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13. Kapakwonak by Jeff Burke

Texts | Info | Grammar
Previous (Kelvin Jackson, Vašt î Kûvik) | Next (Matt Haupt, Pitak)


e:sʸa sʸenʷoatʸekomʷohoka:kʸehetʷaosʸe:wakʸepemʷo.
yawa:kʸemʷoe:fenʸepemʷotʸe na panʷomekehma:wemepemʷotʸekʸe.
sʸemʷatkoye:pakʸepemʷome na papesa:sʸekʸekʸemʷotʸe.
mʸeko hʸehpe:kʸekʸemʷotʸe : sopepʸa:yawa:kʸekʸepemʷotʸe.
mʷae:femetʸe , matʷonʸepemakʸeke:ometʸe.
  Smooth English

One day I began to sit down near the water.
A wave broke and he went alongside me upon the surface.
I did not try to resist him and I was made happy.
This I dreamed: I was taken away by the wave.
As he breaks, I continously feel him.
I might go and go very far from here by the wave.
Smooth English of Vašt î Kûvik Text

I started to sit at the water one day.
A wave which broke went past me on the surface.
I did not try to resist and I was pleased.
I dreamed that I was carried away by the wave.
As it breaks, I feel it at every moment.
I might continue to go very far from here by the wave.



First off, Kapakwonak is a very synthetic language, and I know from experience how hard it is to parse these kinds of languages if you're not used to them; so if you need further help or hints, don't hesitate to ask. (But it gets easier once you learn how they work.) I've put extra spaces between the words and most of the punctuation in the text, just so that boundaries are clear. Superscript y and w represent palatalization and labialization of the preceding consonant, respectively; a colon indicates a long vowel. The colon in the fourth line that comes between the second and third words is punctuation, however. I'm going to write you a sketch of Kapakwonak grammar and morphology, followed by a glossary of all meaningful elements present in the text. In the sketch, I'm going to use a set of abbreviations for commonly used terms, to make it more succint and (hopefully) easier to understand.




Kapakwonak has two kinds of words: words proper, which are morphologically complex and are built around a central verbal element, and particles, which are morphologically simple; particles are short and are most often function words or conjunctions. Words proper may be used syntatically as either nouns or verbs, and they exhibit a rigid morphological structure. Nouns may appear as either free-standing words or in abbreviated forms that are incorporated into verbs; there are no free-standing nouns in this text: all nouns are incorporated into verbs in abbreviated forms. The morphemic components of Kapakwonak words fall into a number of classes: incorporable nominal (IN), initial (I), medial (M), final (F), infix (IF) and suffix (SF). Some classes divide further into sub-classes.

(IN)s distinguish between incorporable participant nominals (IPN) and incorporable non-participant nominals (INPN), the former encompassing agents (A) and patients (PT) that are incorporated into a word in abbreviatived form and the latter all other nominals so incorporated. (IN)s are the aforementioned abbreviated forms of nouns. In transitives, only the (PT) may be incorporated into the word as an (IN); in intransitives, the (A) may be incorporated into the word as an (IN). (A) and (PT) both are never simultaneously so incorporated. When a participant is incorporated into a word as an (IN), it is not overtly shown in the (F).

The (I) serves as the core of a word, its broad semantic field, or main idea.

(M)s modify (I)s in various ways, often adverbally; but they can also function like helper verbs or show the direction of the action.

(F)s are inflectional and give pronominal information of the (A) or (PT); they are the rough equivalents of personal pronouns. (F)s divide into intransitive objective finals (IOF), intransitive subjective finals (ISF), transitive dual objective finals (TDOF), transitive subjective-objective finals (TSOF), and transitive dual subjective finals (TDSF). There is also an abstract final (AF) that appears on certain intransitives, whose use is explained further below.

