A Constructed Language

Gary J. Shannon
Created: Jan. 25, 2014
Last Revision: Sep. 27, 2014

Design Goals

Pandari is an experiment in simplified grammar. The goal is a grammar that could be learned in a very short period of time, preferably measured in hours rather than days or weeks. The rules of Pandari grammar must, therefore, be both simple and absolute, with no exceptions or special cases.

Sentence Structure

Languages are often classified as SVO, SOV, VSO and so on, refering to the relative locations of the Subject, Verb, and Object in the sentence pattern. Pandari is none of these. The relative positions of the various elements of the sentence are completely free. In order for that to be possible, however, the various elements, or phrases, must be marked in some way so that the reader or listener can figure out what roles are played by each of those elements.

For example, consider the English sentence "John gave Mary a puppy." We cannot alter the order of the elements of this sentence without running the risk of changing the meaning. "Mary gave John a puppy." and "A puppy gave Mary John." all seem to mean different things.

But suppose we mark each element in some way. Let's use the make-believe word ya in place of "a" to mark the direct object, in this case, the thing given, and the word to to mark the recipient of the thing given. Now we have a sentence that can have its elements shuffled around without loss of meaning:

        John gave ya puppy to Mary.
        John ya puppy to Mary gave.
        To Mary ya puppy gave John.
        Ya puppy gave John to Mary.

No matter how we scramble the order of the elements of the sentence the meaning of the sentence is unmistakeable, as long as we keep each element joined to its marker word. But you might have noticed that two of the elements, "John", and "gave", are not actually marked. The verb element, is unique in that it is the only element that starts with a verb, so the verb becomes its own marker. "John", being the only noun-based element that is not marked is a kind of mark in its own right, and so we recognize the subject or agent of the verb as being the unmarked element.

But enough of English. Before getting into the actual grammar of Pandari, we need to cover a few preliminaries concerning the spelling and pronunciation of the Pandari language.

Spelling and Pronunciation


The focus here is on grammar, so the phonology and orthography will be very simple. Pandari is written with the Roman alphabet. (See the chart at the right.) The letter C is not found in Pandari words but may be used in foreign spellings. Pay particular attention to Q ("ch") and X ("sh"), and to G and J which, unlike English, have only one sound in all circumstances. Since there are few vowel sounds in Pandari, the motto "Close enough is good enough" applies to the pronunciation of vowel sounds.

All vowels are pronounced. The word note is pronounced "NO-tay". The penultimate vowel is normally stresed, and mono-syllabic words have no stress. Words ending in a consonant, like xikar, have their stress on the final vowel: ("shee-KAR").

Words which differ from the general stress rules will have their stress indicated by a written accent over the vowel. Written accents are also used in cases where a vowel cluster might make the stress ambiguous.


Since this experiment is all about grammar, the lexicon will be words selected from my older conlangs, and, when I run out of those, adapted from such sources as Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Pali, Lau, Malay, and whatever other dictionaries I have lying around the house.

Some Simple Sentences

The simplest sentence consists of a subject noun phrase and a verb phrase with no direct or indirect objects or other complicating elements. These two elements can be written (or spoken) in either order; SV or VS.

For example:


The noun phrase na badu above, began with the determiner na. In our earlier English example we used the unmarked noun phrase to inidicate the subject of the verb. In Pandari, however, every noun phrase must begin with a phrase marker. Most of the time this is an article or other determiner like na in the above examples. The simple English word "the", however, has a number of Pandari translations depending on the role of noun phrase that it marks. When the noun phrase is part of a prepositional phrase, the preposition marks the phrase and identifies its role in the sentence.

Consider these examples:

Seesto/at thegirltheboy.
Theboyseesto/at thegirl.
To/at thegirltheboyseesin (the)park.

The two Pandari word na and ina both mean "the" in English, but na means "the, as subject", and ina means "the as direct object". The preposition wa marks the role of haram and no other determiner is necessary. But what about proper nouns?

Proper nouns that are not personal names also require some kind of article or determiner. That determiner is not, however, translated into English.

To/at (the)Bostontheboysees.

