G.U.I.L.T.y Pleasures—A Complete and Comprehensive Theory of Language, Linguistics, and Everything—Jäger Haumichblau SpecGram Vol CLXV, No 3 Contents The Lost Lexicographer: Ambrose Bierce, Beelzebub, and Documentary Linguistics—Book Announcement from Psammeticus Press

Speculative Grammarian is proud to present yet another irregular installment in the Linguistic Anthropologic Monograph Endowment’s Bizarre Grammars of the World Series.

Whirl, Whirl, Whirl—Spinning a Good Yarn

An Anthropological Linguistic Study of the
Prmu Ta Šn Register of the Ro Ta Tora Dores0

Bizarre Grammars of the World, Vol. 69

Anthropological Introduction

In a remote valley in the Ural mountains (as if there were any other kind), there lives a fairly isolated society of weavers and yarn makers whose storytellers spin tall tales while spinning thread and weave great sagas while working at their looms. They call themselves the Ro Ta Tora, (“Great Spinners of Yarns”), and they are renowned for miles around for the quality of their textiles and for the impressiveness of their oratory. The greatest among these raconteur-weavers are the twenty-three members of the Dores, (“eldest”), whose complex and beautiful patterns of warp and weft are matched only by the complexity and beauty of the narratives they weave while working. Ro Ta Tora who wish to be counted among the Dores must challenge a sitting member to an epic multi-day duel of words and shuttle, called a Poɛ Trisl Æm, in which they improvise intricate tales of bravery and heroic sacrifice while weaving an enormous tapestry that illustrates a key scene from the tale.

Spinning Jenny, a member of the Dores, prepares to defend her position in response to a Poɛ Trisl Æm challenge from a younger raconteur-weaver. The “aggressive war paint” on her hands, face, and spinning wheel is meant to frighten her challenger; it will also match the color scheme of her final weaving.

Linguistic Data

The language of the Dores is as rhythmic as the working of looms, and, as we shall see, as cyclic as the spinning of their wheels.

Basic Word Order

The basic word order for Ro Ta Tora is SVO. Interestingly, the commonly-spoken language seems to have no grammatical tense, aspect, mood, or case; all such information is conveyed adverbially, or omitted if made clear by context. However, in the elaborate tales of the Dores, the lack of tense and other grammatical features can require the stylistically undesirable stacking of adverbial phrases. To avoid this, the Dores have created a quasi-grammatical register, called Prmu Ta Šn (“revolution of the spinning wheel”), in which such needed features can be indicated by reordering the elements of various constituents.

Stories are generally told in the present tense, so the regular SVO order is used for present tense. Past tense is indicated by VOS, and future tense by OSV. For example, in the tale of Gyr the King Killer, the hero Gyr dethrones the despot Iŋ I, his son Iŋ II, and finally his grandson Iŋ III, before finally putting that royal lineage to a messy end. In the middle of the narrative, as Iŋ II is led from the Great Hall in chains, the story-teller uses a familiar and very popular trope, repeating a phrase in the past, present, and future tenses:

ate Iŋ Gyr
dethrone Iŋ Gyr
“Gyr dethroned Iŋ.”
Gyr ate Iŋ
Gyr dethrone Iŋ
“Gyr dethrones Iŋ.”
Iŋ Gyr ate
Iŋ Gyr dethrone
“Gyr will dethrone Iŋ.”

This story is a popular one, and the plot is not terribly complex, so the audience knows who is dethroning whom. Thus the lack of case marking in these simplest of noun phrases is not terribly ambiguous. Note that the future and present are indistinguishable for verbs without objects (SV order). Context and time adverbials can be used to resolve any ambiguity.

Aspect and Mood with Pronouns

In standard Ro Ta Tora, pronouns come after the verb, and the standard order is VSO, with one or more optional adverbial phrases after:

ate æn tip ɛnltm
dethrone she he mercilessly
“She mercilessly dethrones him.”

In the Prmu Ta Šn story-telling register of the Dores, aspect and mood can be indicated by the order of these constituents. The standard order is active mood, as above. Moving the verb to final position indicates a passive:

æn tip ɛnltm ate
she he mercilessly dethrone
“She is mercilessly dethroned by him.”

Finer shades of past tense can also be indicated by changing word order in sentences with subject and object pronouns. The perfect is formed by moving the verb and subject pronoun to final position, and the imperfect is formed by fronting the adverb:

tip ɛnltm ate æn
he mercilessly dethrone she
“She had mercilessly dethroned him.”
ɛnltm ate æn tip
mercilessly dethrone she he
“She was mercilessly dethroning him.”

