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.).

Rule Three also means that the modifier cannot have any objects apart from the head. Put differently: if a main predicate has got more than one object, you can’t form a compound.


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 a female cusomer 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. dnysskrìlp.being convinced of splitting (into parts)reductionism (non-gerund-like abstract noun)
certain-fact1 split-fact-acc2. split-fact1 certain-acc-fact2. certain-acc-split-cons1.
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 pronounced 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.The listening of Achilles is nonexistent. Achilles listening is nonexistent.Achilles isn’t listening.
not-fact1 hear-fact-acc2 Achilles-acc-dat3a. hear-fact-not-fact1 Achilles-acc-dat2a.
nà drÌy. drynÙ.(adjective of possession)treeless (not having trees)
not-fact1 tree-acc-acc2. tree-acc-not-ben1.
nà drÌi. drynÙ.treeless (having lost its trees)
not-fact1 tree-acc-dat2. tree-acc-not-ben1.

Negative adjectives negate the corresponding abstract nouns: ‘unwise’, for example, negates the existence of wisdom (an abstract noun with an inner factive) rather than that of a wise one (a concrete noun with inner nominative) or a wise deed (inner accusative). This results in an epenthetic factive case and the familiar inner nominative or accusative. As many abstract nouns have inner consecutives, we often get an epenthetic consecutive.

nà màvy. mavnè.unwise, an unwise one
not-fact1 wise-fact-acc2. wise-fact-not-nom1.
nà màvy. mavnÌ.unwise, an unwise deed
not-fact1 wise-fact-acc2. wise-fact-not-acc1.
kà lìlxwy. lilxwkÌ.Green-ness is turned into the opposite. the opposite of greenmagenta
opposition-fact1 green-cons-acc2. green-cons-opposition-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 its effect, so we need the consecutive again.

ná fkryjè snrìlki.The tortoise makes the consequences of knot-making nonexistent.The tortoise unknots [something]. The tortoise undoes a knot.
not-fact1 tortoise-acc-nom2a knot-cons-dat2.

The tortoise is an object of the negator, not of the knot-making: as a compound’s modifier cannot have objects, we can’t compound this sentence. If we don’t want to focus on the undoing of a previous action, we can use a compoundable phrasing with the opposition negator.

kà snráky fkrÌje. snrakká fkrÌje.The tortoise does the opposite of knot-making.The tortoise unknots [something].
opposition-fact1 knot-fact-acc2 tortoise-acc-nom3a. knot-fact-opposition-fact1 tortoise-acc-nom2a.

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 the relative pronouns:

LevelType IType II
VerbThe target is the stem ofVerbThe target is the stem of
nThe type I level n pronoun does not occur because it would refer to itself.à.its preceding same-level word
n−1wà.its predicatefà.its predicate’s preceding same-level word or parole
n−2và.its predicate’s predicateqà.its predicate’s predicate’s preceding same-level word or parole
n−3zà.its predicate’s predicate’s predicatesà.

In other words: for a type I pronoun with some level n, start from that pronoun and move left until you reach the first entity (word or parole, which, as you recall, has level zero) with the specified level. For a type II pronoun, move left until you reach the second entity with that level.

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.

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.

In the penultimate example, we want to refer to the sweet. We do this with a pronoun that points to the sweet’s predicate ‘eat’ and give it an inner case that matches the sweet’s outer case: an accusative. Therefore, the pronoun refers to the content of eating, which is the sweet. (Recall how we argued brackets.) This is an indirect reference or a reference via the predicate. The pronoun in the last sentence, by contrast, simply points to the tortoise from two words prior; this is a direct reference.

Sometimes we can choose between a directly and an indirectly referring pronoun, in which case the indirect reference should be preferred unless the target word immediately precedes the pronoun (as in the partitive agent examples below): indirect reference is often easier to understand because it utilises the grammatical function of words rather than word order. The penultimate example phrased with direct reference, áv veì mlÌvy. ràh Ìy. eat-fact1 PIn−2-nom-dat2a sweet-acc-acc2. like-fact1 PIIn-acc-acc2., would be grammatically correct but is unnecessarily obscure. Pronouns that have objects of their own usually have to refer directly because otherwise the objects’ outer cases would refer to the wrong stem per Rule Three of sentence grammar; we will encounter some nice examples in unit 15.

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 a bit 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’. We normally use the corresponding compound, which is shorter and virtually synonymous.

wáx axileynsè fkrynjè RÌi vèyn.They are speaking to the respective speakers. (verbose)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.They are speaking to the speakers, each respective one. (Note the change of the pronoun.)
speak-fact1 Achilles-partacc-nom2a tortoise-partacc-nom2 PIn−1-nom-each-nom-dat2.

Reciprocity is expressed by negating ‘each’ (nà RÌy RynÌ. ‘not each one seperately’) and then compounding with a pronoun as before. 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.

Partitive agent

If we want to express that the agent of a verb is only part of an object, e.g. one of several recipients that together form the dative, we name the agent in the motivational case (ul, motivational context) and then use a pronoun with an inner partitive to equate it with part of the other 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.)

dmát fkryjùl ynì axileynsì fxyrcrÌe.The tortoise and Achilles see the lizard; the tortoise as an agent.The tortoise looks at and Achilles sees the lizard.
see-fact1 tortoise-acc-mot2a PIIn-partacc-dat2 Achilles-partacc-dat2 lizard-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.

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? Are these good choices of pronouns?
ràjd nùsi zèi.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)