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2010 Guide to Neo Patwa

Compiled by Jens Wilkinson and Tarquin Anwar Wilkinson





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 a strict, rule-oriented one where there is a "right way" and a "wrong way" to say things. Apparently, 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 basically functions 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.


If you'd like to read a bit about the history of the language, see this page.





Because it is spoken by people with a variety of native languages, Neo Patwa ends up being quite 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 14 consonants. Of course, Neo Patwa is primarily a written language, so the orthographic system here is the one developed by Tarquin Anwar Wilkinson.




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




P (pen); B (bet); K (kangaroo); G (go); T (ten); D (den); C (cheat); X (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 is most often pronounced with a guttural sound, like the "CH" in "loch", or as an R sound. This is a quite wide range of sounds, and seems to be 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 are 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.




Though stress varies to some extent by speakers, stress in Neo Patwa is basically on the final syllable of the word. For compound words, the stress is usually placed on the last syllable of the compound.





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



Hello: Xanti. (peace)

Good Bye: Xanti

Another possiblity for hello and good bye is Aloha from Hawaiian.

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

Myamyam: eat

Pwason: fish

Mi myamyam 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. People speaking Neo Patwa tend to speak simply without those kinds of words. 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. Myamyam 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", is also 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 myamyam.


is understandable, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. People appear to make sentences in that way. I believe that given the number of people speaking various languages in the world, Neo Patwa will eventually settle on subject-verb-object (this is the form used in English and Chinese, the most widely spoken languages), but that is really 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 tene tyan-tinta cidya. (These six blue birds of mine)


Ta: That, it, he, she

Pela: Thing/counter word (see below)

Lu: 6

Tene: Have, possess

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

Cidya: Bird


The word pela (ultimately derived from "fellow" in English) is commonly 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). Speakers don't seem to use it universally, so the same sentence could probably appear as:


Ta, lu, mi tene tyan-tinta cidya.

But somehow it seems easier to understand with the pela inserted, which is probably why people use it.



Prepositions and Sentence Structure


The parts of sentences outside of the subject, verb and direct object are often marked with some preposition. 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)


Other verbs that function as prepositions include the following:


Cule: From (depart)

Fika: To (arrive)

Tomo: With (accompany)

Anda: At (sit)


Repeating the Subject


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


Cidya myamyan 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, you might say:


Do-pela tyan-tinta cidya, ta myamyam pwason. (Two blue birds, they ate fish)



Modifying Verbs


Verbs are often 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 used as 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. In fact, suda is not really 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 are 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. This is probably because different languages have different ways of inflecting words, and since speakers come from a variety of languages, they compromise by not changing words at all. This is a common feature of pidgins and trade jargons. 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.


Myamyam 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.


Sabi: Know, can


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


Mi sabi nata. (I can swim)


Yau: Want, need, must


This shows either desire or necessity. For example:


Ta yau myamyam. (He must eat)

Mi yau myamyam. (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 made fish die, or in other words, "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 bawa feda.


Ta lese bawa feda. (He let the money fall, or in other words, "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 are 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".



Making Nouns into Verbs


You can transform a noun into a verb by placing the verb fanya (to do) in front of it. So for example, if you want to say "play tennis," you could say:


Fanya tennis.



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 myamyam 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 used to make a form like a passive. One is to use the subject ta-omni (meaning "they"), when the subject is actually not known. So:


Ta-omni myamyam mi 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 myamyam ta. (About the fish, the bird ate it)



Asking Questions


Ke: What

Yan: Person


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


Ta myamyam nyama. (She eats meat)

Ta myamyam nyama? (Does she eat meat)


In written language, the question mark makes clear it is a question.


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 combinations of ke, meaning "what", and some other  word. 


Where: Ke-kote (what-side)

When: Ke-tokitoki (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 fish weigh, you can 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 stressing the subject can be used. So you might say:


Yu myamyam yu pwason. (Eat your fish!)


In addition, the word mintan, meaning "please," can be used to convey an order or request. So:


Mintan myamyam yu pwason.



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 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 myamyam pwason. (One should eat fish)


The word aca means "good", so the sentence actually 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, a language spoken in Nigeria), to mean roughly "regarding" in front of the object of a sentence, and bring it to the front. For example:


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



Change of State


The verb lai (come) can be used to show a change of state, as in "I became angry." 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 by adding the question marker, ke, before the clause. So you can say:


Yan ke myamyan pwason. (the man who ate fish)



Using "Supposedly"


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


Yan-kwamba 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, mi aloha 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 pikin. (He is the biggest child)


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


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

Mi sabi 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 getting 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-tokitoki, meaning "when", in a sentence like "When I finish work, I'll go to sleep." But actually, ke-tokitoki 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

Labota work (from "robot")

Lala sleep


Nyuma mi stali labota, mi 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:


Tokitoki mi pikin. . .


This translates directly as "time I am child".



"Pai" and "Tokitoki"


I think the distinction between pai and tokitoki, which are both listed as "time" in the dictionary, may be difficult for English speakers. Basically, tokitoki is "time" as in the passage of time, or a season. So "what time" would call for the use of tokitoki. 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 tokitoki.



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 omni (all) to the end. So mi-omni is "we".




Ya means "yes". Ya can also be put at the end of a sentence to make a question, by asking for confirmation.

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


Ta is "this" or "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


Sabi (can) is used to indicate possibility. "I can swim" is mi sabi nata.

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

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 bawa 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 myamyam. 


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





The numbers in Neo Patwa are:

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

10 deka, 100 hekuto, 1000 kilo.



The Names of Days


Days of the week have names ending in tyan. 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 tyan. So the 12th would be:




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


Do-pela tyan.




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:


Twa-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 an evolving language. Neo Patwa still has quite a restricted vocabulary, which is natural since people are sort of making it up as they go along, 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 seems OK generally to use words from the Western scientific vocabulary as an interim measure, but people also use imaginative compounds as well.

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