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4. Sabasasaj by Alex Fink

Texts | Grammar | Lexicon
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"Aatauathun sisiduba"

Hwisunsial nunsiinbi ba, insiduana gi numugin "ii!" sidur liaiuur gi numihinam aataua thjirpi. Ta kaakhusna phjaa hu tjuhuindaba: "Kuagi sisidaba mu aatauiliinnu, puukhau?". "Kuagi sisidaba mu aatauininnu, puuu." ha sidinbiuba. Wus phjaa hu tjuhuindaba: "Kubiliis as paar piugikaan in din thiu mia sidumlirpa, puukhau?". "Mia judauliga taladih ba thiu mia sidumindaba, puuu." ha sidinbiuba. Sidinbias anaa pairi thalun din, phulsin jambu gi aaabi gi hu tiindus. Badalda khas ba liwdau i ha thiu.

Hear Alex read the text!
  Smooth English

"A Big Rock Speaks"

As I'm walking along the strand, I step off course and onto this rock, which exclaims "hey!" I take it in my hands and ask it: "Are you really a talking rock?" "Yes, I'm really a talking rock", it answers. Then I ask it: "Would you tell me the whole story of your life?" "Yes, I would, any time you want to hear it", it answers. Because this response angers me, I throw the rock as hard as I can into the middle of the sea. It is never seen again.
Smooth English Translation of the Skerre Text

"The Big Talking Rock"

When I was walking at the shore, it happened that I went the wrong way and stepped on a talking rock! I gathered it into my hands and asked it "Are you a talking rock?" And it answered "Yes, I'm a talking rock". Then I asked the talking rock "Wouldn't you tell me about your life?" It answered "No, I wouldn't ever do that". The talking rock's answer angered me and I threw it with force into the middle of the big lake. The talking rock could never be seen again.



The syllable structure is minimally V and maximally CGVVC, where G is one of w j. More than two vowels may appear in a row, but some of them are realized consonantally in this case. More relevant to allomorphy are the restrictions against complex onsets (aside from CG) and complex codas.

Two phonological alternations are manifested in the text:

  • Only continuants may appear in the coda. ph p b th t d kh k g are respectively replaced by s s w s s r h h j there. (Note that the Ch digraphs are aspirated stops, and thus single consonants.)
  • In many cases, plain voiceless stops p t k become voiced b d g intervocalically or following a nasal.

All verbal stems are bipartite. In the lexicon I list the two parts separated by a hyphen. The shape of the verbal complex, which is often more than one word as written, depends on its tense/aspect, of which both the main categories appear in the text.

In the continuous, a verb entered in the lexicon as c1-c2 looks like [particles] [preverb]-c1-[directional]-agreement-c2

In the perfect it instead looks like [perfect marker]-c2 [particles] [preverb]-c1-[directional]-agreement

As a non-final verb in a serial construction c2 is omitted altogether: [particles] [preverb]-c1-[directional]-agreement. [Bracketed] components are optional. Spaces correspond to orthographic spaces, hyphens mean there's no space.

The continuous is the default aspect for narration. Two verbs in a serial construction are to be taken as describing the same event.

The only perfect marker appearing in the text is pa. Its semantic contribution here is negligible.

The particles that appear in the [particles] slot are annotated with (.v) in the lexicon.

Preverbs have their own section in the lexicon. They have various functions, of which the ones appearing in this text are these:

  • they may simply classify an argument of the verb;
  • they may stand in for an argument of the verb, reducing its valence;
  • they may specify an instrument or (especially) a body part using which an action is carried out.

Directionals have their own section in the lexicon. They can serve to spatially ground an action or state, i.e. provide a path or location. The inward s(a) and outward i directionals sometimes amount, respectively, to first and second person recipient or goal. (They have more opaque uses as well, but I've not decomposed such forms here).

Before we get to the agreement markers, some discussion of the morphosyntactic alignment should be helpful. There are two core grammatical relations, which I call the nominative (nom) and absolutive (abs). Both are entirely head-marked, i.e. shown by the verb; nouns do not inflect for case. Among transitives, the general rule lining up grammatical with semantic relations is:

If the more prototypically animate participant (the A) is an agent, respectively an experiencer, it gets nom, respectively abs marking, and the other participant (the O) gets the other marking.

As for intransitives, the alignment is split-S overall -- if the S is controlling it gets nom, otherwise abs. However, this pattern is obscured by intransitive uses of transitive verbs in which one argument is dropped; such dropping, of any one argument of a transitive verb, can happen freely. When an argument is dropped the grammatical relation of the surviving argument remains the same.

Agreement morphemes occur in the order [nom argument]-[abs argument]. Only singular markers appear in this text, so that's what I've tabulated below (there may be one or two of these that don't occur, either).

3 humanth(a)is
3 anim.k(a)i
3 inanim.ud(a)

The parenthesised insertions only appear if the phonotactic constraints on syllables demand so.

An agreement marker must appear for every core argument of the verb, whether or not these arguments are expressed again elsewhere in the clause. In the event that there's no nom and a first or second person abs, the nom slot is filled with an i (to distinguish this from the case of no abs and a 1 or 2 nom).

