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  To start with, three rules will be introduced that are the guts of the grammar of Tyl-Sjok. Because of their importance and frequence of mentioning in this document, they will be called the Basic Rules or simply the Rules.

The definition about who is agent and patient is given in detail in Section 5.1.1.

This chapter gives a detailed overview of the syntax. Some of the following chapters will specialise in word categories found in other languages, e.g. English, and show how their function is modelled in Tyl-Sjok.

Basic Principles

Tyl-Sjok has only two syntactic word categories: governors and particles. Phrases and governors may require other phrases to be attached to them to make them complete. This is called saturation. The phrases that must be added will be called sub-ordinates or dependents, while their governor is called head. Usually, it is easiest to think of governors as verbs and of sub-ordinates as agent or patient.

Please note that the term `saturation' is used a little bit off the standard in Tyl-Sjok. It is not used for adding agents to verbs. This is done, because adding agents and forming genitive constructions is the same thing in Tyl-Sjok. And because you can add another genitive modification to virtually anything, it is not a process of saturation, but of extension. However, the valence of verb may still require that an agent be added via genitive.

By this naming convention, a saturated verb is one that behaves like an intransitive one, i.e., all the objects are added.

Basic Grammar Rules

Sentences are formed by three principles.

Objects are added to form a saturated phrase. Objects are usually saturated phrases themselves.
This is used similarly to genitive constructions in other languages. It is also to add controllers to saturated phrases. This includes adding agents to saturated verbs.

Deciding whether a genitive or an agent binding is used in another language will depend on whether you regard the sub-ordinate phrase as a verb or a noun: `my drinking of coffee' and `I drink coffee' will be the same phrase in Tyl-Sjok.

Particle constructions.
Particles are small words that are used to compose phrases in ways not covered by the two previous principles.

Three categories of particles will be distinguished: nullary (at the end of a phrase), unary (directly before a phrase) and binary (between two phrases).

FIXME: Topic marker? Composite nouns (like `xiōng dì jiě mèi' in Mandarin)?.


Tyl-Sjok is a high context language. Sentences are often so ambiguous that translating them into another language requires a lot of understanding of the underlying text. Although Tyl-Sjok has the means of being precise, the usual way of forming sentences is to rely on the context and leave out everything that is clear.

The Tyl-Sjok sentence structure makes ambiguity problems very overt, as there are no signals that indicate how sentences are embedded. The boundaries of auxiliary clauses must be inferred from the context.


Take the sentence

good man see me

The above sentence can be translated in several ways, because the order of composition is unclear:

This is possible, because the action of perceiving the man can be the patient to the verb `good' (Note that man see me good is also a correct translation for `It is good that a man sees me', with a slightly different meaning, see Section 5.1.1 for details).

To specify what precisely is meant in the ambiguous sentence above, Tyl-Sjok offers the possibility to clearly disambiguate the meaning, though the meaning is usually assumed to be understood from the context.

Motivation of Word Order by Constraints

Tyl-Sjok's grammar should fulfil the following constraints.

Furthermore, it was decided that all parts that are clear from the context may be simply left out and that the context plays an important role.

Many possible ways of composition were tried and checked for the constraints. The following word orders were considered to be used, because they were the only ones, apart from total reversal of the words, that fulfilled all needs. The decision for this and not the reversed order was made, because the author liked it this way.

To make things clear, the author has not renamed the standard word order schemata to match the active case marking in Tyl-Sjok. We still say write SVO (subject verb object) instead of AVP (agent verb patient), which would be more precise.

Word Order 1: SVO



The sentence i drink tea good has 5 analysis trees when including the possibility of an ellipsis.

FIXME: draw the trees.


Word Order 2: VOS

Both saturation and genitive attach to the right.



The sentence `good drink tea i' has 9 analysis trees (6 of them because of an ellipsis and the combination of `tea i' as the single patient/agent).

The sentence `drink good tea i' has FIXME: count analysis trees.

Other Word Orders

structure is like SVO. The author likes SVO better.
structure is like VOS. The author likes VOS better.
VSO and OSV:
with a configurational language, i.e. one that allows V + O to form an own phrase, VSO implies that the phrase VO has to be split to add the S. This violates the constraint of atomic phrases. The author wants Tyl-Sjok to be configurational, so these orders were not considered.


