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Zjenav is a language created by BenJamin P. Johnson in 2020 for Luca-Fabio Di Franco to be used in an upcoming novel series.



There are five vowels and eight diphthongs. Vowels do not have phonemic length. In some dialects, some diphthongs may be merged, and/or rising diphthongs may become falling.

Simple Vowels   Diphthongs
Front Back Front Back
High i
High-to-High ui
/ui/ [uɪ̯]
/iu/ [iʊ̯]
Mid   o
Mid-to-High ei
/ei/ [ɛɪ̯]
/oi/ [ɔɪ̯]
  Low-to-High ai
/ai/ [ɑɪ̯]
/au/ [ɑʊ̯]
Low a
/ɑ/ [ä~ɑ]
Low-to-Mid ae
/ae/ [ɑɛ̯]
/ao/ [ɑɔ̯]


The consonants of Zjenav are notable for having robust set of unvoiced sonorants.

(These labels are approximate, and are used to reflect the grouping of the consonants according to the Zjenavi writing system rather than the exact place and manner of articulation in a more expansive IPA consonant chart. When in doubt, refer to the IPA values rather than these rough rows and columns.)

Labial Coronal Palatal Velar Uvular
Plosive p · b
/p · b/
t · d
/t · d/
  k · g
/k · g/
q ·
Affricate     tj · dj
/t͡ʃ · d͡ʒ/
Fricative f · v
/f · v/
s · z
/s· z/
sj · zj
/ʃ · ʒ/
  h ·
/h/ [h~x]
Nasal hm · m
/m̥ · m/
hn · n
/n̥ · n/
Approximant · w
hr · r
/r̥ · r/
[ɾ̥~r̥ · ɾ~r]
· y
hl · l
/l̥ · l/
[l̥~ɫ̥ · l~ɫ]



Onsets are not required (i.e. a word can start with a consonant or a vowel); however, valid word-initial onsets are:

  • Any single (phonemic) consonant: p, b, t, d, k, g, q, tj, dj, f, v, s, z, sj, zj, h, y, w, l, hl, r, hr, n, hn, m, hm
  • Stop consonants may be followed by /r/: pr, br, tr, dr, kr, gr, qr
  • Other valid word-initial clusters are: ql, kw, gw, qw, st

Medial (Intervocalic) Clusters

Two (non-diphthong) vowels must be separated by at least one consonant. Medial clusters of consonants occurring between two vowels may consist of:

  • Any single (phonemic) consonant: p, b, t, d, k, g, q, tj, dj, f, v, s, z, sj, zj, h, y, w, l, hl, r, hr, n, hn, m, hm
  • Any stop followed by w, r, or l: pw, bw, tw, dw, kw, gw, qw, pr, br, tr, dr, kr, gr, qr, pl, bl, tl, dl, kl, gl, ql
  • Some geminates: tt, kk, qq, ll, rr, mm, nn
  • Other valid clusters: vr, ft, st, ht, sr, sl, hp, hk, sp, sk, sq, qs, ks, ts, ps, ksj, mz, nz, mbr, ndr, ngr, mb, mp, nd, nt, ng, nk, nq, ndj, ntj, nkw, ngw, nqw, mpr, ntr, nkr, nqr, ms, ns, nks, nqs, mq, mqr, rn, rm, ml, mr, lm, ln, nr, nl, lp, lt, lk, lb, ld, lg, lv, lf, lz, ls, lsj, rp, rt, rk, rb, rd, rg, rv, rf, rz, rs, rsj


A coda is not required.

  • Any single phoneme can act as a coda with the exception of y and w: p, b, t, d, k, g, q, tj, dj, f, v, s, z, sj, zj, h, l, hl, r, hr, n, hn, m, hm
  • Clusters which can act as a coda are: ft, st, ht, ks, qs, mp, nt, nk, nq

Zjenav Script (Abjad)


Zjenav is most commonly written in an impure abjad (that is, an alphabet, but the vowels are written as diacritic marks above or below the consonants, depending on the positioning of any ascenders or descenders which may obstruct their positioning). There is also a “placeholder” consonant for vowels which occur at the beginning of words (left).


The consonants are divided into types according to their place of articulation (where in the mouth each consonant is produced). These align roughly with the columns of the consonant table at the beginning of the phonology section, and consist of: labial, coronal, palatal, and dorsal (the last being a combination of the sparsely populated velar and uvular columns). There are also three types of consonant ligatures; that is, two consonants which are joined together to form a new letter when written together.

Consonant Group I: Labial

p b f v m hm w

Consonant Group II: Coronal

t d s z n hn r hr

Consonant Group III: Palatal

tj dj sj zj y

Consonant Group IV: Dorsal

k g l hl q h

Ligature Group I: Combinations with 〈r〉

pr br tr dr kr gr qr

Ligature Group II: Combinations with 〈w〉

pw bw tw dw kw gw qw

Ligature Group III: Other Ligatures



Vowels are written as marks above or below the consonant that precedes them. In all there are five vowels and eight diphthongs, but they are all written as diacritics, for a total of thirteen possible vowels.

a ae ai ao au e ei
i iu o oi u ui

By default, they are written above, but when a consonant has an ascender (a line which rises upward and encroaches on the space where the vowel should be placed), the vowel is placed below the consonant and flipped, so that the vowel maintains the same orientation toward its consonant “base.” (Wider consonants, like 〈hm〉, with sufficient room for ascenders may still have vowels above.)

Four consonants – 〈s〉, 〈z), 〈sj〉, and 〈zj〉 – have both ascenders and descenders. Vowels are placed above these characters. In some cases, the vowel markings may be turned or modified in order to fit properly. Finally 〈h〉 is a solid line with no room to put a vowel either above or below, so a special variant character is used and the vowel is placed above.

