Tongan/Grammar

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Parts of Speech

Part of Speech Tag Example Gloss
noun <n> toa ironwood tree
verb <v> hiva sing
adjective <adj> malohi hard
preposition <prep> ki to, toward
adverb <adv> vave quickly
conjunction <cnjcoo> (coordinating conjunction) pea and
interjection <int> ʻĀua! Yes, Indeed!
pronouns <prn> au u (1st person singular subject pronoun in the future tense)


Nouns

  • ongoongo<n><sg> ↔ ongoongo fame
  • namu<n><sg> ↔ namu
  • mamate<n><sg> ↔ mamate
  • efu<n><sg> ↔ efu
  • kaiako<n><sg> ↔ kaiako
  • fili<n><sg> ↔ fili
  • fale<n><sg> ↔ fale
  • hele<n><sg> ↔ hele
  • faifekau<n><sg> ↔ faifekau
  • tohi<n><sg> ↔ tohi
  • maŋa<n><sg> ↔ maŋa
  • puaka<n><sg> ↔ puaka
  • hoosi<n><sg> ↔ hoosi
  • tangata<n><sg> ↔ tangata
  • luo<n><sg> ↔ luo
  • toko<n><sg> ↔ toko
  • pea<n><sg> ↔ pea bear

Pluralization

[1] Tongan has three number cases: singular, dual, and plural. The morphology of a noun does not typically change when it is in its dual or plural form. Instead, preposed dual and plural number marker are used. Irregular plural nouns also

Plural Noun Markers

  • ngaahi<cl><pl> ↔ ngaahi
  • kau<cl><pl> ↔ kau
  • ʻu<cl><pl> ↔ ʻu
  • fanga<cl><pl> ↔ fanga
  • ongo<cl><pl> ↔ ongo

«ngaahi» is used to pluralize most nouns.

  • fale<n><pl> ↔ ngaahi fale (house -> houses)
  • hēhēfanga<n><pl> ↔ ngaahi hēhēfanga (plantain -> plantains)

«kau» is used to pluralize people nouns.

  • kaiako<n><pl> ↔ kau kaiako (teacher -> teachers)
  • fili<n><pl> ↔ kau fili (candidate -> candidates)
  • faifekau<n><pl> ↔ kau faifekau (minister -> ministers)

«ʻu» is typically used to pluralize items that are relatively small in size.

  • hele<n><pl> ↔ ʻu hele (knife -> knives)
  • tohi<n><pl> ↔ ʻu tohi (book -> books)
  • manga<n><pl> ↔ ʻu manga (fork -> forks)

«fanga» is a plural marker typically used to pluralize animals.

  • puaka<n><pl> ↔ fanga puaka (pigs -> many pigs)
  • hoosi<n><pl> ↔ fanga hoosi (horses -> many horses)
  • toko<n><pl> ↔ fanga toko (cow -> many cows)

«ongo» is used as a dual marker for people, animals, or things.

  • tangata<n><du> ↔ ongo tangata (men -> two men)
  • puaka<n><du> ↔ ongo puaka (pigs -> two pigs)
  • vaka<n><du> ↔ ongo vaka (boat -> two boats)

Irregular Noun Pluralization

Some nouns in Tongan are not pluralized by plural markers, and instead feature vowel shifts or reduplication. Their morphological change doesn't seem to be predictable based on the examples I studied.

  • fefine<n><du> ↔ fāfine (woman -> women)
  • tuofefine<n><du> ↔ tuofāfine (sister -> sisters)
  • mokopuna<n><du> ↔ makapuna (granchild -> grandchildren)
  • tehina<n><du> ↔ fototehina (younger brother/sister -> younger brothers/sisters)

Pronouns

Tongan specifies three number categories (singular, dual, and plural), and three person categories (1st person inclusive, 1st person exclusive, 2nd person, and 3rd person) for their pronouns. Pronouns can be placed both preceding a verb (preposed) or following a verb(postposed). The pronoun may also change depending on what tense the verb is in. [2]


Cardinal Pronouns

Preposed Cardinal Pronouns

tag singular <sg> dual <du> plural <pl>
1st person exclusive <p1> u, ou, ku ma mau
1st person exclusive <p1> te ta tau
2nd person <p2> ke mo mou
3rd person <p3> ne na nau
  • Note: The first person singular pronoun class has three different pronouns. u is the 1st person singular subject pronoun in the future tense, ku is only used as the 1st person singular subject pronoun in the past tense, and ou is used in the present tense.