The author chooses SVO as the word order for Tyl-Sjok, because it has fewest problems and nice properties.

The problem of double saturation, e.g. of verbs like `to give' or `to tell' that usually take two patients, has to be taken into account. Often, additional verbs are used. Other verbs, like `to be like', which have two patients, but no agent, are allowed to be used without additional verbs.

Genitive = Agent Assignment

 When trying to translate I drive car closely into another language, usually genitive constructions will be used: `My car driving.' This is, because in Tyl-Sjok, adding an agent is often the same as genitive constructions in other languages.

We will investigate what other languages use a genitive for to see what the difference is compared to Tyl-Sjok.

Genitive, in general, adds a specification of a class or kind. This is a vague defition, so the following list shows possible relations a genitive can express in other languages. Maybe there are more.

Languages vary in what they allow in genitive constructions. To allow comparisons, in the following, the term `genitive' will be used even in languages that do not have a genitive case. It seems sensible to use it for `of' constructions in English, `de' in French, `de' in Mandarin, compound nouns in German and English, etc. Further note that the term `partitive' is used for a special case in Finno-Ugric languages which is not used for (exactly) the semantic relations given for the `partitive' item above.

The above classifications must be distinguished to understand Tyl-Sjok's system. Tyl-Sjok's system is totally different: genitive, in general, is only possible of the modifier is the controller. The reason for this is the agent-patient structure in Tyl-Sjok.

Recall that we will call the attachment of an entity to the right of a phrase a genitive construction in Tyl-Sjok.

Agentive Genitive

Obviously, agentive usage is possible in Tyl-Sjok and used for the literal translation of the sentence at the beginning of this section. Agentive genetive is used to attach an agent to verbs. So this is the basic form.

Patients: by Saturation

Because of the structure, we can immediately exclude patientive usage, since that is patient saturation in Tyl-Sjok. In Tyl-Sjok, patientive usage is not possible, because patients must be put behind the word being saturated.

Appositions: by Saturation

In Tyl-Sjok, appositional usage is not possible, but can be replaced by a patient saturation: using a predicative verb with a patient is possible so no copula is needed. E.g. in German, appositional isn't possible either (`city of New York' in German: `die Stadt New York' which is a normal apposition without genitive marking).

City Nju-jok
`New york is a city. (This can be used for embedding.)

So Tyl-Sjok does not really have appositions, because they are immediately verb-patient constructions. E.g. `Brutus caesarem imperatorem interficet' tex2html_wrap_inline7397 Ty-lu-tus kill imperator Se-sal. Here, `imperator' is a predicate, thus, a verb.

Multiplicative Genitive

For numbers, multiplicative usage is additionally possible in Tyl-Sjok. This could be interpreted as selectative genitive of an infinite amount (if Tyl-Sjok allowed selectative genitives, which it doesn't). There is no plural marker in Tyl-Sjok, so it is not distinguishable whether to analyse partitive or multiplicative.

The analysis would be something like : `three apple: `apple'=patient of `to be three'.

three apple
Three apples
`apples are threed.'

Multiplicative words like `once', `twice', etc., are expressed in Tyl-Sjok by simply using a number before a verb.

I three hit.
I hit three times.
`I (have) three hits'.

Quantitative Genitive

In Tyl-Sjok, quantitative usage is possible in the same way as multiplicative, but for uncountable things. An analysis would be that in `cup tea', `tea'=patient of `to be a cup' (although the tea occupies the cup, the cup controls the tea by defining its amount). See the system by the similarity between `three tea', `cup tea' and `three cup tea'.

Final Genitive

Final usage is possible in Tyl-Sjok: `tea cup' can be analysed as `the cup is teaed' or `the cup has tea' or, because there are no marked moods, `the cup may/shall have tea'.

An alternative analysis would be that, if you want to stress the final meaning, the verb `for/to serve' may be used: `for tea cup': `the cup is for tea'. Then `tea cup' is a shortened form..

Ancestral: Genitive or Saturation

The ancestor is always in control.

Sometimes, the sentence keeps quite clear by this:

tall father peter
Peter's father is tall.

This is, because no descriptive meaning is possible. It would have to be rendered with a coordination:

tall peter SEQ father (he).
Peter, who has a father, is tall.

However, sometimes, the genitive construction is ambiguous:

tall father son
The son's father is tall.
The father's son is tall.