Orthography (Romanization)

IPA Description Example IPA
- Used as a placeholder for vowels in initial position and in certain other environments. Not transcribed in Romanization. i ‘to be located’ [i]
a /ɑ/ as in father. aqeh ‘child’ [ɑˈqɛh]
ae /ɑɛ̯/ like 〈a〉 in father followed by 〈e〉 in egg. (In some dialects, 〈ae〉 this is pronounced in the same manner as 〈ai〉, below.) aegazjil ‘start’ [ˈɑɛ̯ɡɑʒil]
ai /ɑɪ̯/ like 〈i〉 in find. zjai ‘who’ [ʒɑɪ̯]
ao /ɑɔ̯/ like 〈a〉 in father followed by 〈aw〉 in awful. (In some dialects, 〈ao〉 this is pronounced in the same manner as 〈au〉, below.) nuqaor ‘seventh’ [nuˈqɑɔ̯r]
au /ɑʊ̯/ like 〈ou〉 in house. qau ‘me’ [qɑʊ̯]
b /b/ as in boy. bare ‘to go’ [ˈbɑrɛ]
br /br/ like 〈br〉 in bring. brezj ‘voice’ [brɛʒ]
bw /bw/ like 〈bu〉 in Spanish bueno. rabwa ‘pool’ [ˈrɑ.bwɑ]
d /d/ as in dog. dulam ‘warm’ [duˈlɑm]
dj /ʤ/ like 〈j〉 in joke. djalisj ‘green’ [ʤɑˈliʃ]
dr /dr/ like 〈dr〉 in dragon. drimasj ‘honey’ [driˈmɑʃ]
dw /dw/ like 〈dw〉 in dwell. laedwohn ‘twilight’ [lɑɛ̯ˈdwon̥]
e /ɛ/ as in excel. eqeh ‘again’ [ɛˈqɛh]
ei /eɪ̯/ like 〈a〉 in face. eisj ‘under’ [eɪ̯ʃ]
f /f/ as in five. fenav ‘flower’ [fɛˈnɑv]
g /ɡ/ as in get (never as in gel). garasa ‘brother’ [ɡɑˈrɑsɑ]
gr /ɡr/ like 〈gr〉 in grand. grisjar ‘mountain’ [ɡriˈʃɑr]
gw /ɡw/ like 〈gu〉 in guava. gwammah ‘wide’ [ˈɡwɑmːɑh]
h /h/ as in hand. hasjan ‘sun’ [hɑˈʃɑn]
hl /l̥/ as in Icelandic hlaða. hleti ‘to yell’ [ˈl̥ɛti]
hm /m̥/ like 〈mh〉 in Welsh fy mhen. zjohma ‘to turn’ [ˈʒom̥ɑ]
hn /n̥/ as in Icelandic hnjóta. hnivel ‘odd’ [n̥iˈvɛl]
hr /r̥/ like 〈rh〉 in Welsh Rhian. hrasev ‘short’ [r̥ɑˈsɛv]
i /i/ as in machine, or like 〈ee〉 in seen. ihoihih ‘moth’ [iˈhoɪ̯hih]
iu /iʊ̯/ like 〈ew〉 in few. liutok ‘nocturnal’ [ˈliʊ̯.tok]
- j - only used in Romanization the combinations 〈dj〉, 〈sj〉, 〈tj〉, and 〈zj〉. - -
k /k/ as in keep. kazjur ‘always’ [kɑˈʒur]
kr /kr/ like 〈cr〉 in cringe. kruig ‘wood’ [ˈkruɪ̯ɡ]
kw /kw/ like 〈qu〉 in quick. kwahro ‘wall’ [ˈkwa.r̥o]
l /l/ as in like. lazj ‘name’ [lɑʒ]
m /m/ as in man. maqa ‘to hit’ [ˈmɑqɑ]
n /n/ as in now. nuqa ‘seven’ [ˈnuqɑ]
o /o/ like in go. onahlu ‘to fly’ [oˈnɑl̥u]
oi /ɔi̯/ like 〈oi〉 in oil. qoiqoi ‘friend’ [qoɪ̯ˈqoɪ̯]
p /p/ as in pen. peisja ‘to buy’ [ˈpɛɪ̯ʃɑ]
pr /pr/ like 〈pr〉 in prize. prehna ‘to pull’ [ˈprɛ.n̥ɑ]
pw /pw/ like 〈po〉 in French poisson. tapweh ‘week’ [tɑpˈwɛh]
q /q/ as in Hebrew qoph. (Like 〈k〉, but more guttural.) qaevov ‘energy’ [ˈqɑɛ̯.vov]
ql /ql/ like 〈cl〉 in clash, but more guttural. qludji ‘to write’ [ˈqlu.ʤi]
qr /qr/ like 〈cr〉 in crash, but more guttural. qraqei ‘for no reason’ [qrɑˈqɛɪ̯]
qw /qw/ like 〈qu〉 in quite, but more guttural. qwekeru ‘twenty’ [qwɛˈkɛ.ru]
r /r/ tapped or trilled as in Italian or Spanish caro. ravaoq ‘wet’ [rɑˈvɑɔ̯q]
s /s/ as in song (never as in days). suzje ‘wind’ [ˈsuʒɛ]
sj /ʃ/ like 〈sh〉 in show. sjikah ‘sand’ [ʃiˈkɑh]
t /t/ as in take. taklo ‘cup’ [ˈtɑklo]
tj /ʧ/ like 〈ch〉 in chair. tjari ‘hundred’ [ˈʧɑri]
tr /tr/ like in tree. traqo ‘near’ [ˈtr̥ɑ.qo]
tw /tw/ as in twist. vetwe ‘to kiss’ [ˈvɛ.twɛ]
u /u/ like 〈oo〉 in soon. ugme ‘fire’ [ˈuɡmɛ]
ui /uɪ̯/ like 〈uoy〉 in buoy. kruiguil ‘wooden’ [ˈkruɪ̯.ɡuɪ̯l]
v /v/ as in very. vesj ‘thus’ [vɛʃ]
w /w/ as in want. rabwa ‘pool’ [ˈrɑbwɑ]
y /j/ as in yell. zjuyazi ‘goat’ [ʒuˈjɑzi]
z /z/ as in zoo. zaqei ‘why’ [zɑˈqɛɪ̯]
zj /ʒ/ like 〈s〉 in vision, or like 〈j〉 in French jamais. zjaran ‘road’ [ʒɑˈrɑn]



The typology of Zjenav is predominantly SVO (subject-verb-object). The positions of subject and object may shift depending on topicality or markedness.

