Type Isolating
Alignment Free
Head direction first
Tonal No
Declensions No
Conjugations No
Genders Yes
Nouns decline according to...
Case Number
Definiteness Gender
Verbs conjugate according to...
Voice Mood
Person Number
Tense Aspect
Progress 0%
Nouns 0%
Verbs 0%
Adjectives 0%
Syntax 0%
Words of 1500
Creator IHCOYC

Tengkolaku (an exonym; native name Iwi) is a language isolate, spoken on an uncharted island named Palau Tengkorak (English: "Skull Island") in the Indo-Pacific. Palau Tengkorak lies very close to the equator, due south of the Nicobar and Andaman Islands, somewhere between Sri Lanka and Java.

Classification and Dialects[]

Tengkolaku is a language isolate. There are no known dialects; there are, however, very formal and colloquial phonologies that differ widely from each other.


Written forms are given in (parentheses) when they differ from the IPA. Variant pronunciations are indicated by the tilde (~). The given phonology is the cultivated colloquial standard recommended to second language learners.


Consonant phonemes
Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasals m n ŋ (ng)
Stops p b t d k ɡ
Fricatives s
Approximant l ~ ɺ (l) j (y) w


Inherently long vowels are marked with a macron. They represent former aa, ee etc.

Front Near-back Back
High i ~ ɪ (i) u ~ ʊ (u)
Mid e ~ ɛ (e) o (o)
Low ɑ (a)

Native scripts[]


The original native script for Tengkolaku is a somewhat unwieldy abugida. Initial vowels are signed on the symbol for the standalone inherent vowel, 'a'. Only a limited number of syllables can exist in the coda. These finals have their own symbols, and are not written with the symbols for the corresponding initials.


More recently, Tengkolaku is written with the Ol Chiki script, which was originally designed to write the Santali language, a Munda language of India. This script is mostly an alphabet with some abugida like features. It too was derived from an original set of pictograms, and as such is broadly related to the monumental script. Note that the values of the characters as used to write Tengkolaku are not identical to the Santali version. Specifically, the character used to indicate a deglottalized consonant in Santali is used instead to mark a long vowel in Tengkolaku.


The maximal syllable in Tengkolaku is CVS, where C is any consonant and S is any of /l m n ŋ s w j/. Nasals followed by a stop assimilate to it: groups like **/mk/ become /ŋk/, while before /b/ and /p/ only /m/ can occur; similarly, only /n/ can appear before /t d/ and only /m/ can appear before /p b/. When a nasal appears before a stop, the two are co-articulated: the nasal no longer forms a syllable coda but joins the following syllable. Also, only /p t k/ may follow /s/ in the coda of the previous syllable.

The stops 'p t k' are realized as /pʰ tʰ kʰ/: this happens always, since they can only be followed by a vowel. The stops 'b d g' are unaspirated as well as voiced.

When two identical sounds are placed next to one another, liaison occurs in ordinary speech; the phrase onsa an will be realized as / This lengthening and liaison affects consonants as well as vowels.

The groups /ij, ow/, and /uw/ do not occur, but instead resolve into 'ī ō ū' (/i: o: u:/) respectively.

/ɺ/, a lateral flap, and /l/ exist in regular variation. Usually /ɺ/ occurs word initially, unless the previous word also ended in /l/. /ɺ/ also occurs between two vowels. Word finally, and in the syllable coda, the sound becomes /l/.

Formal and colloquial styles[]

In the educated standard pronunciation, the vowels /e i u/ may be reduced to /ɛ ɪ ʊ/ in certain environments:

  • when they appear in closed syllables followed by a sonorant;
  • before /l m n ŋ/
  • in unstressed grammatical bound particles;
  • in 'weak' positions, especially in initial syllables of words with more than three moras. This last change can be unpredictable. Inherently long vowels 'ā ē ī ō ū' are never weak.

This reduction of vowels does not occur in the most formal language. In this formal dialect, the sounds that appear in the syllable coda /l m n ŋ s w j/ are all pronounced as long consonants /l: m: n: ŋ: s: ww jj/. In verse, these syllable final consonants always count as a beat. Formal language contains honorific features such as this solemn pronunciation. Personal pronouns of the sort generally treated as rude in ordinary language can be used freely in formal speech.

There is a widely differing collection of basilect traits, that vary in their extremism. Weakened variations of all the vowels except /o/ may occur; /a/ becomes /ə/ when weak. Vowel clusters like 'au' get rendered not as separate syllables, but as diphthongs like /əʊ/. The sounds /j w ʔ/ may occur between vowels in hiatus, both word-internally and at word boundaries. In the most abrupt language, this extends to the inherently long vowels 'ā ē ī ō ū', which tend to be realized as /aʔa, eʔe/, etc. in the most abrupt speech. The sound /ɺ/ may become weakened, to /ɾ/ or /ð/ at the speaker's option.


There is only one phonological process that reshapes the basic form of a Tengkolaku word: partial reduplication of the first syllable. Generally, this is used to make a word an intensified version, or express repeated actions or multiple attempts. A word with a reduplicated first syllable can be either intensified or diminutized.

Words beginning with consonants reduplicate the initial and vowel of the first syllable:

  • buakol "straight" > bubuakol "rather straight, straight-ish".

