The 2015 Smiley Award Winner: Kash

I am very pleased to present the 2015 Smiley Award to Kash, an a priori language created by Roger Mills. Kash is an a priori artlang created for the vast and detailed word of Cindu. Though Roger is no longer with us, I'm happy to give his language Kash the 2015 Smiley Award. Congratulations, Roger!

Smiley Award 2015

Left-Handed Beginnings

In 1976, his last year as a lecturer in linguistics, Roger Mills spent the bulk of his free time reading science fiction. In particular, he'd hunt for any book by or anthology featuring Ursula K. Le Guin, thanks to his abiding interest in The Left Hand of Darkness. The book proved to be a significant influence on Roger, as he went on to craft his own story inspired by its plot. In it, a young man from a research ship named John Rodriguez travels to the planet Chindu (later spelled Cindu) and meets Shenji, a representative of the Kash people: a species of cat-like beings with black fur. Naturally, the Kash would have their own language, and Roger set about creating it, as he did the entire world, its environs, and its other inhabitants.

Kash wasn't Roger's first foray into conlanging. By his own account:

As a teen-ager I had invented two or three languages—basically clones of Latin—but then gave up Tolkien's "secret vice" (which we now call conlanging) due to ridicule and, of course, graduating into the real world of college, then the Army, then a couple 9-to-5 jobs.

Good thing Roger found academic linguistics and Ursula K. Le Guin, as without their influence, he may not have gotten back to conlanging, and we never would have gotten to see Kash.

My World...and Welcome to It

Something I find interesting is that my story and Roger's are very similar, but for different reasons. Roger left off conlanging in the 1980s as other activities began to occupy his time. This continued all the way until 1999 when he bought his first computer. Once he was hooked into the web, Roger did a search for "invented languages", and his world changed forever.

Roger joined the Conlang-L in 2001, the same year I did, and also knew only of Zamenhof, unaware that Tolkien or anyone else had ever created languages. I remember what it was like to learn that Tolkien was not just a writer, but a language creator, and one held in high esteem. I also remember what it was like to discover that conlanging had a name, and was a truly global phenomenon.

Also, like Roger, I was dragged kicking and screaming into the world of website creation (hence this site). While I looked upon it as a chore, though, Roger found it invigorating, and spent the better part of his last years detailing the wealth of information on Cindu that lived in his mind. The Kash language was just one part of that, but as it's the part that concerns us presently, let's get to it!

Kash Qua Kash

Kash is a dependent-marking, head-initial SVO language. Its nouns and pronouns are divided into two genders (animate and neuter), and they inflect for four cases: nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive. Verbs inflect for tense and use an auxiliary for the perfect and other aspectual distinctions. As a naturalistic artlang, Kash displays a lot of allomorphy, much of which is driven by its sandhi system, which I find really fascinating:

(Romanization note: Throughout, y = [j]; ç = [ʃ]; c = [tʃ]; h = [x]; nj = [ndʒ]; ñ = [ɲ], except at the end of a word, where it's [ŋ].)

  • N + C[+cont.] → C[-cont., -voice] (e.g. m + h becomes k)
  • N + C[-cont.] → NC[-cont., +voice] (e.g. m + c becomes nj)
  • N + yñ

Other changes are variations on the above (though, interestingly, a nasal followed by kr results simply in kr), but these changes really shine in the morphology. Here, for example, are a series of causatives formed from other word bases:

  • ale "to be" ↔ rumale "to create"
  • tikas "to see" ↔ rundikas "to show"
  • mende "finished" ↔ rumbende "to complete"
  • fasan "hot" ↔ rupasan "to heat"
  • vanat "white" ↔ rumanat "to whitewash"

Incidentally, a great thing about Roger's site is that he lists the etymology of whatever word or phrase is being discussed, when relevant. For example, the rum- prefix came from the verb rumek "to cause". You can also see evidence of the layers of history in Kash when the sandhi rules don't apply. First, to give us some examples with s, check out this cool derivational strategy for abstracts using añ- (by which I mean pay attention to the variation in the derived meanings):

  • çivar "to teach" ↔ acivar "lesson"
  • unjuk "to grow" ↔ añunjuk "growth"
  • ange "tree" ↔ añange "tree"
  • singap "bow" ↔ atingap "archery"

Above, we see what happens to s when it's preceded by a nasal (just becomes t). Now look at this inflectional paradigm:

English Base Form Past Form Future Form
wander lato latosa latoto
live kayi kayisa kayito
combine hambos hambossa hambosto
bury çarok çaroksa çarokto
be born kamon kamonsa kamondo
reward karem karemsa karendo
understand tanjañ tanjañsa tanjando

The most interesting thing to note is the reification of past and future in the last three forms. These nasal-final forms are where one would expect to find sandhi occurring—and it does in the future forms. In the past tense forms, though, the suffix does not undergo any sandhi, which shows that these forms are likely younger, evolutionarily speaking, than the future forms. The past tense form is also optional, which is precisely what one might expect, given its age. Very interesting tidbit! There's lots of stuff like this throughout the grammar and lexicon of Kash.


