Navajo Lesson 2
Last lesson we looked at the very basics of Navajo conjugation. Since Navajo has one of the most complex verb systems in the world (if not the most complicated), I will not wait for us to finish learning the verbal system before learning about other aspects of the language. Therefore I will alternate my lessons, one on verbs, the next on something else, then back to verbs, etc...
Today we are going to learn how to introduce oneself in Navajo. I will not cover basic greeting words as these are already in the course, instead, we will start looking into full but relatively basic sentences.
Once you've said hello, the next step is to say your name. You can do this in the following ways:
- Shí éí John. = I am John
In this sentence, 'shí' is an independent personal pronoun. These are not commonly used, except to emphasise the subject or when there is no verb present, as in this case. Here is a list of independent personal pronouns:
Shí = I (1Sg)
Ni = you (2Sg)
Bí = he/she/it/them (2) (3Sg/DPl)
Nihí = us/you (2) (1/2DPl)
Danihí = us/you (pl) (1/2Pl)
Daabí = they (3Pl)
'Éí' is not the verb "to be", but rather a demonstrative pronoun meaning 'that' or 'those'. In this case however it is merely a filler word. 'Éí' is a very common filler word, often used to separate two words which may other look connected.
'Éiyá' is another common filler, translating roughly to 'umm...'.
Now how do you ask what someone else's name is? As follows:
- Haash yinilyé? = What is your name?
'Haash' is a question word meaning 'how'. Most question words start with 'ha' (in the same way that most English question words start with 'wh'). The alternatives 'haa' and 'haashą'' are also acceptable (no need to worry about the difference as of yet).
'Yinilyé' is the conjugated verb meaning 'you are called'. As a response and alternative to the first sentence we saw today, you could say:
- Mary yinishyé. = My name is Mary.
(Just in case you need them, the 3rd person Singular and Plural conjugations of this verb are 'wolyé' and 'dawolyé')
Next we are going to learn about where you live. To ask where someone lives, use the following question:
- Háadi nighan? = Where is your home?
'Háadi' is another question word, whilst 'nighan' is not a verb but a possessed noun. '-ghan' is a stem meaning 'home', however it must take a possessive. This possessive could be the 3rd person 'space' prefix: 'ho-' (as in 'hoghan') however, seeing as we're asking someone, we are using the 2nd person possessive prefix, 'ni'. The possessive prefixes are the same as the independent personal pronouns above, but without high tone on the final vowel.
As a response, you could say:
- Tségháhoodzánídi shighan. = My home is in Window Rock.
'Tségháhoodzání' literally translates as "hole in the rock" and is the name of Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo nation. Some other Navajo place names include:
Kin Łání (many houses) = Flagstaff
Bee'eldíílahsinil (bells in elevated position) = Albuquerque
Na'nízhoozhí (bridge) = Gallup
Hoozdo (place is hot) = Phoenix (note 'ho-' the same deictic (spatial) prefix that appears in the word 'hoghan')
Tóta' (between the waters) = Farmington
Ch'ínlį́ (it flows out horizontally) = Chinle
Tséhootsooí (meadow between rocks) = Fort Defiance
And of course 'Naat'áaniinééz' (tall boss) = Shiprock, already in the course. The '-di' at the end of the place name is a location prefix meaning 'in' or 'at'. 'Shighan' means 'my home', with 1Sg possessive 'shi-'.
How about family? Many Navajos will introduce themselves according to clan membership (there are ~60 clans in the Navajo nation):
Haa dóone'é nílį́? = What clan are you?
Tódích'íi'nii éí nishłį́. = I am of the Bitterwater clan.
Ha'át'íí bá shínílchíín? = For which clan are you born?
Áshį́į́hí bá shíshchíín. = I was born for the Salt clan.
('Haa' and 'Ha'át'íí are interchangeable here)
'nilį́' = 'you are'. It is an irregular verbs, and conjugates as follows:
Nishłį́ = I am
Nílį́ = You are
Nilį́ = He/she/it/they (2) is/are
Niidlį́ = We (2) are
Nohłį́ = You (2) are
Daniilidį́ = We are
Danohłį́ = You (pl) are
Danilį́ = They are
'-á' is a postposition (Navajo has postpositions which go after the noun, as opposed to English prepositions) meaning 'for' or 'on behalf of'. In this case it is paired with 3rd person 'bi-' (the 'i' is only when preceding a consonant, it is eliminated before vowels), referring to the clan. Navajo kinship is matrilineal, meaning children are born into their mother's clan.
Most kinship terms are covered in the course, but here are some that are not:
Atsilí = younger brother
Adeezhí = younger sister
Ach'ooní = spouse (there is another word 'asdzą́ą́' meaning 'wife', however this word is gender neutral)
Análí = paternal grandfather/grandmother/grandchildren (here we see that matrilineal lineage's effect on the language, as their are fewer distinctions by gender or generation on the father's side of the family)
Note that all these terms (as well as the terms in the course) start with 'a-'. This is indefinite possessive prefix. Some Navajo words, including '-ghan' (see above), '-be' (milk) and all kinship terms and body parts, must take a possessive prefix. This is referred to as 'inalienable possession'. However if you want to refer to a general house or mother or foot, you can use the indefinite 'a-'. For example: amá = one's mother (vs. shimá = my mother or nihizhé'é = our father).
To say you have something, you use the possessed noun together with the stative verb 'hólǫ́' which means 'it exists' (plural 'dahólǫ́'). The opposite of this verb is 'ádin' = it does not exist (plural 'ádaadin').
Da' nádí hólǫ́? = Do you have an older sister? (lit. Does your older sister exist?)
Aoo', shádí hólǫ́. = Yes, I have an older sister.
- Ndaga', shádí ádin. = No, I do not have an older sister.
Here is an alternative construction:
Ninaaíísh hólǫ́? = Do you have an older brother?
Ndaga', shínaaí doo hólǫ́ǫ da. = No, I do not have an older brother.
There is a lot to unpack here. First, let's look at questions. We've already seen a couple of 'ha' question words, however how do you form a Y/N question? There are multiple ways, two of which are demonstrated here. You could use 'da'' at the start of the sentence, or you can suffix '-ísh' to the noun being inquired about. (the -ísh will adopt any vowel it is attached to, giving it high tone in the process).
A third way, corresponding to the English 'is/isn't it', is 'ya'' placed at the end of the sentence.
- Nimá dóó nizhé'é ba'áłchíní táá' ya'? = Your mother and father have three children, right?
In the sentence above, there is no need for the stative verb 'hólǫ́' as numerals can essentially serve the function of the stative verb. Therefore 'táá'' can mean 'there are three ...'.
Another peculiarity you may have noticed in the sentence above is the alternative construction of the negative. To negate any verb (not just statives), you can use the circumclitic 'dooda':
- Éí doo shí da. = That isn't mine.
This is a lot of information already so let's wrap it up with a goodbye. You've already learned Hágoónee' from the course, however as a common and shorter alternative you can use the Lą́'ąą interjection which corresponds to 'okay' or 'fine'. 'Jó nizhóní' is also commonly used in conversations, especially to draw them to a close. Jó is another interjection meaning 'well' or 'as you know' and 'nizhóní' is a stative verb meaning 'to be pretty/nice'. The whole thing translates to Well that's nice!