Buruya Nzaysa/Syntax

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Noun phrase syntax

Noun phrases in Buruya Nzaysa are formed according to the following structure:

Determiner - (Quantifier) - Noun - (Modifiers) - (Prepositional phrases) - (Relative clauses)

Simple noun phrases

Every NP is required to have at least one determiner. Non-numeral quantifiers can function as such when used as the sole pre-nominal element in a NP, but they may also be preceded by a true determiner. Along with the fact that numerals may not serve as determiners, this behaviour justifies positing two syntactical slots before the noun. Since nouns do not inflect for number, a quantifier must be used in order to specify plurals (although bare nouns may also have - collective - plural meaning).

  • lo mpɛsa
    DEF fish
    the fish
  • (xə) oba mpɛsa
    (this) many fish
    (these) many fish
  • u ñe mpɛsa
    INDEF two fish
    two fish

Quantifiers are normally ambiguous between absolute, partitive or distributive quantification. In order to specify a non-absolute meaning, the quantifier can be used as the head of the NP, preceded by a separate determiner and followed by the (non-determined!) semantic noun as the object of a preposition (genitive u for partitive quantities, and benefactive puh for distributive quantities).

  • tse namə u mpɛsa
    that some GEN.3 fish
    some of those fish
  • u du puh mpɛsa
    INDEF five for.3 fish
    five fish each

Grouped noun phrases

Several nouns together can be used within the same NP provided they share the same determiner. The participants of such grouped noun phrases are conjoined by the conjunction o "and", and the end of the listing is marked by a stranded comitative preposition kwə "with". However, this construction is not possible if the determiner used is an interrogative pronoun.

  • oba nalo o bɔ o xɛvra kwə
    many horse and ox and sheep with.3
    many horses and oxen and sheep

Similar constructions are also possible with other conjunctions. Non-exclusive options can be listed with the conjunction ga "or" and the preposition mɛsu "near, next to"; mutually exclusive alternatives can be listed with the conjunction bɔ’a "xor" and the preposition rapsə "instead of"; and a list of negated options can be formed with the conjunction ləh "nor" and the preposition ala "without".

  • Steyah ntidə u ɔ tola ga sɔmɛ mɛsu kənu.
    PROG.AUX-3PL apparently of.3 INDEF.ACC meal or water near.3 ask
    They're probably asking for food or drink (or maybe for both of these).
  • Esə u dəpse ɔ sivo bɔ’a da’ɔ rapsə.
    EMPH.COP-3SG INDEF.NOM child INDEF.ACC female xor male instead.3
    A child can be either male or female (but not both).
  • Miya lu lɛtsi ləh silvo ala barɛda.
    NEG.AUX-1SG>3 DEF.ACC sword nor dagger without.3 acquire
    I bought neither the sword nor the dagger.


Buruya Nzaysa does not have a true class of adjectives; instead, nouns may be modified by other nominal elements. Some of these are comparable in meaning to the adjectives of other languages and rarely appear on their own, but they can nevertheless be used in a nominal sense.

  • lo sasama ɔtso
    DEF lord rich
    the wealthy noble
  • lo ɔtso
    DEF rich
    the wealthy one

Agentive and patientive nouns which are derived from verbs are fairly common as modifiers; they characterize the head noun as the corresponding (momentary or habitual) participant of the action described by the verb.

  • lo dəpse otɛvo
    DEF child run-AGT
    the running child
  • lo xu’ɛ ubarɛla
    DEF book lack-PAT
    the missing book

Several modifiers referring to the same noun can be connected with the conjunction o "and":

  • lo ɔgi sɛpsɔ o əlmɔ o ñurɔ
    DEF sculpture unique and beautiful and ancient
    the unique and beautiful old sculpture

Prepositional phrases

The most distinctive feature of prepositions in Buruya Nzaysa is that, like those of other Naidda dialects, they inflect for the person of their object, which may in turn be dropped if the referent is clear from context.

The most important prepositions and their inflection are given above.

Prepositional phrases modifying nouns are placed after all one-word modifiers but before any relative clauses. Prepositional phrases which modify verbs usually occur immediately after the inflected auxiliary, or else as a locative/temporal topic at the very start of the sentence.