Codas do not reduplicate:

  • timniki "think" > titimniki "ponder".

Long vowels usually represent historical double vowels. The inherently long vowels are not reduplicated:

  • pūnes "sweat" (< *puunes) > pupūnes "sweat habitually";

Words beginning with vowels change them to inherently long:

  • imupin "cry" > *iimupin > īmupin "cry repeatedly or constantly";

Words beginning with long vowels do not change.

  • ūgu "sing" > ūgu "be musical" (no change).

The meaning of reduplication is contextual, but it generally indicates repeated activities or multiple attempts. As such it has diminutive as well as augmentative and repetitious meanings: wangepo "practice, try" > wawangepo /wa.wa.ŋe.po/ "fiddle around with, fuss at, tinker with &c."


Ūgu wel, nisambi kel, weledi na Akilēs an yi.

sing OPT deity AG anger POSS Achilles PAT TOP

"Sing, o Muse, of the wrath of Achilles."

The grammar of Tengkolaku is generally held together by means of particles, bound morphemes that define the role of words and phrases. Like the English possessive case or clitic, the particles of Tengkolaku operate on the Queen of England's knickers principle: they modify entire phrases rather than attaching at the word level.

Some particles are 'top' particles; these cast the preceding words in a specific grammatical role. In the above sentence, several such function defining particles are in use; wel indicates a verb in the optative mood, while nominals like kel, which indicates that the word it governs is a noun and a do-er; and an, which shows a predicate in the more passive role. Top particles almost always conclude their phrases. Any phrase bound by a top particle is a grammatically independent unit.

The particles are treated as separate words in the phonology. Liaison affects the joining of particles with the roots they govern, but particles are not governed or affected by phonotactic rules governing the shape of words: popem kel (man A) is regular; it does not become **popeng kel or **popem pel as would be required if the particle were in fact incorporated into the head word.

Words and phrases defined by these 'top' particles are free grammatical elements. The sample sentence has three main clauses. It can be broken down in the following way:

(ūgu wel)(nisambi kel)(weledi na Akilēs an yi).

Any of these elements may appear in any order without loss of notional content, because each phrase is governed by a top particle that defines its grammatical role:

(weledi na Akilēs an yi)(nisambi kel)(ūgu wel)

(nisambi kel)(ūgu wel)(weledi na Akilēs an yi)

These are the nominals; they make nouns of the preceding phrase.


These particles make nouns of the preceding words or phrases.

Agent kel; agent (inanimate) kam[]

These two are used similarly. They specify who in the sentence is the do-er, and an the done-to. In the sentence the muse is being asked to sing; the muse is therefore the active subject.

Gender in Tengkolaku is natural rather than semantic, but not quite. All living things, and things that act of their own accord, like the wind, heavenly bodies, clouds, vehicles, and so forth, are all animate. The choice is contextual rather than being fully grammaticalized: ordinary things like blowing breezes and flowing waters are more likely to be treated as animate agents, while lawless, disruptive, or irregular behavior (storm winds, tsunamis) pushes them towards the realm of inanimate objects: wangkubī kel mime gan gē an "the mountain (ANIM) endures the rain"; wangkubī kam deu gan "the mountain (INAN) is smoking" - i.e the volcano is erupting. When an inanimate noun phrase is the actor a different particle is used, to call attention to the unusual circumstance.

Kel can be used without an an (patient) phrase to indicate voluntary activity when the object is irrelevant or understood:

Ūgu gau Akilēs kel

sing IMPF.BOUND Achilles AG

means "Achilles is singing (a song)'. A full translation of 'Achilles is singing a song' would in fact be Ūgu gau Akilēs kel ūgu an. Here ūgu acts as both noun and verb; it is verbed by the verbal particle, and nouned by the next particle:

Patient an[]

This marks the predicate to kel and kam's subjects. It also marks the subjects of sentences that are cast in a more passive role.

Ngeongo us Eketol an.

kill PERF Hector PAT

'Hector was killed.' Subjects requiring an need not be marked with the particle in casual speech;

Ngeongo us Eketol.

would only be understood as 'Hector was killed'. To say 'Hector kills (somebody, people)' you make Hector an agent;

Ngeongo gan Eketol kel.

Dative nel[]

This is an uncomplicated dative and benefactive particle.

Eketol kel Peliyam nel kekē an bo us.

Hector AG Priam DAT blade PAT give PERF

"Hector gave the blade to Priam."

As a 'benefactive' it indicates third parties who are affected by the main action. They need not receive a 'benefit' in the ordinary sense of the word: kudas latiya gan nosu kel li an kudu leslō us nosu nel. (allow escape PRS.IMPF you-me A 3P P REL crime PFV you-me BENE) "we forgive the person who has sinned against us", with 'against us' translated by the "benefactive".

Pragmatic markers: topic yi; non-topic men[]

Unlike the preceding particles, this is not a top particle. This particle is generally free to appear anywhere, and marks focus or points out main or freshly introduced topics and characters. The opening sentence marks the 'anger of Achilles' as a topic. It could be recast as;

Ūgu wel, nisambi kel, weledi na Akilēs yi an.

Moving the topic marker makes Achilles himself, rather than his anger, the focus.

