From PIE to Primal, Sounds

[Note: I have combined multiple past posts under a single section: From PIE to Primal] (AMB, 3/22/18)

Over a series of posts we’ll discuss exactly what we, the creators of Wenja, do each time we create – or rather derive – a new word for the primary language of Oros. How do PIE words like *bʰere- ‘to carry’ and *h₂odyo ‘today’ become Wenja bara and shaja, respectively?

Our first post will begin with the largest class of consonants in PIE — stops (aka occlusives). Stops are found in all of the world’s languages.  When you make a stop, the air is stopped in the mouth in the initial production of the sound, and then the air is released. For this reason you can’t hold a stop out like an s or an m; try holding out a p — you’ll find that it’s impossible!

There are six stops in English:

Voiceless Voiced
Bilabial p b
Alveolar t d
Velar k g

English stops are organized according to place of articulation and voicing. Stops can either be voiced or voiceless. Voiced sounds require vibration of the vocal folds (in your throat); voiceless sounds do not. The terms bilabial, alveolar, and velar refer to the place of articulation, or where in the mouth a sound is articulated. You can see in the diagram to the left that bilabial sounds are made with the lips, alveolars just behind the top front teeth, and velars towards the back of the mouth.

(Click here for an interactive overview of English phonetics)

While there are only six basic stops in English, it’s very likely that PIE had fifteen. That’s a lot compared to most languages of the world!  The majority of Indo-Europeanists assume five places of articulation (bilabial, dental, palatal, velar, and labiovelar (velar consonant with lip rounding)) and three different ways to make stops (voiceless, voiced, and voiced aspirated). The voiced aspirated stops, which are perhaps better described as breathy, are characterized by a voiced puff of air following the stop in question.

Voiceless Voiced Voiced Aspirated
Bilabial p b
Alveolar t d
Palatal ǵ ǵʰ
Velar k g
Labiovelar gʷʰ

Now let’s see how all of this plays out in Wenja. In the lists below, we first give you an example of a PIE word beginning with the reconstructed stops in question (marked in bold), followed by descendant words in actual Indo-European languages. We then conclude with the Wenja derivative (marked in red).

  • Labials:
    • PIE *ped/pod- ‘foot’ > Luvian pāta-, Sanskrit pad-, Greek pod-, Latin ped-, English foot, Armenian otn, Wenja padi ‘foot’
    • PIE *bel- ‘strong’ > Sanskrit bála- ‘strength’, Greek beltíōn ‘better’, Latin dē-bilis ‘lacking strength’, Old Church Slavonic bolĭjĭ ‘bigger’, Wenja bala ‘strong’
    • PIE *bʰer- ‘carry’ > Sanskrit bhárāmi ‘I carry’, Greek phérō, Latin ferō, Armenian berem, English bear, Old Church Slavonic berǫ ‘I take’, Old Irish ·beir, Wenja bara ‘carry’
  • Dentals:
    • PIE *ters- ‘be dry, thirst’ > Sanskrit tarṣáyati ‘makes thirsty’, Greek térsetai ‘becomes dry’, Latin terra ‘(dry) land’, English thirst, Albanian ter ‘I dry’, Wenja tarsa ‘become dry’
    • PIE *doru ‘(oak) tree’ > Hittite tāru ‘wood, tree’, Sanskrit dā́ru, Greek dóru, Old Irish daur, Old Church Slavonic drěvo, Albanian dru, English tree, Wenja daru ‘wood’
    • PIE *dʰeh₁- ‘put, do’ > Sanskrit dhā- ‘put, do’, Greek thē- ‘put’, Latin faciō, English do, Old Russian , Wenja daha ‘do, make, put’
  • Palatals:
    • PIE *ḱerd- ‘heart’ > Sanskrit śrad-, Old Church Slavonic srĭdĭce, Lithuanian širdìs, Hittite kard-, Greek kardíā, Latin cord- [kord], English heart, Wenja charda ‘heart’
    • PIE *ǵónu ‘knee’ > Sanskrit jā́nu, Avestan žnum, Hittite gēnuGreek gónu, Latin genū, Eng. knee, Wenja janwa ‘knee’
    • PIE *ǵʰeu- ‘pour’Sanskrit hūyáte ‘is poured’, Avestan zaotar- ‘priest’, Greek khe(w)ō ‘I pour’, Tocharian B kewu ‘I will pour’, German giessen, Wenja jawa ‘pour’
  • Velars:
    •  PIE *kes- ‘hair’ > Old Church Slavonic kosa ‘hair’, Lithuanian kasà ‘braid’, Hittite kiss-, Greek késkeon, Old English heord ‘hair’, Wenja kasa ‘braid, weave’
    • PIE *gras- ‘grass’ > Sanskrit grásate ‘eats’, Greek grástis ‘grass’, Latin grāmen ‘grass’, Wenja grasti ‘straw’
    • PIE *gʰrebʰ(hᵪ)- ‘grab’ > Sanskrit /ghrabh-/, Av. grab-, OCS grabiti, Eng. grab, Wenja grabasha ‘grab, catch’
  • Labiovelars:
    • PIE *kʷis ‘who’ Sanskrit kás ‘who’, Old Church Slavonic kŭ-to ‘who, Lithuanian kàs, Hittite kuis ([kwis]), Latin quis ([kwis]), Old English hwæt, Wenja kway ‘who, what’
    • PIE *gʷen- ‘woman’ > Sanskrit jáni-, Old Church Slavonic žena, Old Prussian genna, Hittite kuinnas ([kwinnas])Greek gunḗ, English queen, Wenja gwani ‘woman’
    • PIE *gʷʰen- ‘kill’ > Sanskrit hánti ‘slays’, Avestan jaiṇti, Old Church Slavonic ženǫ ‘I hunt’, Hittite kuenzi ([kwentsi]) ‘slays’, Greek -phonos ‘slayer’, Latin dē-fen-dit, English bane, Wenja gwana ‘kill’

If you’ve made it this far and have looked closely at the PIE & Wenja examples, you’ll note two basic changes in the Wenja stop system.

