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Page history last edited by Matthew McVeagh 1 year, 5 months ago

Shilgngí / Antinglish

Matthew McVeagh | my conlangs

This language is inspired by being asked what language had the opposite typology to English. On June 18 2020 I answered a question on Quora: "Which language is typologically “opposite” of English?" Other answerers came up with specific languages, but it occurred to me there was no single particular language typologically opposite to English; instead there are various typological tendencies that English has, and we can try and imagine what is most 'opposite' to those; collecting those together we might have a basis for picking a most opposite language. I interpreted 'typologically' entirely in terms of grammar rather than anything else, and wrote out a list of such oppositions.


One respondent asked me for "some example sentences", as if this language existed! On June 20th I created a gloss of the (NIV English) Genesis Babel Text using English lexemes and some homemade gloss abbreviations. In the process I had to made decisions on the hoof about what features this language would have and how it would express the sense of the English text. I also revised my list of oppositions.


My 'final' answer of July 20 is as follows:



I don’t have an answer in terms of a name, but let’s think through the features of English and work out what an ideal opposite would be like.


  1. Tending towards analytic with relic grammatical inflection and derivational agglutination - so tending towards inflecting with relic grammatical agglutination and derivational analyticity.

  2. Subject Verb Object (SVO) - so Object Verb Subject (OVS)

  3. Nominative-accusative - so ergative-absolutive, or something even funkier.

  4. Few inflected verb tenses, many periphrastic tenses - so, few periphrastic tenses, many inflected tenses.

  5. Verb modes using inversion (interrogative), enclitics (negative), syllable stress (emphatic), DO auxiliary (most), subject-suppression (imperative) - so none of that, verb forms are the same irrespective of such modes and their meanings are indicated by separate words.

  6. High and sophisticated use of non-finite verb forms and phrases - so, much more limited use, replacement with subordinate clauses or other paraphrases.

  7. Pre-posed interrogative and relative words, and relative clauses follow the noun - so not that, either no change from normal word order or post-posed interrogative/relative words, and relative clauses precede the noun.

  8. Prepositions and minimal case system - so large case system, adpositions are postpositions.

  9. No gender, except natural gender in 3rd person singular personal pronouns - so gender or more complex noun classes… but 3rd sing. pronouns are unigender.

  10. No dual or clusivity distinction in personal pronouns - so, dual beside singular and plural, and massive clusivity distinctions.

  11. Special reflexive form for each pronoun - so, only one general reflexive pronoun.

  12. Adjectives, numbers and determiners before nouns - noun phrases are head final. So head-initial, adjectives etc. after nouns.

  13. Complex determiner structure (pre, central, post) including articles - so, simple determiner structure, with no articles.

  14. No number classifiers - so, number classifiers.

  15. No ‘agreement’ between nouns and adjectives, determiners, numbers, classifiers - so, extensive agreement.

  16. Extremely complicated question and comment tags - so extremely simple question and comment tags.


It’d be an interesting language, right enough. I’d call it “Shilgngi” [ʃɪlgˈŋɪ] Make sure you stress it on the second syllable and pronounce the L unvelarised! Keep those I-vowels lax!


Jerald Thorley has asked me to produce some examples of what such a language would sound like. I’m going to convert an English text into Shilgngi, retaining English lexemes but re-arranging the grammar. I’ve had to use capital-lettered abbreviations for grammatical inflections.


Genesis 11:1-7:


Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”


In Shilgngi:


Now languageABS (mind)ABS oneABS and speechABS commonABS havePAST worldERG wholeERG. During-that eastALL movePAST peopleABS, plainABS ShinarLOC findPAST and placeLOC thatLOC settlePAST theyERG. Self-REC-PL-DAT sayPAST theyABS, “EXH, bricksABS makeIMP we(I+you pl.+they)ERG and themABS thoroughADV bakeIMP.” BrickABS stoneCOM in-place-of usePAST theyERG, and tarABS mortarDAT. FollowingADV thisABS sayPAST theyERG: “EXH, self-REC-PL-DAT cityABS buildIMP we(I+you pl.+they)ERG, heavensALL reach whichABS towerCOM, in-order-that reputationABS us(I+you pl.+they)DAT makeSUBJ we(I+you pl.+they)ERG; otherADV we(I+you pl.+they)ABS earthGEN wholeGEN surfaceCOM over scatterFUT (empty subject)ERG.” But down-come-PAST lordHON-ABS in-order-that cityABS and buildPROG people-groupERG whichABS towerABS seeSUBJ heHON-ERG. ThisABS sayPAST lordHON-ERG: “If thisABS doINF beginPERF theyERG, languageABS sameABS speak whichERG people-groupCOM (herd)COM oneCOM as, then themDAT not-possible-ABS beFUT doINF plan theyERG whichABS nothingABS. EXH, down-go-IMP we(I+you pl.)ABS and languageABS themGEN confuseIMP we(I+you pl.)ERG in-order-that self-REC-PL-ABS not understandSUBJ theyERG.”