Morphosyntactic Alignment

Zjenav has nominative-accusative alignment, which means that nouns and pronouns are differentiated for subject and object roles.


The Zjenav language is predominantly head-final (“right-branching”).

Noun Phrases

Prepositions and determiners precede the noun in noun phrases. Adjectives, numerals, genitive constructions, and relative clauses all follow the noun, in that specific order (preposition—(determiner)—NOUN—adjective (phrase)—numeral—relative clause). Genitive, dative, benefactive, and instrumental phrases may appear anywhere in the clause, though they tend to follow the main noun except in marked speech.

For example, the phrase “with those three thin men from Zakalasrava who stole my book” would be assembled in the order:

dum zjesrahom dehla djat Zakalasravan zjai kotresjiu la butjat qane.

dum zjesrah-om dehla djat Zakalasrava-an zj-ai kotresji-iu la butjat-∅ qa-ne
with man-dat.pl thin three Zakalasrava-gen rel3.ani steal-3pl pst book-acc 1sg-gen
with men thin three from Zakalasrava who stole book my

‘…with those three thin men from Zakalasrava who stole my book.’

Adjective Phrases

In adjective phrases, (adverbial) measurements of degree (very, so, too, &c.) always precede the adjective.

Tai zji moiqat gimesj kezj.

t-ai zji moiqat gim-esj kezj
that-ani cop dog far-adv good
that is dog very good

‘That is a very good dog.’


Cardinal Numbers

The Zjenavi numbers are in an octal system. For your convenience, numbers in the shaded columns are decimal.

Digits   Teens   Twenties   Multiples
ha 1 1 kehru si ha 11 9 qwekeru si ha 21 17 kehru 10 8
qwe 2 2 kehru si qwe 12 10 qwekeru si qwe 22 18 qwekeru 20 16
djat 3 3 kehru si djat 13 11 qwekeru si djat 23 19 djakeru 30 24
zjequ 4 4 kehru si zjequ 14 12 qwekeru si zjequ 24 20 zjekeru 40 32
uvuh 5 5 kehru si uvuh 15 13 qwekeru si uvuh 25 21 uvuhru 50 40
alase 6 6 kehru si alase 16 14 qwekeru si alase 26 22 alasehru 60 48
nuqa 7 7 kehru si nuqa 17 15 qwekeru si nuqa 27 23 nuqeru 70 56
kehru 10 8 qwekeru 20 16 djakeru 30 24 tjari 100 64
kehru 10 8
kehru si zjequ 12 10
tjari 100 64
tjari ha zjekeru si zjequ 144 100
sjallov 1,000 512
sjallov ha tjari nuqa si uvuhru 1,750 1,000
tjakedi 1,000,000 262,144
tjakedi djat si sjallov tjari alase zjekeru ha si tjari ha 3,641,100 1,000,000

Ordinals and Compounds

Compounds are created by simply stacking up the numbers from largest to smallest, with the last number separated by the conjunction si (‘and’). E.g. ‘47’ = zjekeru ‘40’ + si ‘and’ + nuqa ‘7’ → zjekeru si nuqa. ‘625’ = alase tjari ‘600’ + + qwekeru ‘20’ + si ‘and’ + uvuh ‘5’ → alase tjari qwakeru si uvuh.

Most ordinal numbers are formed by adding the suffix -aor to the number, e.g. djataor ‘third’, uvuhaor ‘fifth’. Where a numeral ends in a vowel, the vowel is usually deleted, as in alasaor ‘sixth’ from alase, though when a numeral ends in –u, and the –ao– of the suffix is deleted instead (it just sounds better), as in zjequr from zjequ. When –r– occurs in the last syllable of a number, the –r of the suffix changes to –l, as in kehrul and tjaraol. The ordinals for ‘one’ and ‘two’ are as irregular as “first” and “second” – they mean ‘closest to the front’ and ‘the following’, respectively.

Ordinal Numbers
1st sjamasj 10th kehrul
2nd sjolpet 20th qwekerul
3rd djataor 30th djakerul
4th zjequr 40th zjekerul
5th uvuhaor 50th uvuhrul
6th alasaor 60th alasehrul
7th nuqaor 70th nuqerul
10th kehrul 100th tjaraol


Zjenav has no definite or indefinite articles. Other demonstratives or determiners may be used optionally, as necessary.

Note: Determiners do not inflect for case when used as adjectives; however, when they are used on their own (i.e. without an accompanying noun) they are considered pronouns and do inflect. See Adjectives for more information about inflection.

Demonstratives (‘this’, ‘that’ )

Animate Inanimate
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
‘this’, ‘these’
vai vae vai voq voqu voqat
‘that’, ‘those’
tai tae tai toq toqu toqat

Relative and Interrogative Particles

Zjenav makes a distinction which does not exist in English between interrogative and relative determiners, correlatives, and pronouns. In English, words like who, when, where, why, and how (but not what) are used as interrogatives to form a question — such as “When did he arrive?” or “Who are you?” — as well as relatives to form subordinate clauses, such as “That’s when he arrived,” or “That’s the person who arrived.” In Zjenav, interrogatives all begin with 〈z〉 while their relative counterparts begin with 〈zj〉:

Interrogative: Rah djaikaet la zem?When did he arrive?’
Interrogative: Asj zji zai?Who are you?’
Relative: Toq zji zjem rah djaikaet la. ‘That’s when he arrived.’
Relative: Tai zji zjeser zjai djaikaet. ‘That’s the person who arrived.’

Also note that interrogatives are predicative, so they normally follow the verb. E.g. instead of saying “who are you?” you would say, “you are who?” (Asj zji zai?)

These “correlative” roots can be used in combination with other determiners to form additional adverbs and pronouns:

Person Thing Time Place Manner Amount Reason
Interrogative zai
‘how much’
Relative zjai
‘how much’
Proximal vai
‘this one’
‘like this’
‘this much’
Distal tai
‘that one’
‘that much’
Negative qrai
‘no one’
‘no way’
‘no reason’



Noun Classes

Though I refer to them throughout this text as “noun classes,” that is an insufficient descriptor, as these classes also have implications for pronouns and verbs. There are three overlapping types of noun classes in Zjenav: Animacy, Sanctity, and Sex.


