracket before compounding, the inner nominative of ‘waiter’ is preserved; if we did not do this, we would get bymÌwd. female-acc-waiter-acc1. which could as well mean, say, a female guest female-acc1 waiter-dat-acc2.. On the other hand, losing the inner accusative of ‘female’ is not a problem for comprehension. The inner case of the resulting compound, referring to the waiter, is of course also a nominative. This sort of construction downtones the modifier for reasons we will only get to on the pragmatics pages in the appendix. Other useful modifiers include:

Nominal verbs

Here are some English verbs derived from nouns, and their translations as compounds:
jàx RÌxti. RÌxt jìxy. jixRàxt.to move onto the shoulder-datto shoulder
move-fact1 shoulder-acc-dat2. shoulder-acc1 move-dat-acc2. move-dat-shoulder-fact1.
dà lÌfy. lÌf dÌy. dyláf byì xalÌe.She takes the peel off an apple.She peels an apple.
give-fact1 skin-acc-acc2. skin-acc1 give-acc-acc2. give-acc-skin-fact1 female-acc-dat2a apple-acc-nom2.

We need to make ‘move’ and ‘give’ the heads so they can take objects; but this means that the inner case endings of ‘shoulder’ and ‘skin’ are lost. This makes some compounds of this kind difficult to understand – think about a compound meaning ‘move something to the teacher’. These are better avoided.

Bahuvrihi compounds

Bahuvrihis (‘redthroat’, ‘sabretooth’, ‘hunchback’) refer to something outside themselves: they don’t denote throats, teeth or backs, but a bird possessing a red throat, a cat possessing sabre-shaped teeth, and a person possessing a hunched back, respectively. These words correspond to Lemizh compounds that, as adjectives of possession, are inverted genitive attributes.

rÌjd krÌsty. krystrÙjd.one having a red throatredthroated, a redthroat
red-acc1 throat-acc-acc2. throat-acc-red-ben1.

Isms and philes

Many abstract nouns ending in ‘-ism’ and their concrete counterparts in ‘-ist’ denote being certain or convinced of something-acc (‘holism, reductionism’) or having been convinced by someone-nom (‘Epicureanism’). The one being convinced is in the dative – we will meet the verb ‘make certain, convince’ again in unit 13. A ‘-phile’ is one who likes something-acc/dat.

dnàs skràpy. skràp dnÌsa. dnysskràp.being convinced of splitting (into parts)reductionism
certain-fact1 split-fact-acc2. split-fact1 certain-acc-fact2. certain-acc-split-fact1.
dnàs epikurÌse. epikurÌs dnèsy. dnesepikurìs.one convinced by EpicurusEpicureanist
certain-fact1 Epicurus-acc-nom2. Epicurus-acc1 certain-nom-acc2. certain-nom-Epicurus-dat1.
ràh wÌtxi. wÌtx rìhy. rihwètx.one liking booksbibliophile
like-fact1 book-acc-dat2. book-acc1 like-dat-acc2. like-dat-book-nom1.

Another example

One final example:
gwalpÌ txÌUl. txÌ gwalpÙly. gwalpUltxÌ.a cup for teateacup
cup-acc1 tea-acc-fin2. tea-acc1 cup-fin-acc2. cup-fin-tea-acc1.

Unnecessary modifiers

The modifier can and should be omitted if the information it conveys is irrelevant, or if it is clear from context. Do not translate ‘waitress’ as mewdbè. waiter-nom-female-nom1. or ‘brother’ as htryÌx. sibling-acc-male-acc1. by default; the gender-neutral forms will do most of the time.

We will frequently mention that everything ‘irrelevant or clear from context’ has to be omitted. This rule is elaborated on in the appendix, on the pragmatics pages.


Identify the boundaries between heads and modifiers and the epenthetic cases of the following compounds. Use the dictionary if necessary:
Translate as separate words, give their inversions if applicable, and translate as compounds:
to salt the meat, to put salt on the meatSolve


nonexistence (‘zero’) negatornà.notto make nonexistent, to undo, annul, destroy
opposition (‘minus’) negatorkà.oppositionto turn into the opposite

The two negators are verbs conveying a property, or something rather similar to a property: nonexistence or opposition, respectively. They can thus be seen as adjectival verbs, with nonexistence or opposition in the accusative being conferred on the dative: nì. is something made into nothing, something undone; nÌ. is something with the property of nothingness, an action not done, a nonexistent thing. The difference between dative and accusative is more distinct than with most adjectives: something that has never existed cannot be made nonexistent and therefore needs the accusative.

