New Glyph Style

A while back I formatted the dictionary with a simpler glyph style. I thought it would be helpful to use a very basic style for the dictionary. You saw it was very blocky.

I’m trading it in for a more stylized format. After all, there’s no sense in being boring.

The beautiful thing is, it’s now actually easier.

Here’s how it looks.

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Guess what this says.



Audio Samples Are Here!

Thank you Audiomack! Now I can add audio samples to Umu. It’s easy and free. I can do it from my phone 🙂

They’re in the posts already but here they are if you’d like to hear my first two.

I also added an ‘Audio’ tag to find them easily.



Kuru tato nnihaza nnu nezumora naj.
kuru tato nöni haza nönu nezu mora najö
riverhead GEN/river thing here from speak.of mountain here
The headwaters of these rivers are in the mountains spoken about.

The Long Summer


Wa vi piva ‘ankja jipamo kul kru kenumtajv.
‘ö’a vöjö piva ‘anö köja jöjö pamo kurö köru kenu möta jövö.
and PRF dry so away field GEN/farm like IRR burn with fire.
And the grass of the farms has dried off completely as if it was burnt with fire.

Straddled Verbs & Reduplication

We already learned that the argument nearest to the verbs is the PATIENT / CORE ARGUMENT. We also learned that to promote that argument to an AGENT we double the verb.

‘ara nöna
boy eat
(Something) eats a boy.  or
A boy is eaten.

‘Ara nnanna
‘ara nöna nöna
boy eat eat
A boy eats.

nöna ‘ara
eat boy
(Something) eats the boy.  or
The boy is eaten.

Nnanna ‘ara
nöna nöna ‘ara
eat eat boy
The boy eats.

Straddled Verbs

We also learned that when there are arguments on both sides of the verb, the definite (post-verbal) argument is assumed to be the AGENT.

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Me’unna ‘ara
me’u nöna ‘ara
shark eat boy
The boy eats a shark.

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‘Aranna me’u
‘ara nöna me’u
boy eat shark
The shark eats a boy.

I quoted The Languages of Native North America by Marianne Minthum.

It is now well known that speakers of most languages rarely introduce new participants into discourse as the subject/ergative/agent of a transitive clause. Though they might seem perfectly grammatical, sentences like ‘A nice man helped me out.’ are surprisingly rare in spontaneous speech.

Speakers more often introduce new entities in presentative constructions, in intensive clauses, or as the objects/absolutives/patients of transitives: ‘A nice man came up and offered to help,’ or ‘I met a nice man there and he helped me out.’

For this reason ergative arguments (or subjects/agents of transitives) are rarely identified in full noun phrases: they are usually represented by pronouns or nothing at all.

(Minthum 1999: 192)

Though not exact, a similar principle applies. In Umu, DEFINITE arguments are more likely to be AGENTS than INDEFINITE arguments.

This left the question: “How do you have an indefinite agent then?”

Reduplication Expanded

Now we will learn more about the behavior of reduplicated verbs.

Reduplication promotes the argument nearest to the verb to AGENT. This means that other arguments are free to perform other roles. Because INDIRECT OBJECTS and INSTRUMENTS accompany a preposition, the ‘other’ argument most likely will fill the roll of PATIENT.

This allows us to shift FOCUS and TOPIC.

Nname’u tiw.
nöna me’u ti’ö
eat shark king
The king eats the shark.

Nnanna me’u tiw.
nöna nöna me’u ti’ö
eat eat shark king
The shark eats the king.

Above, doubling the verb eat makes the closest argument, the shark, the AGENT. The king is left to be the PATIENT. The example describes what happens to the king–the king already being the understood topic of discussion. It answers a question like, “What is happening to the king?.” This works too when the topic is not overt:

“What is happening to the king?”
“The shark eats (him).”

Nnanna me’u.
nöna nöna me’u
eat eat shark king
The shark eats.

Contrast this to the sentence below where the shark is the established topic of discussion.

“I see a shark.”
“What’s the shark doing?”
“He’s eating the king.”

Nnatiw me’u.
nöna ti’ö me’u
eat king shark
The shark eats the king.

Or, when you drop the topic…

nöna ti’ö
eat king
(Something) eats the king.

