Syntactic Device - Lingering
Parts Of Speech
Verbs - Active Or Passive Voice
Final Consonants And Consonant Clusters
Awaiting Further Research
Fith is a language for an imaginary alien race. Since many model languages for aliens use grammars that follow the universal grammar of humans, I wanted to invent a language that specifically violated linguistic universals and could never be spoken by a human in actual practice. Humans can translate Fithian texts that have been written down, but due to the nature of the grammar - where words can be spoken long before their semantic role, if any, is apparent - no human could learn to translate Fith in real time. The grammar is based on the principals of a LIFO-stack (Last In First Out) data structure. Fith is also unusual in that each word has both a spoken component and a hand signal (one of 12 hand signals, each combination of spoken component and hand signal often signaling a different word).
Fith is the most prominent language of the sentient
race of the planet Fithia. Fithians are hairless, intelligent
marsupials, averaging four feet in height, legendary for their
revolutionary and erratic political structures. Fithians are also
known for being the only sentient race whose universal grammar
depends upon a mental model of a LIFO-stack (Last In First Out)
data structure, a peculiarity that is apparently biologically
hardwired into Fithians. All Fithian languages use the LIFO grammar.
A LIFO stack can be thought of as a deck of cards.
In Fith, every card is a different word or set of words. Some
words - like nouns - typically just get added to the stack. For
instance, the utterance _zhong hong_ would place the first word,
_zhong_ ("nation"), onto the stack (think of it as a
card) then would place the next word over it, _hong_ ("man").
1. zhong, "nation"
2. zhong hong, "nation man"
All the syntactical rules of Fith involve the use
of the stack. For instance, an adjective modifies the noun or
phrase on top of the stack (the top card, as it were). So the
adjective _lin_, "loyal", would take _hong_ from the
mental stack of the listener and would replace it with the phrase
<hong lin> ("loyal man"). For our purposes here,
phrases are defined as any group of two or more words and are
represented by being enclosed in brackets; after being processed,
they take one space on the stack. So the final result of the stack
for the phrase _zhong hong lin_ would be:
3. zhong <hong lin>, nation "loyal man"
The phrase _zhong hong lin lo_ would leave the stack
4. <zhong hong lin lo>, "loyal man of
See the section on stack conjunctions below to
see how Fithians manipulate the stack for emphasis.
A rhetorical device used in Fith is to mention subjects
that are then left to linger on the stack before being used. This
can serve as introduction or indirection. The whole time a Fithian
is talking these unused words are in the back of the listener's
mind, as it were, coloring all that is said after. A short example
(examples of this can be much longer):
"As we all love the pouch that bore us, we all
love the clan who raised us. As we all love the clan who raised
us, so must we love this nation that sacrificed for us."
- Tsho Ming Sun Do.
There is not room in an introduction of this sort
to present the whole translation here, other then to say that
it begins with the words "nation clan pouch". Thanks
to the stack-based grammar, the word "nation" (_zhong_)
can be introduced first, even though it is not used until four
clauses later! (Obviously politicians find this device to be a
great way to seem to answer an opponent.)
One popular parody of Tsho Ming Sun Do's famous statement
(popular among the enemies of the Tsho nation anyway) begins with
the words _lu lu lu lu..._ "Us us us us...". (The parody
is perfectly grammatical, if impossible for humans to understand
in real time.)
Fith is isolating, with no words modified by inflections
or derivational affixes.
Nouns - A noun is placed on the stack as is and does not affect items already on the stack. Nouns are not marked for number, gender or case. Articles are optional, in which case the precise meaning is determined from context (e.g., _zhong hong lo_ typically means "A man of THE nation").
Verb - A verb removes a subject and an object (if present) and replaces them with a clause on the stack. Verbs are not marked for tense, number, gender or person; this is assumed from context or made explicit by modifiers. (See note about active and passive voice below.)
Modifiers - A modifier can be used as an adjective or adverb: an adjective if the stack top is a noun or noun phrase, an adverb if the stack top is a verb or verbal phrase. A modifier always removes the stack top and replaces it with a phrase. For instance, _hong lo_, "loyal man", and _hong shi vin um lo_, "man you follow still loyally" -> "The man still loyally follows you."
