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Karkin Language

Karkin Morphosyntax


Karkin has a split-ergative verbal system. The absolutive morpheme is used for experiential intransitives; ergative is used for volitional intransitives.

  • si aqteχχəl ‘I have muscle pains’ (involuntary)
  • pa pakuniː ‘I’m scrubbing’ (voluntary)

For example, a- is the absolutive morpheme for the first person singular and pa- is the ergative. Obviously only pa- can be used on an agent of a transitive verb and only a- can be used for a patient of a transitive verb. However, both can be used for intransitives depending on the semantic value of the verb. Scrubbing is obviously a volitional action, while having muscle pains is obviously experiential and involuntary.

All patients of transitive verbs are treated like experiential intransitives (with the absolutive) and all agents of transitives are treated like volitional intransitives (with the ergative).

cəʔə pa pacəŋi ‘I am digging the earth’

Suppletive pronominal morphemes: 1st/2nd/3rd persons; singular/plural; familiar/formal; absolutive/ergative.

  • a- = 1st sg. abs. xiː = 1st pl. abs.
  • pa- = 1st sg. erg. kiː- = 1st pl. erg.
  • qsi- =2nd sg. familiar abs. qsir- = 2nd pl. familiar abs.
  • qsai- = 2nd sg. formal abs. qsair- = 2nd pl. formal abs.
  • -tχa- =2nd sg. familiar erg. tχar- = 2nd pl. familiar erg.
  • -psu- = 2nd sg. formal erg. psur- = 2nd pl. formal erg.
  • ʔə-/-ə = 3rd sg. abs. nə- = 3rd pl. abs.
  • -i- = 3rd sg. erg. ni- = 3rd pl. erg.

These morphemes also function as suffixed markers for ergativity and absolutivity for nouns. It depends on whether there is a (pro)noun in the clause or not. If there is a noun, the suffix is attached to the noun(s); if not, then it is used as a prefix for the verb to show the role of the implied pronoun.

nakəʔə siuq ‘the woman is bleeding’

Verbal Particles

All verbs in Karkin are preceded by a verb particle that marks the semantic category of the verb. There are seven types of verb particles. These particles must always precede the verb, no matter what. Sometimes one verb can take more than one particle (though no verb can use two particles at once), depending on the implication the speaker wants to give about the verb. For example, the verb (ki) muŋi ‘dance’ is almost always used with ki, which is a particle for verbs relating to art, leisure, pastimes, or entertainment. But if one is referring to dancing as one’s profession, saying “I have to go dance now” (i.e. I have to go to work now), one might well use pa, which is used with verbs of work or practice. It all depends on context.

Note that in the lexicon, all verbs are followed by their corresponding particle in parentheses, like this: sipxaŋi (ki) – sing

pa is the particle used for verbs of practical or work actions.

  • puniŋi (pa) – go fishing
  • ləŋiŋi (pa) – hook
  • kuniː (pa) – scrub

ki is particle is used for verbs relating to pleasure, art, pastimes, beauty, leisure, and also intellectual or emotional topics.

  • sipxaŋi (ki) – sing
  • ʃuŋi (ki) – socialize
  • poːŋi (ki) – relax
  • muŋi (ki) – dance
  • ciːɴuŋi (ki) – doze
  • muʃɲiː (ki) – apply cosmetics
  • aqra (ki) – adorn oneself with jewelry
  • aɲə (ki) – wonder, question, contemplate
  • rəŋi (ki) – be sad, feel sorrow
  • tuja (ki) – be happy, feel joy

qə is for verbs of motion, whether relating to human movements or non-human.

  • ʃuʃi (qə) – jump
  • tpaː (qə) – fall
  • ɲeʎəː (qə) – bend over
  • suŋi (qə) – sit down
  • pəŋi (qə) – stand up
  • misə (qə) – walk, go forward

si is for verbs of necessity, basic nature, or involuntary functions

  • rəχku (si) – give birth
  • meni (si) – eat
  • kpiχə (si) – sleep
  • stoplaː (si) – mate
  • ʎpaː (si) – swallow
  • mŋər (si) – chew
  • tsqə (si) – bite
  • qtesi (si) – be wounded
  • torxiʃ (si) – fight
  • ʎiʎnə (si) – drink
  • hma (si) – urinate
  • kaː (si) – defecate
  • tqaiː (si) – vomit
  • siuq (si) – bleed
  • ʃən (si) – die
  • pitu (si) – sneeze
  • lqaqna (si) – cough
  • xupo (si) – hiccup
  • hai (si) – feel cold
  • oːʎ (si) – feel hot
  • hoːha (si) – be ill
  • kmuq (si) – have an attack/seizure
  • qteː (si) – feel pain
  • ʃəɴ (si) – feel pleasure
  • ɴəp (si) – itch
  • staːql (si) – feel stinging
  • oːʎoː (si) – get burned
  • haiha (si) – get frostbitten
  • qteχχəl (si) – have muscle pains
  • sktiːhoː (si) – have a rash
  • pqap (si) – burp

ho is for verbs relating to time.