  • adɛ
    to me or to us
  • adɛ ə
    to.1 1SG.ACC
    to me
  • adɛ wɛ
    to.1 1PL.ACC
    to us
  • kwədɔ
    with you
  • o lu mɛsɛlu
    at.3 DEF.ACC tavern
    at the tavern
  • ntɛ u nalo
    by.3 INDEF.NOM horse
    by horse

First and second person prepositions with a full NP as their object put this NP in apposition to their referent:

  • poxe lo de’áxa
    for.1 DEF king
    for me, the king

All inflected prepositions can also be used as determiners. For details see here.

Prepositional phrases may also function as full nominals if they are themselves preceded by a determiner. This construction is very common for forming abstract temporal nouns, which may in turn be made the object of a preposition:

  • rabɛ lu ñire lu mvə aymɛ
    during DEF.ACC before DEF.ACC speak.VN POSS.1PL
    before we talked (lit. during the before of our talking)

Relative clauses

Relative clauses - that is, subclauses relating to a nominal head - are always placed last in their matrix noun phrases. They are formed with an introductory relativizer rɔma, which replaces the relativized noun. Any inflected auxiliaries are dropped from the subclause (if their meaning is crucial, they may be reintroduced in impersonal form right before the content verb), and the content verb is nominalized as a verbal noun. If the relativized noun is not the subject of the subclause, its role will often be indicated by an anaphoric demonstrative pronoun.

  • lo yɔsa rɔma ə tsena
    DEF lady REL 1SG.ACC love.VN
    the lady that loves me
  • lo yɔsa rɔma e (xa) tsena
    DEF lady REL 1SG.NOM (this.ACC) love.VN
    the lady that I love

Among the lower classes, it has become increasingly common in the first and second century YP to reanalyse the relative pronoun as the 3sg>3 form of a subordinating auxiliary rɔma-, which inflects for all non-3sg participants of the relativized clause like an ordinary aux. This development is parallel to the standard behaviour of relative clauses in Delta Naidda; however, in the city of Buruya itself, treating rɔma as an auxiliary tends to be frowned upon by the merchant elite.

It is also common in colloquial speech to use a regular verb in relative clauses instead of a verbal noun; note that these forms are identical for a significant number of verbs anyway.

  • lo yɔsa rɔmeya tsena
    DEF lady REL-1SG>3 love
    the lady that I love

There is no way to simply passivize a relative clause because the relativizer rɔma can only be used in active sentences. Passive relative clauses are not needed very often anyway, but there is a semantically equivalent construction that uses a derivational patientive nominalizer to express the verb, and prepositional phrases to express the verb's other arguments.

  • lo yɔsa tsenala ome
    DEF lady love-PAT from.1
    the lady loved by me

Full sentences

Basic clause syntax

Like Naidda, Buruya Nzaysa has a basic word order of (T)-Aux-S-O-V. The inflected auxiliary verb usually comes first, followed by the participants of the action - with agents normally preceding patients -, and the non-finite semantic verb closes the sentence.

  • Na lo mlaña ɔ lɛwitsɛ mpaskale.
    PFV.AUX-3SG>3 DEF.NOM stranger INDEF.ACC ballad declare
    The stranger recited an epic poem.

Because both subject and object are marked on the auxiliary, the inflected aux forms a full clause on its own. All other sentence elements, including the core participants themselves, may therefore be omitted. Of course, such a clause does not have much meaning by itself without a content verb, so sentences consisting only of an auxiliary are found mainly when answering a question.

  • Neya.
    I did it.
  • Miya.
    I did not do it.
  • Wəya mve.
    FUT.AUX-3SG>3 say
    He/she will say it.

Without a semantic verb to refer to (which may, as the above examples show, be the verb of the preceding clause), the auxiliaries can only take intransitive morphology. If such a sentence does contain an accusative argument, the auxiliary becomes a copula:

  • So’ɔ lu de’áxa.
    You are the king.
  • Ɛ’e ɔ ɔtso.
    I want to be rich.

Oblique arguments (i.e. prepositional phrases as arguments of a verb) may in principle be placed anywhere in a clause. However, locative obliques are usually placed after the patient, while dative/benefactive obliques almost always come immediately after the agent, and adverbial obliques are often placed right after the auxiliary.

