Talking Rock in Kenda Soro

Soronen Kidi

Here is the full text of the Talking Rock story, plus an interlinear of the first sentence and an explanation of all that is going on. More sentences will appear in upcoming posts.

Text and Translation

Tili lonos kini ŋamaza lireye, soronen ŋeŋihe kides libana ikanda liye irato baŋibaŋi. Likasaya soronen ŋeŋihe kidilo, sadu sorove, “U! Soronen kidi diŋi?” Kideya evi, “La! Soronen kidi liŋi!” Kidido keŋive, “Zodu diya lidu libanaraza seŋipe?” Kideya rusuve, “Ŋeya piŋividu soronen kidi liŋi.” Liya kidenda soronda likehes piŋiranda ebeves sama dimidimi ira. Zovalas lirunos kidi venala sapeye.

Yesterday, I was going along the shoulder of the land, when I had to stop from coming into contact with my foot against a rock that could talk. I with my hand picked up the rock that could talk, and said to it, “Hey, are you a talking rock?” The rock said, “Yes! I am a talking rock!” I asked the rock, “Why did you fail to warn me about my foot’s going?” The rock replied, “I am a talking rock who causes pain.” Because the rock’s words put pain in my belly, I threw it into the sea. I never saw the rock at any time again.

Interlinear and Explanation

Tili lonos kini ŋamaza lireye, soronen ŋeŋihe kides libana ikanda liye irato baŋibaŋi.

Yesterday, I was going along the shoulder of the land, when I had to stop from coming into contact with my foot against a rock that could talk.

Taken in order, the first clause starts with a time period marked with locative =s. The locative is used for attained destinations, locations, and time periods.

The next phrase in the clause uses =za to mark an area, the land’s shoulder, a whole::part noun phrase showing an inalienable possession construct. This is the standard construction for inalienable possession: the whole followed by the possessed part. Inalienable possession is only used for parts of wholes and metaphorical parts of wholes and not for kinship. The shoulder of the land would be the part of the land that gently slopes into not-land, i.e. sea, so the beach.

The final phrase is the subject pronoun, the verbal motion partical, and an aspectual continuative particle all glommed together to make one phonological word showing vowel decay li=ra=yi -> lireye. The continuative is used here to set the scene for the next clause.

The second clause starts with a locative phrase modified by a relative clause. This is the most common type of relative clause, one where the modified noun is the subject of the relative clause. The otherwise inanimate rock uses the animate relative pronoun because of the potentiality (marked on the verb with =hi) of talking. Talking makes a thing a rational animate. Talking here is indicated with soro=nen, word=COM or ‘word-having’. This is a use of =nen for turning a noun into an adjective indicating an attribute. Note the vowel decay.

The next part of the second clause is an embedded clause marked with =nda. The primary use of this particle is to mark a point of origin. The use in this case is to mark a cause or reason, an origin of the action in the main clause. The embedded clause libana ika is using body part metonomy, where a possessed body part stands in for the rational animate possessor. This causes the body part to act like a rational animate, taking rational animate agreement. But, the subject on the verb is the third person animate used for non-volitional action. So the embedded clause is conveying that the reason for the main clause is the non-volitional contact of my foot on a location: the rock that can potentially talk.

The main part of the second clause is the first person singular subject repeated as a third person animate subject, conveying additional non-volitionality. This is attached to the verb ra GO and the aspectual particle =to for stopping. The clause ends with the conjunction baŋibaŋi conveying an unexpected situation.

Kenda Soro Phonology


labial dental alveolar palatal velar
nasal stops m n ŋ
oral stops, voiceless p t k
oral stops, voiced b d g
fricatives, voiceless s h
fricatives, voiced v z
rhotics r
laterals l
glides y

All of the consonants can occur initially and medially. Only /n/ and /s/ can occur finally. Consonant clusters allowed medially are /mb/, /nd/, and /ŋg/.

There are five vowels: /ieaou/.

Syllables are generally (C)V, with occasional CVC if the final C is /n/ or /s/. (C)VCCV is allowed with the medial CC being either /mb/, /nd/, or /ŋg/.

Stress is on the first syllable and then every other syllable. It is never on the final syllable. Thus words with an odd number of syllables end in two unstressed syllables. Vowels will change in this environment.

Phonological words have a minimum of two syllables.

Consonant Dissimilation

Some words are partial reduplications of other words. The initial syllable only is reduplicated. If the word begins with a vowel, the first vowel and consonant pair is reduplicated. This triggers consonant dissimilation. If the first consonant of the word is voiceless, then the second voiceless stop or fricative /ptsk/ become the voiced equivalent /bdzg/. Voiceless /h/ does not dissimilate. If the first consonant is already voiced then /bdzg/ become /vrsh/. So, /s/ becomes /z/, and /z/ becomes /s/. Likewise, /l/ becomes /y/ and /y/ becomes /l/. Furthermore, /d/ becomes /r/ and /r/ becomes /d/ with the further development of metathesis so that a word with the pattern rVdVX becomes dVrVX. This metathesis only occurs with /r/ -> /d/. The nasals /m/ and /ŋ/ both dissimilate to /n/. /n/ does not dissimilate.

