The Alien Language With A LIFO Grammar


LIFO Grammar

Syntactic Device - Lingering

Parts Of Speech

Verbs - Active Or Passive Voice

Stack Conjunctions

Copying Conjunctions

Ordering Conjunctions

Destructive Conjunctions

Synchronization Conjunction

Third-Person Pronouns

Cultural Notes






Initial Consonants


Final Consonants And Consonant Clusters

Hand Signals


Writing System


Awaiting Further Research


Fith is a language for an imaginary alien race. Since many model languages for aliens use grammars that follow the universal grammar of humans, I wanted to invent a language that specifically violated linguistic universals and could never be spoken by a human in actual practice. Humans can translate Fithian texts that have been written down, but due to the nature of the grammar - where words can be spoken long before their semantic role, if any, is apparent - no human could learn to translate Fith in real time. The grammar is based on the principals of a LIFO-stack (Last In First Out) data structure. Fith is also unusual in that each word has both a spoken component and a hand signal (one of 12 hand signals, each combination of spoken component and hand signal often signaling a different word).

Fith is the most prominent language of the sentient race of the planet Fithia. Fithians are hairless, intelligent marsupials, averaging four feet in height, legendary for their revolutionary and erratic political structures. Fithians are also known for being the only sentient race whose universal grammar depends upon a mental model of a LIFO-stack (Last In First Out) data structure, a peculiarity that is apparently biologically hardwired into Fithians. All Fithian languages use the LIFO grammar.

LIFO Grammar

A LIFO stack can be thought of as a deck of cards. In Fith, every card is a different word or set of words. Some words - like nouns - typically just get added to the stack. For instance, the utterance _zhong hong_ would place the first word, _zhong_ ("nation"), onto the stack (think of it as a card) then would place the next word over it, _hong_ ("man").

1. zhong, "nation"

2. zhong hong, "nation man"

All the syntactical rules of Fith involve the use of the stack. For instance, an adjective modifies the noun or phrase on top of the stack (the top card, as it were). So the adjective _lin_, "loyal", would take _hong_ from the mental stack of the listener and would replace it with the phrase <hong lin> ("loyal man"). For our purposes here, phrases are defined as any group of two or more words and are represented by being enclosed in brackets; after being processed, they take one space on the stack. So the final result of the stack for the phrase _zhong hong lin_ would be:

3. zhong <hong lin>, nation "loyal man"

The phrase _zhong hong lin lo_ would leave the stack as follows:

4. <zhong hong lin lo>, "loyal man of the nation"

See the section on stack conjunctions below to see how Fithians manipulate the stack for emphasis.

Syntactic Device - Lingering

A rhetorical device used in Fith is to mention subjects that are then left to linger on the stack before being used. This can serve as introduction or indirection. The whole time a Fithian is talking these unused words are in the back of the listener's mind, as it were, coloring all that is said after. A short example (examples of this can be much longer):

"As we all love the pouch that bore us, we all love the clan who raised us. As we all love the clan who raised us, so must we love this nation that sacrificed for us." - Tsho Ming Sun Do.

There is not room in an introduction of this sort to present the whole translation here, other then to say that it begins with the words "nation clan pouch". Thanks to the stack-based grammar, the word "nation" (_zhong_) can be introduced first, even though it is not used until four clauses later! (Obviously politicians find this device to be a great way to seem to answer an opponent.)

One popular parody of Tsho Ming Sun Do's famous statement (popular among the enemies of the Tsho nation anyway) begins with the words _lu lu lu lu..._ "Us us us us...". (The parody is perfectly grammatical, if impossible for humans to understand in real time.)

Parts Of Speech

Fith is isolating, with no words modified by inflections or derivational affixes.

Nouns - A noun is placed on the stack as is and does not affect items already on the stack. Nouns are not marked for number, gender or case. Articles are optional, in which case the precise meaning is determined from context (e.g., _zhong hong lo_ typically means "A man of THE nation").

Verb - A verb removes a subject and an object (if present) and replaces them with a clause on the stack. Verbs are not marked for tense, number, gender or person; this is assumed from context or made explicit by modifiers. (See note about active and passive voice below.)

Modifiers - A modifier can be used as an adjective or adverb: an adjective if the stack top is a noun or noun phrase, an adverb if the stack top is a verb or verbal phrase. A modifier always removes the stack top and replaces it with a phrase. For instance, _hong lo_, "loyal man", and _hong shi vin um lo_, "man you follow still loyally" -> "The man still loyally follows you."