The non topic marker is much less useful. It can be used for rhetorical effects;

Onu men ebo, nenebe men ebo, dalkuma pu no lenu yi lusu ebo.

clothes NONTOP good, house NONTOP good, tear PAUC POSS.INALIENABLE woman TOP most good.

'While clothes are good, and a house is good, a woman's tears are best.' The non-topic marker is also obligatory when multiple third parties are involved:

Emulu mengea an yi utoli eye malo us... Amo sila ēuti ongi kel men li yi an sapengi dekimo us.

"A thin horse (TOP) made himself fat. Along the way a thief (NONTOP) caught him (TOP) to ride." Note how when the pronoun li ('he, she, it') comes into play, the topic marker appears to make it clear that the referent is the horse and not the thief.

Topic marking is entirely different from being either a subject or a predicate. A topic can stand in relation to a sentence that is neither:

Nawngē iki yi, malo uemo gan noytilē do nomengi kel.

"This land (TOP), we use manure for fertilizer."

The antitopic role is more like a supporting actor. It works as a meta-pronoun. Unlike the topic, antitopics do not automatically fill in the blanks for verb phrases. So you'd translate:

  • Gamogoy men keale lā, tisen an ibusidū nay.
    • "The boy (ANTITOPIC) was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea" ...
  • Yani yi an lunolu us men kel.
    • "The boy (ANTITOPIC, AGENT) looked at Johnny (TOPIC, PATIENT)."

In this bit of narrative 'the boy' is introduced first but is not the main character. He is marked as antitopic, and referred to by the antitopic particle when he reappears in a later sentence. Then the 'name' character is introduced (Johnny), the main subject of the story, and he is introduced as 'topic' even though he is patient rather than agent; he is the focus of the rest of the tale. There is a third third-person noun phrase, 'tea', but tea is only mentioned circumstantially and as such is not identified as either. I don't think this quite qualifies as a 'fourth person', because here the topic and antitopic are not verb agreement thins, but purely syntactical.


The "adverbials" of Tengkolaku are all top particles; each of them marks a grammatically sufficient and independent phrase. They handle the tasks that in other languages would be handled by noun cases, prepositional phrases, or occasionally adjectives. As such, they typically cast the words they govern into the role of nouns, but the phrases themselves describe the time, place, manner, or circumstances of the actions or states of the topic, the subject, and any other predicates.

Some of: lidi[]

Lidi marks a partitive case. It can be used to describe acts involving part of but not all of the people or things it governs: ongi lidi "some of the people"; okuaye lidi "part of the ocean". The resulting phrase can also be made into an agent or patient: Ibusidū gau walobi lidi an, "some of the water was drunk" or "(I / someone) drank some of the water".

In, on, at: um[]

The inessive case; this marks the habitation or location where its subject can usually be found or is associated with: mūboy ongi emulu beu um, "a messenger on a dark horse". (IB 11)

From, out of: ēs[]

The elative case: marks movement away from the governed root: nenebe ēs, "out of the house". This particle also describes the chief constituent of an object, in English, what it is made out of or made from: ikonu pado ēs, "a ring made of gold". (IB 5)

Into, towards, onto: win[]

An illative and allative case: this marks movement into or onto the governed word, and similar states such as conversion into: Tengkolaku win tindīgi, "to translate into Tengkolaku".

Near, at: []

A general locative marker, 'in, near, or at', broader in meaning than um. Apogel lā gangolangu, "its head is in the grass". (IB 10)

From, off of: lita[]

The ablative case particle. This is much more confined in its usage than the Latin ablative case, and depicts movement away: ailepe gau kitil an temba lita, "it pulled its heart out of the hole". (IB 8)

Onto, reserved for, to: nel[]

This is the dative particle, also noted as a nominal above. The particle has other, related uses that make it count as an adverbial also: nisambi nel, "devoted to a deity".

As, when: nay[]

This indicates use in place of, or playing the role of, the word it governs: munlendu nay "as if in flight". It also indicates the time relevant to an action: idu nogo nay "that morning". (IB 1)

Becoming, turning into: ngis[]

This particle indicates the transformation of one thing into another: idemū ngis "turning rotten".

Using, by means of, with: do[]

The basic instrumental case. Iki do latiya us gue an, "This way, he avoided death." (IB 13)

With, accompanied by: kong[]

This marks a comitative case. It is also used of physical appearances: Kipilta yi nemnugayma moybopi kong nos, "I am a hawk with white spots." (IB 5)

Without, deprived of: sem[]

A privative case, identifies things that are absent, lacking, or taken away: diyabul sem, "without money", ēgo sem, "endless".

At the time of, when: sila[]

This is a temporal case: it notes specifically the time when or as things happened. Nawngē nenebe om mingea sila, "when he thought about his home country." (IB 16) This is the marker that answers to the purpose of the Latin ablative absolute: pumongumpa sila nos, "when I was a legislator".

Like, as: siku[]

This is a comparative case, used to describe something's appearance or action as analogous to another's: kemi siku "magically, like magic".

In the manner of, like a: eye[]

Related to the preceding, this identifies things acting or behaving like something else or serving their purpose. It also makes adverbs generally: kiki tu ebo eye, kiki tu mamunu eye. "tie it down well, tie it down firmly." (IB 14)

Up to, as far as: yeka[]

This notes the goals or limits of motion: Pegu an yi emulu mengi yeka ngia us, "a lord went to his many horses" (and stopped there) (IB 5); amo nali ia nali te yeka "for a long way, for a long time".

