Lwaitel nouns and noun phrases


See also noun examples


Person, obviation, and indexing

Various parts of Lwaitel grammar indicate grammatical person (first, second, or third person). First person inclusive—that is, me and you (and possibly others), the listener is included—and first person exclusive—that is, the listener is not included—are treated as separate grammatical persons. In speech and writing, third person nouns are marked for how relevant they are to the conversation, with three levels of relevance; these also act like different grammatical persons. Person markers do not change when plural; rather, number is optionally marked with a separate word.

In speech and writing, where person is marked, the following words and suffixes are used:

Standalone wordSuffixMeaning
SuffixPhonological changes
-ku If the stem ends in –m, –mp, –n, or –nt, that consonant/cluster changes to –ng.First person exclusive (I, we)
kat -ket First and second person (me and you)
chí -chi If the stem ends in –m, –mp, –ng, or –nk, that consonant/cluster changes to –n. Second person (you)
an -en –n after a vowel, null after n, final unstressed –i changes to –yen, final unstressed –u changes to –wen (unless there's already a glide, in which case –yen/–wen is added at the end) Main thing we're talking about (proximate)
al -el –l after a vowel, null after l (and lw, ly), final unstressed –i becomes –ely, final unstressed –u becomes –elw Other main thing we're talking about (medial)
im -i Null after i (whether stressed, unstressed, or a diphthong); replaces e; if the last sound is an unstressed u, then the u becomes w; if the last sound is a stressed á or ú, then the i becomes the second element of a diphthong Other things (obviate)

In sign language, person is indicated by pointing to the person or object; this is used in the same places that person markers are in spoken language. First person inclusive is indicated by pointing up and doing a circular or semicircular motion starting near the speaker. If the object or person isn't present, or is too far away to reliably point at, or is an abstract concept, or is part of a person or object (e.g. body parts), an area is chosen in front of the speaker to represent the person or object, slightly below the level one is signing at (so one points down to such areas). The most proximate entity (that which would use an) is generally right in front of the speaker, with other entities being off to the sides. (This is called indexing.)

The words in the "standalone word" column are used as pronouns and at the beginning of most noun phrases; for sign language, this involves pointing with one's index finger (dominant hand, except with certain prepositions). Even the first– and second-person words can start noun phrases; for instance, I could say

I/me naum-ku.go-1.
I go.

but if I wanted to make sure the other person knew who I was I could also say

chilí naunku.
I/me chilíchri naum-ku.go-1.
I, chri, go.

Noun phrases that don't start with one of these words are usually used for things the speaker isn't planning on talking about more, and for agreement they're treated as if they're preceded by im/far away on the dominant side. These words are used even with proper nouns and indefinite nouns. The suffixes are used in possession and verbal agreement. In addition, person and obviation are used to determine whether inverse marking is used on the verb.

Because Lwaitel does not distinguish gemination within words, when a word ends in -t and takes person suffixes, the second person and obviate forms are identical in speech, unless the word is irregular.

Optionally, a number or a few letters from the noun can be written over one of these words or suffixes to make it clearer to the reader which item is being talked about. If this is used, the letters or numbers are written in red to indicate the first mention of something or someone in the text, and black otherwise.

Plural marking

Plural marking is not obligatory, but if clarification is needed, íhe indicates that the noun is plural and hi (meaning "one") indicates that the noun is singular. The plural marking is not used when there's an explicit cardinal number. The plural marker, numbers, and other indicators of quantity are adjectives, and can be used after swa (to be). For example, while *"the cats are five" is very uncommon in English (we'd normally say "there are five cats"), the equivalent in Lwaitel

An myau swan he lú.
anprox myaucat swa-enbe-prox he=.card=5.
There are five cats.

is perfectly natural.


Definiteness is marked on the verb. Not all arguments to the verb can be marked indefinite this way; if indefiniteness is desired elsewhere, it can be indicated by preceding the entire noun phrase (including the proximity marker) with the word swasye.

