Jutean syntax

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Jutean syntax is characterized by a complex mixed morphosyntactic alignment that includes split-S ergativity and the focus-marking known from languages with Austronesian alignment. Avoidance of subclauses and them employment of several strategies to do so as well as an extraordinarily rigid main word order are other important characteristics.

Main clauses

Clause level

Jutean is a very strictly Verb-Subject-Object (VSO) language, including in questions. Movements are very limited, and restricted to objects. Verbs and subjects may not change position, as part of speech for the most part have specific slots in every sentence. The slots available are:

(0. Noun or sentence fragment put at the beginning for emphasis, separated by a comma, not seen as part of the sentence)

1. Conjunction (if two main clauses are connected)

2. Auxiliary verb

3. Auxiliary verb particle

4. Verb

5. Verb particle

6. Subject (Noun/pronoun in direct case)

7. Direct object (takes the indirect case), usually with no adpositions

8. Oblique/indirect object(usually takes the oblique case), with adpositions

9. Adverbs (manner - place - time)

10. Question particle (separated by comma)

Any of them can be dropped if they can be derived by context.

Phrase level

On the phrase level, Jutean is a strongly head-initial language, with verb, noun and adpositional phrases all having the heads of the phrases preceding the complements.

Verb stacking

"Stacking" of verbs, creating verb chains also known as serial verb constructions, can be done to avoid long chains of oblique objects.

Saiho hokonol hokohe saihasao na lumadooti, haa? 'You think you can't allow yourself to question orders?'
Think be_currently_able-NEG allow-REFL question 2S order-IDR | Q

Like in English, there is no conjunction introducing a subclause, however, there is no need to repeat the subject in Jutean either, and instead a sequence of infinitives and even conjugated verbs can often be created, thereby incorporating several sentences into a sole clause. This ‘verb-stacking’ can often be used where English uses constructions with one or more infinitives:

Saihoko sao tataimomo ta. 'I like to swim to forget.'
Like swim forget-ANTIP 1S

Saihoko hotiomo ho mohomoo ta niti. 'I like to write to keep my life in balance.'
Like write-ANTIP continue balance 1S life-IDR
(more literally “I like to write (so as/in order) to continue to balance (=keep balanced) (my) life”)

Often the verbs, when they aren't functioning as auxiliaries (such as hokono 'to be currently be able to'), are connected semantically, e.g. through causation, and syntactically, by having the same subject and object or objects. Usage of this structure is therefore not possible if two or more verbs have distinct subjects or distinct objects. Contrast the previous and the following sentence:

Saihoko hotio ta tahiti nuhe hohi a mohomohi he. 'I like to write stories so I stay balanced/even-tempered myself.'
Like write 1S story-IDR BEN continue-GER of be_balanced-GER REFL
(more literally “I like to write stories for the benefit of the continuing of being balanced myself (=to stay balanced/even-tempered myself)” )

Here hotio and hohi a mohomohi have two different objects, so a separation was necessary, with the latter becoming a gerund.

Alternatively, the subject can be dropped:

Sahono ta tohi li saaniti a me la ma. 'I assume he has gone/is going to the beach.'
Assume 1S go-GER towards beach-IDR of OBL 3S OBL
(more literally: “I assume his going/having gone to the beach”)

Sahono to la li saaniti. 'He is assumed to have/be gone/going to the beach.'
Be_assumed go 3S towards beach-IDR

Several types of sentences are exceptions and do allow stacked verbs to have a subject-object mismatch. Among those are sentences using the causative voice, i.e. verbs using the causative suffix or verbs preceded by a noito ('make, lead, force') as auxiliary, as well as similar other constructions with verbs acting as auxiliaries, such as permissive sentences with oso 'let'.

Other verbs with a specific auxiliary meanings (i.e. verbs having a different meaning when used with other verbs in one sentence) such as memo (here: 'to tell so. to do sth.'), several mental verbs like saihodo (here: 'to expect so. to do sth.') or noito (here: 'to force, make so. do sth.') may also have a different subject than other verbs in a sentence with verb stacking.

However, they still have to form a single unit of meaning, i.e. all verbs have to be semantically connected.

Saihodo fulo fal he ta a me na ma. 'They expect me to tell about you.'
Expect_to tell 3.COL IDR 1S about OBL 2S OBL

Noito fulo fal he ta a me na ma. 'They force me to tell about you.'
Expect_to tell 3.COL IDR 1S about OBL 2S OBL


Subclauses, for example relative clauses, are exclusively formed by nominalizing main clauses, i.e. turning them into a noun phrase. Word order in nominalized subclauses is still VSO and otherwise unchanged as well, though there is no need to always have a distinct subject, as subclauses can refer back to the subject of the main clause. Unless they are the direct object of a sentence, they are usually introduced by a, 'of, from, by, about', or other adpositions such as li ‘to, towards, in order to’ or ehe ‘as, like’. The gerund form of the verb follows, and the arguments of the subclause are introduced via more adpositions.