  • sutə (ho) – begin, start
  • ŋape (ho) – end, finish
  • χeːlə (ho) – last, endure
  • qsak (ho) – stop
  • sutətə (ho) – restart
  • taːk (ho) – lapse, take a hiatus
  • tətaːk (ho) – wait

ja is a default or non-specific verb particle. A lot of common but general verbs use this.

  • ciː (ja) – look
  • ɴoː (ja) – do
  • qtəl (ja) – become
  • χiːcə (ja) – possess
  • sine (ja) – take
  • mxe (ja) – accept, receive
  • tkoːr (ja) – support, be underneath
  • imuː (ja) – remove


There are four tenses that are recognized in Karkin. The present tense is not marked, and the infinitive/default form of the verb is used for the present. The other three tenses and their markers are as follows.

  • -o after verb stem – future tense
  • -aː after verb stem – past tense
  • -eː after verb stem – far past tense

These suffixes always come at the very end of a verb.

Aspectual Circumfixes

  • inceptive aspect im- + -i – beginning to do an action
  • prospective lo- + mo – thinking about or considering doing an action
  • semelfactive ʃa- + ta – single, punctuated action
  • si imasiuqaiaː – I was starting to bleed
  • ho ʃaʔəqsaktaː – she stopped (note that the –ta of the semelfactive aspect circumfix and the -aː past tense merge here into -taː)
  • qə loqsaiʃuʃimoeː – you had been thinking about sitting down

Aspectual + Tense Fusion Morphemes

The iterative aspect is fused with tense in the following morphemes:

  • -ko – future iterative
  • -kaː – past iterative
  • -keː – far past iterative

These morphemes are put in the position where tense usually goes—at the very end of the verb. When these are used, no other tense marker is used, since these include tense as well as aspect.

Imperative Mode of Verbs

The imperative is marked on regular verbs with an ending of –ka.

  • puni ‘fish’ > punika! ‘go fishing!’
  • qsak ‘stop’ > qsakka! ‘stop’


To create verbs from nouns or adjectives, the suffix -iŋ is often used.

  • puni ‘fish’ → puniŋi ‘go fishing’
  • ləŋi ‘hook’ → ləŋiŋi ‘catch’


-in is a common adjectivizer for changing nouns to adjectives:

  • χoχ ‘flour’ → χoχin ‘floury, powdry’

ʎuː- is another adjectivizer, usually used for verb to adjective changes. Sometimes it functions in the capacity of a present particle, where otherwise just a verb would be used.

  • kuniː ‘scrub’
  • ʎuːkuniː ‘scrubbing’
  • nakəi kuniː ‘the woman is scrubbing’
  • nakə ʎuːkuniː ɲa ‘the woman is scrubbing’



For animate agents of a verb, there is a suffix –i

  • puniŋj → puniŋii ‘fisher’
For inanimate agents of a verb, there is a suffix -oɴ
  • puniŋi → puniŋioɴ ‘fishing machine; fish trap’

An alternate inanimate agentive marker is –he. This is used often for objects that are physically larger than –oɴ objects, but not always. Often the semantics of these words is more metaphorical and vague, and they are less productive. Sometimes they don’t even act like agentives.

  • luχ ‘heavy’ + -he = luhe ‘mountain’
  • ʃtuxtə ‘cross’ + -he = ʃtuhe ‘bridge’
  • hmexta ‘ink’ + -he = hmehe ‘printer’
  • ʃoʔont ‘steal’ + -he = ʃoʔonthe ‘river’
  • siuq ‘bleed’ + -he ‘ = siuqhe ‘knife; weapon’
  • sxati ‘lover’ + -he = sxatihe ‘sex appeal’

Place nominalization

  • xuxa ‘bake’ → xuxaɲi ‘bakery’
  • ʎuːki ‘baby’ → ʎuːkiɲi ‘nursery’
  • ʃoʔonthe ‘river’ → ʃoʔontheɲi ‘riverbed; a place carved out in the earth where a river flows’

Thing Relating to X

The -ʔən suffix functions to make a noun out of verbs, adjectives, and other nouns. Its meaning is close to ‘thing relating to x’, where x = stem.

