An introduction to Acranasian

Hi! It’s been a long time–very nearly a full two years–since I’ve last posted here. A lot has happened in the interceding time; I’ve been dealing with a lot of mental and physical illness, and I’ve been largely far too stressed to conlang seriously beyond the short composition of texts in South Eresian, but on the other hand, I’ve certainly matured as a conlanger and a linguist as I’ve progressed towards my linguistics bachelor’s degree. I’ve been learning Ojibwe for two years now, and some of the features of that have made their way into my own conlangs. I will, hopefully, be graduating at the end of December, and then I’ll be off to grad school (provided anyone accepts me!). Right now it is summer and I have loads of free time, so in lieu of the assorted things I ought to be doing, I’ve been conlanging pretty furiously over the last few weeks and finally have something to show for my work on Acranasian (South Eresian’s mother language). An overview of that is the topic of this post.

Acranasian was the language of the Acranasian civilization, which was based out of the city of Acránas (the endonym was Ak’ulānassu) and lasted from 1500 years ago until its collapse around 1100 years ago. It is an Eastern Noruic language of the Noro-Eresian family. This post will cover the phonology and grammar of Classical Acranasian in particular, and give an idea of the changes that occurred between Early Acranasian (~1500-1400 ya), Classical Acranasian (1400~1150 ya) and Late Acranasian (1150~1100 ya).



 NASAL  m  n  ŋ  ŋʷ
 STOP  p pʼ  t tʼ  k kʼ  kʷ kʷʼ  q qʼ  qʷ qʷʼ  ʔ
 AFFRICATE  t͡s t͡sʼ
 LAT. AFFRICATE  t͡ɬ t͡ɬʼ
 FRICATIVE  ɸ ɸː  s sː  x xː  xʷ xʷː  χ χː  χʷ χʷː

/ŋ ŋʷ/ would more accurately be described as dorsal than velar, since they assimilate to uvular as well as velar consonants (whereas the other nasals, until the Late period, did not).

Someone might suggest that such a large set of dorsal fricatives would perhaps not be particularly diachronically stable, and they would be correct; the system of fricatives has collapsed by South Eresian, which has the very modest fricative inventory of /s ʃ x/.


/a i u a: i: u: ai au/


/m n ŋ ŋʷ/ <m n ŋ ŋw>
/p pʼ t tʼ k kʼ kʷ kʷʼ q qʼ qʷ qʷʼ ʔ/ <p p’ t t’ k k’ kw kw’ q q’ qw qw’ ‘>
/t͡s t͡sʼ t͡ɬ t͡ɬʼ/ <c c’ ƛ ƛ’>
/ɸ ɸː s sː x xː xʷ xʷː χ χː χʷ χʷː/ <f ff s ss h hh hw hhw x xx xw xxw>
/ɬ ɬː l/ <ł łł l>

/a i u a: i: u: ai au/ <a i u ā ī ū ai au> (plus acutes for stress)


The syllable structure of the language is (C)V(S), where C stands for consonant, V for vowel and S for sonorant (any of the nasals or /l/). Geminates are very much capable of being word-initial, as in ssailā́ŋka /sːaiˈlaːŋka/ “blood.”

There are no sequences of sonorant+fricative.

Content morphemes tend to have one, and no more than one, lexical stress, although they don’t always. Function morphemes frequently occur completely unstressed.


Although Acranasian is an isolating language and as such largely lacks inflectional morphophonology, some of the many derivational processes that occur do cause some morphophonological processes to take place.

Morpheme-final fricatives delete in all positions except prevocalically and cause following obstruents to become fortis (stops become ejective, fricatives become geminate): Ał-sułłā́łu “the star god(s),” from the deity honorific ał- plus sułłā́łu ‘star’ is pronounced [ɐsːʊˈɬːaːɬʊ].