About, pertaining to: om[]

A topical case, denoting the subjects of texts or pictures, and the contents of imagery: nawngē nenebe om mingea, "thinking about his home country". (IB 16)


These are stackable; a verbal phrase may have, for example, a tense marker, an aspect marker, and an evidential marker at the same time. Nenebe lango ba, "I hear there used to be a house there."

Tenses and aspects[]

Imperfect gen[]

This one translates the nuances of the simple present, with one small difference: while the English simple present can refer to the future, this one looks to the past. It indicates frequent, usual, or customary activities, without suggesting that they are bounded by time. It is similar to the unmarked gnomic tense; but when patients and agents are specified on the noun phrases, the verb must also be marked, and this one is the default if no other verbal marker fits:: Onsa kel ngeongo gan, "tigers kill things;" mango an wamingi gan, "I eat what I like." (IB 3)

Bounded imperfect gau[]

This is a past or present tense that indicates that the activity described by the word it verbs has a definite start and finish, without regard to whether the activity continues in the present or is confined to the past. Idu nogo nay ongau lā pado ēs seda gau, "In the morning and in the evening I sit on a golden throne." (IB 1) The difference between this marker and the general imperfect gan is that using gau emphasizes that the subject's sitting has boundaries in time: he sits twice a day,but does not remain seated indefinitely. Okuaya lā nungi gau, alo an sapengi gan; "I lie in wait in the sea, and I catch what I can." (IB 3) The two particles are in contrast here: lying in the sea is a frequent but temporary occurrence, while catching prey is a habitual and expected action.

Perfect us[]

This is the first unambiguously past tense: it indicates an action or state that definitely finished in the past, but that bears some relationship with the present. Ngūemopen us oima dula an, bantis lipu, "when he met the two men, they were afraid." (IB 2) Pilua kel ile us ngigi an, "his wife bore him a son." (IB 5)

Distant past lango[]

This particle indicates the distant past. What constitutes the distant past is contextual; the distant past of a geologist will differ from that of a historian, and a historian's from a barber's. This is the tense marker for myths and legends: Lenu wintike an mime lango naygi um, "there was an old woman who lived in a shoe."

Past pe[]

This is a basic aorist; it expresses that something happened in the past, without specifying whether it is something that has stopped or been completed. Nitutongi no pamus momepi kel ūgu pe udutelī um... Puy no Akaya mengi, ūgu eungi an, "a famous artist sang before them the bitter song of the Return of the Achaeans."

Future sili[]

Sili refers to the foreseeable future: pai an bo sili, "(I) will give you help." (IB 2)

Distant future wang[]

Wang refers to the distant future; it bears the same sort of relation to the simple future sili that lango does to pe in the past. The English phrase "some day" confers its flavor. Bospele an munlendu wang; "some day cars will fly." Pegu men ngigi iki wang yule; "some day that son may be a lord". (IB 5)

Sequence, next oye[]

A placeholder tense for indicating the next event in a narrative, oye can best be translated as "next". Lupai an ēliu us; ainga an imupim oye: "A shot rang out; next, the maid screamed."

Starting to em[]

Em is used to indicate that the speaker has just begun doing something: nei em gau, "I just started working."

Finishing ilusi[]

Ilusi indicates that the activity being described is no longer the case and has stopped: Deu ilusi, "I used to smoke".

Repeating say[]

Say calls attention to the fact that something is done over and over again: Deu say, "I smoke."

Result nodo[]

Nodo points out the effect of the described action: deu nodo, "because of smoking". The resultimg phrase can be used as a description as well as a predicate; in other words, it can function as an adverbial as well as a verb phrase.

Negations and questions[]

Negation lu[]
Emphatic negation ilul[]

These two operate the same, and the only difference is that ilul is more emphatic: onsa lu gengaki, "tigers are not birds"; ilul ngodam tu, oka yi lā, "don't(!) fall asleep, there are snakes nearby."

Tag question expecting ‘yes’ eya[]
Tag question expecting ‘no’ ina[]

Along with the question words, appending these full sentence modifying particles to the end of a statement are the way questions are asked in Tengkolaku. Nenebe iki sili, eya?: "the house will be here, right?"; Onsa lu gengaki, ina?: "tigers aren't birds, am I right?"

These words can also be used tp answer yes/no questions, with eya standing alone meaning "yes", and ina, "no." They can also be used sentence initially, with eya there translated as equivalent to "indeed", and ina having the force of "but no...."


Hypothetical wana[]

Translates English 'maybe, perhaps'.

Conditional sini[]

Translates English 'if' or 'whether'.

Optative wel[]

Used for wishes and polite requests: ngodam wel, balana "fall asleep, child."

Goal, purpose po []

Translates English 'in order to'.

Necessity oni[]

Translates English 'must': emulu ananga onu 'the horse must / is forced to run' (IB 50).

Permission yudi[]

Translates English 'can' or 'is able to'.

Causative tinde[]

Increases the valence of a verb phrase: turns it into 'makes' someone 'do something' emulu an pūnes tinde "made the horse sweat" (IB 50)

Jussive tu[]

Translates as an imperative, or 'so may it be' or 'so it must be': ilul ngodam tu "don't fall asleep!"

