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A Guide to Neo Patwa 2.0

2007 Version





Neo Patwa is not a difficult language to learn. Compared with other languages you may have studied in the past, it has a relatively small vocabulary, a simple grammar, and a simple phonetic system.


This guide is divided into three major parts. The first is "rules", meaning things that are an essential part of the language. Thankfully, this is not very long! The second part includes examples of usage. This gives you ideas on how to use the language in practice. And the third is a reference section, reminding you of the important words used in Neo Patwa.


One thing to keep in mind as you learn Neo Patwa is that this language is not intended to be a strict, rule-oriented one where there is a "right way" and a "wrong way" to say things. The important thing is to make yourself understood. Consequently, much of the language involves the lexical items (words that have meaning, like "book" or "eat"), and very little involves purely grammatical ideas (like singular vs. plural and tenses).


Neo Patwa is basically intended to function as a sort of "world pidgin." Because of this, the most important thing for you to do is to remember the relatively small lexicon of important words. From then on, it's just a question of putting the words together in a way that is understandable to others.


First, on to the rules of the language.





Neo Patwa is designed to be easy to pronounce. The sounds that are used are common across languages, so it should be easy to communicate with others. There are five vowels, two semi-vowels, and 13 consonants.




A (father); E (pet); I (sheet); O (coat); U (shoot)




P (pen); B (bet); K (kangaroo); G (go); T (ten); D (den); C (cheat, or alternately, shell); S (sit); F (find); H (loch, red); M (mine); N (not); L (long)




Y (yard); W (water)


These are for the most part pronounced as in English. The major exceptions are H, which should preferably be pronounced with a guttural sound, like the "CH" in "loch", or as an R sound. This is a quite wide range of sounds, and is to make the sound more recognizable. Also, C is pronounced either as English "ch" or "sh". In addition, there are consonants that can be used in Neo Patwa, but are not used in the core vocabulary except for some exceptional cases. These sounds can be used in specific cultural terms and in proper nouns, for example. They are Z (zebra); V (vote); and J (jack).


When two vowels follow one another, you should pronounce the two more or less separately, as in "chaos," "Israel," or "viola," for example, but it's generally acceptable to flow them together, so that "pei," for example, could be pronounced as "pay" in English.


In addition, there are consonants that can be used in Neo Patwa, but are not used in the core vocabulary except for some exceptional cases. These sounds can be used in specific cultural terms and in proper nouns, for example. They are Z (zebra); V (vote); and J (jack).




Though stress will vary to some extent by speakers, the basic rule for Neo Patwa is to stress the final syllable of the word. For compound words, the stress can be placed on the last syllable of the compound.





Greetings in Neo Patwa can be left to individual preferences to some extent. But in the interest of creating a world culture, here are some suggestions.



Hello: Canti. (peace)

Good Bye: Canti

Thank you: Asante (thanks)

You're welcome: No yau asante (no need thanks)

I'm sorry: Skusa

Don't worry: Aca / No susi (no worry)

Excuse me: Mafan



Simple Sentences


Sentences in Neo Patwa are basically built like English sentences. In other words, there is a subject, a predicate (verb, if you want), and an object.


Just to get you started, here are a couple of words.



Mi: I, me

Makan: eat

Pwason: fish

Mi makan pwason. (I ate the fish) or (I eat fish).


Note: There are three interesting things to note here for an English speaker. First, there are no articles, like "the" and "a" in English. The second is that there is no distinction between singular and plural nouns. Pwason can be either "a fish" or "more than one fish". And third, there is no conjugation of verbs. Makan can mean "will eat", "eats" and "ate".


Another thing to note here is that the so-called "word classes" are not as strict in Neo Patwa as they are in English and most natural languages. For example, the word pensa, meaning "think", can also be used to mean an "idea". So theoretically, you could make a strange sentence like "mi pensa pensa," literally, "I think a thought." Of course, nobody would say that for the same reason that people don't say it in English -- it's true by definition. Though we do sometimes say things like, "sing a song," which is true by definition.


