Stālāg (Terbian)

the language of the Terb

Terbian as a satellite-framed language


Terbian tends naturally towards being a satellite-framed language. This refers to the way of expressing the manner and path of motion. A manner of motion is, for example, running, walking or crawling; a path of motion refers to the direction of the movement (into, out of, across, etc.). These two concepts can be encoded in the verb, in a separate particle associated to the verb (a satellite), or in a complement. According to the place where motion path is encoded we call languages “satellite-framed” or “verb-framed”. English verbs use particles to show the path of motion (‘run into’, ‘go out’, ‘fall down’), and its verbs only show manner of motion; thus English is a satellite-framed language. Spanish, on the other hand, makes heavy use of verbs of motion like entrar, salir, subir, bajar ‘go in, go out, go up, go down’, which directly encode motion path, and may leave out the manner of motion or express it in a complement of manner (typically a gerund): entró corriendo ‘he ran in’, literally ‘he entered running’; salió flotando ‘it floated out’, literally ‘it exited floating’. Thus Spanish (along with all the Romance languages) is a verb-framed language.

Applicated verbs

I said that Terbian tends naturally towards satellite-framing because Terbian has the means to turn any verb into a verb complex featuring a location/path plus a verb stem showing manner. While this is not as easy as in English (where you just add a preposition or adverb), the existence of the applicative voice is a powerful device by which any motion-path concept can be integrated to the verb phrase, which in turn discourages the adoption of simplex path-encoding verbs, simply because there is a grammatical way to avoid increasing the lexicon.

Resorting to the applicative voice is not necessary either. Terbian prefers simple agentive intransitive verbs with complements, unless there a need to topicalize the complement (in which case it is usually turned into an object). This sometimes produces idiomatic results, like many verbs in English and other languages.

Basic   Meaning       Appl       Complex          Meaning

māw     A-writes      ‘under’    spak māgw        A-signs-P
unk     A-builds-P    ‘under’    spak unk         A-supports-P
sīg     A-takes-step  ‘on’       sek sīgg         A-attacks-P
sĕttĕg  A-steals-P    ‘from’     har sĕttĕgg      A-robs-P
åkw     A-runs        ‘towards’  gye åkkw         A-chases-P
al      A-drops-P     ‘towards’  gye all          A-bombs-P
ddurat  A-buys-P      ‘in’       ŏs dduratt       A-shops-at-P

The transitive verbs in the example drop the original object and substitute a former complement. Some of the examples are difficult to translate while keeping their original flavour.

Applicatives may in turn be simplex or complex. Complex applicatives are made up of the locative morpheme s- plus the adposition that conveys the meaning; such is the case of spak and sek. Simplex applicatives consist solely of a particle which shows motion path (from or towards the object). The locative applicative on its own surfaces as ŏs and it means simply ‘in, at’, in a general sense. You may notice there’s an overlap between the locative and the other applicatives, since there are postpositions meaning ‘from’ and ‘towards’ that could be used with the locative morpheme instead of the simplex ablative and allative particles har and gye.

While this is not common, the ablative and allative particles can form complexes too; for example, harpak means ‘from under’, gyēk (← gye-ek) means ‘onto’, etc.

Abstract conceptual patterns


In all these patterns, the object applicative (zero) is used for Y (possession, discourse topic or act of assistance), and the dative/allative (gye) is used for Z (beneficiary). The ablative/genitive (har) is sometimes used for Y with the discourse verbs, as is the instrumental/causative (jut) for the assistance verbs.

    Positive: “X conveys Y to Z”

        Change of possession:
            X gives Y to Z
            X offers Z some Y

            X says Y to Z
            X tells Z about Y

            X does Y for Z
            X helps Z by doing Y

    Negative: “X takes Y from Z”

        Change of possession:
            X steals Y from Z
            X robs Z of Y

            X hears Y from Z
            X listens to Z stating Y

            X ruins Y for Z
            X hinders Z from Y


1. The change-of-possession verbs are mostly transitive, the object being the possessed thing (here ‘Y’), as in English. Note however that English has a few verbs that work differently (like ‘rob’), with an object that expresses the beneficiary (in the example, that would be the victim).

2. All the common discourse verbs are A-intransitive and need to be applicated for most uses. They can be used in their basic forms, of course.

3. The assistance verbs may have another complement, an instrumental or causative (“X does Y for Z using W”). In English it is possible to substitute instrumentals for agents (“These special tires help me drive safely”) or causatives for agents (“The rain ruined my party”), but Terbian does not have basic verbs that allow this except metaphorically (i. e. agents must be animate in some way). Terbian can however rephrase using an instrumental applicative voice (on top of a mediopassive) to agentivize an instrumental or causative complement.

Mån damr ye mån dmīdm znāzomi.
mån damr   ye mån dmīdm znāzomi
my  father A  my  party ruined
My father ruined my party.

Mån dmīdm znāzakwomi [hālo mmat].
mån dmīdm     znāzakwomi hālo   mmat
my  party (P) ruined-MPV rain-O because
My party was ruined [because of the rain].

Halr jut mån dmīdm kos znāzakkwomi.
halr jut     mån dmīdm kos znāzakkwomi
rain APP:INS my  party P   ruined-MPV-PLV
The rain ruined my party.

Note the syntax of the last sentence, where the applicative appears separated from the main verb, in the position where the A-role marker would be, and the P-role marker kos is used (while dropped in the other sentences).

The use of plain transitive verbs vs. instrumental-applicated verbs is idiosyncratic when the line between animacy and non-animacy is unclear. For most verbs, the applicated form is used for subjects like ‘the rain’, ‘my discomfort’, ‘his absence’, ‘the political situation’, ‘her legs’, and so on, while the plain form (with a fully agentive subject) is used for subjects like ‘he’, ‘his presence’, ‘my uncomfortable questions’, ‘the royal family’ or ‘some dogs’. There are no fixed rules and these examples may change according to the particular context of the sentence. In this way Terbian allows some of the flexibility that is in the first place disallowed by its rigid split-S quality.

This usage is not to be confused with causative voice. The causative voice works on P-intransitive verbs only, leaving the P-argument as is and promoting an agentive complement to the A-subject position.