Personal Pronouns - Fith only has two personal pronouns: _shi_ for the second person ("you, y'all") and _lu_ for the first person ("I, me, we, us").
Possessive Pronoun-Modifiers - _ong_ for the second person ("your") and _zha_ for "my".
Postpositions - These have a similar function to English prepositions: _fthong hong lo_, "people man of" -> "man of the people". Fith has two classes of postpositions: traditional postpositions, as _lo_, where the object of the postposition is the second item from the top of the stack, and the swap postpositions, where the object of the postposition is the top of the stack, as in _hong fthong shlo_, "man people of" -> "man of the people". The swap postpositions were originally all contractions of _shen_ and a traditional postposition (e.g., _shlo_ is a contraction of _shen lo_) though unrelated forms have since emerged (_sre_, "up", and _zhomn_, "[swap] up").
Articles - The articles
_ke_ ("the"), _emn_ ("a, some") and _zhenh_
("in general, as a class") are optional. When they are
used, they occur after a noun or noun phrase: e.g., _hong fthong
shlo emn_, "man people of a" -> "a man of the
people." An example of _zhenh_: _yumn zhenh tra humh vai
"human [as a class] Terra from be" -> "Humans,
as a rule, are from Terra."
The exact part of speech is marked by using a hand
signal, though this process is still under study by Terran linguists.
Fithian verbs are all translated into English in
the active voice, but if the order of the subject and object have
been swapped before the verb, this implies a similar sense of
emphasis to the passive voice in English.
Active: _hong shi vin um lo_, "man you follow still loyally" -> "The man still loyally follows you."
Passive: _shi hong shen vin um lo_, "you man
[swap] follow still loyally" -> "You are still followed
loyally by the man."
A stack conjunction is a word with the primary purpose
of directly manipulating the mental stack. The following sections
cover the key stack conjunctions and their meanings.
The following copying conjunctions add one or more items to the top of the stack, based on the existing contents of the stack.
_du_ ( n1 - n1 n1 ) makes a copy of the top stack item. [called "dup", for duplicate, in English grammars]
_kuu_ ( n1 n2 - n1 n2 n1 n2 ) copies the top two stack items. [called "redup"]
_voi_ ( n1 n2 - n1 n2 n1 ) copies the second stack item to the top of the stack. [called "dupover"]
_dzhi_ ( n1 - n2 ) copies the n1th stack item to
the top of the stack where n1 is a number greater than zero. [called
For instance, _hong lin du_ produces the stack _<hong
lin> <hong lin>_. The phrase _hong lin du lo_ translates
as "most loyal man of loyal men" (the superlative is
determined from context in this instance).
Another example: the phrase _zhong hong kuu_ produces
the stack _zhong hong zhong hong_, "nation man nation man".
Stylistically, it is considered poor form to repeat a recently
said word when a stack conjunction could easily be used instead.
The following ordering stack conjunctions rearrange the position of the items on the stack:
_shen_ ( n1 n2 - n2 n1 ) exchanges the stack positions of the top two stack items. [called "swap"]
_ronh_ ( n1 n2 n3 - n2 n2 n1 ) moves the third stack item to the top, pushing down the first two stack items. ["rotate"]
_lonh_ ( n1 n2 n3 - n3 n1 n2 ) moves the top stack
item to the third item, pushing the second and third items up.
The word _shen_ is used to rearrange the order of
the top two items of the stack. For example, _Hong ke rumn ke
vith e._ is "The man saw the robot." while _Hong ke
rumn ke shen vilh e._ is "The robot saw the man." The
swap rearranged the order of the subject and object. Swap, rotate
and counterrotate conjunctions enable Fithian word order to be
pretty free, despite the fact that verbs require subject-object
word order. What follows illustrates this and is a good example
The sentence _zhong hong zhong hong non lonh lo shen
krai e_ means "nation man nation man without [counterrotate]
of hate" -> "The man with a nation is hated by the
man without a nation." (Contrast this with _zhong hong non
zhong hong lo krai e_, "The man without a nation hates the
man with a nation.")