Other determiners

The following words have determiner-like meanings:


Lwaitel distinguishes alienable and inalienable possession. Most (but not all) nouns which can be inalienably possessed are required to be marked for possession. Inalienably possessed nouns include nouns indicating relationships between people (regardless of whether such relationships are permanent; for instance, lákwe "friend" uses inalienable possession), names of body parts (e.g., sáki "eye"), and emotional and mental states (e.g., niuspe "happiness"). Inalienable possession (or, at least, the grammatical structure used in inalienable possession) is also used for some things that aren't really possession, for instance, for "each" as mentioned above. Alienable possession is mainly used for actual ownership and for habitual use (the chair that I usually sit in, for instance). Nouns that use inalienable possession are marked in the lexicon with "pos." (opt.pos. for nouns that can be used unpossessed).

Inalienable possession is indicated by a suffix on the noun indicating the person and proximity. The possessor may be placed elsewhere in the sentence, often right after the noun. For instance, sákiku means "my eye" (sáki + ku); sákipi John means John's eye, if John is distant, or sákipen an John or sákipel ál John if he's more proximate. (Note that some nouns appear not to change, e.g., lákwe John; this is because the –i suffix disappears after vowels.) In sign language, for one-handed signs, this is indicated by pointing at the possessor with the non-dominant hand during the sign; for two-handed signs, this is indicated by pointing at the possessor with the dominant hand after the sign. If you want to use a noun that requires possession without using a possessor, the suffix –sye can be used; in sign, this is a flat hand, fingers together, palm facing downward, the same hand that would be used to point.

Alienable possession is indicated using the inalienably-possessed noun ant, which meaning "property" (used for actual ownership), or te (meaning "for"). Ánt is irregular; in speech, the third person forms are tan, tal, and chím, and in sign language, the sign itself points to the possessor rather than an index finger.

The preposition lwe (with, having) is an exception to the rule requiring certain nouns to be marked for possession. Its object should be a noun that can be inalienable possessed, but said object should not get a suffix indicating possession. The possesser is assumed instead to be the head of the noun phrase. For instance, kíp lwe húkyes sáki "person with brown eyes" is allowed, but *húkyes sáki "brown eyes" isn't allowed by itself. (The word lwe does not have any of the other meanings of with that don't relate to possession.)

Relative clauses

The most common way to form a relative clause is with the particle hes ("that is", "who is"). This implies that the subject of the relative clause is the head of the relative clause and that the verb of the relative clause is swá (to be); hes must be directly followed by something that could go after swá, for instance, a noun, an adjective, or a bare verb (which could be in either voice). Other parts of the dependent clause can go after that, in any order. If hes is followed by a verb, and the relative clause would normally have a –sye suffix on the main verb, the particle hes gets the suffix.

The other way to introduce a relative clause is with the particle hi ("where", "when"); this can be used, for instance, if the head needs to be a possessor or to be the object of a preposition. If a pronoun would need to be used in the original sentence, a pronoun must still be used in a relative clause starting with hi.

Word order

If the noun phrase is an indefinite noun phrase marked with swásye, then it goes at the very beginning. The person/obviation words (, kat, chí, án, ál, and ím) always go at the beginning of the noun phrase (or after swásye). Adjectives and determiners can go in any order, and can go on either side of the noun. Prepositional phrases, relative clauses, participles, and non-restrictive modifiers go at the end.

The noun can be omitted (that is, noun phrases that are just modifiers are permitted). If there's no determiner, adjective, or number (cardinal or ordinal), the demonstrative is required.

Multiple nouns can be used in the same noun phrase, indicating that both nouns apply.


In most cases, the case of nouns is determined based on agreement marking on the verb; see the section on verbs. If there's ambiguity, the word kwe can be used before the object.

The vocative case is formed by just putting chí (the second person pronoun) in front of the person's name.


The conjunctions se (and) and nge (or) can connect noun phrases or adjectives. When they connect noun phrases, the noun phrases are usually listed in order proximal to distal, unless there's a specific reason not to. The distance of the first item listed is used for the purposes of verb agreement and voice.

The conjunction íshe can be used to indicate correspondance with an earlier part of the sentence.

Nonrestrictive modifiers

An adjective, prepositional phrase, or clause modifying a noun can be preceded by hwel to make it nonrestrictive. (For clauses, this is an ordinary clause, without the particle hes or hi.)