Marked Nominative
Head direction
Nouns decline according to...
Case Number
Definiteness Gender
Verbs conjugate according to...
Voice Mood
Person Number
Tense Aspect

General information[]

Gaptan is an extinct language, spoken somewhere between 1200BC and 400BC. Its name derives from the name of the texts which formerly made up the majority of its attested corpus: the Gaptas (religious poems). It is a language isolate (that is, it lacks known relatives) but otherwise has living descendants. The sound system of Gaptan isn't attested in almost any native source as the language itself is written using a logographic orthography; a few of the Gaptas had, after being passed down orally, been written down in non-logographic scripts (primarily Brahmi, Aramaic, several others, though one otherwise unattested Gapta had been written down in both the Śāradā and the Tocharian script) before the language was forgotten and native readings suppressed ancient traditions. Besides its native script, Gaptan was also written in the Zhou bronze script; it can thus also be written with the modern Chinese script (even though it is anachronistic to do so). This page introduces Gaptan grammatical terms both in an English version and a Chinese counterpart where attested.

Basically, Gaptan is a conlang I started working on in the late summer of 2014. It is supposed to be a language isolate with many parallels to Old Chinese as reconstructed Baxter and Sagart in 2014 and thus assumes the Baxter-Sagart 2014 Old Chinese model. The assumption is that it developed in a vaguely undisclosed location, somewhat implied to be east of Xwairizəm of the Avestas but west of Shāng and Zhōu China. This might put it roughly in the Tarim basin but I've left the exact location up to the imagination of the readers. As it is at the crossroads of peoples and cultures, Gaptan is unique in that it got written down in a handful of scripts which, through their combined strengths and weaknesses, attest near-perfectly its convoluted sound system.


As Gaptan morphemes are most frequently monosyllabic, we can describe word shapes by analysing syllable structures.
Gaptan had three types of syllables:

  • Open (敞) syllables, lacking a final consonant
  • Closed (閉) syllables, with a final consonant
    • Light (閉輕) syllables, without a pre-initial consonant
    • Heavy (閉重) syllables, with a pre-initial consonant

A morpheme can at most be two syllables; the main syllable of the morpheme can be of any type but, in a disyllabic word, can be preceded only by an open syllable. Morphemes with two closed syllables are always considered compounds even if such an analysis has to involve two cranberry morphemes.


Due to the diversity of the scripts used to write it by native speakers of various languages, Gaptan phonology is remarkably well preserved even though lacking in detail. Consonants were grouped based on their position in the word: they could either be pre-initials, initials or finals.

The three classes of consonants differ significantly; the largest is the initial set, followed by the set of finals and then the pre-initials. Some pre-initials must precede some specific initials; these pre-initials are called reliant (恃) as they rely on a specific initial and their independent counterparts are in turn called released (放).

Gaptan had between 59 and 64 initials. The margin of uncertainty exists due to orthographical and phonological artefacts of the language and its various writing systems. It also had either 23 or 24 finals as there exists a marginal minority of texts that distinguishes two finals that are otherwise merged in other sources. It also had 16 pre-initials.

The Gaptan initials are grouped in a table resembling many Chinese initial groupings:

Voiceless Voiceless Palatal Aspirate Aspirate Palatal Voiced Voiced Palatal Voiceless Nasal Voiceless Palatal Nasal Tenuis Nasal Palatal Nasal
Labial p- pj- pʰ- pʰj- b- bj- m̥- m̥j- m- mj-
Alveolar t- tj- tʰ- tʰj- d- dj- n̥- n̥j- n- nj-
Alveolar Sibilant s- sj- sʰ- sʰj- z- zj-
Retroflex Sibilant ʂ- (ʂj-) ʂʰ- (ʂʰj-) ʐ- (ʐj-)
Velar k kj- kʰ- kʰj- ɡ- ɡj- (ŋ̊-) ŋ-
Uvular q- qj- qʰ- qʰj- ɢ- (ɢj-)
Rhotic r̥- r- rj-
Lateral l̥- l̥j- l- lj-
Laryngeal ʔ- h- hj- j-

Even though some initials are more frequent behind some vowels than before others, there is no restriction as to the distribution of initials. The initials in brackets are uncertain: they definitely are attested in sound lists and tables yet almost never occur in native texts. They might either have been merged by the time of the composition/writing down or may have been distinguished but otherwise are unrecorded.