The effect of _ronh lonh_ is to rotate the top three
items, then restore them to their original order, in effect leaving
the stack unchanged. As a result, Fithian speakers use _ronh lonh_
as a filler sound like English "um" when hesitating
The following conjunctions remove items from the stack:
_e_ (n1 -) removes the top item from the stack. [called "full stop"]
_frong_ ( n1 - ) also removes the top item from the stack. [called "drop"]
_bom_ ( n1 n2 - n2 ) drops the second item from the
stack. [called "nip"]
The conjunctions _e_ and _frong_ have different semantic
meanings (while sharing the same syntactical function). The word
_e_ ends an utterance, popping the stack top off the stack. It
is like a period ending a sentence in written discourse, but in
Fith it is always spoken. The word _frong_, on the other hand,
like _bom_, has the sense of "forget I mentioned that".
Here is an example of _frong_: the phrase _shi vum
vai e_ ("you were an egg", lit. "you egg be")
is the direst insult, equivalent to "f-- you" in English
(and is a reference to the pestilent monotreme rodents native
to the planet Fithia). However, the phrase _shi vum vai frong_
is the equivalent of "shucks" or "you goof";
it is the mildest of oaths, said by parents to their children
and lovers to one another. (Imagine saying "f-- you never
mind" to your child!)
The synchronization conjunction strunh [synch] is used to remind the listener how deep their mental stack should be. It requires that a number already be on the mental stack. For instance, bonh strunh means "two [synch]". Such a phrase has the sense of, "You should still have two items on your mental stack [after bonh has been removed], and I'll be getting to them shortly. If you don't, let me know and I'll clarify."
It is frequently used when talking in a noisy environment (the communal showers, for instance) and is used less often otherwise.
[Thanks to Jim Henry for suggesting that perhaps each word in Fith "could end with a sort of CRC code"; that suggestion inspired the creation of strunh.]
Fith does not have third-person pronouns, but uses
the stack conjunction _du_ [dup] instead. For example:
_Hong du_ produces the following stack in the mind
of the listener: _hong hong_, "man man".
To say, "The red robot jumped. The man deactivated
it.", you would say in Fith:
_rumn ke vainm du vonh e hong ke shen shkrung e._
Literally: "Robot the red (dup) jump. Man the
The difficult part of this for English speakers is
that you have to call attention to the fact that you will be referring
to something later by saying _du_. In other words, you have to
know that you are going to refer to something with a pronoun before
you actually do so, marking the antecedent. This makes it harder
to use (for humans) than a third-person pronoun.
The _shen_ (swap conjunction) is required to place
the nouns in correct order for the verb _shkrung_, "deactivate".
The subject has to go on the stack first, followed by the object.
The swap-conjunction places the items <_hong ke_, "man
the"> and <_rumn ke vainm_, "robot the red">
in the correct order on the stack. Without _shen_, the meaning
of the last sentence would be, "The red robot deactivated
the man." (A few irregular verbs require the object to proceed
The name of a Fith is four words long: the name of
his nation, followed by the name of his clan, followed by the
name of his mother, followed by the name his mother gave him.
(Why do I use the pronoun _his_? Because 80% of Fithian births
are to males, meaning men outnumber women four to one.)
Tsho Ming Sun Do
Do, of the mother Sun, of the clan Ming, of the nation
Among family and among friends of the same clan,
only the given name (e.g., Do) is used. Among other members of
the same clan, the mother's name is also used (e.g., Sun Do).
Among members of another clan belonging to the same nation (even
presuming friendship), the clan name is used (e.g., Ming Sun Do).
Everyone else uses the full name. Occasionally, a Fithian's best
friend will be of another nationality: those two will go through
life calling each other by their full names.
Because clans often change allegiances, a Fithian's
national name may change two or three times during his life. Tsho
Ming Sun Do was born Lom Ming Sun Do, before the Ming clan joined
the Tsho nation. (Tsho Ming Sun Do eventually led the Tsho nation
to complete victory over the Lom nation, entirely conquering it.)
The words that are used as names have no other meaning
(no names like Grace or Joy) and are chosen from a set that has
become fixed by tradition. There are now just 144 possible given
names, and 12 times that many clan names. The name of a nation
is taken from the name of its preeminent clan.
The Fithians use a number system based on 144. They
have unique words for the numbers 0 through 144, then express
greater numbers using 144 as the base. The word for one is _an_,
for two is _bonh_, for twelve or dozen is _den_, the word for
144 is _mang_.
