Animacy and Possession in Sheña

Animacy and Possession in Sheña

Author: Jasmine Scott

MS Date: 09-30-2021

FL Date: 07-01-2022

FL Number: FL-000082-00

Citation: Scott, Jasmine. 2021. «Animacy and Possession

in Sheña.» FL-000082-00, Fiat Lingua,
. Web. 01 July 2022.

Copyright: © 2021 Jasmine Scott. This work is licensed

under a Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Fiat Lingua is produced and maintained by the Language Creation Society (LCS). For more information
about the LCS, visit

Sheña Showcase Part 1: Animacy and Possession
by Jasmine Therese Scott

Welcome: An Introduction

Before I delve into specifics and semantics, there are two rather mundane details about my life

that are especially material here: 1) I have irritable bowel syndrome, and 2) I am a proud queer
transwoman. These two realities are ostensibly unrelated, but both inalienable facets of my being are
instrumental in the development of Sheña, my primary conlang. Sheña, plainly, means “stomach;” the
language’s full name, Sheñañesha, means “stomach tongue,” because as absurd and as crass as it sounds,
my guts (both physically and figuratively) often determine how I navigate spaces. In a much more visible
way, my gender identity and expression shape my personal and spatial relationships, much like how a
map in a video game prescribes boundaries rather than describes what lies beyond them. Safe access into
certain public forums, for me, is granted by society, by those who wield social, political, and linguistic
power within those domains. Sheña is my passport, my way (back) into these spaces proudly paved by
icons before me; Sheña is my indigeneity, my connection with queerness, my link to generations of
trailblazers that should still be alive and shining. More concretely, Sheña is a linguistic representation of
how I process my physical experience as well as my social, emotional, and historic experience as a queer
person with a perpetually rumbly tummy. Sheña, literally, is my “stomach tongue,” what some conlangers
would call a “heartlang,” and learning it is an exercise in self-awareness, self-expression, and

Sheña’s history is nebulous and somewhat purposefully mysterious. I posit that it was, and is,

spoken by queer guardian spirits; by my patron saints, both given and chosen; by victims of erasure and
champions of truth and justice and sparkle. Sheña is my link to a world of brilliant differentness that
wasn’t always visible to me. In essence, it gives me another way of saying, “I am here.”

In accordance with its constructed history, Sheña is an a priori artistic language. In its
construction, I take what Jessie Sams calls a “typologically oriented approach;” that is, I initially defined
its typology, features, and phonoaesthetics, and as I continue developing Sheña’s grammar and lexicon, I
am guided by these choices. I hope what has resulted so far is an internally consistent system that
resembles a natural language.

Sheña is a reconstruction of a language invented to express kinship with a transnational,
multicultural people; as such, it is beholden to my analysis as a white, midwestern American transwoman.
Sheña uniquely reflects my world and its inhabitants, yet Sheña is not a philosophical language, nor is it
an auxiliary language for queer people; that is, it is not a linguistic correction, it is not idealistic, and I
make no claims about its purity, its superiority, or its ease of learning. This series is a showcase of Sheña’s
features, its charm, and occasional whimsy.

Typological Snapshot

Typologically, Sheña is a mildly synthetic, highly analytic OSV language with an active-stative
morphosyntax and mixed marking strategies. Predictably, Sheña is head-final, with attributive modifiers
preceding their nominal heads, determiners preceding their heads, and postpositions following their
nominal dependents. Sheña nouns are marked for number, and semantic animacy is realized in number
morphology, demonstrative agreement, and uniquely, possession strategies. This essay will explore
Sheña’s unique and novel strategies for encoding animacy.