Zjenav’s primary noun (and pronoun) class system is one of animacy. This is simply the dividing of nouns into categories of animate and inanimate. This division is fairly intuitive: If it is alive, it is animate; otherwise, it is inanimate. There are, however, some exceptions and nuances. Many nouns we might think of as inanimate may be considered animate to the Rahavahi, particularly those which have certain spiritual significance or independent movement. Some examples of nouns which may be unexpectedly animate in Zjenav are: ugme ‘fire’, suzje ‘wind’, emposjer ‘alcohol’, zjoran ‘the sea, rehazj ‘the moon’, laedwohn ‘twilight’, nivul ‘river’, hasjan ‘the sun’, isjil ‘star’, and dimma ‘smoke’.

Conversely, some nouns which we might think of as alive are considered inanimate in Zjenav if they are a specific part of a larger animate system; for example: body parts (ellavu ‘arm’, zuhluzj ‘head’, zaqsun ‘finger’) or parts of plants (nazu ‘fruit’, djendra ‘leaf’, asrolu ‘stem’, ravu ‘root’, &c.)

Other normally inanimate nouns may be used in an animate sense for emphasis in poetic language or rhetoric, such as djindre ‘melody’ if it is particularly lively or moving, or zjivesj ‘light’ to describe certain intense shades or colours.

There is a small subset of nouns which can be either animate or inanimate depending on their use. Herbs, spices, and harvested plants are animate while growing or in “plant form,” but inanimate when dried, prepared, harvested, or otherwise being used as food.

Third person pronouns (both singular and plural) have a firm distinction between animate and inanimate, and the third person singular even maintains a separate conjugation pattern in verbs. (The third person plural conjugation is the same for both animate and inanimate.)


Zjenav has a secondary class system which is only marked on certain words which have taboo or reverent qualities to the Rahavahi. As a class, sanctity may be applied to either animate or inanimate nouns. There is no pronominal or verbal reflection of sanctity in standard speech. (Verbs may only be made “sacred” or “cursed” in some highly stylized or religious language, such as prayers or spells.)

Sanctity is shown by altering the consonants in a word to all be voiced, in the case of sacred objects, or unvoiced, in the case of cursed ones. This likely began as part of a practice of whispering the names of taboo objects. Indeed, many cursed words may still be whispered (their vowels also devoiced).

Cursed Original Sacred
p ← p → b
t ← t → d
tj ← tj → dj
k ← k → g
p ← b → b
t ← d → d
tj ← dj → dj
k ← g → g
f ← f → v
f ← v → v
s ← s → z
s ← z → z
sj ← sj → zj
sj ← zj→ zj
hl ← l → l
hr ← r → r
hm ← m → m
hn ← n → n
hl ← hl → l
hr ← hr → r
hm ← hm → m
hn ← hn → n

In other words, in sacred nouns, the letters p, t, tj, k, f, s, sj, hl, hr, hm, and hn become, respectively, b, d, dj, g, z, zj, l, r, m, and n. Conversely, in cursed nouns, b, d, dj, g, z, zj, l, r, m, and n become p, t, tj, k, f, s, sj, hl, hr, hm, and hn. Having no voicing equivalents, the consonants q, h, y, and w are unaffected.

In the event that a voicing change leads to an illegal cluster (e.g. unvoiced sonorants cannot form clusters), e is added to break up the cluster, e.g. ugme ‘fire’ → ukhme → ukehme ‘cursed fire’.

Obviously, many nouns – especially shorter words – may contain exclusively voiced or unvoiced consonants. In this case, affixes serve to add sanctity distinction to a noun.

The prefix bara- makes a noun with no unvoiced consonants sacred. When affixed before a vowel, the final a is elided: bar-. When using bara- with a noun that is explicitly marked as feminine with a prefix, the suffix -bara should be used instead.

The suffix -eqla makes a noun cursed which is devoid of voiced consonants. When affixed after a vowel, the initial e is elided: -qla. When using -eqla with a noun that is explicitly marked as masculine by another suffix, the prefix qla- should be used instead.

E.g. ugme ‘fire’ → barugme ‘sacred fire’; aqeh ‘child’ → baraqeh ‘holy child’, → aqeheqla ‘cursed child’.

While it is tempting to combine affixes with voicing to hyperbolize a noun’s sanctity, this should be avoided. To do so is, itself, a cursed practice.


Finally Zjenav has a third system of dividing substantives up into groups according to biological sex. (I hesitate to use the word “gender” here, because that has complicated connotations biologically, culturally, and linguistically, and those nuances are not helpful in this context.) In pronouns, this exists exclusively as a male/female division of the third person singular (i.e. rah ‘he’ vs. rei ‘she’). In nouns, sex is only indicated in animate nouns, and only on those terms where a neutral base term requires elaboration. Nouns marked explicitly as masculine take a suffix, while feminine nouns take the same marking as a prefix. E.g. aqeh ‘child’ → aqehu ‘boy’, uhaqeh ‘girl’; zjeser ‘person’ → zjesrah ‘man’, azjeser ‘woman’. The vowel of the suffix may change in some words, but the masculine and feminine vowels always match. Most commonly they are:

Feminine Masculine
ha- (ah- before a vowel) -ah (-ha after a vowel)
hu- (uh- before a vowel) -uh (-hu after a vowel)
he- (eh- before a vowel) -eh (-he after a vowel)

(Grammatical) Number

Nouns may be singular, plural, or in some cases dual. The dual number is somewhat rarer than the singular or plural, and may have a different connotation than just “two” of the singular. For example, paksa ‘eye’, paksu ‘pair of eyes’ (but not just any two eyes; the eyes of a single person or creature; eyes that belong together); maht ‘door’, but mahtu doesn’t just mean ‘two doors’; it refers to a double-door or double-hung gate like a French door or saloon gate. To refer to two unrelated eyes, doors, or other nouns, use the plural. For example, there is a great difference between saying Baresh ra maht qwe ‘Go through two doors’ and Baresj ra mahtu ‘Go through the double-doors’.