When a number is mentally processed, the Fithian
checks the stack top to see if that is a number as well. If it
is, it multiplies that number by 144 and adds its own value. Thus
_an bonh_ would be 1 x 144 + 2 = 146, while _mang an_ would be
144 x 144 + 1 = 20,737.
Numbers are otherwise treated as nouns. To use a
noun as an adjective requires using the postposition _tshon_,
"of" (but used only for numbers). To say, "I saw
two men", one would say, _lu hong bonh tshon vilh_, literally
"I man two of saw".
The most common parting is _Song ke duun_, "Friend
the go-away-with-the-intention-of-returning" -> "The
friend departs but will come again."
The vocal tract of the Fithians is similar to that
of humans, but different enough to make it impossible for humans
to exactly pronounce Fithian sounds. And then there is the matter
of the hand signals, some of which require the use of two thumbs...
As a result, all humans speak Fith with a marked speech impediment
(an uncharitable Fithian considers human pronunciation to be a
parody), but the following guidelines allow us to come as close
to the original sounds and signals as humanly possible.
A word is formed from the following components:
(I) V (F) H
I = Initial consonant or consonant cluster (optional)
V = Vowel or diphthong
F = Final consonant or consonant cluster (optional)
H = mandatory hand signal or word representing a
p t k
b d g
f th s sh h
v dh z zh xh
m n ng
r y w
NOTE: \tsh\ and \dzh\ are counted as single consonants,
since they combine with other consonants in the same manner as
single consonants, but they are of course actually consonant clusters.
The "single consonants" can then be clustered with other
consonants as follows:
pr tr kr
br dr gr
fr thr sr shr hr
vr dhr zr zhr xhr
pl tl kl
bl dl gl
fl thl sl shl hl
vl dhl zl zhl xhl
py ty ky
by dy gy
pw tw kw
bw dw gw
sp st sk
spr str skr
shp sht shk
shpr shtr shkr
This totals 107 possible initial consonants or clusters. It equals
108 possible word beginnings when you include the fact that you
can omit a consonant altogether.
a - pat
ai - pay
e - pet
ee - bee
i - pit
ie - pie
o - pot
oe - toe
oi - noise
ou - out
u - cut
uu - boot
These vowels can be either nasalized or non-nasalized, but are
almost always nasalized. The one exception is when no final consonant
is indicated in the English transcription of a word (see next section).
The most common endings are the five nasals:
ng (as in _sing_)
mn (pronounced with no vowel between; try pronouncing _human_ as one syllable as in _dumn_, "down")
nm (also pronounced with no vowel between; try pronouncing _venom_
as one syllable, as in _vainm_, "red")
Any of these nasals may be aspirated (actually, the process creates
a geminate of the final nasal, which is followed by a clearly
audible puff of breath):
The last final "consonant" is
-n~, the vestige of the nasal ending -n~ /ny/. In English transliterations,
it is written as a consonant but in fact it is not pronounced,
instead having the effect of keeping the vowel nasalized, thereby
distinguishing _hon~_ ("to talk") from _ho_ ("to
lie"). The vowel is only not nasalized when it is not followed
by a transliterated consonant.
There are 108 x 12 x 12 (15,552) possible unique words, based
on sound alone.
Obviously, 15,552 words is too few for a language, even for an
alien race. Fithians have developed a way around this, but it
does not involve tones as the Chinese add to their monosyllables.
Instead, as each word is pronounced, a Fithian marks that word
with a manual sign (which can be made with either the right or
left hand). The names of these signals can be pronounced in conversation
when the hand signals are not visible and are written as part
of the appropriate word.
NOTE: The hand of a Fithian has four fingers and
two opposable thumbs.
