Proto-Maritime: a linguistic overview

Reconstructing a prehistoric tongue.

The Proto-Maritime language, ancestor of the Maritime language family, was spoken by the Proto-Maritime people who lived on the north-east coast of Aheku, a continent of the planet Tekuo.

The language arose as a result of the mixing of two cultures some three thousand years before the present (BP). Until that point, the coast and nearby islands were the sole preserve of the Cismontane peoples.

Around 3000 BP, there was a mass migration to the coastal plain by invaders from over the mountains, known as the Transmontane peoples. Over time, the two groups merged and created a language and culture quite distinct from those of their neighbours.

What the newly-merged people called themselves and their language is unknown, but modern scholars refer to them as Proto-Maritime.

By the end of the classical era, the Maritime peoples had spread to the Thuri Peninsula and gone on to conquer much of the coastal plain of North-East Aheku, plus the islands of Mohai and Pheku.

The PM people kept no written records. Their language is known to us only through reconstruction, yet a vocabulary of 1500 words can be reconstructed with some confidence. It consists mostly of words related to everyday activities, nature, sailing and agriculture.

Like its descendants, Proto-Maritime displayed accusative-secundative alignment. Unlike its descendants, it had a single genitive case and lacked classifiers.

It was known to favour Subject-Verb-Object word order in sentences and Noun-Complement order in noun phrases. Variant word orders cannot be reconstructed with any confidence, though no doubt some existed.

As a contact language, PM had little in the way of agglutination or inflection. Grammatical relations were mostly expressed by word order and vocabulary.

The language was characterised by velar, uvular and glottal consonants and moderately complex syllable patterns.

Mood and aspect were expressed with adverbs and co-verbs. Possession was shown by placing two nouns together. Singular, paucal and plural number were expressed with particles. There were formal, neutral and informal pronouns.

Some derivational morphology appears to have existed but it seems to have been much less extensive than in later Maritime languages.

Number vocabulary is of particular note. PM counted in base 6, though its modern descendants all use base 12. Base 12 was an invention of mathematicians at the Hekon imperial court, during the Classical Age. It grafted easily onto Base 6.

Some linguists now think that the Maritime languages and their neighbours can be traced to something they call  Proto-East-Aheku. To these linguists, PEA is also the ancestor of Bangwa languages like Moawapa, Cismontane languages like Senduri and YelĂ©, and Transmontane languages such as Loa Bateng, Suliq and Pamak.

As yet, the PEA hypothesis remains highly conjectural. Many of the features it purports to explain can also be explained by long-term areal contact between languages. It is therefore not covered on this site.

The descendants of Proto-Maritime may be divided into two groups: Northern and Southern Maritime. These are descended respectively from Classical Lekuna and Classical Lehekon.

Five Maritime languages are the official languages of nation-states. These are Lemohai, Lekuna. Lethuri, Lepheku and Lecekhon. The first three are Northern Maritime; the last two are Southern. The family also includes other minor languages.

Author: David Johnson

Conlanger, writer and activist.

3 thoughts on “Proto-Maritime: a linguistic overview”

  1. This post was significantly altered in February 2020. Minor changes were made to align with the new, simpler historical scenario and much existing material was re-ordered. The previous arrangement had been somewhat illogical.

  2. This post was first published in August 2017. It was substantially revised and republished in September 2018 to reflect the new scenario. It was edited again in March 2019 to reflect a fuller, richer understanding of the new scenario.

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