Polite request insala[]

Translates English 'please'.


Hearsay ba[]
Supposition, estimate ke[]

Used to mark estimates of quantity, quality, distance, and the like. Nantedel pileski ke, "the fish seem fresh"; Inglis eye 'mapa ngapulu peo te' sangku dula ngapulu te ke, "in English 'forty-five degrees' is around a hundred and twenty."

Experiential sau[]
  • Ikule sau. - "Aliens! I seen 'em!"
Possibility, ability yule[]
  • Maung yule. "Maybe it's a cat."
  • Lu lipoti iki, sidi puo an tulasa yule. "I am not smart, but I can lift heavy things."
General, common knowledge dusu[]

This evidential indicates that the statement is considered common knowledge, a fact everyone ought to recognize: Pamus dusu gan kiutedam lubua an: 'everybody knows that the dice are loaded.'


The syntax of Tengkolaku is basically isolating. Particles, not inflections, govern and bracket the grammatical functions of the roots, and indicate the grammatical functions of the words. Generally descriptive words ("adjectives") follow the "nouns" they modify. Since every lexical word can potentially be marked for categories like tense, scare quotes are necessary.


Unlike in English, where number is marked on each noun, and all that is not marked as plural is marked as singular, number is not a mandatory grammatical category and need not be specified on a noun phrase. There are three categories of grammatical number in Tengkolaku: the unmarked singular; the paucal, which denotes a few of something (particle pu), and the full plural (particle mengi) which is used for more than a few. These particles follow the word they modify and appear before any nominal or adverbial particles, with the exception of the topic marker, which is free to mark single words or whole phrases. The difference between paucal and plural is contextual, and varies with what is being counted. For groups of people the boundary is somewhere between six and twelve, but again, context is important: the paucal of a group of warriors (gaueluko pu) is probably more than the paucal of a group of game players (ape ongi pu).

The paucal can be applied to mass nouns: walobi pu, "a bit of water". So can the plural, but in that context it changes its meaning somewhat: walobi mengi, "different kinds of waters." For "a lot of water", use the intensifier affix: ana walobi. Note that the reduplicated form in most mass nouns is a diminutive rather than an augment: wawalobi "a bit of water."

Gender-like distinctions[]

Tengkolaku does not formally mark grammatical genders, nor does the language use separate personal pronouns for men and women. When the gender of a human being or animal needs to be spelled out, they can be marked with the words popem, "man, male" or lenu, "woman, female." However, Tengkolaku contains a number of genderlike distinctions. None of these are grammaticalized and all are contextual.

The first, noted above, is the use of kam instead of kel with inanimate agents: ilenoy kam iki an dilopede tinde, "a rock made me fall," panga kel iki an dilopede tinde, "my sister made me fall."

Somewhat trickier is:

Alienable and inalienable possession[]

There are two possessive particles in Tengkolaku: na for general possession and no for inalienable possession. Both particles work rather like English "of"; they intervene between the name of the possessed item, which comes first, and the possessor, which follows the particle: nenebe na panga, "the sister's house."

The difference between them is contextual and not grammaticalized. Canonical inalienable possessions include things like:

  • Your name
  • Your reputation
  • Your life story
  • Members of your family
  • Your family's home
  • Your home town
  • Your personality traits
  • Your body parts

Canonical alienable possessions include:

  • Property that you own
  • Movable objects
  • Your thoughts and emotions
  • Money
  • Food
  • Clothing

For example, my hair is ordinarily inalienable: peki no iki. When my hair is cut off, it becomes peki na iki; it is no longer attached to me and I can get rid of it.

Pronouns and their avoidance[]

The personal pronouns of Tengkolaku are not a special class of words. They are treated like other ordinary nouns, with the slight graphical difference that paucal and plural markers directly attach to them in writing.

The pronouns are:

1p. nos, paucal nospu, plural nomengi
1p. inclusive, nosu 'you and me' (usually only used after the number of people in the group has been established), paucal nosupu, plural nosumengi
2p. su, paucal supu, plural sumengi
3p. li, paucal lipu, plural limengi

The inclusive first person pronouns are the 'we' that includes the person spoken to. The 'we' that excludes those people is the simple first person paucal and plural. Note also that special forms exist in the singular where a reflexive meaning is intended: nonos 1st person 'I / myself'; susu 'you / yourself', and liyi 'he/she/it ... himself/herself/itself'; these forms are almost always patients, and are used when a reflexive meaning is needed.

Despite its general lack of inflection on the verb, Tengkolaku is emphatically a pro-drop language. Pronouns are not used where they can be omitted without ambiguity. Generally it's assumed that the person who is talking is speaking of her own opinions, feelings, and perceptions. Etiquette dislikes especially the first person singular pronoun, thought to be particularly obscene; it's considered presumptuous and egotistical to be carrying on about me, me, me all the time. The second person pronouns have another social complication: there exist a haughty variant sutan used to address subordinates, and a humble version sumide used to address social superiors. Which to use among these several variants is a minefield that is frequently avoided by paraphrase.