And finally, you may notice that the sentences here are almost invariably in subject-verb-object order. However, this is not a firm rule. Sentences can also be made in the subject-object-verb form, which is very common (Hindi is the biggest language that uses this, but so do Japanese and Korean, for example). The key is to make sentences that can be understood by the listener. So writing:



Mi pwason makan.


is understandable, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. I believe that Neo Patwa will eventually settle on subject-verb-object, but that is speculation.



Modifying Nouns


Often, you will want to modify nouns in a sentence, using adjectives and the like. The following is a complicated phrase, which would be unlikely to be used in real life, but it illustrates how a noun can be modified by various words.



Ta-pela lu-pela mi na din-tinta na cidya. (These six blue birds of mine)


Ta: That, it, he, she

Pela: Thing/counter word (see below)

Lu: 6

Na: Modifier particle (see below)

Din-tinta: Blue (literally, sky-color)

Cidya: Bird


There are two important words here that require some further explanation.


The very important one is the particle na. It follows a noun to indicate possession, and follows an adjective before a noun.


Another word is -pela, which is placed after a numeral to mean it's being used to count something, or after a word like "what" or "that" to mean it is referring to a specific object (like "which" instead of "what" in English).




Prepositions and Sentence Structure


In principle, all parts of sentences outside of the subject, verb and direct object should be marked with a preposition. There is a basic preposition po that can be used as a default. When more precision is needed, you can use a number of verbs to indicate the role of the phrase in the sentence.



Yu: You

Kata: Cut

Nyama: Meat

Kata-ada: Knife (cut-tool)

Pakai: Use


Using a verb as a preposition, you could write:



Yu pakai kata-ada, kata nyama. (You cut meat using a knife)


But you can also say:



Yu kata nyama po kata-ada. (You cut meat with a knife)


Other verbs that can function as prepositions include the following:



Cule: From (depart)

Fika: To (arrive)

Tomo: With (accompany)

Anda: At (sit)



Two Important Words: Na and Po


The two words na and po are probably the most important ones in Neo Patwa. Learning about these two words is important for using Neo Patwa effectively. Luckily, the principle is quite simple.


From an English speaker's point of view, you can think of po as meaning "of", or any simple preposition such as "to", "for", "from", or "at". Or you can think of it, more logically, as meaning "belongs to".


So for example,



Kasa po mi. (the house of me, my house)


And you can think of na as meaning something like "'s" or "-ish" in English, like "the man's house" or "the blue-ish" house.



Mi na kasa (me's house, my house)


So in other words, "my house" can be expressed either as:



Kasa po mi or Mi na kasa.


With adjectives, similarly:



Din-tinta na kitabu (blue-ish book)





Kitabu po din-tinta (book of blue)


In the sense, the two words can be thought of as opposites. With na, the word before na modifies the word after it. With po, it is the word after po that modifies the one before it.


Once you get the hang of these two words, you can put together thoughts in different orders. So you might say:



Din-tinta na kitabu po mi. (My blue book)


However, remember that Neo Patwa is intended to be something like a global pidgin. The key is always understandability. You don't need to use the grammatical words po and na if you don't feel they are necessary.



Repeating the Subject


In sentences where the subject is more than just one word, and particularly when the subject is complex, it is better to put a pronoun before the verb. So for example:



Cidya makan pwason. (The bird eats fish)


Is fine the way it is. But if you wanted to say that two blue birds (for grammar's sake!) ate fish, it would be better to say:



Do-pela din-tinta na cidya, ta makan pwason. (Two blue birds, they ate fish)



Modifying Verbs


Verbs can be modified by placing verbs, particles and modifiers in front of them. This can be illustrated with the following sentence.



No: Negative particle

Ale: Future/irrealis particle (see below), go

Wiki: Quickly, fast


Ta no wiki ale. (He won't go quickly)


The first particle, no, is simply for negation (you would normally use "not" in English).


The second, ale, is a tense marker, equivalent perhaps to "will" in English. The tense markers in Neo Patwa are suda (already), which indicates that an action has already been completed, anda (sit), meaning it is still ongoing, and ale (go), meaning that it is hypothetical or future.