Gaptan finals are likewise organised into a table:

Tenuis S-Class Palatal Nasal
Bilabial -p -sp -m
Alveolar -t -st -n
Retroflex -ʂʈ (-ɳ)
Velar -k -sk
Uvular -q -sq
Rhotic -r -sr -jr
Lateral -l -sl
Laryngeal -s -j

The final /-ɳ/ seems to have merged with /-n/ early on and is rarely distinguished in writing. This might be an artefact of the orthographies but unlikely so as it's not distinguished even in Brahmi scripts.

The pre-initials in Gaptan are categorised into two groups: tenuis and palatal. Their layout is:

Tenuis Palatal Dependence
sk= skj=
s= sj=
ɴ= ɴj=
r= rj=
w= wj=
p= pj=
t= tj=
k= kj=

There is no indication that the plosive pre-initials ever included retroflex or uvular plosives; they might have been lost too early on or never have even been developed.


There are six vowel phonemes in Gaptan. Their phonetic realisation varies significantly based on the surrounding consonants.

Vowel Phonemes
Front Central Back
High /i/ /ɨ/ /u/
Mid /ɛ/ /ɔ/
Low /a/

Gaptan is a tonal language: all open syllables carry either the rising (上) or the falling (去) tone. Closed syllables do not carry any tone; this phenomenon is systematically called the checked or entering tone (入). Vowels in Gaptan are also sometimes referred to as medials or middles due to their position in the syllable.


Comparing the Chinese, Tocharian and Brahmi sources reveals much about the phonetic nature of Gaptan vowels. Comparing the transcription of words shows that where one script merges what the others split there's some allophony involved. There are a few simple rules to allophony:

  1. Vowels round next to labials
  2. Vowels backen next to uvulars
  3. Vowels front next to palatals

Also, there is a general tendency for /ɨ/ to become [ə] in closed syllables and for /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ to centralise somewhat to [ɜ] and [ɞ].


Gaptan was written down in a variety of scripts. Most texts were written down in both the Chinese script and the native Gaptan script - otherwise heavily inspired by its Chinese counterpart - but there also exist a few attestations in other scripts. Due to the nature of the Chinese script, it was used in one of two ways, either as a logography used to write out Gaptan morphemes or as a transcription system using Chinese characters to determine the sound value of each word. Most non-Chinese representations are written in abugidas and a small amount in the Aramaic abjad.


As Gaptan was spoken and later transmitted in an area with considerable Chinese influence, it is natural that some of its texts first got translated to Chinese and then transcribed using the Chinese Zhou bronzeware script and later using Qin script styles. Over time, the Chinese scribes gave way to foreigners that were unfamiliar with Chinese who kept using the script while adapting it to fit the language they were writing better.


The transcription of Gaptan using Chinese characters significantly resembles the much later usage of Man'yogana by the Japanese. Each Gaptan syllable is made up of at most three parts: the pre-initial and initial written as one character, the medial and the final and, occasionally, a disambiguative addition to the final. In a large minority of both early and late texts, the pre-initial is separated from the initial. Even using this system, a few words were sometimes spelled semantically using the Chinese characters' original meanings.

The table of solitary initial characters is below. In each cell there are multiple characters which can interchangeably be used for the representation of the same initial.

Voiceless Voiceless Palatal Aspirate Aspirate Palatal Voiced Voiced Palatal Voiceless Nasal Voiceless Palatal Nasal Tenuis Nasal Palatal Nasal
Labial 輻幅否夫脯 庇匕妣庇 祓刜痡浦胉膊 朏匹 罰傅服畐傅 貔毗頻 芼旄芒幕徽 迷蔑 謀畮某畝牧 蜜謐民泯
Alveolar 獐昭織職樴誌識 砥真 斥惝綽熾 鴟瞋 殊豎裳常 坻提綢稠 恕饟餉 諗身替 柔儺能能泥寧 貳衵
Alveolar Sibilant 絲熄 駟死 窻帨 蓍收溼 慈藉沮 疾秦燼
Retroflex Sibilant 疏蔬疎 (師) 楚槮 (椒) 棧轏柴驟 (愁)
Velar 幾急給謹 脂旨 欺却驅曲欠 䭫启稽牽 胡其渠奇踦遽 視嗜腎 (厂) 疑垠圻兒擬
Uvular 音飲 抑愔垔 鄉響亨希 曉屎濕 與羊養養 (鎰贏)
Rhotic 來勒歷拉瘳寵 藘獵 犁履領簾令
Lateral 紓舒賒癙豕施 屎申呻 貽昜颺匜 引孕攸逸悠
Laryngeal 殷衣於焉偃殃鴦 獻䖒 設勢 伊一咿幽腰