However, subclauses are generally avoided, especially in everyday speech. Usually separate main clauses are preferred, linked with a conjunction, most of the time u, 'and', or a connector phrase such as tonte ji 'after this', memo (...) ji 'this was said/... said this/', or ehe ji 'as a result, so'.

The same is the case with sentences like 'I think that' which often would be translated as Saimo ta ji: ..., 'I think this: ...' instead of resorting to gerunds. Alternatively, a main clause may be rephrased, e.g. with the help of verb stacking (serial verb constructions), to render a nominalized subclause unnecessary.

This avoidance is used in particular to avoid having multiple nominalizations in a single sentence, since this is seen as unnecessarily confusing and hampering speech and conversations. This still applies, albeit less so, for written language.

Single-argument subclauses

As long as main clause and sub clause refer to the same subject, there is no need to restate it, as subclauses can refer back to the subject of the main clause. In these cases, the object can come first and then be followed by a + gerund.

Joo ta tovohi a vailitade./Joo ta vailitati a tovohi. 'I see the car being driven' / 'I see the car that is/was driven.'
See 1S drive-GER of vehicle-OBL / See 1S vehicle-IDR drive-GER
(more literally “I see the driving of the car / I see the car of driving”)

Joo ta tovohi a sainide. / Joo ta sainiti a tovohi. 'I see the person who drives/drove.'
See 1S drive-GER of person-OBL
(more literally “I see the driving of the person / I see the person of driving”)

Sentences that in other languages would use a subjugator pronoun, such as 'that', are often rendered similarly:

Saiho ta (a) teohi/tehide a tohohi (a me ta ma). 'I think (that) I should go now.'
Think 1S (of) need-GER/need-OBL of leave-GER (of OBL 1S OBL)
(more literally: “I think of the need/the needing of leaving”)

In this case, the last part describing the person with the need can be omitted and simply deduced by context, unless it is to be emphasized. The introductory a can also be dropped in most cases, particularly informal speech or writing.

As can be seen, a + object in the oblique case can both be an agent or patient, and only context disambiguates.

Subclauses with two or more different arguments

However, if a subclause does have two distinct arguments, e.g. patient and agent strict VSO order applies and the gerund has to come first, followed by a + the patient in the oblique case and then na + the agent in the oblique case.

Joo ta tovohi a vailitade na sainide. 'I see the person drive a car.'
See 1S drive-GER of vehicle-OBL by person-OBL
(more literally “I see the driving of a car by a person”)

A phrase containing na + oblique object referring to an agent can’t stay on its own and has to be preceded by a full subclause including gerund and a + the patient.

If the second argument is not an agent, a different adposition, such as the previously mentioned li ‘to, towards, in order to’ or ehe ‘as, like’ is used, to avoid having multiple oblique objects introduced by a in the subclause with different roles.

Subclauses including chains of objects

The above mentioned is not the case if the arguments in a subclause all belong to a chain of oblique objects showing possession or relationship between two or more objects. Usually this is the case when personal pronouns are involved.

Deko ta a noitosanohi a tahivide a me na ma he. 'I hear that you are studying languages now.'
Hear 1S of study-GER of language-OBL of OBL 2S OBL now
(more literally “I hear about the studying of languages of you now”)

A sentence having both several arguments as well as one or more of them being chains of objects is rare and almost always avoided.

Zero copula phrases

Some sayings and short phrases can use zero-copula phrases instead of the regular predicative "X is Y" construction, which in regular sentences would be seen as incomplete or simply ungrammatical. In writing separated they are separated by a comma.

Toloma, ukainimo! 'Toloma, the hero(!)' / 'Toloma is a hero(!)'
Toloma | hero

No Toloma ukainimo(!) 'Toloma (really) is a hero(!)' / 'There's Toloma, who (really) is a hero(!)'
be Toloma hero

If used as an exclamation, rather than neutral declarative sentence, the later implies a "really", as it's often used to emphasize one or both parts of the predicate.A similar phrasing is also somewhat commonly used with comparisons:

Donosanohi a fenoohi, a ukea ilehe nuohi a fenoide. 'Teaching fishing, better than (just) giving fish.'
Teach-GER of fish-GER | of betterness compared_to give-GER of fish-OBL
(more literally “Teaching of fishing, better than (just) giving of the/some fish.”)

