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Navajo Lesson 3

Yá'á't'ééh! Last lesson was about introducing yourself, so this lesson (seeing as I'm alternating between the verbal system and everything else), we will be continuing our exploration of the Navajo verb. By the end of the lesson you will know all you need to know to conjugate a regular verb in the Continuous Imperfective (Navajo's 'default'/most basic aspect).

Let's recap the overall structure of the verb:

  • Outer Prefixes + Plural + Object Prefix + Inner Prefixes + Subject Prefix + Classifier + Stem

Recall that the outer prefixes and distributive plural 'da' together are referred to as the 'disjunct prefix' and that the object and inner prefix slots together are the 'conjunct prefix'.

In the last lesson we covered every slot here apart from the classifier. The classifier brings with it a lot of complications in certain other modes, however in the Imperfective, it is relatively simple, requiring us only to learn a few new rules.

First off, there are 4 classifiers in Navajo, and the classifier must be learnt as part of the 'verb base' (the verb base is all the information required about a specific verb to conjugate it, it includes the stem-set for the different modes, the lexical prefixes the verb takes, and which classifier it takes, as well as the transitivity and in most cases the type of conjugation. By the end of this lesson we will be able to introduce full verb bases). The 4 classifiers are: Ø, ł, l and d.

What do these do? Well, the name is misleading because they don't classify anything, instead they are 'valence' and 'voice' markers, although this is not an especially helpful way of looking at them as there is significant overlap between what they do. As a general rule, ø and ł verbs are transitive, whereas d and l verbs are intransitive, however this isn't always the case. I will be introducing the classifiers one by one, accompanied by a rough description of what they do, however just bear in mind that this description is not consistent.

The ø-classifier we have seen already, it is the lack of any classifier. So let's look next at the d-classifier. It occurs in most passive, reflexive and reciprocal derived from ø-classifier verbs. An important rule that must be learnt to apply this classifier is the 'd-effect' which was mentioned in the lesson 1. When the letter 'd' comes before the first consonant of the stem, d-effect occurs. The reaction of different consonants with the letter 'd' have to be learnt individually, but here are a few examples: d + ' --> t'; d + n --> 'n; d + ts --> ts; d + k --> k; d + z --> dz; d + gh --> g

To demonstrate this classifier, we'll look at a verb meaning 'to crawl around'. The imperfective stem is 'na'' and it takes the already seen outer prefix 'na'. In the 3rd person where the S prefix is ø the verb conjugates thusly:

  • na + ø + d + na' --> naa'na' = he/she crawls around

Note the d-effect turning 'd' into a glottal stop, as well as Rule Disj-1 from the previous lesson on verbs lengthening the vowel to 'aa' before the stem syllable.

Next up, the ł-classifier is used for causative-transitivising active verbs. For instance, the verb 'yibéézh' means 'it is boiling', however it can be transitivised using this classifier: yiłbéézh = he's boiling it. To demonstrate the classifier here however we are going to use a verb meaning 'to remove by cutting'. The Imperfective stem of this verb is 'géésh' and it takes the outer prefix 'ha' (this prefix has a specific meaning, usually corresponding to English verbs followed by the preposition 'out' or 'of' (e.g. to cut off, to cut out - as seen in this verb)

Now because this verb is transitive it needs an object prefix. We are not going to cover Object prefixes in full detail yet, for now, we will simply introduce our first 'structure' rule, which covers the 3rd person object prefix which we will use here:

  • Rule Str-1: if the subject of a transitive verb is 1st/2nd/4th person, the 3rd person object prefix is Ø, if the subject is 3rd person, the 3rd person O prefix is 'y'

With that in mind, let's construct a verb meaning "He/she cuts it out"

  • ha + y + ø + ł + géésh = haiłgéésh

The y --> i change can be explained by the following new rule:

  • Rule Conj-2: if a conjunct prefix 'y' is followed directly by a consonant and preceded by the final vowel of a disjunct prefix, it changes to 'i'

This works fine, however to construct the 1st singular, 1st duoplural and 2nd duoplural forms, there are new irregularities that need new rules:

  • Rule Subj-2: the ł- and l-classifiers disappear when sandwiched between a subject prefix ending in 'sh'/'s' and the stem syllable. This is known as 'the sandwich rule':

  • ha + ø + sh + ł + géésh --> haashgéésh = I cut it out

(Note also how Rule Disj-1 from earlier lengthened the 'a' of the outer prefix 'ha')

  • Rule Subj-3: the 'd' at the end of the 1dpl subject prefix 'iid' disappears when immediately followed by the ł- or l-classifiers, the ł-classifier turns into an 'l' when this happens:

  • ha + ø + iid + ł + géésh --> haiilgéésh = We (two) cut it out

  • Rule Subj-4: the 'h' at the end of the 2dpl prefix 'oh' disappears when followed by the ł- or l-classifiers:

  • ha + ø + oh + ł + géésh --> haołgéésh = You two cut it out

Finally, the l-classifier is used (like 'd') for passives, reciprocals and reflexives, but for verbs derived from ł-classifier verbs. We have already learnt all the rules required to apply the l-classifier from the ł-classifier just above. With that in mind, let's use it with the verb for 'to work'. The imperfective stem for this verb is 'nish' and it takes the outer prefix 'na' again:

  • na + ni + l + nish --> nanilnish = You are working

  • naashnish = I am working; neiilnish = We (two) are working; nidaołnish = You (plural) are learning; nijilnish = One is working, etc...

Seeing as the classifiers are a lot to take in, we'll finish off with a relatively minor and easy detail: prefixless verbs. So far we have only looked at verbs which take a lexical prefix of some sort, however many verbs don't. The problem is, verbs cannot be monosyllabic, so in the absence of any full syllable as a prefix, the peg prefix 'yi' is used (this carries no meaning). This is Rule Str-2.

To demonstrate, let's use the verb "to cry". The imperfective mode stem is '-cha'.

  • ni + cha --> nicha = You are crying (since the 2Sg subject prefix is a full syllable, there is no need for the peg)

  • yishcha = I am crying (the 1Sg subject prefix 'sh' is not a full syllable, so the peg 'yi' is added)

There is another detail required when conjugating prefixless verbs, namely, what happens when a verb is stranded with an initial vowel. This may not seem like a problem as this is permitted in English, but in Navajo it is not. To correct this, Rule Str-3 comes into play:

  • Rule Str-3: if a verb is stranded with an initial vowel, 'y' is added to the verb if the vowel is 'i' and 'w' is added if the vowel is 'o':

  • yiicha = We (two) are crying (note also the 'd-effect' deleting the 'd' at the end of 2Dpl 'iid')

  • wohcha = You (two) are crying

But what if the initial vowel is an 'a'? In that case the 'a' is preceded by a glottal stop, however in Navajo orthography, glottal stops are not written at the front of the words, as whenever there is an initial vowel at the front of a word (whether it is a verb or not) it is always pronounced with an initial glottal stop, so there would be no point writing it.

Apart from few odd cases which will be covered in future lessons, you should now be able to conjugate a Navajo verb in its most basic aspect! These rules are a lot to take in, so I understand if you would rather learn Navajo by learning verb conjugations individually as they come along, however it is worth developing an understanding of the rules so you can at least recognise a verb's person, number, aspect, etc... without the full paradigm being introduced to you (as it is in many Navajo textbooks).

January 13, 2019

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