Note: this language is an abandoned sketch. A number of important lessons learned from it provided important ideas for Kahtsaai.

Sózil! Usí nózhiixodirén. Né sa' Bixwá mixé'azh.

I read Frank Herbert's Dune series at an impressionable age. He worked language matters into his books quite often, so there are doubtless plenty of conlangers with a warm spot for Herbert in their hearts, somewhere not too distant from Saint Tolkien. I was taken in particular by his throw-away reference to mirabhasa — "honed phalange consonants and joined vowels. It was an instrument for conveying fine emotional subtleties." I have many times attempted something like mirabhasa, always ending up with something completely unwieldy.

This is my most recent attempt, 20 years after my first exposure to the idea, at a personal mirabhasa. Rather than focus on emotional subtleties, the focus is informed by Functional Grammar. In at least one school of this theory there are three levels to any utterance — all present at the same time:

Bixwá runs wild with the interactional level, with a raft of particles and affixes to comment on the constituents of any utterance.

I have not hesitated to borrow grammar and vocabulary from my earlier attempts at this sort of language.

Phonology and Phonotactics

b v m w
t d th [θ] n l
k g x h ' [ʔ]
kw gw xw
ch [ʧ] j [ʤ] y [j]
s z sh [ʃ] zh [ʒ] r

High i u
High-mid e o
Low a

Pausal Forms

Some words, mostly verb stems and particles, have pausal forms used when the word occurs at the end of a statement or before a long pause. The pausal forms usually differ in having a final consonant where the non-pausal ends in a vowel, but alterations in vowel length and tone are also possible. For example, áá "go, come" has the pausal form áán, as in né ho'áán "I went."

The pausal form will also be used when vowel-initial suffixes are attached to the word, né ben mi'áánazhe "I am causing/making her to go", but né kwá chu'áásháa "I must go now."

Nouns derived from verbs with pausal forms will always use the pausal, lú (lún) want, ulún desire.


Bixwá has a simple animacy hierarchy which plays out in several parts of the grammar: pronouns and demonstrative choice, relatives and attributive phrase construction, and verbal lexicon and syntax.

All motile animals are considered animate (from humans to bugs, birds to fish, etc.). As a courtesy, the deceased remain grammatically animate. Body parts are inanimate.

Also considered animate are moving bodies of water, oceans, seas, any lake you cannot see the far side of, and forests. Weather involving a lot of wind or flooding is animate, but not a simple rain shower.

Living things considered inanimate for the purposes of grammar are all plants, all microscopic life, all sesile life (such as corals).

Diseases and sickness may be promoted to animacy if unusually severe or difficult.

Correctly functioning technology is inanimate but if it starts to malfunction or has been designed to draw undue attention to itself it is promoted to animate.

Certain common transitive verbs have different forms for animate and inanimate direct objects:

Verb Animate DO Inanimate DO
hurt, harm; damage ruul hiizh
know kozhíí koor
misuse, fail to appreciate jaazhe jaazh
move shéél gwexazh (< gwex)
put, place miin avo
see deezh
touch iim chan
understand gwori geé

The transitive suffix -azh is used for inanimate direct objects, -azhe for animates.

The Noun

Nouns are declined for case, with different endings for nouns that end in consonants and those that end in vowels. Only the genitive and locative deserve special notice in their differences, since the remaining forms for words ending in consonants just use the euphonic vowel o, the usual remedy for illegal consonant clusters.

Case -V -C
Nominative - -
Accusative -n -on
Dative -l -ol
Genitive/Oblique -yo -oo
Instrumental -nám -onám
Locative -taa -aat
Ablative -ji -oji
Allative -th -oth

The plural is indicated with the prefix jó-, which is obligatory only on animate pronouns, and is never used on inanimate nouns.

The accusative case is not used with direct object noun phrases under certain animacy conditions.

Adverbs of time and location may take ablative and allative marking to indicate motion, jóbe veseth ho'áájin they went there ("thither").


A small number of adjectives are not usually represented as stative verbs, but instead are prefixed to the noun. They are mostly related to age and quantity.


Níné'áka nél ye I have many books.
Waásaa minuuzoxw The old man is tired (I infer).
Gábe chu'áájin Only s/he will go (I hear).

The quantity prenouns will evict the plural marker jó-.

Possessive Prefixes

Thse prefixes will go leftmost on any noun to which they are attached.

Singular Plural
First person nó- nó- (excl.), tó- (incl.)
Second person só-
Third person ó-
Reflexive xó-

These prefixes are definite but non-focused, and do not encompas the social control overtones the independent pronouns have. The genitive of the plain pronouns is always an acceptable variant.

