The Verbs of Njaama

Delicate like butterflies, but stingy, like bees... Such are the verbs of Njaama.

Njaama verbs might be reminiscent of verbs in a Bantu language in some ways, but not in others. In fact, they might even be reminiscent of Zhyler verbs in some ways; I make no promises either way. They're definitely not like Chinese verbs, though. Well, except for one way. But only that one.


Verb Classes

A distinctive characteristic of many of my languages (I really didn't plan it this way) is the way verbs fall into distinct classes. And, not unlike Epiq or Gweydr, there are four classes of verbs in Njaama. This is a short description of them:

  1. Class I: Verbs of Class I are verbs which generally describe some type of emotional or sensory experience. They can be transitive or intransitive.

  2. Class II: Verbs of Class II are verbs which describe actions carried out by one person. By nature, they are intransitive.

  3. Class III: Verbs of Class III are verbs which involve an agent and patient. By nature, they are transitive. Ditransitive verbs are also of Class III. [Note: There are no true ditransitives in Njaama. For example, the verb ili, "to give", and reders the theme with an oblique phrase.]

  4. Class IV: Verbs of Class IV are stative verbs, which are typically adjectival in nature. They are naturally intransitive.

The verbs of Njaama are divided into these four classes because the marking each verb takes differs depending on class. It's especially important, since Njaama has a limited set of verbal prefixes, so lots of prefixes do double duty. If you don't know the class, there's no way to tell what precise meaning the prefix has. Finally, there's no way to tell which class a base verb belongs to (you can tell with some derived verbs), so class membership must simply be learned.


Verb Prefixes

The main forms of inflection for Njaama verbs are realized by prefixes. In this section, the prefixes and their definitions will be listed in table form, along with an example (maybe two—I'll see). They will be listed class-by-class, starting with Class I.


Class I Verb Prefixes

The following are the prefixes used with Class I verbs.

TMA Prefix Examples Glosses
Imperfect wa kaané yáá "I see you."
wa iip'ó sá "I feel it."
Perfect te-/t- wa tekaané yáá "I saw you."
wa tiip'ó sá "I felt it."
Abilitive mu-/muw- wa mukaané yáá "I can see you."
wa muwiip'ó sá "I can feel it."
Passive wa-/w- wa wakaané "I was seen."
wa wiip'ó "I was felt."
Detransitive p'i-/p'iy- wa p'ikaané "I see (something)."
wa p'iyiip'ó "I feel (something)."
Causative lo-/l- wa lokaané yáá "I cause you to see."
wa liip'ó sá "I cause it to feel."
Imperative CV(n)-/VC- kakaané "See!"
ip'iip'ó "Feel!"
Uncertain !ú-/!- wa !ukaané yáá "I think I see you."
wa !iip'ó sá "I think I feel it."
Reflexive sú-/súw- wa sukaané "I see myself."
wa suwiip'ó "I feel myself."
Reciprocal hó-/h- wantá hokaané "We two see each other."
wantá hiip'ó "We two feel each other."

Class II Verb Prefixes

The following are the prefixes used with Class II verbs.

TMA Prefix Examples Glosses
Imperfect wa yándi "I'm crying."
wa ekér "I'm descending."
Perfect te-/t- wa téyándi "I cried."
wa tekér "I descended."
Transitive ke-/k- wa kéyándi sála "I'm crying them (i.e., tears)."
wa kekér sá "I'm descending it (e.g., a mountain)."
Involuntary wa-/w- wa wáyándi "I'm brought to tears."
wa wekér "I was made to descend."
Beneficiary p'i-/p'iy- wa p'íyándi "I cry for (something)."
wa p'iyekér "I descend for (something)."
Causative lo-/l- wa lóyándi yáá "I cause you to cry."
wa lekér sá "I cause it to descend."
Imperative CV(n)-/VC- yányándi "Cry!"
ekekér "Descend!"
Irrealis !ú-/!- wa !úyándi "I might/could cry."
wa !ekér "I might/could descend."
Intensive sú-/súw- wa súyándi "I cry heavily."
wa suwekér "I descend rapidly."
Associative hó-/h- wantá hóyándi "We two cry together/for each other."
wantá hekér "We two descend together."

