Vabungula Word Studies


gel, gêl, fûngi, umal, kiral, malal


Gel ("still") refers to a state that exists from an indefinite time in the past up through the present time. Example: De gel lami fla Oklahoma. "He's still living in Oklahoma." Gêl ("not yet") refers to a state that has not existed and does not exist up through the present time. It is nearly always paired with fwil ("not"). Example: So gêl fwil sa dolapak murafa. "I don't have enough money yet." The use of fwil with gêl technically constitutes a double negative. The use of gêl alone, however, is not considered proper usage.

Gel is primarily used in a positive sense, and gêl always in a negative sense. Gel, however, is often used to express a negative state. Examine these two sentences: So gêl fwil mala alega ke, "I haven't seen it yet," and So gel fwil mala alega ke, "I still haven't seen it." The meaning of these two sentences is essentially the same. The intended difference, if any, would be that the first sentence with gêl focuses on the anticipation of seeing, whereas the second with gel stresses the continual process in the past of not having seen.

Fûngi ("already") is used as in English: So fûngi mala alega ke. "I have already seen it."

Fwil gel is a special construction having the specific meaning of "not any more". This refers to a process or state that had existed for a period in the past, but now no longer exists. So fwil gel alega ke. "I don't see it any more." Fwil gel is pronounced as if it were one word, with the stress on the fwil.

Umal, used with fwil, corresponds to the English "ever before." So fwil umal mala alega ke. "I have never seen it before." Umal can be placed either immediately after the word fwil or at the end of the clause; both constructions are acceptable and are identical in meaning. One can also use fwilar ("never") instead of fwil: So fwilar umal mala alega ke, or So fwilar mala alega ke umal.

Kiral is the equivalent of umal, but referring to the future instead of the past. The English sense is "ever again." So fwil kiral mala alega ke. "I never saw it again," or "I didn't ever see it again." As with umal, kiral is used with fwil or fwilar, and can appear either after the fwil/fwilar or at the end of the clause. The example above may thus be formulated as: So fwil mala alega ke kiral / So fwilar kiral mala alega ke / So fwilar mala alega ke kiral, without essentially changing the meaning of the sentence.

Malal denotes the universal sense of "ever", "at any time", whether in the past, present, or future. Dabuna ka malal mala falê ke? "Have you ever done it?" Dabuna de malal mulu falê ke? "Will he ever do it?" As with umal and kiral, malal can be placed at the end of the sentence: Dabuna ka mala falê ke malal? Dabuna de mulu falê ke malal?

   So gêl fwil mala alega ke.
   I haven't seen it yet.
   So gel fwil mala alega ke.
   I still haven't seen it.
   So fûngi mala alega ke.
   I have already seen it.
   So fwil gel alega ke.
   I don't see it any more.
   So fwil kiral mala alega ke. 
   or: So fwil mala alega ke kiral. 
   or: So fwilar kiral mala alega ke. 
   or: So fwilar mala alega ke kiral.
   I didn't ever see it again.
   So fwil umal mala alega ke.
   or: So fwil mala alega ke umal. 
   or: So fwilar umal mala alega ke. 
   or: So fwilar mala alega ke umal.
   I have never seen it before.
   So fwil malal mulu falê ke.
   or: So fwil mulu falê ke malal. 
   or: So fwilar malal mulu falê ke. 
   or: So fwilar mulu falê ke malal.
   I will not ever do it.


kirake, kira ke


Kirake (the accent on the second syllable) is a single word meaning "afterwards". Kira ke means "after that". The difference, however slight, corresponds to that in English.


jê, jêla, galasê, galamê, galima, co


The verb ("to be") is generally not used in Vabungula. To say "A is B" the basic Vabungula construction is "A B", similar to Russian. De džûmnil. "He is a teacher." One could say "A B", but the use of is avoided and is used only in sentences where it would seem absolutely necessary to avoid abiguity. Curiously enough, this aversion towards using the simple verb has left a void in the language that has been occupied by the more complex and overloaded word co. Co (which is more fully explained in another section) is not a real verb, but an emphatic partical with the basic meaning of "that is", "namely", "that is to say". In modern Vabungula usage co has largely taken over the duties of the truant . De džûmnil "He is a teacher" could also be expressed as De co džûmnil. The use of the latter is fundamentally more emphatic than the former, but this usage has become so common that the original sense of emphasis – although still present – has been significantly diminished. Kam ke? "What is this?" or "What is it?". Ke co monucep. "It's an apple."