Some examples:

  • Adjective basa ‘bad’ -> Noun bavasa ‘badness’
  • Adjective poto ‘sick’ -> Noun poboto ‘sickness’
  • Noun runu ‘eye’ -> Dual noun duruno ‘pair of eyes’
  • Noun tutu ‘lesson’ -> Noun tuduto ‘learning’
  • Noun uri ‘wind’ -> Noun udure ‘air’
  • Adjective zeye ‘dark’ -> Noun zeseye ‘darkness’

Vowel Decay

Unstressed vowels are subject to vowel decay. This primarily affects the high vowels /i/ and /u/. /iu/ will lower to /eo/ before a consonant cluster and before a final /s/. They will also decay if they are the final vowel in the two unstressed syllable sequence that occurs at the end of words of three or some other odd number of syllables. Hence duruno above rather than the expected durunu. And tuduto and udure. This decay does not happen if the word is augmented by a particle in some way so that the affected syllable is no longer unstressed or no longer the second unstressed vowel. So sama yanu duruno ‘his wide eyes’, but sadurunu ‘his eyes’.

A second type of vowel decay affecting /i/, /u/, and /a/ happens only when the vowels are in a sequence of unstressed syllables. XCiCa becomes XCeCa and XCuCa becomes XCoCa. Furthermore XCaCi becomes XCeCe and XCaCu becomes XCoCo.

Introducing Kenda Soro

So the new language continues to evolve, and right now it is in a good place. It’s current name is Kenda Soro. First a short grammar sketch. In a few days I’ll post something on the phonology. Grammar is more important!

Kenda Soro rhymes with this, my favorite from Ali Farka Touré.

Short Grammar Sketch

The central idea in the grammar is motion. Clauses are built around a noun in motion (the subject) and everything else is marked in relation to the subject.

Word order is verb final. The primary predicates of the language are all single-syllable particles, so they attach themselves to the end of the subject. All the predicates are intransitive, so other arguments in the clause are all oblique by definition.


Particles are grammatical words that do not follow the phonological rules. They are single-syllable, and so have to glom onto another word. The primary predicates of this language are all particles. Aside from the single syllable pronominal particles, all other particles act as suffixes and attach to the end of the preceding word. Pronominal particles act as prefixes. A predicate can consist of a pronominal prefix and a verbal suffix with no added material in between.

Motion Particles

There are twelve particles that attach to the end of the noun phrase in motion to convey the type of motion and type of noun. These are: ŋi MOVE, se STAY, ra GO, no COME, lo UP, ta DOWN, me INTO, vi OUT, ka TOUCH, ki BY, pe FAIL, and vu NOT.

MOVE or ŋi marks motion in place, or internal motion (moving one’s limbs, breathing, etc.). It is also used to mark identity, attribution, and location of an animate nouns.

STAY or se marks non-motion, remaining in place. It is used to mark identity, attribution, and location of inanimate nouns.

GO or ra marks motion along a path or in a single direction, to or from a location. Motion is away from the speaker or the deictic center of the clause. The deictic center is the argument with the highest animacy.

COME or no is the equivalent of GO, but the motion is towards from the speaker or the deictic center of the clause. The deictic center is the argument with the highest animacy. COME is often used to express the metaphorical motion of an object to one’s eye or a sound to one’s ear.

UP or lo and DOWN of ta are also equivalents of GO, with the deictic center being the ground. In addition, UP and DOWN also can convey MORE or LESS of an attribute. or the increase or decrease in a non-physical noun (like darkness).

INTO or me marks inward motion, usually by light, sound, air, water, fire, or some sort of mass substance. It is also used for things that are being created.

OUT or vi marks outwards motion, usually by light, sound, air, water, fire, or some sort of mass substance.

TOUCH or ka marks motion with impact or touching. When used with =za it can convey physical possession.

BY or ki marks motion passing by a location or leaving behind a location. This can also negate the possession use of ka.

FAIL or pe marks a failure to move in a direction or to achieve a destination. This negates most of the other motion particles, at least in some contexts.

NOT or vu negates se.

Motion particles can be inflected for aspect: =na for the starting of motion, =to for the stopping of motion, and =yi for continued motion. Continued motion is used to set a scene of background motion and to express continuation of a situation despite an effort to change the situation.

Motion particles can also then have two optional future particles added: =hi for potential future and =zi certain or intended future.

Other Particles

Other particles mark the other noun phrases in the clause. These can mark a motion phrase once the motion phrase has been nominalized.