Class III Verb Prefixes

The following are the prefixes used with Class III verbs.

TMA Prefix Examples Glosses
Stative/Habitual wa máálé yáá "I hug you (all the time)."
wa úmé sá "I live at it (i.e., there)."
Perfect Habitual te-/t- wa témáálé yáá "I used to hug you."
wa túmé sá "I used to live at it (i.e., there)."
Imperfect Transitive ke-/k- wa kémáálé yáá "I'm hugging you."
wa kúmé sá "I was living at it (i.e., there)."
Perfect Transitive ni-/niy- wa nímáálé yáá "I hugged you."
wa níyúmé sá "I lived at it (i.e., there)."
Passive wa-/w- wa wámáálé "I was hugged."
sa vúmé "It was lived at."
Habitual Causative lo-/l- wa lómáálé yáá "I cause you to be a hugger."
wa lúmé yáá "I cause/enable you to live (e.g., somewhere)."
Punctual Causative ngo-/ng- wa ngómáálé yáá "I cause you to hug (e.g., someone)."
wa ngúmé yáá "I caused you to live (e.g., somewhere)."
Imperative CV(n)-/VC- mámáálé "Hug (all the time)!"
úmúmé "Habitate (regularly)!"
Uncertain !ú-/!- wa !úmáálé yáá "I think I hug you regularly."
wa !úmé sá "I think I live at it (e.g., there)."
Reflexive sú-/súw- wa súmáálé "I hug myself regularly."
sa súvúmé "It inhabits itself." (???)
Reciprocal hó-/h- wantá hómáálé "We two hug each other regularly."
wantá húmé "We two habitate each other regularly." (!!!)

Class IV Verb Prefixes

The following are the prefixes used with Class IV verbs.

TMA Prefix Examples Glosses
Nonpast wa lóóngé "I'm tall."
wa úku "I'm short."
Past te-/t- wa télóóngé "I was tall."
wa túku "I was short."
Inchoative mu-/muw- wa múlóóngé "I'm growing tall."
wa múvúku "I'm becoming short."
Passive wa-/w- wa wálóóngé "I'm made tall."
wa vúku "I'm made short."
Beneficiary/Cause p'i-/p'iy- wa p'ílóóngé yáá "I'm tall for/because of you."
wa p'íyúku yáá "I'm short for/because of you."
Causative lo-/l- wa lólóóngé sá "I make it tall." or "I lengthen it."
wa lúku sá "I make it short." or "I shorten it."
Imperative CV(n)-/VC- lónlóóngé "Be tall!"
úkúku "Be short!"
Uncertain !ú-/!- wa !úlóóngé "I think I'm tall."
wa !úku "I think I'm short."
Intensive sú-/súw- wa súlóóngé "I'm really tall."
wa súvúku "I'm really short."
Equative hó-/h- wantá hólóóngé "We two are as tall as each other."
wantá húku "We two are as short as each other."

Verb Phrases

So far, you've seen all (or most) of the inflectional stuff. Now I'll show you how to put verb phrases and sentences together. I'll do it in stages. First, a simple intransitive sentence. Let's say you want to say, "I'm beautiful" in Njaama (because you are). First, you take your verb, nuyu, and find that it's a Class IV verb. Now you know which table to look at. Then, you think about the tense. If it's just the simple statement "I'm beautiful", you're in the present tense, and there's no prefix. Now you think about pronouns. If you're you, and you're not Jerry Seinfeld, you select the pronoun that corresponds to you, which is wa. Then you put the pronoun in front of the verb, and you get Wa nuyu, "I'm beautiful". Tada!