When a whole number is used to modify a noun, the noun remains in the default/singular form unless a case is explicitly called out. (E.g. maht kehru ‘eight gate(s)’, but mahtasj kehru ‘from/of eight gates’)


Nouns and pronouns inflect for number (singular, dual, and plural), animacy (animate and inanimate) and case (nominative, genitive, dative, benefactive, instrumental, accusative, and vocative). Pronouns also inflect for sex (masculine and feminine), and some nouns may have gendered affixes.

Generally, prepositions are followed by the accusative case, though if there is movement involved in a locative-type preposition (e.g. the difference between “in” and “into”), the dative case is used instead. Note that this is the opposite of what happens in some Germanic languages like German or Icelandic, where this situation is handled by the accusative! The dative is the only case other than the nominative which can be used after a preposition.

Subject (“Nominative”)

By default all nouns are presented in the nominative (or subject) case. This is the most basic “dictionary form” of the word; the form which you will look up in the lexicon. The subject of every clause is nominative, as are copular predicates.

Qa zji zjeser.

qa zji zjeser
1sg.nom cop person.nom
I am human

‘I am a human.’

  Singular Dual Plural
Animate -∅ -uq -i
Inanimate -∅ -u -(j)at

The inanimate plural takes –jat after roots ending in s, z, t, and d, changing them into a palatal (sj, zj, tj, or dj, respectively). Otherwise the inanimate plural is –at.

Some examples:

  • zjeser ‘person’ (animate): zjeser, zjesruq, zjesri
  • isjil ‘star’ (animate): isjil, isjiluq, isjili
  • maht ‘gate’ (inanimate): maht, mahtu, mahtjat
  • lazj ‘name’ (inanimate): lazj, lazju, lazjat
Possessive/“of”-phrases (“Genitive”)

The genitive translates two concepts in English: phrases using the preposition ‘of’, and nouns taking the possessive clitic ‘’s’.

Nizjan garasane qane guqot la zaka.

Nizjan-∅ garasa-ane qa-ane guqo-et la zaka-∅
wife-nom brother-gen 1sg-gen take3sg.anim pst stone-acc
Wife of-brother of-me took stone

‘My brother’s wife took the stone.’

  Singular Dual Plural
Animate -ane -aze -ezj
Inanimate -an -uz -asj

When a root ends in a vowel, like sjulpe, the vowel is deleted when a case ending is added.

Some examples:

  • sehkov ‘father’ (animate): sehkovane, sehkovaze, sehkovezj
  • nizjan ‘wife’ (animate): nizjanane, nizjanaze, nizjanezj
  • sjeimaq ‘road’ (inanimate): sjeimaqan, sjeimaquz, sjeimaqasj
  • sjulpe ‘horn’ (inanimate): sjulpan, sjulpuz, sjulpasj
Direct Object (“Accusative”)

The accusative is the direct object of a clause: It is whatever noun (or pronoun) is being affected by the verb.

Asj nokwae qulug.

asj nokwa-e qulug-∅
2sg.nom hold-2sg rope-acc
you hold rope

‘You are holding the rope.’

  Singular Dual Plural
Animate -u -um -im
Inanimate -∅ -u -(j)isj

Some examples:

  • nivul ‘river’ (animate): nivulu, nivulum, nivulim
  • aqeh ‘child’ (animate): aqehu, aqehum, aqehim
  • zaka ‘stone’ (inanimate): zaka, zaku, zakisj
  • nadjad ‘day’ (inanimate): nadjad, nadjadu, nadjadjisj
Indirect Object/“to”-phrases (“Dative”)

The dative can translate various types of phrases in English. Most importantly, it translates indirect objects, which may or may not be packaged with the preposition “to,” (e.g. “Give the book to me” or “Give me the book.”) It is also used with most prepositions which indicate movement, such as “onto the table,” “into the village,” “under the fridge,” &c. (If you’re familiar with the dative in languages such as German or Russian, note that this is the opposite of what happens with prepositions involving motion in those languages.) See Adpositions for more information on prepositions taking the dative case.

Basrisj qote butjat. Huzji ek ur djaskote qane.

basri-sj qa-ote butjat- huzji ek- ur djasko-ote qa-ane
give-imp 1sg-dat book-acc put.imp 4sg.inan-acc into hand-dat 1sg-gen
give to me book put it into hand of me

‘Give me the book. Put it in my hand.’

  Singular Dual Plural
Animate -ote -oyal -om
Inanimate -at -ut -om

Some examples:

  • mahkis ‘fish’ (animate): mahkisote, mahkisoyal, mahkisom
  • ugme ‘fire’ (animate): ugmote, ugmoyal, ugmom
  • lezasj ‘cloud’ (inanimate): lezasjat, lezasjut, lezasjom
  • djasko ‘hand’ (inanimate): djaskat, djaskut, djaskom
“For”-phrases (“Benefactive”)

The benefactive case has two main uses when translating from English: Phrases with the preposition “for,” as in “this is a present for you” and “for the purpose of” or “in order to.” In the latter case, English normally uses a verb (e.g. “in order to read the book,” but in Zjenav a benefactive verbal noun is used instead (“reading-ben the book.”) In some cases the benefactive may be translated as “because of” or “thanks to.”

Qa ra viluvi rahya.

qa ra viluvi-i rah-ya
1sg.nom fut speak-1sg 3sg.masc-ben
I will speak for-him

‘I will speak on his behalf.’

  Singular Dual Plural
Animate -iya -al -iyasj
Inanimate -iya / -ja -uya -iyasj

Some examples:

  • kweru ‘tree’ (animate): kweriya, kweral, kweriyasj
  • mahkov ‘mother’ (animate): mahkoviya, mahkoval, mahkoviyasj
  • grisjar ‘mountain’ (inanimate): grisjariya, grisjaruya, grisjariyasj
  • kwemqe ‘stick’ (inanimate): kwemqiya, kwemquya, kwemqiyasj
“With/by”-phrases (“Instrumental”)

The instrumental case translates the preposition “with” in English, but not all senses of it! The most common sense of “with” is equivalent to “accompanying” or “together,” which is rendered with the preposition dum and a noun or pronoun in the dative. The instrumental translates “with” in a sense of “using” or “by means/way of,” (e.g. “with a hammer” or “by way of the park”). The instrumental is often used to derive adverbs and adjectives from nouns, such as sjulpurat ‘with two horns’ → ‘horned’ from sjulpe ‘horn’.

