Proto-Sèferi is the reconstructed ancestor of the Sèferi language, spoken by the Lesù. It was spoken by Kaème hunter-gatherers who first settled Zaseshe.


Romanization is indicated by italics.


Labials Dentals Palatoalveolars Palatovelars
Stops/Affricates p p b b t t d d ʧ c ʤ j k k g g
Fricatives ɸ f β v s s z z ʃ sh ʒ zh ç kh ʲɣ gh
Nasals m m n n ŋ ng
Sonorants r r j y
Liquids l l


The grave accent over a vowel in Proto-Sèferi indicated that it had been centralized.

Front Central Back
High i i ɨ ì ʉ ù u u
Mid-High e e ɘ è
Mid-Low ɞ ò ɔ o
Low ɑ a


All syllables were


in structure; it is believed that non-phonemic glottal stops preceded vowel-only syllables, although this cannot be verified.

Vowel MutationEdit

There were five varieties of mutation in Proto-Sèferi

Chart showing the five types of mutation; red arrows correspond to i-mutation, etc.

, each corresponding to one of the five "polar" vowels: i, u, e, ɔ, and ɑ. The mutation was used to form several grammatical constructions, and resulted in several irregular forms from later attempts to disambiguate forms made similar by the changes. Mutation-inducing forms shall be indicated everywhere with a + sign.


Verbal SystemEdit


There were three triggers in Proto-Sèferi: the active trigger, the passive/intransitive trigger, and the ditransitive trigger.

  • The passive/intransitive or PI trigger was used for, as its name implies, passive sentences and intransitive sentences. Focus is on the patient.
  • The active or A trigger was used for "standard" transitive sentences. Focus is on the agent.
  • The ditransitive or D trigger, together with an adpositional, indicates that a phrase contains two objects, one direct and one indirect. It is used for location, possession, and other such adpositional statements, with the focus on the "indirect object" or possessor, etc.

Passive/Intransitive TriggerEdit

The PI trigger is sometimes called a "transparent" trigger because its forms do not have any base vowels; rather, it adopts the vowel of the syllable it follows. It is an infixing trigger that is inserted after the first syllable of the verb root. In the (intransitive) example

shègui seya yelu buco

<(PI trigger-7)>burn VFOC-(ii) sun NFOCa-7+.agent

the sun shines or the sun does shine

the class seven trigger -shV- takes on the vowel è in mègui. The same form and structure, more or less, can be seen in a passive construction:

shègui ya rùka jingi yelu cò

<(PI trigger-7)>burn (ii) hand NFOCa-3+.patient sun agent

the hand is burnt by the sun

The four forms of the PI trigger are:

Class Trigger
1, 2 -fV-
3, 4, 7 -shV-
3 (children), 5 -kV-
6, 8 -lV-

Active TriggerEdit

The Active Trigger is sometimes called a "harmonizing" trigger because it induces mutations in every vowel of the root that follows it, bringing every vowel in "harmony" with the trigger vowel. It is a prefixing trigger, used exclusively for active, transitive sentences. An example:

damògoe ya rùka nge yelu buco

(A trigger-7+).burn (ii) hand patient sun NFOCa-7+.agent

the sun burns the hand

Since the A trigger has the potential to cause so much distortion in the form of a verb, clarification is often needed, in the way of adverbs, to make the meaning clearer:

ijomugè damògoe ya rùka nge yelu buco

ADV.heat (A trigger-7+).burn (ii) hand patient sun NFOCa-7+.agent

the sun burns the hand [hotly]

The forms of the A trigger are:

Class Trigger
1, 2, 3 (body parts) mu+-
3, 4, 7 (animals, each) ve+-
3 (children), 5, 7 (spirits) da+-
6, 7(abstractions) zo+-
8 ni+-

Ditransitive TriggerEdit

The D Trigger is similar in form to the A Trigger in that it is a harmonizing trigger; however, like the PI trigger, it is infixing. The ditransitive trigger is used to define action or being relative to something or someone; the focus of the phrase is on that something. However, the focus noun must always be followed by a clarifying particle to indicate the nature of the relationship.

orogoe ya rùka nge yelu cò yèngì ghaka fai

(D trigger-5+).burn (ii) hand patient sun agent man NFOCb-5+location possessive

the sun burns that man's hand or that man, the sun burns his hand

The forms are:

Class Trigger
1, 3 -ei+-
2, 6 -naka+-
4, 7 -ghe+-
5 -oro+-
8 -ngou+-

Verbal Class and Negative ConstructionsEdit

Verbs are divided into two classes based on how their negatives are formed. Class 1 (i) verbs have special affixing negative forms, often irregular in nature:

ekeje selu yèngì goco VS cayèje selu yèngì goco

<(PI trigger-5)>eat VFOC-(i) man NFOCa-5+agent VS NEG<(PI trigger-5)>eat VFOC-(i) man NFOCa-5+'agent

the man does eat VS the man does not eat

Class 2 (ii) verbs simply use a special negative verb, which is modified in place of the main verb:

mègui khosho selu yelu buco

burn <(PI trigger-7)>not-be VFOC-(i) sun NFOCa-7+.agent

the sun does not shine

Class also affects the affixes verbs will receive in some tenses, moods, and aspects, but this correlation is subordinate to the negative construction, and is a less reliable indicator of class.