Personal names either take a title or honorific like selái/seláia (Mr./Mrs.), desar (Doctor, of either gender), masía (Sir/Madam), and so on, or the generic honorific ai.


The generic ai (or dai in the objective case) is also used to distinguish between a common noun, and that common noun when it is used as a proper name:

(the person named)Blossomisin/at thepark.
Theblossomisin/at thepark.

Don't forget that punqa is pronounced POON-cha. The Q is ch.

Possession and ownership is marked with the possesive case article nas. This article marks the thing possesed, as in:

Iseeto/at (the)Mary's (the)dog.
I see Mary's dog.
To/at mesee(the)Mary's (the)dog.
Mary's dog sees me. (I am seen by Mary's dog.)

This example also demonstrates that the two versions ("I" and "me") of the first person singular personal pronoun are their own markers in both the subject and object cases.


Adjectives come between the article and the noun that they modify.

(the person)Maryhasa (obj)bigdog.
A (obj)bigdoghas(the person)Mary.

To modify or intensifying an adjective we use a word of class mod. In English this includes words like "very" and "enough" as in "very big", or "big enough". Unlike English, all such modifiers come before the adjective. While "very big" has the same word order in both languages, "big enough" in English becomes "enough big" in Pandari.

A (obj)verybigdoghas(the person)Mary.
Isenoughbig(the person)Mary'sdog.
Mary's dog is big enough.

You may notice that the object of the verb da is the unmarked adjectival phrase kuxi make. How is it that this phrase can be unmarked? The verb da is one of a number of so-called copular verbs that take only an adjectival phrase as a direct object.

(the person)Maryishappy.
(the person)Maryis(a, object)teacher.

While the verb da (is, am, are) takes an adjective describing a state of being, the verb ban (also is, am, are) takes the name of a class of things that the subject belongs to. This class is a noun, marked with an object determiner. The verb ban can also take a prepositional phrase of location, as in the example already given above, Ai punqa ban wa haram. (or Wa haram ai punqa ban. or Ban ai punqa wa haram. or any one of six phrase orderings of "Blossom is at the park.")

The Verb Phrase

The start of the verb phrase is marked by the verb itself. This is optionally followed by a TAM (Tense-Aspect-Mood) particle.

The big dog is running. (now)
The big dog ran. (one occurance in the past)
The big dog ran. (for some time, until just now)
The big dog used to run. (for some time in the past)
My dog bit Mary. (just that once in the past)
My dog used to bite Mary. (habitually, all the time)
(the)MarybitePASTto/at me'sdog.
Mary was biting my dog. (for a while, until something stopped her)

Relative Clauses

Relative clauses come in two types; verbal, and prepositional. The verbal relative clause has a VF as the argument of a relative phrase marker RP (The man who is happy...), while the prepositional is simply a stative prepositional phrase PF (The boy on the horse...).

         Verbal relative clause:
                 ┌───NF────┐            NF = NF RC
                 │         │
                 │      ┌──RC──┐        RC = RP VF 
                 │      │      │
              ┌──NF─┐   │    ┌─VF─┐
              │     │   │    │    │
              DC    NC  RP   VC   JJ
              │     │   │    │    │
              na  doger i   ban patái
              the man   who is happy
         Prepositional relative clause:
                ┌───NF────┐              NF = NF PF
                │         │
                │       ┌─PF─┐           PF = PP NF
                │       │    │
              ┌─NF─┐    PP ┌─NF─┐        NF = DC NF
              │    │    │  │    │
              DC   NN   │  DC   NN
              │    │    │  │    │
              na  badu ari na  ruku
              the boy  on  the horse


It should be mentioned that prepositions in Pandári are either "stative", which is to say, they do not imply motion, or "active", meaning they do imply motion. The two are used differently, and need to be kept straight. The stative preposition áxa (in) refers to the state of already being within. It cannot be used where the English meaning "into" is intended. Instead, and active preposition "into" must be used. The stative prepositional phrase may only follow a noun, or a copular verb phrase. The active prepositional phrase may only follow an action or movement verb.

