Saturday, April 18, 2009

The very basics of Tanii syntax : word order (1)

The words in a Tanii sentence have a certain order which is quite different from the word order in English or Hindi. See how puzzling it can be for a non-Tanii speaker:

Mo ngiimi, ngiika lemba hokii tolyiku ho gari pa bagiiku*.
--me- my village from went down car by carried/brought

In this sentence, the only construction that follows the word order in English is ..... 'my village'...

What does it mean ? Well, simply this :

"He gave me a lift when I was returning from my village."

To explain the rules for this sentence construction alone would require several posts. So let's start here from the very begining, i.e. by outlining the basics of Tanii morphosyntax (word order and sentence construction) in the most simple way:

1. The basic order is Subject-Object-Verb (SOV), that is, Tanii is a verb-final language as are most Tibeto-Burman languages.

Molu yasan mi babindo
-- -- -O------------ V
They are carrying wood together.

Note 1: Unlike English and many Western languages, it is not always necessary to include a verb.

Insi subu pe ha ?
Is that a mithun (literally. "that mithun + interr. ?")

Siika tarii si hu kii ?
Whose shirt is this ? (lit. 'this shirt whose ?')

Note 2: It is also not necessary to include a pronoun at the begining of every sentence. As a rule, things which are already understood/known or can be deduced from context are often not said. Quite often a simple Object-Verb structure is a complete sentence, ie. the subject is omitted. This is especially true when the subject is a personal pronoun.

Apin diitiiku ha ?
Have you had your lunch/dinner ? (lit. "have already eaten rice ?")

No hokii ?
Where are you coming from (lit. 'where from' ?)

2. Adverbs always occur pre-verbally, although they do not always immediately precede the verb.

Aki hii goropa pido
The dog is barking loudly

Ngo so kiiran adu
I often come here

3. Adjectives can precede or follow the head noun they qualify.
  • labi ala : right hand
  • tado tasan: yellow bead or necklace
  • ato abi-tarii: own/personal cloth
  • kochi haman: bitter vegetable (usual name for the Spiny Sowthisle, Sonchus Asper).

  • yasan sensii: dried wood
  • subu pulu: white mithun
  • hime dema: bad/naughty boy
  • biidan dara: stiff cliff

Note: a small number of adjectives can occur both before and after a head noun, depending on their use.

anyan niti : new year
niti diiro-yasi : new/modern medicine

Note regarding double adjective (adjective that qualifies another adjective): where English systematically puts it in first position, Tanii rather puts it in second position.

lanchan koman: dark red

pilan ranban: brownish yellow

4. As a rule determiners follow the head noun.

Subu si ano dorrodo
This mithun is very big

But Tanii also has "split determiners". Here, one part precedes the noun while the other part follows it.
hiika hime si
that kid

5. Numerals follow the head noun.

Miyu ako
One person

Subu dornye
Two mithuns

6. When numerals are combined with adjectives, the order is:


Subu atu dore

N---- A --Num.

One mithun calf

alyi anii dorngohe

N----A -----Num.

Five sows/female pigs

alyi-lyinii atu kone

N----A -----A ---Num.

one small female pig.

7. Questions particles occur pre- and post-verbally.

  • - a) The question particles or wh- constituents (who, what, when, why, etc.) precede the verb.

niida akindo ?

When will they come ?

Mo niido kii Ziro ho dudu ?
How long has he been living in Ziro for ? (lit. since when ?)
  • - b) The "yes/no question"particles follow the verb.

No aya siido ha ?
Are you alright ?

*Retrieved from "Tanii agun lu'sa" blog.