  1. Voiced aspirates are pronounced as normal voiced stops in Wenja: *bʰ, dʰ, ǵʰ, gʰ, gʷʰ > b, d, j, g, gw, respectively
  2. Palatal stops are pronounced as (alveopalatal) affricates in Wenja: *ḱ, ǵ, ǵ > ch, j, j, respectively. Recall that ch  = < ch > (cheese) & j = < j > (juice).

Though there are some modifications here and there (we’ll get to those), it’s pretty much that simple! This leaves us with the following stop inventory for Wenja:

Voiceless Voiced
Bilabial padi bala
Alveolar tarsa daha
Palatal (Alveopalatal) charda jawa
Velar kasa grabash
Labiovelar kway gwana

Next time we’ll talk about the fricatives – the hissy sounds – of Wenja: s, z, h, sh, and f.

Welcome back!

Having examined the stops of PIE & Wenja, we can now turn to the fricatives. Fricatives are noisy sounds, characterized by significant (but partial) obstruction within the vocal tract. In English, we have nine fricatives (in case you’re wondering, that’s a lot!) — they can be made with the lips & teeth together (labiodental), with the tongue in between the teeth ([inter]dental), just behind the top front teeth (alveolar), retracted slightly behind that (alveopalatal), or in the throat (glottal). Note the voicing distinction found in the stops is also present for all the fricatives except for < h >.

Voiceless Voiced
Labiodental f v
Interdental θ ð
Alveolar s z
Alveopalatal ʃ ʒ
Glottal h

The sounds < f >, < v >, < s >, < z >, and < h> are pretty self-explanatory — they’re the sounds at the beginning of the words fishvansitzoo, and hi, respectively. But what about those remaining, funny-looking characters? The symbol < θ > =  < th >, as in thick, < ð > = < th > as in then, < ʃ > = < sh > as in shoot, and < ʒ > = < j > as in judge.

And how about PIE?  While the proto-language had fifteen different types of stops, it probably only utilized four different types of fricatives.  They were:

Voiceless Voiced
Dental s [z]
Uvular χ (h₂) ʁʷ (h₃)
Glottal h (h₁)

We’ll discuss each of these in turn.

The fricative *s was likely a dental sound, more like the Spanish s than the English one. We find this sound all over the place in PIE, for instance in the widespread root ‘to sit’. PIE *sed- ‘sit’ > Ved. sáda ‘sit!’, Lat. sedēre, Eng. sit, OCS sěděti, Gk. hézomai, Arm. hecanim, Wenja sada ‘sit’.

While < z > is a full-fledged sound in English (note the pair sit ~ zit), it was not in PIE. In linguistics we would call *z an allophone of the phoneme *s. By this we mean that PIE speakers didn’t hear *z as a different sound from *s, despite their difference in pronunciation. In fact, the only time we can reconstruct *z is when *s was situated in front of a voiced stop (*d, *gʰ, etc.).  To give you an example, the *e vowel in *sed- ‘sit’ was sometimes deleted to produce *sd-, which was automatically pronounced as *-zd-. This famously explains the source of PIE *ni-zd-ó- ‘nest’, literally the ‘place (for a bird) to sit down’, continued by Sanskrit nīḍás, Latin nīdus, Old Church Slavonic gnězdo, English nest, Wenja nizda ‘nest, lair’. As for the element of *nizdó-ni ‘down’, if you watch Brenna’s Winja Warshta: Brina Winja dachaya, you’ll hear her give the command U ni sada! “Sit down!” The basic word for ‘down’ in both Wenja & PIE is ni.

Just like PIE, < z > really isn’t used in Wenja, except when it’s before voiced stops in words such as mazga ‘to descend; marrow, semen’ or in borrowed words (Izila < Iz. His-hílax).

The other three fricatives of PIE, *h1,* h2, *h3, are known as the laryngeals. These were all fricatives produced in the back of the throat, which were largely eliminated / altered beyond recognition in the daughter languages.

Here’s the funny thing about the laryngeals. While they were technically consonants in PIE, they are primarily continued as vowels in the Indo-European languages.  So if they’re usually vowels, why do we think they were consonants? This is largely due to the Anatolian languages, such as Hittite. Let’s look at some examples:

  1. *h₁es- ‘be’ > Hittite ēszi ‘is’, Sanskrit asti, Greek esti, Latin est, English is, Wenja hasa ‘be (formal), exist’
  2. *h2ent- ‘face’ > Hittite ḫanti ‘in the face of’, Sanskrit ánti ‘before’, Latin ante, Greek antí, English end, Wenja shantiyi ‘near’
  3. *h3er- ‘large bird’ > Hittite ḫāraš ‘eagle’, Greek órnis ‘bird’; Gothic ara, Old Irish irar, Old Church Slavonic orĭlĭ ‘eagle’, Wenja faran ‘eagle’

You’ll note that in the words above both *h2 and *h3 are continued as < ḫ > in Hittite, a sound which was either a velar or pharyngeal fricative.  For more on the laryngeals (and PIE phonology) in general, I recommend that you read through a recent paper of mine, posted here.

So why do the laryngeals become vowels in the non-Anatolian languages? Well, often laryngeals were situated in difficult-to-pronounce consonant sequences, such as *ph2ter- ‘father’. They ‘vocalized‘, which really means that they inserted a short vowel (schwa, the *uh* sound in among) next to it in order to make the sequence pronounceable.

  1. *dhh1s- ‘sacred, religious’ → *dhəh1s- > Gk. thés-phatos ‘decreed by god’, Lat. fānum ‘temple’ (< *fasno-), Skt. dhíṣṇya- ‘devout’, HLuv. tasan-za ‘votive stele’, Wenja dahisna ‘temple’
  2. *sth2-to- ‘standing, made to stand’ → *stəh2-to- > Gk. statós, Ved. sthitá-, Lat. status, ON staðr ‘obstinate, restive (of horses)’, Wenja tashta ‘stand, pedestal’
  3. *dh3-ti- ‘gift’ → *dəh3-ti- > Gk. dósis, Ved. díti-, Lat. datiō, Wenja dafti ‘(mutual) exchange’

You can see that Wenja does pretty much the same thing as PIE — it inserts a vowel next to the laryngeal to make the sequence easier to say.  While PIE used schwa, Wenja uses either < i > or < a >, which depends on other factors we can’t get into here.

