Sketch of Maldekan Grammar

"Maldekan" was the most widely-spoken (but not the only) language of the humanoid inhabitants of the planet Maldek, also known as the "Fifth" or "Lost" Planet, between Mars and Jupiter, whose disruption produced the Asteroids. It was the proto-language of two groups of Maldekan colonists on Earth, the Atlanteans and Lemurians, and of other colonies on Mars and Venus. It is known to us through literary remnants preserved by those colonists, and more particularly through manuals of the language, which they produced after it ceased to be their common speech but remained in ceremonial and literary use.

Maldekan has a series of stops with three points of articulation and voiced/unvoiced contrast: p t k b d g, and a series of unvoiced fricatives also with three points of articulation: f s h. It has the liquids l r, the nasals m n ng (this last, in contrast to English, also appears initially), the semivowels w y, and the five cardinal vowels, i e a o u. Almost every possible combination of vowels are found in diphthongs; most of these result from the loss of a Proto-Maldekan glottal stop.

Maldekan is an inflected language, with a rich and complex morphology. Nouns are marked for gender, case, and number by affixes; verbs are similarly marked for person, number, tense, and aspect.

Almost all roots belong inherently to one part of speech or another. The exceptions include certain nouns and adjectives that may do double-duty as pronouns (e.g. bes 'man, he'; ri 'woman, she'), and onomatopoeic words such as the two words meaning 'kiss': pa and mulu. (Pa refers to kissing someone or something and, as a verb, is inherently transitive; mulu refers to two people kissing each other (i.e. on the mouth), and is intransitive: cf. bes pa wuri 'he kisses her' (e.g. her cheek or hand), bes ori mulu 'he and she kiss (each other)', literally 'he with-her kiss'. Both have reduplicative forms: papa means kissing repeatedly, and would most commonly be used of a mother kissing her child; mululu means long and passionate kissing, and is often used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse.)

The system of genders, or noun-classes, is quite complex, and very different from Indo-European gender categories. First, the categories are much more numerous: in addition to the distinction between male, female, and neuter, Maldekan distinguishes between persons (male or female), animals, plants, and inanimate objects; mass nouns; places, times, and relations between objects (this is called the "spatiotemporal" or "framework" class); and intangible objects of thought or perception, such as gods and spirits, abstract ideas, mental and emotional states, etc.

Second, the noun-classes overlap in some ways: most importantly, the three categories that roughly correspond to the Indo-European genders are subsumed into a super-category containing, essentially, all discrete objects. Third, as this implies, gender is not marked in only one way (e.g., by suffixes). Derivation, declension, adjective and verb agreement, and auxiliary words all vary according to noun-class.

Gender-distinctions are made between persons, animals, plants, and inanimate objects, primarily by different terms of quantity: rata 'many persons, group of people', fai 'many/group of animals', du 'many/group of plants', hin 'many/group of inanimate objects'. There are also suppletive forms of about a dozen important verbs, such as 'be, go, do'. For instance, there are two words for 'to live': nyaha for persons and animals, makiu for plants; there is only one verb for 'to be, to exist', pilda, but it only refers to things that are not alive. Within the subclass of persons, the masculine/feminine distinction is made by compounding with bes or ri.

Gender is only marked overtly, by affixes, only in derivation: that is to say, the noun-class is normally inherent in the root, and the root may be changed to another class by a suffix. Persons and things are marked by -nu, places and times by -(h)i, and intangibles by -wa. This kind of derivation yields, for example, maldeknu 'Maldekan (person)', rihi 'gynaeceum', and beswa 'manhood'. The nominal class-endings are also used to make nouns of adjectival and verbal roots.

Two other common forms of derivation, unrelated to noun-classes, are the diminutive infix -(i)y- and augmentative reduplication: e.g. byes 'boy, young man', riyi 'girl, young woman', bebes 'big, strong man', riri 'voluptuous woman'.

Case is marked by prefixes, and each of the three main noun-classes has a different set of prefixes, indicating a different number of cases, or different types or functions of case.

1st declension: Person/object class

nominative/genitive: 0-
accusative: wu-
dative: a-
instrumental: ni-
comitative: o-

The use of the cases is somewhat different for the various sub-classes: the dative is only used of persons (but it corresponds to the allative in mass nouns, e.g. atel 'into water'), and the instrumental only of non-persons.

2nd declension: Spatiotemporal class

nominative/genitive: 0-
allative: wo-
ablative: ne-
locative: i-
comitative: o-

3rd declension: Intangible class

nominative/genitive: 0-
objective: a-
comitative: o-

There are only two basic numbers, singular and plural, as in English. However, there are two different plural-markers: for persons and things, -(u)r (e.g. besur 'men', rir 'women'); for places and times, -(i)l. These markers are always placed after the suffixed gender-marker (if any). (Intangibles and mass nouns are not marked for plurality.) There is also a reduplicative super-plural, meaning all of a group or class of things: -rur or -lil (e.g. besrur 'all men').

Reflexes of an archaic collective-plural ending *-gan are found in the plural pronouns (see below) and certain irregular nouns, e.g. lasan 'mountain-range' and telen 'river'. They take the regular 1st declension, but no plural suffixes.