Final sonorants cause (a different kind of) fortition on following fricatives: /ɸ ɸː s sː x xː xʷ xʷː χ χː χʷ χʷː/ become [p p ts ts k k kʷ kʷ q q qʷ qʷ] respectively. The only exception to this is clusters of /l/ plus a following lateral fricative /ɬ ɬː/, which both just become [ɬː]

The unstressed vowel /a/ deletes preceding any long vowels: thus the sequence /ai:/ just becomes [i:].

There is a process in the language wherein grammatical phrases that do not have any lexically-marked stress become stressed on their initial syllable. This will show up at least once in the grammar section below, and is also responsible for a number of disparate South Eresian etymologies: óxta ‘house,’ for instance, is from the Acranasian uhhi ta ‘we dwell there,’ which became initially stressed (úhhi ta) because the phrase has no lexical stress.


The Early Acranasian phase had, rather than ejectives, gemination and preglottalization in free variation with each other. They had become full ejectives by Classical Acranasian.

Early Acranasian had geminate sonorants as well: /mː nː ŋː ŋʷː lː/, which could not occur in syllable codas. By the Classical period, these had merged with non-geminate sonorants. Compensatory lengthening (and also some diphthongization of sequences of /am:/ and /aŋʷː/) occurred with their deletion on preceding short vowels, so words like ínnu ‘shape’ and ‘issammá ‘hole’ became ī́nu and ‘issaumá, respectively. Word-initially, vowels were epenthesized before their shortened forms (/u/ for /mː  ŋʷː/, /a/ for /mː ŋː lː/ , so words like mmín ‘boy’ became umín.

Classical Acranasian short vowels, which I have listed in the chart as /a i u/, were really more like [ɐ ɪ ʊ].

By Late Acranasian, /l/ was being pronounced [ɾ~ɺ] intervocalically, but still [l] elsewhere.

Also by the Late phase, all nasals assimilated in place to following stops, and short unstressed /u/ was quickly centralizing to [ʉ].


As  mentioned above, Acranasian is an isolating language, with very little inflectional morphology. It is pro-drop and generally (though not completely) head-final, and has a mostly strict SOV word order with optional clause-final topic marking. It, like its descendant South Eresian, has a noun class distinction down animacy lines and lacks any sort of grammatical tense marking.


I don’t really know quite where to start, so here’re four very basic sentences and I’ll explain what’s going on in them afterwards.

Ai ‘iláma
1SG sleep.
“I am asleep”

Ma-xwíła ‘iláma
ABS-woman sleep.
“The woman is asleep”

Xwíła ma-ŋwā́ka ‘ulítap’u.
woman ABS-man hit
“The woman hits the man.”

Xwíła na-ŋwā́ka nák’u.
woman INDIR-man see
“The woman sees the man.”

The prefixes m(a)- and n(a)-, along with the interrogative prefix q(a)- (more on that later), are effectively the only inflectional affixes in the language. They are descended from Proto-Eastern-Noruic proximal and distal demonstratives, and in Acranasian have come to be an absolutive marker and an indirect object marker, respectively.  The absolutive marker m(a)- does not generally occur on pronouns, although it may. These markers only became fully grammaticalized in Late Acranasian, and something like

Xwíła ŋwā́ka ‘ulítap’u.
woman man hit
“The woman hits the man.”

 was still a grammatical sentence, albeit quite archaic-sounding, in Classical Acranasian.

Onto some more complex stuff:

K’iat’ái nī́, ƛáp’a axxula c’a nī́.
stand 1SG, house away go 1SG
I stood up and I walked away from the house.

Xwíła n-a p’áil łłī́ ī ‘umā́kw’a ‘u łłī́.
woman INDIR-3SG speak 3SG MAN know DM 3SG
Because the woman told him, he knew.

These sentence have narrative-type topic marking in it–the nī́ at the end of each clause in the former, which specifies that the topic is the first person singular, and the łłī́ in the latter, which specifies that the topic is third person singular. This started out, as has probably been surmised, in storytelling as a stylistic feature (repetition, like the repetition of the topic here, is a very important part of the style of all Eresian storytelling traditions), and was becoming very common in the Classical phase. By Late Acranasian, this clause-final topic marking was obligatory in all speech.