And like Hittite, those consonant sounds haven’t gone anywhere, though two of them have shifted in pronunciation. You’ve probably picked up on how the three laryngeals change into Wenja:

  • *h₁ > h   (no change!)
  • *h₂ > sh
  • *h₃ > f

While the second & third laryngeals become < sh > and < f > consistently throughout Wenja, you’ll often see the first laryngeal changing to < sh > in certain contexts, namely before a consonant or at the end of a word.

  • PIE *wih₁ró- ‘hero’ > Sanskrit vīra- ‘hero’, Latin vir ‘man’, English were(wolf), Wenja wishra ‘hero; the one’
  • PIE *d(e)h₁só- ‘god’ > Greek theós, Armenian dik’, Wenja dashka ‘god’

You’ll note that in the second example, *deh₁só- ‘god’, there’s an additional change of < s > to < k >, which is something we’ll discuss in a later post on consonant sequences.

So to wrap things up, here is the fricative inventory of Wenja:

Labiodental fmaygan ‘piss man’
Alveolar sada ‘sit’
Alveopalatal shazda ‘branch’
hatra ‘food’
Smarkaka, salwa!  Having looked at the realization of PIE stops & fricatives in Wenja, we can now turn our attention to the resonants.  Resonants, as their name implies, are relativity loud (in linguistics, we use the term sonorous) sounds, ones which are made with very little obstruction of airflow. Phonetically & phonologically, they have much in common with vowels, which will be the focus of our next Winjas Surka post.

There are six resonants in PIE & Wenja.  Each is present in English, with one crucial difference.  The < r > of both PIE & Wenja is trilled, not approximant, as we here in the stereotypical “American” r.  You can hear the correct < r > in a whole slew of commercials for Ruffles potato chips. (Note too that the PIE < r > was likely dental, not alveolar)

  • < r > (voiced alveolar trill)

PIE *prō ‘forward’ > Hitt. p(a)rā ‘forth’, Ved. prá, Av. fra-, Gk. pró, Lat. prō ‘in front of’, Eng. fro, OCS pro- ‘through’, Lith. prã ‘past’, Wenja pra ‘ahead, forth’

  • < l > (voiced alveolar lateral approximant)

PIE *lewk- ‘light’ > Hitt. lukke- ‘kindle’, Ved. rócate ‘shines’, Av. raocaiieti ‘lights up’, Gk. leukós ‘bright’, Lat. lūc- ‘light’, OIr. luchair ‘a shining’, Arm. loys ‘light’, Eng. light, TA/B luk ‘to shine’, OCS luča ‘beam of light’, Wenja lawka- ‘bright’, lawkari ‘firefly’, lawkisna ‘glowing’, lawkas ‘light, color’, lawkaya ‘shine, light (transitive); kindle’, lawkwal ‘white wolf’

  • < m > (voiced bilabial nasal)

PIE *men- ‘think’ > Ved. mánas- ‘mind’, Av. manah- ‘mind’, Gk. ménos ‘mental energy’, Lat. ment- ‘mind’, OIr. do-moiniur ‘I think’, Arm. i-manam ‘I understand’, Eng. mind, OCS mĭnjǫ ‘I believe’, Lith. menù ‘I think’, Wenja manas ‘plan, strategy’, manaya ‘warn’, mani ‘think; rage, be angry’

  • < n > (voiced alveolar nasal)

PIE *ne ‘not’ > Hitt. na-tta ‘not’, Ved. , Av. na, Lat. ne-, OIr. , OEng. ne, OCS ne, Lith. , Wenja nay ‘no’, na ‘not’, nakwayda ‘never’, etc.

  • < w > (voiced labiovelar glide)

PIE *wh– ‘to lead, convey (in a vehicle)’ >  HLuv. waza- ‘drive’, Ved. váhati ‘leads, brings’, Av. vazaiti ‘leads, brings’, Gk. ekhetō ‘let him convey’, Lat. uehere ‘to convey’, OIr. fén ‘wagon’ (< *weǵh-no-), OCS vezǫ ‘I convey’Middle Dutch wagen ‘wagon’ ( > English), Wenja waja ‘drive; ride (a bear, sabertooth)’

  • < y > (voiced palatal glide)

PIE *yugom ‘a yoke’ > Hitt. iukan ([jugan]), Ved. yugám, Gk. zugón, Lat. iugum, Welsh iau, Lith. jùngas (with secondary -n-), Eng. yoke, Wenja yawga ‘to yoke, join’ 

In PIE, that’s not the end of the story for resonants. In fact, each of these sounds, under certain conditions (to learn more than you could ever want, see :D) are realized as “vowels” in that they act as the peak of their syllable. For < r, l, m, n > this is indicated by a little circle under the consonants in question, for < w, y > they are re-written as < u > and < i >, respectively.

  • < r̥ >

PIE *mr̥tos ‘dead’ > Ved. mr̥tá-, Av. mǝrǝta-, Gk. brotós (< *mrotós) ‘mortal’, Lat. Morta ‘goddess of death’, Arm. mard ‘man’, Eng. murd-er, Old Russ. mĭrtvŭ ‘dead’, Lith. mirtìs ‘death’, Wenja marti ‘death’, marwa ‘dead’

  • < l̥ >

PIE *wl̥kwos ‘wolf’ > Hitt. walkuwa- ‘monster’, Ved. vr̥ kás, Av. vǝhrka-, OCS vliku, Lith. vilkas, Wenja wal(kwa) ‘wolf(pack)’

  • < m̥ >

PIE *deḱm̥ ‘10’ > Ved. daśa, Av. dasa, Gk. déka, Lat. decem, OCS desȩ-tĭ, Lith. dẽšimt, Wenja dacham ’10’

  • < n̥ >

PIE *n̥- ‘un-‘ > Ved. a(n)-, Gk. a(n)-, Lat. in-, OIr. an-, Eng. un-, Wenja an-fraji ‘distracted’, an-sharta ‘unharmed’, an-shurdwa ‘wrong, incorrect’

  • < u >

PIE *nu ‘now’ > Greek nun, Latin nunc, Sanskrit nu, Wenja nu ‘now’

  • < i >

PIE *n‘down’ > Sanskrit ni ‘down’, ni-taram ‘downward’, Greek nei-othen, Old Church Slavonic ni-zŭ ‘low down’, English ne-therWenja ni ‘down’

If you look closely at the Wenja forms above, Wenja does not have these reduced resonants — rather, with very few exceptions (there are more cases with i & u), there is always a vowel next to resonant in question.  In Indo-European terminology, we would say that Wenja is pre-ablaut. For the most part, no reductions have happened yet.  This is one of the “proto-PIE” features we refer to in our past interviews.