              │              │
              │        ┌─────VF────┐          VF = VI PM
              │        │           │ 
              │        VI      ┌───DF───┐     DF = DP NF
              │        │       │        │
              │        │    ┌──DP──┐    │     DP = "tin" PP
              │        │    │      │    │
            ┌─NF─┐     │   tin     PP ┌─NF─┐
            │    │     │    │      │  │    │
            DC   NN    │    │      │  DC   NN
            │    │     │    │      │  │    │
            Na  badu haláu tin    áxa na  rumánu
            The boy  runs  become in  the forest
            (The boy runs into the forest)

Expanding the Sentence: Class CS

Two sentences can be joined to form a single sentence for a variety of reasons. The reason for joining the sentences will be found in the definition of the conjunction used to join them. The rules for all these are:

      SNT -> SNT CSNT    // Sentence plus conjoined sentence
      CSNT -> Cs SNT    // Conjunction with conjoined sentence

You will notice that I haven't numbered these two rules. That is because they can be combined into a single rule:

      1.2 SNT -> SNT Cs SNT   // Join two sentences

A few of the Cs words we can use are:

      daúna     Cs    until   / 
      fi        Cs    then    /
      sobál     Cs    because /
NVjJ NVc N4.1; 4.2
Níkibanpatáisobáldái daxikár.Pandári
Brotherishappybecauseheis teacherGloss
My brother is happy because he is a teacher.English

Personal Pronouns

There are six personal pronouns:

Ma ban patái.I am happy.
Yo ban patái.You are happy.
Dái ban patái.He/she/it is happy.
Mása ban patái.We are happy.
Yósa ban patái.You (pl) are happy.
Dísa ban patái.They are happy.

No distinction is made between "he", "she" and "it", as with the English "they". When some men arrive we say "They are here.", and if some women arrive we say "They are here." And even if a couple of pizzas arrive, we still say "They are here." The gender of the pronoun should be clear from the context. Pandári does the same thing in the singular.

Personal pronouns belong to class N.

Desire, Ability, Willingness, and Intent: Class X

To attach a modifier to a VP we use this rule:

      4.3 VP -> X VP

A few words of class X (predicate modifier) can be found in the dictionary:

      kómi      X     wish to; want to
      náji      X     be permitted to; may; to be allowed to
      nínji     X     intend to; will
      qámi      X     be willing to
      sáti      X     can; be able to

Don't forget qámi is pronounced CHA-mee.

Making possible sentences like these:

Makómibanxikár.I want to be a teacher.
Manájibanxikár.I am allowed to be a teacher.
Manínjibanxikár.I will be a teacher.
Maqámibanxikár.I am willing to be a teacher.
Masátibanxikár.I can be a teacher.

You may have noticed that this rule can be repeatedly chained together and used over and over. Although the rules permit letting this go on forever, common sense should step in and avoid absurdities. Even so, some chaining can be useful. In English we can say "I want to be able to be willing to be permitted to be a teacher." (Ya kómi sáti qámi náji da xikár.)

Past, Present, Future: More on Class X

A predicate modifier X can also place the action in the past. There are (so far) three different kinds of past action. Ya is some single event in the past: Dái ya bíka. (He spoke.) Kin is an ongoing action entirely in the past. This refers to things you used to do, or did for some time in the past: Mása kin da xikár. (We used to be teachers.) Kíno is for things started in the past, and continuing right up to the present, or right up to some single event that interrupted the ongoing action: Ma kíno ban asía patái daúna dái ya bíka. (I was very happy until he spoke.)

Two Kinds of Negation: Using Classes X and M

We can negate the VP using a class X word:

My brother is not happy.

In addition, we can negate an adjective with a type M word:

My brother is unhappy.

Or both in the same sentence:

My brother who is unhappy is not a teacher.

A negative X may also negate another X:

I don't want to be a teacher.

Notice that either order is allowed by the rules: Ma óri kómi da xikár. (Lit: I not want be teacher.) Ma kómi óri da xikár. (Lit: I want not be teacher.)

Expressing Time: Classes PO, P, and O

Class PO can modify an SNT or a VP. The rules are:

      1.3 SNT -> PO SNT
      4.4 VP -> PO VP
      6.1 PO -> O
      6.2 PO -> P NP

Using these rules, here are four ways to say when something happened:

Yesterday my brother was happy.
Before now my brother was happy.
Yesterday my brother was happy.
Before now my brother was happy.