Jêla means "to exist." So fwil nimûd ke sanisumi jêla. "I don't believe that ghosts exist." Galasê is a very common and useful verb, which, incidentally, does not exist in many modern languages. It is used without a subject and means "there is" or "there are." Galasê kakleg fla mazufjal su so. "There is a rock in my shoe." Galasê kores muhasile fla Amerika-susolke. "There are fifty stars in the American flag." Jêla requires a subject and states that the subject exists objectively. Galasê requires an object and states that the object exists subjectively, in relation to a given place or situation.

Galamê is an intransitive verb requiring a subject and meaning "to be located at a certain place." Lam de galamê? "Where is he (located)?" Galima is a similar kind of verb but means "to be in a situation". Buna ka cu oko nigo fla okanot imalam so galima. "If you only knew what kind of a situation I am in."


otên, tatên, gotên, sûtên, dot, nat.
Other directional words with suffix –tên


The six words for location relative to the speaker in 3-dimensional space are: go (right), (left), vo (front), ta (behind), do (above), na (below). Note that do and na, which share the basic meanings of "good" and "bad", are never used in isolation in a locational sense. The words for "above" and "below" are dotnêl and natnêl respectively, the -nêl being a suffix of unknown origin used in these two words only. The six words for direction are otên (forward), tatên (backward), gotên (to the right), sûtên (to the left), dot (up), and nat (down). Tên, a noun meaning "direction", is employed as a suffix in these words. In dot and nat the suffix appears in abbreviated form as the letter "t". In colloquial non-standard speech the words gotên, sûtên, and tatên are also reduced to got, sût, and tat. Note that "forward" is otên and not "votên" (a word which does not exist). "Otên" is derived from the root otê(l) meaning "line"; hence the sense of otên is that of moving forward in a straight line.

Other directional words using the suffix -tên are platên (hither), lagtên (thither), tutên (this direction), têtên (that direction), zetên (the same direction), moltên (the opposite direction), kartên (a different direction), patên (to the side), sajtên (crosswise, i.e., from right to left or from left to right), agatên (away, hence), and the interrogative katên (what direction?) and its relative counterpart okatên (what direction). Platên means "in the direction of the speaker"; the opposite is agatên, meaning "in the direction away from the speaker". Lagtên means "in the direction towards that place", which could mean either away from the speaker, or from one point to another point, neither of which is near the speaker. Tutên means any specific direction which can be regarded as being in the vicinity of the speaker, whether it be away from him or towards him. (In most cases, however, it refers to a direction away from the speaker). Similarly têtên means any specific direction outside of the range of the speaker. Patên is a general term meaning "to the side", with no regard to right or left.

Also note the two prepositions vajtê and motê, both of which have a modified form of tên in their suffix. Vajtê means "in the same direction as" or "going along with the stream". Its opposite is motê, meaning "going in the opposite direction", "going against the stream", or "going contrary to". (Vajtê and motê correspond closely to the Chinese 顺 and 逆). The preposition vaj refers to any location or motion that runs along the same linear direction as the object being referred to. (Perpendicular to this is saj, meaning "across" the target object). The root in motê is mo(l) which has the general meaning of "opposite".

The suffix -tên can also generate any number of words that refer to motion in a specific direction or towards a specific object, such as upojatên ("northward"), jaralamtên ("towards the ocean"), or janeatên ("towards the mountains").


niku, nikula, beniku, benikula, nika, nikama, nikalega, nikalama


Niku is an intransitive verb meaning "to give the impression (that)…". Nikula is another intransitive verb meaning "to get the impression (that)…". Whatever is giving the impression is the subject of the verb niku, and the person receiving the impression is the subject of the verb nikula. In both cases the impression is a very general term. Examples: De mala niku sa jansa murafa. "He gave the impression of having a lot of money." So mala nikula ke de sa jansa murafa. "I got the impression that he had a lot of money." Beniku and benikula correspond to niku and nikula, but with the stronger meaning of "impressing someone", or "making an impression on someone". The noun is benikul "impression". Examples: De mala beniku so onudž bezefalêle su de. "He impressed me with his magic tricks". So mala benikula bezefalêle su de. "I was impressed by his magic tricks."