Moving right along, what if you want to say, "S/he's beautiful"? All you do is switch the pronoun, and you get Sa nuyu, "S/he's beautiful". Nothing too difficult yet. And, in fact, you can switch up the pronouns to get any number of sentences, from popular phrases like "You're beautiful" and "You all are beautiful", to less common phrases such as, "We're beautiful". All you have to do is switch out the initial pronoun. For easy reference, here's a list of them:

Subject Pronouns Singular Dual (Inclusive) Dual (Exclusive) Plural (Inclusive) Plural (Exclusive)
First Person wa wanyaa wantá wanyaalá wantsalá
Second Person yaa yaapo yaantá yaalá yaalá
Third Person sa sapo santá salá salá

That covers basic sentences with just pronouns. But what about, you know, normal nouns? Well, they can be used too. So if you want to say, "The mountain is beautiful", what you do is you start with the word "mountain", nómba, and then you follow it with "S/he (or it)'s beautiful", to get Nómba sa nuyu, "The mountain is beautiful".

Now, that sentence works fine, but it's common (and, let's say, more colloquial) to use a particle which introduces the subject. So, for example, if you and your good friend (the gender is unimportant at this point) have been staring at a mountain for awhile (having nothing better to do, I suppose), you might remark, Sáá nómba sa nuyu, "This mountain's beautiful". If you and this friend are hiking, though, and you suddenly turn and see a mountain which your friend doesn't see, though, you might remark to them, Héé nómba sa nuyu, "That mountain's beautiful". Now imagine a different situation, in which you have to climb a mountain, and you're really tired. You might say (and I know I know nothing about you [presumably], so I beg you to have patience with me for putting words into your mouth), Yáán nómba sa ngáándyá, "That mountain's big".

The particles that have just been introudced are what I call subject reference particles, but really are more like attitudinal markers, or something. I'll call them reference markers, for tabular purposes. Below is a list of them:

Reference Markers Form Function
Known sáá This particle is used with subjects that are in the common ground and are not despised.
Unknown héé This particle is used with subjects that are not in the common ground and are not despised.
Despised yáán This particle is used with subjects that are despised by the listener (whether the hearer(s) know(s) them or not).

Again, these markers are only used with subjects, and are not obligatory.

Thus far we've dealt only with intransitive verbs. What about transitive?

Let's take the sentence, "I talked to him". The verb for "talk to" is wáázé, and it's a Class III verb. You add the appropriate tense prefix, and then add the pronouns in an SVO way, giving you Wa níwáázé sá. You might notice that the object pronoun looks a little different from the list above. This is because when pronouns are used as objects, their tones switch. Here's a table of what they look like:

Object Pronouns Singular Dual (Inclusive) Dual (Exclusive) Plural (Inclusive) Plural (Exclusive)
First Person wányáá wánta wányáála wántsála
Second Person yáá yáápó yáánta yáála yáála
Third Person sápó sánta sála sála

Now that we know what the object pronouns look like, we can add nominal arguments. Transitive verbs are rather flexible. You can have a transitive verb with only pronouns; a transitive verb with an overt subject and pronouns; a transitive verb with an overt object and pronouns; or a transitive with an overt subject and object and pronouns. It all depends on your mood.

The basic order of nominal phrases in Njaama is SOV. This means that the subject comes first, then the object, then the verb phrase (including pronouns). In order to distinguish the subject from the object further, the preposition li is used. This preposition comes directly before the object, and is obligatory. When there is no overt subject, it takes a high tone. When there is an overt subject, li inherits the tone from the previous syllable (the last syllable of the subject). However, when the object begins with a vowel, li elides to l', in which case it, of course, bears no tone. Here are some examples with overt subjects and objects:

  1. L'eelín wa níwáázé sá. "I talked to the woman."
  2. Héé sáángi l'eelín sa níwáázé sá. "The man talked to the woman."
  3. Héé sáángi sa níwáázé sá. "The man talked to her."
  4. Héé eelín lí sáángi sa níwáázé sá. "The woman talked to the man."
  5. Lí sáángi sa níwáázé sá. "She talked to the man."
  6. Héé yóko li sáángi sa níwáázé sá. "The mongoose talked to the man."