You would use a REF particle then to change the focus. This happens at top-level, too: even very short sentences might be ambiguous:

father son
The father has a son.
The son has a father.

When the relation is on the same level, one of the participants acts like a static verb, the other as a patient. The modifier then comes first:

brother sister
The sister has a brother.
the brother's sister

Selectative, Aggregative, Congregative: by Verbs

In Tyl-Sjok, selectative genitive is directly possible, all other's aren't, but are expressed by selectative.

For groups or parts, the group/part is in control of entities being part of the group.

Note again: it cannot be seen which one is modified if control defines the order. Only if both parties have equal control, the second entity is modified by the first.

To disambiguate the referent in a matrix clause, use the REF particle:

family REF father
father of the family (selectative)

REF family father
family of the father (aggregative)

group REF person
a person of the group (selectative)

REF group person
a group of people (congregative)

The same holds for quantifiers: phrases like `one of us', `all of us', `some of us' etc., are translated in the same way:

We some eat.
Some of us eat.

WHICH they two
who of the two

Please note: the verb `to have' may be used for possesive usage, if the possession is to be stressed.

For selectative, aggregative and congregative usage, `be part of' has to be used. Note that `to have' can often be left out if the context makes the situation clear.

Caution: Do not mix up the usage! In Tyl-Sjok, `to have' can neither express selectative, nor aggregative, nor congregative. You have to be more precise if you use a verb. If you don't want to be precise, leave out the verb.

Probably wrong:

have leg I
I have a leg. (But this sentence is not about mine.)


be-part-of person leg
person leg
the person's leg
(but also: the leg's person)

Possessive Genitive

Possession immediately implies control.

He like you car.
He likes your car.

(Note: as an experiencer, `he' is in potential control, and is therefore assigned the agent slot.)

The control for a possessive is also selected if the possessed is also in control, too:

He like you friend.
He likes your friend.

But not the contrast to the following paragraph.

Anti-Possessive: by Saturation

In the phrase `the slaves's master', the master is definitely in control and possession is vice versa. In this case, the slave cannot get a controlling agent slot.

Locative Genitive?

In Tyl-Sjok, pure locative usage is not possible. A location verb is usually used. However, a genitive can imply some kind of partitive meaning, so in the above example, street festivals not only take place in New York, but have become part of it. In this case, locative meaning can be expressed by using a genitive in Tyl-Sjok. This is quite similar to German and English usage.

Initiative Genitive

Very closely related to the agentive genitive is the initiative genitive.

In Tyl-Sjok, initiative is expressed by using the verb and possibly a NULL particle: `the driver of the car' = NULL drive car. The NULL particle usually implies that it is referred to, so no REF particle is needed. Of no reference is wanted, even NULL is often dropped.

So drive car may translate to the following sentences.

there's car-driving have drive car
someone drives a car SKIP drive car
driver of the car NULL drive car
the car-driving REF drive car
the driven car drive REF car
to drive a car drive car REF

Cf. Chapter 8 about particle usage. In such a short sentence, usually the particles are used unless the context does not allow that.

Further note that `to drive' is translated to `to move' in Tyl-Sjok. And because there is a mechanism called default verbs (see Section ), the verb may even be dropped completely.

Ordinals: By Saturation

A special genitive is used for ordinals: `fourth event' = `event four'. An analysis would be: the event controls the fourth position. See the system by the similarity between `imperator Se-sal' = `Cesar, the imperator' and `imperator one' `the first imperator'.

Note that the ordinal genitive may be used for adjectives, too. It then indicates superlative or order: red one = `first red' = `the reddest'. burn one = `burn first'.

FIXME: Check that this is feasable.

Conceptionally uncountable things like `coffee' are directly countable in Tyl-Sjok by assuming an implicit partitive before the counting takes place. This is like in English (or German): `two coffees' is interpreted as `two portions of coffee'.

Syntax Rules

Tyl-Sjok distinguishes the level of saturation for every governor. Unsaturated words are often referred to as verbs. Verbs may subcategorise to have their agent and/or patient slot filled in in order to be saturated.

Verbs that have only one slot to saturate are called intransitive verbs. Those that have two are called transitive verbs.

In Tyl-Sjok there are no verbs that have more slots that agent and patient. However, valence sometimes needs more slots (e.g. the verb `to give' or `to be like' (which would need two patients)). Auxiliary constructions will be described in the following section.

