Language creation:
Tomoulini Ganmaa

Tomoulini Ganmaa


Tomoulini Ganmaa is, literally, the language of the Tomoulin. The Tomoulin (singular Tomojii) are the dominant nation (or political group) in the planet called Karatu in their own language. The Karatumaaulin are a humanoid species, a distant relative of the men of Old Earth, the Terrahumans.

This page will only serve the purpose of introducing the reader into the basis of the extremely complex Tomoulini Ganmaa. A description of its speakers is not necessary here, except for the important remark that a Tomojii (or any Karatumaajii) could easily be mistaken for a Terrahuman in a dark environment, or at a certain distance.

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The phonology of the Tomoulini Ganmaa (from here on TG) resembles that of Japanese. It's quite restrictive and produces long words with clearly pronounced syllables.

All valid syllables in TG have the form [(C) V (n)], where (C) is an optional consonant (that may be doubled inside words), V is a vowel (that may also be doubled, even at the beginning of words), and (n) is an optional sound /n/ at the end of a syllable. This means you can't have consonant clusters (except n plus other consonant), and that diphthongs are impossible as such: two vowels in a row are pronounced as belonging to separate syllables.

The sounds of TG are the following:

             lab   dnt  alv  pal   vel   uvu

  stops      p b   t  d    ty dy   k g
  nasals       m      n       ny
  frics            s       sh            h
  affrics          ts dz   ch j
  aprox      w     l r        ly

all of which should be transparent to an English speaker; the exceptions are:

Words are formed by one or more syllables and regularly receive a light stress over the first one. They also introduce a high or raising pitch on the first syllable. The highness and the subsequent sharp drop in pitch signal the beginning of a new word. This is very important in a language where the least formal words (i. e. the ones that carry the greatest amount of meaning) are on average three or four syllables long.

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The Tomoulin write their language with a syllabary that is partly a featural code. The basic signs are generic consonantic "letters", with some additions that mark the vowels. The syllabary has 80 (eighty) syllabic signs and four diacritic marks: a little arc that is placed on top of certain signs to make a voiceless consonant voiced, a tiny circle which indicates that the syllable ends with n, two short lines (like an equal "=" sign) which are usually subscript and make a vowel double, and two spots (like a colon ":") which signal a consonant duplication. (This system closely resembles that of Japanese kana, except for the featural code elements; not surprisingly, because it was inspired by kana.) Here's an example (the same at the top of this page):

Tomoulini Ganmaa

Note that in some cases there might be an ambiguity, when the final syllable ends in -n and the following one begins with a vowel, for example in Tomoulini (which is Tomoulin-i, not Tomouli-ni). Spoken TG sometimes doesn't distinguish these two, but the great number of suffixes that can be added to a word make these encounters frequent, so most speakers will insert a brief pause, perhaps a glottal stop, between the final -n of a syllable and the inicial vowel of the next one. Written TG doesn't leave room for ambiguities: each syllable is a separate sign, even the simplest (only a vowel and nothing else). In the inscription up here, the signs are to-mo-u-lin-i. So a word might sound identical to another one but be written differently.

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All TG words are formed by nominal roots, i. e. the main part of a word can always be expressed as a noun. (In English, and most other languages, roots can be nominal, verbal, adjectival, or of other kinds.) This gives the language its most distinctive feature. TG concepts are expressed by a nominal root followed by zero or more suffixes which modify its main meaning. The suffixes are particles of one or more syllables that are concatenated one after another, after the root. Their meanings don't usually overlap, and neither do their sounds. From this point of view, TG is a pure agglutinating language.

Also, and because of its characteristics, TG doesn't have any formal particles such as prepositions, conjunctions or so. The modifications introduced by suffixes (hundreds of them) can express any possible relationship between two nouns, a verb and a noun, two verbs, or two propositions (subsentences).

This structure is regarded as sheer perfection by Tomoulin, whose language-oriented brain structures are obviously designed to support it. They in turn have great trouble learning Terrahuman languages, because they can't conceive distinctions between word classes, so they go beyond limits and freely (and unconsciously) "invent" adjectives and verbs from nominal roots. (Other Karatui languages show the same tendency.)

Word order is quite free. Speakers however tend to keep together pairs of words which are related to one another, especially the possessor-possession pair (see Relationships below). They will also separate subclauses by pauses in speech, which are usually transliterated as a comma (and also by a special analog sign in TG writing).

As an example of the language, I will examine some possible relationships and mention their uses.

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The possessor-possession relationship: this is the rough equivalent of a genitive case construction in other languages. It shows that one concept is possessed by (or subordinated to) another one. It can render a possessive construction in English, or any expression of the type subordinate-of-master, as well as many other types.

This relationship (abbreviating, p-p relationship) requires a suffix on the possessor or master and another one on the possession or subordinate. The master is marked by the suffix -i, and the subordinate is marked by the suffix -maa. An example can be found in the name of the language itself: Tomoulin-i Gan-maa "Tomoulin-possessor language-possession", the language of the Tomoulin. But this may also mean "the Tomoulin have a language" or "the fact that the Tomoulin have a language".