Personal Pronouns - Fith only has two personal pronouns: _shi_ for the second person ("you, y'all") and _lu_ for the first person ("I, me, we, us").

Possessive Pronoun-Modifiers - _ong_ for the second person ("your") and _zha_ for "my".

Postpositions - These have a similar function to English prepositions: _fthong hong lo_, "people man of" -> "man of the people". Fith has two classes of postpositions: traditional postpositions, as _lo_, where the object of the postposition is the second item from the top of the stack, and the swap postpositions, where the object of the postposition is the top of the stack, as in _hong fthong shlo_, "man people of" -> "man of the people". The swap postpositions were originally all contractions of _shen_ and a traditional postposition (e.g., _shlo_ is a contraction of _shen lo_) though unrelated forms have since emerged (_sre_, "up", and _zhomn_, "[swap] up").

Articles - The articles _ke_ ("the"), _emn_ ("a, some") and _zhenh_ ("in general, as a class") are optional. When they are used, they occur after a noun or noun phrase: e.g., _hong fthong shlo emn_, "man people of a" -> "a man of the people." An example of _zhenh_: _yumn zhenh tra humh vai "human [as a class] Terra from be" -> "Humans, as a rule, are from Terra."

The exact part of speech is marked by using a hand signal, though this process is still under study by Terran linguists.

Verbs - Active Or Passive Voice

Fithian verbs are all translated into English in the active voice, but if the order of the subject and object have been swapped before the verb, this implies a similar sense of emphasis to the passive voice in English.

Active: _hong shi vin um lo_, "man you follow still loyally" -> "The man still loyally follows you."

Passive: _shi hong shen vin um lo_, "you man [swap] follow still loyally" -> "You are still followed loyally by the man."

Stack Conjunctions

A stack conjunction is a word with the primary purpose of directly manipulating the mental stack. The following sections cover the key stack conjunctions and their meanings.

Copying Conjunctions

The following copying conjunctions add one or more items to the top of the stack, based on the existing contents of the stack.

_du_ ( n1 - n1 n1 ) makes a copy of the top stack item. [called "dup", for duplicate, in English grammars]

_kuu_ ( n1 n2 - n1 n2 n1 n2 ) copies the top two stack items. [called "redup"]

_voi_ ( n1 n2 - n1 n2 n1 ) copies the second stack item to the top of the stack. [called "dupover"]

_dzhi_ ( n1 - n2 ) copies the n1th stack item to the top of the stack where n1 is a number greater than zero. [called "pick"]

For instance, _hong lin du_ produces the stack _<hong lin> <hong lin>_. The phrase _hong lin du lo_ translates as "most loyal man of loyal men" (the superlative is determined from context in this instance).

Another example: the phrase _zhong hong kuu_ produces the stack _zhong hong zhong hong_, "nation man nation man".

IMPORTANT NOTE: Stylistically, it is considered poor form to repeat a recently said word when a stack conjunction could easily be used instead.

Ordering Conjunctions

The following ordering stack conjunctions rearrange the position of the items on the stack:

_shen_ ( n1 n2 - n2 n1 ) exchanges the stack positions of the top two stack items. [called "swap"]

_ronh_ ( n1 n2 n3 - n2 n2 n1 ) moves the third stack item to the top, pushing down the first two stack items. ["rotate"]

_lonh_ ( n1 n2 n3 - n3 n1 n2 ) moves the top stack item to the third item, pushing the second and third items up. ["counterrotate"]

The word _shen_ is used to rearrange the order of the top two items of the stack. For example, _Hong ke rumn ke vith e._ is "The man saw the robot." while _Hong ke rumn ke shen vilh e._ is "The robot saw the man." The swap rearranged the order of the subject and object. Swap, rotate and counterrotate conjunctions enable Fithian word order to be pretty free, despite the fact that verbs require subject-object word order. What follows illustrates this and is a good example of _lonh_:

The sentence _zhong hong zhong hong non lonh lo shen krai e_ means "nation man nation man without [counterrotate] of hate" -> "The man with a nation is hated by the man without a nation." (Contrast this with _zhong hong non zhong hong lo krai e_, "The man without a nation hates the man with a nation.")

The effect of _ronh lonh_ is to rotate the top three items, then restore them to their original order, in effect leaving the stack unchanged. As a result, Fithian speakers use _ronh lonh_ as a filler sound like English "um" when hesitating while talking.

