Buruya Nzaysa/Morphology

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Nouns in Buruya Nzaysa do not inflect. However, all noun phrases are required to take determiners - an article or pronoun, a quantifier, or both. The general structure of this system is very similar to Delta Naidda (→ description), even in the way inflected prepositions can be used as pronouns (→ see here). The main differences are that Buruya Nzaysa determiners do not cliticize, and that they distinguish syntactic case (nominative vs. accusative).

Articles and demonstratives

nominative accusative
lo lu definite ("the")
u ɔ indefinite ("a")
nzɔ nzo topical ("as for")
xa proximal ("this")
tse tsə distal ("that")
ewə ewa selective interrogative ("which one")
xɛwə xɛwa open interrogative ("what")
  • All determiners can signify singulars or collective plurals when standing on their own. If a specific or distributive plural meaning is intended, a quantifier is used instead or in addition.
  • The indefinite article does not co-occur with any quantifier. This is due to the fact that quantifiers themselves have an inherent indefinite meaning unless preceded by the definite article or by a demonstrative.
  • The topical pronoun occurs mostly at the beginning of sentences, marking an item as discourse-referential. If the topicalized item is further described by more than one adjective, by a prepositional phrase, or by a relative clause, the pronoun is repeated after the auxiliary verb to specify its syntactic role.
  • The selective interrogative pronoun corresponds to "which one", asking for an item or person to be named within a category that is known.
  • The open interrogative pronoun, in contrast, is used for questions where the category of the thing asked for has not yet been mentioned. It mostly corresponds to English "what".
  • The topical, proximal, distal, and open interrogative particles are pronouns which can serve as anaphoric reference to an item mentioned elsewhere, meaning that the item itself can be dropped from the respective noun phrase.
  • Determiners are generally not used with names, except when the name is topicalized. This includes geographical names, in which a fairly generic head noun is often used as a kind of classifier instead of the regular determiners, e.g. ni la Kasaga "in [the] land Kasca" (instead of ?ni lu la Kasaga).


The following non-numeral quantifiers can appear as NP determiners, or specify the number of a NP which is determined by one of the articles and deictics above.

wa a few
namə some
oba many
isa most
masa least
me no, none of
kɛ’u one of*
ɔra all, each
  • The singulative quantifier kɛ’u has an inherently partitive meaning; it is used almost exclusively with nouns denoting groups. To specify a singular meaning for most non-group nouns, the numeral "one" is used instead.


Cardinal numerals are placed in the same syntactical position as other quantifiers, but they cannot head a noun phrase and are thus always preceded by a determiner. Ordinal numerals behave like nouns syntactically.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
unit ñe wo bo du si sud nəl
x10 ñerɔ worɔ borɔ durɔ tsərɔ mɔrɔ sorɔ nərɔ əbe
ordinal exɛ eñe ewo ebo e’u esi emɔ esud enəl erɔ

Numbers higher than ten are formed by compounding with rol-, the combining form of . The initial /w/ of wo changes into /v/ after this: 11 rolkɛ, 12 rolñe, 13 rolvo etc.

Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns in Buruya Nzaysa inflect for three cases (nominative, accusative, and possessive), and have an animacy distinction in the 3rd person (more or less along the line of human vs. non-human). Note that the paradigm of the possessive pronouns is defective, with a number distinction existing only in the first person.

Due to participant marking on auxiliary verbs, personal pronouns are not used very often, mostly serving for emphasis purposes.

nominative accusative possessive
1sg e ə axe
2sg lɛñɔ lɛño adɔ
3sg anim. loru luru ayru
3sg inan. loyo luño ah
1pl wi aymɛ
2pl wɛñɔ wɛño adɔ
3pl anim. wəru waru ayru
3pl inan. wayo waño ah

Pronominal prepositions

Prepositions inflect for the person of their object (but not for number, with the notable exception of the possessive preposition). Because they can all be used on their own without an overt object, and because they can also function as noun phrase determiners, Buruya Nzaysa prepositions are actually akin to pronominals inflecting for case.