The acting verb in a sentence (including kho) must always be followed by a verbal marker: lu for class i verbs, ya for class ii verbs. The focus marker se- can be prefixed to either to add an affirmatory or declarative meaning to a verb; compare ekeje lu yèngì goco ,"the man eats" (defines his action as eating) with ekeje selu yèngì goco, "the man does eat" (as opposed to him drinking or sitting).

Tense, Mood, and AspectEdit

Proto-Sèferi had two broad tense categories, future and non-future, differing in conjugation strategy. However, the two sets were broken into separate remote and proximate categories, leaving five tenses in total: distant future and near future, and present, near past, and distant past.

The present tense is uninflected, and is mostly regular; the other two past tenses are also quite regular as well. The future tenses display higher degrees of irregularity, however.

In addition to tense, Proto-Sèferi had four moods: the Realis, Irrealis, Imperative, and Interrogative. The Realis mood is the standard mood, indicating actions that are true and do occur. The Irrealis indicates that actions are supposed, desired, or imagined, but not necessarily untrue (the negative constructions see to that). The Imperative mood indicates commands; however, it also has a jussive connotation that gives it less force than would be expected. The Interrogative mood is used to pose questions and to express an utter lack of certainty in a statement; in the latter respect, it can act as the intermediary indefinite mood between the realis and irrealis.

Aspect in Proto-Sèferi refers to five additional forms a verb may take - the absolute, iterative, continuative, habitual, and perfective. It is expressed periphrastically, in a manner similar to the negative for class 2 verbs.

Present TenseEdit

The Present Tense is the unmarked form of the verb, and is thus not easily sorted into the future/nonfuture dichotomy of Proto-Sèferi. However, the mood and aspect systems of the present tense are more closely linked to those of the past tenses than of the present tenses, and in any case the Lesù appeared to have considered the Past and Present to be interrelated.

Near Past TenseEdit

The Near Past Tense is used for events or actions that occurred recently. As a past tense, the Near Past is formed by adding a "transparent" suffix to the verb, which will always be the last element of the verb, should an infixing trigger also be present.

mèshèguingi seya yelu buco

<(PI trigger-7)>burn.NP.R VFOC-(ii) sun NFOCa-7+.agent

the sun shone or the sun did shine

The forms for the Near Past Tense (Realis) are as follows:

Verbal Class Trigger
i, ii -khV
ii -ngV

Some class ii verbs take class i endings at times, and will be marked as (ii*) when given. There is no easy way of knowing when a ii* verb will take class i endings, so that information will also be provided.

Distant Past TenseEdit

The Distant Past Tense is used for actions that took place quite some time ago. The Distant Past is formed in a manner similar to that of the Near Past, by adding a syllable between the onset consonant and transparent vowel of the Near Past suffix.

mèshèguingayi seya yelu buco

<(PI trigger-7)>burn.DP.R VFOC-(ii) sun NFOCa-7+.agent

"the sun shone'' or "the sun did shine"; "the sun once shone."

The forms for the Distant Past Tense (Realis) are:

Verbal Class Trigger
i, ii -khayV
ii -ngayV

The transparent vowel takes its form from the last element of the verb, and not the preceding a as one might be led to believe.

Near Future TenseEdit

The Near Future Tense is used for events that are imminent or incipient, and have yet to occur. The Near Future tense was historically formed by prefixing the verb with a mutation-inducing u+; however, the u vanished for unclear reasons, leaving a floating u-mutation in its wake.

mìshìg seya yelu buco

<(PI trigger-7)>burn.NF.R VFOC-(ii) sun NFOCa-7+.agent

"the sun will shine (soon)"

The Near Future (Realis) is identical for class i and ii verbs alike:

Verbal Class Trigger
i, ii [u+]-

Distant Future TenseEdit

The Distant Future tense describes events and actions that are to occur eventually, sometime far from the present. Like the Near Future, it makes use of an absent mutation-inducing vowel.

shumòshògoe seya yelu buco

<(PI trigger-7)>burn.DF.R VFOC-(ii) sun NFOCa-7+.agent

"the sun will shine (one day)"

The forms for the Distant Future Tense (Realis) are as follows:

Verbal Class Trigger
i, ii yu[o+]-
ii shu[o+]-

The infamous irregularities of the future tense tend to arise when the future-tense verb in question also bears a mutation-inducing trigger; the lost u and o mutations can cause double occurrences of mutations that are usually unpleasant to try to predict in real time.

Nominal SystemEdit

Fluid Nominal ClassEdit

"Fluid nominal class", in the context of Proto-Sèferi, refers to a way of marking nouns with the verb and particles to specify the definition; the classes are "fluid" in that they are not intrinsic properties of a root, but are assigned to words to clarify their meanings. The system helps to greatly reduce the number of roots, since the same form, when placed in two different classes, can have two wildly different meanings.

The eight classes of Proto-Sèferi were, in essence:

Number Usage Focus affixes
1 Tools, handheld objects, food, drink te+/she+
2 Plants, fungi, insects bu+/zu+
3 Small terrestrial animals, children, body parts, diminuitives ji+/ye+
4 Large terrestrial animals, vehicles go+/gha+
5 People, personification (rarely; only marked on the verb) go+/gha+
6 Landforms, buildings, trees, natural structures te+/she+
7 Fish, aquatic life, birds, pterosaurs, spirits, abstractions, liquids, gases bu+/zu+
8 Cities, unknown objects, catch-all category; disparagement bu+/zu+

Classes were indicated by the verbal trigger, as well as being marked by focus affixes on particles modifying the noun.


See Proto-Sèferi Lexicon and Proto-Sèferi Swadesh List.