In the Woods | Nanzimu

In this lesson you will learn about
• Agents, objects and subjects
• The cases
• Is and are

Umu is an inflected language. That means the vowels in a word will change depending on the way the word is being used in the sentence.

Agents & Objects

Kanzimu ‘ej.
kanö zimu ‘ej
watch forest ERG/horse.
The horse watches the wood.

Here the nurse is doing the watching. The wood is being watched. The horse is the agent or ‘doer’. The wood is on the receiving end and is the object or ‘done to’. Umu makes this clear by using different vowels for agents and objects.

Kanzimo ‘aj.
kanö zimo ‘aj.
watch ERG/forest horse
The wood watches the horse.

Now zimu has become zimo. And ‘ej has become ‘aj. This makes zimo the agent and ‘aj the object. English word order is more restrictive because we recognize the agent by its position’s in the sentence. Umu’s word order is more flexible.


In Umu a subject is the core argument of an intensive verb. These are sentences with a ‘doer’ but no ‘done to’. Like these.

She walks.
The boy falls.
Dad is sleeping.

English is different. In English every sentence has a subject.

There are a few words in English which change their form according to whether they are subjects or objects. These are pronouns, words that replace nouns. Complete the table with the missing subject and object forms.


In English, subjects and agents are the same. They use the same form. Objects use a different form. This is called nominative/accusative alignment.

I move.
I move him.
He moves.

In Umu, subjects and objects use the same form. Agents use a different form. This is called ergative/absolutive alignment.

Two sentences below are wrong in English but would be right in Umu.

Me move.
I move him.
Him moves.

The agent ‘I’ uses a different form. Objects and subjects use the same form. This is the opposite of English.

English does this only with pronouns. But Umu does this with every single noun and pronouns too. Also, sometimes Umu acts the same as English depending on tense. This is explained in later lessons.

Tira nanzimu Jan. Tira’aj wak Jan. Lapiza mna Jen tan wej. Tika Jan wa kwi ‘aj. Mnamjizimu ‘ej. Kanzimu ‘ej. Kanwaj zimo. Medu ‘aj.

tira nanö zimu Janö. tira ‘ajö ‘akö Janö. höna piza höra Jenö tanö ‘ejö. tika Janö ‘ö’a kö’i ‘ajö. höra möji zimu ‘ejö. kanö zimo ‘ ejö. kanö ‘ejö zimo. medu ‘ajö.

walk in forest Jan. walk horse with Jan. carry bag not ERG/Jan but ERG/horse. tired Jan and slow horse. not like forest ERG/horse. watch forest ERG/horse. watch horse ERG/forest. afraid horse.

Guess it’s an old horse.


Case is the name given to the different kinds of word forms.

Absolutive Case: subject, object
zimu, ‘aj
Ergative Case: agent
zimo, ‘ej

Is & Are

There is no verb to be in Umu. To say something is something, start with the comment and follow with the topic. The ergative case is not used because nothing is really being done, it’s just being described. So any ‘agent’ will be in the absolutive case.

Nut Jan.
nutö janö

Monk Jan
Jan is a monk.


Kannut Jen.
kanö nutö jenö

watch monk ERG/Jan
Jan watches the monk.


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