  • Steya ɔ nalo ni lu xɔpsah u Ŋkɛla’ad noxa.
    PROG.AUX-1SG>3 INDEF.ACC horse in.3 DEF.ACC trade.route of.3 Ngahêxôldod trade
    I'm selling horses via the trade route to Ngahêxôldod.
  • Nɛ Obáse puh lu to ah lo de’áxa Tsənaxa ɔ katsu tsapse.
    PFV.AUX-3SG>3 Obáse for.3 DEF.ACC hand POSS.3 DEF.NOM king Tsənaxa INDEF.ACC strength give.
    Obáse gave strength to the hand of King Tsinakan.
  • Nɛ ntɛ u lɛtsi lo baxa lu tagɔvo mvomə́ño.
    PFV.AUX-3SG>3 by.3 INDEF.NOM sword DEF.NOM captain DEF.ACC traitor CAUS-kill.
    The captain had the mutineer executed with a sword.


All sentence elements can be topicalized by being moved in front of the auxiliary. The most common uses of topicalization are (1) introducing new protagonists, items, or locations into a conversation; (2) highlighting the place, time, or manner of the action; or (3) relating the action itself to something else.

Nominal topics are usually marked with the topical determiner nzɔ, although proper names and vocative arguments do so only on rare occasions (names generally do not take any determiner when not topicalized). The demonstratives "this" and tse "that" are also seen. If a complex sentence contains several third person participants switching syntactic roles from main clause to subclause, one of them is often referred to with the topic marker throughout the sentence to resolve the ambiguity caused by such role-switching. (For an example of this, see the first sentence of the Six geese text.)

  • Nzo mlusɔmɛ, seya e (tsə) mvunɛ.
    TOP.ACC houseboat, NULL.AUX-1SG>3 1SG.NOM (that.ACC) hold
    As for that houseboat, it's mine.

If the fronted element is the object of a preposition, the preposition itself remains in place as a stranded anaphor. In case this causes the role of the sentence topic to be ambiguous, a copy of the preposition may be included in the topic phrase.

  • Nzo mɛsɛlu, none ada lolmu.
    TOP.ACC tavern, INT.AUX-1SG to.3 attend
    As for the tavern, I intend to go there.

Adverbial topics, i.e. adverbs or prepositional phrases pertaining to the sentence as a whole, do not undergo any specific changes apart from being fronted. Verbal topics undergo nominalization to a verbal noun, with the subject being optionally specified by possessive pronouns.


Coordinate clauses can be formed with a number of conjunctions, which describe the relationship between the clauses:

o and
dal but
ga or
bɔ’a either/or
ləh neither/nor
ni if/then (requires the conditional auxiliary pɔ- in the "then" clause)
xutsɔ so, therefore
mpu because
  • The first five of the above conjunctions can also be used to connect noun phrases or modifiers.
  • Clauses may also be coordinated without a conjunction; in that case, the linked clauses are usually assumed to refer to a chronological sequence of events.
  • The conjunction o "and" tends to cliticize to whatever word comes next. If the following word is an indefinite article (u or ɔ), a first person singular pronoun (e or ə), a possessive pronoun (ah, axe, adɔ, ayru, or aymɛ), or one of the quantifiers oba "many", isa "most", or ɔra "all, each, every", a connective consonant /n/ appears between them: u gəru on u tara "a son and a daughter". Some speakers extend this liaison to all vowel-initial words.

Complement clauses

Complement clauses, that is, clauses used as an argument of the verb, are formed exactly like ordinary sentences, save that they are introduced with the subordinating conjunction ri (nominative) or (accusative). Complement clauses are generally dislocated from the core clause - either by being fronted to topic position, or by being moved to after the content verb (the latter is possible only with object complements).

  • Na mve rɛ sɛ ə tsena.
    PFV.AUX-3SG>3 say SUB.ACC NULL.AUX-3SG>1 1SG.ACC love
    He said that he loves me.
  • Ri seya ɔ ɛflɛ noxa, ɔdɔwɛ ɔ ɔtso.
    SUB.NOM NULL.AUX-1SG>3 INDEF.ACC necklace trade, RES.AUX-3SG>1 INDEF.ACC rich
    Jewelry trade made me rich.