Nika means "to tell" or "to determine", referring to any kind of recognition, whether it be through the physical senses or through mental processes. Example: So fwil mala dal nika kaema su dotasuf su de ži lagro malaš lesu haljanake. "I couldn't tell what color his shirt was because it was too dark outside." Dabuna ka mala nika kam de mala agula? "Could you tell what he said?" or "Did you catch what he said?" De fwil dal nika kam famuke va siseka. "He can't tell what's written on the paper." Nikalega refers specifically to visual perception or recognition, usually referring to an object that is far away, very small, hard to see, indistinct, or otherwise difficult to recognize. Dabuna ka dal nikalega kyptu lal tê sikar? Fwi, ke lesu laga. So fwil dal nikalega ke. "Can you make out the hummingbird by that bush? No, it's too far away. I can't see it." Nikama means "identify", "establish the identity of something." The noun "identity" is nikamal. Example: Vulafe glušimsum mala nikama fidrafasum. "The alert witness identified the criminal." Nikalama is a transitive verb meaning to "determine the location of something", "locate something". So mala nikalama jansukan va bare. "I located the town on the map."


masa, maspa, lale, esa, masala, masasa


Oddly enough, there are no words in Vabungula which precisely correspond to "come" and "go", words which readily find counterparts in nearly all languages. Either "come" or "go" is expressed by masa, a very general and widely used word which encompasses the concepts of "go", "come", "walk," or "travel", or any other kind of independent motion. When one desires to make it clear that masa refers to "going" rather than "coming" or vice versa, the destination of the verb is specified. Examples: Masa la lag, "Go there," or Masa la pla, "Come here." The English word "come" can sometimes be translated as maspa or lale. Maspa is a verb which means specifically "approach." De maspa means "He is approaching", i.e., he is moving toward us and getting closer every moment. Lale means "arrive." Šisum su so mala lale, "My friend has arrived." The opposite of lale is esa, "to leave". De mala esa jansukan. "He left town." Masala is a verb meaning "to go on a trip" or "to travel." The corresponding noun is masalal, "trip", or "journey." Masal, the noun form of masa, also has the primary meaning of "trip" or "journey", and is rarely used in its proper sense of the general act of "going" or "coming" (which is usually expressed by the gerund masan). Masasa means "to take a walk", "to stroll." De mala masasa fla lasuframdwa. "He took a walk in the park."


imag, emag, imalam, ekemag, punal, punolam, emalaro, galamêl, sumêl, kamêl, sakel


Imag is an event or happening, the corresponding verb being imagasê ("to happen"). Emag is a situation or an affair, a more abstract concept than imag. Another word for "situation" is imalam. Emag and imalam are very similar, but emag is a more generalized concept which focuses on the situation itself, whereas imalam stresses the outward circumstances of the situation. Galima is an intransitive verb related to imalam which means "to be in a situation," "to find oneself in a situation". Ekemag ("a matter", "an issue", "an affair") is similar in meaning to emag, but refers specifically to a situation that is the subject of a discussion or the focal point of general attention.

Punal refers to the condition or shape that an object or person is in. The interrogative is kameke ("how?", "in what condition?"). Punolam is a cross between punal and imalam, which means "condition", "state", or "situation." Punal refers to the general state that an object is in, regarded by itself in isolation, whereas punolam refers to the state or condition of an object when placed in a given environment.

Emalaro means "event" in the sense of a specific occasion of something occurring. Laro is a general word meaning "a time" or "a specific occurrence". Kamzo laron ka mala masa la Europa? "How many times have you gone to Europe?" So mala džuas tu risuf keco pro tu emalaro. "I bought this suit just for this occasion."