Also featured is the discourse marker ‘u, the usage of which, like every other discourse marker, is not easy to describe but which frequently occurs with the matrix verb of sentences with subordinate clauses. It always occurs directly after the verb. It can help to disambiguate structure discussed below.

Note the use of the postposition axxula ‘away’ here. This is part of a complex system of postpositions in Acranasian, most of which ultimately turned into the locative system discussed in the last post (relatedly, the verb c’a ‘go’, in the first example, became the inceptive suffix -tz), but which also includes some of the things that ultimately became South Eresian prepositions and a few of the other derivational suffixes. Several postpositions also serve as subordinating conjunctions for adverbial clauses; in the second example, you see ī, which indicates manner, being used in such a way, specifying how the topic knew whatever the information was. More on this:

Amakiā́lqwa axxula c’a nī́ łłā qúlāk’i nī́.
Amachálco away go 1SG because angry 1SG

This contains another postposition functioning as a subordinating conjunction, and this sentence is actually ambiguous: it can mean either “I left (the town of) Amachálco because I was angry” or “I was angry because I left Amachálco.” This ambiguity here arises because of conflict between the postpositional usage of łłā, which essentially treats amakiā́lqwa axxula c’a as a relative clause, and its usage as a clausal conjunction, which, aside from these postpositions slash adverbial clause conjunctions, always precede clauses. By the Classical period, the former was very much the preferred reading (due to analogy with other conjunctions), and clause-final conjunctions eventually fell entirely out of use.

Xxū łłáhhi a’ā ma siā ƛáp’a āp’usa c’a ‘u hi’ī.
IRR rain all.around CONJ N house outside go HORT
If it’s raining, then I shouldn’t leave the house.

Xxū łłáhhi a’ā qa?
IRR rain all.around Q
Is it raining?

Kwī ‘umā́kw’a qa ma xxū łłáhhi a’ā?
2SG know Q CONJ IRR rain all.around
Do you know if it’s raining?

All of these make use of the irrealis marker xxū. I suppose this is perhaps closer to being subjunctive than anything else, although it was in part inspired by the Ojibwe irrealis prefix ji-.

The negative particle siā occurs in the first sentence. This mostly occurs clause-initially.

The particles hi’ī and qa are both modal–the first one marks that the speaker hopes something will happen or thinks it should, and which I generally call hortative (there’s another particle that I call optative, and I won’t go into the nuances of that distinction here). The latter marks questions (not just polar questions, but polar when it occurs without other question marking; see below). Both of these are postverbal particles; the only modal particle that can be classified as preverbal, at least in the Classical period, is xxū. By the Late period, qa was shifting towards being preverbal, influenced by such constructions as in the third sentence above, where it occurs prior to the clause of the question that is being asked pragmatically, if not semantically. The particle a’ā, another postverbal thing, indicates that the verb is occurring all around the deictic center and is very frequently used for weather verbs.

Also seen in the first and third examples above is the coordinating conjunction ma. This occurs in certain constructions, particularly to mark the consequent of a conditional (as in the first) and to mark that the matrix verb of the sentence takes a proposition as an argument (as in the third).

And speaking of clauses…

Ŋwā́ka na-qúlāk’i na-xwíła nák’u łłī́.
man INDIR-angry INDIR-woman see 3SG
The man sees the angry woman.

Ŋwā́ka n-a m-ai ‘ulítap’u iā na-xwíła nák’u łłī́.
man INDIR-3SG ABS-1SG hit REL INDIR-woman see 3SG
The man sees the woman who hit me.