Saturated composed phrases behave exactly like saturated single word lexicon entries.


Valence 0

Many `nouns' can be used as stative verbs in Tyl-Sjok. E.g. to express that there is fire, simple say `fire'. Usually, sentences will use a bit decoration around these monosyllabic utterances, but the principle is just like that. Static verbs of valence 0 have no agent or patient slot, so they are already saturated.

Valence 1a: Agent

Verbs that only have an agent slot are e.g. `to walk'. Agents are attached to the word to the left, so `the man walks' would be rendered as follows:

man walk
The man walks.

This is a saturated phrase, so it can be used in other phrases. E.g.

man walk talk
The man, who walks, talks.
The man walks and talks.

In such a construction, one of the constituents of the embedded phrase is `exported' into the matrix clause. It the case above, the only logical export would be `man'. In ambiguous cases, there is a special particle (REF) to mark the exported entity in the sub-ordinated clause. Note that all sub-phrases may potentially be exported. During the following sections, this will probably become clear.

Valence 1p: Patient

Examples are `to be red'. The sub-ordinate usually has no control over being red, so it is assigned the patient slot. The patient is attached to the right of the governor.

red book
The book is red.

Again, this is a saturated phrase and can be used in a matrix clause.

man read red book.
The man read a red book.


Tyl-Sjok has something that maybe called promotion. It is the metamorphosis from valence 0 to something else, e.g. valence 1p in Tyl-Sjok. This means that `the man' can be used as `being a man'. However, using the verb `be equal to' is also possible. This verb is often dropped in Tyl-Sjok in almost all cases even in embedded phrases, so it is more likely to assume valence 1p for `the man' then. Another example would be `the taste' which is often used for `to taste' as if it had valence 1p.

Other valence promotinos are also possible: `car' may be used as a verb with an agent. It then means `to drive a car', denoting the `default action to do with a car'. This is similar to English (especially American): `to party' is the default for `to have a party'.

Another examples is `food' that can be promoted to `eat'. There are not many other things to do with food, so eating can be inferred from the context.

Actually, the whole phenomenon may be called demotion when viewed from the other end of the scale (`food' is the patient of the verb `to eat'). This may be a better explanation for why NULL eat means `eater' and eat NULL means `the eaten' or `food'.

Valence 2: Agent & Patient

The group of valence 2 verbs that have both agent and patient is long. An examples is `to read'.

man read book
The man reads a book.

In this example, promotion of `book' may be used, too:

man book
The man reads a book.

Valence 2: Two Patients

Some verbs naturally have two patients but no agent. For clarification, an auxiliary is often used to attach the second patient, usually either `to harass', `to please' or `to control'. In most phrases, however, it is common to drop `to harass/please/control'. Examples are `to be like', `to be similiar to', `to be equal to'.

(equal-to) imperator (control) Cesar
Cesar is imperator.

Both `to control' and `equal-to' are usually left out. Then, it looks as if the valence 0 word `imperator' has been promoted to valence 1 with the patient Cesar. (The precise analysis is really irrelevant in Tyl-Sjok).

Valence 3: Agent & Two Patients

An example for a valence 3 verb is `to give'. The recipient is is rendered either using `to take' or `to arrive-at' in Tyl-Sjok.

you take I give book.
I give book go-to you.
I give the book to you.

The meaning of these sentences is slightly different. The former expressed active reception, while the second does not.


Some governors can modify others and yield something that is not saturated. Often, valence is preserved. This is called modification. An example is `good' which can modify `to taste' or `to speak'.

man good speak Tyl Sjok
The man can speak Tyl-Sjok well.

The auxiliary `can' may be left out in Tyl-Sjok, as it is clear from the context.

This modification can be explained easily for promoted valence 1p verbs like `to taste'. The following sentence would be no surprise:

good taste meal
The meal tastes good.

Because actually, `taste' is a valence 0 word which was promoted to valence 1p. So we could also have used `to have' here:

have good taste meal
The meal tastes good.
`Good taste is with the meal.

This explanation, however, it not applicable to verbs like `to speak', where a modification of the verb is clear. Of course, in Tyl-Sjok, `with' can still be used (see Section 5.1.1).

Other examples of modification verbs are `very' or `extremely', etc.


Particles are different from governors, because they change the structure of the sentence or the way the sentence must be analysed. They usually do not have a meaning on their own and can, therefore, not be used without a sentence.