Nos is used freely in storybook and mythic contexts, especially when dealing with anthropomorphized characters: Yaitu pado ēs mu te yi nos, "I am the golden eagle with golden wings." (IB 3)

Pronouns can also be avoided by using pointing words as proxies. Iki, "here", corresponds to the first person; dito, "there", to the second person, and semili, "yonder", to the third person. Iki and dito are often used instead of nos and su if the context makes the references otherwise clear. Second person referents can also be referred to by their titles, occupations, and the like:

  • Kuli alo na aka?

what want POSS friend

"what does the friend want?"

Statements without agents or patients[]

It is possible to make meaningful statements in Tengkolaku without either agents or patients. Tense, mood, and aspect need not be specified in these statements, either, though they can be. These statements will be simple declarations of description, existence, mental state, and the like.

The unmarked tense in Tengkolaku is called the "gnomic" tense. To claim that the gnomic tense in Tengkolaku expresses 'timeless truths' makes it sound like it's a much bigger deal than it is. Rather, statements unmarked for tense, aspect, or mood are that way because they represent continuous, habitual, proverbial, and similar statements which need no such specification.

The unmarked case is the "appositive" case, which translates into English by expressions like 'here is a' or 'this is a':

  • Maung adamu.

cat big

"The cat is big".

  • Ongi ikule.

person strange

"People are strange." For "that person is strange" resort to a pointing word:

  • Ongi dito ikule.

person that strange

Tengkolaku does not need or use a copula. Simple concatenation of two roots can be read as describing one in the context of the other. Pointing words can be added:

  • Iki maung adamu.

here cat big

"This is a big cat", or, more idiomatic in English, "That's a big cat."

  • Iki nenebe.

here house

"Here is the house."

Negation may be added:

  • Onsa lu gengaki.

tiger NEG bird

"A tiger is not a bird."

This unmarked tense is unavailable in statements that have agents or patients; in that situation the unbounded imperfect with gan must be used. When a sentence has an agent or a patient, those words have been definitely cast in the role of 'noun', so the word serving as a verb must likewise be specified.

Statements with verbals and adverbials[]

Just about any root in Tengkolaku that will support the ideas expressed in them can have tense, aspect, and mood added to them. While some stems may well seem verb-like and others less so, the lexical words themselves do not have these grammatical categories inherently and may take verbal particles.

  • Nenebe us.

house PERF

"It was a house / It used to be a house."

  • Iki nenebe us.

here house PERF

"There used to be a house here."

  • Iki nenebe wang.

here house FUT.DIST

"Some day there will be a house here."

All of the verbals and adverbials are available for use in these kinds of statements. The particles can moreover be stacked, Generally, adverbials follow immediately after the words they govern, while verbals follow them and modify the whole phrases.

  • Onsa siku tu!


"Be like a tiger!"

  • Iki nenebe wang ba.


"I hear that some day there's going to be a house here."

  • Idemū ngis lango sau.


"I know it turned rotten long ago."

These sorts of sentences can also include the topic marker. If multiple third parties are involved, topic and non-topic marking is still mandatory. The topic marker can also be used to call attention to the most important bits:

  • Ilul ngodam tu, oka yi lā.


"Don't fall asleep, there are snakes about."

Statements with patients only[]

If a verb phrase in Tengkolaku has one argument, in almost every case the subject of the verb phrase will be a patient. Patients are marked with the particle an. The scope and use of the patient marker is quite broad. Subjects are marked as patients even when their relation to the action in the verb phrase is that of voluntary initiator:

  • Enlilna an imemi win ngia gau.

queen P city TOWARDS go IMP.BND

"The queen went towards the city."

The relationship here is that of experiencer as well as actor. When there is a single nominal argument of a verb phrase, that argument will be a patient in almost every case. Statements with agents alone are possible, but are used only in situations where setting forth the patient is seen as trivial, repetitious, or irrelevant.

Tengkolaku does not, strictly speaking, have a passive voice. Rather, if a word with potential transitive meaning appears in a phrase with only a patient, the English passive voice can be used to translate the resulting sentence:

  • Kondili us nenebe an.

build PERF house P

can be rendered in English as either "A house was built" or "Someone built a house." Specifying an agent in sentences like these are one of the few situations where a personal pronoun is required by the grammar:

  • Kondili us nenebe an nos kel.

build PERF house P 1p AG

is the only entirely unambiguous way to say that "I built the house," claiming personal credit for its construction. Etiquette, not grammar, prefers the construction:

  • Kondili us nenebe an iki kel.

build PERF house P HERE AG

using the word iki, "here", instead of the first person pronoun, which is considered rather abrupt in tone.

Since just about any word can be made into a verb by adding a verbal marker, the 'patient' marker is used as the basic argument there, even if agents could potentially be specified:

  • Tōlo an nenebe gan.

tree P house IMPF

"The tree is a house" / "The tree is being used as a house."

  • Tōlo an nenebe gan manu kel.

tree P house IMPF monkey A

"A monkey is using the tree as a house." / "Monkeys use trees as houses." / "Monkeys live in trees."

In colloquial speech, the marker an can be omitted in statements that only have patients. As noted above, Eketol ngeongo us can only mean "Hector was killed", not "Hector kills". If an agent is marked in the sentence, the use of the patient particle an is always mandatory.

Statements with agents only[]

These are relatively scarce. Ordinarily a sentence whose verb construction is paired only with an agent is ill formed. As noted above, if the underlying idea is intransitive, its subject is a patient without regard to the subject's voluntary action.