These are relative clauses. As you can tell, they precede their heads–one of the few head-final features that survived into South Eresian. The indirect prefix na- occurs both on the beginning of the relative clause (qúlāk’i ‘angry’ in the first and a (3SG) in the second) and on the head of the relative clause (xwíła, the woman). The second includes the relativizer , which in the Early phase only occurred when the ergative argument of a transitive verb was relativized but in the Classical phase became generalized to all transitive verb relativization. Acranasian relative clauses can be said to be gapped; neither xwíła nor any pro-forms which refer to xwíła occurs within the relative clause proper.

Q-ā́ŋ n-ai qúlāk’i qa?
Q-person INDIR-1SG angry Q
Who is angry at me?

N-ai qa-ŋínū ī qúlāk’i qa?
INDIR-1SG Q-reason MAN angry Q
Why are you angry at me?

Siā ai na-kwī n-ai qúlāk’i ī́ na-ŋínū ‘umā́kw’a.
N 1SG INDIR-2SG INDIR-1SG angry MAN INDIR-reason know
I don’t know why you’re angry at me.

Here are some wh-questions and also how the language handles a statement (the third) that is marked with wh- words in English but not in Acranasian. The first two use the interrogative prefix q(a)- on the element being questioned, with the derivational agentive suffix -āŋ in the former and the noun ŋínū ‘reason’ in the latter. No wh-movement occurs, as is evident in the second sentence. The third sentence makes use of a relative clause kwī n-ai qúlāk’i ī́ “you are angry at me in such a way” on ŋínū, plus the double indirect marking already discussed in the bit on relative clauses (I should note that the verb ‘umā́kw’a ‘know’ takes arguments with n(a)-, not the absolutive m(a)-, for the known thing).

The postposition ī here, seen before in this post a few times, is stressed in the third sentence–this occurs in cases like this when the object of the postposition here is null, as relative clauses in Acranasian use a gapping strategy. The morphophonological principle discussed way up above that applies stress to the initial syllable of phrases that don’t have any predetermined lexical stress thus applies.

That’s all I can remember of the grammar for now. I’m sure there’s more running around in notebooks or frolicking with dust bunnies in the dark corners of my mind.


Acranasian makes use of a fairly large amount of compounding to form new words. This is largely pretty simple stuff. Compounds are head-final, such as in pā́ŋqala-qála, ‘flower-time,’ a poetic term for “spring.” Verb-noun compounds are frequently lexicalized relative clauses:

“clothing worn during mourning”

but for the most part, verb-noun compounds are dispreferred compared to noun-noun compounds. By Late Acranasian, the lexical stress on the second element of most compounds was being dropped.

There are a number of derivational suffixes in the language. One, -ūssu, can be seen above–this one takes a noun or a verb and makes it more general and abstract for the purposes of talking about the general properties of things, in ways roughly equivalent to -ness or -ity in English, eg ƛā́k-ūssu, ‘write-ūssu’, is roughly equivalent to ‘orthography.’ These suffixes are mostly derived from Proto-Eastern-Noruic nouns that had become defunct aside from compounding by Early Acranasian.

Acranasian society was fairly stratified, and this was marked linguistically through the common use of honorific prefixes. Like the derivational suffixes mentioned in the last paragraph, these are derived from lexicalized PEN elements–but in the case of the honorific prefixes, these elements were relative clauses. There is a long list of these (and I keep changing them), but one of the ones that survived most into South Eresian was the prefix ał-, which is affixed to the name of natural phenomena and some abstract concepts to mean “the god of (phenomenon)”– thus do we get Ał-łauhhiā́ ‘sea goddess’, Ał-łā́cu ‘sun goddess,’ Ał-xxānuqā́ ‘god of victory.’

That’s what I’ve got for now. The next post will probably be either an examination of South Eresian morphophonology or an overview of the changes, both phonological and morphosyntactic, that occurred between Late Acranasian and Modern South Eresian. These topics are, of course, pretty closely related. If anyone wants to read one more than the other (in the unlikely scenario that anyone reads this at all), do let me know. Otherwise, feel free to ask questions about the material or correct any stupids I’ve probably made, and thanks for reading!


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