Ndak Ta/Grammar - Basics

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Grammar Introduction

The most neutral overall word order in Ndak Ta is VSO; SOV also occurs, especially in certain types of clauses, and OVS is sometimes used as an alternate strategy to topicalize the sentence object (the main strategy being passive constructions) and for certain other specialized uses. Ndak Ta leans heavily towards head-initial constructions, or, put another way, is right-branching.

Verbs inflect for several tense-aspect combinations (nonpast, past imperfective, past perfective, pluperfect), voice (active, passive, middle), and a large number of moods. Nouns do not inflect, but they take determiners (including articles) which do inflect to show the case and number of the noun. The three cases are subjective, objective, and dative, and the three numbers are singular, dual, and plural.

The noun case pattern of Ndak Ta is mostly nominative-accusative, but a few common verbs follow an ergative-absolutive pattern instead (perhaps two or three dozen if Ndak Ta were ever to be fully described), and thus technically it is a split-S active language if you want to split hairs. Verbal morphology is thus far entirely regular; irregular verbs were originally intended but never implemented. Noun determiner inflections are also almost entirely regular - or at least, perfectly predictable if you know a bit of the sound change history (more information on which can be found in the Ndak Ta Phonology article). Pronoun inflections are missing a chunk of the pattern that applies to nouns but are otherwise regular.

Noun Phrases

Basic NP Syntax

Noun phrases are fairly rigid about their internal ordering, being D-N-A-R-P (determiner, noun, adjective, relative clause, prepositional phrase), though N-A-R-P-D and P-N-A-R-D are also used, especially when a clause contains more than one complex noun phrase.

Determiners

From a grammatical standpoint, the category of 'determiners' includes articles, demonstratives, and quantifiers. Every common noun must have exactly one of these. They inflect to mark their head noun's case and number, and unlike all other noun modifiers, they come before their nouns. Possessives are semantically determiners, but they can't carry determiner inflections, so an appropriate article is brought in for them. Usage note: there are two indefinite articles. The discourse-oblique indefinite article is used to mention nouns that will not figure largely in the following subject matter, while the discourse-referential article is used to introduce nouns that will.

Articles
lu Definite
au Indefinite discourse-oblique
ndo Indefinite discourse-referential
Demonstratives
wai Near-me
Near-you
tsi Far-from-either
General quantifiers
ngwa (a) few
namê some, more than one
omba many
ais a large number of
mi no, none of
ewe all, every
or each one of

Determiner Suffixes

SUBJ OBJ DAT
singular -∅ -ng* -m
dual -g -s -ndi
plural/mass -k -s -nti
  • The singular objective ending is -ng after /o u/ and the nasal form of the final vowel otherwise. For stems ending in consonants other than /k ɡ/, the epenthetic (nasal) schwa lowers to /ɐ̃/.

A note on case usage: the subjective and objective cases are equivalent to nominative and accusative for most verbs, but for ergative verbs, mark ergative and absolutive respectively.

NP Examples

"Luk ailàu are pretty."

luk
lu-k
DEF-SUBJ.PL
ailàu
ailàu
flower
the flowers

"Lu asa isn't here."

lu
lu-∅
DEF-SUBJ.SG
asa
asa
woman
the woman


The distinction between the demonstratives is glossed with 1, 2, or 3 - 1 being "near me" (first person-like), 2 being "near you" (second person-like), and 3 being "far from either of us" (third person-like).

"I like wâi ailau."

wâi
wai-ng
DEM1-OBJ.SG
ailàu
ailàu
flower
this flower

"Tsi asa likes me."

tsi
tsi-∅
DEM3-SUBJ.SG
asa
asa
woman
that woman

"I don't like tsis rud"

tsis
tsi-s
DEM3-OBJ.PL
rud
rud
man
those men

"Ewek rud are created equal."

ewek
ewe-k
all-SUBJ.PL
rud
rud
man
all men

"Ewek maldo are created equal."

ewek
ewe-k
all-SUBJ.PL
maldo
maldo
person
all people

"I gave ngwanti maldo my number."

ngwanti
ngwa-nti
a_few-DAT.PL
maldo
maldo
person
a few people

"I gave gânti asa namês ailau"

ganti
gâ-nti
DEM2-DAT.PL
asa
asa
woman
those women (near you)
namês
namê-s
some-OBJ.PL
ailàu
ailàu
flower
some flowers


Now let's look at the two indefinite articles. Remember, the discourse-referential article ndo is used to introduce nouns that will be mentioned again later, while the discourse-oblique au identifies nouns that will probably be referred to only that once.

"I was satisfied the bill was correct only after asking âu rud from the company about it."

