Category Archives: grammar

Ideophones: aiti-paka wa nomba ikana

Like most languages, Numbami has a class of ideophones, words whose sounds give a vivid sense of how speakers feel the sounds, shapes, movement, or mood of the world around them. But Numbami may be unique in having a special marker for such words, a suffix –a(n)dala, which is clearly related to the noun andalowa ‘path, way, road’—probably from andala ‘path’ + awa ‘opening’. (Words of similar shape and meaning can be found in many Austronesian languages, including Malay jalan and Hawaiian ala, both meaning ‘path, road’.)

Here are a few examples of how ideophones are used Numbami sentences.

Ai-sanga i-yotomu pakádala
tree-branch it-severed crackingly
‘The tree branch snapped with a crack’

Sai ko i-nggo kãiandala
who there he-said shoutingly
‘Who is that shouting over there?’

Gáwadala ti-nzolo ti-wesa
disappearingly they-scattered they-went
‘Away they scattered’

Wa-usi talápuadala wa-peka wai
I-stepped slippingly I-fell FIN
‘I slipped and fell down’

Here is a list of all such words that I was able to record in 1976. The accents mark where the stress usually falls in each word.

áiti-adala ‘going dark, dying out (as lamps)’
ambále-andala ‘happening irregularly’
bái-andala ‘overcast, clouded over’
bé-andala-ma ‘secretly, furtively’
dendende-ándala ‘shivering’
galála-adala ‘splashing, disrupting surface (as rain or fish feeding)’
gási-adala ‘shaking’
gáwa-adala ‘finishing up, letting up (as rain)’ (cf. gawagawa ‘above, on top’)
gidogído-adala ‘trembling’
golópu-adala ‘slipping or dripping through’
gumúni-adala ‘chuckling, smiling’
ká-andala ‘bouncing back, ricocheting’
kelekále(-adala) ‘meandering, staggering’
kí-andala ‘scorching, parched’
kilikála(-adala) ‘crackling, scurrying, scampering’
kilikíli-adala ‘scampering, scurrying, crackling’
kitikáta-adala ‘writhing, fidgeting’
kúi-andala ‘poking’
kulukúlu-adala ‘gurgling’
kúsu-adala ‘popping into sight, suddenly appearing’
pá-andala ‘banging’
paká-adala ‘getting light, flashing on, popping’
páku-adala ‘plopping, splashing’
palapála-adala ‘flip-flopping, moving restlessly’
pí-andala ‘bouncing up, springing up, rising up’ (cf. -pi ‘ascend, rise’)
pilíli-adala ‘flashing briefly (as lightning)’
pilipíli-adala ‘flapping, fluttering (as clothes or bird feathers)’
pó-adala ‘booming’
póko-adala ‘banging, snapping, slamming, bursting’
póu-andala ‘snapping, popping (as bamboo or sugarcane)’
púku-adala ‘bursting’
púpú-adala ‘stinking, rotting’ (cf. sapu ‘ripe, rotten’; putaputa ‘rubbish’)
sái-andala ‘spurting, spraying’
salála-adala ‘slipping, sliding’
sí-andala ‘shooting up, springing away’
solólo-adala ‘plummeting, whistling’
sulúku-adala ‘sucking, slurping’
sulúpu-adala ‘disappearing’ (cf. sulupama ‘underwater’; -suluma ‘get dark’)
sú-undala ‘blowing out, blowing away (as blowing the nose)’
taká-adala ‘stuck fast, planted firmly’
talála-adala ‘slipping, sliding’
talápu-adala ‘slipping, sliding’
tíki-adala ‘going dark’
tentente-ándala ‘shivering’

Jabêm also has many ideophones, but they don’t have their own marker as they do in Numbami. Instead, they’re marked just like other adverbs. Shorter ones are followed by tageŋ ‘once’, longer ones by geŋ ‘-ly’, and really long ones by nothing at all, as in the following examples.

ka tulu diŋ tageŋ
tree severed crash once
‘the tree snapped with a crash’

ôsic kê-kac eb tageŋ
lightning it-tore flash once
‘lightning flashed suddenly’

waŋ kê-sêlêŋ kalalac-geŋ
canoe it-traveled hissing-ly
‘the canoe whizzed away’

ka-pê moc sololop
I-shot bird slipping
‘I shot and missed the bird’

bu kê-pulu mềŋboab-mềŋboab
water it-bubbled come-bubbling
‘the water bubbled up’

Japanese has maybe 2000 ideophones, well used and well studied. Korean also seems to have a lot.


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Subject prefixes on verbs

Every Numbami verb has to have a prefix that shows the person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and number (singular, plural) of its subject and the tense (nonfuture or future). To show that it requires a prefix, we write a hyphen at the beginning of each bare verb stem.

Here is a full paradigm for one of the most important verbs in the language, -nggo ‘to say, talk, tell, scold’, using Tok Pisin glosses. The following examples show hyphens between each prefix and verb stem, but the hyphen is not necessary in normal writing.

wa-nggo ‘mi tok’
u-nggo ‘yu tok’
i-nggo ’em i tok’
ta-nggo ‘yumi tok’
ma-nggo ‘mipela i tok’
mu-nggo ‘yupela i tok’
ti-nggo ‘ol i tok’

na-nggo ‘bai mi tok’
nu-nggo ‘bai yu tok’
ni-nggo ‘bai em i tok’
tana-nggo ‘bai yumi tok’
mana-nggo ‘bai mipela i tok’
muna-nggo ‘bai yupela i tok’
ina-nggo ‘bai ol i tok’

In most cases, subject prefixes are easy to separate from verb stems, but in a few very common words, the final vowels of the prefixes merge with initial vowels of the stems to yield irregularly inflected forms, as in the following paradigm for -ani ‘to eat’. (Another very common verb, -ambi ‘to hold, take’, works the same way.)

wani (< wa-ani) ‘mi kaikai’
woni (< u-ani) ‘yu kaikai’
weni (< i-ani) ’em i kaikai’
tani (< ta-ani) ‘yumi kaikai’
mani (< ma-ani) ‘mipela i kaikai’
moni (< mu-ani) ‘yupela i kaikai’
teni (< ti-ani) ‘ol i kaikai’

wambi (< wa-ambi) ‘mi holim/kisim’
wombi (< u-ambi) ‘yu holim/kisim’
wembi (< i-ambi) ’em i holim/kisim’
tambi (< ta-ambi) ‘yumi holim/kisim’
mambi (< ma-ambi) ‘mipela holim/kisim’
mombi (< mu-ambi) ‘yupela holim/kisim’
tembi (< ti-ambi) ‘ol i holim/kisim’

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