Qai qludjiqa la butjatisj djaskor.

qai qludji-qa la butjat-isj djasko-or
1pl.nom write-1pl pst book-acc.pl hand-ist
We write did books by-hand

‘We wrote the books by hand.’

  Singular Dual Plural
Animate -or -or -arat
Inanimate -ara -urat -oyarat

Some examples:

  • bizju ‘tutelary deity’ (animate): bizjor, bizjor, bizjarat
  • fenav ‘flower’ (animate): fenavor, fenavor, fenavarat
  • esjit ‘bone’ (inanimate): esjitara, esjiturat, esjitoyarat
  • muhla ‘leg’ (inanimate): muhlara, muhlurat, muhloyarat
Direct Address (“Vocative”)

Finally the Vocative case is simply the case you would use to refer to someone by name. Only the second person pronouns (asj and asji) have a vocative inflection.

’Sja aqeha Zehra la’ shane zji zjoq resj djayesj vul.

(a)sj-a aqehu-a Zehru-a lazj asj-ane zji zjoq djaya-e-sj v-ul
2sg-voc boy-voc Zehru-voc name 2sg-gen cop what.rel ever come-2sg-imp prox-loc
You boy Zehru name of-you is what-ever come here

‘You, boy, Zehru, whatever your name is, come here.’

  Singular Dual Plural
Animate[1] -a -uq -in
Pronoun asja asjuqwe asjin

Some examples:

  • Azahn ‘Azahn’ (name): Azahna, Azahnuq, Azahnin
  • Rahavah ‘Rahavah’ (animate): Rahavaha, Rahavahuq, Rahavahin
  • rehazj ‘moon’ (animate): rehazja, rehazjuq, rehazjin


Pronouns are declined for case and number. The third (and fourth) person is also declined for animacy and sex.

  Nom. Gen. Dat. Ben. Ist. Acc. Voc.
1sg. qa
of me, my
to me
for me
through me
2sg. asj
of you, your
to you
for you
through you
hey, you!
3sg.masc rah
of him, his
to him
for him
through him
3sg.fem rei
of her, her(s)
to her
for her
through her
4sg[2] ek
of it, its
to it
for it
through it
1du qae
you & I
of you & me
to you & me
for you & me
via you & me
you & me
1pl qai
we (all)
of us
to us
for us
through us
2sg. (a)sji
you (all)
of you, your
to you
for you
through you
hey, you!
3pl rai
they (anim.)
of them, their
to them
for them
through them
4pl kat
they (inan.)
of those, their
to those
for those
through those

The initial a- of the second person singular and plural is optional in all forms except for the nominative singular. The third person singular (animate) pronouns are divided into masculine and feminine forms; they are merged in the plural (not unlike English ‘he’ vs. ‘she’, but the plural of both is ‘they’). The initial e- of the fourth person singular is optional in all forms except for the nominative, instrumental, and accusative. The first person dual is used exclusively for the inclusive (“you and I”); exclusive usage (“someone else and I”) defaults to the plural. The first person plural may be used for both inclusive and exclusive. Sometimes, colloquially, the first person dual may be used to refer inclusively to plural persons to emphasize inclusivity over number.


All adpositions in Zjenav precede the objects they modify, and are therefore prepositions. Grammatically, they are fairly straightforward, but it may be helpful to list some of the more common prepositions here and indicate what noun case should be expected when using them. Nearly all prepositions are followed by nouns in the accusative case, but there is an exception concerning locational prepositions and objects which are in motion, which are followed by the dative. This is analogous to the difference between the English prepositions in or on (stationary) and into or onto (in motion).

Prp Meaning Case
dum with accusative
ke at, in (a place) accusative
qwa by, beside, next to dative (moving), accusative (stationary)
ur in, into dative (moving), accusative (stationary)
um on, onto dative (moving), accusative (stationary)
eisj under dative (moving), accusative (stationary)
go from genitive
kae to, towards accusative
korei without accusative
sjam in front of dative (moving), accusative (stationary)
ra through dative (moving), accusative (stationary)


Adjectives nearly always follow the noun they modify. Adjectives do not inflect for animacy, case, or number.

Predicative Adjectives

Some words that are classified as adjectives are more accurately verbal clauses which operate on a noun in the same manner as a basic adjective, and which are generally translated as adjectives, but their inflections are different because they are actually verbs. For example, sjenevet ‘reflective’ is actually the third person singular of the verb sjeneve ‘to reflect’, so ‘a reflective surface’ sazjan sjenevet would more accurately be translated as ‘a surface which reflects’. The plural, in turn, takes a verbal ending instead of an adjectival one: sazjanat sjeneviu ‘reflective surfaces’.

Phrasal Adjectives

Other words that are classified as adjectives are more accurately noun phrases which operate on another noun in the same manner as a basic adjective, and which are generally translated as adjectives, but their inflections are different because they are actually nouns inflected for a case such as the instrumental or genitive. For example, tepsahurat ‘winged’ is the dual instrumental of tepsah ‘wing’, so parunkwe tepsahurat might be translated as ‘winged bird’, but literally means bird with-a-pair-of-wings. Similarly, zjesrah korei kursjezjil ‘fearless man’ literally translates to ‘man without fear’.

Substantive Adjectives

Many adjectives can be used as nouns or names simply by declining them according to the appropriate cases where applicable, and accounting for animacy. For example: qlakise ‘cursed’ → qlakisei ‘the cursed ones/people’ → qlakiset ‘cursed objects’.


In order to form an adverb from an adjective, add the suffix -esj. E.g.:


Verbs can be inflected to indicate past, present, and future tenses. Verbs are generally divided into five “classes” based on the vowel used in their endings (roughly analogous to the -er, -ir, and -re verbs of French, or the weak -jan, -ōn, -ān, and -nan verbs of early Germanic.) Most conjugations are fairly similar, but changing the thematic vowel causes slight changes to some of the endings.