Realization of Animacy in Number Morphology

Animacy in Sheña is a salient, but slippery feature; its realization in noun phrases primarily

surfaces in number morphology. Notably, there are two separate and distinct number marking strategies
that express a noun’s animacy. Because singular and discreet nouns are unmarked for number,
determining a given noun’s animacy in its citation form requires memorization; there are, however, some
semantic and syntactic clues that learners can draw upon in determining an unmarked noun’s animacy.
Fortunately, Sheña nouns inflect only for number, utilizing these two completely different strategies based
on a noun’s animacy. Additionally, agreement in animacy is only expressed between nouns and certain

A basic uninflected noun in Sheña references a definite object or entity, but these basic unmarked

nouns naturally encode slightly different groupings depending on animacy; animate nouns have an
unmarked discrete form and a marked collective form, whereas inanimate nouns have an unmarked
singular form and a marked plural form. Essentially, discrete animates (nouns that can be counted without
additional morphology) and singular inanimates (which can only ever refer to one object) are unmarked.
In both cases, an unmarked noun gestures at a definite, distinct, already introduced thing.

Sheña’s distinct animacy system, then, only really becomes apparent when morphology is
required to refer to plurality or collectiveness. Animate collective nouns (which refer to all of one type of
animate or that animate in general) are marked with an -eh suffix, which often triggers phonological
alternations and shifts in stress. Plural inanimate nouns, however, are followed by say, an independent
word meaning “stuff” or “and such.” Following are some examples of collective animate nouns as well as
plural inanimate nouns:

Collective Animates

utle [ˈut͡ ɬɛ] (rat) → utleh [uˈt͡ ɬɛ] (rats)
rawa [ˈr̥ awa] (dog) → raweh [r̥ aˈwɛ] (dogs)
ile [ˈilæ] (bone, of a living being) → ileh [iˈlɛ] (bones)
aqi [ˈaŋi] (ant) → aqyeh [aˈŋʲɛ] (ants)
cemu [ˈt͡ ʃɛmu] (mole) → cemweh [t͡ ʃɛˈmʷɛ] (moles)
meha [ˈmɛ.a] (liver) → mehëh [mɛˈhɛ̰ ] (livers)

Plural Inanimates

cuña [t͡ ʃuɲa] (apricot) → cuña say [t͡ ʃuɲa saj] (apricots)
ko [kɔ] (ball) → ko say [kɔ saj] (balls)
ile [ilæ] (bone, as separate from a body) → ile say [ilæ saj] (bones)
p’ëya [p’ɛ̰ ja] (book) → p’ëya say [p’ɛ̰ ja saj] (books)
piki [piki] (grapefruit) → piki say [piki saj] (grapefruits)
tsami [t͡ sami] (candle) → tsami say [t͡ sami saj] (candles)

These two distinct number marking strategies suggest a number of things about how animacy is treated in
Sheña. Firstly, because these strategies are so morphophonologically dissimilar, it hints that their
diachronic origins are also vastly different, reinforcing in modern word-building a sharp morphosemantic
distinction between objects considered animate and objects considered inanimate; secondly, these two
strategies in their divergent construction give clues about how certain nouns can or cannot be modified
based on their animacy; lastly, this dissimilarity allows for disambiguation between homonyms or senses
of different animacies, which reveals another peculiarity of Sheña’s animacy distinction: a unique
correlation between animacy and alienability.


Realization of Animacy in Determiner Agreement

Exploring this correlation between animacy and alienability in Sheña, however, compels an

examination of another strategy for determining something’s animacy: determiner agreement. For
example, Sheña features two sets of demonstratives that differ in animacy:

Inanimate Demonstratives





proximal, near


medial, near listener


na esha
this apple

am esha
that apple


na esha say
these apples

am esha say
those apples



distal, far from both
speaker and listener

tla esha
that apple over yonder

tla esha say
those apples over yonder


ola esha
that apple (which is not or nor
longer visible)

ola esha say
those apples (which are not or
nor longer visible)


“that one up there”

yosa esha
that apple up there

yosa esha say
those apples up there


“that one down

uso esha
that apple down there

uso esha say
those apples down there

These above demonstratives situate inanimate objects in space and/or time, relative to the discourse.
Another set of demonstratives modify animates, and their base forms curiously resemble genitive clitics
employed in expressing inalienable possession:

