conlang, Writing Process

Subordinate Clauses in Gnin El and Sasrâl

Talk about an exciting topic! But how a language encodes the connections between clauses can have far-reaching ramifications. As I explain here, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and English have very different assortments of complementizers. How scribes translated them gave rise to a huge variety of interpretations of the New Testament. But I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any deep religious philosophy in this post. I have only some notes on subordinate clauses in two of my conlangs.

Gnin El

In Gnin El, which is highly synthetic, complementizers often stack. There are three potential morphemes: one indicating definiteness (something that English doesn’t really capture: whether the clause is already in the conversation’s context), one for aspect (irrealis / perfect / progressive), and one for the case of the clause (locative, genitive, etc.) These are derived from English prepositions, and they can bring their arguments with them to the front of the clause. The three types of complementizer are always stacked in this order: definiteness, aspect, and case.

  • Irrealis is marked with ii (“if”), perfect is âth (“en”), progressive is unmarked
  • Nominative is súi or sre (“who”, “what”), accusative is unmarked, genitive is ó (“of”), locative is a or el (“at”, “in”) (depending on the verb), and lative (target of motion) is tnór (“to”).
  • Definite is dlâ (“that”), indefinite is unmarked. This isn’t something that English really captures: it indicates whether the clause is already in the conversational context.


  • Wi nâ nor ii súi yúi nsur: I don’t know (if + who) you saw: I don’t know who you saw, if anyone
  • Wi thrâna dlâ ii nsóm sáth: I think (that + if) it rains: I agree that it will rain
  • Wi wana dlâ âth a sróm yúi mni: I want (that + perf + at-home) you be: I wanted you to be at home
  • Wi ninath ii uánsa yúi nsail a gnel: I need (if + onions) you shop at get: I need you to get onions at the shop


In Sasrâl, subordinate clauses are usually compressed into “compounded clauses”. A verb, its grounding predication (optional), and one or two of its arguments can be combined into a single prosodic word that has all the elements of a clause. The order of the elements in these compounds is generally VSO, as in cr-mrlâ-aspri, carry-man-spear, “man carrying spear”. 


  • G anttha nó séaghthnúgočú
    • g anttha nó sé-aghthnú-gočú : I know not see-PERF-you-who-ACC : I don’t know whom you saw
  • G thanćha wirrá
    • g thanćha wi-rrá : I think FUT-rain: I think it will rain
  • G útha wnúashlótu
    • g útha w-nú-ashló-tu : I want was-you-home-PREP : I wanted you to be at home
  • G anthé wibrrranúgalnat fla da satu
    • g anthé wi-brrra-nú-galn-at fla da sa-tu : I need will-get-you-onion-ACC shop-at-PREP : I need you to get onion from the shop

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