=s marks location at, on, in, onto, into. It implies that the motion is complete, that is that the subject has finished moving and arrived at a destination marked by =s.

=za marks a path along which a subject is moving. It is also used to mark any position that involves elongation, such as fingers around a grasped object, and thus marks objects held or grasped, and the subject of speech (about).

=du marks a destination that has not been reached, and so conveys motion towards a goal, a direction, the end of a sequence, a purpose or intention, a result, and an audience for speech.

=nda marks location form, a source of motion, a beginning of a sequence, the source or substance something is made from, the stimulus of mental activity, a standard of comparison, or the whole that something is part of.

=ya marks a rational animate cause of motion, and can be considered an animate, volitional version of nda.

=nen is a very general comitative, also used as an instrumental.


Since motion is the central idea of the grammar, nouns are divided into groups based on ability to move (animacy) and volition.

  • Things that move of their own volition.
  • Things that move, but without perceived volition.
  • Things that only move when made to do so by an outside entity or force.

Group A includes people and deities. These are the rational animates. Group B includes animals, and certain celestial phenomena. B also includes the wind, flowing water, wildfires, sound, and light. These are all animate, though not rational. And C includes still air, still water, campfires, earth, most landscape items, plants, body parts, objects, and everything else. These are the inanimates.

Since nouns are not marked in any way, membership in the various classes is determined by pronoun usage and which motion particles are used to denote an attribute of the noun, and which source particles can be used.

Rational Animate Animate Inanimate
Pronoun sa= i= ha=
Relative Pronoun ŋe= ŋe= zo=
Motion Particle =ŋi =ŋi =se
Source or Cause =ya =nda =nda


First, a quick list:

Singular Plural Extended Singular Extended Plural
1 (first person singular and exclusive plural) li= ke= liye keye
1+2 (1+2 dual and first person inclusive plural) ŋi= mi= ŋiye miye
2 (second person) di= ŋa= diri ŋari
3 rational animate, volitional sa= na= sama nama
3 other animate, 123 non-volitional i= ya= imba yama
3 inanimate ha= e= hada yeda
relative clause common argument animate ŋe= ma= ŋeda mana
relative clause common argument inanimate zo= za= zoda zaya

Number is obligatory only in pronouns and rational animate nouns. All other nouns are neutral in regards to number and can be read as either singular or plural. That said, nouns that appear to be partially or fully reduplicated will take plural pronoun agreement. Number can also be specified by adding a quantifier to the noun phrase.

Singular refers to a single entity, and plural to more than one entity. The exception is the dual pronoun ŋiye, which acts like a singular even though it refers to two.

First and second person are straightforward. Third person is broken up into three classes: rational animates, other animates, and inanimates. Rational animate nouns have plural marking, and so trigger use of the plural pronouns. Other animate nouns do not, so which pronoun to use depends on the context. With inanimate nouns, again, which pronoun to use depends on context. But, some inanimate nouns are or appear to be partially or fully reduplicated. These always use plural pronouns, even when the subject seems to be singular.

Rational animate nouns will sometimes use the animate rather than the rational animate pronouns. This signals non-volitionality. It is used in imperatives as well.

Adjectives and Quantifiers

Adjectives precede the noun they modify. Basic, non-derived adjectives can be partially reduplicated to indicate intensity or continuation of a process. A noun phrase can consist solely of an adjective.

Quantifiers act like adjectives in that they precede the noun. Quantifiers convey number, but are not used for counting! Some quantifiers also modify adjectives.

Adverbs, Conjunctions, and Interjections

Adverbs go between the subject and the motion particle, triggering a need for a pronominal prefix on the motion particle. Conjunctions go at the end of the clause. Interjections go anywhere.

deŋi & kaŋŋi

A. deŋi=A=O A scratch, dig O
B. kaŋŋi=A=O A pierce, poke O

Deŋi can be seen as a more intense form of kugi, as it involves touching with some force. Kaŋŋi would be even more intense. The etymologies of both these verbs are unknown. Kaŋŋi is used sometimes used with other verbs to add a sense of puncturing, as in:

C. dello-kaŋŋi=S S sprout (piercing the soil)
D. kuppe-kaŋŋi=A=O A throw O through something, piercing it
E. kaŋŋi-kaŋŋi=A=O A kill O (by stabbing or cutting)

Reduplicated deŋi-deŋi=S is the standard, polite way to describe sexual activity. It is intransitive, usually with a plural subject. With a singular subject, a companion an be added with the peripheral phrase marker ne. The other sexual verbs, kugi-kugi=S (referencing manual stimulation), kaŋŋi-deŋi=A=O (A penetrates O), and kaŋŋi-kuno=S (S is penetrated), are not polite and should not be used with people one doesn’t know.

Sentences with deŋi.

