Nıbuzıgu: A Musical Conlang

The Name

'Nibizigu' means 'to construct', and it can be used as a noun to mean the act of constructing. More precisely, it means 'the act of creating by organizing and linking ideas, arguments, or concepts'. The language name 'Nıbuzıgu' is derived from this word.

Nıbuzıgu is a constructed tonal language designed to use musical scales for expressing mood (whether a clause is command, a proposition, a wish or a question), and to express which word is verb, which is subject, which is object.

Play Dı̭hı̱ Nı̤buzı̱gu dı̤nànuu?
You.SUBJ Nıbuzıgu.OBJ talk.VERB (in Phrygian)
'Do you speak Nıbuzıgu?'


Each syllable is pronounced with one of 12 tones in an octave. The tones are arranged so that each clause is spoken in one of four musical modes. The mode of a clause expresses its mood.

The 12 half-tone offsets are subdivided into 7 'morphotones', and each syllable will be spoken with one of those morphotones. Some of the morphotones can be realised in two ways, with either its high or its low half-tone offset. By selection of the appropriate choices, the musical mode can be switched. We give those morphotones the names T, R, N, K, X, V, and S (quite an arbitrary choice that does not conflict with normal note names) of which all but T and X have two choices. Additionally, the octave of the base tone T is called O.

The following table lists the half-tone steps, beneath the corresponding morphotone tags, and then the modes where we show how the half-tone offsets must be assigned to the morphotones to realise the particular mode:

Half-tone offset from base: 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6 +7 +8 +9 +10 +11 +12
Tone Mark on Vowel:
Name of Morphotone: T R N K X V S O
Lydian Mode: T R N K X V S O
Mixolydian Mode: T R N K X V S O
Dorian Mode: T R N K X V S O
Phrygian Mode: T R N K X V S O

Which base tone is used may be freely chosen for each full clause, and each speaker may use a different pitch. The relative pitch is important, not the absolute note.

Note that the K and S morphotone pairs and the R and V pairs are redundant for identifying the mode: you only need one of them in a clause to clarify which mode is used.

Morphotone V will not be used at all. This will allow shifting T (the tonic) to O (its octave), among other things, while still maintaining uniqueness of the tones used allowing identification of the mode.

All non-tonic tones must be pronounced at a pitch higher than the tonic T and at a lower pitch than its octave O.

In writing, accents are left out if they are the same as the preceeding tone, e.g., we write 'Dı̭hı̱ Nı̤buzı̱gu dı̤nànuu?' instead of *'Dı̭hı̱ Nı̤bṳzı̱gu̱ dı̤nànùu?'.


Do you speak Nıbuzıgu?
Writing: Dı̭ hı̱   Nı̤ bu zı̱ gu   dı̤ nà nuu?
Morphotones: R N K K N N K T T
Exact Halftone: +1 +3 +5 +5 +3 +3 +5 0 0 So this is Phrygian

Mood and Mode

Mood is indicated by selecting the appropriate half-tone offset for given morphotones to produce a certain musical mode:

Mood Mode Example Translation
Imperative Lydian Bäbū dǐhī dïgùhı nǐhugīnu dïdàa! Play Give the book to the clerk!
(Book you give clerk get)
Indicative Mixolydian Ba̤bū dǐhī dı̤gùhı nǐhugīnu dı̤dàa. Play You give the book to the clerk.
Subjunctive Dorian Ba̤bu̱ dǐhı̱ dı̤gùhı nǐhugı̱nu dı̤dàa. Play I wish you'd give the book to the clerk.
Interrogative Phrygian Ba̤bu̱ dı̭hı̱ dı̤gùhı nı̭hugı̱nu dı̤dàa? Play Do you give the book to the clerk?

Interogative mood is used in any question, whether YN-question or triggered by a question word.

Subjunctive mood is used to express wishes, doubts, and indirect speech.

Word Order

Word order is verb-last, but otherwise free. I.e., there are SV, SOV, and OSV word orders. The variation may be used to form melodies.


Vowels a, ı, u
Consonants n, b, d, g, v, z, h
Syllables CV
Words (CV)*

All phonemes are pronounced as the IPA value written that way, except ı is pronounced like an ordinary [i], and h is voiced. Thus all phonemes are voiced.

Compared to other language, the vowels are roughly as in Spanish, the consonants n,v,z roughly as in English or French, b,d,g as in German, Dutch, French (or in English 'bid', 'dig', 'good'). As said, h is a voiced variant of e.g. an English or German 'h'.


A clause consists of a verb, a subject, and an optional object.

Constituents are marked by pronouncing them with two different morphotones, a primary and a secondary one, on each word. The verbs have simple and augmented tones, which are used to indicate sub-clause relationship. Further, there are variation tones that can be used in some positions for free variation to make the sentence melody sound more pleasing.

The following table show which morphotones are used to indicate the function a word has:

primary secondary variant(s)
Verb, Simple T K X, R, S
Verb, Augmented O S X, R, K, N
Subject N R X, K, S
Object N K X, R, S
Particles X

The object is always optional. Subject and verb are mandatory, only in SVC, the subject may be dropped.

Monosyllablic words are reserved for particles. They are pronounced with morphotone X (i.e., with half-tone offset +7).

For polysyllablics, the first syllable uses the secondary tone, the last syllable uses the primary tone. The intermediate tones are assigned by the following patterns, which clearly mark word boundaries as a side effect.

