Navajo/Grammar

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This page is a brief documentation of Navajo grammar. It includes a part of speech classification and important morphological grammar points.

Parts of Speech

Nouns

Navajo nouns are not inflected for number nor case, and, because Navajo is such a verb-centric language, with much of the needed information to convey what one intends to say, they occur much less frequently than in, for instance, English. There are two three types of nouns in Navajo, simple nouns, nouns derived from verbs, and compound nouns. Simple nouns may be prefixed by a possessive prefix, whereas nouns derived from verbs may not. To derive a noun from a verb, the verb may either be nominalized with an enclitic, í, or simply appear syntactically as a noun without a nominalizer.

Compound nouns may be formed in many different ways:

 1. A noun plus a noun, such as tséso̜' (stone-star) "glass"
 2. A noun plus a postposition, such as łeeghi' (soil|within) "underground"
 3. A noun plus a verb stem, such as tł'ohchin (grass|smells) "onion"
 4. A noun plus a verb, such as tsinaa'eeł (wood|it-floats-about) "boat"
 5. A postposition plus a verb, such as bá'ólta'í (for-her|studying-takes-place|the-one) "teacher"
 6. A miscellaneous category assembled through various means and combinations of nominalization and connection

Simple Nouns

  • béésh<n> ↔ béésh (flint, metal, knife)
  • hééł<n> ↔ hééł (pack)
  • bąąs<n> ↔ bąąs (hoop)
  • chaaʼ<n> ↔ chaaʼ (beaver)
  • chííl<n> ↔ chííl (snowstorm)
  • chizh<n> ↔ chizh (firewood, wood)
  • chʼał<n> ↔ chʼał (frog)
  • dił<n> ↔ dił (blood)
  • dló̜ó̜ʼ<n> ↔ dló̜ó̜ʼ (praire dog)
  • sis<n> ↔ sis (belt)

Derived Nouns

  • náʼoolkił<n> ↔ náʼoolkiłí (lt. thing that moves slowly in a circle)
  • hataał<n> ↔ hataałii (lt. thing that sings)
  • chʼéʼétiin<n> ↔ chʼéʼétiin (exit, doorway lt. something has a path horizontally out)
  • hoozdo<n> ↔ hoozdo (Phoenix, Arizona (when used as verb, "place is hot")

Adjectives

Navajo adjectives are often 3rd person neuter forms of verbs describing state, condition, or quality. There are also adjectival affixes that appear as suffixes on nouns, as well as those that appear in orthography as separate words

Adjectival Suffixes of Base Nouns

  • diné<n> + tsoh<adj> ↔ dinétsoh ([diné + tsoh] big man)
  • ʼasdzą́ą́<n> + tsʼósí<adj> ↔ ʼasdzą́ą́tsʼósí([ʼasdząą + tsʼósí] slender woman) // has initial glottal stop in Y&M
  • diné<n> + dííl<adj> ↔ dinédííl ([diné+dííl] tall man)

Pronouns

Navajo's verb complex is so complete through affixes that the inclusion of pronouns elsewhere in the sentence is unnecessary. However, their appearance is still possible, and they are visible within possessive prefixes, as person morphemes within verbs, and in other such places. Like English, there are similar, but different, forms of these pronouns when referring to possession (for instance, "me"|"mine").

When attaching the pronouns to nouns, the root base form is often evident, with slight phonetic alteration in the surfacing form. However, there exist two more variants of the third person prefix. They represent indefiniteness and obliquative (though, the latter usually occurs attached to verbs). A reciprocal form also appears as well.

When attaching the pronouns to prepositions, these forms are visible, as well as another reflexive form. Though this form appears very similarly to that of the indefinite. It is semantically, as well as in its surface form sometimes, appearing as 'ád instead of . This appears to be a phonological process, as it occurs when followed by another "á".

Independent Pronouns

First person
  • shí<prn><pers><p1><sg> ↔ shí ("I")
  • nihí<prn><pers><p1><du> ↔ nihí ("we" [2])
  • danihí<prn><pers><p1><dist> ↔ danihí ("we" [distributive])
Second person
  • ni<prn><pers><p2><sg> ↔ ni ("you")
  • nihí<prn><pers><p2><du> ↔ nihí ("you" [2])
  • danihí<prn><pers><p2><dist> ↔ danihí ("you" [distributive])
Third person
  • <prn><pers><p3><sg> ↔ bí ("he, she, it")
  • <prn><pers><p3><du> ↔ bí ("they" [2])
  • daabí<prn><pers><p3><dist> ↔ daabí ("they" [distributive])
Third person (less definite, more polite)
  • <prn><ind><p3><sg> ↔ hó ("he, she, one")
  • <prn><ind><p3><du> ↔ hó ("they" [2])
  • daahó<prn><ind><p3><dist> ↔ daahó ("they" [distributive])

Demonstrative Pronouns

  • díí<prn><dem> ↔ díí ("this, these")
  • ʼéii<prn><dem> ↔ ʼéii ("that, those" [close at hand and visible]) //has initial glottal stop in Y&M
  • ńléí<prn><dem> ↔ ńléí ("yonder one")
  • ʼéí<prn><dem> ↔ ʼéí ("that, those" [remote and invisible]) //has initial glottal stop in Y&M

There is also an array of interrogative pronouns. Like some of the aforementioned demonstrative pronouns, many interrogative pronouns surface as prefixes attached to other morphemes.