(the one making something nonexistent)the ‘property’
of nonexistence
the action or thing made nonexistent

But then, the dative/accusative distinction is often lost again because we can easily form compounds with negators. The resulting sentences have lost the object’s outer case; they differ from their positive counterparts only in a suffix-like negation.

nà xOájy axileÌsi. xOajná axileÌsi.Achilles isn’t listening.
not-fact1 hear-fact-acc2 Achilles-acc-dat3a. hear-fact-not-fact1 Achilles-acc-dat2a.
nà RÌcjy. RycjnÙ.(adjective of possession)colourless (not having a colour)
not-fact1 colour-acc-acc2. colour-acc-not-ben1.
nà RÌcji. RycjnÙ.colourless (having lost its colour)
not-fact1 colour-acc-dat2. colour-acc-not-ben1.

While the above examples negate the action of listening and the existence of colour, respectively, the adjective ‘unwise’ negates the existence of wisdom (an abstract noun with inner consecutive) rather than that of a wise one (a concrete noun with inner nominative) or a wise deed (inner accusative). This results in an epenthetic consecutive case and the familiar inner nominative or accusative.

nà mìlvy. milvnè.unwise, an unwise one
not-fact1 wise-cons-acc2. wise-cons-not-nom1.
nà mìlvy. milvnÌ.unwise, an unwise deed
not-fact1 wise-cons-acc2. wise-cons-not-acc1.

When we speak about an action being made undone, we actually mean its consequences: ‘unknot’ does not mean making the action of knotting nonexistent, but either its effect (cons again) or its content, the knot (acc).

nà snrìlki. snrilknà.to unknot
not-fact1 knot-cons-dat2. knot-cons-not-fact1.
nà snrÌki. snryknà.
not-fact1 knot-acc-dat2. knot-acc-not-fact1.

Examples of the opposition negator will follow in the next unit.

Negators are a good illustration of Rule Two of sentence grammar, namely the rule that an object is not simply a subordinate word, but a subordinate word plus all of its own objects. The above sentence, nà xOájy axileÌsi. not-fact1 hear-fact-acc2 Achilles-acc-dat3a., does not just negate ‘listen’ but ‘Achilles listens’, leaving open the possibility of other people listening. nà xOájy axileysì lÌwOl. not-fact1 hear-fact-acc2 Achilles-acc-dat3a lion-acc-psu3. means ‘It is not true that Achilles listens because of the lion [but he might still be listening for some other reason]’. Compounding the negator does not change this meaning, because Rule Two is of course still in operation.


Pronouns do not denote specific actions such as ‘to run’ or ‘to turn green’. They refer to actions, so to say, by pointing rather than naming.

The so-called relative pronouns are primarily anaphoric (pointing to another word); the demonstrative pronouns are purely deictic (pointing to something extralinguistic). Strictly speaking, Lemizh pronouns are pro-verbs, but that’s an awkward term; so I’ll stick with ‘pronouns’.

Relative pronouns

The target of a relative pronoun’s stem is an action denoted by another nearby word stem. For example, w– refers to the stem of its own predicate.

wáx wìe.The sender of speaking is its recipient.He is talking to himself.
speak-fact1 PIn−1-dat-nom2a.

The stem of this pronoun is a placeholder for the stem of its predicate wàx. ‘speak’, hence wì. here denotes ‘the recipient of speaking (the speaking named in the predicate)’. This is how we express English reflexive pronouns. This sentence is almost, but not exactly, the same as wáx wìxe. speak-fact1 speak-dat-nom2a.. The latter does not necessarily imply that the two ‘speakings’ are the same and thus means something like ‘The one being spoken to is speaking’. We will thoroughly examine the identity (or nonidentity) of actions in unit 9, in the chapter on Rule Four of sentence grammar.

I chose to call them ‘relative pronouns’ because they describe a relation to another word. Their scope is much wider than the one usually associated with the term.