The third person and reflexive are used for animate referents only.

Pronouns and Deixis

Except for a few special forms related to number, the personal pronouns are morphologically indistinguishable from nouns. There are quite a variety of them, many encoding social matters.

Several of the pronouns are marked for control, either "+" or "-". Verbs may also mark control. In general verb control marking refers to control outside any social consideration, while the pronoun control is related to social control. For example, a fall due to tripping over a rock will not usually have a social component, but a fall from being pushed will. All control marking is focused on the speaker, so that using áad refers to a person over whom the speaker has some influence, which may be very mild (an accommodating friend) or quite severe (a prisoner).

There are no separate inanimate pronouns. The demonstrative pronouns usí and umaa are used instead.


Demonstratives distinguish only proximate and distal. When used with nouns the come before the noun and are simply this, these and maa that, those. The word other, yáa, behaves like the demonstratives. When used as independent pronouns, however, number and animacy are distinguished:

Animate Inanimate
this síhu usí, us
these síjóhu -
that maahu umaa, um
those maajóhu -
another yáahu uyáa
others yáajóhu -

The short form inanimates, us and um are (optionally) used only in the nominative. The full form is used for all other cases.

Question Marker and Negative Indefinites

The word hee' what, which? is used with nouns, but it also forms pronoun and adverb compounds and noun phrases, as in hee'á who?, heerí why?, hee' gwal how, in what way?

When paired with the negative adverb dan, these forms with hee' are negative indefinites, so dan hee'á no one.

Ko hee'on má? What do you see?
Né dan hee'on homá. I saw nothing.


Postpositions of motion or location will use one of the three locative cases. The others will take the genitive/oblique.

Postpositions may not act as adverbs ("we went in"). The pronoun ma must be used, be math i ho'áán "he went in (it)."

The Verb

A verb may have up to three prefixes, one for direction and mode of action, one for instrument or means, one for aspect.

Direction + Instrument + Aspect + STEM

Direction and Mode

These affixes are not obligatory.

The lii- prefix may combine with one of the other two, but it's much more likely to drive out any direction prefix. It can refer not only to visiting a web site or playing an MMO, but may refer to almost any interaction mediated by communications technology, such as using a cash machine.

The two direction prefixes can indicate motion through time as well as space, in which case the point of focus is temporal context of the statement. Chu- with stative verbs in the perfective has an inchoative sense, chuhojed it got cold.

Ní- with the conlusive perfective carries the sense of an experiential perfect, né maa áka 'isii I have read that book.


These prefixes indicate the means by, or medium through which an action is performed. These are very common, and may combine with verb stems in very idiomatic ways. Many dictionary entries will give both the instrumental prefix and the verb stem.

Verbs with instrument prefixes are transitive by default, which promotes intransitive verbs to transitive without the need for -azh(e). Verb stems that are already transitive don't receive new arguments.


Be usín zutik. He kicks it over.
Be usín ka'atik. He pushes/knocks it over (by hand).
A'é ko nóóho'áaróó? You got a tattoo? (áar skin)


The simple imperfective and perfective are often dropped once an aspectual context has been determined. The others are sufficiently specific that their effect doesn't extend beyond the verb to which they are attached.

Note that the aspect prefixes will come immediately before the verb stem. As a reminder of this, dictionary items cited with an instrumental prefix use a dash. The perfective of ró-má read is róhomá, the punctual perfective ró'isiimá.

Transitivity Affixes

The most fundamental affixes relating to verb valency are -azh (-azhe for animate causee) for transitives and causatives (+1 valency) and -(')óó for intransitives (-1 valency). These same affixes are used not only to alter a verb stem's transitivity, but when attached to nouns transform them immediately into verb stems.

The intransitive -(')óó can often shade into middle, reflexive or benefactive senses. Using the example above, nóó'áaróó doesn't necessarily mean "tattoo onself," but "get a tattoo for oneself."

The passive is created with the circumfix di-S-(e) attached to the verb stem (before any prefixes are added). The prefix is always di-C or di'-V, but the suffix is more complex:

The Bixwá passive suppresses the agent entirely. The transitive with a focus suffix is used to highlight the patient when the agent still needs to be mentioned.

There is no verb marking for reciprocal, which is instead marked with the pronoun yeyáa each other in the appropriate case, jóné yeyáan wil hodeezh then we saw each other.

Control Affixes

Control can be marked on verbs as well as the pronouns. Here the focus of control is on the speaker's indicidual agency, where control in the pronouns has a social element.