Having taken a wonderful vacation after the end of the semester, we can now return to the blog. It’s been a while since we discussed the derivation of Wenja from PIE and today I’d like to focus on a topic that is near and dear to my heart — consonant clusters. A consonant cluster is a sequence of two or more consonants in a row.  Some languages, such as Hawaiian, do not allow any such sequences.  Think of the Hawaiian words that you know (Honolulu, Maui, Hawai’i, etc.). Each syllable is either a simple vowel (V) or a consonant plus vowel (CV).

English, on the other hand, allows for a number of different types of syllables, many with very complex consonant clusters.

  1. V = “a”
  2. CV = “ray”
  3. CCV = “pray”
  4. CCCV = “spray”
  5. VC = “(h)eck”
  6. VCC = “ex”
  7. VCCC = “(s)ects”
  8. CVCCCC = “texts” [teksts]
So you can see that the largest possible syllable in English may be of the shape “CCCVCCCC” — a hypothetical “sprexts” if you will.
As for as consonant clusters are concerned, Proto-Indo-European was much closer to English than Hawaiian. It permitted syllables of the following shapes:
  1. V = *n̥ ‘un-‘
  2. CV = *de ‘towards’, *só ‘he’, *h₂a (first person singular within certain verb paradigms)
  3. CCVC = *pleh₁- ‘fill’
  4. CCCVC = h₂stḗr ‘star’
  5. CVCC = gʷénh₂ ‘woman’, wṓkʷs ‘voice’, sáls ‘salt’
  6. CCVCCC = h₂wḗḱst ‘carried’, mlewh₂t ‘spoke’
So the largest word that you have in PIE is of the shape CCCVCCC, a hypothetical *spreḱst if you will. English is only slightly more tolerant in its consonant clusters.
While Wenja does allow for consonant clusters, it is much more restrictive than English & PIE.
It allows for:
  1. V = “u” (imperative)
  2. VC = “aysh” (marker of posssibility, ‘maybe’), “an” (‘inside, in’)
  3. CV = “ku” (question), “hu” (perfective marker), “ba” (marker of surprise)
  4. CCV = “pra” (‘forth, earlier, in the morning’)
  5. CVC = “san” (‘without; no’), “dus” (‘bad’), “pas” (‘behind, later, afterwards’), “tam” (‘even’)
  6. CVCC = “bars” (‘barley’),
  7. CCVC = “smar.kaka” (‘hello’), “brash.tar” (‘brother’), “dwis” (‘2 times; again’)
  8. CCVCC = “swansh” (‘play music!’ [command])
You’ll note that there are no consonant clusters in Wenja like “spit” or “pits”, where an “s” precedes a stop at the beginning of a syllable (spit) or follows a stop at the end of a syllable (pits). In this sense, Wenja strictly prohibits violations of the Sonority Sequencing Principle, which demands that the sonority (i.e., perceptibility) of a syllable rise the closer one gets to the vowel.
And why, you might ask did we make this decision?  Two reasons:
  1. Recall that Wenja was designed to be “Proto-PIE”, a stage of the language before all of the fancy inflections were created within PIE.  (Much more on this in a future blog post)  There are no word endings per se, rather there are “clitics” that gravitate towards words to indicate additional grammatical information within the sentence.  In PIE the ending *-s marked either the nominative singular (the nominative marks the subject of the sentence) or the genitive singular (the genitive marks the possessive form, with other uses); cf. *h₃rḗḱs ‘king (nominative singular)’ and nékʷts ‘at night’ (genitive singuar).  With the -s directly attached onto the roots ‘king’ and ‘night’, it creates an even more complex consonant cluster.  No such situation exists in Wenja.
  2. As for the syllable initial “s” + stop clusters, there’s a really weird phenomenon in PIE called “s-mobile“, where an “s” may or may not appear at the beginning of a root.  A famous example is the verb *speḱ- ‘to see’, which shows up in English as spy, in Latin as spec- (seen in English spec-tacle), and Greek skep- (as in English sceptical). However, in Sanskrit the verb is paś- WITHOUT an s.  We really don’t know what s-mobile was, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that at some point it was a prefix of some sort, hence the variation. For this reason, our team assumed that in proto-PIE there were no roots with an original “s”, hence Wenja pacha ‘see’.
In our next blog post, we’ll wrap up our discussion of sounds by taking a look at vowels in PIE & Wenja. Tu sakwan prasti!
In our final post about the creation of the Wenja sound system, we’ll look at perhaps the simplest component : the vowels.
It turns out that the vowels of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) were pretty straightforward, too. Unlike English & French which have close twenty vowels, there were only a handful of them in PIE.
Three of the vowels of PIE, *e, *a, and *o, merge to Wenja a, as you can see in the following words:
  • *e : *h1es ‘is’ > Hitt. ēšzi, Ved. ásti, Gk. estí, Lat. est, OCS jestŭWenja hasa ‘is’
  • *a *sal- ‘salt’ > Ved. sal-ilá- ‘salty’, Gk. hál-, Lat. sal-, Arm. , OIr. salannWenja sal(i) ‘salt’
  • *o : *gwow– ‘cow’ > Lyc. wawa-, Skt. gáv-, Gk. bó(w)es ‘cows’, Lat. bouēs, Arm. kov, OCS gov-ęždĭ ‘bovine’, Wenja gwaw(i) ‘cow’
Why is this? Well, to a large extent the vowels *e and *o would alternate with each other in the same word, with *e used in some situations and *o in others. This is a process called ablaut. We even find remnants of this within English.
  1. sit ~ sat         < PIE *sed- ~ *sod-, Wenja sada
  2. sing ~ sang   < PIE *sengwh- ~ *songwh-Wenja sangwa
  3. bind ~ band  < PIE *bhendh- ~ *bhondh-Wenja banda
The left form in each pair is the present tense of the verb, with the right one being either the past tense or a noun form. All of this is easily explainable by reconstructing the vowel *e as the vowel of the present tense, with *o being used in the past and nouns. (Note: this is a huge oversimplification, but is mostly true.)
A number of Indo-Europeanists believe that while the vowels *e and *o participated in ablaut alternations in late PIE, in proto-PIE (what Wenja was designed to be, in part) this alternation did not yet exist. This may sound like a stretch, but there are lots of examples of vowel alternations being created in the history of language from all over the world.
We don’t have to go far — check out some more recent examples of vowel alternations in English:
  1. keep ~ kept < *keept — the “eh” vowel was historically the same vowel as the < ee > one (before the Great Vowel Shift)
  2. man ~ men < *maniz — the “eh” vowel in men used to be the same as the < a > one (before Germanic Umlaut occurred)
In PIE there were other vowels as well, such as the high vowels *i & *u :
  • *i *mizdho- ‘reward’ > Av. mižda-, Gk. misthós, Goth. mizdo, OCS mĭzda, Wenja mizda
  • *u *nu ‘now’ > Sanskrit nu, Latin nunc, English now, Wenja nu ‘now, and’
These vowels remained as such in Wenja, resulting in a three-vowel inventory within Wenja. Such inventories are quite common among the languages of the world, found in languages like Arabic.