Preposed cardinal pronouns


  • ou<prn><prepd><p1><pres><exl><sg> ↔ ou
  • u<prn><prepd><p1><past><exl><du> ↔ u
  • ku<prn><prepd><p1><fti><exl><pl> ↔ ku


  • ma<prn><prepd><p1><exl><du> ↔ ma
  • mau<prn><prepd><p1><exl><pl> ↔ mau
  • te<prn><prepd><p1><incl><sg> ↔ te
  • ta<prn><prepd><p1><incl><du> ↔ ta
  • tau<prn><prepd><p1><incl><pl> ↔ tau
  • ke<prn><prepd><p2><sg> ↔ ke
  • mo<prn><prepd><p2><du> ↔ mo
  • mou<prn><prepd><p2><pl> ↔ mou
  • ne<prn><prepd><p3><sg> ↔ ne
  • na<prn><prepd><p3><du> ↔ na
  • nau<prn><prepd><p3><pl> ↔ nau


tag singular <sg> dual <du> plural <pl>
1st person exclusive <p1> au kimaua kimautolu
1st person exclusive <p1> kita kitaua kitautolu
2nd person <p2> koe kimoua kimoutolu
3rd person <p3> ia kinaua kinautolu

Postposed 1st and 2nd person personal pronouns occur as reflexives after intransitive verbs (verbs with no direct object) to add emphasis.

Postposed cardinal pronouns

  • au<prn><postd><p1><exl><sg> ↔ au
  • kimaua<prn><postd><p1><exl><du> ↔ kimaua
  • kimautolu<prn><postd><p1><exl><pl> ↔ kimautolu
  • kita<prn><postd><p1><incl><sg> ↔ kita
  • kitaua<prn><postd><p1><incl><du> ↔ kitaua
  • kitautolu<prn><postd><p1><incl><pl> ↔ kitautolu
  • koe<prn><postd><p2><sg> ↔ koe
  • kimoua<prn><postd><p2><du> ↔ kimoua
  • kimoutolu<prn><postd><p2><pl> ↔ kimoutolu
  • ia<prn><postd><p3><sg> ↔ ia
  • kinaua<prn><postd><p3><du> ↔ kinaua
  • kinautolu<prn><postd><p3><pl> ↔ kinautolu

Postposed Cardinal Pronouns to add emphasis

  • te u nofo<p1><prn> ↔ te u nofo au (I will stay --> I will stay (it's certain))
  • te u inu<p1><prn> ↔ te u inu au (I will drink --> I will drink (it's certain))
  • te u kai<p1><prn> ↔ te u kai au (I will eat --> I will eat (it's certain))
  • te ke nofo<p2><prn> ↔ te ke nofo koe (You will stay --> You will stay (it's certain))
  • te ke inu<p2><prn> ↔ te ke inu koe (You will drink --> You will drink (it's certain))
  • te ke kai<p2><prn> ↔ te ke kai koe (You will eat --> You will eat (it's certain))
  • tau ō! <p2><prn> ↔ tau ō kitautolu! (Let's go! --> Let's go! (What are we waiting for?))

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns are similar to cardinal pronouns in their delineation, but must be broken down even further into alienable versus inalienable pronouns, definite versus indefinite pronouns, and ordinary versus emotional pronouns (emphatics is also a category, but is rarely used). [3]

Alienable vs Inalienable Pronouns

Tongan specifies two distinct types of possession in its grammar: inalienable possession and alienable possession. Inalienable pronouns are possessive pronouns in which a noun is obligatorily possessed by its possessor [4]. Contrastingly, alienable possessive pronouns are that describe tangible nouns that the possessor may cease to own at a certain point. [5].

