Language profile: Universal

(This profile is based on L I Vasilevskij, `Neizvestnaja stranica v istorii otechestvennnoj interlingvistiki -- jazyk Universal (1925 g.)', in M I Isaev et al. (eds.), Problemy interlingvistiki: Tipologija i êvoljucija mezhdunarodnyx iskusstvennyx jazykov, Moscow: «Nauka», 1976.)


The language Universal was designed in 1923-1928 by G I Muravkin and L I Vasilevskij. It is mentioned on p. 197 of E Drezen's Historio de la mondolingvo: Tri jarcentoj de serchado (Leipzig, 1931), but all that is reported there is that the project is called Universal (though that had not been its name before the publication; during its development the authors had been referring to it as ML, from mondolingvo), that it was designed in 1925 (a year chosen at random) by Herlen Vamu (a pseudonym forged by GIM from the initial syllables of the authors' first names and the surnames) and that it is «an etymologically reformed Esperanto» (which it is not, although it certainly owes some things to Esperanto). According to LIV, no information on the language has been published anywhere else.


Roman letters
Used with their IPA values, but in uppercase as well as lowercase.
Additional letters
There are five of them, also used with their IPA values: ø, schwa (here written as @), esh (here 6), ezh (here 3), eng. I don't know what the corresponding capitals are supposed to look like.
A palatalised consonant is marked by a hacek, a nasalised vowel by a tilde, a long vowel by a circumflex and an exceptional stressed vowel by an acute accent.


Is a «buffer vowel» whose mission is to break impermissible consonant clusters.
These are the clusters ts, t6, dz and d3.
Falls by default on the rightmost non-schwa vowel preceding the last consonant in the word. If it doesn't, it must be marked by an acute accent.

Parts of speech


Nouns in Universal are marked by the suffix -o (elidable at least in certain cases).

The same tag o acts as a complementiser: al gefinu o fargu kaj egnifu o grafu `he has finished reading and is beginning to write'.


These are a single class in Universal. They have two forms: an attributive (adjective-like) one and a predicative (verb-like) one.

Attributive form

Is marked by the suffix -a: mega urbo `big city', penda lampo `hanging lamp'.

The same tag a acts as a preposition: podo a tablo `leg of a table', luso a deno `light of day, daylight'.

Predicative form

Is marked by the suffix -u: urbo megu `(the) city is big', lampo pendu `(the) lamp is hanging'.

The same tag u acts as a copula when the complement is a noun phrase: formiko u insekto `(the) ant is an insect'.

Non-productive derivation


This is probably the most characteristic feature of Universal (indeed, one of its creators suggested in jest that it should be called Inversal). Inversion relates antonyms of various sorts:
mega `big, great' gema `small' donu `give' nodu `receive' za `the' az `a(n)'
tela `far, distant' leta `near, close' ponu `put' nopu `take' jen `yes' nej `no'
bona `good' noba `bad' lisu `speak' silu `be silent' se `if' es `unconditionally'
bela `beautiful' leba `ugly' ploru `cry, weep' lorpu `laugh' kon `with' nok `without'
masa `mass' sama `lone, single' grafu `write' fargu `read' do `to, towards, till' od `from'
meza `middle' zema `marginal' merku `sell' kremu `buy' kaj `likewise, and' jak `contrariwise, but'
nera `black' rena `white' produ `produce' dorpu `consume' al masculine marker la feminine marker
stroju `build' jortsu `destroy' un `one', singular marker nu `several', plural marker
zea `this' eza `that' deno `day' nedo `night' fino `end' nifo `beginning'
zena `the same' neza `(an)other' kozo `reason, cause' zoko `consequence' medo `means' demo `goal'
Partial inversion sometimes occurs in compounds: simpatu `sympathise', mispatu `be hostile'.


Is used widely in order to keep the number of independent roots low. However, a number of frequent compounds are contracted or abbreviated, which results in the creation of new roots: dennedo > dendo `day and night', evdeno > evdo `morning', evnedo > evno `evening', evzaro > evzo `spring', evrazo > evro `autumn'.


Links families of semantically related words:
lina `long' lana `wide' lona `tall'
valdo `forest' veldo `savannah' vildo `steppe'

Productive derivation and inflexion

Relational adjective

Is formed by the suffix -j: denja luso `daylight'. (Has the same meaning as an a-prepositional phrase.)


Plurality is optionally indicated by (partial) reduplication: tablo-tablo > tatablo `tables', de(n)deno `days', kloklora `of many colours' (from klora `coloured'), marmar6u `walk repeatedly'.


Tense marking is optional. The marker e indicates past tense when prefixed (ebela `formerly beautiful', e6efo `ex-boss') and future tense when suffixed and stressed (sanéa `healthy in the future', urbéo `city-to-be'). The imperative is marked by the prefix 3 (3@donu `give!', 3@luso `let there be light').


Is optionally indicated by the prefixes al- for male (altigro `tom tiger', al-D3onson `Mr J., the man J.') and la- for female (latigro `queen tiger', la-D3onson `Mrs/Miss J., the woman J.'). «In a limited number of frequent words» the sex marker is a, infixed before the last consonant for male (tigar(o) `tom tiger'), suffixed and stressed for female (tigrá(o) `queen tiger'). Note that al and la are themselves related in the same way. Verbs can also be marked for sex, with the meaning `... in a masculine/feminine way', `... like a male/female'.


Direct as well as indirect complements are (optionally) marked by nasalisation of the final vowels of the noun and its attributes (this being the only instance of agreement of any sort in the language): 3@donu zeã librõ `give this book!'.

The complementiser o can also be marked for oblique case: 3@nifu õ grafu `start writing!'.

Personal pronouns

Most of these end in -i, which is sometimes elidable. Plural pronouns are formed by composition or reduplication; sex is indicated (optionally) in the same way as on nouns and verbs.
person singular sg masculine sg feminine plural 1 pl
1 mi `I' am(i) `I (m)' ma(i) `I (f)' imi `we (excl/incl)' mimi `we (excl)'
2 familiar ti `thou' at(i) `thou (m)' ta(i) `thou (f)' iti `ye' timi `we (incl), thou/ye and I'
2 honorific vi `you (sg)' avi `you (sg m)' vai `you (sg f)' ivi `you (pl)' vimi `we (incl), you and I'
3 li `he/she' ili `they'
al(i) `he' alali `they (m)'
la(i) `she' lalai `they (f)'
The 3rd person singular inanimate pronoun is lo `it'.

Possessive pronouns are formed by the suffix -j: mija `my/mine', tija `thy/thine', vija `your(s)', lija `his/her(s)', alja `his', laja `her(s)', loja `its' and so on.

Created and maintained by Ivan A Derzhanski.
Last modified: 13 May 1998.