There were also long vowels in PIE, vowels that were twice as long as short ones. In English we don’t really make a distinction between the two, at least not in making contrasts between different words. But you’ll note the difference in vowel length in a pair of words such as bet ~ bed, where the < e > vowel is roughly twice as long in bed. Because the actors were primarily monolingual English speakers, the team decided to get rid of vowel length all together.
  •  : *h3rḗĝ-s ‘king’ >  Latin rēx, Old Irish , Wenja fraji (not fraaji)
  • *ā : *nās- ‘nose’ > Latin nasus, English nose, Wenja nas (not naas)
  •  : *swesōr ‘sister’ > Latin sorōr, Sanskrit svasAr, English sister, Wenja swasar (not swaasar)
And finally, there were the diphthongs in PIE. Diphthongs are complex vowels that consist of two vowel-like elements squished together. In English we have sounds like < i > (as in “I” and “sky”), < o > (as in “no” and “toe”), and < ow > (as in “cow” and “bout”) which begin with a vowel that transitions to another vowel. In PIE there were six diphthongs altogether (excluding long diphthongs). And since *e, *a, and *o all became a in Wenja, these six diphthongs collapsed together to two : ay & aw.
Diphthongs: *e, *a, *o + *u & *i
  • *ei : *ḱei- ‘lie down’ > Skt. śaye ‘lies’, Gk. keĩmai ‘I lie’, Wenja chaya ‘lie down’
  • *ai : *kaikos ‘blind’ > Lat. caecus, Goth. haihs ‘one-eyed’, Wenja kayka ‘one-eyed’
  • *oi : *mei- ‘exchange’ > OLat. moenus ‘duty, tribute, payment’, Wenja maya ‘trade, exchange, replace’
  • *eu : *sreumn̥   ‘river’ > Gk. rheũma, English stream, Wenja shrawman ‘river’
  • *au : *h₂sauso- ‘dry’ > Gk. haũos, Lith. saũsas, English searWenja shisawsa ‘dry’
  • *ou : *mouro‘idiot’ > Gk. mōró-, Sanskrit mūrá-Wenja mawra ‘stupid, foolish; idiot’
Lastly, let’s talk about the rhythm of the language. Many people have noticed Wenja’s sharp, staccato rhythm, which directly contrasts with the sing-songy nature of Izila. We believe that PIE was exactly like Izila; as a pitch-accented language, its speakers differentiated stressed syllables through pitch, not loudness. The stress moves back and forth in both PIE & Izila, as any syllable could be stressed.
Not so in Wenja. Using linguistics terminology, Wenja’s rhythm is trochaic, with its trochees assigned at the left side of the word. This means that in a word with two syllables, the stress will fall on the first syllable : bada ‘dig’ = [BA da].  In a word of four syllables, the stress will fall on the first and third syllables, with the stress being strongest on the first syllable: bada-bada ‘keep on digging’ [BA da BA da].
This results in a language with a very “caveman” rhythm. But this wasn’t created out of whole cloth. In fact, there’s a theory by Paul Kiparsky whereby the “default” accent is assigned to the leftmost syllable of the word, all things being equal. It’s called the “Basic Accentation Principle” (the BAP for short), and is becoming increasingly more popular within the field. I personally am a fan of it. It’s very heady stuff, but if you’re interested in reading about it more, check out this paper of Kiparsky’s.
Well, that’s it for sounds.  Next up: verbs!

The Grammar of Wenja

Preface: The Wenja People

Wenja is an Indo-European language spoken by a group of hunter-gatherers in the world of Oros. The Wenja are currently under attack by two other neighboring factions, the Udam and the Izila.  The Udam are a dying race of Neanderthals, and they do anything they can to survive. This often involves eating the Wenja.  The Izila are a technologically advanced tribe of humans to the south, who try to abduct the Wenja for cheap slave labor.

Brief Overview of Language

Wenja is a language which marks its verbs in different ways depending on the subject in question. When the subject is an agent (a ‘doer’) of an active verb (see below), Wenja speakers place endings on the verb, while non-agents and inactive verbs put these endings on a special word at the beginning of the sentence. Word order is strictly SOV : subject + object + verb. Nouns may be classified as animate and inanimate, and only animate nouns may trigger endings on the verb.


The Wenja classify their nouns and pronouns (nominals) as either active or inactive. Active nominals trigger endings on the verb, while inactive nominals trigger endings on the sentence-initial “special word” chain (see very bottom). Note that inactive nominals can also be marked through stand-alone versions of the pronouns (see next section), if there is no sentence-initial special word.