âu
au-ng
INDEF(OBL)-OBJ.SG
rud
rud
man
a man

"I met ndong rud last night who was very nice. He..."

ndong
ndo-ng
INDEF(REF)-OBJ.SG
rud
rud
man
a man

Personal Pronouns

Pronoun Table

SUBJ OBJ DAT
1st Person i-
singular i î im
dual ig is im
plural/mass ik is im
2nd Person do-
singular do dong dom
dual dog dos dom
plural/mass dok dos dom
3rd Person a-
singular a â am
dual ag as am
plural/mass ak as am
2nd Person Formal laingko-
singular laingko laingkong laingkom
dual laingkog laingkos laingkom
plural/mass laingkok laingkos laingkom

Pronoun Usage Notes

Possessives: there are no explicitly possessive pronouns, but the effect can be achieved by compounding the preposition âk, equivalent to English "of" as regards possession, to the pronoun. Thus âki would be 1SG possessive, and âgdog 2DL possessive. When they are used attributively, these possessives are often inflected to agree in case with the possessed noun phrase (which is unexpected because âk on its own usually requires the possessor to appear in the subjective case).

Reflexives: there are also no reflexive pronouns, as reflexivity is handled with verb morphology, but in idiomatic speech a speaker often superfluously uses the objective form of the pronoun in addition to the subject form, the equivalent of saying "I wash.REFL me" even though "I wash.REFL" is grammatically sufficient by itself.

The dual number is not used to refer to just anything that happens to be two in number. It is used only for things one would normally expect to find in pairs: hands, eyes, shoes, couples, twins, etc., and single objects that consist of two like parts working together or in opposition, such as tongs, scissors, or bicycle wheels. If you used the first person dual, you could only be referring to yourself and your spouse as a couple (or possibly yourself and your twin sibling); to refer to yourself and any other person or group of people that might or might not include your spouse (or twin), use the plural. The same goes for determiner inflections.

The formal 2nd person is often used when speaking to one's elders and anyone higher than one on the social pecking order, which might be hard for non-natives to judge. It indicates a level of respect about equivalent to the use of "sir" in English, but it is never rude to use the "familiar" pronoun instead, not even with one's rulers. It would be better to use the familiar even to someone you respect than to risk awkwardness using the formal pronoun where it's not certain to be taken well, as it often implies a form of warm respect that might not be be well-received in all contexts. Paradoxically, the formal pronoun is always used in speech to any audience large enough that their anonymity to you would be normal.

Pronoun Examples

"I sent â to dom."

Pilain
pilai-n
send-PST.PFV.SG
i
i-∅
1-SUBJ.SG
dom
do-m
2-DAT
â.
a-ng
3-OBJ.SG
I sent it to you.

"Dok sent as to im."

Pilain
pilai-n
send-PST.PFV.SG
dok
do-k
2-SUBJ.PL
im
i-m
1-DAT
as.
a-s
3-OBJ.PL
You (pl.) sent them to us.

Note how Ndak Ta typically puts the (dative) recipient before the (objective) theme in ditransitive sentences.


The following example shows both the dual number and how to form "possessive pronoun" constructions for the first time.

Odgabmandi
odgabm-ndi
suffer-NPST.DL
lug
lu-g
DEF-SUBJ.DL
ton
ton
hand
âki.
âk-i-∅
POSS-1-SUBJ.SG
My hands hurt.

Correlative Pronouns

query     this that      yonder   some no every   
determiner iwa wai tsi namê ma ewe
thing/person gewa waige gâge tsige nambe mage ege
place mala wailul gâlul tsilul namlul malul elul
time sola waitsau tsitsau nambau matsau etsau
way ipa tsip namip mip ewip
reason nduwa tsindu nambu mandu

Verbs

Tense, Number, and Voice Suffixes

Number is agreed with only for third person. 1st and 2nd persons both use the 'singular' forms. Dual number is agreed with only in the nonpast tense, and in the past perfective tense with ergative verbs in intransitive sentences. As all suffixes, these follow the epenthetic schwa rule when they would otherwise result in an illegal cluster.

SG PL DL
nonpast -∅ -n -ndi
past perfective -n -be -be(di*)
past imperfective -sti -s -s
pluperfect -da -owa -owa
infinitive/gerund -∅
  • *There is a -bedi dual past perfective that is still used with ergative verbs, generally only in intransitive sentences.

Voice

Voice suffixes are -l- for passive and antipassive, and -kin- for middle/reflexive. These follow the stem and come before the tense/number suffix. In both cases, if they cause an illegal final cluster, the epenthetic schwa rule is invoked.

Examples

In these examples we leave English and its word order behind and start using VSO as Ndak Ta sentences are supposed to be.