The location of a physical object is galamêl, a noun formed from the intransitive verb galamê ("to be located in/at"). Fwilasum nigo galamêl su ke. "No one knows where it is." (lit: "No one knows its location.") The position of an object at a specific location, i.e., whether it is standing, lying, leaning to one side, upside down, or the like, is kamêl. Kamêl is used for inanimate objects, and sumêl for human beings. Kamêl and sumêl have the corresponding intransitive verbs kamêla and sumêla "to be positioned".

"Position" in the sense of "status" or "rank" is sakel. Sakel is a general term for any kind of position or rank. Dikemêk refers to an official rank, such as in the military or in a corporation.




Namagasê is an intransitive verb which means "to have trouble with something", "to have difficulty doing something." Example: So namagasê pro džuasa ûmuraf su so. I have trouble paying my rent.

It is also used to translate the phrase "the matter (with)..." as in: Kam namagasê? What's the matter? Kam ka namagasê? What's the matter with you?




The word oko ("only") is often used as an emphatic particle:

   Oko kamu ka mafa falê ke? 
   Why in the world did you do that?
   So oko fwil nigo okamu. 
   I just don't know why. 




Dogas has the meaning of doing something well or efficiently, and in isolation it can be translated as such:

   De lese dogas. 
   He is very good, or 
   He is very efficient.
   De lese dogas idofalê šak. 
   He plays chess very well.

In other contexts the English translation can vary. Example:

   So mala krêp ke lese dogas. 
   I hit it really hard.


le vs. sate


The word le means "with" in the literal sense.

   So mala masa le šisum su so. 
   I went with my friend.

There are various English constructions that use the word "with", but which in Vabungula are formulated differently:


The sentence "I saw a man with a red hat," is translated as So mala alega sum sate arela nimofjal, literally, "I saw a man having a red hat." The sentence So mala alega sum le arela nimofjal would mean that there was a hat accompanying the man that I saw. It does not necessarily mean that the man was wearing the hat, but merely that there was a hat in physical proximity to the man.

The sentence "What will you do with your money?" is best translated as Kam ka mulu falê da murafa su ka?, i.e., "What are you going to do about your money?" The literal translation of Kam ka mulu falê le murafa su ka? is possible, but strictly speaking it conveys the idea of "What are you going to do (apart from your money) while your money is with you?"




Observe the following special use of the word mna ("all"):

   De mala agula janglu rêmgeke. 
   He spoke more loudly.
   De mala agula mna janglu rêmgeke. 
   He spoke more and more loudly.


kanudž, kalafe, kameke


The English word "how" has several translations in Vabungula. Kanudž means "how" in the sense of "by what means?", "what was used to do it?", or "what method was employed?" Kanudž ka mala lorga hodžekam? "How did you open the box?" is asking the means by which the box was opened. Possible answers might be "with a knife", or "with a crowbar", or "with my hands." Kalafe refers to the manner in which something is done. Kalafe ka mala lorga hodžekam? "How did you open the box?" is asking the manner in which the box was opened, with possible replies such as "I opened the box carefully," or "I opened the box while I was sitting on the edge of my bed", or "I opened the box quickly while I was making breakfast." Kanudž always stresses physical means or method, whereas kalafe stresses the way or manner.

When "how?" means "what state is it in?", as in the greeting "how are you?", Vabungula uses kameke. "How are you?" is Kameke ka?, with possible answers domeke ("well", "fine"), nameke ("not well", "poor"), or momeke ("so-so"). Kameke heaman? "How is the banana?" could be answered by Ke minamuke ("It's rotten"), or Ke lesu ulo ("It's very cold"), or Ke dokar ("It's delicious").


leobuni, legas, legaske


Leobuni introduces a question describing a condition for which a "yes" answer is expected. Examples:

   Leobuni ka agula Ruskigula? 
   Is it not true that you speak Russian? 
   You speak Russian, don't you? (Expected answer: "Yes, I do.")

Legas introduces a question describing a condition for which a "no" answer is expected. Examples:

   Legas ka agula Ruskigula? 
   You don't speak Russian, do you? (Expected answer: "No, I don't.")

Legaske is similar in meaning to legas, but expresses a stronger feeling of surprise and incredulity than legas.