Active nominals are:

  • agents of transitive verbs: He eats birds.
  • agents of active intransitive verbs: He

Inactive nominals are:

  • subjects of nominal predication: He is sad; He is a hunter.
  • subjects of inactive intransitive verbs: He falls (unintentionally).
  • objects of transitive verbs: He eats

For Wenja, intentionality of the subject is what separates verbs from being treated as active vs. inactive. So, the subject of the verb ‘fall’ can either be treated in either way, depending on whether the fall was intentional or not:

  • I fell (by accident): nu-m
  • I fell (intentionally): nu pata-m.

Verb endings are as follows:

sing plur
1 -m -mas
2 -ta -tan
3 ø (-sa for emphasis) -(a)rsh


“He eats an apple”

Nu-ø                           mara                           hada-ø      apple                           eat-3sg

“He hits me”

Nu-m kayda-ø

(or I am hit)

“You hit me”

Nu-m kayda-ta

“I hit him”

Nu-ø kayda-m

The ending -ra marks reflexive and is used when the agent and object are the same. With reflexives there is no marking on the verb (that is, these are treated more like inactive constructions than active ones).

“I hit myself”

Nu-mra kayda-ø

“He falls”

Nu-ø pata

“I fall”

Nu-m pata

Stressed Pronouns

The endings above also have a stand-alone version, which can be used for inactive nominals when there is no sentence-initial special word. This happens regularly for:

  • nominal / adjectival predicates (“We are warriors.” / “We are strong.”)

The stressed pronouns can also be used for:

  • intransitive subjects    (“We are hurt.”)
  • direct objects    (“The Izila hurt us.”)

Using the stressed version of the pronouns can also convey additional emphasis/contrast.

The stressed versions of the pronouns are as follows:

sing plur
1 mu mas
2 ta tan
3 sa say

Nominal predication:

Mu Wenja.

“I (am) Wenja.”

Say shnar-hadan.

“They (are) cannibals.”

Mas lasiwa.

“We (are) weak.”

Intransitive subjects:

Mu pada.

“I fall (unintentionally).”

Direct objects:

Mu kayda.

He hits me.

Mas kayda.

He hits us.

Animate vs. Inanimate Nouns and Agreement

Wenja speakers view the things within their world as either living (animate) or non-living (inanimate). For the Wenja, anything animate has a soul.  Animate nouns are people, gods, and animals. Inanimate nouns are objects, such as rocks, weapons, and food.

Recall that the Wenja only use endings on their verbs when the subject is animate. It is for this reason that there is no ending on the verb in the following sentence:

The apples are killing me

Nu-m mara-ø gwan-ø

[the apple gets ø marking even though it’s the agent, because it’s inanimate.]

Contrast this with a plural animate noun, which triggers the ending -rsh on the verb:

The mammoths are killing me

Nu-m mamaf gwana-rsh

Possessive Pronouns

The possessives are all unstressed words added to the very beginning of what it describes.

sing plur
mi- ‘my’ mash- / masi- ‘our’
ti- ‘our’ tay- / tani- ‘y’all’s’
si- ‘his; her; its’ arsh- / arsi- ‘their’

For the singular forms and long plural forms, if the host word begins in a vowel, insert a < y >.  Thus, /anna/ ‘mother’ → miy-anna ‘my mother’.

The long plural forms are only used with prepositions; see the next section for more.


While English places its prepositions before the noun or pronoun it modifies (“in Wenja”, “before Roshani”), Wenja places their prepositions after (Wenjasu “Wenja in”, Roshani parshay “before Roshani”). The basic prepositions of Wenja are as follows:

  • “of, possession” :                               -s
  • “to, for” :                                             -i/-y (-i after consonant, -y after vowel)
  • “in, on, at” :                                         su
  • “with” :                                                ha
  • “from, by, than (comparison)” :         bi
  • “towards”, “into”, “onto” :                  m

In a string of nouns, these prepositions need only be used once:

And sniffing you come … for what? (for) food? (for) peace?

nu    salka    gwam-ta…    kway-i?     hatra-(y)? kwayta-(y)?

Postpositions only attach to the main noun that they modify:

with one spear

sam gwaru-ha

NOT    sam-ha gwaru-ha

When using personal pronouns as the object of the preposition, use the possessive form. The plural form will make use of the “long” form.

  • tani-s ‘of y’all, y’all’s’
  • mi-yi ‘to, for me’
  • si-su ‘on him/her/it’
  • arsi-ha ‘with them’
  • ti-bi ‘from you’
  • masi-m ‘towards, into, onto us’

Nominal Derivation

Like English, Wenja uses certain suffixes to create new nouns. These include:

1.     Agent/Participle: add -n- to the verb stem.

  • fumaygan ‘pisser; piss man; pissing’
  • lajan ‘gatherer; gathering’
  • sajan ‘winner; winning’
  • awan ‘carer; caring’

2.   Patient: add -ta- to the verb stem.

  • fumayta ‘pissed, pissee [thing pissed on]’
  • lashta ‘gathered; gatheree [thing gathered]’
  • sashta ‘winnee [thing won]; won’
  • awta ‘caree [thing cared for]; cared’

3.   Instrument: add -tar to the verb stem.

  • lajatar/lashtar ‘tool of gathering; scythe’
  • sajatar/sashtar  ‘tool of winning; battle-tool’
  • awtar ‘tool of caring; sponge’

4.   Action: add -man to the verb stem.

  • lajaman/lashman ‘gathering’,
  • sajaman/sashman  ‘winning’,
  • awman ‘caring’

5.    Abstract: add. -ti to the verb stem.

  • lajati/lashti ‘idea of gathering’,
  • sajati/sashti ‘idea of winning’
  • awti ‘idea of caring’

More on Verbs

Wenja has two tenses: past and non-past. Non-past is unmarked, and can indicate the present as well as the future.

The past may be (but doesn’t have to be) marked by adding unaccented hu– before the verb root.

“The apple is killing me.”

Nu-m mara-ø gwan-ø

“The apple killed me.”

Nu-m mara-ø hu-gwan-ø

Repetition (iterativity) is marked by copying the first syllable of the verb. It works with both the past and the non-past:

“The apple keeps killing me (over and over).”

Nu-m mara-ø gwa-gwan-ø

“The apple killed me repeatedly (the apple really killed me).”