Tsin
tsin-∅
like-NPST.SG
i
i-∅
1-SUBJ.SG
â.
a-ng
3-OBJ.SG
I like him.
Tsinandi
tsin-ndi
like-NPST.DL
ag
a-g
3-SUBJ.DL
î.
i-ng
1-OBJ.SG
They (dual) like me.
Tsinan
tsin-n
like-NPST.PL
ik
i-k
1-SUBJ.PL
as.
a-s
3-OBJ.PL
We like them.
Tsinan
tsin-n
like-PST.PFV.SG
i
i-∅
1-SUBJ.SG
as.
a-s
3-OBJ.PL
I liked them.


In the following two examples, note that 'grass' and 'meat' are mass (non-count) nouns and thus take plural number, unlike English where they would be singular.

Narnosti
narno-sti
cut-PST.IPFV.SG
i
i-∅
1-SUBJ.SG
lus
lu-s
DEF-OBJ.PL
empi.
empi
grass
I was cutting the grass.
Tuda
tu-da
eat-PLUP.SG
a
a-∅
3-SUBJ.SG
lus
lu-s
DEF-OBJ.PL
sa.
sa
meat
He had eaten meat.

Mood Prefixes

There are thirteen morphological moods in Ndak Ta, quite a large number. Some of them have multiple meanings which only context can make clear. I never got around to describing their usage in depth. They are prefixed to the verb stem.

prefix mood
∅- indicative ('He does it')
e- imperative ('Do it')
m- negative ('He does not do it')
is- hortative ('Let us do it')
uk- optative, volitive ('He would like to do it')
we- futurative ('He will do it')
bwa- probabilitative, permissive ('He may do it')
ngwi- superprobabilitative, admonitive ('He probably does it', 'He should do it')
tso- hyperprobabilitive, obligative ('He must have done it', 'He must do it')
ol- reputative ('He is supposed to do it')
ru- habitive ('He is accustomed to doing it')
idr-* approximative, futilitive ('He seems to do it', 'He tries to do it' - without the speaker's expectation of success)
pâu- conditional ('He would do it' - condition clause must follow)
  • *The approximative/futilitive mood prefix also occurs in the variant form er- in some dialects.

Examples

The same examples as before, nearly, but in various non-indicative moods.

Matsin
m-tsin-∅
NEG-like-NPST.SG
i
i-∅
1-SUBJ.SG
â.
a-ng
3-OBJ.SG
I don't like him.
Wetsinandi
we-tsin-ndi
FUT-like-NPST.DL
ag
a-g
3-SUBJ.DL
î.
i-ng
1-OBJ.SG
They (dual) will like me.
Uktsinan
uk-tsin-n
OPT-like-NPST.PL
ik
i-k
1-SUBJ.PL
as.
a-s
3-OBJ.PL
We would like to like them.
Ngwitsinan
ngwi-tsin-n
ADM-like-PST.PFV.SG
i
i-∅
1-SUBJ.SG
as.
a-s
3-OBJ.PL
I should have liked them.
Idranarnosti
idr-narno-sti
FUTIL-cut-PST.IPFV.SG
i
i-∅
1-SUBJ.SG
lus
lu-s
DEF-OBJ.PL
empi.
empi
grass
I was trying to cut the grass.
Oltuda
ol-tu-da
REP-eat-PLUP.SG
a
a-∅
3-SUBJ.SG
lus
lu-s
DEF-OBJ.PL
sa.
sa
meat
He was supposed to have eaten meat.

Participles

Participle forms are used only for deriving adjectives from verbs. This is done simply by using adjective morphology on a verb, which may optionally be inflected for mood and voice. Active participles are used for head nouns agentive of the action expressed by the participle, and passive participles for head nouns patientive of the action expressed by the participle. The rule is simple: if the situation described the the noun + participle construction would be subject + verb in a sentence, it uses the active participle, and if it would be verb + object in a sentence, the passive participle. The passive participle lines up nicely with English past-participial adjectives. Example: in "the frightened child", the child has received fright and thus the verb for 'frighten' would be formed as a passive participle. The active participle is somewhat equivalent, but less so, to the English present participial adjectives; it also fills the role of English agentive -er. Ndak Ta would say "the killing man" anywhere English would say "the killer" or "the man who kills". There is also a middle participle, -kintsa, not often used.

See adjectives section below for examples of participle use.

The Copula

The copula is a verb that inflects like any other, but it has no stem. It is a zero morpheme. This results in a word that consists entirely of inflection (a mood prefix or a tense/number suffix or both or neither); for instance, /s/, /bɛ̃/, /wɛ̃/+/ndi/, /m/+/owa/, and // are all forms the copula may take. Predicate nouns take the objective case. The fun part is that predicate adjectives, as one might expect, are placed in the object position in the VSO word order. This means that in some instances, since adjectives used attributively also follow their head nouns and especially where the copula consists of nothing at all, there may be ambiguity over whether the adjective is being attributed or predicated. If necessary it's possible to rearrange word order so that a predicate adjective preceeds the copula (see note about OVS order in the Introduction section), but speakers don't generally bother unless the distinction is important. One should note that the copula used to be /ɴ/, syllabic when standing alone, and that therefore the mood prefixes ending in vowels all end in nasal vowels when used in a copula; while after the mood prefixes tso and ru a copula stem still exists, realized as /ŋ/. Refer to the Ndak Ta Phonology article for more on the former /ɴ/.