No donosanohi a fenoohi a ukea ilehe nuohi a fenoide. 'Teaching of fishing is better than (just) giving fish.'
Be teach- GER of fish- GER | of betterness compared_to give- GER of fish- OBL
(more literally: “Teaching of fishing is better than (just) the giving of fish.”

The former is usually seen as part of the more poetic or colloquial register, the latter is the more often neutral/plainly declarative version. Like in the previous sentence, it can however be used to stress the "is", and thereby emphasize how it is (seen as) factual, rather than supposed or merely alleged.

Reported speech

Regular reported speech

There are several ways to report speech.

Aside from using nominalizations similar to relative clauses simple sentences like 'she left' or 'he arrives tomorrow', longer ones will usually just be preceded by Memo ji: ('This was said:') or Memo la/fal ji ('They said this:) or similar phrases with tahoo (to talk)


To ta li sittiti dotovuha. 'I went to the city yesterday.'
Go 1S towards city-OBL.LOC yesterday

Tahoo ta a tohi li sittiti a me ta ma dotovuha. 'I talked about my going to the city yesterday.'
Talk 1S about go-GER towards city-OBL.LOC of OBL 1S OBL yesterday

Memo is preferred when the speaker wants to say they (only) briefly said or mentioned something about a previous event or similar, rather than talking about it at length.

Memo ta ji: "To ta li sittiti dotovuha" 'I said this: "I went to the city yesterday."'
Say 1S this.ABST: "Go 1S towards city-OBL.LOC yesterday

Generally, due to the absence of morphological tense, a sentence can be translated as referring to either the past, present or the future, and only context or additional adverbs or the semantics of other words disambiguate. So for example Memo ji can also mean 'This is said' or 'This will be said'.

Rumored or unreliable speech and speech of unknown or unstated origin

Reporting on entire phrases relaying an action or state

Memo is also used in the following cases:

  • to report on what someone said whose identity is not known to the speaker,
  • to report on what someone said whose identity is supposed to not be revealed,
  • to mark a statement as being (potentially) unreliable (e.g. a rumor)
  • to mark a statement as something that the speaker is not entirely sure of
  • as a way of being very formal and distanced

To express this, there are two possibilities, that like the trigger of ergative verbs in transitive sentences can be used to focus different parts of the sentence.

To focus on the verb or action of the quoted or reported sentence the sentence is rephrased as as a nominalization with the gerund in it forming the subject, following memo directly. The remainder of the sentence follows the gerund as an oblique object like in other nominalizations.

To focus on the agent or experiencer of the quoted or reported sentence, the agent or experiencer becomes the subject of the new sentence reporting on it, with the verb and objects following as a single nominalized oblique object introduced by tine (‘inside’). The sentences follows a memo [subject] tine X [additional objects] (‘[Subject] is said to be X-ing’) pattern, e.g. memo ... tine mihonodohi ('be said to sleep').

To ta li sittiti dotovuha. 'I went to the city yesterday.'
Go 1S towards city-OBL.LOC yesterday

would, if deemed to be uncertain or of unreliable veracity be reported as:

Memo tohi li sittiti a me la ma dotovuha. 'It is/was said that he/she/they went/had gone to the city yesterday.'
Be_said_to_be go-GER towards city-OBL.LOC of OBL 1S OBL yesterday

Memo la tine tohi li sittiti dotovuha. It is/was said that he/she/they went/had gone to the city yesterday.
Be_said_to_be 1S inside.ABST go-GER towards city-OBL.LOC yesterday

As can be seen, the translation of the last two sentences remains the same, the difference being mostly just that the former puts the focus (and thereby emphasis) on the activity, and can omit the agent or experiencer if desired or necessary, whereas the latter puts the focus on the agent or experiencer. If the activity is omitted, a simple 'to exist' is implied, but this can be semantically nonsensical in some cases, when it would mean 'It is said that I exist'.

Reporting on a habit, a recurring or a singular event

When the gerund is the subject and not specified in regards to time, the former can refer to a habitual action happening e.g. in a particular location if this makes sense in the context:

Memo tukohi hen. 'It is said that dancing takes place here (regularly/right now/today/...)'
Be_said_to_be dance-GER here

To clarify, anti (‘regularly’) or e.g. he (‘now’) can be added after the place to specify it as a habitual or single event. This has the effect of emphasizing the regularity or the singularity of it. Often however only context disambiguates.

If the sentence is specified in regards to time, but a location is not mentioned, it can refer to something that at a particular point of time happens in many, if not most places, or the places that were previously mentioned or can be deduced from context:

Memo tukohi dee doonide a ji. 'It is said that dancing takes place at this time (of the year/…/right now).'
Be_said_to_be dance-GER during time-OBL of this.ABST

Again, the sentence can be clarified by adding anti (‘regularly’) or e.g. he (‘now’), which again has an emphasizing effect, but as above, usually only context will help disambiguate.

