Nouns 2 Verb Basics

Verbs will be briefly discussed here in order to help illustrate certain key properties of nouns.

A verb usually uses a subject: “He dances”. The personal pronoun “he” is the subject of the verb in this example.
“The man dances.” The subject of the verb is the noun “the man” in this example.

Some verbs use a subject and an object. “I saw him”. In this example the subject is the pronoun“I” and the object is the pronoun“him”.

Verbs in Lunaapeew are quite different from English verbs. A verb can form a complete sentence because the subject and the object are built into the verb, such that use of pronouns is not necessary.

Verbs that simply have a subject and no object are called Intransitive verbs.

Verbs that have both a subject and an object are called Transitive verbs. .

Verbs are classified according to the gender of their subject for the intransitive verbs and according to the gender of the object for the transitive verbs. There are four main types of verbs:

(1) Inanimate intransitive verbs (or VIIs)

These verbs have an inanimate gender subject and do not take an object. There is only one participant involved, the inanimate subject ‘it’ or plural ‘it’ (they).

Intransitive Inanimate Verb Components
Built-in Subject (it)-(Verb stem)-(Endings)


It is there. Something inanimate is there.   

Mahkáhkw áhteew.   
The pumpkin, it is there. The pumpkin is there.  

Nu paxkshíikan áhteew.   
That knife, it is there.  

Áhteew nu paxkshíikan.  
Its there, that knife.  

(2) Animate intransitive verbs (ai verbs or vai’s)

These verbs have an animate gender subject and do not take an object. There is only one participant involved, the animate subject (I,you, he, we, ye, they).

Animate Intransitive Verb Components
(Built-in Animate Subject)-(Verb stem)-(Endings)


He is there. Someone (he or she) or something animate is here.   

Pámbiil apúw.  
The book, he is there. The book is there.  

Njan apúw.  
John, he is there. John is there.  

Wan pámbiil apúw.   
This book, he is there.   

Apúw na aláangweew.  
He is there, that star.  

Notice how I translated the above phrases, in order to reflect the way verbs in Munsee include the subject (it or he). Adding a noun adds information about the subject ‘it’ or ‘he’ Using translations that reflect what the actual words say is intended to help one learn to ‘’think in the language”.

(3) Transitive Inanimate Verbs ( ti verbs or vti’s)

These verbs have an animate gender subject and take an inanimate object. There are two participants involved, the animate subject, and the inanimate object.

Transitive Inanimate Verb Components
(Built in Animate Subject) -(Verb stem)-(Endings)- Built in Inanimate Object


He sees it.  

Wŭnéemun áhpapoon.      
He sees it, the chair.  

Áhpapoon wŭnéemun.      
The chair, he sees it.   

(4) Transitive Animate Verbs (ta verbs or vta’s)

VTAs have an animate subject and take an animate object.
There are two participants involved, an animate subject (I, you, he, we, ye, they) and an animate object (me, you, him, us, ye, them)

Transitive Animate Verb Components
(Built in Animate Subject) -(Verb stem)-(Endings)- (Built in Animate Object)


He sees him.  

Wuneewáawal pambíilal.   
He sees him, the book.  

Notice the (al) ending on pambiil.
This is called an obviative ending. and it helps distinguish one 3rd person participant (he or him) from another 3rd person participant (he or him).
Whenever two or more ‘animate’ 3rd person participants exist in the same sentence, the obviative ending tells us which participant is the peripheral participant. The noun without the obviative ending is the central participant, also called the ‘proximate’ noun.

Proximate nouns take the center stage of the discourse. Obviative nouns can also be thought of as nouns which are non-proximate. Being able to choose which noun takes center stage can color the narrative in unique ways.

(Aspects of the Topic Structure of Fox Narratives: Proximate Shifts and the Use of Overt and Inflectional NPs;Ives Goddard; International Journal of American Linguistics;Vol. 56, No. 3 (Jul., 1990), pp. 317-340)

Because of this proximate-obviative system, variations in word order are not confusing. The obviative markings ensure clarity. Word order variations color the phrase stylistically.

Lúnuw wuneewáawal óxkweewal.  
The man (proximate)-he saw her-the woman (obviative).  

Oxkweew wuneewáawal lúnuwal.  
The woman (proximate)-she saw him-the man (obviative).  

Lúnuw óxkweewal wuneewáawal.   
The man, he who saw the woman.  

Oxkweewal wuneewáawal lúnuw.  
The woman, the man saw her.  

Obviation markings are always used on 3rd person animate nouns when there is a proximate 3rd person animate noun in the discourse.

Some verb modes have forms for obviative endings on the verb, and if so they must be used.

3rd person possessive forms of animate nouns are always obviative because two people are referenced, the possessor and the possessed. Pronouns use an obviative form when they represent an obviative noun.

Inanimate nouns and verbs do not mark for obviation.

Important rule:
Obviative nouns take no plural endings, An obviative noun could be either singular or plural and context determines the interpretation. Verbs and pronouns in obviative form also do not have separate forms for singular vs plural.

Subjects with multiple nouns:

A group of two or more 3rd person animate nouns may be used as the subject of a verb which also references a 3rd person object, in which case the nouns used as the group subject are all proximate and share the status as primary central participants, and no obviative marking is needed on these nouns. The verb in such cases will use an obviative ending (al) to refer to an obviative third person peripheral participant, which can also be mentioned using a noun in the obviative.

Máaliish waak Méeliish wuneewaawáawal lúnuwal.
Molly & Mary - they saw him, the man
Máaliish wuneewáawal Méeliishal.
Molly - she saw her - Mary

A demonstrative pronoun must be in the obviative when it is used to represent an obviative noun.

Non Obviative Obviative
wa, wan yool
yook yool
na,nan niil
niik niil
Lúnuw wuneewáawal niil máxkwal.
The man saw that/those bear(s).

Nóohum wuneewáawal yool oxkwéewal.
My grandmother saw these women.

Since singular obviative forms are identical to plural obviative forms, context will help determine the sg/pl. status of obviative nouns

Go to the verb-noun basics practicum

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