Né ben hodeezhokoó I happened to catch sight of her vs. né ben hodeezhotu I looked at her.


Verbs are frequently paired with "preverb" elements which combine adverbial, syntactic and discourse uses. They come before the verb, but with transitive verbs there is a different syntax for animate and inanimate direct objects (see Preverb Syntax).

The preverbs themselves may combine when the semantics are reasonable. In general the order will be from least specific sense to most, with fixed locations for certain elements.

First in order are the tense, mood and sequencing preverbs. Of all the tense markers, the future is most likely to be used, otherwise tense marking is quite rare.

These next preverbs tend to stay to the left of any preverbs except the tense and sequencing set.

Finally, the more specific adverbial set:

These preverbs may combine, with manner coming first, locatives second.

Some examples:

Be gáxi hoxodosh. He chattered all over the place.
Ová' dush. (We) are in agreement.
Né wil kichí umaan hogwexazh. Then I moved it back where it belonged.
Be nén óósi ta'ii énekékw. She drives me completely nuts in just this way.
Sa' vayaan losh. It is beautiful here. (of a landscape)
Kwe'un zá vayaan miyesh. It was humid ("there was humidity spread out").
Be bache áka ka'ahowísh. He picked up ("grabbed by hand with vertical motion") the book.
Cheth jóbe bé ho'áájin. They returned ("went back") home (I hear).


The evidential suffixes are clause-final, though they may remain on the verb if there is right branching.

These are not used when the first person pronoun is involved in the clause, especially as the subject. However, the suppositional and reportative evidentials may still be used with a first person subject for irony, né hodáasojin apparently I'm dead.

These are also not used in the future tense, in subordinate clauses or when certain adverbs touching on evidence are used, such as xóm perhaps.

Degree Markers

Usable on any verbal root where degree makes sense.


Jóbe zá nuuzotánosh. They were very tired.
Umaa nel vuuzhawé. That's not hard for me at all.

Verbs that don't admit degree in this way will use adverbs such as lé'é (very) much, a lot, be lé'é hoxod she said a lot.

Commentary Particles

These come before the word they go with, and act as commentary, always from the speaker's perspective. For the most part they do not accumulate — you get one per clause, determined by salience.

These particles may be modified with two of the degree markers. Using -báá'i indicates a thwarted expectation of a judgement. Using -zhawé effectively negates the sense.

When marking a verb, these do not intrude between preverbs or the negative adverb dan and the verb, umaa rowi dan ová' vaachosh that makes no sense.

The comment particle may also come after the verb to comment on the entire clause, umaa kékw láá that's annoying.

Reduplicated forms of these may be used as predicate ideophones. The initial consonant is repeated with the vowel -áa-, as in áa'azaal, káakaxw, zháazhadí, etc. Though these act somewhat like stative verbs, they do not participate it any tense or aspect marking, they don't take preverbs, nor can they even be negated.

Zháazhadí! Good! (on hearing news that meets your sense of justice)
Be ráarowi He's spouting nonsense.
Áa'ebé Holy crap!

Finally, there is a more complex reduplication pattern used to highlight strong emotional involvement by the speaker. The pattern for most words is C1VC2... becomes C1áaC2oC1VC2... as in zháadozhadí, áayo'iyé. If the commentary word is an open monosyllable, sh is used for C2 in the reduplication, so láasholáá from láá.

These reduplicated forms are very often used to comment on a statement just made, as a follow-up. The original statement can be one of the speaker, or of someone else in the conversation.

Other Ideophones

In addition to the ideophones derived from commentary particles, other ideophones exist, some of which can be related back to other vocabulary (gáagáxi of something shattering or falling to pieces noisily), some showing no relationship to other words (sháashik for slick or slipery motion). Regardless of the source, most will show one of two reduplication patterns the commentary particles take, though possibly with some iconic modifications (káakokééz for sounds like a crackling fire; though it follows the emotional involvement reduplication pattern, that overtone is not present in this word).

Ideophones themselves may be repeated. This is most common with two syllable ideophones, and much rarer with longer ones.

Again like the commentary particle ideophones, the others must be situated in a narrative context. They do not participate in most Bixwá syntax and morphology.

Discourse Markers

These follow any other inflections, yáahu-n-irí hodeezh (I) really saw another.


Korabáji sa' yesh. Watch out, there's a dog.
A'é ko umaanodáyé home'a?! You ate that?
Emedée sa' koor. He knows.
Néxwéet óósi hoxodosh! It's not me who spoke in that way!
Hoshígiríil. (Yes, I) heard.
Maa tarirí omósh. That tree is indeed large.


