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  5. Navajo Lesson 5


Navajo Lesson 5


(Note: if you haven't gone through the previous verb lessons then none of this will make sense)

Continuing our exploration of the Navajo verb, in this lesson we will move on to Navajo's 2nd most common and most complicated mode, the Perfective, however first, a couple of new rules to eschew any surprises that may arise with the Imperfective:

Rule Subj-5: states that if the pre-stem syllable has a short vowel in it, it will acquire high tone if the preceding vowel has high tone. A clear example of this is the verb "to speak" which takes the new outer prefix 'yá' (I mode stem is -ti' and classifier is ł):

  • yá + ni + ł + ti' --> yáníłti' = you speak

  • yá + da + ł + ti' --> yádaałti' = they speak - Here Rule Disj-1 lengthened the 'da' to 'daa' meaning it is not affected by Rule Subj-5

  • yá + oh + ł + ti' --> yádaołti' = you two speak - Rule Subj-5 does not apply to diphthongs

Rule Subj-6: Navajo does not like having 'sh' and 's' (or the equivalent voiced pair) too close to eat other, so if a verb stem contains a 's', 'z', 'dz' or 'ts' then any 'sh' or 'zh' occurring before it in the verb will become 's' or 'z' whereas if the stem contains 'sh', 'zh', 'j' or 'ch', any preceding 's' or 'z' will become 'sh' or 'zh'. This is the "sibilant assimilation" rule.

To demonstrate, the verb "to think" (cl-ø, lexical prefix 'nitsí' (outer) and I mode stem: -kees):

  • nitsí + sh + kees --> nitséskees = I think

The 'í' in 'nitsí' reacts in new ways to other vowels, so we need additions to existing rules to explain what's going on here:

Add to Rule Disj-1: í --> é before stem syllable

Add to Rule Disj-2: í + ii --> íi (nitsíikees = we (two) think

Add to Rule Disj-2: í + o --> ó (nitsóhkees = you two think)

Now we may move on to the Perfective mode. There is a lot to unpack here, so it will require more than one lesson. Note that for every verb in Navajo you have to learn different stem endings for each mode (actually for 5 out of the 7 modes for reasons we'll see in a future lesson). The different stems are slightly rule-governed, but for now we'll just learn them individually.

The Perfective mode is the equivalent of the 'perfect' in other languages, meaning a completed action (like '-ed' in English). It is difficult because there are two common P mode conjugations, the s-P and y-P, and different classifiers in each of these conjugations require different subject prefixes, resulting in the need to memorise 6 subject prefix tables. Note that for every verb you have to learn beforehand whether it takes the s-P or y-P conjugation (again, there are some rules affecting this, but these are tenuous and will be left until much later).

In this lesson we'll only cover the s-P conjugation, which only requires 2 tables, the first is for verbs taking ø/ł classifiers:

  • 1Sg: sé

  • 1Dpl: siid

  • 2Sg: síní

  • 2Dpl: soo

  • 3: z/s (z for ø, s for ł)

To demonstrate the s-P, we'll return to our first verb, 'to investigate'. The Perfective stem of this verb is -káá', it takes the ł-classifier and the 'na' outer prefix:

  • 1Sg: niséłkáá'

  • 1Dpl: nisiilkáá'

  • 2Sg: nisíníłkáá'

  • 2Dpl: nisoołkáá'

  • 3: neiskáá'

  • 4: nijiskáá'

No new rules have to be learnt here, we can simply insert the new s-P ø/ł subject prefixes into their slot and apply existing rules.

Note the 's' in 'neiskáá'' (he/she investigated). With a ø-classifier such as 'to play' (P mode stem: -ne') the 3rd S prefix in the s-P would be 'z':

  • naazne' = he/she played

To finish off, the s-P prefixes for l/d-classifier verbs are:

  • 1Sg: sis

  • 1Dpl: siid

  • 2Sg: síní

  • 2Dpl: sooh

  • 3: s

(Note that these are very similar to the ø/ł-classifier subject prefixes, so the 6 tables are not too difficult to get the hang of)

To demonstrate, we'll return to the verb 'to work', which takes the same stem in the P mode as the I mode: -nish

  • nishishnish = I worked - Note the sibilant assimilation rule from earlier turning the 's's in 'sis' into 'sh's

  • naashnish = he worked

  • nidashoołnish = you guys worked - here the l-classifier is actually visible (albeit turned into 'ł' by the preceding 'h'), in the previous two examples, it was deleted by Rule Subj-2

To finish off, a demonstration of these prefixes with a d-classifier verb "to crawl around":

  • nidasii'na' = we crawled around

  • nijis'na' = one crawled around

  • naas'na' = he/she crawled around

January 24, 2019



Yá'á't'ééh! Finally someone who speaks Navajo Ahehee my friend.


Cheers, just bear in mind though I'm not a Navajo speaker, just an amateur linguist who's been studying the language a fair bit recently.

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