There are two articles, indefinite and definite, based on the roots -m- (< mu 'one') and -k- (< aka 'that') respectively. They agree with their nouns in gender, but only in the nominative; in oblique cases, the articles are levelled to -m and -k. There are four noun-classes marked in the articles: discrete objects, mu/ka; mass nouns, mun/kan; places and times, mi/ki; intangibles, mwa/kwa. When the article is declined, the noun itself is not (cf. obesur 'with men', ok besur 'with the men').

Maldekan has the usual six pronouns:

  singular plural
1st person nem nagan
2nd person sim sigan
2rd person kam kagan

They only refer to persons; all non-persons are referred to by demonstratives. Kam is common gender; bes and ri are used for 'he' and 'she' (cf. ok bes 'with the man', obes 'with him').

Pronouns are inflected for case in the same way as nouns of the first class. However, there are special roots for the plural of the oblique cases:

1p -nenna
2p -sinna
3p -kanna

There are four demonstratives, as in English. However, the plural endings agree in gender with the nouns they modify or refer to:

  sg pl
near aya yar/yal
far aka kar/kal

The demonstratives are not declined. If declension is necessary, they take the definite article: e.g. ok aya 'with this'.

Adjectives have two forms. Between the article and the noun, they take no special affixes; when there is no article, they come after the noun, and take endings that agree in gender with their nouns: -ai for persons, -0 for plants, animals, and things, -(a)n for mass nouns, -i for places and times, -wa for intangibles. Likewise, a genitive noun is placed between the nominative noun and its article (in which case the genitive noun cannot take an article), or after the nominative noun if there is no article. Adjectives are derived from nominal and verbal roots by various affixes: -(a)s 'characteristic of', -iut 'as for, about, pertaining to', etc.

The verb is marked for person and number by prefixes, which are recognizable as reduced forms of the pronouns, except for the third person, which is unmarked.

  sg. pl.
1p n(a)- nen-
2p s(a)- sen-
3p 0- 0-

The passive is formed by using the nominative/genitive pronoun with the 3p verb: e.g. safak nem 'I am bound', literally 'bind(s) (of) me'.

Verbs come in two classes, stative and active, most of which are marked by a suffix stem: respectively, -ang and -0. The exceptions are a handful of verbs considered inherently stative or active, such as the verbs 'be' and 'do' themselves.

As mentioned above, there is only one verb 'to be': it is used only of inanimate objects, to say that a thing exists, or that it is located in a particular place or time. For the simple statement of existence, for animate objects, 'to live' is used instead. To say that someone or something is something, or has a certain quality, one makes a stative verb with a nominal or adjectival root: e.g. na·tsuand·ang 'I-(a) priest-am', fai mande·ang '(the) animals wild-are'.

Tense and aspect are never clearly distinguished from each other. The basic past and future tenses, taken by themselves, actually signify events leading up into the present, or issuing from the present; the present tense/aspect means 'right now, at this moment'. They are marked by ablaut and infixation. For the past/progressive, a > e, e > i, i > ie, o > oi, u > ui; for the future/progressive, a > o, e > eu, i > iu, o > u, u > uo.

tan 'go(es)', ten 'has/have been going', ton 'is/are/will be going'

In polysyllabic words, the final syllable is stressed and only its vowel is affected; unstressed vowels are levelled to a.

tosin 'consecrate(s)', tasien 'has/have been consecrating', tasiun 'is/are/will be consecrating'

Verbs with diphthongs are irregular and unpredictable.

tsuandang 'is a priest, are priests', tsuendeng 'has been a priest, have been priests'; tsuondong 'is a priest, will be a priest or priests'

makiu 'live(s)', makie 'has/have lived', makuo 'is/are/will be living'

The past and future perfect are marked by the suffixes -i, -u respectively: teni 'went', tonu 'will go'.

Nouns are derived from verbal roots by the nominal suffixes listed above: hence tan > tanwa 'journey', tani 'path, route', tannu 'traveller'. Adjectives and adverbs are derived from verbal roots by a range of suffixes that carry a sense of 'being' or 'doing', and vary according to aspect and voice.

Adverbs are of two classes: simple and derived. Simple adverbs are a very limited category, analogous to English auxiliary verbs ('can', 'may', etc.); they primarily express the mood of verbs. Derived adverbs include verbal, adjectival, and nominal types, with various derivational forms. The most common is -be, roughly equivalent to English '-ly': it forms adverbs from adjectives and may be used to modify adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs. It is also used irregularly to form two adjectives, myebe 'maternal, motherly' and antibe 'paternal, fatherly'.

Three distinct types of composition are used to form new words: genitive, objective, and comitative. Thus, the 2nd-declension noun braks 'sky, heaven' may be compunded with the 1st-declension noun tannu to form brakstannu 'pilot, astronaut'; with the verb tan to form tanibraks 'to travel in air or space'; and with the 2nd-declension noun maldek to form maldekobraks 'earth and heaven'. Comitative compounds are distinct from objective compounds in that they are not limited to two terms: e.g. besoriogoldo 'man, woman, and child'.

© 2000 by Karl Jahn