(The syntactical implications of this system have been described in detail for the closely related Delta dialect of Naidda - see here for more information.)

1st person 2nd person 3p (default) meaning case
axe/aymɛ adɔ ah/ayru possessive ("of, belonging to") +nom
ome obɔ u genitive/relational ("of, from, relating to")
ñe ño’ɔ ño essive ("as, like")
kwɛne kwədɔ kwə comitative ("with, having")
nte ntɛ’ɔ ntɛ adverbial/instrumental ("with, like, by")
poxe podɔ puh benefactive ("for")
ale aldɔ ala disjunctive ("without, except for, unless")
mpawe mpu’ɔ mpu causative/circumstantial ("because of, due to, in consideration of")
mvomawe mvomu’ɔ mvomu consequential ("to the point of, resulting in, enough for, appropriate to)
mɛsawe mɛsu’ɔ mɛsu adessive ("near, next to")
ɔvə odo o locative ("at, on") +acc
adɛ ada’o ada allative ("to, towards")
ni’o ni illative/inessive ("in, into")
owɛ owa’o owa ablative/posterior ("from, after, since")
ñiredə ñirədo ñire terminative/anterior ("as far as, until, before")
rabə rabɛ’o rabɛ temporal ("at the time of, while, during")
mvəgə mvəbo’o mvəbo interessive ("between, among, through")
saderə sadedo sade transessive ("outside of, behind, beyond")
moldau moldu’o moldu antessive ("in front of")
gɔlɛ gɔldo gɔla subessive ("under, below")
gilau gildo gilu superessive ("over, above, on top of")
ñugɛmə ñugɛdo ñugɛ circumlative/descriptive ("around, about, concerning")
wado wa contralative/antibenefactive ("against, to the detriment of")
ogau ogu’o ogu purposive ("in order to, for the purpose of, in preparation of")
rapsənə rapsədo rapsə alternative ("instead of, rather than")
  • The possessive preposition is unusual in distinguishing the number of its object in the first person: axe is singular, and aymɛ is plural.
  • In the 3rd person of the possessive preposition, ah is an all-purpose form which can be used for referents of any type, whereas ayru is available for optionally specifying an animate possessor. In the more formal registers of the language, ayru is sometimes used as a honorific 2nd person possessive as well, for instance when referring to diplomats, business partners, or deities.
  • The first ten of the above prepositions (ah, u, ño, kwə, ntɛ, puh, ala, mpu, mvomu, mɛsu) govern the nominative case for their objects, while all other prepositions govern the accusative case.


 query   this   that   some    no    every 
thing xɛwa xaxɛ tsexɛ nabɛ maxɛ ɛxɛ
person yaru xaru tseru naru maru ɛru
place yalu wilu tselu nalu malu ɛlu
time sola witsu tsetsu natsu matsu ɛtsu
way xə’ə tsə’ə
reason nzowa tsədo
  • All interrogative pronouns inflect for case; they are given in the accusative here. The nominative forms are xɛwə, yəru, yəlu, solə, nzowə respectively.
  • The manner pro-adverbs xə’ə and tsə’ə (borrowed from Delta Naidda gï’n/cï’n respectively) are only used to modify non-topical main clauses. In all other contexts, the adverbial preposition ntɛ followed by an ordinary demonstrative pronoun is preferred.


All verbal inflection in Buruya Nzaysa is carried by auxiliaries, which express the syntactic roles of up to two core participants. Tense, aspect, and mood are expressed by selecting the auxiliary itself. Content verbs do not inflect, but they can serve as the basis for several types of deverbal derivation. Two of these deverbal forms, the verbal noun and the gerund, play a role in certain subclause constructions and are thus grammatically relevant.


