Insults in Narahji: The Noun Class Edition

(A partial repost from Tumblr with some new content.)

The Narahji spoken in Epiphany is not always internally consistent because it’s the Narahji of a changing time. Salus is navigating a complex world of formal, standardized Narahji and informal Narahji. In 1865 Standard Count, the year Epiphany takes place, language activists are working hard on a referendum that won’t make headway until the 1880s to recalibrate official Narahji based on outside-of-the-office usage.

When I say “Narahji,” I also mean the Narahji that is taught in schools — this is a canyon region over a thousand kilometers across and several hundred kilometers top to bottom on a map, so there are a lot of small dialects and regional languages.

Kati and Salus have an exchange in Entry 39 in which Salus is offended by Kati’s use of slang for the word family. In pre-reform Narahji, the word is ku bvyadö, a noun in the animate class. It will become ku pho, the slang term Salus dislikes, once reform takes hold. Ler distaste for the slang term mirrors common discomfort among speakers who feel ownership of a language when that language changes. Like many speakers, Salus is complicated — le also picks and chooses which linguistic innovations le’s comfortable using in writing.

Regardless of whether one uses ku bvyadö or ku pho, I’d like to talk about the noun class system, AKA the linguistic gender applied to nouns in Narahji. When I developed the disrespect system in Narahji, I had an exciting opportunity to apply something I found interesting in Aikhenvald’s How Gender Shapes the World. Outside of Indo-European languages, many will employ gender inversions when disparaging a noun or the thing the noun represents.

This is the pronoun system for modern Narahji. The most important bits of it are the animate/inanimate pronouns.

Refl./Emph. Subject Direct Object Indirect Object Possessive
1s -ịm man- mur momu
1pincl. -kịb kịn- kịr åskị
1pexcl. -bė byan- byur åbhi
2s -ịts tsan- tsur åtsu
2p -kė kyan- kyur åku
3s -ịr ran- rur moru
3sanim -kus san- sur mosu
3sinanim -ron nan- rur årur
3p -fė fyan- fyur mosfu
3panim -kyus syan- syur åsyu
3pinanim -lyon ñan- ñur moñu

Note that this is post-1880s Narahji — the slang possessive pronouns have been adopted into the official grammars taught in schools, whereas before there was a prefix, mos-, that glommed onto the indirect object pronoun.

Narahji, as part of the Ịgzarhjenya language family, divides the non-human world into animate and inanimate noun classes. All animals and plants take the animate class, as do things that are considered living things. Inanimate things will often be referred to using the inanimate class. Nouns that denote abstract ideas and concepts, such as families, mistakes, honor, &c., have irregular noun classes that need to be memorized by nonnative speakers. The articles used are ku (animate) and i (inanimate).

Native speakers may refer to things in the inanimate class with the animate class article when emphasizing the noun’s importance. This usually only happens once in the sentence, after which the native speaker will revert to the accepted noun class.

Thus, to say, A (goddamn) fire burned lim. It (emphatic) happened at the dock, one might say, Rankunælaịrru ku besun. I febiyxoho gådzælaịrruron. Fire, i besun, is transformed into ku besun. The speaker uses the correct pronoun suffix, -ron, for inanimate nouns in the second sentence.

The opposite might happen for nouns classed as animates. This is one way to code disrespect in Narahji.

Ogekowælaịrrabæn i pho åbhi. Our (shitty) family will not cooperate. A listener might respond, Ogekowælaịrrabænsæ̈ ku pho aku? That is a yes/no query that correctly uses ku pho.

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