Big Change

Dear readers,

Big changes have come to Umu, a bit of a reboot you could say. These changes will make a lot of Umu’s previous features redundant, including most of the lexicon, it’s alignment, and word structure.





All redundant posts are keep online under the ‘redundant’ category. I do this because they’re still a part of the creative process–however obsolete they may be to Umu’s present incarnation–and remain dear to me. I fear most of the project has been made redundant but no bother.

Here’s what different.

Word Categories and Vowel Harmony

The good news is I’ve finally found a use for that vowel shift that’s eluded me for so long.

Umu has a vowel harmony governed by a word’s final vowel. The standard has been that words end either in a’s (dark vowel), u’s (light vowel), or i’s and ö’s (neutral vowels).

As for non-final vowels, dark word have o’s instead of u’s and light words have e’s instead of a’s.

This is nothing new. I did it to squeeze more than four vowel sounds out of the writing system’s four directional vowels and I thought it sounded… pretty.

But the shift from dark to light and light to dark was always possible, creating variants that end in e’s and o’s (sounds which I originally thought we ugly to end on).

At first, I used this shift to signal that a word was being modified but couldn’t set the parameters. Every damn word in the noun phrase was being modified and compound words really threw the spanner in. So I scaped the whole thing.

Enter The Languages of Native North America (Cambridge Language Surveys) by Marianne Mithun, a book full of amazing languages and their quirks. Here, I found a use for my vowel shift.

Earlier I decided that all words in Umu belong to all lexical categories. The same word could be a noun or verb or adjective or anything else based on ‘context’. But I never cleaned up what this actually meant or how it would work in practice.

Thankfully, after some study, this has become less nebulous.

In some natural languages, verbs and nouns are universal, like in Kwak’wala and Nookta of the Pacific Northwest cost.

In both, the stem is, as far as it’s meaning allows, indifferently verbal or nominal and one or more suffixes are required to give rise to definitely verb or nominal complexes.

(Sapir 1911c: 17/1991: 354)

In the example they give, the same word can mean fire or burn, with only optional affixes serving to signal one from the other.

And here’s my vowel shift. So now in Umu, the shift will signal that a word is predicative (verbs and verby words), and the standard form will be non-predicative (nouns and nouny words).

The fun part will be deciding which verbs correspond to which nouns, whether verb X means to be noun X or to do what noun X does or to do what is done to noun X, etc. There’s a lot of room for fun involving animacy and figurative speech, whatever. Will food mean to cook food or to eat? Don’t know yet. To copy the example directly, in Umu:

jv, pronounced iv
jv, ditto
to burn

Words with all neutral vowels show no change but are still marked orthographically.

A least that’s the working theory for now. But for a less ambiguous example:

to choose

Introducing Infection

One idea leads to another and some solutions create new problems. One problem I have is too many words and don’t know what to do with them.


Each Umu glyph/word is made up of two syllabic blocks. There are 10 consonants with four vowels which yields 1600 possible combination, 3200 if you factor in the vowel shift.

I’ve all these potential words and am intimidated by the massive inventory.


Enter inflections. Let’s say that the first vowel of a word indicates person. There are four vowels which means three vowels would correspond to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person and the fourth can be the uninfected base, used for bare nouns, infinitives, modifiers, compounds, and particles.

The vowels to be used will match the vowels from what were formerly the pronouns. The leftover will be the base.

a = 1st person (formerly wma)
i = 2nd person (formerly wti)
u = 3rd person (formerly wu)
ö = base

This brings 1600 down to 400. Including the vowel shift, we’ve a modest 800 base words in total: 400 predicative bases, 400 non-predicative bases. This way, Umu still has 3200 distinct glyphs for me to draw but the other 2400 are simply inflected forms of the original 800. And really, there’s only 400 core morphemes to assign meaning. Perfect for my small brain.

Here are some examples:

Non-predicative Inflection


my choice, our choice

you choice

his/her/its/their choice

Predicative Inflection

to choose

I choose, we choose

you choose, you pl. choose

he/she/it/they choose

Alignment Re-alignment

I’m not sure if the old alignment pattern will work now that verbs are marked for person. I’m playing with nominative/accusative patterns, ergative/absolutive patters and active/stative patterns. I’m not sure if I’ll need a sperate set of pronouns. Stay Tuned


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