The following table lists the auxiliary suffixes. These encode voice (intransitive, transitive, and reflexive), the person and number of the subject, and the person (but not number) of the direct object in the case of transitives.

subject intransitive 1p object 2p object 3p object reflexive
1sg -e -eyə -e’o -eya -xenə
2sg -’ɔ -’ɔwə -’ɔ’o -’ɔwa -xədo
3sg -a’o -a -xena
1pl -əh -exə -ədo -exa -xenə
2pl -’oh -’ɔxə -’odo -’ɔxa -xədo
3pl -ah -axə -ado -axa -xena

The most important auxiliaries are:

s-/so- null ("do")
n- perfective ("have done")
ste- progressive ("be doing")
ɔdɔ- resultative ("have become")
non- intentional ("going to")
ta- inceptive ("start")
əbɔ- cessative; pausative ("stop; interrupt")
puysa- resumptive ("continue")
wə- futurative ("will")
ol- obligative ("must")
ɛ’i- optative ("want")
gas-/gaso- permissive ("may")
es-/s- emphatic potential ("can indeed")
tson- generic ("be always")
ma- negative ("don't")
pɔ- conditional ("might, would")
rɔma-* relative clause auxiliary (nonstandard, see here for details)

Some morphophonological variation occurs:

  • Where two stem versions are listed, the first one applies for vowel-initial suffixes, and the second one for consonant-initial suffixes.
  • First person suffixes override stem-final vowels. The resulting vowel changes from /e ə/ to /i ɛ/ if the stem normally ends in /a/.
  • The 3sg intransitive suffix /ə/ becomes zero when following stem-final /a ə i/. ta- > 3sg.intr ta, wə- > 3sg.intr , ɛ’i- > 3sg.intr ɛ’i.
  • Otherwise, third person suffixes override stem-final /a/, add /j/ after stem-final front vowels and /ə/, and add /w/ after stem-final rounded vowels. The progressive auxiliary ste- is frequently found with a glottal stop /ʔ/ intervening between the stem vowel and the 3rd person singular endings instead of the expected /j/; this innovation was probably introduced to disambiguate the homophonous 1sg>3 and 3sg>3 forms (*steya), and spread to other 3sg forms of the same aux by analogy.
  • The suffix-initial consonants /ʔ x/ coalesce with stem-final consonants as follows:
    • With postvocalic /n/, they become /d ɲ/ respectively: non- > 2sg.intr nodɔ, 1.refl noñenə etc.
    • With the perfective auxiliary n-, the glottal stop is deleted in the second person singular non-reflexive forms. In the other relevant forms of this auxiliary suffix-initial /ʔ x/ change into /z k/. 2sg.intr , 2sg>1 nɔwə, 2pl>3 nzɔxa, 2.refl ŋkədo etc.
    • The emphatic potential auxiliary es- drops the initial vowel of its stem, and changes suffix-initial /ʔ x/ into /t k/: 2sg.intr stɔ, 1.refl skenə etc.
    • The futurative auxiliary wə- changes to wɛ- when a consonant-initial suffix is added: 2sg.intr wɛ’ɔ.
    • The stem-final /l/ of the necessitive auxiliary ol- merges with the /x/ of the reflexive suffixes into /j/, but remains in the second person suffixes before /d/: 2sg.intr oldɔ, 1.refl oyenə etc.
    • The optative auxiliary ɛ’i- coalesces with suffix-initial /ʔ/ into ɛyr-: 2sg.intr ɛyrɔ. (The same stem is also found in the irregular 1sg>2 form ɛyro.)

The meanings of several auxiliaries (usually two, but three or four is also attested) can be combined, usually by adding the 3sg.intr form of any remaining auxes right before the main verb of the sentence. (In polysyllabic auxiliaries whose stem ends in a vowel, the bare stem is used even if the 3sg.intr form would normally take a suffix. Partly because of this behavior, and partly in order to indicate their adverbial role, such additional auxes are glossed without participant reference.) As an alternative but rare strategy, most of the auxiliaries (excluding the last five items from the table above) can be compounded to each other. An example of this is the weakened obligative olnon- "should".