(IF)s come in a number of varieties: those applicable to (IN)s, the qualitative and quantitative infixes (QQI) and the possessive infixes (PI); those applicable to (I)s, the detransitivizer infixes (DI), the negation infix (NI), the causative infix (CI), the reflexive infix (RI), the reciprocal infix (RCI) and nominal-related infixes (NRI); and those applicable to finals, the ordinal-aspectual-modal infixes (OAMI) and the relational-genitive infixes (RGI). (PI)s are applicable to (IN)s and (F)s alike; and some (I) infixes are also applicable to (M)s, but (M)s have no infixes particular to them.

Infixation of an (IF) always occurs directly after the first vowel of the element to which the (IF) is being applied; but (IF)s show up as suffixes when applied to monosyllabic elements. Multiple (IF)s may appear on the same single element.

(SF)s appear in (F)s only and divide into the objective suffix (OS) and the subjective suffix (SS).

The Kapakwonak word has two slots or morphological positions, both of which are obligatory: a derivational stem (S) followed by an inflectional (F). Both are described below.

The Stem (Derivation)

The Kapakwonak (S) has four major morphological positions, with the (I) being the only obligatory element. There are also a number of minor morphological positions, which are (IF)s to the elements in major positions. (S)s are constructed on this rigid template:

(IPN) + (I) + (M) + (INPN)
  1      2     3     4

Any of the elements in major positions may take one or more (IF)s. (IF)s appear as suffixes on monosyllabic elements. Either type of (IN)s may be composed so:

(IPN)/(INPN) + (QQI) + (PI)

Infixation of (I)s is potentially the most complex, though in practice no more than a couple of (IF)s are typically used at one time; (I)s may be thus composed:

(I) + (DI) + (NI) + (CI) + (RI)/(RCI) + (NRI)

Furthermore, the first (or only) syllable of an (I) may be reduplicated to express intensive or repetitive action. This reduplication is done after any infixation of the (I).


Like (S)s, (F)s are obligatory to the word and are built from their own elements; and as their name implies, they occupy the last morphological position in a word. The major morphological positions of the (F) are (A) and (PT); the minor positions are either (SF)s to (A) or (PT), the (OS) and (SS), or (IF)s to the (F) as a whole, the (OAMI)s, (PI)s and (RGI)s. As in (S)s, (IF)s appear as suffixes on monosyllabic elements.

(A)s and (PT)s may be complex; but they consist minimally of a person element (PE), which expresses the pronominal details of the participant(s) in the action. In intransitive (F)s, the single (PE) marks the (A); in transitive (F)s, the first (PE) marks the (A) and the second (PE) marks the (PT). (A)s are inherenly expressed as subjects/subjective and (PT)s inherently expressed as objects/objective, but this is alterable by the (OS) and (SS). The (OS) transforms an inherently subjective participant into an object, while the (SS) transforms an inherently objective participant into a subject. (See the INITIALS section below for an explanation of the language's active morphosyntatic alignment; this is important, because participants are expressed variously as (A) or (PT) depending on the semantics of the action.) (A)s may be composed so:

(PE) + (OS)/(SS) 
(PT)s likewise may take a (SF): 
(PE) + (SS)

Considering only (A)s and (PT)s and ignoring any (IF)s, there are eight distinct types of (F). The agreement class triggered by the (S) determines which type is used. (See the INITIALS section for a discussion of agreement classes.) There are six basic types and two variations of those: (IOF)s, which are used when objective agreement is triggered, are composed thus:

(PE) + (OS) 
(ISF)s, which are used when subjective agreement is triggered, are simple and consist of a single (PE). 
(TDOF)s, which are used when dual objective agreement is triggered, are composed thus: 
(PE) + (OS) + (PE) 
(TSOF)s, which are used when subjective-objective agreement is triggered, are composed thus: 
(PE) + (PE) 
(TDSF)s, which are used when dual subjective agreement is triggered, are composed thus: 
(PE) + (PE) + (SS) 

The (AF), a semantically empty element, is used when no agreement is triggered; this occurs in intransitives where the (A) is incorporated as an (IN). When the (AF) is used, neither (A) nor (PT) is expressed overtly in the (F).