Note: In general, you don't have to use these markers unless you want to indicate the time. There is no need to keep using a "past tense" like in English to discuss things that happened in the past. Technically speaking, the Neo Patwa particles do not mark tense but rather "aspect" and "mood". Suda is not a marker of the past, but rather marks the "anterior aspect". In English, you might say "Once I have finished my homework, I'll watch TV." The "have finished" is not really the past tense, since you are actually discussing a future action! And similarly, anda means that an action or state is still ongoing (technically, the "non-punctual aspect") and ale means an action is planned or hypothetical, like in the sentence, "If it rains, I will use an umbrella" (technically, this is the "irrealis mood").


The third word, wiki, means "fast". Modifiers can be placed before the verb without any particle in between.


Discussing an Action


Another interesting thing to note is that in Neo Patwa, words never change in form. So a verb can be made into a subject or object of a sentence, as in when we say "eating is fun." There is no "-ing" form, so you can just use the verb as is.



Makan pwason, ta dolce. (Eating fish is easy)



Examples of Use


That is pretty much the end of the "grammatical rules." The following sections illustrate how to use the language in practice. They are not really rules, but rather suggestions on how to use the language in a way that is easy to understand.



Helping Verbs and Serial Verbs


One interesting aspect of Neo Patwa is that verbs can go together without anything in between. In English, we would "I like to go", but in Neo Patwa you can simply say "I like go". In addition, you can put verbs together to create a sentence, so you might say "I shoot bear make die," which means "I shot the bear dead" or something like that.


First, here are some helping (auxiliary) verbs.



Sabe: Can


This is used to show something is possible. For example:



Mi sabe nata. (I can swim)


Yau: Want, need, must


This shows either desire or necessity. For example:



Ta yau makan. (He must eat)

Mi yau makan. (I want to eat)


Fanya: Cause, do, make


This is placed before another verb (with the object in between) to make it causative. For example:



Mi fanya pwason mati. (I killed the fish)

Lese: Allow


This is placed before another verb to indicate that something has been allowed to happen. For example, "He dropped the money" is Ta lese oci feda.



Ta lese feda oci. (He dropped the money)


Finally, a note about verbs: as I mentioned earlier, Neo Patwa does not make a clear distinction between word classes, and this also applies to verbs. Verbs can be used without too much regard to the distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs. So you could say the equivalent to "I fall ball" instead of "drop" like in English. The terms sase and lese can be used to show that a verb is transitive, but it is not necessary if the context makes it clear.


For example, mati means "die." So:



Ta mati. (He died)


However, both:


Mi mati ta. and Mi fanya mati ta. can be used to mean "I killed him".



Passive Voice


A similar structure can be used to make passive sentences (like "I was hit by the car" in English). There is not real passive form in Neo Patwa, but you can use the helping verb subi to make a similar form.



Subi: Undergo, receive


This is used to make a passive sentence. It is placed before another verb or verb phrase to make it passive. For example:



Pwason subi cidya makan ta. (the fish was eaten by the bird)


Not that this really means, "The fish underwent, the bird ate it."


There are actually two other ways to make a form like a passive. One is to use the subject ta-saba (meaning "they"), when the subject is actually not known. So:



Ta-saba makan mi na pwason. (They ate my fish)


This actually means, "my fish was eaten (by something)".


And finally, you can place the word you want to emphasize at the beginning of the sentence, using the the word nipa, which means something like "regarding". So:



Nipa pwason, cidya makan ta. (About the fish, the bird ate it)



Asking Questions



Ma: Question particle

Ke: What

Yan: Person


To ask a yes or no question in Neo Patwa, just add the word ma at the end of the sentence. So for example:



Ta makan nyama. (She eats meat)

Ta makan nyama ma? (Does she eat meat)


This isn’t normally necessary in written language, because it is clear from the question mark at the end. To ask a content question, like "who are you?" simply insert a question word in the proper place of the original sentence. So for example:



Na-pela yan, ta John. (That person is John)

Na-pela yan, ta ke-yan? (What person is who?/Who is that?)


The question words in Neo Patwa are generally combinations of ke, meaning "what", and other words.



Where: Ke-lado (what-side)

When: Ke-wela (what-time)

Who: Ke-yan (what-person)

Why: Ke-ibo (what-reason)

How: Ke-moda (what-way)

How much: Ke-mwito (what-many/what-much)



Asking Questions About Quality


In English, we say something is heavy, but ask you much it weighs. Neo Patwa avoids this multiplication of words by using the same term. In Neo Patwa, the word for "heavy" is hefi. So to ask, how much does that bear weigh, you would say:



Ta-pela pwason, ta ke-hefi?