The Copula

Zjenav is a “zero-copula” or “null-copula” language. This means that the most basic copula – which in English is the verb ‘be’ (including the inflections am, are, and is) in sentences like ‘That is a house’ or ‘I am a teacher’ – is eliminated from the language. However, it doesn’t completely pattern with other null-copula languages which do away with the verb in its entirety. Instead, the verb is replaced by the particle zji. Zji is not a verb (it is a particle or an adverb) and does not inflect for person or number, but replaces the copula in most instances.

In phrases where a locational copula is needed, the verb i is used, usually with a dative phrase. While i is more of a verb than zji, it isn’t so much a null-copula as a null-stem verb, consisting only of the verbal endings.


All verbs have a single type of conjugation. Pronouns and particles may (optionally) be contracted if a verb begins with a vowel. All verbs end in a vowel, and conjugation is based on the final vowel of the verb. The first person dual and plural have the same conjugation, as do the third and fourth person plural. The third and fourth person singular, however, often differ. In all there are ten conjugations based on the various vowel stems.

The Single-Vowel Stems

  a-stem e-stem i-stem o-stem u-stem
‘to strike’
‘to think’
‘to meet’
‘to push’
‘to lie’
1sg qa maq-a zjurv-e las-i lig-o meik-u
2sg asj maq-e zjurv-e las-e lig-e meik-e
3sg rah, rei maq-et zjurv-et las-et lig-et meik-et
4sg ek maq-at zjurv-et las-it lig-ot meik-ut
1du/pl qae, qai maq-aqa zjurv-eqa las-iqa lig-oqa meik-uqa
2pl asji maq-asj zjurv-esj las-isj lig-osj meik-usj
3/4pl rai, kat maq-iu zjurv-iu las-iu lig-iu meik-iu

Verbs whose stems end in a palatalized consonant (sj, zj, tj, or dj) take the ending of –u for the third and fourth person plural instead of –iu. E.g. gadji ‘to have’ → rai gadju, not **gadjiu.

The Diphthong Stems

Verbs which end with a diphthong also have a slightly different conjugation based on the phonology of the language. Only five of the eight diphthongs are verb stems: -au, iu, and ui never occur at the end of a verb.

  ae-stem ai-stem ao-stem ei-stem oi-stem
‘to sit’
‘to burn’
‘to stand’
‘to sing’
‘to flow’
1sg qa gur-ae djah-ai pon-ao van-ei sjen-oi
2sg asj gur-ae djah-ae pon-ae van-ei sjen-oye
3sg rah, rei gur-aet djah-aet pon-aet van-eit sjen-oyet
4sg ek gur-aet djah-ait pon-aot van-eit sjen-oit
1du/pl qae, qai gur-aeqa djah-aiqa pon-aoqa van-eiqa sjen-oiqa
2pl asji gur-aesj djah-aisj pon-aosj van-eisj sjen-oisj
3/4pl rai, kat gur-ayu djah-ayu pon-oyu van-eyu sjen-oyu

Past and Future Tense

Past and future tense are formed with particles which do not affect the inflection. In the past tense, the verb is followed by the particle la, while in the future it is preceded by ra. (When a verb begins with a vowel, ra contracts to r’.) Tenses are illustrated here with the verb djaya ‘to come’:

  Past Present Future
1sg qa djay-a la djay-a ra djay-a
2sg asj djay-e la djay-e ra djay-e
3sg rah, rei djay-et la djay-et ra djay-et
4sg ek djay-at la djay-at ra djay-at
1du/pl qae, qai djay-aqa la djay-aqa ra djay-aqa
2pl asji djay-asj la djay-asj ra djay-asj
3/4pl rai, kat djay-u la djay-u ra djay-u


To form the negative, simply add the adverb qra ‘not’ before the verb. E.g.:

If the verb begins with a vowel, qra is shortened to qr’:


To form the imperative in the singular, the second person singular conjugation is appended with –sj, though this may be elided after a verb with a palatal stem. In the plural, the imperative form is identical to the standard conjugation. E.g.:

Reflexive and Reciprocal Voices

Verbs may be shown to be reflexive or reciprocal by inserting the appropriate adverb below before the verb. In many Western languages, these are thought of as pronouns, and many languages treat them as such, though in Zjenav they are more appropriately considered adverbs, as their function is to alter the voice of the verb. (Note that only plural subjects can take a reciprocal adverb.)

  Nom. Refl. Recip.
1sg. qa
1du. qae
you & I
each other
one another
1pl. qai
we (all)
2sg. asj
2pl. (a)sji
you (all)
each other
one another
3sg.masc rah
3sg.fem. rei
3pl. rai
they (anim)
each other
one another
4sg.[3] ek
4pl. kat
they (inan)
each other
one another

Forming Questions

Polar Questions (“Yes-No” or “Boolean” Questions)

Polar questions are formed by adding the word hoqra before the verb or at the end of the sentence. E.g.:

When using the copula zji, simply replace the copula entirely with hoqra.

Non-Polar Questions (“Wh-Questions” or “Special Questions”)

Non-polar questions are formed with “question words” such as those above. In most European languages, they tend to be placed at the beginning of an interrogative sentence, though in Zjenav they are a little more flexible. For example, “What is your name?” could be rendered as zoq zji lazj asjane? or lazj asjane zji zoq? with equal efficacy.


Derivation from Nouns

N > A -ok Turns a noun into an adjective that is like the noun.
N > A -uil Turns a noun into a compositional adjective.
N > V -izi Turns a noun (or adjective) into a verb.

Derivation from Verbs

V > A -dji Turns a verb into an adjectival past participle.
V > N -zjil A verbal infinitive can be used directly as an inanimate abstract noun.
V > N -tih Turns a verb into a tool used for the purpose of [verb]ing.
V > N -mazj Turns a verb into an (animate) agent who does the verb.
V > N -atj Turns a verb into an (inanimate) agent which does the verb.
V > V -kiuzji Turns an intransitive verb into a transitive or causative verb.

Derivation from Adjectives

A > A-cmp -asj Makes an adjective comparative.
A > A-sup -asjit Makes an adjective superlative.
A > Adv -esj Turns an adjective into an adverb.
A > N -in Turns an adjective into a noun meaning ‘state of [adj]’.
A > V -(i)ni Turns an adjective or preposition into a verb meaning ‘becoming [adj]’.
A > V -(i)zi Turns an adjective (or noun) into a verb.

