Umu: Word Class & Radicals

All words are made up of two parts: classifier and stem, e.g. the word [m]tedu, river, m– is the classifier and –tedu is the stem. In the word [h]‘i’i, pencil, h– is the classifier and -‘i’i is the stem.

There are ten native classifiers: w-, n-, m-, h- k- t-, p-, j-, đ- and v-. An additional classifier, s- (a foreign sound itself), is used  to accommodate foreign loanwords.

In writing, classifiers can be thought of as radicals that convey semantic or functional meaning. They are easy to recognise and always written at the top of the glyph.

Classifiers have rules as to when the are pronounced.

Class 1: ö/w-

This class begins with ö-. It may be called the Functional Class, as it contains mostly ad-positions and other function words like conjunction and basic verbs.

Class 2: n-

This class begins with n-. It is called the Personal Class. It contains words for people, groups of people, body parts, and bodily actions. It also includes parts of plants and trees.

Class 3: m-

This class is the Natural Class. It begins with m-. The words of this class include plant and animal life and parts of the natural world.

Class 4: h-

This class includes tools, clothing, institutions, hierarchies, and business related and religious words. It connotes being man-made.

Class 5: k-

The Abstract Class includes words for emotions and mental states, communication, and also games and sporting terms.

Class 6: t-

This small class of words includes terms of degree, quantity, identity, and number. Known as the Quantitative Class.

Class 7: p-

The Active Class includes moving objects and words indicating motion, travel and dimension. It also includes animals used for transport.

Class 8: j-

This class connotes Temporal change. It includes not only words of time and sequence but also that which is transient, temporary, or scarce, including foodstuffs and resources.

Class 9: đ-

The Qualitative Class includes forms of matter, physical states, physical changes, and scientific terms.

Class 10: v-

This class includes the visible, audible, feelable, and various abstract concepts. It is know as the Observable Class.


8 thoughts on “Umu: Word Class & Radicals

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  1. The word classes are very interesting and creative, while also being quite intuitive. I like the range of meaning for class eight, and how it ties together with the linking of temporal/transient.

    1. Woah, first comment! Cheers!

      I’m going to develop the phonology so the “silent” prefixes change the sound of the following consonant. Sort of like initial mutations in celtic languages, without a grammatical context.

      Yeah word classes are cool. Class 8 came to me in a moment of “well, nothing lasts forever”. I figured consumables are equally transient. I did it initially so the language could have lots of homophones. But with the mutations, it will be slightly less ambiguous. The fact that they produced actual (-ish) radicals was a happy accident.

      WOAH… I could have used them as case markers! But I wanted Umu to be caseless.

      1. I like that you aimed for homophones instead of avoiding them like the plague — often it seems that conlangers forget that natlangs seem to get by just fine even with high amounts of homophony!

        And initial mutations are fun, I want to learn more about them to find some ideas for using them in a conlang.

  2. Celtic languages are an initial mutation wonderland. It’s totally what influenced Tolkien in SIndarin. Actually if people are phonology geeks, celtic languages are crazy rich in sounds.

  3. Looks great! Just a note: Most noun-class languages usually have an “other” class that unclassifiable words (and borrowings) get dumped into. If I had to pick one, I’d actually choose class 8 (after all, as you pointed out, nothing lasts forever).

    1. Foreign words will be brought into Umu without word class. This will produce distinctly “foreign” looking glyphs. If inundated by loanwords over time, native words will be “locked in” and easily identifiable.

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