The Są̂qʌk Language

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Khâueʔus θʌxhask! Są̂qʌk, natively hâqʔof Są̂sqʌkt /áːχʔɔf sɑ̃ːsχəkt/ and sometimes spelt Saqvk or Sawhook, is the primary language of the little-known Sawhook Islands, a temperate rainforest archipelago somewhere off Canada’s western coast.

Really, though… Są̂qʌk is a revived version of an old, old conlang of mine, made for a competition where you had to work backwards from a set of words and derive a full lexicon and grammar from that. Everyone else did standard, vaguely European languages, but i turned mine into an über-agglutinative nightmare… and then did nothing. Sha­kyêndkı­sahûk (as it was then called) went through a few revisions, then sat languishing as a text file buried in my documents folder for four whole years — until, in 2024, i chanced upon it again, and thought: gosh damn, past me was cooking. So here we are.

An exceedingly brief history of the Sawhook Islands

The universe comes into existence. Fast forward a bit. Volcanoes push some isolated seamounts above the surface. Fast forward a bit. Proto-Salish get lost at sea and find the islands. Polynesians make it too, shocked someone beat them to the punch, and intermingle. Mostly peaceful. Fast forward a bit. Spanish come and bring disease. French come and start translating the Bible. British come and kick the other two out. U.S. lays a territorial claim but does nothing. Mormons come and finish the French’s job. Asked to join Canada; politely decline. Given self-government. Become a tax haven. Qualify for the World Cup. Independence referendum fails 52–48. Current day.

Phonology and orthography

Labial Alveolar Palatal Guttural
Nasal /m/ m /n/ n
Stop /p/ p /t d/ t d /c ɟ/ c j /k g ʔ/ k g ʔ
Affricate /t̪͡θ/ θʼ /t͡ɕ/ /k͡x/
Fricative /f/ f /θ s/ θ s /ɕ/ x /χ/ q
Approximant /w/ u /ɬ~l/ l /j ɥ/ i y

The phoneme ⟨l⟩ is realised as ] in the onset of a syllable and [l] in the coda.

In older publications one may see the letter ⟨r⟩ pop up; this was used in loanwords as a homophone of ⟨q⟩, which newer texts use exclusively.

Consonants and affricates are aspirated when they are the only consonant before a vowel word-initially or between two vowels at the start of an unsyncopated syllable.

Short Long Dipththongs
Low High Low High Low High
/a/ a /á/ ha /a:/ â /á:/ /au̯/ au /áu̯/ hau
/ɑ̃/ ą /ɑ̃́/ /ɑ̃:/ ą̂ /ɑ̃́:/ hą̂ /aɨ̯/ /áɨ̯/ haʌ
/ɛ/ e /é/ he /e:/ ê /é:/ /ai̯/ ai /ái̯/ hai
/ɛ̃/ ę /ɛ̃́/ /ɛ̃:/ ę̂ /ɛ̃́:/ hę̂ /e:y̑/ êy /é:y̑/ hêy
/i/ i /í/ hi /i:/ î /í:/ /eɨ̯/ /éɨ̯/ heʌ
/ɔ/ o /ó/ ho /o:/ ô /ó:/ /i:y̑/ îy /í:y̑/ hîy
/ʊ/ u /ú/ hu /u:/ û /ú:/ /o:i̯/ ôi /ó:i̯/ hôi
/ə/ ʌ /ɨ́/ /ɨ:/ ʌ̂ /ɨ́:/ hʌ̂ /uɨ̯/ /úɨ̯/ huʌ
/y/ y /ý/ hy /y:/ /ý:/ hŷ /ɨy̑/ ʌy /ɨ́y̑/ hʌy
/m̩/ m~n /ḿ̩/ hm~hn
(/l̩/ l)

The phoneme here noted as /m̩/ will assimilate to whichever consonant comes after it, being represented as such in the orthography. /l̩/ is a marginal phoneme, appearing exclusively in the first-person possessive prefix l-, and even then only before consonants.

As seen in the table, Są̂qʌk is a tonal language, with a simple system of high and low tones that has developed from former aspirated consonants over the past 150 years or so (hence the indication of the high tone with ⟨h⟩). This system developed hand-in-hand with the tongue’s most notable feature, its complicated and mandatory syncope of syllables.

A Są̂qʌk root when spoken aloud elides and syncopates every second syllable, restarting the count whenever an (unelidable) high tone occurs. Short vowels disappear entirely; longer vowels shorten, with diphthongs being reduced to their first part; the nasal ⟨m n ą ę⟩ devolve into the aforementioned syllabic nasal /m̩/.

If they had preceded a now-syncopated short vowel, the semi-vowels /w j ɥ/ are moved to just before the nucleus of the next syllable. This is course not permitted if there is no next syllable or if said syllable’s onset already ends with a semivowel; in that case, they are elided entirely, shown in writing as the crossed-out ghosts ⟨ɨ ɏ ʉ⟩. (The one exception is that /j/ can indeed be moved to the end of a final syncopated syllable, where it is shown as ⟨ɨ⟩ so as not to be confused with a proper vowel.)


Declination of *khusʌ “house”
Case Singular Plural
Direct khus “a house” khusksʌ “houses”
Dative θʌkhusk “to a house” θʌkhusksʌk “to houses”
Genitive khust “of a house” khusksʌt “of houses”
Locative lêy khusx “into a house” lêy khusksʌx “into houses”

Są̂qʌk distinguishes two numbers — the singular and the plural, which might be better understood as ”a single amount of something” and “some of something”, as in the difference between ”a grain of rice” and just “rice”. The plural is formed by duplicating a root word’s penultimate syllable and lowering the tone; this results in syncope of one of the two.

Są̂qʌk nouns are declined into one of four cases, listed below.


Before we go on it is important to note that Są̂qʌk has three different registers, indicating different levels of regard and formality. These impact the choice of pronouns and adjectives one might use.

The formal is used for those who have some kind of religious or political authority over you; say, God, a priest, the prime minister, or, traditionally, celestial objects.

The intimate is used for those with which you feel a close connection; family members, nearest friends, or one’s childhood hometown.

The informal is the wastebasket register, used for most other things; a boss, an employee, a shopkeep, a comb, and so on.


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Pronouns and clitics
Person Dir. Dat. Gen. Loc. Clitic
1.SG lhât θlhâk lhâtt N/A l-
1.PL lhâlat θlhâlak lhâlatt lâ-
2.SG (informal) θʼhik θʌtshik θʼhikt s-
2.PL (informal) θʼhisk θʌtshisk θʼhiθʼ
2.SG (intimate) xʼê θʌxʼê xʼêt xʼ-
2.PL (intimate) xʼêxʼe θʌxʼêxʼe xʼêxʼet
3.SG (animate) nis θʌnsi nist n-/m-
3.SG (derogatory) xêʔa θʌxeʔa xêʔat N/A
3.SG (inanimate) oco θʌcô ocot ocox oc-
3.PL hŷcy θhʌycŷ hŷcyt hŷcyx ŷ-



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Quirks of syntax

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