Animate Demonstratives









ñe ñambu
this person

re ñambu
that person


ñe ñambweh
these people

re ñambweh
those people



tl’ä ñambu
that person over yonder

tl’ä ñambweh
those people over yonder



non-visible, but

le’ä ñambu
that person (which is not visible)

le’ä ñambweh
those people (which are not


no-longer living

p’ähyal ñambu
that person (who is no longer alive)

p’ähyal ñambwe
that society (which is long gone)

It appears that Sheña’s proximal animate demonstrative has been recruited as a nominal proclitic, ñe-,
which expresses inalienable possession of an animate entity by a second person argument. This realization
reinforces a correlation in Sheña between an object’s animacy and the various relationships it can have
with its possessors and possessees. This is one place wherein Sheña’s uniqueness lies.

Realization of Animacy in Possessive Strategies

Unlike many languages with an animacy distinction, it’s Sheña’s animacy system alone that
controls which strategy is used in any given expression of possession; essentially, only animate nouns can
be inalienably possessed and only by animates. Morphosyntactically, this strategy exhibits head-marking
via affix; this affixual marking of animates is also apparent in number morphology, which suggests that
animates in Sheña exhibit a kind of stickiness that inanimates lack. Here are some examples of this
inalienable possession construction:

Inalienable Possession of Animates

(a) ne- (1sg:GEN) + ril (foot) → neril (“my foot”)
(b) Mimi nde- (3sg:GEN) + ril (foot) → Mimi nderil (“Mimi’s foot”)
(c) i’ö (child) nderil – “the child’s foot”
(d) Mimi nde’ö – “Mimi’s child”

Notice that in each example above, the inalienably possessed object is animate; a person’s body parts and
kinship terms are always animate. By contrast, inanimate objects can never be prefixed with a variant of
ne-, and alienable possession is expressed by a postpositional phrase, using the associative postposition,

Alienable Possession of Inanimates

(a) Mimi la p’ëya – “Mimi’s book”
(b) i’ö la sasu – “the child’s toy”
(c) tala tsami – “my candle”
(d) thella tsami – “their (sg.) candle”
(e) *Mimi nde-p’ëya – “Mimi’s book”
(f) *ne-tsami – “my candle”

These above examples demonstrate that inanimate objects can only be alienably possessed. Additionally,
inanimate objects can never inalienably possess anything; part-whole and pertingent relationships are
rendered with postpositional phrases:


Possessive Relationships Between Inanimates

(a) fera la k’ëyna [inan.] – “the table’s leg”
(b) tsami la te’ënñesha – “the candle’s wick”
(c) p’ëya la p’ëhñami – “the book’s page”
(d) mbatlu la ñjesh – “the car’s wheel”

Demonstrably, possessive relationships between inanimates exhibit that same use of la, even when the
possessees in these examples seem conceptually inextricable from the whole. While this rigid duality of
possession strategies based on animacy may seem overly complex, there is a parallel convention in

Applying Different Possession Strategies in English Based on Animacy

(a) the man’s face
(b) the clock’s face
(c) *the face of the man
(d) the face of the clock

These above examples indicate that while both of English’s primary possession strategies can be used
with inanimate possessors, using the prepositional strategy with an animate possessor (c), while
grammatical, sounds awkward to most English speakers. One notable difference between English and
Sheña is what each language considers animate. In fact, it is a cross-linguistic pattern that abstractions fall
low in animacy hierarchies; in Sheña, however, abstractions can be inalienably possessed as
characteristics of animates, suggesting that these qualities have a kind of spectral nature that classes them
as animate.

Abstractions as Animate

In Ándwa, a grammatically unrelated philosophical language from which Sheña borrows lexical

items and grammatical conventions, words that convey qualities of an animate noun (i.e. strength,
wisdom, quietness, brightness) are morphologically classed like body parts, which are always inalienably
possessed. This same classing of abstractions as part of the animate realm is present in Sheña.
Morphologically, most abstractions are formed by adding a nominal circumfix, as>…

Descargar PDF

(Visitado 1 veces, 1 visitas hoy)