Derivation from Numbers

# > A -aor Turns a cardinal number into an ordinal (adjective). Replaces a final vowel, but degrades to –ur after –u. Final –r transmutes to –l after a rhotic in the stem.


Zjenav Words
Zjenav Lexicon

Swadesh List

For those of you who like this sort of thing!

  Zjenav English   Zjenav English   Zjenav English
001 qa I 070 kwolmon feather 139 buraku to count
002 asj you 071 tosjoh hair (on head) 140 zjaki to say
003 rah, rei, ek he, she, it 072 zuhluzj head 141 vanei to sing
004 qai, qae we 073 polme ear 142 davao to play
005 asji you 074 paksa eye 143 desjoki to float
006 rai, kat they 075 muzju nose 144 sjenoi to flow
007 vai (anim), voq (inam) this 076 qanuh mouth 145 tjezi to freeze
008 tai (anim), toq (inam) that 077 demuzj tooth 146 sjidani to swell
009 vul here 078 gwalto tongue 147 hasjan sun
010 tul there 079 lahke fingernail 148 rehazj moon
011 zai who 080 krub foot 149 isjil star
012 zoq what 081 muhla leg 150 rava water
013 zul where 082 djiran knee 151 zahna rain
014 zem when 083 djasko hand 152 nivul river
015 zesj how 084 tepsah wing 153 aquva lake
016 qra not 085 ilkarav belly, abdomen 154 zjoran sea
017 halva all 086 andjis guts, entrails 155 raha salt
018 bavozj many 087 bren neck 156 zaka stone
019 hindazj some 088 paksjah back 157 sjikah sand
020 tehno few 089 sjulva breast 158 dogul dust
021 djehra other 090 sangah heart 159 gorul earth, soil, dirt
022 ha one 091 tjetur liver 160 lezasj cloud
023 qwe two 092 hatje to drink 161 pehla fog, mist
024 djat three 093 uqqu to eat 162 aqwehma sky
025 zjequ four 094 pika to bite 163 suzje wind
026 uvuh five 095 takwate to suck 164 hisra snow
027 nuzjat big, large 096 stuqutji to spit 165 sehlasj ice
028 djezera long 097 qwahnatu to vomit 166 dimma smoke
029 gwammah wide, broad 098 hafasji to blow 167 ugme fire
030 gusle thick 099 enahi to breathe 168 ruhal ash, ashes
031 tunnoh heavy 100 hahlati to laugh 169 djahai burn
032 indja small, little 101 desi to see 170 sjanaq path, road, trail
033 hrasev short 102 apisko to hear 171 grisjar mountain
034 usjin narrow 103 tjolahe to know 172 nuikat red
035 dehla thin 104 zjurve to think 173 djalisj green
036 azjeser woman 105 gwokuri to smell 174 grozj yellow
037 zjesrah man 106 kursje to fear 175 qwettah white
038 zjeser person 107 sjiqu to sleep 176 zaruqo black
039 aqeh child 108 vizji to live 177 liut night
040 nizjan wife 109 gravizi to die 178 nadjad day
041 djuttah husband 110 mahlizi to kill 179 sjeimaq year
042 mahkov mother 111 sjehni to fight 180 dulam hot (weather)
043 sehkov father 112 hnuqatu to hunt 181 djirasj cold
044 param animal 113 maqa to hit 182 timla full
045 mahkis fish 114 trangi to cut 183 lazjis new
046 parunkwe bird 115 saluqa to split 184 djornah old
047 qwot dog 116 pasjiti to stab, to pierce 185 kezj good
048 pitj louse 117 sjahe to scratch 186 qahasj bad
049 sjeq snake 118 berepa to dig 187 sjirrah rotten
050 tahni worm 119 qrufu to swim 188 piruh dirty
051 kweru tree 120 onahlu to fly 189 mohna straight
052 sjenkur forest, woods 121 tuqae to walk 190 bunda round
053 kwemqe stick 122 djaya come 191 kitj sharp
054 nazu fruit 123 meiku to lie (down) 192 vohom dull
055 gitjo seed 124 gurae to sit 193 sjasj smooth
056 djendra leaf 125 ponao to stand 194 ravaoq wet
057 ravu root 126 zjohma to turn 195 zjuhre dry
058 kwop bark (of tree) 127 pozja to fall 196 trizja correct, right
059 fenav flower 128 basri to give 197 traqo near
060 dahno grass 129 nokwa to hold 198 gim far
061 qulug rope 130 pisu to squeeze 199 getjilo right (hand)
062 tjurri skin 131 hmonno to rub 200 saliusj left (hand)
063 nandju flesh, meat 132 gango to wash 201 ke at
064 nahul blood 133 reina to wipe 202 ur in
065 esjit bone 134 prehna to pull 203 dum with
066 savri grease, fat 135 ligo to push 204 si and
067 unku egg 136 sjuhtu to throw 205 hu if
068 sjulpe horn 137 zjego to tie, bind 206 vaqei because
069 tjugwen tail 138 djemei to sew 207 lazj name
  1. The vocative only exists officially for animate nouns, since most people are not in the habit of directly addressing inanimate objects. (In some cases where poetic license is necessary, the animate endings may be applied to an inanimate.)
  2. The term fourth person can mean many different things, linguistically speaking, depending on the language in question, and is usually avoided because of any confusion that may arise therefrom. In this text I present it as a simple alternative to describing the inanimate pronouns; persons 1‒3 are actual “persons,” while the fourth person here is not. It is equally valid to describe the “third person inanimate” in contrast to the “third person animate,” but that frankly just takes up a lot room in an otherwise concise chart.
  3. The term fourth person can mean many different things, linguistically speaking, depending on the language in question, and is usually avoided because of any confusion that may arise therefrom. In this text I present it as a simple alternative to describing the inanimate pronouns; persons 1‒3 are actual “persons,” while the fourth person here is not. It is equally valid to describe the “third person inanimate” in contrast to the “third person animate,” but that frankly just takes up a lot room in an otherwise concise chart.