Here is the complete list of relative pronouns:

LevelType IType II
VerbThe target is the stem ofVerbThe target is the stem of
nType I level n does not occur because it would refer to itself.à.its immediately preceding sibling
n−1wà.its predicatefà.its predicate’s immediately preceding sibling
n−2và.its predicate’s predicateqà.its predicate’s predicate’s immediately preceding sibling
n−3zà.its predicate’s predicate’s predicatesà.

In addition to reflexivity, these pronouns can be used to translate person, possessive adjectives (not to be confused with adjectives of possession), addressed person (vocative), and other interesting things. Recall that the parole has level zero.

In interlinear glosses, ‘PI’ and ‘PII’ represent relative pronoun stems of types I and II, respectively, and the level is given in subscript. Hovering the mouse over the gloss also tells you to which action the pronoun refers – unfortunately, not on smartphones.

ásh e.The sender of reading is its recipient.He is reading (to himself).
read-fact1 PIn−1-dat-nom2a.
First person singular:
nená y.The content of running is the sender of the parole.I am running.
run-fact1 PIn−2-nom-acc2a.
First person plural:
nená vèny.… is the sender of the parole, among others.We are running.
run-fact1 PIn−2-partnom-acc2a.
Second person singular or plural:
nená y.… is the recipient of the parole.You are running.
run-fact1 PIn−2-dat-acc2a.
Second person plural:
nená vìny.… is the recipient of the parole, among others.You (including others not present) are running.
run-fact1 PIn−2-partdat-acc2a.
Possessive adjective:
nená fkrÌjy zèU.The sender of the parole is the beneficiary of tortoise-making.My tortoise is running.
run-fact1 tortoise-acc-acc2a PIn−3-nom-ben3.
wáx veè zvèci zìe.The friend is the recipient of the parole. (bracket)Friend, I am talking to you.
speak-fact1 PIn−2-nom-nom2a friend-nom-dat2 PIn−3-dat-nom3.
‘Inner agentive’:
gwít wìi.(self-referential bracket)an active student
teach-dat1 PIn−1-dat-dat2a.
Examples of type II pronouns:
áv veì mlÌvy. ràh y.The content of liking is the content of eating.I am eating a sweet. I like it.
eat-fact1 PIn−2-nom-dat2a sweet-acc-acc2. like-fact1 PIIn−1-acc-acc2.
gcrá axileysè fkrynjì zvènci fyì krÌbe.The recipient of being friends is the tortoise.Achilles greets the tortoise and its friend, the crab.
greet-fact1 Achilles-acc-nom2a tortoise-partacc-dat2 friend-partnom-dat2 PIIn−1-acc-dat3 crab-acc-nom3.

The last sentence is an example of a direct reference, the pronoun and its target word having matching inner cases. The pronoun describes the content of making a tortoise, which is none other than the tortoise from two words prior. (Recall how we argued brackets.) In the penultimate example, on the other hand, the inner case of the pronoun corresponds to the outer case of an object of its target word, namely to ‘sweet’, and therefore refers to this sweet – this is an indirect reference or a reference via the predicate.

When a pronoun refers to a compound, compounding Rule Three (cases refer to the compound’s head) is also applicable to the pronoun’s inner case.

What has been stated of compounds’ modifiers is also true for pronouns: they can and should be omitted if the information they convey is irrelevant, or if it is clear from context.

Reflexivity vs. reciprocity

The contrast between reflexive (‘They are talking to themselves’) and reciprocal usage (‘They are talking to each other’) of pronouns can become important whenever a pronoun refers to an object consisting of more than one thing or person. To explicitly express reflexivity, we need the verb Rà. ‘make/become each individual separately/respectively’ (about which we will hear more in the following two units). This verb forms a partitive bracket with a relative pronoun, meaning ‘each (respective) individual from the set forming the sender (recipient, etc.)’, in our example ‘each of the speakers’.

wáx axileynsè fkrynjè RÌi vèyn.They are speaking to the respective speakers.Achilles and the tortoise are talking to themselves.
speak-fact1 Achilles-partacc-nom2a tortoise-partacc-nom2 each-acc-dat2 PIn−2-nom-partacc3.
wáx axileynsè fkrynjè weRèi.(Note the change of the pronoun.)
speak-fact1 Achilles-partacc-nom2a tortoise-partacc-nom2 PIn−1-nom-each-nom-dat2.

Compounding an object within a sentence, as we just did, can change the meaning as it changes the words’ dependencies. For cumulative brackets, this operation is safe; for partitive ones, it normally does not change the meaning much.