Bixwá word order is basically SOV but the case endings give some flexibility. Indirect objects come before direct objects. Heavy phrase shifting is most likely to disturb the normal order.

Adverbs and adverbial phrase, which includes the locative cases and postpositional noun phrases, generally order Time, Manner, Place. Simple adverbs may precede their heads, né dan koor I don't know, but adverbial phrases, postpositional phrases and nouns in locative cases tend to precede the SOV nucleus, Kwá cheth be koran bé vok he's taking the dog back home now

Nouns of place and time are freely used as adverbs.

Idíikwe nawe nójóvoorin omí Tomorrow (lit. "young sun") I will see my friends.

PRO-drop. Bixwá is PRO-drop so long as the subject stays the same. It is happy to drop other constituents if they are readily inferrable, as, for example, when a transitive verb is used without stating an established discourse topic.

Since the evidentials are not generally used when a first person pronoun is involvd in a phrase, the evidentials also provide pragmatic clues about omitted pronouns.

Simple Sentences

There is no copular verb, the subject and predicate simply occur next to each other, be saa or saa be he is a man. If the subject is a noun, a link pronoun may be used, Fred be saa, saa be Fred Fred is a man.

There is no true adjective predication in Bixwá. Most of the time a stative verb is used, nóche omó my house is large. If one of the prenoun concepts is needed, my house is new, use a nominal predicate with the prenoun, nóche (usí) zhiiche my house is (a) new (house).

Existence and possession are indicated with the verb ye exist, be and the perfective of nox be/become nothing, dissappear. Expressions of existence will often take the preverb sa'.

Kora sa' yesh There is a dog
Kora nél ye I have a dog
Áka honoxosh There isn't a book
Maa áka bel honoxojin She doesn't have that book (I hear).

Use of the Cases

The accusative case is always used with pronoun and animate noun direct objects. However, if the subject is a pronoun or an animate noun, inanimate direct object noun phrases are usually unmarked, né áka dan má I don't see the book, but né usín dan má I don't see it. An animate subject need not be overt, mee'uyóge nichazhe (I) prepare a tisane.

The dative of interest indicates the entity to which a stative verb is oriented or to which it applies, bel sé'a (it is) easy for him.

The dative is used for the causee of the causative of a transitive verb:

The sun made him take off his coat.

Genitives precede their head, saayoo kora the man's dog. A demonstrative pronoun may go with the possessor, sí saayoo kora this man's dog, or the possessum saayoo sí kora this dog of the man.


With intransitive verbs, the preverbs will always come immediately before the verb.

Transitive verbs with an animate direct object take the same pattern, with the preverb immediately preceding the verb. When there is an inanimate direct object, however, that direct object will come between the preverb chain and the verb.

Náx ben ta'ii hodeezh. We've seen quite enough of him.
Náx ta'ii usín homá. We've seen quite enough of that.

Adverbial Phrases

Verb phrases can be adverbialized. This is the only way to form adverbs from adjective-like stative verbs, but the construction is widely used for various senses, mostly relating to manner and time. The suffix -(e)wé, like the relative markers, is attached to the last word in the adverbialized phrase, which is fronted, ben deezhewé né ivi koor I will know when I see him.

Conditional Sentences

Conditional clauses are also marked with the adverbial suffix -(e)wé, with the general conditions merging with the other senses of that clause suffix. The verb in the protasis of a conditional sentence is almost always marked with the perfective aspect, though others may be used depending on the situation. What will not happen, however, is a protasis unmarked for aspect.

The different conditional types are marked with the "conditional" preverb léé and the contrafactual zéevi. The conditional is used in possible, hypothetical conditions, and zéevi for contrary-to-fact conditions. The contrafactual preverb has uses in other grammatical constructions, but léé is only used in conditions, never for general irrealis marking.

Type Protasis Apodosis
General Clause-(e)wé Clause
Né ben hodeezhewé, jóné ová' xod.
If/when I see her, we (will) speak.
(Future General) ivi Clause-(e)wé Clause
Né ben ivi hodeezhewé, jóné ová' xod.
If I see her, we will speak.
Hypothetical (léé) Clause-(e)wé léé Clause
Contrafactual (zéevi) Clause-(e)wé zéevi Clause

The future general condition is just a subtype of the general condition, but note that, unlike in English, the protasis is marked for the future tense, not the apodosis.

Purpose Clauses

Clauses of purpose are marked with the phrase suffix -(e)wéér. The contrafactual preverb zéevi in the clause marks an unrealized intention.