Nu-m mara-ø hugwa-gwan-ø

When copying the first syllable of past verbs, Wenja can also express completion and complete affectedness of the object (the apples really killed me).

In a sequence of narrated events, the past marker hu– is not indicated after the first clause.

“I ate an apple, and it killed me.”

Mara hu-hada-m, tu-m gwan-ø


The verbal stem also works as an infinitive.

“to kill beasts”

gwar gwan(a)

When there is a main verb + an infinitive, the main verb is always sentence-final.

“I need to kill beasts.”

gwar gwan dawsa-m

Note that psych verbs like “need”, “want”, etc. are construed as active verbs, and so the ending is attached on the verb, instead of the sentence-initial special word / stand-alone pronoun.

Constructions like “teach” (dachay(a)-) take two objects, same word order as above:

“Mother teaches me [to find healing herbs].”

“Mu mashtar [yakabush wayda] dachay.”

Verbal Valency


As in English, Wenja uses a specific word to indicate the causative, the construction which means “to make do something”.  Wenja uses the infinitive + daha ‘do, put’. This construction can make causatives to both transitive and intransitive base verbs. An alternative (and more archaic) suffix -ay- can also be added to roots to create causatives. Both formations are indicated below.

Intransitive base verbs

Nu-m shnar sasa daha. / Nu-m shnar sasay.

“The man made me sleep”

Nu shnar sasa daha-m. / Nu shnar sasayam.

“I made the man sleep.”

Transitive base verbs

Nu-m shnar mara hada daha. / Nu-m shnar mara hadayam.

“The man made me eat an apple.”

Nu shnar mara hada daha-m. / Nu shnar mara hadayam.

“I made the man eat an apple.”


In Wenja, a passive is not always necessary. When leaving out the underlying agent, (as in the second example), the sentence can equally mean “it killed me” or “I was killed”.

nu-m mara hu-gwan-ø

“The apple killed me.”

nu-m hu-gwan-ø

“It killed me./I was killed.”

However, if desired, a passive may be formed by indicating the demoted agent (the “by phrase”) with the Instrumental -ha.

nu-m mara-ha hu-gwan

“I was killed by the apple.”

(Of course, difference is more visible with other persons):

nu-m hu-gwan-ta

“You killed me.”

nu-m ti-ha hu-gwan

“I was killed by you

Sentence-Initial Special Word Chains

Many sentences in Wenja start with a special word chain, typically beginning with an adverb. These words not only help Wenja speakers connect their sentences (such as nu ‘now, yes’, tu ‘then, so’) but also indicate certain grammatical properties (such as ku, when asking questions, and aysh ‘could, should, would’).

  • nu (pre-vowel variant nw-): affirmative indeed, yes, now
  • na: negative no, not
  • ku (pre-vowel variant kw-): interrogative ???
  • (pre-vowel variant w-): imperative !!!
  • may: negative imperative don’t!!!!
  • tu (pre-vowel variant tw-): then (temporal sequence) so, then
  • ma: adversative but
  • ba: exclamative! whoa! hey!
  • ha: final (in order to) so that
  • aysh: subjunctive / optative could, should, would

In general, when no endings need to be place at the beginning of the sentence, these special adverbs can be omitted, unless they’re needed for the meaning.

To illustrate the function of these special words, note the following sentences:

I hit him (basic sentence).


Let me hit him! / May I hit him!

U kayda-m.

I should (could, would) hit him.

Aysh kayda-m.

Whoa, I hit him!

Ba kayda-m!

I hit him?

Ku kayda-m.

And then I hit him,

Tu kayda-m.

I didn’t hit him.

Na kayda-m.

May I not hit him!

May kayda-m.

Other Caveman Media (Guest Post by Dansurka)

Hello everyone! I’ve asked Dansurka, an avid fan of FCP and an extremely good Wenja speaker, to write a guest blog post for the site. He’s decided to discuss other forms of Caveman media. (Naturally) He’s most graciously included a translation after the Wenja, but see how much you can figure out!


Nu salwa Far Cry Primal hu-lijatan. Batari Ull-kwa marwa, tani-waycha palshna, salwa kurpashna hu-waydatan. Ma-nu kway? Kwar alya chawhan pacha magata?

U tawsatan! Aysh sakwim. Shaysman Puri (Quest for Fire) bagayam. Hay muvi 1981-bi, Ron Perlman-ha, Rae Dawn Chong-ha, alya-ha-kwa. Wakwasu, Ulam jinafmas. (Say Winja-way, ma-na pur daha magarsh.) Alya janhas, Wagabu (Say Udam-way) wayka, tu Ulam shlaka. Ulam Wagabu hal-halsh, ma pur Ulambi dafa. Na daha magarsh, tu jarshan tray wantar santaya, ha pur waydarsh. Jarshna muvi, ma ‘ti su.

“Ma”, aysh warhatan, “Na muvi walham. Layda (‘game’) walham. Aysh-kwa hay laydasu mamaf fraja magam, FCP-way, tu sa su-su!” Ta smara! U Mamaf: Chawgra (The Mammoth: A Cave Painting) paratan: hay layda Android-i iPhone-i-kwa. Hay-haywa lijan. Ya layda lijatan, sa chawgra-way. Hay gastiya “laydaka”-su, mashtar mamaf fraja. Si-chardu-bi hay, ha si-putila wayda.  Shancha-su, salway marirsh. Mamaf: Chawgra mana-manu, ma hafchu wakwas mamafs mi-charda hayay. Su-su.

Ma-nw-aysh warhatan, “Na muvi na shuta layda walham. Smay-smaya walham. Nu law-lawkas awam. Kw-aysh ‘kartun’ bagaytan?” Ta tawsayam! U Shawsas Krudis (Dawn of the Croods) pachatan. Wakwasu, Krudi, janhas chawhans, jinafmas. “Aaaaah!” nayminsu* chawha arsiyi. Krudi hasarsh:

“Eep”(Ip), yuwanka gwan.

“Grug” (Grag), shajan “Aaaaah!” nayminas, Ipis pashtar.

“Ugga” (Uga), Gragis chamyugi, Ipis mashtar.

“Sandy” (Sam-shidi), bargwa nawashna dugishtar.