Literally, this means, "that fish is what heavy?"





Imperative is the kind of sentence used to give orders. In English, for example, we say "Go" or "Eat". In Neo Patwa, the subject can be left in, but a grammatical marker la can be put at the end of the sentence to indicate the mood. So you might say:



Yu makan yu na pwason, la. (Eat your fish!)



Existential Sentences


In English, we say "there is a man," for example, in a way that simply expresses the presence or existence of something. In Neo Patwa, you can use the verb tene meaning "have." For example.



Nuwa mi na mesa, tene wan-pela cidya. (There is a bird on my table)


In fact, the verb tene can be used without a subject to simply indicate existence.



Tene wan-pela yan. (There is a man)



Using "One" (indeterminate pronoun)


In English, we sometimes say, "One never knows." The "one" in that case is an indeterminate pronoun. Neo Patwa does not have this. But you can use "person" or alternatively, "they."



Yan aca makan pwason. (One should eat fish)


The word aca means "good", so the sentence really means, "Person good eat fish."



Reflexive Verbs


You can use the word badan (body) to indicate a reflexive. So for example:


Ta mati badan. (He killed himself)



Topic Prominence


Topic prominence involves bringing something to the front of a sentence to emphasize it. In Engish, for example, instead of saying "I read the book," we can say, "It's the book that I read." This puts the emphasis on the book. In Neo Patwa, you can use the word nipa, meaning discuss (from Yoruba), to mean roughly "regarding" in front of the object of a sentence, and bring it to the front. For example:


Nipa pwason, mi makan ta. (I ate that fish)



Change of State


The verb lai (come) can be used to show a change of state. So for example:



Mi lai nesu. (I became angry)



Ways to Modify a Sentence


Subordination and Relative Clauses


A relative clause, such as "the man who eats fish" can be made in several ways. One is to use the pronoun po. So yan po makan pwason. Another way is to use the possessive modifier na, in the opposite order. So pwason makan na yan. Finally, a third way is to use the question word ke instead of po. So yan ke makan pwason.


Using "Supposedly"


For a construction like, "it is said that" or "supposedly," just say yan-sema, meaning "somebody says" or "people say."



Yan-sema ta suda mati. (It is said that he died)


Using "To the Contrary"


To say, "to the contrary" or "by contrast", simply use anti.



Anti, ta no ale kasa. (On the contrary, he didn't go home)


Saying, "Fortunately"



Laki, mi no mati. (Fortunately, I didn't die)


Saying, "Actually"



Satya, me suka dolce. (To be honest, I like sweets)


Avertative Sentences


The avertative is a construction such as "I almost died," where a situation was averted. In Neo Patwa, you can use the word cika, meaning "near."


Mi cika mati. (I almost died)





Making Comparisons


The verb lalu (exceed, pass) can be used to express comparison between two things. For example:



Mi wiki kule lalu ta. (I run faster than her)


Nume-wan is literally "number one" or "first", and can be used to mean "most". For example:



Ta nume-wan maha na pikin. (He is the biggest child)


Similarly, the word macam can be used like lalu but to express sameness. So:



Mi sabe wiki kule macam ta. (I can run as fast as him).


A similar form of sentence is sentences like "the faster the better" or "the rain is getting harder." In these cases, you can use mwito ("more" or "very"). To indicate the passage of time, you can use the word lai meaning "come". "The more it comes, the bigger it is," means "it gets bigger with the passage of time".


As alternatives, you can use either sama (same) or fika (arrive) in the same way as macam. So for example, the sentence above could also be:


Mi sabe wiki kule sama ta. (I can run as fast as him).

Mi sabe wiki kule fika ta. (I can run as fast as him).


Some other useful sentences: 


Mwito wiki, mwito aca. (The faster the better)

Mwito lai, mwito maha. (It is getter bigger)


The word lalu (exceed) can also be used to mean that something is excessively big or heavy, for example. So for example,



Ta-pela kitabu, ta lalu hefi. (That book is too heavy)



"When I Finish"


An English speaker might be tempted to use the word ke-wela, meaning "when", in a sentence like "When I finish work, I'll go to sleep." But actually, ke-wela really means "what time" or "what day," not "at the time." In this case, it's OK to use ako ("if"), but you can also use "after".