One of the things I love to see in naturalistic conlangs is when a conlanger creates something with a basic function and then employs it in other—often unexpected—constructions. We see it all the time in natural languages, and we see it all over the place in Kash.

To get us started, let me briefly go over the case system of Kash. As noted, Kash has a small case system, and two classes of nouns: animate and neuter. Here's a couple examples of inflected animate nouns:

V-Final Stem   C-Final Stem
Singular Plural yanjakrum
Singular Plural
Nominative ana anala Nominative yanjakrum yanjakrumila
Accusative anan analan Accusative yanjakrumun yanjakrumilan
Genitive anayi anali Genitive yanjakrumi yanjakrumili
Dative anaye anale Dative yanjakrume yanjakrumile

Note that C-final forms take a copy vowel in the accusative singular. Now here's a couple examples of inflected neuter nouns:

V-Final Stem   C-Final Stem
Singular Plural tenar
Singular Plural
Nominative sovare sovareç Nominative tenar tenaraç
Accusative sovare sovareç Accusative tenar tenaraç
Genitive sovareyi sovareçi Genitive tenari tenaraçi
Dative sovareye sovareçe Dative tenare tenaraçe

First, notice that the nominative and accusative forms are identical for neuter nouns. This has to do with the interesting way that Kash encodes direct objects. All transitive sentences have direct objects, but not all direct objects are treated the same in Kash. You only see the accusative case associated with the direct object of the sentence in two specific instances: (1) animate non-human direct objects; and (2) animate human objects that are directly affected by the action of the verb. Two examples are shown below:

  • Kaçuma yatikas tandin. "The woman sees the moon." (Animate Non-Human Direct Object)
  • Kaçuma yakumbe kañapan. "The woman hugs the waiter." (Animate Human Direct Object)

Outside of these two instances, though, different strategies are used to mark direct objects. In the case of neuter nouns, the "accusative" is used, but as the accusative and nominative are identical in all instances, practically one can say there is no distinct accusative form for neuter nouns—rather like English nouns, when compared to its pronouns. Here's an example:

  • Kaçuma yatikas puna. "The woman sees a house." (Neuter Direct Object)

Note that for neuter direct objects it makes no difference whether or not the action directly affects the object or not. For animate human objects, it does. We've seen that the accusative is used when the action wholly affects the animate human direct object. When it doesn't, the dative is used. Ordinarily, the dative fulfills the function one would expect it to, as in the example below:

  • Kaçuma yavele kañape puna. "The woman gives the waiter a house." (Animate Indirect Object)

This allows one to make a distinction like that below:

  • Kaçuma yakapaksa kañapan. "The woman struck the waiter (fully)." (Animate Direct Object)
  • Kaçuma yakapaksa kañape. "The woman struck at the waiter." (Animate Indirect Object)

In this way, a verbal distinction is made merely by changing the case of the object. This is quite the nuanced distinction for a language with so few cases! Quite elegant.

Another favorite bit of mine is the genitive. Most genitive cases are there just to indicate possession. Kash's does a bit more than that, and by examining what else it does, one gets a sense of what its etymology must be.

Consider the following examples. First, in addition to its basic genitival function, it also serves in a partitive capacity, as shown below:

  • lenup kaçumayi "the woman's ladle" (Genitival Possession)
  • Ta mamelo anandeli. "I don't want any sherry." (Partitive Construction)

That's not all that out-of-the-ordinary for a genitive, sure, but this next one is a little odd: The genitive is used to introduce sources of accidental causative/passive constructions (they'll make sense when you see them). An example is shown below:

  • Kaçuma yasisa kañape. "The woman loves the waiter." (Standard Clause)
  • Kaçuma yacakasisa kañapi. "The woman is smitten with the waiter." (Accidental Clause)

This is a pretty cool derivational strategy, incidentally. Moving on, there is a second type of possessive construction that uses the possessive suffix -ni (which we'll return to momentarily). While the genitive is used regularly with animate nouns, it tends to be used with neuter nouns primarily when expressing inalienable possession. See the following:

  • lenup kaçumayi "the woman's ladle" (Standard Genitival Possession)
  • lenupni lopa "the lopa's ladle" (Inanimate Alienable Possession)
  • ace lopayi "the lopa's leg" (Inanimate Inalienable Possession)

The lopa is some sort of goatish creature of Cindu. Anyway, while many prepositions take either the accusative or dative in Kash, certain prepositions only take the genitive. They're shown below:

  • Marata alo Amerikayi. "I come from America." (Ablative)
  • Makakapak inga sovareyi. "I fight without a sword." (Abessive)
  • Maçindisa kañape uçoñi kaçumayi. "I spoke to the waiter on behalf of the woman." (Benefactive)

That last one might seem a little odd until you look at the etymology and realize that it came from a construction meaning "the purpose" (uçom + -ni). The genitive, then, is used to connect the one nominal phrase to the other.