Adverbs

There are many Navajo adverbs that modify clauses, sentences, and phrases.

  • ʼadą́ą́dą́ą́ʼ<adv> ↔ ʼadą́ą́dą́ą́ʼ (yesterday) //has initial glottal top in Y&M
  • ʼałdóʼ<adv> ↔ ʼałdóʼ (also, too [my mother saw him too]) //has initial glottal top in Y&M
  • ʼayóí<adv> ↔ ʼayóí (remarkably, exceedingly) //has initial glottal top in Y&M
  • dóʼ<adv> ↔ dóʼ (too, also [my mother and I too])
  • kʼadę́ę<adv> ↔ kʼadę́ę (nearly, about [it is nearly noon])
  • kʼsasdą́ą́ʼ<adv> ↔ kʼsasdą́ą́ʼ (almost, nearly [I almost died])
  • łáháhda<adv> ↔ łáháhda (rarely, seldom)
  • łahda<adv> ↔ łahda (sometimes)
  • łeh<adv> ↔ łeh (usually, customarily)
  • shį́į́<adv> ↔ shį́į́ (probably)
  • tʼah<adv> ↔ tʼah (still, yet)
  • tʼįįhdígo<adv> ↔ tʼįįhdígo (a little, a bit)
  • yiská̜a̜go<adv> ↔ yiská̜a̜go (tomorrow)

Postpositions

Navajo uses a series of postpositions, and thus all spatial and most of the other relations are expressed using the possessive prefix, along with the postposition.

  • chʼą́ą́h<n><px3sg> ↔ bichʼą́ą́h (in front of him, in his way)
  • chʼįʼ<n><px3sg> ↔ bichʼįʼ (to it, toward it)
  • deijígo<n><px3sg> ↔ bideijígo (above it)
  • ghá<n><px3sg> ↔ bighá (through it, penetrating it)
  • káá<n><px3sg> ↔ bikáá (over its surface, above it)
  • kéé<n><px3sg> ↔ bikéé (behind it, in its footsteps)
  • ikʼi<n><px3sg> ↔ bikʼi (on it, on its surface)
  • naa<n><px3sg> ↔ binaa (around it)
  • nahjiʼ<n><px3sg> ↔ binahjiʼ (against it)
  • lą́ąjiʼ<n><px3sg> ↔ bilą́ąjiʼ (in front of it, ahead of it)
  • naashii<n><px3sg> ↔ binaashii (opposite it)
  • <n><px3sg> ↔ bineʼ (in it)
  • taʼ<n><px3sg> ↔ bitaʼ (between them)
  • yaa<n><px3sg> ↔ biyaa (under it, below it)

Conjunctions

There are Navajo words that connect words, phrases, and/or clauses together.

  • <cnjcoo> ↔ jó (since)
  • léiʼ<cnjcoo> ↔ léiʼ (because)
  • ndi<cnjcoo> ↔ ndi (but)
  • doodaiiʼ<cnjcoo> ↔ doodaiiʼ (or, or else)
  • ʼáádóó<cnjcoo> ↔ ʼáádóó (and then) // has initial glottal stop in Y&M
  • ʼáko<cnjcoo> ↔ ʼáko (then, so then, so) // has initial glottal stop in Y&M
  • dóó<cnjcoo> ↔ dóó (and)

Classifiers

Classifiers in Navajo are located closest to the verb stem and, in most verbs, affect the transitivity of the verb in that they determine the voice and valence. The ł classifier is a causative-transitivizing prefix used for active verbs that have Ø in the classifier position. The d classifier appears in passive, mediopassive, reflexive, and reciprocal verbs that have Ø in the classifier position. The l classifier appears in passive, mediopassive, reflexive, and reciprocal verbs that come from those with an ł classifier:

  • Ø - yibéézh (It is boiling)
  • ł - yiłbéézh (He is boiling it)
  • Ø - yizéés (He is singing it)
  • d - yidéés (It is being singed)
  • ł - néíłtsááh (He's drying it)
  • l - náltsááh (It's being dried)

Some verbs may be used with all of the classifiers to convey different meanings. Further, classifiers in some verbs do not indicate transitivity but rather are thematic prefixes that must occur with certain verb forms.