The negative auxiliary ma- always occupies the main aux slot when the whole statement is meant to be negated. When used in front of the main verb, this auxiliary negates the meaning of the verb, not the action described. Compare:

  • miya ɔ mpɛsa olə noxa
    NEG.AUX-1SG>3 INDEF.ACC fish OBL.AUX trade
    I don't have to trade fish


  • oleya ɔ mpɛsa ma noxa
    OBL.AUX-1SG>3 INDEF.ACC fish NEG.AUX trade
    I'm not allowed to trade fish

Passive voice

There are a few special auxiliaries that can be used to form a passive voice, i.e. sentences focused on the most patient- or experiencer-like argument. Some but not all of these have obvious counterparts among the active voice auxiliaries. Passive auxiliaries take a special set of transitive participant suffixes, the "object" part of which references the semantic agent. Note that case in overt noun phrases is still assigned based on the semantic role, i.e. the experiencer or patient is marked as accusative, and the agent or source is marked as nominative.

The following table lists the participant suffixes for passive auxiliaries. (They may also be used with active voice auxiliaries under special circumstances, see "Ergative verbs" below.) Intransitive suffixes are listed in brackets because they are identical to the active voice intransitive endings; note also that all transitive 1st and 3rd person passive suffixes delete any stem-final vowel on the auxiliary.

subject intransitive 1p object 2p object 3p object reflexive
1sg (-e) -əñə -əño -əña --
2sg (-’ɔ) -’oñə -’oño -’oña --
3sg (-ə) -añə -año -aña --
1pl (-əh) -esə -əsto -esa --
2pl (-’oh) -’ɔsə -’osto -’ɔsa --
3pl (-ah) -asə -asto -asa --

Here's a list of the available passive voice auxiliaries:

sp-/spɛ- imperfective passive ("get done to oneself")
ɔdɔl-/ɔdol- resultative/experiential passive ("have had done to oneself")
rol-/rul- habitual passive ("regularly get done to oneself")
ml-/mal- negative passive ("don't get done to oneself")
gal- potential passive ("may get done to oneself")
pɔl- conditional passive ("would get done to oneself")
  • Where two stem versions are listed, the first one applies for vowel-initial suffixes, and the second one for consonant-initial suffixes.
  • The suffix-initial /ʔ/ of the second person suffixes becomes d after stem-final /l/. rol- > 3sg.intr rolə, 2sg.intr ruldɔ etc.

All passive voice auxiliaries can only be used as the main auxiliary in a clause. There is no passive counterpart to the relative clause auxiliary; explicitly passivized relative clauses must thus use a completely different construction than non-passive relative clauses.

Ergative verbs

A small number of content verbs have the peculiar feature of relating primarily to their most experiencer-like argument even without passivization. This has three major consequences for auxiliaries used with these ergative verbs: Firstly, the subject marker in intransitive sentences refers to the experiencer or patient, not to the agent as with regular accusative verbs. Secondly, reflexive morphology is not available. Thirdly, transitive sentences require the use of passive voice suffixes. It should be noted that all determiners in overt argument noun phrases retain the case form expected from their semantic role, i.e. the subject of ergative verbs (experiencer/patient) is marked with the accusative, and the "ergative object" (agent/source) is marked with the nominative.

There are not many ergative verbs, but a few of them are fairly common, e.g. nada "feel (of emotions)", spɛ "experience (of physical sensations)", pɛmo "fear", or ena "see". Like these, the vast majority of ergative verbs are verbs of perception.

  • Ɔde (ə) pɛmo.
    RES.AUX-1SG (1SG.ACC) fear
    I'm afraid. (lit. Me fears.)
  • Ɔdəño (ə) lɛñɔ pɛmo.
    RES.AUX-1SG<2 (1SG.ACC) 2SG.NOM fear
    I'm afraid of you.
  • Səña lo mɛya axe ena.
    NULL.AUX-1SG<3 DEF.NOM brother of.1 see
    I see my brother.
  • Sañə lu mɛya axe ena.
    NULL.AUX-3SG<1 DEF.ACC brother of.1 see
    My brother sees me.

