Ithkuil for Beginners. A Hypothetical Lesson

In this post I’d like to show how you can make sentences in Ithkuil. Suppose, you want to say ‘I am sleepy because those damn cats were fighting all night and I couldn’t sleep well!’

‘Whoa!’ — you might think — ‘The guy’s nuts! He’s going to explain a complicated sentence to a noob like me!’, and then stop reading this article. Yet, I dare to correct this assumption. First of all, I personally have been seriously learning Ithkuil for only three months, and even by natural language standards, I am a noob myself. And if I can make the sentence like the one I gave, you can make it too, especially if I tell you how. But if you insist, please proceed directly to the ‘Additional Lesson’ section below.

So, let’s begin. First, we’ll have to think what is said in the sentence, peeking through the veil of English words. What the phrase actually means, is ‘I want to be asleep now due to only sleeping episodically, which was caused by cats that were fighting all night’. We see three clauses here linked with a causative relation one by one.

In Ithkuil, subordinate clauses are expressed with a unique device called ‘case frame’. In order to make a case frame, the predicate of the subordinate clause is marked with a Framed Relation and inflected into one of the Ithkuil cases to show the relation between clauses. Case frames can be nested inside each other, which is exactly what we need here. In our case we need two nested frames ‘I want to sleep [I slept episodically [cats were fighting]]’. Causative relation is shown with Derivative case, thus, we’ll use it to mark both predicates — ‘slept’ and ‘fighting’. As both frames end exactly at the end of the sentence, we won’t need any suffixes to mark the end of each frame.

First, let’s prepare the main clause: ‘I want to sleep’. The only Ithkuil root we’ll need here is ‘to be asleep’. We also start with it because the predicate goes first in a usual Ithkuil clause. Changing default word order has certain implications and cannot be attempted carelessly. ‘I’ and ‘want to’ can both be expressed with adjuncts. ‘To be asleep’ is just ‘degree of wakefulness or sleepiness’ with the Dynamic function and the appropriate EXN suffix. ‘Asleep’ is essentially ‘not at all awake’, which is Degree 1, thus the resulting suffix will be ib. The root is -čn- from which we derive the Pattern 1, Stem 2 with Dynamic function, obtaining aičn-. This is the predicate of the main clause, and thus it retains the default Oblique case: aična-.

Next big step is to go through all basic grammar categories and choose the appropriate affixes. Because we speak of an action, and not a series of actions, a default Uniplex configuration and Consolidative affiliation are ok. As we are talking about a period of being asleep as a whole, default Monadic perspective and Delimitive extension are in place as well. And we choose the Representative essence because we are speaking about sleep that has not taken place in reality, but is only part of our desire. This allows us to choose the right affix for the above categories, -tt, resulting in aičnatt. If we now add the suffix, we get aičnattîb. There is another category left, the Context. Because we not simply state about sleepiness, but the sleepiness is somehow relevant to us personally, Functional Context might be appropriate, so, the final version of the formative is aičnattîbi.

Now I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that the decision to use this or that category is subjective and depends on the exact thing you want to say. E.g. no one could stop you from using a Degree 2 suffix or the default Existenstial context, or Proximal extension if you desired. Thus, no fixed ‘Ithkuil-English dictionary’ is ever possible. Rather than consulting such a dictionary you have to always make the decision closely connected with your cognitive intent as well as your perception of the situation.

Now we proceed to express the ‘I want to’ part. ‘I’ is expressed with a personal reference adjunct (which is roughly similar to a personal pronoun in English, although English personal pronouns are like children’s toys if we compare their functionality to that of Ithkuil personal reference adjuncts). First person adjunct consists of a consonant t- and a vowel group corresponding to the case. Case in Ithkuil shows the semantic role of the noun or a reference adjunct. ‘Wanting to sleep’ is mentally creating a hypothetical situation which might come true through further actions. The subject of such an action is technically Experiencer, but Ithkuil further differentiates such experiencers of desire (as well as need, expectation, etc.) by marking them with a special Activative case marker ei.

‘Want to’ is expressed by a special category called Modality, and it’s special because it cannot be shown in a verb itself, but only in a verbal adjunct — a special function word that is put right before the formative. Every adjunct has to include at least one Aspect, which also comes handy in our case. Desire is expressed with a Desiderative Modality, shown by a vowel u- and because we desire to be asleep continuously, to be sleeping, we add a Progressive aspect and our adjunct becomes ur-rn.

Thus, we are done with the first clause: ur-rn aičnattîbi tei.

Now we proceed to ‘because I only slept episodically’. Here we need the same root for ‘slept’. Once again, we can use default categories for everything. Only because we are speaking about past event, essence is now Normal, and Unbounded perspective might be better, so the affix changes to -t. Now we have aičnatîb and can add all remaining information. Firstly, being asleep only periodically is best captured with Recurrent Phase. In addition to Phase we have to specify Saction and Illocution as well as Valence, but default Propositional Saction, Assertive Illocution and Monoactive Valence are ok. Don’t forget to add the glottal stop because we show Phase after the Pattern, Stem and Function vowel, and now, we get ai’dačnatîb. Then we might want Retrospective aspect (with default Factual mood), thus we’ll have n-nrai’dačnatîb. Finally, we want to change the case (that is the last -a-) to Derivative (-ui-) and add Framed Relation by transferring the stress to antepenultimate (second from last) syllable: n-nrai’dáčnuitîb (remember that -ui- is a diphthong, so it counts as one syllable).

‘I’ can also be copied directly from the first clause but as sleep we are talking about is no longer hypothetical, thus the case changes to Affective, marked by i, and now we have our second clause: n-nrai’dáčnuitîb ti.