Auxiliaries

Navajo has a variety of particles that convey information about temporality, desire, and focus. The future particles dooleeł and doo do not typically appear together, but some speakers find this acceptable.

  • dooleeł<vaux> ↔ dooleeł (Future reference time)
  • doo<vaux> ↔ doo (Future reference time)
  • nítʼééʼ<vaux> ↔ nítʼééʼ (Past reference time)
  • laanaa<vaux> ↔ laanaa (Positive desire)
  • lágo<vaux> ↔ lágo (Negative desire)
  • ʼéí<vaux> ↔ ʼéí (Topic/Focus Marker) //has initial glottal top in Y&M
  • doo<vaux> ↔ doo (Negator)

Imperfective

The imperfective mode of Navajo indicates an event that has begun but is incomplete or on-going. Without any additional reference time, this mode often translates similarly to the present English tense. When the reference time is changed, it may refer to an on-going event or an event un-completed at that time, for instance, in the past or future. If it is used in the second person, it may also create the meaning of an immediate imperative. It has a distinct stem form, as well as four different prefixes. They are:

 1. ni- terminative prefix in position 7 (nishááh) "I'm in the act of arriving"
 2. si- stative prefix in position 7 (shishʼaah) "I'm in the act of placing a SRO (solid round object)"
 3. with no prefix in position 7 (dah shishʼaah) "I'm in the act of placing a SRO (solid round object) up" 
 4. with either a yi- transitional or yi- semelfactive prefix in position 6 (and no prefix in position 7) (yishcha) "I'm crying"
  • bínéi<them> + ł<class>+tsóós<v><tv><aa><impf><p1><sg><o_sg> ↔ bínéistóós (I am adding it to it [FFO])
  • dii<them> + Ø<class>+máás<v><iv><aa><impf><p1><sg> ↔ diismáás (I am starting off rolling)
  • habiʼnii<them> + Ø<class>+gééd<v><tv><aa><impf><p1><sg><o_sg> ↔ habiʼniishgééd (I am starting to dig it out)
  • binídii<them> + l<class>+níísh<v><tv><impf><p1><sg> ↔ binídiishníísh (I am starting to work on it)

Perfective

The perfective mode in Navajo indicates that an event has been completed. This gives it a similar connotation to the English simple past tense when referring to past events. Being a mode rather than a tense, however, it can be used to not just to refer to past events but future events too, carrying the meaning of "will have" done an action. The perfective mode has a unique verb stem form and four different prefix forms. Those forms are:

 1. yí- perfective prefix with a high tone in position 7 (yíchʼid) "I scratched it"
 2. ní- terminative prefix with a high tone in position 7 (níyá) "I arrived"
 3. sí- stative prefix with high tone in position 7 (sélį́į́ʼ) "I roasted it"
 4. yi- transitional prefix in position 6 (and Ø- in position 7) (yiizįʼ) "I stood up". 
  • bínéi<them> + ł<class>+tsóós<v><tv><aa><perf><p1><sg><o_sg> ↔ bínéiłtsooz (I added it to it [FFO])
  • dii<them> + Ø<class>+máás<v><iv><aa><perf><p1><sg> ↔ diiłmááz (I started off rolling)
  • habiʼnii<them> + Ø<class> + gééd<v><tv><aa><perf><p1><sg><o_sg> ↔ habiʼniigeed (I dug it out)
  • binídii<them> + l<class> + níísh<v><tv><perf><p1><sg> ↔ binídiishnish (I started to work on it)

Optative

The optative mode expresses positive or negative desire to perform a given action. It is used in tandem with the aforementioned particles corresponding to either desire. With certain verbs, the interpretation is also an imperative.

  • bínéi<them> + ł<class> + tsóós<v><tv><aa><opt><p1><sg><o_sg> ↔ bínáostsóós (I desire to add it to it [FFO])
  • dii<them> + Ø<class> + máás<v><iv><aa><opt><p1><sg> ↔ doosmáás (I desire to start off rolling)
  • habiʼnii<them> + Ø<class> + gééd<v><tv><aa><opt><p1><sg><o_sg> ↔ habiʼnooshgééd (I desire to start to dig it out)
  • binídii<them> + l<class> + níísh<v><tv><opt><p1><sg> ↔ binídooshníísh (I desire to start to work on it)

Future

The Future mode is the most tense-like of the Navajo modes. It is an inflected form, occurring in the form of a prefix. However, it cannot be fully classified as a tense, as it contrasts with other modes that are not tense-like, and a lack of this mode gives no information about the future. Moreover, it may only occur with event words. The future tense is made up of the progressive prefix, yi, and the inceptive prefix, di.

