Umu: Topic Prominence


In addition to a grammatical PATIENT and AGENT, Umu sentences also includes the element of TOPIC.

The TOPIC of a sentence is what the sentence is about. It always comes last in the sentence. For example:

The topic can always optionally be set apart from the rest of the sentence with a pause. Topics need not be overt.

Topics need not have a direct semantic relationship with the verb; patients and agents must.

The concept of TOPIC is crucial in explaining the structure of ordinary sentences. The concept of SUBJECT not grammatically defined.  In ordinary conversation, it may be missing altogether.


5 thoughts on “Umu: Topic Prominence

Add yours

  1. “Topics need not have a direct semantic relationship with the verb; subjects must.” This is a really good way of explaining the topic/subject difference.

    This is not a critisicm =), but may I ask why you chose to have the topic always at the end? I know there at natlangs like this, but it seems so counter-intuitive to me. Maybe I just feel that way because my native language is SVO. But it seems very strange to talk about something first before identifying what it is you’re talking about. What do you think?

    1. You’re right (I think)

      I just wanted something different—an exercise to restructure my thoughts. Portuguese and Mandarin use topic-comment constructions. I wanted to see if it would work the other way around.

      I want Umu to align ergatively and be head-final. I think I should have glossed the third example:

      two gen/hour book yesterday. <– 'red' not 'reed'

      I imagined that this way of thinking would easily allow for comment-topic construction.

      Maybe not. We'll see as I go along.

      Thank you for your comment!

  2. Oops, and the last example should be’

    anő fren

    Here’s what’s happening.

    Separately, we have two words [6]very ‘an’ and [10]cold ‘han’.

    The word ‘han’ takes the genitive case because it’s being modified. This awakens classifier (10=v). Initial sounds mutate: v+h=fr. And finally (what I missed out on) the heavey ‘a’ shifts to it’s light counterpart ‘e’. This gives you gen/10cold ‘fren’.

    The preceding modifier [6]very ‘an’ rhythmically assimilates into the head by shifting its stress to the final syllable, in this case, a silent ‘ö’. That changes ‘an’ to ‘anő’.


    anő fren
    [6]very gen/10cold
    (it’s) very cold.

    It’s classifier remains dormant because its not being modified. Were it to have been ‘very very cold’, we’d have:

    anő tenő fren
    [6]very gen/6very gen/10cold
    (it’s) very very cold.

    Common Umu affirmatives:

    very (much so)

    anő ten
    [6]very gen/6very
    very very (much so)

    1. Very cool =) I’ll have to read more about Umu; it’s so different from my own conlangs.

      I agree that conlanging can be a great exercise to restructure one’s thoughts. Umu is a stretch for me, but very inspiring. I definitely want to play around with an ergative language in the future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: