Noun classes and articles in Sinampaiton

(Occasional notes on Sinampaiton ; Number 1)

This is the first in a series of short articles on Sinampaiton, the author's primary invented language.

Table of contents

Noun classes

Sinampaiton nouns are divided into four main semantic classes: animate, inanimate, proper, and abstract. The animate noun class is used chiefly to designate human beings, though this isn't a hard and fast rule. Inanimate nouns may be divided into count nouns (which may be singular and plural) and mass nouns (which are always unmarked for number).


Each noun class has a trio of associated articles, similar in function to the definite articles of French, German, and other natural languages. Whereas in French (for example) the form an article takes is determined by the gender and/or number of its head (the noun it precedes), the form of the article in Sinampaiton depends on somewhat different factors. The following table summarizes:

Class Abbrev. Subject Oblique
inanimate nc., nm.1 ti ni, li
animate nanim. ku nu, lu
proper np. ta na, la
abstract nabst. kara nara, lara

1 nc. = count noun, nm. = mass noun.

The subject form of an article is used when the noun is the subject of a sentence. If you want to think of this in terms of case, the subject form is used with a noun in the nominative case. (This is just an analogy; Sinampaiton has a variety of noun cases but these don't include a distinct nominative case.)

An oblique article is used in all other cases -- when the noun is the direct object of a sentence or when it occurs in one of the oblique cases. (Noun cases will be discussed in a later note). The oblique form beginning with an l occurs at the beginning of a sentence or after a word that ends with n; the form beginning with an n is used elsewhere.

As in most familiar Indo-European languages, an article in Sinampaiton must always precede its head (though not always immediately). However, articles are obligatory in Sinampaiton, for the most part, and it's uncommon to see a noun unaccompanied by an article.

Here are some examples of the different noun classes and their articles. These examples use only the subject forms of the articles.

Example Gloss Noun class
ti kambe (the) boat inanimate (count)
ti nuime (the) wine inanimate (mass)
ku chone (the) boy animate
ta Tsekon Tsekon [personal name] proper
kara noten death abstract

Definiteness and indefiniteness

Sinampaiton articles aren't inherently definite, so they're not referred to as definite articles. A noun may be marked for indefiniteness using the particle su:

ti su kambe a boat
ku su chone a boy
ta su Tsekon someone named Tsekon
*kara su noten (ungrammatical) su doesn't occur with kara

The use of su is restricted, however; it's used primarily to introduce a new referent into the discourse. More on this in a later note.

More examples

ti chante the box
tirasan is falling
Tirasan ti chante. The box is falling.
athiove I saw
Athiove ni chante. I saw the box.
ku chone the boy
athionge saw me
Athionge ku chone. The boy saw me.
Athiove nu chone. I saw the boy.

Class (un)consciousness

Most nouns in Sinampaiton may be used with articles (one at a time!) from more than one class. For example, the word menon may be used as an abstract, animate, or inanimate (count) noun:

kara menon sleep (the sleep of the just)
ku menon sleeper (a light sleeper)
ti menon sleep (a good sleep)

(As a matter of fact, the most basic use of menon is an intransitive verb: Menokatange ni chantiono 'I won't sleep in the box'.)

Because of this flexibility, it's misleading to say that a noun in Sinampaiton belongs to a particular class. Instead, it makes more sense to say that, in any given sentence, a noun (or verb) plays a particular role -- animate noun, intransitive verb, etc. This is much the same as in English, where many (or most) words may be used as nouns and verbs (transitive or intransitive).

From this, one can see that the primary significance of an article in Sinampaiton is to mark a word's class (animate, inanimate, proper, abstract) and function (verbal, nominal). A later note will show how all of this relates to the so-called adjectival and adverbial uses of nouns and verbs, which require the use of other articles.

Last modified Saturday, April 24, 2004 at 16:43:33 GMT -0500