Destructive Conjunctions

The following conjunctions remove items from the stack:

_e_ (n1 -) removes the top item from the stack. [called "full stop"]

_frong_ ( n1 - ) also removes the top item from the stack. [called "drop"]

_bom_ ( n1 n2 - n2 ) drops the second item from the stack. [called "nip"]

The conjunctions _e_ and _frong_ have different semantic meanings (while sharing the same syntactical function). The word _e_ ends an utterance, popping the stack top off the stack. It is like a period ending a sentence in written discourse, but in Fith it is always spoken. The word _frong_, on the other hand, like _bom_, has the sense of "forget I mentioned that".

Here is an example of _frong_: the phrase _shi vum vai e_ ("you were an egg", lit. "you egg be") is the direst insult, equivalent to "f-- you" in English (and is a reference to the pestilent monotreme rodents native to the planet Fithia). However, the phrase _shi vum vai frong_ is the equivalent of "shucks" or "you goof"; it is the mildest of oaths, said by parents to their children and lovers to one another. (Imagine saying "f-- you never mind" to your child!)

Synchronization Conjunction

The synchronization conjunction strunh [synch] is used to remind the listener how deep their mental stack should be. It requires that a number already be on the mental stack. For instance, bonh strunh means "two [synch]". Such a phrase has the sense of, "You should still have two items on your mental stack [after bonh has been removed], and I'll be getting to them shortly. If you don't, let me know and I'll clarify."

It is frequently used when talking in a noisy environment (the communal showers, for instance) and is used less often otherwise.

[Thanks to Jim Henry for suggesting that perhaps each word in Fith "could end with a sort of CRC code"; that suggestion inspired the creation of strunh.]

Third-Person Pronouns

Fith does not have third-person pronouns, but uses the stack conjunction _du_ [dup] instead. For example:

_Hong du_ produces the following stack in the mind of the listener: _hong hong_, "man man".

To say, "The red robot jumped. The man deactivated it.", you would say in Fith:

_rumn ke vainm du vonh e hong ke shen shkrung e._

Literally: "Robot the red (dup) jump. Man the (swap) deactivate."

The difficult part of this for English speakers is that you have to call attention to the fact that you will be referring to something later by saying _du_. In other words, you have to know that you are going to refer to something with a pronoun before you actually do so, marking the antecedent. This makes it harder to use (for humans) than a third-person pronoun.

The _shen_ (swap conjunction) is required to place the nouns in correct order for the verb _shkrung_, "deactivate". The subject has to go on the stack first, followed by the object. The swap-conjunction places the items <_hong ke_, "man the"> and <_rumn ke vainm_, "robot the red"> in the correct order on the stack. Without _shen_, the meaning of the last sentence would be, "The red robot deactivated the man." (A few irregular verbs require the object to proceed the subject.)

Cultural Notes


The name of a Fith is four words long: the name of his nation, followed by the name of his clan, followed by the name of his mother, followed by the name his mother gave him. (Why do I use the pronoun _his_? Because 80% of Fithian births are to males, meaning men outnumber women four to one.)

Tsho Ming Sun Do

Do, of the mother Sun, of the clan Ming, of the nation Tsho

Among family and among friends of the same clan, only the given name (e.g., Do) is used. Among other members of the same clan, the mother's name is also used (e.g., Sun Do). Among members of another clan belonging to the same nation (even presuming friendship), the clan name is used (e.g., Ming Sun Do). Everyone else uses the full name. Occasionally, a Fithian's best friend will be of another nationality: those two will go through life calling each other by their full names.

Because clans often change allegiances, a Fithian's national name may change two or three times during his life. Tsho Ming Sun Do was born Lom Ming Sun Do, before the Ming clan joined the Tsho nation. (Tsho Ming Sun Do eventually led the Tsho nation to complete victory over the Lom nation, entirely conquering it.)

The words that are used as names have no other meaning (no names like Grace or Joy) and are chosen from a set that has become fixed by tradition. There are now just 144 possible given names, and 12 times that many clan names. The name of a nation is taken from the name of its preeminent clan.


The Fithians use a number system based on 144. They have unique words for the numbers 0 through 144, then express greater numbers using 144 as the base. The word for one is _an_, for two is _bonh_, for twelve or dozen is _den_, the word for 144 is _mang_.

When a number is mentally processed, the Fithian checks the stack top to see if that is a number as well. If it is, it multiplies that number by 144 and adds its own value. Thus _an bonh_ would be 1 x 144 + 2 = 146, while _mang an_ would be 144 x 144 + 1 = 20,737.

Numbers are otherwise treated as nouns. To use a noun as an adjective requires using the postposition _tshon_, "of" (but used only for numbers). To say, "I saw two men", one would say, _lu hong bonh tshon vilh_, literally "I man two of saw".


