Navajo Lesson 4


Last lesson we looked a bit more at verbs, so today we'll be looking at aspects of grammar outside of the verbal system, as well as a few more conversional tidbits.

If you are a Navajo learner, then you are a rare breed and will likely arouse the interest of Navajo speakers. Here's a little dialogue:

  • Diné bizaadísh bíhooł'aah? = Are you learning Navajo?

  • Aoo', diné bizaad bíhoosh'aah. = Yes, I am learning Navajo.

  • Diné bizaadísh nił yá'át'ééh? = Do you like Navajo?

  • Aoo', éí ayóo shił nizhóní. Nantł'ah ndi. = Yes, I find it very pretty, but (also) difficult.

'Diné bizaad' is Navajo for the Navajo language. 'Diné' is just means 'man' or 'human', so 'diné bizaad' means 'the people's language'. The word 'Navajo' comes from the Tewa word 'naabahu' which means 'they took our fields' (the Tewa being a Pueblo group whose domain borders the Navajo nation. The Navajo language can also be referred to as 'Naabeehó bizaad'.

English meanwhile is referred to as 'bilagáana bizaad', meaning 'white people's language'. (This term is not used for all European languages, Spanish is known as 'naakaii bizaad' - traveler's language)

In the above dialogue we can see many features and constructions outlined in the previous lesson, such as the demonstrative 'éí' and the question enclitic '-ísh'. However there are some new features to unpack.

Firstly, we have a couple of new little words such as 'ayóo' (or 'ayóogo') - a common and easy word meaning 'really/very'. It usually comes before the verb phrase (before the object and, if there is no object, before the verb); and 'ndi' (or 'nidi') which means 'but'.

Secondly, we have a new verb 'to learn it'. The verb demonstrates the 'b'/'y' alternation, which will be looked at later on in this lesson. It also takes the 'hw' lexical prefix which will be studied far later on in the verb lessons. For now just remember the forms:

  • 1Sg: bíhoosh'aah

  • 1Dpl: bíhwiil'aah

  • 1Pl: bídahwiil'aah

  • 2Sg/Dpl: bíhooł'aah

  • 2Pl: bídahooł'aah

  • 3Sg/Dpl: yíhooł'aah

  • 3Pl: yídahooł'aah

Thirdly, we have 'yá'át'ééh'. You may be familiar with this word as a greeting, however it is actually a stative verb meaning 'it is good' (plural 'yá'ádaat'ééh'). You may also recall from the previous lesson the postposition '-á' meaning 'for'. Here we have a new postposition '-ł'. It means 'with', but when accompanied with a stative like 'yá'át'ééh' it can mean 'to sb., in sb.'s opinion'. Therefore:

  • Naadą́ą́ shił yá'át'ééh. = I like corn. (lit. Corn is good with me)

We have two other examples of the "-ł + stative" construction in the dialogue using the statives 'nizhóní' = it is pretty and 'nantł'ah' = it is difficult.

We now know how to say that we like something, but how do we say that we like DOING something, or we find an action (rather than a noun) to be difficult. To do this we need the subordinating enclitic '-go', which is attached at the end of the verb to create a new clause, as follows:

  • Diné bizaad bíhoosh'aahgo shił yá'át'ééh. = I like learning Navajo.

As with any other language, you can have as many clauses as you like in a sentence:

  • John bilagáana nilį́įgo Kin Łánídi bighango diné bizaad yíhooł'aahgo ayóo bił yá'át'ééh. = John, (being) a white man living in Flagstaff, likes learning Navajo.

The '-go' enclitic is often used to build adverbs too:

  • John nizhónígo diné bizaad yíhooł'aah. = John is learning Navajo nicely. (lit. John is learning Navajo, it being nice)

We will now turn to an important feature of Navajo grammar, the 'y/b' alternation. The Navajo 3rd person pronoun (attached to the front of postposition or as the object prefix in verbal constructions) is y/b. 'y' is used when both the subject and object are 3rd person:

  • John bizhé'é yíká adoolwoł. = John is going to help his father.

'b' meanwhile is used when the subject is 1st/2nd person.

  • John bíká adeeshwoł. = I will help John. (the subject is indicated on the verb in this example)

If you go back you can see the 'y/b' alternation on the outermost prefix of the verb 'to learn it' where the 'yí/bí' are object prefixes referring to 'it'.

However here is where it gets interesting. 'b' is also used for the 4th person or unspecified persons. So contrast the following two sentences:

  • John bizhé'é yíká adoolwoł. = John is going to help his father.

  • John bizhé'é bíká adoolwoł. = John's father is going to help him (John).

Because the second sentence takes 'b', there can only be one specified subject, therefore 'John bizhé'é' is reinterpreted to mean 'John's father', a single noun phrase, as opposed to two separate noun phrases in the first sentence. Since the object is unspecified, we assume it is John, as he is the only possible object in this sentence (to say that John's father was helping himself, we would need a reciprocal construction, the above is no such construction).

Note in the above examples a new postposition -'ká' which means 'for/after'. In this case it is used with the verb 'to help', a new verb in a new mode (the future to be precise). This will be covered further down the line in one of the verb lessons.

To finish this lesson I am going to introduce a few small, useful and relatively easy words which appear quite frequently:

We've already learned 'éí' as a determiner meaning 'that/he/she'. 'Díí' is another determiner which means 'this':

  • Díí éí haash wolyé? = What is this called? (in English this sentence would sound very rude when referring to people, however in Navajo it is perfectly acceptable to do so)

'K'ad' means now and it can be placed pretty much anywhere in the sentence.

  • K'ad John diné bizaad yíhooł'aah. = Now John is learning Navajo.

  • John k'ad diné bizaad yíhooł'aah. = John is now learning Navajo.

  • John diné bizaad yíhooł'aah k'ad. = John is learning Navajo now.

'T'áá' is harder to translate. It means 'just/only' or 'kind of', but occurs in many situations where this translation would make no sense:

  • T'áásh nił yá'át'ééh? = Do you like it? (adds a degree of doubt)

  • Aoo', t'áá yá'át'ééh. = Yes, it is pretty good.

  • T'áá k'ad. = Right now.

'Lá' connotes emphasis or discovery, corresponding roughly to the English exclamation mark, although it can also be used in questions:

  • Nizhóní lá. = That's nice!

  • Háadi lá bighan? = Where could her home be?

  • At'ééd lá! = It's a girl!

January 20, 2019


Wow!!! Very, very, very useful and interesting! Thank you very much! For me, navajo is as difficult as klingon. Ufff! :D

January 20, 2019

I Aspire to be just like you,to get level 10 in every language is my goal

January 22, 2019

Once more, Thank you.

January 21, 2019

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