Certain verbs specify their own material instead of this i; this is the material that appears in [brackets] in the lexicon.

There's another member of the agreement marker system, which is a participle formant or relativizer or nominalizer a. When this a appears, the verbal complex as a whole refers to the argument which it appears as: so we have:

  • thi-li-n-i 'I see you'
  • thi-a-n-i 'something that I see'
  • thi-li-a-i 'something that sees you'

These forms are very prevalent.

Nearly all nouns in the language are derived from verbs as nominalizations using the same nominalizers. They differ from these more productive nominalizations in that they modify the second component of the verb stem, generally by deleting or truncating it. Where it's relevant in the text, the substitute second component has been listed in the lexicon after a slash. (There's more morphology than just this involved, but it's not relevant here.)

A habitual or iterative form of the verb is derived by reduplicating the first CV of the first component.

One nominal possessive suffix appears in this text, namely 1st singular na 'my'.

The syntax of the language is throughgoingly head-final. Verbs and nouns (which behave very similarly in the syntax) follow their arguments; adpositions are postpositions; determiners follow their complements.

The arguments of a verb or noun may be nouns or nominalized verbs or pronouns, or finite verbs; in the last case the interpretation can be context-dependent, though often it's clear. There are no morphological markers of subordination. Indeed, it's a favorite syntactic strategy to construct largish chains and trees of verbs or nouns in subordination to others.

Explicit arguments need never appear. When they do appear, they're taken as referring to participants which receive third person agreement markers. The particle mu following an argument means it instead refers to a first or second person participant (or, more usually, one marked by a nominalizer i, but that's not the case in this text).

The meaning of the null adposition gi is determined by the directional appearing in the verb or noun commanding it:

  • jambu gi aa-n-bi 'I am in the sea'
  • jambu gi ug-in-bi 'I am outside the sea'

Questions are formed by appending the tag puukhau, in origin a negative form of the verb pu-u.

It's commonplace to introduce a topic of a narrative passage with a form of cleft: the main verb in such a cleft is a form of the empty root -pi introducing the topic, to which the rest of the clause is subordinated as a nominalization. When the topic appears as a participant of the main verb in later sentences, this can be signalled by the inclusion of the particles ha and hu (though most texts are not quite so religious about using these particles as this one).

A few derivational operations show up in the text:

  • An augmentative is derived by suffixing -thun.
  • Verbs with the sense 'be (an) X', especially as used for time-stable roles, are formed from nouns by constructing a verb with second component -innu (and first component the same one as the source of the noun). When it occurs here (since I haven't given you the internal structure) this process forms aatau-innu from aataua.



Throughout, round brackets () denote material that may or may not appear, usually for phonotactic reasons.

Verbs and Nouns

Annotations in this part of the lexicon: Glosses of verbs include an indication of their argument selection: (tr) transitive, (nom) or (abs) intransitive taking an argument in the specified grammatical relation.

[] denotes a nonstandard indicator of intransitive 1/2 person abs arguments. / precedes the variant of the verb's second component used in noun-forming.

I've tried not to break things down morphologically further than is illuminating, and not to break apart forms with unpredictable semantics. Some of the forms below are actually still morphologically complex. (Just so you know.)

-pi exist, be at, go (abs) (yes, the first component is empty; requires a directional or a classifying preverb)
aataua stone, rock
badalda point in time
hwisunsial beach, strand
i-am put (tr + directional)
insidua way, path, route
jambu sea
juda-ka hear (tr)
ku[bi]-is live (abs)
khu-ta take, (in perfect) have (tr)
liai-ur shout, exclaim (nom)
paa-as (in the perfect:) be whole (abs)
piugi-an have as topic, pertain to, be about (tr, nom = topic, abs = material)
pu-u be true (nom)
phuls(a)-pul exert oneself (nom)
sidum-pa narrate, tell (a story) (tr)
sit-pa/s speak, talk (nom), say (tr, abs = words said)
ti-us throw (tr)
tjuhui-pa ask (tr, abs = target of question)
thal-iri anger, make angry (tr, nom = cause)
thi-i see (tr)


kaa hand
nu(m) foot
thji hard round object, small enough to hold


aa inside of
i outward
(i)nsi along
(i)nbi back, in the reverse direction
s(a) inward
uk away from, outside of


Category labels: (adv), adverb; (det), determiner; (exc), exclamation; (p), postposition; (prn), pronoun; (.), particle; (.v), particle in the verbal complex.

anaa (det) this
ba (p) in (the circumstances), when, during
din (p) for (benefactive), because (of)
gi (p) (null postposition)
ha (.v) (nom argument is topic)
hu (.v) (abs argument is topic)
ii (exc) hey! ouch!
in (prn) me (1st singular pronoun, form before a postposition)
khas (det) no, not any
kuagi (adv) really, indeed
liwdau (adv) (ever) again
mia (.v) (volitive), want to
mu (.) (reference to non-3rd person argument)
phjaa (adv) thus, in this manner
taladih (det) any, a choice of
thiu (.v) (irrealis) (watch out! one of the instances of thiu in the text is not this word.)
wus (adv) next, subsequently

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