As before, missing constituents can lead to ambiguity. The active and imperfect are conflated in the absence of an adverb, which poses little problem since an adverb is easily added, and there isn’t usually much ambiguity in context. However, without an objectthat is, for intransitivesthe imperfect and perfect are the same. Again, context or explicit time adverbials can disambiguate when necessary. Only the passive can be differentiated without object or adverb, and this pattern is commonly used in Prmu Ta Šn:

tnym æn
swallow she
“She swallows.”
æn tnym
she swallow
“She is swallowed.”

əðətŋ tip
regurgitate he
“He regurgitates.”
tip əðətŋ
he regurgitate
“He is regurgitated.”

Noun Phrases and Case

In more complex noun phrases, the standard word order is noun adjective determiner:

re p æd
wolf ugly the
“the ugly wolf”

In the Prmu Ta Šn register, the Dores can indicate accusative or dative case and instrumental case by moving the head noun to final position, or by fronting the determiner, respectively:

p æd re
ugly the wolf
“to/of the ugly wolf”
æd re p
the wolf ugly
“with the ugly wolf”

Without an adjective, the instrumental is the same as the accusative/dative. Sometimes poor story-tellers will find themselves in dire need of an adjective for this very purpose. Unable to find an appropriate one, they panic and insert a “tautological adjective” (a mocking offense if heard by other storytellers!), giving forms like “the wolfish wolf” or “the rakish rake”:

æbrak æd æbra
wolfish the wolf
“to/of the wolfish wolf”
æd mur murk
the rake rakish
“with the rakish rake”

Compound Nouns

In standard Ro Ta Tora, noun-noun compounds are not particularly common, and adhere to no particular compositional semantics. Such compounds are formed by putting wrl, the compound marker, before two consecutive nouns or noun phrases. Thus wrl ib rd, “baby food”, could be food that belongs to a baby, food for a baby, or food made from babies. Context often makes the correct meaning clear (though we had a close call with “slug food” early in our visit; it even tripped up our translator).

In Prmu Ta Šn, the default ordering, wrl [NP1] [NP2], indicates a genitive relationship: NP1’s NP2. The ordering [NP1] [NP2] wrl indicates that NP2 is for, or used by, NP1. The ordering [NP2] wrl [NP1] indicates that NP2 is made of NP1. The entire compound gets case from both elements of the compound, which must be properly ordered to indicate (or at least not preclude) the correct case.


wrl [Iŋ dr] [vı ʃ]
wrl [NP1] [NP2]
NN [Iŋ foolish] [head bald]
“foolish Iŋ’s bald head”, or “with foolish Iŋ’s bald head”
[gı vı] [ta] wrl
[NP1] [NP2] wrl
[shiny ball] [polish] NN
“polish for a shiny ball”
[tə] wrl [ə bə tan]
[NP2] wrl [NP1]
[fudge] NN [young three goat]
“to/of fudge made of three young goats”

Higher-order compounds can be made of compound constituents, too. The case of the top-level compound trickles down to (or perhaps burbles up from) the component compounds:




Gyr dethrones Iŋ III with [[[the container] for [fudge made of [three young goats]]] made of [[foolish Ing II]’s [bald head]]].

Gyr dethrones Iŋ III with the three-young-goat–fudge container made of foolish Iŋ II’s bald head.”

For those not familiar with the tale of Gyr the King Killer, let’s just say it didn’t end well for Iŋ II, and it was particularly ironic how the fudge container made of his head was used to dethrone his son. KA-POW! However, it is fair to say that fudge made from a trio of young goats (liquified in a lye-filled vat) is a delicacy, even though it might not sound like it. Also of note, the tradition of making dessert containers from the decapitated skulls of vanquished enemies has mostly fallen out of favor with the Ro Ta Tora.

Tentative Conclusions

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

Claude Searsplainpockets & Helga von Helganschtein y Searsplainpockets

Somewhere in the Ural Mountains

0 This paper was made possible by LAME grant ΣΠΙΝπιν/ΣπΙν/σΠιΝ, the number { 0, 1, 2, 3, ... | }, and the letter Ϫ.

G.U.I.L.T.y PleasuresA Complete and Comprehensive Theory of Language, Linguistics, and EverythingJäger Haumichblau
The Lost Lexicographer: Ambrose Bierce, Beelzebub, and Documentary LinguisticsBook Announcement from Psammeticus Press
SpecGram Vol CLXV, No 3 Contents