Examples of Predicate Nominals

COP
I
i-∅
1-SUBJ.SG
ndong
ndo-ng
INDEF(REF)-OBJ.SG
rud.
rud
man
I am a man.
Olna
ol-∅-n
REP-COP-PST.PFV.SG
lu
lu-∅
DEF-SUBJ.SG
imai
imai
name
âka
âk-a-∅
POSS-3-SUBJ.SG
Balau.
Balau
Balau
His name was supposed to be Balau.

See adjectives section below for examples of predicate adjective constructions.

Adjectives

Adjective Morphology

Adjective morphology is simple, but there is quite a lot of dialectal variation.

Most commonly, adjectives agree with their head nouns for number; the agreement suffix is identical to the objective case suffixes for determiners (-ng* for singular, -s for dual and plural). The singular ending is often omitted though, especially with adjectives that end in a consonant. Leaving out the plural suffix as well is rare, but attested. (Notably, all adjectives in the Tsinakan text are uninflected, with no agreement at all.) On the other hand, there are also dialects which use the full determiner agreement system also on adjectives, with agreement not only for number but also for case (subjective vs. objective vs. dative).

Adjectives also take the suffix -in for positive comparatives and superlatives and -ur for negative comparatives and superlatives. These affixes follow the word stem and precede the agreement suffix. These forms exist alone for comparatives, and with the adverb newe meaning "most" for superlatives. The prefix m- negates the adjective.

Examples

Attributive Adjectives

Attributive adjectives follow their head nouns.

Tsin
tsin-∅
like-NPST.SG
lu
lu-∅
DEF-SUBJ.SG
asa
asa
woman
ilmong
ilmo-ng
beautiful-SG
î.
i-ng
1-OBJ.SG
The beautiful woman likes me.
Inan
ina-n
see-PST.PFV.SG
a
a-∅
3-SUBJ.SG
lus
lu-s
DEF-OBJ.PL
daing
daing
mountain
pais.
pai-s
big-PL
He saw the big mountains.
Inan
ina-n
see-PST.PFV.SG
a
a-∅
3-SUBJ.SG
lus
lu-s
DEF-OBJ.PL
daing
daing
mountain
painsa
pai-in-s
big-COMP-PL
newe.
newe
most
He saw the biggest mountains.

Predicate Adjectives

A "∅" indicates a copula that has no inflection and is thus not morphologically expressed. Note the epenthetic schwa rule in action in the second and third examples.

COP
Lu
lu-∅
DEF-SUBJ.SG
asa
asa
woman
ilmong.
ilmo-ng
beautiful-SG
The woman is beautiful.
An
∅-n
COP-NPST.PL
luk
lu-k
DEF-SUBJ.PL
asa
asa
woman
ilmos.
ilmo-s
beautiful-PL
The women are beautiful.
Idras
idr-∅-s
COP-PST.IPFV.PL
luk
lu-k
DEF-SUBJ.PL
asa
asa
woman
ilminsa.
ilmo-in-s
beautiful-COMP-PL
The women were trying to be more beautiful.

Participial Adjectives

For brevity I'll give only noun phrases with participial adjectives; these noun phrases fit into sentences the same way as any others. I'm assuming they're all subjects. Note how modal prefixes can still be used, with interesting effects.

lu
lu-∅
DEF-SUBJ.SG
aunti
aunti
river
lailâ
lail-ng
flow-PTCP.SG
the flowing river
ndo
ndo-∅
INDEF(REF)-SUBJ.SG
dempi
dempi
child
unmâ
unma-ng
play-PTCP.SG
a playing child
lu
lu-∅
DEF-SUBJ.SG
rud
rud
man
ngangong
ngango-ng
laugh-PTCP.SG
the laughing man
lu
lu-∅
DEF-SUBJ.SG
netrai
netrai
wife
amraulâ
m-raula-ng
NEG-love-PTCP.SG
âgdo
âk-do-∅
POSS-2-SUBJ.SG
your unloving wife
luk
lu-k
DEF-SUBJ.PL
sa
sa
meat
wetulsa
we-tu-l-s
FUT-eat-PASS-PTCP.PL
the meat that will be eaten (lit. the will-be-eaten meat)
lu
lu-∅
DEF-SUBJ.SG
rud
rud
man
ngwidesmogng
ngwi-desmog-ng
ADM-hunt-PTCP.SG
the man that should hunt (lit. the should-be-hunting man)