  • kiciː ‘blow’+ ʔən = bellows
  • lqaqna ‘cough’ (v.) + ʔən =lqaqnaʔən ‘cough syrup’

Superlative and Comparative Adjectives

  • ɲex ‘weak’ → naiɲex ‘weaker’ → nanaiɲex ‘much weaker’
  • ɲex → ɲexut ‘(the) weakest’ → ɲexutu ‘really the weakest by a lot’
  • ɲex → ɲexdə ‘less weak’ → ɲexdəda ‘much less weak’
  • ɲex → ɲexpwə ‘(the) least weak’ → ɲexpawa ‘really the weakest by a lot’


Postpositions function similarly in Karkin as they do in many languages, but in Karkin they are notably few. There are six main postpositions that constitute most of the usage in the language.

  • mi – to, toward, at, in, on, with
  • tai – from, of, away from, out of
  • tiːʃə -- around, surrounding
  • qsoː -- behind
  • ɲe – under
  • huna – in front of

mi is also used as a genitive particle.

The Genitive Construction

In Karkin the genitive marker is attached to the head noun. The genitive noun usually comes after the head noun in a clause. The marker used is mi, which is also used in other contexts as a postposition (see above).

  • taʔen mi kuniːpaɲ ‘the lady’s bath’
  • lady GEN. bath
  • puni mi qahə ‘the fish’s home’
  • fish GEN. house

The genitive can express many kinds of relations between two nouns. This includes but is not limited to:

Possessing, owning, or having something. taʔen mi kuniːpaɲ. The lady has the bath.
One noun has the quality of another. pjotir mi qahə, junk GEN. house = a messy house. The house has the quality of junk.
This is similar to the quality genitive, except it relates to physical quality rather than abstract. qstaʔən mi leluɲi, glass GEN. house = a house of glass (i.e. a house made of glass).
takuri mi jamul ‘the bay of the Takuri’. This can be thought of as relation by merit of location.


Nominal/Adjectival Copular Phrases

There is an invariable copula for adjectival and nominal copular phrases, which is ɲa. Historically, this derives from a verb, though it is not considered such now but a particle. Nonetheless, its position still reflects its past as a verb; it comes at the end of the clause, like a verb.

  • tχoxa piɲɲu ɲa ‘my tχox* is stubborn’
  • tχoxa tkuː ɲa ‘my tχox is a young female’

*tχox is a large reptile used as a beast of burden in Elta.

In tenses other than the present, specialized tense markers are added to the stem ɲa. Often these markers fuse with ɲa.

  • ɲa + u (future tense) = ɲu ‘will be’
  • ɲa + a (past) = ɲaː ‘was’
  • ɲa + e (far past) = ɲe ‘had been’

Aspects do not affect ɲa (though they used to, back when ɲa behaved in a more verb-like manner).

Postpositional Copular Phrases

For postpositional copular phrases, there is another particle used, also deriving from a historical verb. This is ti.

  • ʃtumə hmal qsoː ti ‘the fighter is behind the wall’ (fighter wall behind is)
  • co kaimiː ɲa ‘this is incorrect’
  • co məla ɲa ‘this (woman) is my mother’
  • χə qsoː ax ti ‘that (thing/person) is behind me’
  • Demonstrative Pronouns/Adjectives

    There are three degrees of demonstrative, co, χə, psi. co basically corresponds to “this”, χə to “that”, and psi indicates something that is even further from the speaker than “that”. It is kind of like “that way over there”. These words can function as adjectives or pronouns.

    • co puni ‘this fish’
    • χə pʃuʎəʔ ‘that sand’
    • psi nakə ‘that woman way over there’

    Pronominal Possessive Adjectival Suffixes

    In order to express a possessive relationship wherein a pronoun is the possessor, there is a series of suffixes, each corresponding to a person/number/degree of formality, which attaching to the possessed noun. The suffix indicates who the possessor is, and gives no further information about the possessed noun.

    • 1st p. sg. – -a
    • 2nd p. sg. fm. – -i
    • 2nd p. sg. frm. – -iː
    • 3rd sg. – -ə
    • 1st p. pl. – -iː
    • 2nd pl. fm. – -ai
    • 2nd pl. frm. – -ai
    • 3rd pl. – -iː
    məl ‘mother’ →
    məla ‘my mother’
    mələ ‘his/her mother’
    məli ‘your mother’
    puni ‘fish’ →
    punia ‘my fish’
    puniə ‘his/her fish’
    qahə ‘house’ →
    qaha* ‘my house’
    qahəː ‘his/her house’
    qahəi ‘your house’
    rəχnə ‘daughter’ →
    rəχna ‘my daughter’
    rəχnəː ‘your daughter’
    rəχnəiː ‘our daughter’

    *Note the contraction of the two vowels; ə + a = a, and also that of ə + ə = əː

    If a word’s default form already ends with a sound that is the same as one of the possessive suffixes, there is no change in the word in the possessive form.

