The Proto-Maritime language

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 most of modern Kuna and Tepi and gone on to conquer the island of Mohai.

The PM people kept no written records. We have no direct knowledge of their language, 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 phoneme inventory 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. Number was 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 Kuna imperial court, during the Classical Age. It grafted easily onto Base 6.

Three Maritime languages are the official languages of nation-states. These are Lemohai, Lekuna and Letepi. The family also includes other minor languages such as Leseitũ, Lepeku and Lecekõ.

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

By David Johnson

Conlanger, writer and activist.

One comment

  1. This post has been edited half a dozen times down the years as my understanding of the scenario deepened and my thinking changed. Its core ideas have remained relatively stable, however, whereas some posts have changed more radically. It was last edited in August 2021.

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