A final note before moving on. Some transitive verbs require special object pronouns. These pronouns (or classes of pronouns) will be listed with the verb in the lexicon. The most common type is a locational transitive verb that requires some sort of locative pronoun/adverb/demonstrative. So, for example, if you wanted to say "I've been there" (i.e., you've traveled to that location before), you use the verb tíyúmbe, and say, Wa nítíyúmbe yántsu, where yántsu essentially means "there". These types of special pronouns don't change their tones in object position.

Now onto brighter and better things.


Auxiliaries

Unfortunately, Njaama is a language that is not free of auxiliaries. I myself despise them. But, wha'cha gonna do? Thankfully, they're not as prevalent as they are in English.

The most common auxiliary is the negative auxiliary. The negative auxiliary is used in all negative sentences. So far we're able to say "I'm beatiful", but what about "I'm not beautiful"? It's tough to imagine, but fairly simple to say. The basic auxiliary construction (for intransitive subordinate verbs) goes as follows:

  1. You take the auxiliary (in this case, óméki), conjugate it, and put it last.
  2. You put the subject pronoun directly before the auxiliary.
  3. Directly before the subject pronoun you put the subordinate verb, and add the prefix l-/li-.
  4. If there are overt noun phrases, you put them before the subordinate verb, as shown above.

So, to say "I'm not beautiful", you say Linuyu v'óméki (note: the first person pronoun elides to w' when it precedes a verb that begins with a vowel, and it becomes v when that vowel is o or u). And with an overt noun phrase (to say "The woman is not beautiful", for example), you say Sáá eelín linuyu s'óméki (note: same story for the pronoun sa).

An important note. The negative auxiliary was originally a Class III verb, but now that it's an auxiliary, it's, in a way, classless, in that it can take any tense one desires. So if you want to say, "I'm not becoming beautiful", all you do is add the inchoative prefix to the auxiliary to get Linuyu wa múvóméki. However, there is something important to note about this. Certain tense prefixes are added before the ó of óméki, and certain tense prefixes are added after. This is only true of the negative auxiliary. This is what it looks like in all its conjugated forms:

Verbal Prefixes Form Verbal Prefixes Form
te-/t- ótéméki lo-/l- ólóméki
ke-/k- ókéméki ngo-/ng- óngóméki
mu-/muw- múvóméki CV(n)-/VC- óméméki
ni-/niy- óníméki !ú-/!- ó!úméki
wa-/w- ówáméki sú-/súw- ózúméki
p'i-/p'iy- p'íyóméki hó-/h- ó'óméki

As a note, though, the hò-/h- form is often simply realized as óméki.

That's the story with intransitive verbs. What about transitive verbs? Turns out the story is similar, though slightly different. Here are the steps for a transitive subordinate verb:

  1. You take the auxiliary (in this case, óméki), conjugate it, and put it last.
  2. You put the subject pronoun directly before the auxiliary.
  3. You put the object pronoun directly after the auxiliary.
  4. Directly before the subject pronoun you put the subordinate verb, and add the prefix i-/y-.
  5. If there are overt noun phrases, you put them before the subordinate verb, as shown above.

So, if you want to say, "I didn't talk to her", you'd say, Íwáázé v'óníméki sá. If you want to say "The man didn't talk to the woman", you'd say, Héé sáángi l'eelín íwáázé s'óníméki sá. Not too tricky. Fun, even.

There are other auxiliary verbs, but in order to discuss them, I'll first need to introduce some verbal derivational morphology. So, onward!