This possessive pronoun chart is from the Tongan Language Wikipedia page. [6]

Possessive
pronouns
definite
or not
type singular dual plural
alienable2,5 inalienable2,5 alienable2,5 inalienable2,5 alienable2,5 inalienable2,5
1st person
(exclusive)
(my, our)
definite ordinary heʻeku1 hoku heʻema1 homa heʻemau1 homau
indefinite haʻaku haku haʻama hama haʻamau hamau
definite emotional siʻeku siʻoku siʻema siʻoma siʻemau siʻomau
indefinite siʻaku siʻaku siʻama siʻama siʻamau siʻamau
emphatic3 haʻaku hoʻoku haʻamaua hoʻomaua haʻamautolu hoʻomautolu
1st person
(inclusive)4
(my, our)
definite ordinary heʻete1 hoto heʻeta1 hota heʻetau1 hotau
indefinite haʻate hato haʻata hata haʻatau hatau
definite emotional siʻete siʻoto siʻeta siʻota siʻetau siʻotau
indefinite siʻate siʻato siʻata siʻata siʻatau siʻatau
emphatic3 haʻata hoʻota haʻataua hoʻotaua haʻatautolu hoʻotautolu
2nd person
(your)
definite ordinary hoʻo ho hoʻomo homo hoʻomou homou
indefinite haʻo hao haʻamo hamo haʻamou hamou
definite emotional siʻo siʻo siʻomo siʻomo siʻomou siʻomou
indefinite siʻao siʻao siʻamo siʻamo siʻamou siʻamou
emphatic3 haʻau hoʻou haʻamoua hoʻomoua haʻamoutolu hoʻomoutolu
3rd person
(his, her, its, their)
definite ordinary heʻene1 hono heʻena1 hona heʻenau1 honau
indefinite haʻane hano haʻana hana haʻanau hanau
definite emotional siʻene siʻono siʻena siʻona siʻenau siʻonau
indefinite siʻane siʻano siʻana siʻana siʻanau siʻanau
emphatic3 haʻana hoʻona haʻanaua hoʻonaua haʻanautolu hoʻonautolu

Example Phrases

  • haku toko (cow->my cow)
  • siʻaku toko (cow->my cherished cow)
  • hama toko (cow->my two cows)

1st person exclusive

  • haku<prn><poss><p1><sg><ordinary> ↔ haku (cow->my cow)
  • siʻaku<prn><poss><p1><sg><emotional> ↔ siʻaku (cow->my cherished cow)
  • hama<prn><poss><p1><du><ordinary> ↔ hama (cow->my two cows)
  • siʻama<prn><poss><p1><du><emotional> ↔ siʻama (cow->my cherished two cows)
  • hamau<prn><poss><p1><pl><ordinary> ↔ hamau (cow->my cows)
  • siʻamau<prn><poss><p1><pl><emotional> ↔ siʻamau (cow->my cherished cows)

2nd person

  • hao<prn><poss><p2><sg><ordinary> ↔ hao (your)
  • siʻao<prn><poss><p2><sg><emotional> ↔ siʻao (your cherished)
  • hamo<prn><poss><p2><du><ordinary> ↔ hamo (your two )
  • siʻamo<prn><poss><p2><du><emotional> ↔ siʻamo (your cherished two )
  • hamou<prn><poss><p2><pl><ordinary> ↔ hamou (your)
  • siʻamou<prn><poss><p2><pl><emotional> ↔ siʻamou (your cherished)

3rd person

  • hano<prn><poss><p3><sg><ordinary> ↔ hano (cow->their cow)
  • siʻano<prn><poss><p3><sg><emotional> ↔ siʻano (cow->their cherished cow)
  • hana<prn><poss><p3><du><ordinary> ↔ hana (cow->their two cows)
  • siʻana<prn><poss><p3><du><emotional> ↔ siʻana (cow->their cherished two cows)
  • hanau<prn><poss><p3><pl><ordinary> ↔ hanau (cow->their cows)
  • siʻanau<prn><poss><p3><pl><emotional> ↔ siʻanau (cow->their cherished cows)

Verbs

There are three tenses in the Tongan language: past, present, and future. Conjugating verbs in Tongan does not require changing the verb. Instead, verbs tenses are denoted by tense markers that immediately precede the word. Most verbs in Tongan can also function as nouns without morphological change.

