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  • Nai Uraiur

    The Language

    The word uskra, meaning “to speak,” was taken as the name for this language and its speakers. The word for “language” in Uskra is iskrai and comes from the same root.

    The remote location of the islands where the language is spoken prevent the Uskra from interacting with other peoples or languages. Uskra has several regional dialects that can vary greatly. The dialect presented here is spoken along the southwestern coast of the main island.


    Throughout this section there will be interlinear glossing used to show how the language works. To keep things short I will use abbreviations, some of which may not be standard (but hopefully intuitive in the context of this language). Below is a table showing the abbreviations and their meanings.

    Interlinear Abbreviations
    1First PersonLOCLocative
    2Second PersonNEGNegative
    3Third PersonNINVNegative Inverse
    DEFDefiniteOObviate Person
    DPSTDistant PastPPatient



    Uskra has a relatively small phoneme inventory including five vowels / ɑ e i o u / and eight consonants / p t k ʔ s m n ɾ /. The sounds [ ʧ ʃ h x ] all appear as allophones of / t / or / s /.

    The consonant / r / is not permitted word initially.

    Consonant Inventory



    Syllable Structure

    Consonant clusters are only permitted in the onset of a syllable. Additionally, only certain sequences of consonants are allowed, which are shown in the table below.

    Permitted Consonant Sequences

    Codas are only permitted word finally and the only consonants / t k m n ɾ / are allowed in coda position. Rarely, / s / can be found as a coda in a few non-noun words.

    • The maximally allowed syllable is: (s)(C)(ɾ)V(C)
    • The minimally allowed syllable is: V


    The only fricative / s / has two allophones.

    • Before the front high vowel / i /, / s / is realized as [ ʃ ].
    • s → ʃ / _i
    • Śim
    • / sim / → [ ʃim ]
    • “tree”
    • Before the tap / ɾ /, / s / is realized as [ x ].
    • s → x / _ɾ
    • Hraku
    • / sɾɑku / → [ xɾɑku ]
    • “star”

    Plosives also exhibit variation depending on their environment.

    • At the onset of a syllable plosives / p t k / become aspirated.
    • { p t k } → { pʰ tʰ kʰ } / _V
    • Pik
    • / pik / → [ pʰik ]
    • “spider”
    • Ta'i
    • / tɑʔi / → [ tʰɑʔi ]
    • “spider”
    • Kan
    • / kɑn / → [ kʰɑn ]
    • “large creature”
    • At the beginning of a word / ʔ / is realized as [ h ].
    • ʔ → h / #_
    • Hum
    • / ʔum / → [ hum ]
    • “word”

    Certain consonant sequences trigger their own allophones.

    • The sequence / tɾ / is pronounced as / ʧ / if not preceded by / s /.
    • tɾ → ʧ
    • Matru
    • / mɑtɾu / → [ mɑʧu ]
    • “love”


    The romanization of Uskra is straightforward. Each letter corresponds to one sound with the exception of < h >. A plain < h > will indicate [ h ] whereas < hr > indicates [ xɾ ].

     * Bold text indicates orthography and plain text is IPA. 



    Noun morphology is fairly limited in Uskra but can contain quite a bit of information. Below is a table describing the few suffixes and particles.


    Noun Marking
    Proximalit NOUNtri NOUN
    DistalDSLuśi NOUNhri NOUN

    Check the syntax section for examples of noun marking in use.


    One thing not marked on the noun is number. If number is especially important to a discussion it can be indicated. This done with the use of measure words.

    The measure word is placed before the noun which is then followed by a numeral. That numeral must take locative marking. Using the definite locative suffix will indicate a precise quantity whereas using the indefinite locative will indicate an approximate amount.

    • Iska hur inaur.
    • iska   huɾ     ina-uɾ
    • drop   water   two-DEF.LOC
    • "Exactly two drops of water."
    • Iska hur ina.
    • iska   huɾ     ina-∅
    • drop   water   two-IDF.LOC
    • "About two drops of water."


