Proto-Maritime : a linguistic overview

The Proto-Maritime language, the ancestor of the Maritime language family, was spoken by the Proto-Maritime people who lived on the islands of Mohai and Peku off the north-east coast of Aheku.

The language arose as a result of the mixing of two cultures in the years after Omu Hẽwã -186X (equivalent to around 1500 B.C. in Earth terms, or 3,500 years ago). Until OH -186X, the islands were the sole preserve of two groups of the Yelé people.

That year saw the beginning of a mass migration to the islands by a group of invaders known only as the Boat Folk. Over time, the two peoples merged and developed a culture and language quite distinct from the Yelé cultures of nearby parts of the mainland.

What the newly merged people called themselves and their language is unknown, but modern scholars refer to them as Proto-Maritime. The PM people kept no written records, so their language is known to us only through reconstruction.

Nevertheless, a vocabulary of 1500 words can be reconstructed with some confidence. It consists mostly of words related to everyday activities, nature, sailing and agriculture.

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

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

PM was characterised by its velar and uvular consonants and moderately complex syllable patterns.

The language was moderately agglutinating. Mood and aspect were marked on the verb and possession was marked on the noun. Singular, dual and plural were marked on pronouns, as were three grades of politeness. Derivational morphology existed, but was less extensive than in later Maritime languages.

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

We cannot yet claim to know much about the ancestor of PM. A Pre-Proto-Maritime language has been posited as the ancestor of the Maritime and Yelé language families, along with several other tongues. As yet though, the PPM hypothesis remains highly conjectural.

The descendants of Proto-Maritime may be divided into two groups: Northern and Southern Maritime. These are descended respectively from the dialects of Mohai and Peku. By the classical era, the Proto-Maritime culture had spread to the Tepi Peninsula and gone on to conquer much of the coastal plain of North-East Aheku.

A number of distinct Maritime languages emerged during the classical era. Several have survived into the modern era.

Author: David Johnson

Conlanger, writer and activist.

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