The most common parting is _Song ke duun_, "Friend the go-away-with-the-intention-of-returning" -> "The friend departs but will come again."


The vocal tract of the Fithians is similar to that of humans, but different enough to make it impossible for humans to exactly pronounce Fithian sounds. And then there is the matter of the hand signals, some of which require the use of two thumbs... As a result, all humans speak Fith with a marked speech impediment (an uncharitable Fithian considers human pronunciation to be a parody), but the following guidelines allow us to come as close to the original sounds and signals as humanly possible.


A word is formed from the following components:

(I) V (F) H

I = Initial consonant or consonant cluster (optional)

V = Vowel or diphthong

F = Final consonant or consonant cluster (optional)

H = mandatory hand signal or word representing a hand signal

Initial Consonants

Single Consonants - 25

p t k

b d g



f th s sh h

v dh z zh xh

m n ng


r y w

NOTE: \tsh\ and \dzh\ are counted as single consonants, since they combine with other consonants in the same manner as single consonants, but they are of course actually consonant clusters.

The "single consonants" can then be clustered with other consonants as follows:

add -r (20)

pr tr kr

br dr gr



fr thr sr shr hr

vr dhr zr zhr xhr

mr nr

add -l (20)

pl tl kl

bl dl gl



fl thl sl shl hl

vl dhl zl zhl xhl

ml nl

add -y (12)

py ty ky

by dy gy

fy sy

vy zy

my ny

add -w (12)

pw tw kw

bw dw gw

fw sw

vw zw

mw nw

add -th (2)

fth sth

prefix s- (5)

sp st sk

sf sth

prefix s-, add -r (5)

spr str skr

sfr sthr

prefix sh- (3)

shp sht shk

prefix sh-, add -r (3)

shpr shtr shkr

This totals 107 possible initial consonants or clusters. It equals 108 possible word beginnings when you include the fact that you can omit a consonant altogether.


a - pat

ai - pay

e - pet

ee - bee

i - pit

ie - pie

o - pot

oe - toe

oi - noise

ou - out

u - cut

uu - boot

These vowels can be either nasalized or non-nasalized, but are almost always nasalized. The one exception is when no final consonant is indicated in the English transcription of a word (see next section).

Final Consonants And Consonant Clusters

The most common endings are the five nasals:



ng (as in _sing_)

mn (pronounced with no vowel between; try pronouncing _human_ as one syllable as in _dumn_, "down")

nm (also pronounced with no vowel between; try pronouncing _venom_ as one syllable, as in _vainm_, "red")

Any of these nasals may be aspirated (actually, the process creates a geminate of the final nasal, which is followed by a clearly audible puff of breath):






The last final "consonant" is -n~, the vestige of the nasal ending -n~ /ny/. In English transliterations, it is written as a consonant but in fact it is not pronounced, instead having the effect of keeping the vowel nasalized, thereby distinguishing _hon~_ ("to talk") from _ho_ ("to lie"). The vowel is only not nasalized when it is not followed by a transliterated consonant.

There are 108 x 12 x 12 (15,552) possible unique words, based on sound alone.

Hand Signals

Obviously, 15,552 words is too few for a language, even for an alien race. Fithians have developed a way around this, but it does not involve tones as the Chinese add to their monosyllables. Instead, as each word is pronounced, a Fithian marks that word with a manual sign (which can be made with either the right or left hand). The names of these signals can be pronounced in conversation when the hand signals are not visible and are written as part of the appropriate word.

NOTE: The hand of a Fithian has four fingers and two opposable thumbs.

The hand signals and their names:

_rai_ - palm open, facing away from speaker, with fingers and thumbs spread as far apart as possible, pointing to sky

_uun_ - palm open, facing speaker, with fingers and thumbs spread as far apart as possible, pointing to sky

_o_ - palm face down to the floor, fingers and thumbs parallel to floor, pointing away from speaker

_sho_ - palm face up, fingers and thumbs curled into a cup shape

_uu_ - palm face up, fingers curled all the way back to touch the thumbs

_sa_ - palm open, facing away from speaker, with fingers and thumbs touching each other, pointing to sky

_zhoi_ - palm open, facing speaker, with fingers and thumbs touching each other, pointing to sky

_el_ - thumb up sign (left thumb)

_oinh_ - thumb down sign (Fithians point the right thumb down; humans either point the pinkie down or point their one thumb down)

_ong_ - fist, with each thumb straight along the side of the hand

_lan~_ - fist, but with left thumb level and point out from the fist at a right angle

_dzhing_ - fist, but with the right thumb level and pointed out from the fist at a right angle (humans stick their pinkie out as far as possible)

Apparently, the hand signals specify the part of speech of the word (more accurately, specify the stack operation to be made by the word), but this is not well understood yet. As a result the vocabulary presented here has not specified hand signals. (Further research undertaken by the Genesis 2:19 Committee is addressing this.)