Finally, to bring it all together, take a look at one of the verbs that requires a genitival direct object, as opposed to accusative or dative:

  • Kañap yayinga ambasamili. "The waiter lacks proper mannners." (Direct Object)

Look familiar? That verb (conjugated as yayinga because of the third person singular subject) is the same word as our preposition inga. The verb gave birth to the preposition and brought its case assignment along with it. This is textbook. Just a joy to see. And, of course, it's indicative of a genitival construction that arose from an original ablative. It's one of many paths of grammaticalization that a genitive can take, but when it takes this particular path, one expects to see a specific range of secondary behaviors associated with the case—behaviors one wouldn't expect to see (necessarily) from a different path of grammaticalization (e.g. a genitive that arose from "to" or "at" or "thing"). It's a wonderfully and thoroughly executed genitival construction and it was a pleasure to dig into it.

By the by, there are a couple of other fascinating examples of grammaticalization in Kash. One of them is an old favorite of mine: using pronouns as demonstratives. First, take a look at the following sentences (the subject pronominals are emphatic):

  • Ye man yatikas. "She sees me." (3SG Feminine)
  • Ya man yatikas. "He sees me." (3SG Masculine)
  • Yu man yatikas. "It sees me." (3SG Neuter)
  • Nila man itikas. "They see me." (3PL Animate)
  • Niç man itikas. "They see me." (3PL Neuter)

Now check out the following noun phrases:

  • kaçuma ye "the/that woman" (Feminine Singular)
  • kañap ya "the/that waiter" (Masculine Singular)
  • lenup yu "the/that ladle" (Neuter Singular)
  • kaçumala nila "the/those women" (Animate Plural)
  • lenup niç "the/those ladles" (Neuter Plural)

Love it. This is one of my favorite processes (which means I can't use it much otherwise it'd get worn out!).

Also, take a look at these personal possessive suffixes:

Possessive Suffixes Singular Plural
First Person -mi -mim/-kim
Second Person -ti -hi
Third Person -ni

They work in a pretty standard way (so punami is "my house", punahi is "all y'all's house", etc.), but the third person possessive suffix -ni gets up to all kinds of additional mischief. Consider the following:

  • Lopala nila iyuwik! "The/those lopas are fleeing!" vs. Lopalani iyuwik! "The lopas are fleeing!"
  • Lopala nila iyuwik! "The/those lopas are fleeing!" vs. Uwikni mame yaçukolok! "Their flight amuses me!"
  • kaçet Roceri "Roger's picture (that he owns)" vs. kaçetni Rocer "a picture of Roger"

Many of these Roger tagged as "colloquial" with commentary about what is perceived as standard and non-standard in Kash culture. I live for this level of detail in a naturalistic artlang. Roger really knew what he was doing, and I'm grateful he got so much of his material up online for all of us to enjoy.

How Kash Has Made Me Smile

For those who have a conworld, do you know what the measure of the circumference of your planet is? How far it is from the star in your solar system? Precisely how long its year is, and how long each day is? How many time zones there are on your planet and how much distance they cover? The units of measurement? There are some who can most assuredly say "yes", but I gather the great majority of us (definitely myself included) have not gone into as great of detail as Roger has with his planet Cindu. And Kash, of course, is only one of the languages spoken there; he's worked on others—the languages and the people. One of the more amusing parts of his website is two pages that tell you how to know if you're a Kash or a Gwr. Then there's a huge page detailing some "miscellaneous" aspects of Kash culture here that's 7,500 words long. There's a ton of information on Cindu, its peoples, and the languages spoken there.

Roger's languages and his conworld were labors of love, and on a personal note, Roger has always been one of the most affable members of the Conlang-L as long as I've been there. We were privileged to be able to benefit from his wit and experience for as long as we did (about 15 years). Mostly, though, I want to recognize that Roger did some dang good work here. Check out these reduplication patterns! (Love these.)

  • sisa "to love" ↔ sisa-matisa "to love one another"
  • leka "to argue" ↔ leka-mandeka "to argue back and forth
  • handa "to load cargo" ↔ handa-makanda "to load and unload cargo"

That's fantastic! It makes sense, it's super useful; I'm totally stealing it for a language some day.

So, it's with fond remembrance that I confer the 2015 Smiley Award upon Kash, Roger's first language. Congratulations to Roger, and thanks for the memories!

A picture of Roger Mills, Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets, Jan van Steenbergen, and Jan Koevoets-Grandsire
Left to Right: Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets, Jan Koevoets-Grandsire, Roger Mills, Jan van Steenbergen

Roger Mills

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