Evidential Complexity and Language Loss in Pinnacle Sherpa—Keith Slater SpecGram Vol CLI, No 4 Contents The Chiasmus Linguistics Project—Book Series Announcement from Psammeticus Press
Speculative Grammarian is proud to present yet another increasingly regular installment in the Linguistic Anthropologic Monograph Endowment’s Bizarre Grammars of the World Series.

Eating the Wind

An Anthropological Linguistic Study of the Xoŋry0

Bizarre Grammars of the World, Vol. 58


The people who call themselves “the Xoŋry” comprise not a single people and language, but rather a

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by Piotr Pablo Paulsen

surprisingly large constellation of small, related tribes1 speaking a surprisingly large constellation of large, related languages.2 The Xoŋry are spread over several thousand square miles of desolate and mostly unclaimed territory on the Arabian Peninsula.

The main differences between nearby dialects of Xoŋry are largely simple matters of phonology; local variants of the name of the language demonstrate the phenomenon well: /ʔeɴɻɜ/, /Hɔⁿɣɭə/, /ɦøŋɢʀɨ/, /ħœȵɠʁɵ/, /ʕoɳɹı/, /χaɲkɽi/, /ɧəɴʛɬe/, and the all but inexplicable /hungry/. Grammatical variations do exist between dialects, but are usually minor matters.3 These simple variations need not concern us.

Linguistic Background

The truly fascinating thing about Xoŋry dialects is the apparent

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frequency of phonological iconicity.4 Sound symbolism is nothing newweak examples exist in English (battered, beaten, bruised, banged, blistered; glitter, glisten, glow, gleam, glare, glint; snarl, snout, snicker, snack; slide, slick, sled; smash, crash, bash; smack, whack, crack)and the phenomenon is usually realized as a mapping between certain sounds or clusters of sounds and a constellation of related meanings. What makes Xoŋry unique is that it is the pulmonicity of the velar series, which not only carries sound-symbolic meaning, but does so in a way that is remarkably iconic!

Xoŋry has an impressive, even remarkable array of consonantsoral and nasal; voiced and voiceless; egressive, ingressive, ejective, and implosive. The language also features some heretofore unknown gastro-pulmonic types which I will reveal in due time below.

Linguistic Data

I have limited my initial foray into the pulmonic sound symbolism of Xoŋry to a single bound, but productive, morpheme of the dialect with the most speakers.5 The morpheme in question is /-æbriket/, which has a core meaning of “consume, take in, put in the mouth or nose”.

The data, as always, speaks for itself:6

/ǩ-æbriket/        /ǧ-æbriket/
voiceless oral ingressive + “consume” voiced oral ingressive + “consume”
“to put in the mouth, without talking” “to put in the mouth, while talking”
/k-æbriket/        /g-æbriket/
voiceless oral egressive + “consume” voiced oral egressive + “consume”
“to spit out or take out of the mouth, without talking” “to spit out or take out of the mouth, while talking”
/ŋ̥̌-æbriket/        /ŋ̌-æbriket/
voiceless nasal ingressive + “consume” voiced nasal ingressive + “consume”
“to smell, without talking” “to smell, while talking”
/ŋ̥-æbriket/        /ŋ-æbriket/
voiceless nasal egressive + “consume” voiced nasal egressive + “consume”
“to blow out the nose, without talking” “to blow out the nose, while talking”
/ƙ-æbriket/        /ɠ-æbriket/
voiceless oral implosive + “consume” voiced oral implosive + “consume”
“to devour, without talking” “to devour, while talking”
/kʼ-æbriket/        /gʼ-æbriket/
voiceless oral ejective + “consume” voiced oral ejective + “consume”
“to projectile vomit, without talking” “to projectile vomit, while talking”

Xoŋry features a heretofore unknown constellation of phonemes that I have collectively labeled “gastro-pulmonic”. These come in two varieties. In the first, air is actually swallowed during the production of the sounds in questionthis is “ingestive”. In the second, air is returned from the stomach to produce the soundthis is “egestive”.7, 8

/ḱ-æbriket/        /ǵ-æbriket/
voiceless oral ingestive + “consume” voiced oral ingestive + “consume”
“to eat, without talking” “to eat, while talking”
/ŋ̥́-æbriket/        /ŋ́-æbriket/
voiceless nasal ingestive + “consume” voiced nasal ingestive + “consume”
“to snort up the nose, without talking” “to snort up the nose, while talking”
/k̀-æbriket/        /g̀-æbriket/
voiceless oral egestive + “consume” voiced oral egestive + “consume”
“to vomit, without talking” “to vomit, while talking”
/ŋ̥̀-æbriket/        /ŋ̀-æbriket/
voiceless nasal egestive + “consume” voiced nasal egestive + “consume”
“to vomit through the nose, without talking” “to vomit through the nose, while talking”

Other Xoŋry roots that follow a similar pattern with the obvious meanings attached to their sound symbolism include: /-brakadabra/, “turn left”; /-umplstltskn/, “roll three or more 8- or 12-sided dice”; /-ramarian/, “compose prose or poetry, usually of a satirical nature”.

There are several other instances of non-iconic sound symbolism in Xoŋry. For example, /f-/ often indicates untruthfulness. Determining the meaning of the form /f-æbriket/ is left as an exercise for the reader.

Further Research


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I am certain that there is also a constellation of words in this pattern related to both “delicate” bodily functions and the sexual rites and practices of the Xoŋry. Unfortunately, I have not yet gained sufficient trust of any speakers to have the terms (or the practices) revealed to me. I am continuing to work on that.

There are rumors of a nearby tribe, a mere thirty-five or so sand dunes to the east, whose dialect expands upon the current system with regular meaning differences for breathy voice, creaky voice, and each of several tones. As soon as I complete this missive and have packed my camel, I leave to investigate.

Tentative Conclusions

More research is necessary to unravel the intricacies of this system. Said research will require more and abundant funding.


Aztet, J. and Gerard. H. B. 1965. A study of phonetic symbolism among native Navajo speakers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1: 524-528.

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Claude Searsplainpockets Somewhere in the Middle East


0 This paper was made possible by LAME grant QWERTYUIOP-DVORAK-77/123-#88-432.432-432423/8513/572/352 , and the number e.

1 Most tribes number 25 or fewer speakers.

2 Most of the lexicons I have recorded include well over 150,000 distinct lexical items.

3 Such as trivial matters of whether the dialect has prepositions or postpositions, makes the distinction between inclusive- and exclusive-we, has 1, 2, 4, or 18 noun classes, is topic-prominent or not, is dechticaetiative or not, is oligosynthetic or not, is ergative or accusative, and whether it is synthetic or analytic.

4 A special case of so-called “sound symbolism”.

5 Between 57 and 88, depending on who does the counting.

6 We use a caron to indicate ingressiveness, and a ring below to indicate voicelessness, when no other standard symbol exists.

7 We use an acute accent to indicate ingestive, and a grave accent to indicate egestive.

8 As an aside, Xoŋry features at least two discourse particles that are primarily used (a) to add air to the stomach for egestives (/śᴸʊʁṕ/), and (b) remove excess air from the stomach after too many ingestives (/b̀ʉrrːːːp̏/).

Evidential Complexity and Language Loss in Pinnacle SherpaKeith Slater
The Chiasmus Linguistics ProjectBook Series Announcement from Psammeticus Press
SpecGram Vol CLI, No 4 Contents