The following categories of particles might exist:

particles modify the whole sentence or utterance. There is no general rule of where they are put. It depends on the particle (example: REF at the end of a phrase)
particles modify one phrase. The particles are put in front of that phrase (example: REF as a modifier).
particles link or separate two phrases. The particle is but in between these phrases (example: SEQ).
particles occur in pairs and influence the words in between them (examples: START, END).

This categorisation of particles into these groups is not very important, it is only given for completeness.


It was not said yet how and when the Rules shall be applied to form a good sentence. To explain this, the following paragraph introduces functional categories.

Functional Categories

Although Tyl-Sjok does not have concepts like verb, nouns, adjective, etc. at its syntax level, in actual sentences, functions can be identified. The language has concepts like entities, actions, properties etc. These word categories are called functional categories.

The standard way of thinking is to assume there are two basic functional categories: nouns and verbs. Verbs often require some of the Rules to be applied to form a correct sentence. This is called sub-categorisation.

Intransitive verbs like `to run' require at least one genitive construction in order to bind the agent. Transitive ones like `to write' may require one or more applications of the saturation rule.

Verbs require the application of Rules to a degree that can be anywhere on a scale between `always' and `never'. Additionally, because Tyl-Sjok is a high context language, if the context can provide the necessary clarifying information, most things may be left out of the sentence.

Adjectives in Tyl-Sjok are verbs that require either a genitive binding for the agent, or a patient binding, whose property is described. This depends on the type of adjective.

E.g. you could think of the word `red' to mean `to be red'. The thing being red (usually) does not influence this, so it is patient. But being cruel, for instance, would require the person to be cruel to be the agent of that adjective in Tyl-Sjok.

Phrase Composition

Equally saturated phrases in Tyl-Sjok may be used again to compose larger phrases by the Rules.

Note that the order of the words never defines which one is the referent. Modification is possible from both sides, left and right. The reason for this is the rigid rules of control (see Section 5.1.1) that determine the order of the words. This is especially meaningful for expressions that translate to genitives as described in Section 3.2.

There are several ways of interpreting the sub-ordinate phrase:

There are examples that are ambiguous, because valence restrictions do not exclude enough insensible interpretations:

I see you destroy car.
I see you, who destroyed the car.
I see the car, you destroyed.
I, who sees you, destroy the car.
I see that you destroy the car.

Sentences like these have to be disambiguated by using particles. Usually, the reference particle REF is helpful:

I see REF you destroy car.
I see you, who destroyed the car.

REF I see you destroy car.
I, who sees you, destroy the car.

I see you destroy REF car.
I see the car that you destroyed.

I see you destroy car REF.
I see the car that you destroyed.

Of course, the interpretation of this construction can be ambiguous. There are several ways of making clear which part of the sub-ordinate clause is referenced in the matrix clause. The most important particle is REF. Its usage and other particles are described in Chapter 8.3.

Phrase Composition Preferences

These are tendencies only. Context may change them.

Minimal Attachment Principle:
Most of the time, there is a preferred way of interpreting the sentence called the minimum attachment principle. This principle says that the smaller the syntax tree is that the listener has to build in order to get a valid interpretation, the more like the sentence will be. This holds for each sub-tree, so in short, it means that as sooner as you can apply Rules to the words you hear, the more likely this will be the intended interpretation.

However, this is only the preferred strategy of interpretation if there is no context. If the context is clear, other meanings may be intended. In contrast to many other languages, this principle is a very weak preference in Tyl-Sjok.

Saturate Phrases First:
Another principle is that phrases are saturated before composing another phrase with them. Some subcategorisation rules (e.g. for the word `and') allow unsaturated phrases to combine. Or YN, NEG, etc. particles may span or only take a verb as their sub-ordinate. This principle states that the latter is not the most likely interpretation.

Again, the preference is weak in Tyl-Sjok.

There are particles for changing these tendencies. See Chapter 8.4.


The items used in the Basic Rules to compose larger items need not be atomic. Composed phrases behave just like words. The last word of a phrase is stressed.

FIXME: continue.

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Home Up: Tyl-Sjok--An Artificial Isolating Human Previous: Pronunciation Next: Alternative Approach to Syntax

Henrik Theiling
Sat Jun 9 18:52:24 CEST 2001