There is a limited case for the use of agent-only statements. They appear when the expected objects are obvious or irrelevant, and usually appear with the verb phrase marked as the unbounded imperfect, meaning usual, habitual, customary, or expected actions:

  • Onsa kel ngeongo gan.

tiger A kill IMPF

would be best rendered into English as "Tigers kill things."

  • Lenu semili kel wamingi oni.

woman yonder A eat MUST

"That woman needs to eat (something / anything)."

Some Tengkolaku words - ūgu, as a verb 'sing', as a noun 'song', or deu, 'smoke' as a noun, as a verb 'emit smoke' or 'inhale smoke' - have implied objects that usually don't need to be spelled out. Such words are likely to appear in sentences where the expected objects are assumed:

  • Lisa kel ūgu gan.

Lisa A sing IMPF

"Lisa is singing"

  • Wangkubī kam deu gan.

Mountain A.INAN smoke IMPF

"The mountain is emitting smoke." (Better run!) These are typical cases where the patient could be spelled out, but need not be; people understand why the mountain is smoking. A patient can of course be spelled out with these statements when it actually adds information:

  • Lisa kel deu gan gaydu na nulenledi an.

Lisa A smoke IMPF skin POSS banana P

"Lisa is smoking banana peels."

Also, verb phrases with "object-like" arguments may take agents, even if the object-like argument is labelled as something other than a patient:

  • Kudu ikonu kel panopo win wangepo tēngis gau.

tail ring A(ANIM) wall ALL try jump PST.IMP

"A raccoon tried to jump onto a wall." "Wall" here is clearly the second argument of the motion verb phrase "try to jump", but it takes an adverbial of motion towards rather than a direct object.

Statements with agents, patients, and maybe benefactives[]

All parties must be marked as agent or patient in statements whose verbal component is meant to be transitive.

  • Imemi an kondili gau enlilna kel.

city PAT build IMPF.BOUND queen AG

"The queen built a city." Note here that it is the particles, not the order of the specific components, that define the grammatical role of each participant. The several components could appear in any order without changing the notional meaning. However, the favored places for topic marked participants is at the head, or failing that, at the end of the sentence.

  • Enlilna yi kel imemi an kondili gau.
  • Enlilna kel kondili gau imemi yi an.

Dative and benefactive phrases may occur anywhere in the sentence as well, provided only that they stand independent of the agent and patient nominal phrases:

  • Enlilna kel imemi an kondili gau ungi nel.

"The queen built a city for the king."

The Latin double accusative does not have a counterpart in Tengkolaku. Instead, other adverbial particles, particularly ngis, win, or ēs, are used for its purposes. Like other adverbials, these phrases must be associated with the words and phrases they modify:

  • Ungi kel pegu ngis emuli an malo us.

king AG lord INTO horse PAT make PERF

"The king made a horse a lord."


The current lexicon of Tengkolaku can be read here.

File:Tengkolaku.ods is a downloadable local version. Full functionality requires an Ol Chiki font.


Unusual for Tengkolaku words, they are sentence adverbs as an inherent part of speech. They modify sentences and phrases: nedibo ngia, 'a journey to the north'; they cannot be made patients or other predicates: **nedibo win (north LOC), is not allowed, and does not mean "in the north". They are formed with a suffix -bo, of obscure origin, on modified and often shortened versions of existing roots. The suffix is generally not productive and is not used to coin new words regularly.

Cardinal directions:

  • north: nedibo

From nedi, 'sun'

  • east: sikabo

From sikanda, 'ascend'

  • west: oilubo

From oilui, 'descend'

  • south: ngiobo

From ngia. 'cold'. Note that Palau Tengkorak is slightly south of the Equator, and as such 'north' is where the sun is and 'south' is the cold place.

But these words get very little use in Tengkolaku. If you get directions, you are much likelier to hear these, because these are the intuitive orientations used most frequently by the islanders.

  • seaward: okuaybo

From okuaya, 'ocean'. The direction of peace and safety.

  • landward: wangkubo

From wangkubī, 'mountain'. The direction of darkness and danger, of wild tropical forests inhabited by large and dangerous kaiju.

  • windward: geybo

From , 'rain'. The wet side;

  • leeward: pengabo

From pengagu, 'dry'.

These latter directions are the ones that are used to refer to local places, while north, south, east, and west are used to refer only to the directions of distant and (for the islanders) semi-legendary lands.

Example text[]

John 3:16[]

Tiwi Tengli kel lē an adamu mibi us, bo us Peni yi an, impa gang ile an, mingea kel Li an, lu gue nodo, site lotanu ēgo sem an dabi wang.

Since God A world P large love PFV gave PFF son TOP P one times born P believe A Him P not die ever but alive end without P hold FUT.DISTANT

The Lord's Prayer[]


Dompawi no nosumengi, kange um,
katū tu tabo no su.

Ungi baliwi no su an ngia tu,
alo no su an malo tu,
doa um, kange um sika.

Gemlu no nosu an bo tu lau dusi nay,
leslō no nosu an kudas latiya tu te,
tiwi kudas latiya gan nosu kel li an kudu leslō us nosu nel.

Yingo tu nosu an luwu win,
site ilati tu nosu an beibe lita.