_o_ - place this word on the stack as is (e.g., for a noun)

_sa_ - manipulate the stack based on what is currently on the stack only (a stack conjunction)

_el_ - postposition

_oinh_ - swap postposition

_uu_ - verb with just a subject

_sa_ - verb with subject and object

_zhoi_ - verb with subject, object and indirect object


Early in its history, Fith had 14 vowels, with /oo/ (took) and /ah/ (father) used, but they were the least frequently used sounds and were gradually abandoned in favor of a system that fit _den zhaimn ke_ ("the golden twelve", the belief that twelve is the right number to have of something, meaning literally "the green twelve" in Fith, since green has the equivalent of the positive connotations of the color of gold).

Also because of _den zhaimn ke_, four final consonant clusters of Old Fith (/l/, /lh/, /r/, and /rh/) were abandoned in favor of the "the golden twelve" endings (10 nasals, the vowel, and the non-nasalization of the vowel).

Writing System

The Fithian writing system is a combination of an alphabet, a syllabary (for want of a better word) and an ideography. The initial consonant cluster of a word is represented alphabetically. Each unique combination of vowel and final consonant (the rime of a syllable, comprising 160 forms in Fith) has a unique symbol: so /oi/ is written differently than /oin/, which is written differently than /oimn/. Finally, each hand signal has a pictograph roughly based on the hand shape. And as if that wasn't enough, about the thousand most common words (actually it has been formalized at 12*144, _den sing_) have unique symbols. And the 144 digits (0 to 143) have unique symbols. So Fithians have to learn close to 2000 symbols to represent their language. Their brains are well suited to this; where humans using ideographic systems (Chinese, for instance) take decades to master all their symbols; a young Fithian can learn their writing system is about two Terran years.


Research is still be undertaken to correctly mark each word with its appropriate hand signal.

Word Translation Part Of Speech Stack Operation Etymology
anone number
bom*nip stack conjunction
bonhtwo number
denhtwelve, dozen number
do(person name) name
du*dup stack conjunction
dumndown postposition(n1 n2 - <n2 down n1>)
duunto go away with the intention of returning verb
e*full stop stack conjunction
emna, some article (modifier)
fthiearth (the planet Fith) name
fthongperson, people (word for their species) noun
frong*drop stack conjunction
hongmale Fith, man noun
dzhi*pick stack conjunction
kethe article (modifier)
kraihate verb
shkrungdeactivate verb
kuu*redup stack conjunction
linloyal modifier
loof, belonging to, with postposition(n1 n2 - <n2 of n1>
lom(clan name) name
lonh*counterrotate stack conjunction
luI, me, we, us first-person personal pronoun
mang144 number
ming(clan name) name
hoto lie verb
hon~to talk verb
humhfrom noun
nonwithout postposition
ongyour second-person possessive pronoun-modifier
ronh*rotate stack conjunction
rumnrobot noun
shen*swap stack conjunction
shiyou second-person personal pronoun
shloof postposition(n1 n2 - <n1 of n2>) [< shen lo, "[swap] of".]
shtumndown postposition(n1 n2 - <n1 down n2>) [< shen dumn, "[swap] down".]
singzero number
songally noun
sreup postposition(n1 n2 - <n2 up n1>)
srenlanguage noun
strunh*synch stack conjunction
sun(person name) name
traTerra noun[English _Terra_.]
tsho(nation name) name
tshonof (but used only for numbers) postposition(n1 n2 - <n2 of n1>)
umstill modifier
vaibe verb
vainmred modifier
vilhsaw verb
vinfollow verb
voi*dupover stack conjunction
vonhjump verb (1 object, or two?)
vumegg noun
yumnhuman noun[English _human_.]
zhamy first-person possessive pronoun-modifier
zhaimngreen noun
zhenhin general article (modifier)
zhomnup postposition(n1 n2 - <n1 up n2>)
zhongnation noun

Awaiting Further Research

The study of Fithian linguistics is just getting started, thanks to an initial first-contact study done by satdroids of the Genesis 2:19 Committee. The following areas will be researched by a first contact team:

Respectfully yours,

Jeffrey Henning

Genesis Linguist

Back to Model Languages home page