There are also two variations of the above that occur with some cases of incorporation of the (A) or (PT) as an (IN). The first is a variation of no agreement: where the (A) is so incorporated in an intransitive (S), and the (A) is expressed as object, the (AF) takes an (OS). The second is a morphologically intransitive variation of dual subjective agreement: where the (PT) is so incorporated and the (PT) is expressed as subject, the final appears so: (PE) + (SS)

This amounts to the lone (PE), which expresses the (A), taking the (SS). In both these variations, the (OS) and (SS) do not refer to either the (AF) or to the agentive (PE), despite their affixation to them; they refer rather to the (IN) which expresses the (A) or (PT). Certain (IF)s may occur to the (F) as a whole: (IOF)/(ISF)/(TDOF)/(TSOF)/(TDSF)/(AF) + (OAMI) + (PI)/(RGI) (AF) and (TDSF) as shown above may be taken to refer also to their two described variatiants.

Ordinal-Aspectual-Modal Infixes

Words in Kapakwonak mark two orders (the manifest and the unmanifest), three aspects (the continuative, the imperfective and the perfective) and two modes (the indicative and the imperative). Tense, strictly speaking, is not marked. In the indicative mode, marking of one of four levels of evidentiality is mandatory: (1) by firsthand experience, (2) by secondhand experience, testimony, hearsay or common knowledge, (3) by deduction or implication, or (4) by assumption, guess or speculation. The imperative mode does not figure into this text and will not be discussed. Order, aspect and mode are obligatorily shown on all words by means of an (OAMI) infixed to the (F). However, the manifest order, continuative aspect and the firsthand evidential of the indicative mode are unmarked; they are the "default" categories, so to speak.

The manifest order comprises all that is or has been accessible to the senses--roughly what we would call the past and the present, but excluding everything that we would deem future. The unmanifest order subsumes what is not or has not been accessible to the senses--obviously encompassing the future, but it is far more than this; it also includes all acts that we call mental--thoughts, desires, wishes, dreams, etc.

The continuative aspect implies that an action is ongoing, with no reference to its beginning or end or even the implication of a beginning or end. Continuative actions just are. A continuative action can be occurring in the present or can be expected to occur in the future; this ambiguity is possible because of the lack of reference to beginning/end points of an action. The imperfective also implies an ongoing action, but specifically one that was begun at a definite point in the past and is expected to end at a definite (but perhaps unknown) point in the future; imperfect actions are not yet complete, but are expected to be so. The perfective implies a completed action.

The orders, aspects and modes of the language interact to provide an overall picture of a statement?s place in the world. Here are some rough English tense equivalents of some ordinal-aspectual combinations (ignoring mode, since all words in this text are in the indicative mode):

  • English past: Manifest+perfective
  • English present: Manifest+continuative or imperfective
  • English future: Unmanifest+continuative

These rough tense equivalents cannot be relied upon too strictly, as other factors may allow some ordinal-aspectual combinations to function in ways different from above; e.g., a mental activity or event taking place in the equivalent of the English present would be expressed as unmanifest+continuative.

Initials (Active Morphosyntactic Alignment)

(I)s divide into those that are intransitive and transitive. Intransitive (I)s further distinguish between those that trigger objective agreement, wherein the (A) is expressed as object, and those that trigger subjective agreement, wherein the (A) is expressed as subject; and transitive (I)s distinguish similarly between those that trigger dual objective agreement, wherein the (A) and (PT) both are expressed as object, and those that trigger subjective-objective agreement, wherein the (A) is expressed as subject and the (PT) as object. Transitive (I)s using the (RCI) trigger a fifth class of agreement, dual subjective agreement, wherein the (A) and (PT) are both expressed as subject. All but the last of these distinctions express the relationship of the (A) to the action, whether he can be said to initiate or control the act; he is expressed as subject when the initiation/control requirement is met and as object when it is not. The last distinction expresses the relationship of the (PT) to the action; he is ordinarily expressed as object, but is expressed as subject, along with the (A), in dual subjective agreement.

Detransitivizer Infixes (DI)

Kapakwonak (DI)s are a set of (IF)s that appear on (I)s that can perform a variety of functions. The only (DI) that appears in this text is -pe-, which forms the medio-passive, which is a passive without an overt agent expressed (e.g., "I was surprised" is the medio-passive form of "He/it surprised me.").