The p-p relationship can also be used to form adjectives! In TG, a noun phrase like "all people" is rendered by "the totality of the people", damaa lyoonlini, where da "totality" carries the subordinate suffix, and lyoonlin "people" carries the master suffix. Note that word order is free within the p-p construction; you only have to keep the two words next to each other.

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The actor-action-object relationship (a-a-o) forms what we would call a basic verbal construction with a subject (the actor), a verb (the action), and an object. (Not really but approximately; TG speakers don't know of those cathegories.) What I'm showing here is just the skeletal form of it. The actor carries the suffix -re, the action takes -ru, and the object takes -rii. For example: kananere ganru terralangurii "we speak Terralang". The order in which the elements appear is not significant. Each one can also be used on its own for certain other purposes, and of course they can be added more suffixes. Usually suffixes are added in a "logical" way; when one suffix modifies the meaning of the other, it comes afterwards. There's a slight difference between chelejoonrunye and chelejoonnyeru, both of them having the root concept chele "name, vocative, invocation" and the suffixes for "instrument", "action", and "past". In the first case, the word could be translated "(someone) used (a certain) name", but in the second, the meaning would rather be "(someone) uses (a certain) obsolete name". This is because the suffix modifies only what comes before it.

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It seems that the Tomoulin, and probably all Karatumaaulin, have a very good memory, at least aural/oral memory. They are capable of retaining long sentences and repeating them, also parsing and analyzing them automatically. If the language genes are developed in Terrahumans, they are certainly overdeveloped in the Karatumaaulin humanoids. A key to learn how to use TG is to know exactly your location in the context of speech, i. e. what is the main primitive subject, what was said right before now, and what immediately before that. If you don't know where you are in the sentence, you are toast. (You may not believe that's difficult. Just try reading a long sentence and then name the "subjects" in reverse chronological order. Then you'll find out not only Homer Simpson may lose track of things.)

Why so much concerning about the location within the sentence? Because TG has two kinds of pronouns: personal pronouns (the kind we are used to) and reference pronouns. The reference pronouns are somehow like the demonstrative pronouns of English and many other languages (this, that, there, etc.), but they don't apply on spatial terms but in sentence location terms.

The personal pronouns refer to the "real" persons, first and second. There are pronouns for "I", "you (singular)", "we" and "you (plural)". But there are no pronouns for the third person. The Karatumaaulini minds can't quite understand the concept of a communication referring to something that doesn't communicate. The reference pronouns are used instead.

The reference pronouns are three: loo (near reference), dya (far reference), and kaala (main reference). The names are just labels. When you talk about anything which is neither you nor your listener, and you have to replace it by something, you use one of the reference pronouns. If it was the last thing you mentioned, you use loo. If it was the other thing, the thing you said before the last thing, then you use dya. If it was said a long time ago in the sentence, or is the main topic you are talking about, then you use kaala. One important and quite misleading consequence of this is that a certain thing can be referenced by one pronoun at a certain point and by another one just after that.

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Let's see some examples:

damaa luurai, looi ganumaanye, looi mitemaa, kaalare milinmaa choonlinjoonrunyei.
"All the world had the same language and used the same words."

Here we have damaa luurai, a common p-p construction, "all of the world". Then we have looi ganumaanye, another p-p construction where the second element is in "past tense" (-nye). That part means "language-the-possessed-in the past". Here, loo, the master of the p-p construction, the near reference pronoun, means "the thing I just mentioned", i. e. all the world. So all the world is the possessor and the definite language is the possession, in the past: "all the world had a (definite) language". Then we have another p-p construction: looi mitemaa, with mite "a oneness, a unity" as the subordinate. The master is loo again, but here it means "the language", the last thing mentioned. If you had wanted to talk about the world, you would have had to use dya (the far reference pronoun). Finally, we have kaalare, within a complicate a-a construction. The actor is kaala, and the action is the use of equal words in the past. The main reference pronoun kaala here means "the thing we were talking about in the beginning", the world.

This thing can get quite complicated when you have to combine people, places and other things into the same sentence. Native speakers usually sort it out by adding more suffixes to the pronouns. There are suffixes which can emphasize or indicate that a certain concept is a person, a place, a time, a way of doing something, the reason for something, the instrument used for something, the result of an action, etc. etc.

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Some history

Colloquial TG requires the learning and correct use of about sixty suffixes. Literary TG tries to avoid repetition, and therefore uses an impressive set of three or four hundred finely tuned suffixes. The Terrahuman linguists which came to Karatu after the first contact went cuckoo-cuckoo over all these suffixes. With the raise of Terralang, the change of all Western languages into mixed pidgins and the death of almost all other languages, they had forgotten how to study alien cultures and ways of expression. They could only advance in the understanding of TG after digging out old files about polisynthetic languages like the ones of the Native North Americans.

Even with that help, twenty-five years passed before Zavier Hong, one of the most radical linguists studying on the field, acquired enough fluency to communicate directly with native speakers without having to carry automatic translators (which continuosly choked on TG). The same Zavier Hong inscribed his name in the annals of diplomacy and linguistics when he served as an intermediate between Terrahumans and Karatumaaulin in a serious political conflict, working as a competent simultaneous translator, a deed that can be qualified as heroic. The Tomoulin later remembered Hong as choondyemaanosiu, "the only one with understanding".

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