#syl Primary/Secondary/Variant per Syllable
2 sp
3 either svp
or spp
4 either svvp
or svsp
or svpp
or ssvp
or sspp
or spvp
or sppp
5 either svvvp
or svvsp
or svvpp
or svsvp
or svspp
or svpvp
or svppp
or ssvvp
or ssvsp
or ssvpp
or sssvp
or ssspp
or sspvp
or sspsp
or ssppp
or spvvp
or spvpp
or sppvp
or spppp

Some syllable length allow variants for tone patterns that may be used freely.

For 'v', any variant tone may be chosen individually and freely.

Currently the longest words have five syllables, but you might need more for names.

Note that due to being verb-final, the last tone in a clause is always the tonic (either plain T or octave O).

Longer Patterns?

Theoretically, you can derive arbitrarily long word pronunciation patterns.

The construction of the patterns is as follows: the patterns 'sp', 'spp', and 'svp' are given as basic patterns of length 2 and 3. As suffixes, patterns 'vp', 'vvp' and 'vsp' are also valid: a pattern may not start with 'v', but e.g. -'vp' is a valid end if something precedes it, e.g. 'svp' would be good.

To get longer patterns, the sequences 's' and 'ssp' may be prefixed arbitrarily often. As suffixes, the prefix 'v' is also good.

Further, 'p' may be suffixed. And finally, before this 'p', 1 to 4 'v's may optionally be inserted.

Note that length 3 is not derived from length 2 by prefixing 's', because this would make the patterns for longer sequences quite boring (the 'ssp' sequence could not be used as a prefix, because it would break word boundary recognition). Therefore, words of length 3 always use either 'spp' or 'svp'.

You can let this server generate patterns of other lengths:

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The last syllable of a clause is pronounced with double length. This is marked by writing a double vowel. Only the first one carries a tone mark.

All other syllables have equal length.


When two nouns are juxtaposed, the first one modifies the second. The first one is the possessor, the second one the possessee. Both are pronounced with the same constituent pattern.

Inside a clause, the modified constituents may be interleaved with other constituents. The tone pattern identifies them clearly. Of course, the order matters to identify what modifies what.

Main Clause

The simple verb tones are used.

Subordinate Clauses

To indicate a subordinate clause, the augmented verb tones are used.

Relative clauses

There are externally headed relative clauses only. The modified constituent is preceded by the relative clause. Inside the relative clause, a relative pronoun marks how the modified verb is modified by the relative clause. The relative pronoun is syntactically a normal noun.

Note: verbs may be modified by relative clauses, too. To understand what it means, think of the verb as a noun ('the act of _'), then modify it and think of the result as a verb ('perform _').

Serial Verb Construction (SVC)

An SVC is a full clause followed by several, possibly subject-less clauses pronounced in the same mode and pitch. The constituents form a semantical unit.

All verbs in an SVC use the same form of the verb: either all single or all augmented, depending on whether the clause is a sub-ordinate clause, or the main clause.

Only the last verb in an SVC will have a lengthened final syllable, all others are pronounced short.


A clause of a SVC construction can be viewed as an adverbial. All adverbials together form a clause. Thus English adverbs, e.g. 'today' would be translated by using the noun phrase 'present day' in verbal intonation as one link of the SVC chain.


Dṳbabàvu nṳvǔnıdù hǔgū bṳhıbīvı dı̤hǔgìı. Play
Lit.: present.V day.V I.S candy_store.O approach.V
I am going to the candy store today.


There are no prepositions. Use a verb in SVC.


There is only one open lexical class. In a given clause, the tone patterns identify whether a given lexicon entry is used as a noun or a verb.

WordNet is used to assign the vocabulary:

Adjectives are handled like intransitive verbs.

Adverbs are verbs without a subject only used in SVC.

All nouns can be used as verbs to mean 'to be _' (for entities and states) or 'to perform _' (for events).

All verbs can be used as nouns to mean 'the act of _'.

One problem of this approach is that there are multiple lexicon entries for the same thing, e.g. for 'present' as an adjective and as a noun. These could be unified, but are not by WordNet. We define that for semantically equivalent entries, a noun shall override the lexicon entries for verb and adjective and a verb shall override an adjective.


Nıbuzıgu Function Usage
Inverse Voice di To switch subject and object assignment. In front of the verb
Coordition vu and between two constituents
da inclusive or between two constituents
vi exclusive or between two constituents
Negation hi not In front of the negated word
Determiner gu this; that In front of the modified word

Special Substantives

Nıbuzıgu Meaning Usage
Relative Pronoun daba that; which In the subordinate clause in place of the modified noun
First Person Pronoun hugu I; with plural marker: we (exclusive) Instead of a noun
First Person Inclusive Pronoun budi we (inclusive) Instead of a noun
Second Person Pronoun dihi you Instead of a noun
Third Person Pronoun gavi he,she,it; with pl. marker: they Instead of a noun


Most structures expressed in English by conjunctions are expressed by adverbial constructions using SVC.

Selected Linguistical Categories


The nouns 'future' and 'past' are used in genitive in front of the reference word. By default, an utterance is present tense, but this can be stressed by using 'present' in the same way.


By default, singular is assumed. To form the plural, use the adjective 'many' or 'some' or whatever feels appropriate in a genitive construction.


8. April 2007
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