Nyuma after, behind

Stali finish, stop

Kuli work

Lala sleep

Nyuma mi stali kuli, mi fanya lala. (After I finish work, I'll go to sleep).


Also, when saying, "when I was a child," you wouldn't use ke-wela either. In that case, you could just use:



Wela mi pikin. . .


This translates directly as "in time I am child".



"Pai" and "Wela"


I think the distinction between pai and wela, which are both listed as "time" in the dictionary, may be difficult for English speakers. Basically, wela is "time" as in the passage of time, or a season. So "what time" would call for the use of wela. By contrast, pai means "time" in the sense of "how many times," like "once" and "twice" in English. So for example, the mathematical expression "x" would call for pai. In English, we happen to use the same word for both ideas. In Spanish, for example, you would use "vez" for pai and "tiempo" for wela.



A Short Reference to Helping Verbs and Grammar


A lot in Neo Patwa is done with helping verbs. Remembering a few common words and particles, along with just a few helping verbs, can be very helpful. I recommend that you print this section out; it essentially gives you what you need to remember.


Personal Pronouns


The personal pronouns in Neo Patwa are:

Mi (first person singular)

Yu (second person singular)

Ta (third person singular)


To make plurals, add saba to the end. So mi-saba is "we".




Ya means "yes".

No means "no". It is used before a verb to form the negative.

Na means basically "modifies" or "have", and comes after an adjective and before the noun it modifies, or after a possessor and before the possessee. "A blue person" is nila na yan.

Po is in a sense the opposite, meaning "belongs to" or "is modified by". It can also be used as a general-purpose preposition.


Ce is "this".

Ta is "that".

Ke is "what".




Suda indicates that an action is finished.

Anda indicates that an action is ongoing.

Ale indicates that an action is not yet realized, or hypothetical.


Helping Verbs


Sabe (can) is used to indicate possibility. "I can swim" is mi sabe nata.

Yau (want, need) is used to indicate desire or necessity. "He wants to eat" is Ta yau kana.

Fanya (do) can be placed before a noun to indicate doing some action. For example, to play tennis is fanya tennis.

Sase (cause) is placed before another verb to make it causative. For example, "kill" is sase mati, meaning "cause to die."

Lese (allow) is placed before another verb to indicate that something has been allowed to happen. For example, "He dropped the money" is Ta lese oci feda.

Subi (undergo) is placed before another verb or verb phrase to make it passive. For example, "the fish was eaten by the bird" is Pwason subi cidya kana.


Ending Particles


Ma is used to ask a question, and also to mean "or".

Ya is used to ask for confirmation or for suggestions.

La is for an assertion.


That's all you really need to know. Plus the vocabulary, of course!





The numbers in Neo Patwa are:

1 wan, 2 do, 3 san, 4 ci, 5 nam, 6 lu, 7 sem, 8 pal, 9 nin.

10 deka, 100 heka, 1000 kilo.



The Names of Days


Days of the week have names ending in din. Like English and many other languages, they are named after the planets. So for example, Monday (day of the moon) is:




Days of the month are simply the numbers followed by din. So the 12th would be:




For counting a number of days, the word pela is inserted after the number, as a counter. Two days, as a length of time, would be:


Do-pela din.




The Names of Months


The months of the year are expressed as a number followed by luna. So January is:




Just like for days, a number of months can be stated by placing the word pela after the number. So three months is:


San-pela luna



The Names of Years


A year can be expressed by simply putting the numbers one after the other, and then appending anyo at the end. So 1987 would be:




Two years as a period of time would be:


Do-pela anyo




Rule for New Words


One important thing to understand about Neo Patwa, as I've probably stated a number of times already, is that it is meant to evolve. Neo Patwa still has quite a restricted vocabulary, but new words can be freely created using compounding, and you can also make up new words. The key always is understanding, not correctness.


For items related to local culture (such as names of foods or local fauna and flora), words can be adapted from the local language directly. For scientific terms, it's OK to use words from the Western scientific vocabulary as an interim measure until terms are formally decided.



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