Be nél xodewéér sa' ního'áásh. He came here to speak to me.
Zéevi geéwéér né sí áka róhomá. I read this book in order to understand.

If the subject of the purpose clause is the same as the main clause it may occur in either without usually needing to be repeated in the other.

Report Phrases

Similar to adverbial phrases, report phrases — used with verbs of speaking, commanding, cognition, etc. — are created with the phrase suffix -ees. This clause is usually fronted, but light clauses may be embedded in object position:

Ukwaas lo'ees né hodush I thought the flower was beautiful.
also: ukwaas lo'ees hodush.

Relative Clauses and Attributive Phrases

Relative clauses and what pass for attributive adjectives are accomplished by a similar embedding mechanism. Attributive phrases are created with a phrase suffix which encodes head animacy:

Bixwá relative clauses are usually internally-headed. External heads are available as an option to avoid ambiguity only, in which situation the relative clause precedes the head.

1a. Saa ho'o'éék nuuz The man who has worked is tired.
1b. But: *Ho'o'éék saa nuuz

Example 1b is dispreferred since there is no ambiguity about binding in the outer clause. However:

2. Wan saan deezhik nuuz The woman who sees the man is tired
or The man whom the woman sees is tired.

Without additional context sentence 2 is ambiguous. This can be clarified by moving the head out of the relative clause to immediately follow it:

3a. Wan deezhik saa nuuz The man whom the woman sees is tired
3b. Saan deezhik wan nuuz The woman who sees the man is tired

The case marking (or lack of case marking) in the relative clause clarifies the syntactic role of the head in the relative clause. The sort of ambiguity seen in example 2 is also avoided when the subject and object of the relative clause are of different animacy, since the relative clause phrase suffix encodes animacy.

4a. Saa áka ka'ahowík jálisi The man who grabbed the book is sort of cool.
4b. Saa áka ka'ahowí'o jálisi The book which the man grabbed is sort of cool.

Pronouns cannot be the head of a relative clause, so that né saan deezhik nuuz can only mean The man which I see is tired.

Case endings are attached to relative phrases in the usual way:

5a. Né [ saa nuuzikon ] deezh I see the man who is tired.
5b. Né [ wan deezhik saan ] kozhíí I know the man whom the woman sees.

Note in 5b that when the head is external it receives the case marking, not the relative phrase.

All Bixwá adjectives are really stative verbs. Attributive adjectives are constructed using relative clauses: tar omó'o I see the large tree.


Wishes are marked with the phrase-final particle ya'íí. Unattainable wishes take the contrafactual preverb zéevi, and are usually in the perfective.

Ko usín geé ya'íí. If only you understood this.
Né dan zéevi umaan home'a ya'íí. I wish I hadn't eaten that.


While there are independent modal verbs, most of the time these are suffixed to the verb they go with.

Jóné tooluyaan. We are trying to sleep.
Ko chu'áásháx. You must not go.
Be dan kwíbíkwóójaash. He is unable to control himself, he has no self-control.
Mi sí óganoo bér dan xodováx. One may not speak of this matter.

Word Derivation

Noun Affixes

There is one derivational prefix for nouns:

The u- prefix will come after any instrument prefixes when used with a compound verb, as in nóó'uját (< nóó-u-ját) writing, from the verb nóó-ját.

Noun suffixes:

Many nouns are created using classifier suffixes that act much like the Bantu noun classes, though without the grammatical agreement apparatus. The use patterns will be familiar to those who know Toki Pona, too.

The class suffixes are mnemonic — they are not expected to produce transparently analyzable words. Some examples, chék foot > chékoxá leg, mo'í wander, move randomly > mo'íviith gnat, kwe sun > kwe'un humidity.

The placeholder noun ye'ée whatchamacallit, thingie can take a classifier suffix when you're dealing with something you don't know the name of, ye'éezhás is some random bug, ye'éejoz is some goop.

Relative clauses may be nominalized by taking the class suffixes directly, as in chos tiko'ovaa autumn (i.e., "when leaves fall").

Verb Suffixes

These affixes either extend the meaning of a verb or create a verb from a noun. Some of these suffixes result in verbs that can be made passive, but most do not. I've marked the ones that can be passivized; those unmarked cannot.


Compounds are head final, zhookwe moon (lit. "night-sun"). Compound verbs are not particularly common, with phrase idioms more likely to be used. Those few compounds that do exist treat the entire compound as the verb stem when prefixes are attached.

See the full vocab.

Copyright (c) 2006-2017 William S. Annis