“What’s the shark doing?”
“King eating.”

Yes, yes. Very good.

Straddled Verb-Verbs

So now we know this. When a verb has an ARGUMENT on both sides of it, the post-verbal ARGUMENT is the AGENT and the pre-verbal ARGUMENT is the PATIENT. But the agent is also the TOPIC.

This was as good as I was able to get with this issue. But it left a problem. Topics are always definite so that wasn’t the problem. Rather, I needed a way to have a DEFINITE PATIENT with an INDEFINITE AGENT. Reduplication works here too. Easier to see it below.

“What’s the boy eating?”
“He’s eating a shark.”

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Me’unna ‘ara
me’u nöna ‘ara
shark eat boy
The boy eats a shark.

“What is happening to the boy?”
“A shark’s eating him.”

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Me’u nnanna ‘ara
me’u nöna nöna ‘ara
shark eat eat boy
A shark eats the boy

In both cases the boy is the topic and may be dropped. The answer still has the same meaning.

Things got a little hairy and to be honest, this questions been bothering me for years. But as simple as it seems, it took that long to unpack.

Arguments & Verbs

Umu verbs differ from English verbs in many ways. A major difference is how Umu treats ARGUMENTS.

English uses WORD ORDER (the man bites the dog vs. the dog bites the man) and CASE (I see him and he sees me) to differentiate the perpetrator of the action (AGENT) from the victim of the action (PATIENT). In English, perpetrators come before verbs and victims come after verbs—case is only marked on pronouns.

In Umu, there’s no CORE CASE marking, and WORD ORDER signals DEFINITENESS. Because of this, Umu verbs work differently.

Patients & Agents

If a verb has only one argument, the argument is always the PATIENT. This applies to transitive verbs as well.

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ta’ö ‘ara
sleep boy
The boy sleeps.

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nöna nöti
eat girl
(Something) eats the girl.
The girl is eaten.

The PATIENT is always closer to the verb than the PATIENT.

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Nnadi me’u.
nöna nöti me’u.
eat girl shark
The shark eats the girl.

Pre-Verbal & Post-Verbal Arguments

Umu has no articles (a/the). When an argument comes before the verb, it’s interpreted INDEFINITE. When after, DEFINITE.

The closer an argument is to the end of the sentence, the more topical/definite it is. Compare the examples below with those above.

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‘ara ta’ö
boy sleep
A boy sleeps.

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nöti nöna
girl eat
(Something) eats a girl.
A girl is eaten.

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Me’u dinna.
me’u nöti nöna
shark girl eat
A shark eats a girl.

Because both shark and girl are pre-verbal they are in definite. Shark is the AGENT because it is farther away from the verb than the PATIENT.


English has grammatical SUBJECTS and OBJECTS. Subjects are necessary to form complete phrases, while objects are not.

English: Subjects are required. Objects are optional.

The girl eats (food).
*(The girl) Eats food.

You can’t say “eats food” in English without specifying who or what is doing the eating. Rather, English used the PASSIVE VOICE to shift the focus from SUBJECT  to OBJECT.

Food is eaten.

Umu, by contrast, has AGENTS (perpetrators) and PATIENTS (victims). Patients have more grammatical weight than agents, which means phrases must have a victim but needn’t have a perpetrator.

Umu: Patients are required. Agents are optional.

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nöna muji
eat food
(Something) eats the food.  or
the food is eaten.

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nöna nöti
eat girl
(Something) eats the girl. or
the girl is eaten.

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Nnamuji di.
nöna muji nöti
eat food girl
The girl eats the food.


So how do you say “the girl eats” in Umu?

The simple answer is say the verb twice.

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nöna nöti
eat girl
(something) eats the girl or
The girl is eaten.

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Nnanna di.
nöna nöna nöti

eat eat girl
The girl eats (something).

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*Nnanna muji.
*nöna nöna muji

*eat eat foot
*The food eats (something).

What’s going on?  As mentioned earlier, a lone argument is always the patient and when there are two arguments, the agent is farthest away from the verb. Reduplication turns the second verb into the patient, promoting the original patient to agent.

The second example above is not a viable utterance because food (as traditionally conceptualized in Umu) is not capable of eating other things.

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