Zurvár Language and Culture - Grammar Part 1

This section of the website presents information on the grammar of the Zurvár language. It does not present the full body of knowledge so far uncovered, but rather the core elements that we are certain of. It will be periodically updated as we receive information from our field researchers on Zurvár Arèáná in a state fit enough to print - a rare occurance lately, many of them having apparently decided that the common cocktail napkin is a suitable standard for the presentation of linguistic reports.

What information we are able to present has been arbitrarily divided into a number of pages, each of which can be viewed as a single 'lesson' in Zurvár. A student may progress through these pages at whatever speed they see fit, while the casual browser may dip in and out as desired or required.


While English uses an subject verb object structure, Zurvár uses an subject object verb structure. This means that rather than saying "Spot bites Jack" (as in English), in Zurvár you'd say "Spot Jack bites" (or spot cak salká). This fairly simple structure goes through a number of hideous adaptations depending on exactly who is speaking and who is doing what to what else, as explained below.

(Before continuing it should be noted that most verbs in Zurvár end with the sylable -klá or a variation thereof, so at least they're fairly easy to recognise. The final á is dropped when verb suffixes are added.)

The first variation for verbs is when the speaker is the Subject. In plain English that means you're the person doing stuff. In this case the Subject is dropeed from the construction, and the suffix added to the verb. So to say "I bite Jack", you wouldn't say "I Jack bite", you'd say "Jack bite" (cak salkà).

The second variation is for when there's no object - for instance "Spot bites" or "Jack squeals" (to be technical about it an intransitive construction). This is indicated by dropping the object, and appending the suffix -et to the verb. So "Spot bites" would be "Spot bite-et" (spot salket). This applies equally for both 'general' verbs (verbs that don't always require a subject, such as "squeal") and 'specific' verbs (verbs that usually require a object, such as "take", but are being left vague for some reason).

The more wide awake at this point will be asking, "Well what about where the speaker is the subject and there's no object?" Full points to you, you're paying attention. The solution is dump objects and subjects all together and append both and -et to the verb. So "I bite" would be "bite-à-et" (salkàet).

The really wide awake of you (very few by now I suspect) will now be asking "What if there's no subject?". In this case the object is modified with a special prefix yá-. So to say "Jack is bitten" you'd say "-Jack bite" (yácak salka). This prefix can also be used if the subject has already been implied earlier in the sentence.

Now things begin to get complicated. What if the subject and object carry out the verb on each other? For example "Spot and Jack bite each other". Rather than construct a painful sentence to do the job (as we do in English) Zurvár has a simple suffix, -av. So the sentence above would become "Spot Jack bite-av" (spot cak salkav). The order of the participants doesn't matter too much, we just put Spot first because we like him better than Jack.

If the subject and object are the same and they carry out the action on themselves ("Jack bites himself") -av is still used. But the subject and object distinction is dropped. So the phrase becomes "Jack bite-av" (cak salkav).

Those who haven't wandered off in search of something more intellectualy stimulating or at least entertaining by now may well now be asking "What if the verb affects the speaker?". In English we have a special pronoun for this job, "myself". Zurvár requires no such crutch-words and instead uses a combination of the and -av suffixes. So "I bite myself" would be "bite-à-av" (salkàav).

The final basic verb construction is for when the subject and object are the same, and carry out the verb on each other (whew!). This (obviously) can only occur when the pronoun is plural, refering to a group. This uses a combination of -av and -et. The pronoun is only used once. So to say "The family bite each other", you'd say "family bite-av-et" (halem salkavet).

So to conclude...

Verb Form Prefix/Suffix Sample Phrase Translation
Unmodified - spot cak salká Spot bites Jack
Personal cak salkà I bite Jack
General -et spot salket Spot bites
Personal General -à -et salkàet I bite
Object Only ya- yácak salká Jack is bitten
Each Other -av spot cak salkav Spot and Jack bite each other
Subject Self -av cak salkav Jack bites himself
Personal Self -à -av salkàav I bite myself
Group Each Other -av -et mon šuk salkavet The dogs bite each other


The SOV structure of Zurvár can result in a problem not found in SVO languages such as English - how to tell the 'S' from the 'O'. For example, consider the following two statements...

šuk kantènit salká

saratò dášuk kirû raleturn dákantènitnà makimá vàá dámantàbon fonálû salká

...or in translation...

