The Language Vorlin (2006)

Chapter 11: Syntax

philosophy of syntax

The sentence structure of Vorlin is designed to be a compromise that blends a degree of naturalness with a degree of freedom from syntactic ambiguity. Vorlin’s rules of syntax are an amalgam of patterns from many languages. Vorlin is not meant to be a word-by-word encoding of English (or any other language).

the basics

In simple sentences, the word order is SVO (subject, verb, object). A simple intransitive sentence can have SV or VS syntax. Adjectives and adverbs appear before the words which they modify; prepositional phrases generally appear after the items which they modify.

There are three main types of valid sentence in Vorlin: the vocative phrase, the fragment, and the full sentence.

vocative phrase

A vocative phrase gives the name or description of the person who is being spoken to, or attracts the attention of the person being spoken to. English examples: a phrase like “dear Mister Jones” at the beginning of a letter, or “hello, Elizabeth” at the beginning of a conversation. In Vorlin, a vocative phrase must begin with a vocative particle; this may optionally be followed by one or more noun phrases, such as name(s). A vocative phrase may optionally end with a sentence-final particle. Examples:

yo! = Hey! You there! Yo, dude!
yo Migel ma? = Miguel? (Is that you?)
laho Migel. = Hello, Miguel.
yo her Cmiht we Yóhan: = Mister Johann Schmidt:


A fragment consists of a few words or a short phrase, and does not contain a verb or a vocative particle. Fragments are rare in formal writing and are common in casual conversation.

guta! = Good!
san ma? = Three?
ne! = Don’t do it!

full sentence

A full sentence must contain a verb phrase, and any sentence containing a verb phrase is classified as a full sentence. A full sentence may optionally begin with one or more modal particles. A full sentence may optionally include adverb phrases or prepositional phrases at the beginning that modify the whole sentence. The next optional item is the noun phrase which is the subject of the verb. Next comes the mandatory verb phrase. If the verb is transitive, it may be followed by the direct object, and this may be followed by the beneficiary. Toward the end of the full sentence we may optionally include one or more adverb phrase(s) and/or prepositional phrase(s) that modify the verb phrase. At the very end of the sentence we may optionally include a sentence-final particle.


A declarative sentence can be turned into a question simply by inserting the word ma at the end. ti vido ya ma? = Do you see me? The answer consists of the main verb from the question, with or without the negative particle non. vido. = Yes, I see you. non vido. = No, I don’t see you.

The presence of an interrogative word (such as the equivalent to “where?” or “what?”) does not cause a change in word order.


The term “apposition” refers to a phrase in which two nouns are adjacent, refer to the same entity, and do not have a conjunction or preposition between them. English examples are “the playwright Shakespeare” and “John the baptist.” Apposition is not permitted in Vorlin. The special preposition ze, meaning “which I further specify as ...”, is used to deal with these situations: bur ze Cikágo = the city (of) Chicago, Tomas ze kurnik = Thomas the health-care professional. These phrases have a “topic-comment” syntax, i.e. the thing being discussed is mentioned first, followed by ze and the comment (further specification).


The term “parataxis” refers to two phrases or sub-sentences appearing side by side without an intervening conjunction to indicate how they are related. English examples are “I know she loves me” and “if you visit my house, I’ll show you my garden.” In Vorlin (as in many other languages), parataxis is not permitted, and one must say the equivalent of “I know that she loves me” or “if you visit my house, then I’ll show you my garden.”

relative clauses

A relative clause is a certain type of phrase that modifies a noun. An English example is “that modifies a noun” in the previous sentence. In English, a relative clause must always occur after the noun which it modifies; approximately half of the world’s languages put relative clauses before the modified noun. An example, from Mandarin Chinese:

Ni gei wo de zhè zhibi feicháng hao.
you give me de this pen extraordinary good
(This pen that you gave me is very nice.)

In the example, the particle de essentially converts the phrase “you gave me” into a modifier that appears before the noun, almost as if the phrase had become an ordinary adjective.

Vorlin also places relative clauses before the nouns to which they are attached. The relative clause must begin with wel and end with da. Here are a few examples, followed by literal, semi-literal, and free translations into English.

ne libo wel non kuno libo ti da diŋ.
Don’t love wel not can love you da thing.
Don’t love an unable-to-love-you-ish thing.
Don’t love a thing that cannot love you.

wel habo roda bar da linhakist loko mikanbom.
wel have red beard da language-creator be-located-at tangerine-tree.
Have-red-beard-ish language-creator is-at tangerine tree.
The redbearded conlanger is over by the tangerine tree.

wel tis kat fajo da ful pe gute gani.
wel your cat eat da bird (past) well sing.
Your-cat-eat-ish bird did well sing.
The bird that your cat ate used to sing nicely.

A certain amount of syntactic chaos in English is caused by the fact that a noun can be followed by relative clauses and/or prepositional phrases, which in turn can contain more relative clauses and/or prepositional phrases. By placing the relative clause in front of its noun and explicitly marking the beginning and end of the phrase, Vorlin avoids a lot of these entanglements.

I would urge Vorlin users not to embed one relative clause inside another.

nominalized clauses

Just as wel ... da converts a phrase into the equivalent of an adjective, ke ... das turns a phrase into a noun-equivalent. das is normally omitted if it would appear at the end of a sentence.

ke tis kat non fajo ful das guti.
ke your cat not eats bird das be good.
It is good that your cat does not eat birds.

ku vilo ke ya fajo tan le pitsa.
He desire ke I eat this pizza.
He wants me to eat this pizza.

unsolved problems

Two vital areas of syntax remain unresolved: conjunctions and quotations.

In English we use the same word to conjoin words regardless of their part-of-speech: compare “I invited your sister and your brother” versus “I bought and sold books.” Using the same word for all kinds of conjoining will not work in Vorlin. (It doesn’t work in Japanese either.)

Quotations are another tricky area. It would be nice to have a word that means “this is the beginning of a quotation.” What form would that word have? What is its part-of-speech? Would the language also require a word meaning “end of quotation”?

In my opinion, potential solutions to these two problems must be tested with computerized parsing of Vorlin text. The parser rule-set and lexicon files need to be updated before any such testing can begin. (See this page for some background.)


Apart from the two issues mentioned in the previous section, I believe all of the future needs of Vorin can be met by adding more words to the vocabulary. Solving a perceived problem by expanding the vocabulary should always be viewed as better than changing the rules of grammar or adding more rules.

The End

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