    Uskra has no formal set of pronouns. Instead names and certain common nouns are used if the need arises. Nouns typically used in this way are familial terms (brother, sister), occupations (fisher, farmer) or titles (leader, storyteller). Several factors go into choosing what to call a person. These include familiarity, age, gender and the audience.


    Showing possession in Uskra can be somewhat counterintuitive to an English speaker but is fairly simple.

    Possessive Suffixes
    First Person Possessive-(a)kiThird Person Possessive-'a
    Second Person Possessive-saObviate Person Possessive-ani
    • Niraki.
    • niɾ-aki
    • cat-1PSS
    • "My cat."
    • Niri pusiani.
    • niɾ-i       pusi-ani
    • cat-DEF.A   tail-OPSS
    • "The cat's tail."

    In a sentence where the verb conjugates in for the obviate person the possessive suffixes will strictly refer to the objects specified. However, if this is not the case then the third person possessive is used for human possessors whereas the obviate person possessive is used for non-human possessors.

    • Hitimi hu'a.
    • hitim-i      hu-ʔa
    • head-DEF.A   small.creature-3PSS
    • "The child's head."
    • Hitimi huani.
    • hitim-i      hu-ani
    • head-DEF.A   small.creature-OPSS
    • "The small animal's head."

    Hu is a word used to refer to small creatures including human children.



    Verbs are the workhorses of Uskra. They can mark for both agent and patient as well as tense. Many simple sentences are composed of only a verb.

    There are two sets of verb conjugations - one for intransitive verbs and one for transitive verbs. An unconjugated verb root can consist of as little as a single consonant. As a rule, all verb roots must start and end with a consonant.

    AgentNon-PastPastDistant PastInfinitive
    Intransitive Verb Conjugation

    Following the table above we can take a verb from its lemma form, the infinitive, and conjugate it. For example the verb u'ama "to walk." The verb root is -'am- which can be used to create some basic sentences.

    • Śi'ama
    • ʃi-ʔam-a
    • 1A-walk-NPST
    • "I am walking."
    • Ni'amuk.
    • ni-ʔam-uk
    • 3A-walk-PST
    • "He was walking."
    AgentPatientNon-PastPastDistant Past
    Transitive Verb Conjugation

    Inversion and Negation

    Looking at the table above it might seem that there is no way to create a sentence with a third-person agent and a first-person patient. It is true that there is no verb conjugation for such a sentence. Instead one would use an inverse particle to achieve that meaning.

    Inverse Particle INVNegative Inverse Particle NINVNegative Particle NEG
    Verb Particles

    Verb particles are always placed directly before the verb and only one may used in a sentence.

    • Itikuma ta'i.
    • i- tik- ∅- uma   taʔi
    • 1A-give-3P-PST   hit
    • "I hit him."
    • Mik itikuma ta'i.
    • mik   i- tik- ∅- uma   taʔi
    • INV   1A-give-3P-PST   hit
    • "He hit me."
    • Mri itikuma ta'i.
    • mɾi   i-tik-∅-uma      taʔi
    • NEG   1A-give-3P-PST   hit
    • "I didn't hit him."
    • Mrika itikuma ta'i.
    • mɾika   i- tik- ∅- uma   taʔi
    • NINV    1A-give-3P-PST   hit
    • "He didn't hit me."

    Light Verbs

    There are relatively few fully functional verb roots. As such certain verbs function are used to carry the conjugation while a defective verb root will carry the meaning.

    For intransitive sentences the light verb is always uma "to be." For transitive sentences the verbs uka "to have," utika "to give," or uhra "to take" can be used.

    • Nima ski.
    • ni-m- a      ski
    • 3A-be-NPST   jump
    • "He jumps."
    • Nikas hu'i.
    • ni-   k-   as     huʔi
    • 3A.OP-have-NPST   hunt
    • "He hunts it."

    Choosing which light verb to use is generally straight forward but there are occasions when it can be less so. In the first example above "jump" is an intransitive verb. But it can be used reflexively with either "to give" or "to take" to add different shades of meaning.