(the) dog bites (the) bartender

(the) 44 burning, red-coloured dogs bite (the) small, perverse bartender's purple pine-tree

The first is almost pathetically simple to understand, but the second descends into a nightmare of clauses and sub-clauses that could confuse even a native speaker. To deal with cases such as this, Zurvár has a participle specifically used to separate the subject and object in verb phrases, ke.

ke is inserted between the subject and object of a verb phrase to neatly divide the two, hence...

saratò dášuk kirû raleturn ke dákantènitnà makimá vàá dámantàbon fonálû salká

While it is not grammatically incorrect to use ke in any verb statement, it is not usually employed until either the subject or object reaches three words.


The verb constructions discussed above have all been transitive (one object - "Spot Bites Jack") or intransitive (no object - "Spot bites"). There is a third class of verb constructions however, ditransitives. These are constructions that have two objects. For instance - "Spot gives Jack rabies". There are two ways to deal with these in Zurvár.

The first method is the embedded method. This is generally used when the secondary object consists of no more than one or two words. The object is placed before the verb, and indicated by the prefix tá-.

moqlá - to infect
moqekolosan - rabies
spot cak moqekolosan moqlá - Spot gives Jack Rabies

The embedded method is usually employed in fairly simple constructions, and when it is used it is not uncommon for the verb to be dropped entirely - at least when it should be obvious what is intended.

spot cak moqekolosan - Spot gives Jack Rabies

The second or appended method is used for more complicated secondary objects. In this case the extra object is just appended to the end of the verb phrase.

spot cak moqlá moqeq po'rurn îdosurn - Spot gives Jack a serious blood disease

While the appended method is generally used for more complex objects, it is never incorrect to use it - even for single word objects (although doing so will mark one out as a non-native speaker). Also, the tá- prefix can be given to an appended object, but this is usually only done in situations where the phrase is so complex as to be ambiguous, or by severe grammar pedants.


In a fashion similar to that of English, Zurvár declines verbs depending on their point in time. There are five tenses generally used (others do exist but have fallen out of common usage in the last few centuries), which are indicated with prefixes attached to the verb.

General/Indeterminate Tense

An unmodified verb contains no information on the timing or status of the event described. It is considered to occur outside of a temporal context. Phrases like this are rare by themselves, although they have many uses in more complex sentences.

tìtanik atelet - The Titanic sinks

Past Tense

Past tense - obviously - indicates that the action of the verb has already taken place. This is indicated with the prefix pev-

tìtanik pevatelet - The Titanic sank

New Tense

New tense is used to indicate that the action of the verb has taken place, but very recently. It is indicated with the prefix pe?-. The exact boundry between the use of pev- and pe?- is hard to pin down. It can best be expressed as a function of the importance of the event, the time that has passed since it happened, and whether the listeners have heard the information before. Stubbing a toe may retain the pe?- prefix for a few minutes. A disaster on the order of the sinking of the Titanic would probably hold it for two or three days, or as long as a week if the listeners had not been previously informed of it.

tìtanik pe?atelet - The Titanic just sank

Present/Transitive Tense

This tense indicates that the action of the verb is currently taking place, and thus by extension is incomplete. It is indicated with the prefix hol-.

tìtanik holatelet - The Titanic is sinking

Future Tense:

Future tense indicates that the action of the verb has not yet taken place. This is indicated with the prefix bel-.

tìtanik belatelet - The Titanic will sink

Strictly speaking all verbs in a sentence that are taking place at the same point in time should be declined identically, however in practice it is quite acceptable to just decline the first verb and leave the rest in indeterminate tense. For example...

kristofur kolon ameriká pevtrovolklá man tagas gârestlá eres espanol

should be translated as...

Christopher Columbus discovered America and claims it for Spain.

However it is understood to mean...

Christopher Columbus discovered America and claimed it for Spain.

The first tense in the sentence is assumed to apply for the rest of the undeclined verbs (unless context indicates otherwise). If in this situation an undeclined verb is intended to be in the indeterminate tense, it should be verbally stressed.


By default verb phrases are assumed to be true. For instance...

tìtanik pevatelet - The Titanic did sink
tìtanik pešatelet - The Titanic did just sink
tìtanik holatelet - The Titanic is sinking
tìtanik belatelet - The Titanic will sink

Obviously it would be useful to indicate negatives, uncertainty or other qualifications in verb phrases. Several words are used for this purpose...

tát - definitely
etá - maybe, perhaps
kert - not

(It should be noted that these are also the Zurvár words for "yes", "maybe" and "no"). These qualifiers are placed after the verb phrase...

tìtanik belatelet tát - The Titanic will definitely sink
tìtanik belatelet etá - The Titanic may sink
tìtanik belatelet kert - The Titanic will not sink

The exact meaning of each qualifier when combined with each tense can be summed up by the following table...

Time Prefix With tát With etá With kert
pev-/pe?- definitely did might have did not
hol- definitely is might be is not
bel- definitely will might will not