Cases (see List of grammatical cases): ABS = absolutive, ERG = ergative, GEN = genitive, DAT = dative, COM = comitative (& used with postpositions), LOC = locative, ALL = allative

Verb-forms: PAST = simple past tense, IMP = imperative (including “let’s”), SUBJ = subjunctive, FUT = future tense, PROG = progressive/continuous tense, INF = infinitive, PERF = perfect tense

Other: REC = reciprocal (modification of reflexive pronoun), PL = plural (distinct from dual), EXH = exhortative interjection, ADV = adverbialising suffix, HON = honorific (applied to references to God)




  1. Subjects generally go after the verb, direct objects before. The exception is in relative clauses where the relative pronoun goes to the end of the clause whatever argument it is. Instead of a passive construction an “empty subject” is used, a pro-form complete with case ending, similar to “it” in “it is raining”.

  2. Because it has ergative-absolutive alignment, the same case (absolutive) is used for the ‘subjects’ of intransitive verbs and the direct objects of transitive ones, and the subjects of transitive verbs are reserved to the ergative case.

  3. Verbs with tenses and nouns/pronouns with cases are inflected by suffix, not by periphrasis. In some cases suffixes are stacked, which is more agglutinative than fusional.

  4. There are some infinitives but other non-finite constructions in the English are replaced by workarounds such as relative or other subordinate clauses.

  5. Adjectives and numbers follow nouns. No articles. Numbers are accompanied by number classifiers, in brackets. All agree with the noun in case (and in gender and number which remain unmarked!). No prepositions, only postpositions. Relative clauses precede the noun.

  6. Pronouns: single reflexive pronoun, modified for reciprocality (“each other”). Because of its massive clusivity distinction, Shilgngi distinguishes between about 8 different forms of “we/us”. The two that apply here are “me, you lot and them lot” (1st person, 2nd plural and 3rd plural, in the people of Shinar talking to each other about the whole group of them) and “me and you lot” (1st and 2nd plural, in God talking to his angels).

  7. Conjunctions, adpositions and non-suffix-derived adverbs remain uninflected and unmarked.



Writing out the gloss inspired me to go back to conlanging, along with a few other factors I suppose. It made me want to develop Shilgngí into a full language, fleshing out all the questions of what would be most opposite of English. The more I thought about it the more it seemed to me it would be of interest to people with a connection to English, in providing the maximum grammatical contrast. Native speakers might like to get their heads out of Anglocentric familiarity for a while, and would be forced to think about English grammar; non-native learners might like to enjoy a radical change from the grammar they're learning.


Since then I've developed the idea further in dialogue with other conlangers and made some decisions. It will be called Shilgngí, with an acute accent on the second I, to indicate syllable stress. It has a second name, 'Antinglish', in the sense of "anti-English", which people can fall back on if they don't like or can't pronounce 'Shilgngí'. Its phonology will copy that of English and its lexis will be based on reversing English lexemes, symbolically representing its 'oppositeness' to English. Its own name is the first example of this, as a kind of joke; and extending the joke, the name of "English" will be 'Shilgngitná'. I decided its morphosyntactic alignment would be tripartite, rather than ergative or anything else; it will have a non-configurational word order and feature topicality. Some languages in the world have variation according to systems of salience and classification of animacy or hierarchy; since English does not really Shilgngí ought to. Lexical words will probably have a lot of agglutinated/fusional inflections, and more prefixes than suffixes since the reverse is the case in English; but since English has quite a lot of affixal derivation Shilgngí will avoid that and relate lexical concepts analytically, by separate words. I also decided that demonstratives would have three loci: proximal (this near me), medial (that near you) and distal (that over there away from both of us). These could be used as affixes and I shortened "this" /ðɪs/, "that" /ðat/ and "yon" /jɒn/ to /ɪs/, /at/, /ɒn/, and then reversed them: /sɪ/, /ta/, /nɒ/, which would work as prefixes "si-" (proximal), "ta-" (medial), "no-" (distal).


In future I will begin work on phonology, then move to forming a reversal-based primitive lexicon, before finalising grammatical structures and expressing them in affixes.



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