Expressing Duration: Class QN, Q, and Pq

The same structure can be used to express duration with the appropriate P word. However, rule 6.2 will not quite do. For durations we need a quantified NP. In other words, something like "three weeks", or "all day". So we need to have the new classes QN, Q, and Pq:

      6.3 PO -> Pq QN
      7.1 QN -> Q NP

And we will also need some class Q words and a new Pq word. For these, and in the future, we can refer to the dictionaries. Here are The English to Pandári Dictionary and The Pandári to English Dictionary.

For three days my brother was happy.

Determiners and Specifiers: Class D

Words of class D single out a particular item or group of items. In Pandári two words of this type are náne (this; these) and óte (that; those). The rule that governs class D is:

      2.1 NP -> ( N | DN | QN )   * Revised rule 2.1
      8.1 DN -> D ( NP | QN )

You will notice something different about these rules. The part in parentheses gives us a choice. The vertical bar means "or", so we can choose to use either N, DN, or QN in rule 2.1 and NP or QN in rule 8.1. This is a shorthand way of writing two separate rules like this:

      8.1a DN -> D NP
      8.1b DN -> D QN
For three days my brother read that book.
This is a book.

Expressing Location: With Classes PO, NMOD, and Vj

Location for an action is expressed with PO:

My brother is happy at home.

Location for a noun is expressed with NMOD and U:

My brother who is at home is happy.

To make a statement specifying a location we will revise rule 4.1:

      4.1 VP -> Vj ( JP | PO )
My brother is at home.

Rule Summary

Here is a list of the rules created thus far:

      1.1 SNT -> NP VP .
      1.2 SNT -> SNT Cs SNT .
      1.3 SNT -> PO SNT
      2.1 NP -> ( N | DN ) 
      2.2 NP -> JP NP
      2.3 NP -> N NMOD
      3.1 JP -> J
      3.2 JP -> M JP
      4.1 VP -> Vj ( JP | PO )
      4.2 VP -> Vc NP
      4.3 VP -> X VP
      4.4 VP -> PO VP
      5.1 NMOD -> U VP
      6.1 PO -> O
      6.2 PO -> P NP
      6.3 PO -> Pq NQ
      7.1 QN -> Q NP
      8.1 DN -> D ( NP | QN )

Nominalizing a VP with Nv

A verb phrase can be turned into a noun phrase and made to be either the subject or object of another verb. The VP "Break the window" becomes the NP "Breaking the window", or the NP "to break the window", making possible sentences like "Breaking the window was wrong." or "I plan to break the window."

      2.4 NP -> Nv VP
It wasn't easy opening the door by myself.
                         ┌───NP──────────────┐      ┌───VP───┐
                ┌───────SNT──────┐           K    ┌─J─┐    ┌─VP─┐
              ┌─NP─┐       ┌─────VP────┐     │    M   J    X    V
              N   ADV   ┌──ND──┐       V     │    │   │    │    │
              │    │    A    ┌─NP─┐    │     │    │   │    │    │
              │    │    │    J    N    │     │    │   │    │    │
              me alone the heavy door open doing not easy PAST be

                             │                          │
                         ┌───NP──────────────┐      ┌───VP───┐
                         │                   │      │        │
                ┌───────SNT──────┐           K    ┌─J─┐    ┌─VP─┐
                │                │           │    │   │    │    │
              ┌─NP─┐       ┌─────VP────┐   doing  M   J    X    V
              │    │       │           │          │   │    │    │
              N   ADV   ┌──ND──┐       V         not easy PAST  be
              │    │    │      │       │
              me alone  A    ┌─NP─┐   open
                        │    │    │
                       the   J    N
                             │    │
                           heavy door

                         ┌───NP──────────────┐      ┌───VP───┐
                ┌───────SNT──────┐           K    ┌─J─┐    ┌─VP─┐
              ┌─NP─┐       ┌─────VP────┐   doing  M   J    X    V
              N   ADV   ┌──ND──┐       V         not easy PAST  be
              me alone  A    ┌─NP─┐   open
                       the   J    N
                           heavy door