Reflexive verbs

Another special class are the reflexive verbs, which, unlike most other verbs, cannot be used intransitively. In order to use these verbs without an object, the auxiliary must take on reflexive morphology instead. Some of the verbs belonging into this category have inherent reflexive meaning; others create what might be described as "dynamic predicates", ascribing a change in quality or role to the subject of the clause.

  • *Ste tsɛ.
    *PROG.AUX-1SG wash
    *I'm washing. (ungrammatical)
  • Stexenə tsɛ.
    PROG.AUX-1.REFL wash
    I'm washing myself.
  • Skədo wə oxola.
    EMPH.AUX-2.REFL FUT.AUX enter.priesthood
    You really should become a priest.

The verbal noun

The verbal noun (glossed as vn) is a nominalized form of the verb which denotes the action as an event or process. It is slowly falling out of use as a deverbal inflection, but some grammatical constructions still demand a verbal noun at least in prescriptive usage. A morphologically regularized variant of the verbal noun also remains alive as a productive derivational morpheme.

  • Verbs ending in a consonant will usually form the verbal noun by suffixing -a, accompanied by lenition of the consonant, by a change of stem-final /l/ to /n/, and usually also by reverse ablaut of the vowel in the last syllable of the stem: /ɛ ɔ o u/ → /i u ɔ o/, and /ə/ → either /i/ or /e/.
  • With a number of native verbs ending in vowels other than /i e/, a historically lost consonant will reappear in the verbal noun, again usually with reverse ablaut of the preceding vowel.
  • Stem-final vowels in other native verbs will generally undergo ablaut: /i e ɛ ɔ o u/ → /ɛ ə ə o u ɔ/.
  • All remaining native verbs (typically ending in one of the vowels /a ɛ ə ɔ/) and borrowed verbs ending in one of /a ə/ have a verbal noun that is identical to the citation form.
  • Borrowed verbs ending in a vowel other than /a ə/ can either stay unchanged or undergo ablaut of the final vowel. There is lots of variation, usually conditioned by register: The more formal the speaker intends his utterance to be, the more likely he is to use vowel ablaut.
  • Reflexive verbs form their verbal noun with the suffix -yə, which coalesces with stem-final obstruents into -ñə, deletes stem-final /l/, and surfaces in the alternate forms -xə or -skə after some vowel-final stems. If a reflexive verb already contains a derivational suffix of these shapes, the verbal noun will be formed by replacing the suffix with -ñə.

Verbal nouns whose formation involves a consonant change, or where final vowels other than /a ə/ unexpectedly do not undergo ablaut, will be indicated in the lexicon.

The gerund

The gerund (ger) is an adverbial form of the verb which is used to modify clauses, verbs, or other modifiers. It is also mostly derivational in character, but unlike other adverbs it can take all the arguments that the corresponding verb could take, and thus be used as the head of an adverbial subclause.

The gerund is formed with a prefix ntɛ-/ntə- (always unstressed), which reduces to nt- before vowels, and interacts with stem-initial consonants in the following manner:

  • Before initial nasals and sC clusters, the prefix is always ntə-.
  • Before initial liquids, approximants, /ts/, /s/ and /ɡ/, the prefix is always ntɛ-.
  • Stem-initial /p t k kʷ/ prefix ntɛ-, and lenite to /w d x ɡ/.
  • Stem-initial /b d/ prefix ntɛ-, and lenite to /v ʔ/.
  • Stem-initial /mp nt nts ŋk ŋkʷ nz/ prefix ntə-, and change into /ps ts ts ɲ m d/.
  • /mv/ prefixes ntə-, but may change into either /b/ or /ɡ/. Derived verbs with the causative prefix mvo(m)- have gerunds in ntubo(m)-.
  • /x/ can either go unchanged while prefixing ntɛ-, or mutate into /ɲ/ while prefixing ntə-.

For verbs beginning with one of /mv x/, the gerund will be given in the lexicon because it is not predictable from the citation form of the verb.