“Thunk” (Bum-Bum), mawra brashtar.

“Gran” (Mash-mashtar), Ugas chishta mashtar.

*(Nayminas waydani, “Aaaaah!” supima warshta.)

Shawsas Krudis-i kwatur “sama” (“seasons”). Na parshwa sama su, ma ‘pa salwa jinafmas, sur buha. Kwaturta su-su. U Netflikisu waydatan.

“Ma,” aysh warhatan, “pal-palhu alya chawhan wakwas marsta!” Ta frashta! U kraybaman kacha dahatan, shuta-m Twitar-ha jawhatan (), ham sa shwadatan!

Here’s Dansurka’s translation:

“So you’ve played all of Far Cry Primal. Batari and Ull are dead, your village is full, you have found all the bracelets. But, now what? Where can you see other cavemen?

Be happy! I will help. I suggest “Quest for Fire”. This movie is from 1981, with Ron Perlman, Rae Dawn Chong and others. In the story, we meet the Ulam. (They’re like the Wenja, but they can’t make fire.) Another tribe, the Wagabu, attack, so the Ulam defend. The Ulam drive off the Wagabu, but they lose their fire. They can’t make it, so the elders send three hunters to find fire. An old movie, but still good.

“But”, maybe you say, “I don’t want a movie. I want a game. And if in this game, I can control a mammoth, like FCP, that would be great!” You’re in luck! Try “Mammoth: A Cave Painting” This is a game for Android and iPhone. One player only. This is like a cave painting you play. In this different little game, you control a mother mammoth. She goes from her tribe to find her child. In the end, everybody dies. Mammoth: A Cave Painting is very short, but the powerful story of the mammoth moved me. Very good.

But now you might say, “I don’t want a movie or a game. I want to laugh. And I like bright colors. Can you suggest a cartoon?” I’ll make you happy! Watch “Dawn of the Croods”. In the story, we meet The Croods, a family of cavemen. They have a cave in “Aaaah!” Valley*. The Croods are:

Eep, an adolescent girl,

Grug, leader of Aaaah! valley, Eep’s father.

Ugga, Grug’s wife, Eep’s mother.

Sandy, the violent infant daughter.

Thunk, the dumb brother.

Gran, Ugga’s sneaky mother.

*”Aaaah!” was the valley founder’s last words.

“Dawn of the Croods” has four seasons. The first season’s not good, but after we’ve met everyone, it improves. The fourth season is the best of them. You can find it on Netflix.

“But”, you could say. “You forgot so many caveman stories!” You’re right! You can leave a message below, or tweet at me, , to tell me about them!

New Site & New Paper!

Welcome to the new site! You’ll see that all of the old content from the Speaking Primal blogspot has been moved and has been / will be rearranged to make for easier access.

In addition to all of the posts on the languages of Far Cry Primal, I’ve also posted pdfs of all of my research (when legally permitted to do so) under the “Scholarship” tab and links to other conlang projects that I’ve completed and am working on under the “Language Creation” tab. 

I’m also super excited to be posting a new paper on the PIE stop system by Phil Barnett & me. It utilizes a type of research that I like to call “Experimental Indo-European”, where we use phonetic experiments to test different hypotheses about the PIE sound system. 


Wenja Language: shawi shawya-kwa

Smarkaka sakush, su-kwa Easter pas! Shajas dajris warshta dwa alya kamya Winja warshta : shawi shawya-kwa.

Hi friends, and happy belated Easter! Today’s words of the day are another two common Wenja words: ‘bird’ and ‘egg’.

You’ll see the word for ‘bird’ a lot in Oros.  Think back to the first scene where you meet Urki : Ku shawi warha?  U Urkiyi shwada kwati patashta! “Bird speaks?  Tell Urki how you fly!”  (Note the ku & u sentence starters!)

If you look closely at the word for ‘egg’, shawya, you’ll see that it’s basically identical to the word for ‘bird’.  This, of course, is not a coincidence.  An ‘egg’ is both literally and grammatically ‘that which comes from a bird’.

Both of these words have an impeccable Indo-European pedigree.  The word for ‘bird’, *h₂awi-, is the source of words like avi-ation and avi-ary (< Latin avis ‘bird’).  We also see this root in Sanskrit viḥ ‘bird’ as well as Greek aietós ‘eagle’.  English ‘egg’, from PIE *h₂owyom, is related to words like Latin ovum (think ovu-late, etc.), Greek ōón, and Old Church Slavonic aja.  If you’re wondering about the initial sh- in Wenja — PIE *h₂ (likely the Darth Vader sound, a voiceless pharyngeal or uvular fricative) regularly becomes sh in Wenja.

Tu sakwan prasti!

Wenja Grammar: hu-

Past, Present and Future

Here’s an answer to an email we got. If you have suggestions or questions, please let us know!

Wenja are very “present” and not usually concerned with the past or the future. This is also true of their grammar. Wenja has only one verbal tense. Past, present and future are implied from context and/or additional words like adverbs.

Hars gwanam. I kill the bear. / I am killing the bear.
Hars gwanam. I killed the bear.
Gashjas hars gwanam. I killed the bear yesterday.
Shayar hars gwanam. I will kill the bear tomorrow.

The past may be (but doesn’t have to be) marked by adding the perfective unaccented hu– prefix before the verb root. You might use this in ambiguous situations where it is not clear from context that it’s in the past, and where it’s important to indicate that the action has been completed: 

Hars hu-gwanam. I killed the bear.
(It’s over, it’s done with, we don’t need to worry about that bear anymore!)

This type of marker is called an aspectual prefix. It is added to the beginning of a verb to indicate how the action relates to time.

Wenja Language: wayka

Smarkaka, sakush! Frashta mashwar dajris warshtay.
 (Hi, friends! It’s time for the word of the day.)

Sa dajris warshta : wayka.

 Meaning “attack” or “ambush”, this is another very common word in Oros. Often from Udam yelling “U-sa wayka!” (Attack him!) as they try to smash your face in with a club.

 Source: PIE *weik ‘conquer’, continued by English vic-tory & con-vince, both from Latin vinco ‘conquer’. Also seen in Old Irish fíchid, Old Norse vega.

Originally posted to Twitter on March 3, 2016.