   Legaske ka agula Ruskigula? 
   Do you really speak Russian? or: 
   Do you really mean to say that you speak Russian? or: 
   Are you trying to tell me that you speak Russian? (I don't believe it!)


eleg, alni, kenimal


Eleg means to behold or consider something, usually an intangible rather than a tangible object. Alni means the same thing, but more prolonged and with more attention. Kenimal, on the other hand, is a completely different word meaning "consider" or "regard" in the sense of "considering something to be something" or "regarding something as having a certain quality".


i (both... and...)


"Both A and B" is translated in Vabungula as "I A i B". Example:

   De i rika i afade. 
   She is both rich and beautiful.


efradžû, emfadžû


Efradžû means "owe" in the most general sense, e.g., owing a debt of gratitude or owing a favor. Efradžûl is the corresponding noun. Emfadžû and its corresponding noun emfadžûl refer specifically to monetary debts.


falê, falêl, famêlêt, falêma, fagêmlê, fagêmlêl, farêgêm, farêgêma, falgêm, faludža, filudž, egêmlêl, egêmlal, emigêmlêl, falark, džugêma, džûgêma, dafigêma, esagêma


Falê means "to do" in a very general sense. The noun falêl is anything that is done, i.e., a "deed". Famêlêt is to "make " something, i.e., to "do" focused on a specific result. (Falê and famêlêt have the same root; the earliest form of the word famêlêt was originally "falêmêt", but the "l" and "m" were subsequently reversed). Falêma means to "build" or to "construct", as to build a house or a machine. Fagêmlê means "to work ", a general term for any kind of labor. Farêgêma means to "work hard", "to toil", referring to hard (usually physical) labor. Falark is a word meaning "task", a single instance of work. Falgêm means "work" in the sense of "operating a device" (such as a tape recorder) or "playing an instrument" (such as a piano). Faludže is an intransitive verb meaning "to work" in the sense of "to function". A related word filudž means "broken", "non-functional", referring to any kind of device that no longer functions. Egêmlêl is "work " in the sense of a profession or job. Egêmlal is "job" or " work" in the sense of a single instance of employment, whether occupied by one individual or available for applicants. Emigêmlêl is "career". Džûgêma means to "hire" or "employ", and džugêma is to "accept employment" or "take a job". To "fire" someone (dismiss from employment) is dafigêma, and to "quit a job" (voluntary termination of employment) is esagêma.




The Vabungula root for "fear" is G(Û)LÛ. Several words formed from this root do not follow standard patterns. The noun "fear" is glûnûl. Glûnû is a noun meaning "scare", an act of inducing fear in another. Glûno is a noun meaning "surprise". The verbs are gûlûne ("to fear", "to be afraid of"), gûlûnû ("to scare (someone)" ), and glûnos ("to be surprised at"). Note that glûnos requires no preposition. Adjectives are gûlûnûke meaning "scary", or " frightening", gûlûnûske meaning "afraid of something" (requires the preposition da), and glûnoske meaning "surprised".




ZUR is a root which conveys the meanings of "dizziness", "vertigo ", "difficult to balance", "prone to fall or tip over", " a place or situation in which delicate balance is required". The word zur itself means "dizziness", the intransitive verb zura means " to feel dizzy", "to be dizzy", and the adjective zure means "dizzy". The word families using this root are very non-standard and do not follow the conventional Vabungula rules of word formation. The general word for " balance" is ênzurk. Two verbs are ezurkên and ezurka, the former meaning "to balance oneself", as a person riding a bicycle or an acrobat walking a tightrope, the latter meaning "to lose one's balance". Zurke is an adjective which is used to describe any place, object, or situation on/in which it is difficult to keep one's balance. A tightrope is a good example of something that is zurke, or a narrow log bridge over a brook. Note that the word ezûnên ("to offset", "to make something balanced", "to even something out") follows the non-standard pattern of ezurkên.


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Page last modified on July 3, 2008
Vabungula is an artificial language invented by Bill Price in 1965.
Vabungula co nûsk mugola famêlêtke onudž Bill Price larla alara idekuzorekol.
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Price
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