X Substantives

By now you've read about determinatives in X, so it's time to discuss substantives. This page will describe what substantives are, first off, and then will describe how they're created, and how they can be used.

What's a Substantive?

The term "substantive" was (somewhat erroneously [?]) coined to describe many Austronesian (specifically Polynesian) languages. Specifically, one sees in a language like Hawaiian that noho can mean "chair" (noun) or "to sit down" (verb). The idea of calling noho a substantive derived from the idea that the concepts of "chair" and "sitting down" were present whether the word noho was used as a noun or a verb. This turns out not to be true: noho the noun is as different from noho the verb as the English verb "to chair (e.g., a committee)" is from the noun "chair". Cute idea, though.

In X I use the term substantive because while the bases can't be used by themselves (i.e., they must be followed by a determinative), they clearly have some kind of iconic meaning which you can see, unlike bases in Zhyler (see the section on Zhyler noun classes to compare). So there really is some connection between all the different words built off the same base, even if the derived words themselves are all very different. For that reason, the individual bases are called substantives, which are then turned into nouns or verbs.

How Substantives Work

It really is rather simple, and somewhat a repeat of information given in the section on determinatives. Nevertheless, here's a refresher.

Let's take a substantive like the one below:

Book substantive.

This (hopefully) looks like a book. (You know, most of these I have to just free-hand using my font program. Not easy...) As it is, this means nothing, though it's clearly (again, hopefully) a book, and has something to do with bookiness. In order to make it into something, though, you have to add determinatives. Here are some examples of words formed using the substantive "book":

Book, author, bookstore, bookmobile, bookbag, read, and literature.

Now we've got some words. They mean, in order, "book" (n., determinative 1), "author" (n., determinative 2), "bookstore" (n., determinative 19), "bookmobile" (n., determinative 20), "bookbag" (n., determinative 24), "read" (v., determinative 33), and "literature" (n., determinative 49). I've given them each word classes based on their most probable use, but you could use any of these as a noun or a verb (e.g., you can bookmobile on over to the edge of town just like you can in English). And, of course, you don't have to stop at one determinative:


By adding determinative 26, the stick determinative, now you have part of a book, or a chapter. Or if you add determinative 2 to "book"...

Literary figure.

...you get a literary figure. And, of course, when it comes to determinatives, there's no reason you need to stop at two:

To keep reading the same book.

This is "book" modified by determinative 48, determinative 33, determinative 41 and determinative 43 (in order from right to left and top to bottom), and the result is a verby kind of word that means something like "to read the same book over and over again over an extended period of time".

So basically, to derive words from substantives, you add determinatives, which modify the meaning of the substantive in a semi-predictable way. Substantives can be built off each other, with each subsequent substantive modifying the entire word to its left. As long as a substantive has at least one determinative, it's considered to be a word, and can be used in a sentence.

That describes how you form words from substantives, but there's more to the story. Read on to discover!

Compound Substantives

Before going on, I wanted to briefly mention compound substantives. These are substantives that combine two substantives and are modified by the same determinatives. Their meaning is not necessarily compositional, and is often unpredictable. Here's an example of a relatively well-behaved one. First, this is the verb "to give":

To give.

Now here's a compound using "give" as its base:

To present.

The first glyph is the substantive for "holding". This new glyph means "to present": a kind of official, honorific version of "to give". Compounds work just like this: You have a string of substantives followed by one or more determinatives. The string is interpreted as a unique whole, and not as modifiers to the base substantive ("give", in this case). For derivational meanings of a base substantive, determinatives are used. Or you can employ another strategy...

Nouns and Noun Phrases

I decided to devote this section specifically to nouns and noun phrases (verbs and sentence structure will be discussed in their own sections). X, like many languages, has a ton of nouns. In a sentence, though, you're not limited to merely mentioning a noun. Nouns can, in fact, be modified. This section will describe how that's done.

First, let's start with a noun. How about a new one? This is a dancer:


"Dancer" is composed of a little dancing person with determinative 2. Now, there can be many kinds of dancers. For instance, let's describe the picture of this dancer. It's white in color (or actually off-white. Lousy technical difficulties...). So we could say "white dancer". Unfortunately, coming up with glyphs for colors without using color is rather difficult, so what X does is it uses the color determinative combined with something that is the desired color. So clouds are off-white, for example, so we can use substantive "cloud" with the color determinative (determinative 30) to form the adjective "white". In order to modify a noun with an adjective, you place it directly after the noun. This is what it looks like:

White dancer.

How is this not interpreted as a noun? In X, a noun must be preceded either by a preposition or a verb (or a conjunction). If it's preceded by, for example, another noun, it's taken to be an adjective. And you can add multiple such adjectives. So let's say our off-white dancer leaps like a frog. We might call it frog-like. Thus, you can have a frog-like off-white dancer:

Frog-like white dancer.

In general, though, if such modifications can be achieved with determinatives, using determinatives is preferable.

One other post-nominal item is our friend the demonstratives. Demonstratives serve to remind the listener/reader that they should know what the heck you're talking about. In X, there're two post-nominal markers that look nouns (but are not) that serve this function. Their basic forms are this:

This, these, that, those.

From left to right, these glyphs mean "this", "these", "that" and "those". The first two are used to refer to things that are nearby, or in highly activated in the discussion (near in thought). The second two are used to refer to things that are not nearby, or aren't necessarily activated (further away in thought). As for plurality, you use determinative 50 to indicate whether the noun being modified is plural or singular (the noun itself need not be marked for plural, in this case, though it may be). These demonstratives occur as the last element in the noun phrase. So, we can say "that dancer"...

That dancer.

...or "this off-white dancer"...

This white dancer.

...or "those frog-like, off-white dancers"...

Those frog-like, white dancers.

...or even "these lovely, active, petite, mechanical, frog-like, off-white dancers":

These lovely, active, petite, mechanical, frog-like, white dancers.

Yes indeed, the various determinatives can be used with the demonstratives. In fact, you can actually pass the determinatives of the noun completely over to the demonstrative:

That dancer.

Now the substantive doesn't have any determinatives at all, but the NP is still grammatical (note that the arrow determinative still directly follows the left-facing arrow [also note that this version of "that dancer" is shorter than the previous, which is nice for the sake of economy, and, dare I say, elegance]). X is fleXible. (Ho, ho, ho... He chortled in his joy...).


Now that substantives and determinatives have been explained, the "finer" points of X grammar can be explained with relative ease. We'll see how long it takes to get to the next page this time...

Back to X Main

This page was last modified on Friday, August 3, 2018.
This website was last modified on .
This page can be viewed normally, as a milk or dark chocolate bar, in sleek black and white, or in many other ways!
All languages, fonts, pictures, and other materials copyright © 2003- David J. Peterson.

free counters