Adverbial elements

Buruya Nzaysa has three different types of adverbial elements: true lexical adverbs (e.g. ntsa "very"), derived adverbs and gerunds (e.g. nzəwoga "safely" from nzəwo "safety, shelter"; ntidə "apparently, seemingly" from idə "to be perceived as"), and adverbial prepositional phrases (e.g. ntɛ u nalo "by horse"). More complex adverbial elements can be created by using longer NPs (including nominalized verbs along with their arguments) with the preposition ntɛ, or by using a gerund as the head of a full adverbial subclause.

When used within noun phrases, adverbials are interpreted as modifying the word immediately to their left, which in turn is interpreted as an adjectivial modifier unless it is the head noun of the respective NP (in that case, the adverbial material refers to the clause as a whole).

  • u vi təña ntsa
    INDEF star light very
    a very bright star

Lexical adverbs relating to the clausal level are usually placed at the very end of the clause, after the main verb. However, this position is not available to gerunds and other derived adverbs, whose unmarked position is right after the auxiliary. Adverbial prepositional phrases are also normally found after the aux, but may appear clause-finally as well. Other arrangements are possible; by far the most common is topic fronting, used for emphasis or for stylistic purposes such as bridging.

  • Ste’ɔwə sɛga bu!
    PROG.AUX-2SG>1 lie again!
    You are lying to me again!
  • Sə təñaga lo tol əftah.
    NULL.AUX-3SG bright-ADV DEF.NOM sun shine.
    The sun shines brightly.
  • Ne ntəmə́le ta ñada.
    PFV.AUX-1SG GER-read INCH.AUX sleep.
    I fell asleep while reading.
  • Ntɛ u desu, tsonexa ayru xabe ma əmɔh.
    by.3 INDEF.NOM normal, HAB.AUX-1PL>3 of.3.ANIM law NEG.AUX accept.
    Normally, we do not respect their laws.


Yes-no questions in Buruya Nzaysa are usually formed with tag words. The most common tags are lotsɛ, "correct" (more formal), and tsa, "yes" (casual), both of which seek confirmation that a sentence is true.

  • Nə no, tsa?
    PFV.AUX-3SG die, yes?
    He died, right?

For negative tag questions, two different strategies are available: Firstly, adding the negative auxiliary ma- as the main aux of the sentence, or secondly, using a negative tag in order to seek confirmation that the affirmative version of the sentence is not true.

  • Ma nə no, tsa?
    NEG.AUX-3SG PFV.AUX die, yes?
    He didn't die, right?
  • Nə no, sumɔ?
    PFV.AUX-3SG die, wrong?
    He didn't die, did he?

Neutral questions which do not suggest their own answer can be formed by adding both a positive and a negative tag, just like in Delta Naidda.

By 200 YP, a new construction using an inflected intransitive auxiliary as a neutral question tag started to gain ground, replacing the traditional confirmation-seeking approach as the standard method of forming questions in upper-class speech. This construction most typically uses the dummy verb s-/so-, but aspectual auxes from the main clause will usually be repeated, and all other auxiliaries may optionally be chosen for emphasis.

  • Nodɔwa lu xu’ɛ məle, so’ɔ?
    INT.AUX-2SG>3 DEF.ACC book read, NULL.AUX-2SG?
    Do you intend to read the book?

Disjunctive questions, which request the listener to choose between several offered options, are formed similarly to yes-no questions with two tags: All options are listed at the end of the sentence, just as tags would be. The question as a whole may optionally be preceded by an interrogative pronoun to clarify what is being asked for.

  • (Sola) wɛ’ɔ mura, witsu, tsetsu?
    (when) FUT.AUX-2SG decide, now, then?
    Will you decide now or later?

Open-ended questions are formed by placing an interrogative word at the beginning of otherwise normal clauses. Note that interrogatives inflect for case according to the syntactic role of their referent. When asking for participants in an oblique role, the accusative case is used as a default, unless an accompanying preposition governs the nominative.

  • Xɛwa nzɔxa tul?
    what.ACC PFV.AUX-2PL>3 eat?
    What did you.pl eat?
  • Nzowa oyenə oxola?
    why.ACC OBL.AUX-1.REFL enter.priesthood?
    Why must I become a priest?
  • Yaru steyaxa uyayso?
    who.ACC PROG.AUX-3PL>3 invite?
    Whom are they inviting?
  • Puh yəru nɔwa lu tola solvo?
    for.3 who.NOM PFV.AUX-2SG>3 DEF.ACC meal bring?
    For whom did you bring the food?