Sentences with kaŋŋi.

And that’s it. That’s all 38 verbs in Xunumi-Wudu.


A. kugi=A=O A touch, rub O
B. gada-kugi=A=O A wash O (with water)

Kugi appears to be derived from an older form of the word kuwu ‘hand’ and some unknown particle. Gada-kugi incorporates the noun gada ‘water’ as an instrument or manner adverb. Another kugi compound is kugi-kenni:

C. kugi-kenni=A=O A shake O
D. kugi-kenni=S S shake

Reduplicated kugi-kugi is one of the verbs used to describe sexual activity.

Sentences with kugi.

Tomorrow: deŋi and kaŋŋi.

kuppe & kenni

A. kuppe=A=O A throw O
B. kenni=A=O A hit O

Kuppe is derived from an older form of the word kuwu ‘hand’ and pe ‘from’. The derivation of kenni is unknown. Both are straightforward.

A reduplication of kuppe is not attested, but kenni-kenni means ‘A beat O’, a logical interpretation of ‘hit and hit’ or ‘hit with some duration’.

Reduplication generally adds a sense of duration to the verb, unless the verb also occurs as an auxiliary. Since, with the introduction of auxiliaries, reduplication no longer productive, some reduplicated forms, such as kadde-kadde, have a less predictable meaning.

Sentences with kuppe.

Sentences with kenni.

Tomorrow: kugi.

kullo & deggu

A. kullo=A=O A pull, drag O
B. deggu=A=O A cover, hide O

Kullo is derived from an older form of the word kuwu ‘hand’ and the obsolete particle lo ‘up’. Aside from its base meaning, kullo occurs in occasional compounds, such as kuje-kullo ‘weave’. The reduplicated form kullo-kullo means ‘pull for some time’.

Deggu is probably derived from degi and some unknown particle, possibly the old form of ‘hand’ kuwu. Adding the auxiliary kutta makes deggu-kutta ‘cover completely’. The reduplicated form would have the meaning ‘cover for some time’ but it is not attested.

Sentences with kullo.

Sentences with deggu.

Tomorrow: kuppe and kenni.


A. kutta=A=O A push O
B. auxiliary V-kutta V with force

Kutta is derived from an older form of the word kuwu ‘hand’ and the obsolete particle ta ‘down’. As a verb it means ‘push’. It is more common to see kutta as an auxiliary.

I glossed the auxiliary as meaning ‘with force’. It can also mean ‘quickly’ with da and no and any of their compounds (data, dello, deye, nolo, nota, nome, noye), ‘tightly’ with kuje, ‘thoroughly’ or ‘carefully’ with dunno and callo, ‘strongly’ or ‘passionately’ with canno, ‘well’ with dullo, ‘loudly’ with se, and adds a sense of ‘very’ withe the copula verbs. It is not used with verbs of stance or starting or ending.

The reduplicated kutta-kutta yields a straightforward ‘push with force’.

Sentences with kutta as a main verb.

Sentences with kutta as an auxiliary verb.

Tomorrow: kullo and deggu.


A. kuje=A=O A twist, turn O
B. kuje=S S twist, turn

Kuje is derived from an older form of the word kuwu ‘hand’ and the obsolete particle ye ‘out’.

As a simple intransitive, kuje means ‘twist, turn’ where the subject is the person or thing twisting or turning. Kuje can also be used to describe braiding (twisting together) and other activities done with long strands of something. Weaving can also be described with kuje (though kuje-kullo is the usual verb, but I haven’t covered kullo yet.). If one is creating something with all this twisting, the thing being created is generally the object and the material being twisted can be in a peripheral phrase marked with pe. One can also make the material the object and thing created can be in a peripheral phrase marked with du.

Sentences with kuje.

Tomorrow: kutta.

deme & tello

A. auxiliary V-deme ought to V
B. auxiliary V-tello must V

Both of these verbs are auxiliary only. Deme expresses mild obligation and tello expresses strong obligation. Tello is used for polite imperatives, as in: Kuno-tello=di=nu! ‘You must get the thing!’ or ‘Get the thing!’.

Deme is probably derived from da ‘go’ and the obsolete particle me ‘in’. Tello is derived from tene and the obsolete particle lo ‘up’.

Deme and tello are used with kuno to express want and need. Kuno-deme with a complement clause is ‘want to’ and kuno-tello with a complement clause is ‘need to’.

These two auxiliaries exist because as a native English speaker I cannot imagine not having them. I know of no work-arounds to expressing obligation than using ‘should/ought’ or ‘must’ (or ‘need’ or ‘got to’). I am sure there are other ways to express obligation, but I have no idea what they are or how they work. Of course, I haven’t gone looking recently for other ideas because the existing system works so well!

Sentences with deme.

Sentences with tello.

Tomorrow: kuje.