  • bínéi<them> + ł<class> + tsóós<v><tv><aa><fut><p1><sg><o_sg> ↔ bínéideestos (I will add it to it [FFO])
  • dii<them> + Ø<class> + máás<v><iv><aa><fut><p1><sg> ↔ dideesmas (I will start off rolling)
  • habiʼnii<them> + Ø<class> + gééd<v><tv><aa><fut><p1><sg><o_sg> ↔ habidíʼnéeshgoł (I will start to dig it out)
  • binídii<them> + l<class> + níísh<v><tv><fut><p1><sg> ↔ binídideeshnish (I will start to work on it)

Negation

Negation in Navajo is formed similarly to that of Korean, with a negation frame of the particle doo and the enclitic da and the positive statement being placed between the two. However, sometimes, da is omitted from the negation frame. The negation frame combined with various aspects of Navajo grammar leads to different meaning, such as a negative imperative (when combined with fourth person), inability (with the optative mood), and so on.

  • yicha<v><iv><impf><sg><p3> + da <cop><neg> ↔ yicha da (he/she/it is not crying)
  • nichxǫ́ǫ́ʼí<v><iv><impf><sg><p3> + da <cop><neg> ↔ nichxǫ́ǫ́ʼí da (he/she/it is not ugly)
  • nizhóní<v><iv><impf><sg><p3> + da <cop><neg> ↔ nizhóní da (he/she/it is not beautiful)

Adjective Comparison

In Navajo, there is no direct equivalent to the English "great, greater, greatest" comparison structure. This meaning is reached by attaching the postpositions -lááh (beyond), -'oh (less than), or placing the word 'aghá/'agháadi (beyond-anything) before the verb (superlative).

  • lááh<n><px3sg> ↔ bilááh (more than 3psg [beyond it])
  • ʼoh<n><px3sg> ↔ biʼoh (under it, below it)
  • ʼaghá<adv> ↔ ʼaghá (beyond anything) //has initial glottal top in Y&M
  • ʼagháadi<adv> ↔ ʼagháadi (beyond anything) //has initial glottal top in Y&M

Possession

To form possessives in Navajo, the personal pronoun prefixes get attached to the given noun. The pronouns often appear without change, though in some cases their final vowel may have a high tone. The personal pronouns are displayed below:

Singular Dual Plural
First shi- nihi- danihi-
Second ni- nihi- danihi-
Third bi-
Fourth (3o) yi-
Fourth (3a) ha-, hw-
Indefinite (3i) a-

However, Navajo distinguishes two types of possession, that is, inalienable possession and alienable possession. The former is used for relatives, body parts, homes, and the like, requiring the use of a personal pronoun or the 3rd person indefinite prefix 'a- to convey the meaning of "someone's (noun)" for these words to occur. The latter is used in cases not within the realm of inalienable possession.

  • łeezh<n><px1sg> ↔ shileezh (my soil)
  • hééł<n><px1sg> ↔ shighéél (my pack)
  • béésh<n><px1sg> ↔ shibéézh (my knife)
  • sǫʼ<n><px1sg> ↔ sizǫʼ (my star)
  • sis<n><px1sg> ↔ siziiz (my belt)
  • hílaʼ<n><px1sg> ↔ shílaʼ (my hand)
  • hílaʼ<n><px1pl> ↔ nihílaʼ (our hand)
  • <n><px1sg> ↔ shimá (my mother)
  • <n><ind> ↔ ʼamá (someoneʼs mother) //This is more so indefinite so how to tag?
  • <n><px3> ↔ bimá (his/her mother)
  • kʼaaʼ<n><px1sg> ↔ shikʼaʼ (my arrow)
  • tsʼaaʼ<n><px1sg> ↔ sitsʼaaʼ (my basket)
  • <n><px1sg> ↔ shitoʼ (my water)
  • tsé<n><px1sg> ↔ sitseʼ (my stone)

Imperatives

Navajo has a variety of ways of forming imperatives despite having no definite imperative form. Positive imperatives may be formed by using the future tense to convey the meaning of an action someone must do, the imperfective when the act is to be done immediately, and the optative when the action is to be carried out in the proximate future, as well as a negative sense.

Future Imperatives

  • cha<v><iv><fut><sg><2p> ↔ dííchah (cry! [you will cry])
  • gish<v><tv><fut><sg><2p> ↔ díígish (cut it! [you will cut it])
  • yíbeeł<v><tv><fut><sg><2p> ↔ yídííbeeł (pick berries! [you will pick berries])

Imperfective Imperatives

  • cha<v><iv><impf><sg><2p> ↔ nicha (cry! [you are crying])
  • teeh<v><iv><impf><sg><2p> ↔ níteeh (lie down! [you are lying down])
  • ghał<v><iv><fut><sg><2p> ↔ nilghał (chew [or eat] meat! [you are chewing {eating} meat])