The pre-initials are likewise sorted out in a similar table:

Tenuis Palatal
楔所濈宣 雖荀
祠鈶鬵尋 駟髓隨
雅強偽 歧俔嫌解
理凌儢廬呂旅 黎禮聊體戮犁
脯鈇 匪誹扉蜚
志侏斗 周鬒
厥句詭贛 稽擊計堅

The voiceless velar initial character "厂" is otherwise later used for a null initial.

The table of medial and final combinations - or for convenience called "mediofinals" - features less of the character palette that initials and pre-initials have. There are a few interchangeable mediofinal characters, taken from Chinese characters with the same final.

Table of mediofinals
- Bilabial Alveolar Retroflex Velar
Tenuis S-Class Nasal Tenuis S-Class Nasal Tenuis S-Class Nasal Tenuis S-Class Nasal
/i/- 脩修 挹浥 鷙質 寢驔 壹邲 盡神頻 [壹啞] [㦤啞] [神啞][頻啞] 鬲即 縊畀 氓印
/u/- 劉酋 閤會 禫汎 巛輴刌 [筆啞] [孛啞] [巛啞][輴啞] 复篤 奧就
/ɨ/- 及沓眔邑歙 男南衾荏甚 慨妹 損腆 [既啞] [慨啞] [損啞] 冀誡 兢凌
/ɛ/- 瓢翹 攝梜 介疥 嫌厭 八別 靦環 [八啞] [敝啞] [環啞] 并程
/ɔ/- 爓貶諂 穿舛 [啜啞] [嘬啞] [舛啞] 趣讀 槈仆
/a/- 慈財 捷匣劫 蓋世貰 斂險 罰曷濊 匃故痼固個 丹但煩 [罰啞] [痼啞] [但啞] 度豆 忘央鴦鋩
Uvular Rhotic Lateral Laryngeal
Tenuis S-Class Nasal Tenuis S-Class Palatal Tenuis S-Class Tenuis S-Class Palatal
/i/- 鬒腎 盡筍 禮比 䭫启第 㦤嘯 嗜視
/u/- 水輠尹憤 菌楯 稻道抱
/ɨ/- 損凝 艱軍 薦軔 臼彩 綦墐 泥棃偯
/ɛ/- 舓解 挂卦麗
/ɔ/- 苑蜾 部豎庾
/a/- 暴曝 亶但 語脯 沮漸 依偯屍微



Gaptan nouns are morphologically bare i.e. they are uninflected. While the actual noun remains unchanged, its grammatical function is indicated using postpositions. This system of postpositions functions as a sort of a rudimentary case marking in Gaptan. These postpositions are divided into two sets: core case markers and locative-lative case markers. While the core case postpositions are a closed class, the locative-lative postpositions are an open class of words.

The core postpositions are as follows:

  • "" - the nominative postposition
    • Marks the subject of intransitive clauses and the agent of transitive clauses
  • "帨即" - the accusative postposition
    • Marks the direct object of transitive clauses, the focus of the copula and occasionally the subject of intransitive clauses in fixed phrases
  • "驅酋" - the possessive postposition
    • Forms a possessive construction; functions most similarly to a possessive or genitive case
  • "坻艱" - the recipient postposition
  • "脯獵依" - the instrumental postposition
    • Exclusively marks instruments, never company
  • "殊窮" - the commitative postposition
    • Exclusively marks company, never instruments
  • "祠庇挹" - the thematic postposition
    • Marks the theme or topic of communication
  • "寵裁" - the benefactive postposition
    • Marks the beneficiary of an action




Example text[]