    • Atikas ski.
    • a-    tik- as     ski
    • 3A.3P-give-NPST   jump
    • "He jumps forward."
    • Ahras ski.
    • a-    xɾ-  as     ski
    • 3A.3P-take-NPST   jump
    • "He jumps backward."


    The most obvious use of the reflexive verb conjugations is to express statements where the agent is also the patient.

    • Atikum ta'i.
    • a-    tik- um    ta'i
    • 3A.3P-give-PST   hit
    • "He hit himself."
    • Mis satikatum ta'i?
    • mis     sa-tik- at-um    ta'i
    • Q.why   2A-give-2P-PST   hit
    • "Why are you hitting yourself?"

    However, with certain verbs and constructions the reflexive can be used to mean something else.

    One such case exists with the verb uma  "to be." While normally an intransitive verb, it can be used reflexively. When this happens the verbs meaning is changed to something like "to become."

    • Imi'um asna sku.
    • i- m- i'-um    asna     sku
    • 1A-be-1P-PST   hungry   with
    • "I became hungry."
    • Amas kru sku.
    • a-    m- um    kru   sku
    • 3A.3P-be-PST   red   with
    • "He blushed." (He became red.)


    Word Order

    Uskra has a fairly strict word order. However the exact order will vary depending on the number and type of participants.

    When only a subject is specified the word order is VS, when only an object is specified the order is VO and when both a subject are present the order is SVO.

    • Nikas.
    • ni-k-as
    • 3A.OP-have-NPST
    • "He has it."
    • Nikas nir.
    • ni-k-as           niɾ-∅
    • 3A.OP-have-NPST   cat-IDF.P
    • "He has a cat."
    • Nikas anipirai.
    • ni-k-as           anipiɾa-ai
    • 3A.OP-have-NPST   boy-IDF.A
    • "A boy has it."
    • Anapirai nikas nir.
    • anipiɾa-ai   ni-k-as           niɾ-∅
    • boy-IDF.A    3A.OP-have-NPST   cat-IDF.P
    • "A boy has a cat."

    Indirect objects will always come after the verb if specified. The presence of an indirect object also forces the direct object ahead of the verb.

    • Anipiri nirita nitikum amita.
    • anipir-i    nir-i       ni-tik-um         am-ita
    • boy-DEF.A   cat-DEF.P   3A.OP-give-PST    fish-DEF.P
    • "The boy gave the cat a fish."


    Uskra uses the word sku "with" to form the copula. For this construction sku is placed after the descriptor.

    • Niri ipri sku.
    • niɾ-i       ipɾi-∅         sku
    • cat-DEF.A   small-IDF.P    with
    • "The cat is small." / "The small cat."

    There is a slight change in meaning if sku is placed between a noun and its descriptor. This is used to emphasize the quality of the descriptor.

    • Niri sku ipri.
    • niɾ-i       sku    ipɾi-∅
    • cat-DEF.A   with   small-IDF.P
    • "The small cat."

    It is important to note that sku cannot be used to describe the location of an object or person.

    Relative Locations

    Describing the placement of an object relative to another is often done as an analogy with the body. So to say a bird is on top of a tree it would be something like "The bird is on the head of the tree."

    • Arai nima nai śimur hitimani.
    • aɾa-i        ni-m-a       nai   ʃim-uɾ          hitim-ani
    • bird-DEF.A   3A-be-NPST   en    tree-DEF.LOC    head-OPSS
    • "The bird is on top of the tree."
    • Tami uspa sku nima nai humraki takuma'a.
    • tam-i         ni-m-a       nai   humɾa-ki    takum-aʔa
    • earth-DEF.A   3A-be-NPST   en    foot-1PSS   sole-3PSS
    • "The ground is under my feet."


    There are only two adpositions. The first, nai "in" or "on," is used for giving the location of an object. The second, um "at" or "when" is used to specify actions or events.


    Eventually a complete listing of Uskra words will be available.

    Copyright © 2013 - 2017 Bianca Richards

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