Let me remind you again that you are free in your choice of grammar categories depending your perception of the situation. You might as well use the Incompletive Version to mean that you tried to sleep but couldn’t.

Now all we have to do is ‘because those damn cats were fighting all night’. We’ll need four roots: ‘cat’, ‘hit’, and ‘night’. What is ‘hit’ for? You guessed it right, we’ll derive ‘fight’ from it — word derivation in Ithkuil is awesome.

Let’s start with the verb. ‘Hit’ is derived from Pattern 1, Stem 2 of ‘physical contact’ -č-. We’ll use Dynamic Function, Unbound perspective and leave all other basic default categories — let’s imagine there was basically one big cat fight that lasted through the night — now we have aičat. Remember, so far it’s just ‘application of physical pressure/force + effect’. In order to make it ‘hit’, let’s add some violence: Type 2, Degree 7 FRC suffix ‘violently’: aičatôkç. Now let’s add an SCO Degree 9 Type 2 suffix ‘synergistic expansion’ to make it ‘fight’: aičatôkçuxh. For a fight that was constantly resuming, let’s take the Repetitive phase, and now we need the Reciprocal valence because the cats are fighting each other: ai’qičatôkçuxh. Instead of aspect, I decide to add Validation, because I did not observe the cats directly, but rather inferred they were fighting because of the loud meows. Adding Inference Validation, we get hwai’qičatôkçuxh. Now we again change the relation to Framed and the case to Derivative: hwai’qičúitôkçuxh. And one more thing — ‘those damn cats’ as well as the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence clearly mean I strongly dislike the situation. Let’s add the intensive Contemptive Bias affix: hwai’qičúitôkçuxh’kšš.

After some consideration I also think that a couple of aspects won’t hurt — I’d add Retrospective and Incessative. So sad the slot is already occupied by Validation… Wait! Why not utilise a verbal adjunct again? So, let’s take a consonantal form for one Aspect and a vowel form for another — -m-ms- and -u-, and then let’s also move Phase, Valence and Bias from the formative. Valence is shown differently, with a consonant w- plus the default Level placeholder -ë-, Phase is shown with the same consonant as in the formative plus default Modality (no modality) -a-, and when we assemble the adjunct, we’ll have wëqam-msukšš. Now let’s delete those affixes from the formative, and voila! — our formative is now compact and nice: hwaičúitôkçuxh.

Now let’s have the cats. The stem is rra-. I’ll use the Discrete configuration because there were several cats involved, and to me they were roughly the same. I’d also like Variative affiliation because it was a random group of cats. I’ll also take Unbound perspective because I’m not even sure how many cats were involved. Thus, we get rralp. Now we change the case to Ergative because cats are ones who are fighting and their sematic role is Agent: rrolp.

Finally, so let’s do ‘through the night’. This is pretty straightforward. ‘Nighttime’ is -ż- with Pattern 3, Stem 1 (Informal), with Stative function and default affix it is âżal. Then we add Prolapsive case. The vowel group is -ü’a- and it contains a glottal stop which means we can tweak and move our vowel that precedes the root in place of that -a-: żü’âl. Let’s add PTW Degree 9 suffix for ‘entire night’: żü’âluss.

Now we’re done with our final clause: wëqam-msukšš hwaičúitôkçuxh rrolp żü’âluss.

Now we assemble the whole sentence and marvel at the beauty of Ithkuil:

ur-rn aičnattîbi tei n-nrai’dáčnuitîb ti wëqam-msukšš hwaičúitôkçuxh rrolp żü’âluss

Well, I guess, you got my irony calling this “Ithkuil for Beginners”. There was probably a lot of work on your side just to follow my explanations if you’re a beginner. But I really believe that Ithkuil should be studied wholistically. Of course it is impossible to learn to use all grammar categories at once, but even in this sentence I did not showcase the whole array of grammar devices that Ithkuil provides. Still, it gives a feeling of ‘Ithkuil point of view’ and a certain place to start. And the most important — it keeps you interested. To me, it’s just sweet how much information you can always add to Ithkuil sentences that stays implicit in English!

As exercise, I recommend thinking of other phrases of similar complexity and trying to rethink and formulate them in Ithkuil like I just did.

Additional Lesson. Boring Ithkuil for Stupid People #

Okay, let’s go for something simple and suitable for beginners. Let’s have our vocabulary first: cat — rral, sat — aimskat, mat (I substituted it with ‘peace of cloth’) — egdhál. Let’s now make a sentence ‘Cat sat on a mat’. We’ll need some cases here. First of all, ‘sat’ is a predicate and stays in default Oblique. Cat is actively doing the sitting, thus, it is an Agent, goes Ergative — rrol. Mat is the location (i won’t bother going into Ithkuil spacial orientation feature, so let’s just say ‘at the mat’ instead of ‘on the mat’), so you use Locative — egdhâ’ál. Now let’s make the sentence. Remember, predicate goes first: aimskat rrol egdhâ’ál. We’re finished! Did you have fun? I didn’t.


I. Use the Lexicon and make sentences:

  1. Dog sat on a mat
  2. Frog sat on a mat
  3. I sat on a mat (use Personal Reference Adjunts from Adjuncts chapter of the Grammar)
  4. Otter danced on a mat (as well as ‘sit’, ‘dance’ can be found in the Lexicon Supplement)

II. Finally, re-read the main lesson and try to make a phrase ‘I’m f-ing bored with stupid simple Ithkuil sentences’. Don’t forget to use kšš.


Now read this

How to think in Ithkuil

This essay won’t teach you to think in Ithkuil. I don’t even know whether it’s possible for a human brain or not. Still, in order to express ideas in Ithkuil, the first thing to do is to convert from thinking in English (or your native... Continue →