The hand signals and their names:
_rai_ - palm open, facing away from speaker, with fingers and thumbs spread as far apart as possible, pointing to sky
_uun_ - palm open, facing speaker, with fingers and thumbs spread as far apart as possible, pointing to sky
_o_ - palm face down to the floor, fingers and thumbs parallel to floor, pointing away from speaker
_sho_ - palm face up, fingers and thumbs curled into a cup shape
_uu_ - palm face up, fingers curled all the way back to touch the thumbs
_sa_ - palm open, facing away from speaker, with fingers and thumbs touching each other, pointing to sky
_zhoi_ - palm open, facing speaker, with fingers and thumbs touching
each other, pointing to sky
_el_ - thumb up sign (left thumb)
_oinh_ - thumb down sign (Fithians point the right thumb down;
humans either point the pinkie down or point their one thumb down)
_ong_ - fist, with each thumb straight along the side of the hand
_lan~_ - fist, but with left thumb level and point out from the fist at a right angle
_dzhing_ - fist, but with the right thumb level and pointed out
from the fist at a right angle (humans stick their pinkie out
as far as possible)
Apparently, the hand signals specify the part of speech of the
word (more accurately, specify the stack operation to be made
by the word), but this is not well understood yet. As a result
the vocabulary presented here has not specified hand signals.
(Further research undertaken by the Genesis 2:19 Committee is
_o_ - place this word on the stack as is (e.g., for a noun)
_sa_ - manipulate the stack based on what is currently on the stack only (a stack conjunction)
_el_ - postposition
_oinh_ - swap postposition
_uu_ - verb with just a subject
_sa_ - verb with subject and object
_zhoi_ - verb with subject, object and indirect object
Early in its history, Fith had 14 vowels, with /oo/
(took) and /ah/ (father) used, but they were the least frequently
used sounds and were gradually abandoned in favor of a system
that fit _den zhaimn ke_ ("the golden twelve", the belief
that twelve is the right number to have of something, meaning
literally "the green twelve" in Fith, since green has
the equivalent of the positive connotations of the color of gold).
Also because of _den zhaimn ke_, four final consonant
clusters of Old Fith (/l/, /lh/, /r/, and /rh/) were abandoned
in favor of the "the golden twelve" endings (10 nasals,
the vowel, and the non-nasalization of the vowel).
The Fithian writing system is a combination of an
alphabet, a syllabary (for want of a better word) and an ideography.
The initial consonant cluster of a word is represented alphabetically.
Each unique combination of vowel and final consonant (the rime
of a syllable, comprising 160 forms in Fith) has a unique symbol:
so /oi/ is written differently than /oin/, which is written differently
than /oimn/. Finally, each hand signal has a pictograph roughly
based on the hand shape. And as if that wasn't enough, about the
thousand most common words (actually it has been formalized at
12*144, _den sing_) have unique symbols. And the 144 digits (0
to 143) have unique symbols. So Fithians have to learn close to
2000 symbols to represent their language. Their brains are well
suited to this; where humans using ideographic systems (Chinese,
for instance) take decades to master all their symbols; a young
Fithian can learn their writing system is about two Terran years.
Research is still be undertaken to correctly mark
each word with its appropriate hand signal.
|Word||Translation||Part Of Speech||Stack Operation||Etymology|
|dumn||down||postposition||(n1 n2 - <n2 down n1>)|
|duun||to go away with the intention of returning||verb|
|e||*full stop||stack conjunction|
|emn||a, some||article (modifier)|
|fthi||earth (the planet Fith)||name|
|fthong||person, people (word for their species)||noun|
|hong||male Fith, man||noun|
|lo||of, belonging to, with||postposition||(n1 n2 - <n2 of n1>|
|lu||I, me, we, us||first-person personal pronoun|
|ong||your||second-person possessive pronoun-modifier|
|shi||you||second-person personal pronoun|
|shlo||of||postposition||(n1 n2 - <n1 of n2>)||[< shen lo, "[swap] of".]|
|shtumn||down||postposition||(n1 n2 - <n1 down n2>)||[< shen dumn, "[swap] down".]|
|sre||up||postposition||(n1 n2 - <n2 up n1>)|
|tshon||of (but used only for numbers)||postposition||(n1 n2 - <n2 of n1>)|
|vonh||jump||verb (1 object, or two?)|
|zha||my||first-person possessive pronoun-modifier|
|zhenh||in general||article (modifier)|
|zhomn||up||postposition||(n1 n2 - <n1 up n2>)|
The study of Fithian linguistics is just getting
started, thanks to an initial first-contact study done by satdroids
of the Genesis 2:19 Committee. The following areas will be researched
by a first contact team:
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