On the sounds of Toaq (Phonology update)

You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones when they would be lost on others.

— Jane Austin, Persuasion

This post aims to summarize two recent important changes to Toaq’s phonology. In short, they are:

  1. Syllables can now have a null onset, which is realized as a glottal stop.
  2. The pronunciation of the 3rd and 7th tone has been adjusted.

The reason for change #2 is twofold: It is necessary for making change #1 possible without introducing word-boundary ambiguities. Additionally, it fixes a subjective problem I had with the 3rd tone, whose pronunciation I disliked enough that it made me avoid relative clauses. Unlike the 3rd tone of Mandarin Chinese, Toaq’s 3rd tone cannot be turned into a low tone, and that made it unnatural to me. It had to be pronounced very carefully to keep it distinct from either the rising tone or the low tone. The new 3rd tone is much easier to pronounce and easier to distinguish from the other tones.

The following table illustrates the new tone contours. Only the 3rd and 7th tone are different.

1st tone t1
flat tone


2nd tonet2
rising tone


3rd tonet3_2
rising glottal tone


4th tonet4
falling tone


5th tonet5
rising-falling tone


6th tonet6
low tone


7th tonet7
low glottal tone


neutral tone


The 7th tone kept its glottal stop but now has a low tone contour. The 3rd tone now also has a glottal stop and its contour is that of the 2nd tone. With these adjustments in place, we gain access to vowel-initial syllables (and words), which means new root forms and more flexibility when borrowing words from other languages. To reflect the new pronunciation of the 3rd tone, the diacritic changes from t3to t3_2.


a root expressing subjunctive modal necessity, “would” (new root form)

“to be a spider” (previously harānē)

sa ẻlū chüfāq nủo
“some elephant who is currently asleep” (previously hẻlū chǔfāq)

Pủ dủa jí hóq bũ da.
“I did not know that.” (contour on 7th tone now low instead of rising)


On quantifiers and variables (Grammar update)

The purpose of this post is to document and summarize a recent change to Toaq’s variable binding syntax. This summary will only cover the new system rather than make a comparison between old and new. The old system is still documented at http://toaq.org/#quantifiers for now.

These are the quantifiers of Toaq:

Toaq Symbol Gloss
sa ∃ (existential quantifier) “some”, “there exist”, “there are”
tu ∀ (universal quantifier) “any”, “all”, “for all”
sıa ¬∃ “no”, “not any”
ke ι (iota) “the”, “those …”, “that which …”
ja λ lambda quantifier

These quantifiers make up the syntactic class SA (named after the member sa).

Here is a pseudo-grammar of the quantifiers, much simplified and omitting unrelated rules:

argument_phrase <- binding_phrase / bound_phrase

binding_phrase <- binding_phrase_1 relative_clause?
binding_phrase_1 <- quantifier t4-tone_phrase

bound_phrase <- t2-tone_phrase

This means that an argument phrase (or noun phrase) is always one of two types:

  1. binding a variable
  2. using an already bound variable

Binding a variable is done by using a quantifier before a t4 tone phrase, that is a predicate phrase carrying a falling tone. Such a phrase can optionally be followed by a relative clause, which acts as a restrictor on the domain of the quantifier.

Using an already bound variable is done by using a bare t2 tone phrase.

When binding a variable as described above, the predicate phrase following the quantifier becomes the name of the variable. It can then be re-used within the scope of its quantifier by using the same name with a t2 tone. Relative clauses are not part of the names.

Basic examples

Tỉ sa hảkō da. =
Sa hảkō bı tỉ hákō da.

[∃H : hakō(H)] tı(H).
“There are bears (here/there).”

Ke kủnē bı kảqgāı kúnē sa rảı da.
[ιK : kunē(K)] [∃R : raı(R)] kaqgāı(K,R).
“The dogs, they are seeing something.”

Ke jỉo tïjāo tu tỉeq bı dẻ jío.
[ιJ : jıo(J) ∧ [∀T : tıeq(T)] tıjāo(J,T)] de(J).
“The building that is far away from all roads, it’s beautiful.”


Advanced examples

It is possible to use a t2 tone phrase without the variable having been explicitly bound. In such instances, the variable is treated as having been ke-bound exophorically, i.e., by the current context, the shared knowledge or cultural background of the interlocutors, or similar.

Pronouns are by far the most common example of words that don’t need to be explicitly bound. It is usually clear who the speaker is referring to when saying “I/me” or “you”:

Mảı jí súq.
maı(J, S).
“I love you.”

Both variables (J and S in the logical translation) are bound by the context.

Variables remain bound across sentence boundaries until explicitly re-bound with a new quantifier. This is especially common with ke (“the”), but can also be useful with sa (“some”) and tu (“every”). The following examples demonstrate the resulting logic:

Chỏ jí tu rảı nïe ní kủa da. Jảq dẻ ráı da.
[∀R : raı(R) ∧ nıe(R,N)] cho(J,R). [∀R : raı(R) ∧ nıe(R,N) ∧ cho(J,R)] de(R).
“I like all the things in this room. They are so beautiful.”
“I like all the things in this room. All the things in this room that I like are beautiful.”

Kảqgāı jí sa gủosō da. Nủo gúosō da.
[∃G : guosō(G)] kaqgāı(J,G). [∀R : raı(R) ∧ guosō(R) ∧ kaqgāı(J,R)] nuo(R).
“I see some cows. They (the cows) are asleep.”
“I see some cows. All the cows that I see are asleep.”


Due to the way the binding syntax works, it is very easy to refer back to previously mentioned material. All one has to do is repeat the name of the variable with a t2 tone. However, sometimes the name can be a bit too long, making it impractical to repeat it verbatim. In such cases, using one of the anaphoric predicates is recommended. Here are the most important ones:

Toaq English
ho “he/she/they” (3rd person animate)
maq “it/they” (3rd person inanimate)
hoq “it/that” (3rd person abstract)
hoı …
the aforementioned …

Ke sảo ẻlū bı dủa súq chô jí .
“As for the big elephant, you know that I like him/her.”

Dẻoq sa gẻo dỉuchē déo da. Pảı hóı kỏaq jí da.
“An old scientist is talking to the children. The aforementioned adult is a friend of mine.”


On conditionals and modals

In this very thing, which the dialecticians teach among the elements of their art, how one ought to judge the truth or falsehood of a hypothetical judgement like “If day has dawned, it is light”, how great a contest there is; Diodorus has one opinion, Philo another, Chrysippus a third.

— Cicero, 45 BC, complaining about conditionals

Continue reading “On conditionals and modals”

On the meaning of adjectives

In this article, I set out to show how to interpret adjectives and why ru is a bad default for non-subordinating serial predicates.

Before we begin, in order to avoid confusion, it should be noted that when the term adjective is used throughout this article, it refers to predicates that are used in some way to modify other predicates. Toaq does not have adjectives as a separate part of speech, but it is a useful term to refer to the left part in a modifier-modified pair of predicates. With that said, we can begin our journey towards a better understanding of the logic of adjectives.

Continue reading “On the meaning of adjectives”

On the logic of ‹ku›

Today, we will be talking about focus and how it works in Toaq. In basic terms, focus is the part of a sentence that contains new or contrasting information. When you know that someone ate your last remaining banana, but not who did it, and I say to you ate the banana” (or “It was  me  who ate the banana”), the fact that someone ate the banana is known information, and the fact that it was me as opposed to someone else who did the eating is the new information and carries what is called the focus of the sentence (signified by an underline throughout this article).

Continue reading “On the logic of ‹ku›”