Tiwi ungi baliwi, pembang, pelope te no su,
sesempili, amen.

Firesign theatre creation myth[]

Watu em, kawlu yi. Kawlu te impa nay, wa dūi gau, wa neba men an muo us, men te nawi no yi. Nungi te us neba nel, lunolo tu te, lelo us men kel imupin do yi nel ibene an, kudu uluando us lau nay. wa dilopede us, luo eye.

Lunolo tu te, luo nidu nantedel yi an agide us, ana adamu yi, adamu lusu muo. Iki eye kibiya akistiu no yi, impa te Nedi, dula Komla tabo nay.

Before the beginning, there was this turtle. And the turtle was alone. And he looked around, and he saw his neighbor, which was his mother. And he lay down on top of his neighbor, and behold! she bore him in tears an oak tree, which grew all day and then fell over -- like a bridge.

And lo! under thee bridge there came a catfish. And he was very big. And he was walking. And he was the biggest he had seen. And so were the fiery balls of this fish, one of which is the sun, and the other, they called the moon.

A chant against global warming[]

Ūgu lu samoa na doa po.

Takoma kam ngospu tu ngoyo an, pome tu te.
   Lawalakulu an ngodam tu, nungi tu.

Masama kam ngospu tu ngoyo an, pome tu te.
   Lawalakulu an ngodam tu, nungi tu.

Ambulu Kay kam ngospu tu ngoyo an, pome tu te.
   Lawalakulu an ngodam tu, nungi tu.

Wayisti kam ngospu tu ngoyo an, pome tu te.
   Lawalakulu an ngodam tu, nungi tu.

Uytāku kam ngospu tu ngoyo an, pome tu te.
   Lawalakulu an ngodam tu, nungi tu.

Pado kam ngospu tu ngoyo an, pome tu te.
   Lawalakulu an ngodam tu, nungi tu.

Takobiya kam ngospu tu ngoyo an, pome tu te.
   Lawalakulu an ngodam tu, nungi tu.

Mauna Loa kam ngospu tu ngoyo an, pome tu te.
   Lawalakulu an ngodam tu, nungi tu.

Nuclear waste warning[]

Bimoya iki yi sonatas, kindu na timlen sonatas: laskie tu! Mūboy sonatas kantom siku. Nui na mawe poti lango.
Bimoya iki lu idelo. Lu medu no idelo an iki um ago gau. Lu binime iki um.
Iki mato pansam, gide siku. Sonatas iki kutela no pansam.
Pansam impa bimoya um. Dengi um pansam an uluando gan. Iki dengi no pansam, ilontu oilui.
Pansam inge wang, lau no sumengi nay, gedō lau no nomengi nay.
Pansam ngimen nel, ngeongo yule te.
Pansam samoa siku.
Pansam an ilati sili gi unggawa gan bimoya an ngimen eye. Abu tu; lu mime tu.

This place is a message… and part of a system of messages… pay attention to it! Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.
This place is not a place of honour… no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued is here.
What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.
The danger is in a particular location… it increases toward a centre… the centre of danger is here… of a particular size and shape, and below us.
The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours.
The danger is to the body, and it can kill.
The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.
The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited."

A fable in Tengkolaku[]

Popem yi kel mabeya an amo lā migi us. Yi nel mabeya mokonida um kam pome em!

man TOP A skull P road PROX find PFV. TOP BENE stick LOC A(INAN) speak INC.

Mabeya an molal oye, 'Kutinde mokonida um?'

skull P ask NEXT, why stick LOC?

'Ana popome nodo'; semili an pome mabeya kam.

INTENS REDUP.speak RESULT; yonder P speak skull A(INAN).

Popem nomi kel pilua nel isikele oye; pilua kel molal kudu ungi men nel isikele po.

man happy A wife BENE story NEXT; wife A ask that king OBV BENE tell-story PURP.

Yi kel isikele oye ungi nel. Yi kel yingo oye ungi an amo lā kūm mabeya. 'Lunolo tu mabeya pome an! Mabeya, pome tu!'

TOP A tell-story NEXT king BENE. TOP A lead NEXT king P road PROX where skull. Look JUSS skull speak P. skull speak JUSS

Mabeya kam lu pome. Lu da an pome us.

skull A(INAN) NEG speak. NEG sound P speak PFV.

Ungi kel geni us gangolangu no yi an, monge us te dito an mokonida um. Iki do bo an tulasa bo us.

King A cut PFV head INAL TOP P, put PFV that P stick LOC. this INSTR gift P carry give PFV.

A man found a skull by the road. The skull on top of a stick spoke to him!
He asked the skull, 'why are you on that stick?'
The skull replied, 'Because of talking too much.'
The man, excited, tells his wife; the wife tells him that he ought to tell the king.
So he goes and tells his story to the king. Next, he leads the king to the place by the road where the skull was. 'Look, a talking skull! Skull, say something!'
The skull did not speak. It made no noise at all.
The king cut off his head, and put it on the stick. And that is how the gift was handed down.

Irk Bitig[]

The Irk Bitig is an Old Turkic book of omens told as simple folktales. It has been translated into Tengkolaku.

A bilingual version in both Old Turkic and Tengkolaku, in the Gökturk and Ol Chiki based scripts, is now available.