Reciprocity is expressed by a negated reflexive (nà RÌy RynÌ. ‘not each one seperately’) that is likewise compounded with a pronoun. Again, omit anything that is clear from context.

wáx axileynsè fkrynjè weRyneì weRèy.They are speaking to themselves (not respectively), about themselves (respectively).Achilles and the tortoise are talking to each other about themselves.
speak-fact1 Achilles-partacc-nom2a tortoise-partacc-nom2 PIn−1-nom-each-acc-not-nom-dat2 PIn−1-nom-each-nom-acc2.
dná wÌUr.(They can’t walk towards themselves anyway.)They walk towards each other.
walk-fact1 PIn−1-acc-all2a.

Agentive causative and instrumental

If the agent of a verb is in the causative case, we frequently need to express that it is only one of the several causes. We achieve this by naming the agent in the motivational case (ul, motivational context) and then use a pronoun to equate it with only part of the causative object. (The motivational case is used to mark a kind of motivation that is neither a reason nor an aim but something ‘in between’ on the causal arrow.) Sometimes the motivational can be replaced by some other case, notably the dative in causal-reflexive constructions.

nená fkryjùl ynèl axileÌsy.Achilles runs because of the tortoise, among other things. (The tortoise is acting.)The tortoise makes Achilles-acc run.
run-fact1 tortoise-acc-mot2a PIIn-partacc-caus2 Achilles-acc-acc2.
pqáb fkryjì ynèl axileÌse.The cause of Achilles’ anger is its recipient, the tortoise.The tortoise-dat angers Achilles-nom [and his anger reaches the tortoise].
angry-fact1 tortoise-acc-dat2a PIIn-partacc-caus2 Achilles-acc-nom2.
xrátx fxyrcryùl ynèl pÌnbcel vulé axileÌse.The lizard (intentionally) and its venom (unintentionally) make Achilles afraid.The lizard frightens Achilles because of its venom.
fear-fact1 lizard-acc-mot2a PIIn-partacc-caus2 poison-partacc-caus2 PIn−2-mot-nom3 Achilles-acc-nom2.
lá brykùl ynèl dáa tryxkì fOpysrÌfe.(factive desorption expressing two agents)The dwarf makes the the beaver take something from Father Christmas.
do-fact1 dwarf-acc-mot2a PIIn-partacc-caus2 give-fact-fact2 beaver-acc-dat3a FatherChristmas-acc-nom3.

We cannot replace the causative with the persuasive as the latter is an agent-centred case.

‘seat someone’ and transitive ‘walk’ (‘The dwarf walks Edmund down the hall’) work exactly the same way, as do agentive instrumental objects.

Demonstrative pronouns

These two pronouns point to something in the world. We typically use them with an inner accusative just like nominal verbs.

NameVerbGlosspoints toTranslation with various outer cases
Plot cases (e y i)Causative (el), persuasive (Ol)Temporal (aR), episodic (oR)Locative (ar), scenic (or)
definite pronountà.thissomething definitethis/that (one)thereforeat this/that timehere/there
indefinite pronoungwà.anysomething undefinedsomeone/anyone, something/anythingfor some/any reasonsome/any timesomewhere/anywhere

Demonstrative pronouns are distance-neutral. To distinguish between near (this here) and far (that there), up (that up there) and down (that down there), etc., we use the spatial verbs described in unit 12.

Brackets with gwÌ. are usually partitive: gwÌ fkrÌjyn. any-acc1 tortoise-acc-partacc2. ‘anything from the set of tortoises’ is usually more appropriate than gwÌ fkrÌjy. any-acc1 tortoise-acc-acc2. ‘anything, a tortoise’.

Third-person pronouns are translated with definite or relative pronouns, in some cases with Ìx. ‘male’ or bÌ. ‘female’, or – and this is the best option – left out.

What are the targets of the pronoun stems in the following sentences? What do the pronouns refer to?
ràjd nùsin zèU.Solve
áv axileysì Ìhwy lÌbvy qÌU.Solve
Translate, including all the pronouns for training purposes:
You don’t love my tortoise.Solve
For some reason, I am not happy about this.Solve
Lover and beloved are walking there.Solve
one who is given something vs. one who takes somethingSolve
They are afraid of each other.
(two possibilities: a long-winded and a short one)