If the time and location are both unspecified in sentences where the gerund is the object, then usually it is referring to a habit associated with the subject:

Memo ta tine tukohi. 'It is said that I dance (a lot)'
Be_said_to_be 1S inside.ABST dance-GER

If either or both are specified, it will usually refer to a singular event, but depending on the context or if the time or place stated is not specific, it tends to remain a habitual statement, even if no anti (‘regularly’) is added:

Memo ta tine tukohi dee vunuhide. 'It is said that I (regularly) dance in the morning.'
Be_said_to_be 1S inside.ABST dance-GER during morning-OBL

Memo ta tine tukohi dee vunuhide dote. 'It is said that I danced during the morning / It is said that I used to dance during the morning.'
Be_said_to_be 1S inside.ABST dance-GER during morning-OBL earlier

Adverbs in reported speech

To clearly state it as something that only happened on one occasion, an unambiguous adverb such as ajavi (‘today’) or phrase such as vuha a ji a iki (‘this one day’) needs to be used.

Memo ta tine tukohi dee vunuhide ajavi. 'It is said I danced during the morning today.'
Be_said_to_be 1S inside.ABST dance-GER during morning-OBL today

Adverbs can be used to e.g. specify a reported sentence referring to the past (dote, 'once, earlier') or it having happened, happening, or going to happen only one or a couple times (ido doonavade a iki/kiovif. 'once/several times')

Memo tukohi hen dote. 'It is said that dancing took place here once [one or several times].
Be_said_to_be dance-GER here once

Memo tukohi hen ido doonavade a iki. 'It is said that dancing took/will take place here on one occasion.'
Be_said_to_be dance-GER here at.ABST instance-OBL of one

These adverbs can also be combined, but usually some things are left implied through context.

Memo tukohi hen ido doonavade a iki dote. 'It is said that dancing once took place here on one occasion.'
Be_said_to_be dance-GER here at.ABST instance-OBL of one once

Furthermore, adverbs can either refer to the implied impersonal subject or to the explicitly stated one. If it is necessary to clarify that they are referring to the latter, an equivalent adjectival noun can be used instead, Compare:

Memo datu hen. 'Here it is said that a beast exists (somewhere)' / 'It is said that a beast exists here.'
Be_said_to_be beast here

Memo datu a heni. 'It is said (by some, somewhere) that a beast exists here.'
Be_said_to_be beast of here

Sometimes, a gendered adverb can also help disambiguate:

Memo datu a van jumun. 'It is said/Some say a dangerous beast exists there.'
Be_said_to_be beast of danger there.DANGER

Reported existential statements

To convey rumors or unknown or unverified statements relaying the existence of someone or something, a shorter sentence, memo can again be used. These sentences are always intransitive and also again imply an impersonal subject or a 4th person pronoun, similar to the English constructions 'It is said that a/an ... exists' or 'It/There is said to be a/an …'

In such sentences the explicitly stated subject is what would be the oblique object in regular a sentence with an explicit subject expressing the same meaning.

To distinguish this meaning of memo from the basic 'say/mention sth. about' meaning, the sentence may not have any other oblique objects introduced by a (of), and no direct objects.


Memo datu hen. 'It is said that a beast exists here' / 'There is said to be a beast here.'
Be_said_to_be beast here

Memo udimimo a datude hen. 'A friend said something about a beast here.'
Say friend of beast-OBL here

Memo udimimo ji nuhe datude hen. 'A friend says/said this to the beast.'
Say friend this.ABST BEN beast-OBL here

Other adpositions such as nuhe (for) can be used as long as no other object exists in the sentence:

Memo udimimo nuhe datude hen. 'There is said to be a friend of a/the beast living here.' Be_said_to_be friend BEN beast-OBL here

The adposition tine (‘inside’) can once again be used to introduce a gerund, here specifying or characterizing the subject.

Memo datu tine mihinidohi a hei. It is said there is a sleeping beast here.' / 'It is said a/the beast sleeps/is sleeping/slept here.'
Be_said_to_be beast inside.ABST sleep-GER of here

As can be seen, this sentence can be read or translated as a regular non-existential phrase as well.

To put the focus on the action or verb, the gerund can also be made into the subject, which then as an exception can take an oblique object to specify it.

Memo mihinidohi a datude hen. 'It is said there is sleeping of a/the beast [taking place] here.' / 'It is said a beast sleeps here.
Be_said_to_be sleep-GER of beast-OBL here

This makes the sentences syntactically identical to sentences reporting on entire phrases relaying an action or state, with them similarly being able to be used to emphasize either the verb or the subject of the reported sentence.