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On Apparent “Systematic Suppletion” in Ksotre

by Angus Æ. Balderdash, Esq.
Julienne Autolycus, Ph.D.
Open Universe Open University
Jupiter City, Tvashtar Paterae, Io

As noted in Muddybanks (2007), not much is known of Ksotre in the English-speaking world, with Snodgrass (2001) being the previous (fairly low) height of academic interest. We appreciate Muddybanks’ willingness to reduce himself to a merely documentary linguistic approach in the face of the apparently unanalyzable and incomprehensible (but nonetheless intriguing) data.

Muddybanks closes his survey with this (obviously sincere) appeal:

In the opinion of the author, further research is required into the nature of the curious case system of Ksotre before anything definitive can be said. It is my hope, however, that the data presented above will whet the appetites of morphologists worldwide, and give birth to new research programmes centering on this little-studied, yet wonderfully rich and perplexing language.

Indeed, our interest has been piqued, our appetites whetted, and a (small) research program birthed. Our Universal Philology Department has been searching for a (more than) competent morphophonologist for a while now. We’ve been using the Ksotre “systematic suppletion” data as a test of (potential) morphophonologists for our (prestigious) department—the (original) goal was to see how long it would take a candidate to (finally) admit that they couldn’t figure out the data. Then (just recently) we got a candidate from Lithuania, whose (maternal) Grandmother is a (native) speaker of Ksotre! She submitted the following (stunning) analysis to us. We gave her (instant) tenure and (strongly) encouraged her to publish, despite her protestations that, in discussing the data with her Grandmother, she may have “gotten some of the (unimportant) details wrong.” The result is this (joint) article, combining the efforts of the Chair of the Universal Philology Department (Mssr. Balderdash) and its newest tenured professor (Dr. Autolycus).

There seem to be two main facts that (if unknown) confound the analysis of Ksotre, especially in the (most intriguing) Elative Dual:

First, Ksotre (rarely) has (underlyingly) so-called “strong” vowels. According to Daniel Jones’s (generally unknown) original description of the strong vowels, they (generally) cannot be pronounced, except by certain breeds of camels and the occasional (talented) flatulent penguin, and so are (always) transformed into “normal” vowels. We (following Jones) denote the strong vowels with bold: /i/ and /e/. The (most) important thing to know about the Elative Dual in Ksotre is that the Elative prefix is (underlyingly) actually /psi-/.

Second, a (potentially vast) number of deletion rules exist in Ksotre, which are motivated by a desire to avoid any of (vastly numerous) “taboo” syllables. Many of these taboo rules do not apply outside the Elative Dual (precisely) because other forms are (relatively) rare (see Muddybanks 2007, figure 6), and many a speaker isn’t (even) aware of the (rude) insult embedded in their speech until after it has slipped out. However, the Elative Dual, accounting for (almost) 50% of (inflected) noun forms, is streamedlined to avoid such faux pas—except (perhaps) when one wishes to be rude, then such taboo-deletion rules may (seemingly) be “forgotten”.

The Rules

We don’t have any (theoretical) axes to grind, so we present our (stunning) findings about Ksotre phonology using sketches of simple (and familiar) pseudo-transformational rules. Careful details of rule ordering and additional (prohibitive) contexts, or (outright) conversion to optimality constraints are left as an (interesting) exercise for the (well-motivated) reader.

Strong Vowel Rules

Rules affecting (underlyingly) strong vowels are some of the most difficult to detect (and to believe). But they have (enormous) explanatory power. More strong vowel rules will be presented (below) in the other sections.

Taboo rules:

By far the most interesting rules in Ksotre are the “taboo” rules. Such deletions can (and do) erase morpheme boundaries. Here is a (random) sampling of such rules:

Mirror Rules

Almost as interesting as the (more widespread) “taboo” rules are the (likely unique) morpheme mirroring rules, which are explained below.

Historical Holdover Rules

These are rules that are best explained by looking at the ((surprisingly) well-documented) historical changes that have happened in Ksotre.

Additional Phonological Rules

These are the (fairly boring) rules that do the day-to-day heavy phonological lifting in Ksotre.


Below we present some (simple) examples, taken from the data presented in Muddybanks (2007), to illustrate these (perfectly natural) phonological principles. → wit   morpheme mirror
(see /psertravaw/, elative dual of /mim/)
psi.wartre.avprestigious /v/ ↔ /w/ swap
psi.wit.avSartre/Sit alternation, part 1
witSartre/Sit alternation, part 2 → ilili
psi.tipis.awstrong i spreading
psi.tipis.awstrong i weakening
psi.lilis.awtriple i rule
i.lilis.awpsili rule
i.lilisaw rule → kepim
psi.ivilt.awstrong i spreading
psi.ivilt.awstrong i weakening
ps.ivilt.awi → ∅/__.V
pt.awsivil deletion
tp.awmorpheme mirror
(/pt/ is not acceptable in Ksotre)
tp.ɐmtilted morpheme mirror
tp.imnon-phoneme V
tep.imstrong e epenthesis
kep.imt → k/#__e
kep.imstrong e weakening → srostra   strong i induced weak haplology
psi.elit.awe embiggening
psi.elit.awstrong i weakening
ps.elit.awi → ∅/__.V
psr.elitr.awradical epenthetic liquid dissimilation → /sr/ (mirror breaking)
sr.olitr.aew rule
sr.oʃtr.aabnormal excessive palatalization
sr.ostr.aʃ → s → a
psi.sivil.awstrong i spreading
psi.sivil.awstrong i weakening
psi.awsivil taboo
apost-sivil seppuku → psertravaw
psi.rninrn.aworthographic breaking of
monomorphemic palindromes
psi.nrinr.awmorpheme mirror
psi.neriner.awstrong e epenthesis
psi.neriner.awstrong e weakening
psi.nertr.awnerinenert taboo mitigation shift
psi.ertr.awstrong i de-nasalization
psi.ertr.awstrong i weakening
psi.ertr.avawharmonic reduplication
ps.ertr.avawi → ∅/__.V

Similar (perfectly natural) analyses explain these three additional forms (also from Muddybanks), and many others: → orso → hontordarus → deskovurtiva


Anderson, Stephen R., 1981. “Why phonology isn’t ‘natural’,” Linguistic Inquiry 12.493-539.

Bach, Emmon, and Robert Harms, 1972. “How do languages get crazy rules?” Linguistics change and generative theory, ed. by Robert Stockwell and Ronald Macaulay, 1-21.

Jones, Daniel, 2002. Daniel Jones: Collected Works, Vols. 1-8, ed. B. Collins and I.M. Mees.

Muddybanks, Lawrence R., 2007. “Systematic Suppletion: An Investigation of Ksotre Case Marking,” Speculative Grammarian, CLII.2.

“Sit, Jean-Paul”, 1940. “Nauséeuzaw,” Journal Of Ksotre Literature and Philosophy Studies, IV.7.

Snodgrass, Quentin P., 2001. Ksotre Phonology: It has one.

Trones, Jay, 1993. “The Boustrophedon-Plummerfeld Hypothesis,” Speculative Grammarian, CXLVII.2.

The Taalbergen—Wanejem Tii
The First Annual SpecGram Phonological Spelling Bee—Announcement
SpecGram Vol CLII, No 4 Contents