    • kunqaː ‘son’
    • kunqaː ‘my son’

    Note: This is does not apply to genitive constructions with a full head noun (something other than a pronoun implied). For these cases, see the full section on genitive constructions.


    Pronouns are usually only used in objective/prepositional contexts. Sometimes a subjective pronoun is used for emphasis.

    1st sg. erg. – ame1st pl. erg. – mju
    1s sg. abs. – ax1st pl. abs. – χəl
    2nd sg. erg. fm. – tju2nd pl. erg. fm. – tkuːm
    2nd sg. abs. fm. – χu2nd pl. abs. fm. – χuli
    2nd sg. erg. frm. – qa2nd pl. erg. frm. – qi
    2nd sg. abs. frm. – qas2nd pl. abs. frm. – qis
    3rd sg. erg. – in3rd pl. erg. – ini
    3rd sg. abs. – ən3rd pl. abs. – ənə

    These pronouns are inherently marked for number/person/ergativity, etc., they never take any other markers for these aspects.

    When used with postpositions, the absolutive form of each of these is used.


    This is the formula for the regular plural.

    -(C)i- is inserted after the first syllable to make a plural of a noun

    C = consonant of the same manner of articulation, but one place back in place than the first consonant of the first syllable, if there is one. If the first consonant is already as far back as possible as allowed by the phonology, no consonant is added to the plural morpheme. This is also the case if there is no consonantal onset for the first syllable of the word.

    See the transformation of the following singular nouns into regular plurals below.

    • ʃu – person, individual
    • qahə – house
    • ci – infant
    • ʎaχ – lick
    • ksun – slide
    • ləŋi – hook
    • puni – fish
    • sipxa – song
    • ŋuʔuʃ – wave of the ocean
    • niʔ – insect
    ʃu-xi – people ʃ → x + i
    qa-i-hə – houses q → 0 + i
    ci-ki – infants c → k + i
    ʎa-i-χ – licks ʎ → 0 + i
    ksu-qi-n – slides k → q + i
    lə-ʎi-ŋi – hooks l → ʎ + i
    pu-ti-ni – fish (pl.) p → t + i
    sip-ʃi-xa – songs s → ʃ + i
    ŋu-ɴi-ʔuʃ – waves ŋ → ɴ + i
    niʔ-ɲi – insects n → ɲ + i

    Syntax and Word Order

    General word order is APV, SV. That is, agent-patient-verb, subject-verb (subject refers to intransitive arguments only). To emphasize a certain constituent, it is often moved to the front.

    • nakəi hmolʔe pa qtiːŋŋi ‘the woman is splitting the wall’ (agent-verb-patient)
    • kunqaːʔə si haihaː ‘my son got frostbitten’ (subject (abs./involuntary)-verb)
    • kunqaːi ki muŋiaː ‘my son danced’ (subject (erg./voluntary)-verb)

    Nouns follow adjectives, except for a few categories of adjectives, as well as some very common adjectives. A few examples are shown below.

    • Colors:
    • ruʃʃe ‘dark’
    • kərə ‘grey-blue’
    • kuːm ‘red’
    • Words describing physical shape:
    • ptoːx ‘round’
    • soːŋ ‘flat’
    • tkor ‘square’
    • tχun ‘pointed’
    • Size:
    • kiːnə ‘big’
    • liuʎ ‘little’
    • taːxnə ‘gigantic’
    • Common adjectives:
    • ʃxok ‘bad’
    • paʎ ‘good’
    • qsuːw ‘strong’
    • hain ‘cold’
    • oːʎən ‘hot’

    But otherwise adjectives follow the noun.

    Adverbs function in a similar fashion to adjectives, being that they usually follow the word they modify except for very common adverbs, which precede the modified constituent instead.

    • Common adverbs that precede the modified constituent:
    • teŋə ‘badly’
    • muɲ ‘well’
    • toː ‘a lot, much’
    • kiːm ‘soon’
    • qəlmi ‘later’
    • hmeːsi ‘sometimes’
    • ʃumje ‘always’
    • qoʎuː ‘still’
    • kaije ‘never’

    Relative Clauses

    The relative clause is pre-nominal, meaning that it precedes the head noun. Karkin has a relativizer, which is invariably twə. It doesn’t take any markers of any sort.

    • twə joχiː ɲa nimmə ‘the man who is truthful’
    • twə si siuq naŋikənə ‘the women who are bleeding’
    • twə mi naŋikə caːmaʔə imaχti ɲa ‘those are the women to whom I gave the axe’
    • Word for word, the above is: whom to the women the axe I gave they-are