Nominal-Related Infixes

(NRI)s are (IF)s to (I)s that are associated with (INPN)s; (NRI)s can be said to be semantically linked to (INPN)s that follow the (I) and (M) (if present). (NRI)s can perform a variety of functions; in this text, they act as either prepositions or instrumental markers. E.g., a prepositional (NRI) meaning 'upon' followed by an (INPN) meaning 'hill' would mean 'upon (the) hill'; and an instrumental (NRI) followed by an (INPN) meaning 'axe' would mean 'by means of (the) axe'. Multiple (NRI)s may appear sequentially infixed to a single (I), followed by multiple (INPN)s; when this occurs, the first (NRI) refers to the first (INPN) and the second (NRI) refers to the second (INPN), and so on.

Initial Change

Kapakwonak has a feature called initial change; initial change imparts a sense of "when" or "as" to a word, essentially transforming a word into a subbordinate word (the equivalent of a subbordinate clause in English). Initial change occurs to the first syllable of the (I) in a word. The table below demonstrates the changes that occur with initial change, where C=any consonant:

Initial                   Changed Sequence
C + /e/                          C + /o/   
C + /a/                           C + /e/   
C + /o/                           C + /a/   
/e/                                  /y/ + /e/ 
/o/ or /a/                 /w/ + /o/ or /w/ + /a/ 

Thus, the (I) -pema- 'continues', when subjected to initial change, becomes -poma- 'when/as (someone) continues'.

A Morphological Issue

Kapakwonak does not allow two or more long vowels to appear in sequential syllables; when this occurs via conjunction of morphemes, the second long vowel will become short.

Some final notes: Kapakwonak word order in a clause is free; a demonstrative, e.g., can appear on either side of the word to which it is linked. And a demonstrative can be linked to or refer to either a noun or a verb. Also, Kapakwonak often refers to many things with an animate pronominal ('he, she') that, in English, we refer to as inanimate ('it'). These things include not only animals, but most elements and aspects of the natural world.


Incorporable Nominals (IN) 
-ka:hetʷa- 'legs'
-osʸe:wa- 'water'
-yawa:kʸe- 'wave (of water)'
-kehma:we- 'surface, top'
-ye- 'here, this place, right now, this moment' 

Initials (I) 
-sʸeko- 'move, go'
-mʷofe- 'break'
-pame- 'go alongside/beside'
-sʸetko- 'fight, struggle against'
-pasʸe- 'happy'
-hʸehpe:- 'dream'
-so- 'take away, remove'
-matʷonʸe- 'feel (passive tactile sense)' 

Medials (M) 
-mʷo- 'down, downward'
-ho- 'begin', inchoative marker
-ye:pa- 'attempt, try to'
-pema- 'continuously'
-nose- 'possible', potentiative marker
-ota- 'far, afar'
-me:- 'very, much' 

Finals (F) 
Person Elements (PE) 
-kʸe- 'I, me' (1st person singular)
-me- 'he, him, she, her' (3rd person singular) 

-nʸe- abstract final (AF)

Infixes (IF)
Nominal-Related Infixes (NRI) 
-nʷo- 'upon'
-atʸe- 'near, close to'
-pʸa:- instrumental infix
-so:- 'from, out from' 

Possessive Infixes (PI) 
-kʸe- 'my, mine' (1st person singular)

Ordinal-Aspectual-Modal Infixes (OAMI) 
-pemʷo- manifest+firsthand evidential+perfective
-kʸemʷo- unmanifest+firsthand evidential+perfective
-ke:o- unmanifest+firsthand evidential+continuative

Detranitivizer Infixes (DI) 
-pe- medio-passive infix

-e:- reflexive infix (RI)
-mʷa- negation infix (NI)
-sa:- causative infix (CI)

Suffixes (SF) 
-tʸe- objective suffix (OS) 

Particles (PT) 
e:sʸa 'at some unspecified time', 'on some unspecified day', or 'at some unspecified place'
na 'and'
mʸeko ?this?  

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