Tense

Verb Tense Markers

Past naʻa
Present ʻoku
Future te

Regular Verbs w/ no tense markers

  • kai<v> ↔ kai
  • inu<v> ↔ inu
  • ako<v> ↔ ako
  • ʻalu<v> ↔ ʻalu
  • mohe<v> ↔ mohe
  • aʻhu<v> ↔ aʻhu

Past Tense

The past tense is denoted by the past tense marker naʻa, but only when used with the subject pronoun. naʻa always immediately precedes the subject pronoun

ku is the 1st person singular subject pronoun used in the past tense, while ke is the 2nd person singular pronoun. The 1st person singular subject pronoun ku is only used in the past tense. Both pronouns precede the verb (preposed pronouns).

Past tense marker examples

  • kai<v><past> ↔ naʻa kai (eat --> ate)
  • inu<v><past> ↔ naʻa inu (drink --> drank)
  • ako<v><past> ↔ naʻa ako (study --> studied)

Past tense marker examples with pronouns

  • ku kai<v><past><p1><sg> ↔ naʻa ku kai (i eat --> i ate)
  • ke kai<v><past><p2><sg> ↔ naʻa ke kai (you eat --> you ate)
  • ku inu<v><past><p1><sg> ↔ naʻa ku inu (i drink --> i drank)
  • ke inu<v><past><p2><sg> ↔ naʻa ke inu (you drink --> you drank)
  • ku ako<v><past><p1><sg> ↔ naʻa ku ako (i study --> i studied)
  • ke ako<v><past><p2><sg> ↔ naʻa ke ako (you study --> you studied)

Future Tense

Future tense marker examples

  • kai<v><fti> ↔ te kai (eat --> will eat)
  • inu<v><fti> ↔ te inu (drink --> will drink)
  • ako<v><fti> ↔ te ako (study --> will study)

Future tense marker examples with pronouns

  • kai<v><fti><p1><sg> ↔ te u kai (eat --> i will eat)
  • inu<v><fti><p1><sg> ↔ te u inu (drink --> i will drink)
  • ako<v><fti><p1><sg> ↔ te u ako (study --> i will study)
  • nofo<v><fti><p1><sg> ↔ te u nofo (stay --> i will stay)

Present Tense

Present tense marker examples

  • kai<v><fti> ↔ ʻoku kai (eat --> eat)
  • inu<v><fti> ↔ ʻoku inu (drink --> drink)
  • ako<v><fti> ↔ ʻoku ako (study --> study)

Present tense marker examples with pronouns

  • kai<v><pres><p1><sg><prn> ↔ ʻoku ou kai (eat --> i eat)
  • inu<v><pres><p1><sg><prn> ↔ ʻoku ou inu (drink --> i drink)
  • ako<v><pres><p1><sg><prn> ↔ ʻoku ou ako (study --> i study)
  • {{morphTest|nofo<v><pres><p1><sg><prn>|ʻoku ou nofo} (stay --> i stay)

Imperatives

[7]

All verbs can be used in the imperative form without any morphological changes to the verb. Furthermore, no markers are needed, the verb is kept in its original form.

«ʻalu» is the verb 'go'.

  • ʻalu<v><imp> ↔ ʻalu

«mohe» is the verb 'sleep'.

  • mohe<v><imp> ↔ mohe

«aʻhu» is the verb 'come'.

  • aʻhu<v><imp> ↔ aʻhu

All plural imperatives are immediately preceded by the plural subject pronoun mou.

«mou ʻalu» is the verb 'go (all of you)'.

  • ʻalu<v><imp><pl> ↔ mou ʻalu

«mou mohe» is the verb 'sleep (all of you)'.

  • mohe<v><imp><pl> ↔ mou mohe

«mou aʻhu» is the verb 'come (all of you)'.