Verbal Derivational Morphology

See how there's verb classes up there? Well, a given verb isn't locked into its class, necessarily. Some verbs have multiple classes, though this is rare. More common is verbs that use specific derivational morphology to change to a particular class. This can sometimes result in a lexical difference; sometimes just a valency difference. This morphology is also commonly used with auxiliary verbs. But before I get into that, I'll show you the morphology. It consists of four prefixes which, when attached to a verbal root, change it's class from whatever it was to the corresponding class listed below:

Class Changing Prefix Form
Class I a-/al-
Class II ho-/how-
Class III i-/iy-
Class IV se-/sen-

To site some examples, yáándi is a Class II verb which means "to cry". If you transform it into a Class I verb by adding the prefix a-, you get áyáándi, which means "to be sad/sorry for someone/something". If you transform it into a Class IV verb by adding the prefix se-, you get séyáándi, which means "to be sad/hurt". If you added the Class III prefix ho-, though, all you'd get is a transitive verb "to cry", which you might use to say "He cries tears", or something (it's, in fact, no different from the transitive conjugation). So sometimes adding a prefix changes the meaning of the verb; sometimes just the valency.

Now I'd like to talk again about auxiliaries. Not all auxiliaries are as nice as the negative auxiliary. Some make morphological demands, because they have morphological needs—yearnings, if you will. And since the topic of yearnings has been breeched, why not discuss the verb yele, "to want"? It's a good one.

First, the verb yele can just be used as an ordinary Class I verb. For example, Lí yóko wa yele sá means, "I want a mongoose", and Wa yele yáá means, "I like you". As a friend, of course. So it can do normal stuff. Now let's go one step further.

Yele can be used as an auxiliary to modify other Class I verbs. So let's say something really pretentious by using a verb that was borrowed from Sathir, ulanpíndá, "to be free". To say "I want to be free", you do the normal auxiliary thing and get Lulanpíndá wa yele. Remember that yele is at all times a transitive verb. This is important.

That was a sentence where the subordinate verb was intransitive. What about a transitive verb? Well, that's a whole new Scrabble board. Let's take the fairly simple sentence, "I want to see you". The verb for "see", as shown above, is kaané. With that, you just take the normal steps, and add the object pronoun after the auxiliary, to get Ikaané wa yele yáá. And, of course, if you wanted to add a nominal argument, you'd just put it before. This is "The woman wants to see the man": Sáá eelín lí sáángi ikaané sa yele sá.

As it turns out, this verb yele can do other things. Consider the sentence, "I want you to see him". Here what's wanted is an action performed by "you". To indicate this, the subordinate verb is marked with the prefix li-/l-, and it takes a pronominal argument as an enclitic. So, to produce the sentence above, you'd say, Likaanézá wa yele yáá. If you wanted to have all the nominal arguments and produce a sentence like, "The mongoose wants the woman to see the man", you mark both objects with li, putting the embedded object last. Thus, the sentence would be, Héé yóko l'eelín lí sáángi likaanézá sa yele sá.

Got that down? Now we can return to the issue of derivational morphology. Thus far, all the verbs have been Class I verbs, so there have been no conflicts of interest when it comes to tense prefixes. What if yele modified a verb from a different class? Unfortunately, it's not as versatile as óméki. In order for yele to modify a verb of a different class, it must be changed to the class of the subordinate verb. It can then take the appropriate tense the subordinate verb requires. This can be slightly confusing. So let's say you wanted to say "I want to grow tall". First, you add the Class IV prefix to yele to get seyele. Next, you add the inchoative prefix to get muzeyele. Next, you put it in a sentence: Lílóóngé wa muzeyele. And there you have it. One common auxiliary that works this way is the verb uumyá, "to think", which is used to form the future tense.

As a final note, auxiliary verbs have a special negative prefix that's used instead of the negative auxiliary. This negative prefix is o-/ow-, and comes first (before any other derivational or inflectional morphology).


Conclusion

That's verbs in Njaama for you. Not so bad, as verbs go. The verbs in Epiq are probably worse. Anyway, now that the verbs are done, everything else will fall like dominoes.

Back to Njaama Main

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