Nominal Morphology

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Noun Classes


Most nouns can occur in two numbers, singular and plural. There are eight singular noun classes and six plural noun classes. Noun classes are lexically determined: while generalizations can be made about the semantic content of certain noun classes, other noun classes have no predictable semantic basis. In most cases, noun classes are named after the concordant marking on corresponding determiners.

Singular classes Noun prefix Adj prefix Det. prefix Semantic generalization
ox o-* o- ox- humans
ol o- o- ol-
l Ø- Ø- l-
f Ø- fa-** f-
n Ø-** Ø-** n-
al a- Ø-* l-
ong o-** o-** ong- diminutives
gal ga-**
a-* al- augmentatives
Plural classes
w Ø- Ø- w- humans
ax xa-* xa-* ax-
ak a-* a-* ak-
k Ø-* Ø-* k-
fn fo-** fo-** n- diminutives
gak ga-** a-** ak- augmentatives
*The initial consonant of the stem undergoes standard nominal mutation, if able.
**The initial consonant of the stem undergoes prenasalized nominal mutation, if able.

Most singular noun classes correspond to exactly one plural noun class, with the exception of the al class. However, the corresponding plural form for any given al class noun is predictable. All al/k nouns have an initial prenasalized consonant; all al/ak nouns do not. The complete table of noun class pairs is shown in the following table.

Noun class pair examples
Class Example Det. English Plural Det. Semantic generalization
ox/w o-tew oxe woman Ø-rew we humans
ol/ax o-fiiɗ ole butterfly xa-piiɗ axe
l/ak Ø-xomb le turtle a-qomb ake
f/k Ø-xaarit fe friend Ø-qaarit ke
n/k Ø-nqoox ne bull Ø-qoox ke
al/k a-mbeel ale lake Ø-peel ke
al/ak a-koong ale monkey a-koong ake
ong/fn o-ndew onge woman [DIM] fo-ndew ne diminutives
gal/gak ga-ndew
ale woman [AUG] ga-ndew ake augmentatives

Irregular nouns

A handful of nouns have singular-plural noun class pairs that do not fall into this regular paradigm.

Gloss Singular noun Singular class Plural noun Plural class
leg ojaf ol acaf ak
pants ombap ol pap k
elephant fañiik f
muscle doole f toole

There are two possible plural forms associated with the singular nouns fañiik 'elephant' and doole 'muscle'.

Semantic Generalizations

Human Classes (ox/w)

The ox/w noun classes consist entirely of nouns denoting humans. Derived nouns that fall into these classes are perforce interpeted as being human.

moxoñ 'crumble' > omoomoxoñ 'someone who crumbles things' (not 'something that crumbles')

With very few exceptions, all lexical nouns denoting humans fall into these noun classes.

Gloss Singular noun Noun class
wrestler mbir n/k
friend xaarit f/k
mother yaay
father fap f/k
false lion simb f/k

Augmentative and Diminutive Classes (gal/gak and ong/fn)

Four noun classes are exclusively devoted to productive noun-noun derivational processes, resulting in nouns with an augmentative or diminutive sense. Any noun may be augmented or diminutized with the addition of the appropriate class prefix to its original stem. All stems in these classes undergo prenasalized nominal mutation.

Augmentative/Diminutive paradigm for 'woman'
Gloss Singular Noun Determiner Plural Noun Determiner
woman o-tew oxe Ø-rew we
woman (AUG) a-ndew
ale a-ndew
woman (DIM) o-ndew onge fo-ndew ne

The augmentative noun classes have three nominal prefixes that may be used. The prefixes a- and ga- are in free variation; gi- seems to suggest pejorative largeness and thus seems to be used less than the others in our elicitation contexts. All occur with the same concordant marking on adjectives and determiners.

Some nouns are lexically permanently diminutive, i.e. they are permanently part of the noun class only available to diminutives and cannot be back-derived to an earlier form:

ondeb onge
*oteb oxe
'the boy'

Other things that agree with noun class

For the WH-pronouns "how many/much" and "which," see Questions.

Other nominal morphology

Word/clitic status of "articles"

The "articles" discussed above are apparently not suffixal, as one might assume, making them either independent (and mobile) words or clitics (which attach to the right edge of a DP?).

For instance, note that the agreement for the article in xaˈƥek ˈsuuˌkar aˌhe 'the pieces of sugar (sugarcubes)' matches that of xaˈƥek aˌxe 'the pieces', rather than the agreement seen in ˈsuuˌkar fe 'the sugar': the article agrees with xaˈƥek despite not being immediately adjacent to it.

More convincing evidence comes from the fact that one or more adjectives can intervene between the article and the noun. (Elaborate upon this.)

It is unclear at this point precisely what semantic function they serve. Some specifying and/or deictic function seems to be involved.

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