  • aʻhu<v><imp><pl> ↔ mou aʻhu

Adjectives

Time Modifiers

  • ʻanai<adj> ↔ ʻanai (shortly)
  • ʻapo<adj> ↔ ʻapo (tonight)
  • ʻapongipongi<adj> ↔ ʻapongipongi (tomorrow)


  • kotoa<adj> ↔ kotoa (all)

Articles

[8] [9]

Tongan has definite and indefinite articles - three different types in total. The Tongan definite article is equivalent to the English the, and the indefinite article is equivalent to the English a, an, & some:

definite with a shift change in the following noun.

  • e<adj><def> ↔ e (more common form)
  • e<adj><def> ↔ he (used after ‘e, ki, mei, ‘i)

semidefinite

  • e<adj><sdef> ↔ e (more common form)
  • e<adj><sdef> ↔ he (used after ‘e, ki, mei, ‘i)

indefinite

  • e<adj><ind> ↔ ha


Definite (h)e. note: When a noun is preceded by a definite article, the stress of that noun always falls on the ultimate syllable.

  • pālangi<n><adj><def> ↔ e pālangí (white person -> the (one specific) white person).

Semi-definite (h)e. 'he' is used immediately after ‘e, ki, mei, ‘i, in all other cases 'e' is used.

  • pālangi<n><adj><def> ↔ e pālangi (white person -> the white person).
  • Indefinite ha.
  • pālangi<n><adj><ind> ↔ ha pālangi (white person -> a white person).

Reduplication

[10]

Reduplication in Tongan is present, and is often used to exaggerate or emphasize an adjective or verb. However, there are certain reduplications that work to minimize the intensity of the adjective or verb.

Reduplications that emphasize

  • kehe<adj><emph> ↔ kehekehe (different -> very different).
  • luo<n><emph> ↔ luoluo (hole -> many holes).
  • kofu<n><emph> ↔ kofukofu (garment -> bundle).
  • mohe<v><emph> ↔ mohemohe (to sleep -> to sleep a lot).


Reduplications that de-emphasize

  • māfana<adj><emph> ↔ mamāfana (warm -> luke warm).
  • momoko<adj><emph> ↔ mokomoko (cold -> cool).


Not all reduplication in Tongan is full reduplication, partial reduplication exists as well. The example I've found don't seem to follow a regular pattern.

Partial Reduplication

  • māfana<adj><emph> ↔ mamāfana (warm -> luke warm).
  • pakiua<v><emph> ↔ pakipaki (to break in two -> to break into many pieces).
  • momoko<adj><emph> ↔ mokomoko (cold -> cool).
  • kotoa<adj><emph> ↔ katokatoa (all -> absolutely all).

Affixes

[11]

Listed below are a few common affixes in Tongan.

The suffix «-ngataʻa» means hard to, impossible and is affixed to any verb

  • ʻalu<v><postadv> ↔ ʻalungataʻa (to get ->hard to get).
  • kai<v><postadv> ↔ kaingataʻa (to eat ->hard to eat).
  • fai<v><postadv> ↔ faingataʻa (to do ->hard to do).

The prefix «-a» is used to make certain verbs and nouns into adjectives.

Nouns + «-a»

  • efu<n><az> ↔ efua (dust->dusty).
  • ongoongo<n><az> ↔ ongoongoa (fame ->famous).
  • namu<n><az> ↔ namua (mosquito->mosquitoey).
  • mamate<n><az> ↔ mamatea (paralyzed->paralysis).

Verbs + «-a»

  • lango<v><az> ↔ langoa (fly->flies).

References

  1. An Intensive Course in Tongan: Lesson 87 - Shumway
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongan_language#cite_ref-11
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongan_language#Cardinal_pronouns
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inalienable_possession
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inalienable_possession#Comparison_to_alienable_possession
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongan_language#Possessive_pronouns
  7. http://www.unilang.org/course.php?res=81#ci-l2imperative
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongan_language#Articles
  9. http://www.unilang.org/course.php?res=81#ci-l7morearticles
  10. An Intensive Course in Tongan: Word Reduplication - Shumway
  11. An Intensive Course in Tongan: Affix Studies - Shumway