Category Archives: syntax


One of the great things about co-teaching is all the stuff you learn from your co-instructor. Arienne gave a nice demo today of TextStat, a flexible concordance program from the Dutch studies dept at the Freie Universitaet Berlin. It’s free, and available for Windows, PC, and Linux.

Its major advantage is that it will read Word and OpenOffice files. That is, you don’t need to format the input text in any special format before it’s imported into the program. It will also retrieve web pages.

As programs go, it’s pretty simple. It does wordlist generation and concordancing, and you can view citations in context or in list format. But that’s already pretty useful. It’s very memory-light and doesn’t take up much space on the hard drive. Installation is easy (just unzip the archive on windows). If you want high-powered concordance software, NLP tools are for you, but if you want an easy way to see what’s in your data, this is definitely the way to go.

Nganyji and Ngaanyji

OK, this is a bit embarrassing. Especially after I’ve sent off the grammar manuscript, but better late than never and it can still be corrected.

I was talking to Jessie this afternoon about various things this afternoon and she happened to say Ngaanyjə liyan minman bayimngan maman jobgo drink, ‘do you want me to buy you a drink from the shop, using something that I would write in Bardi as ngaanyja [ŋaːɲɟə]. Now, the normal interrogative particle is nganyji, with a short vowel and final high vowel, so this was a bit puzzling. So I asked about it, saying nganyji like I’d seen in other examples, and got corrected.

Further digging reveals that there are actually two question particles, not one: ngaanyj(a) and nganyji. The second is a fairly regular interrogative, while the first is an ability marker. There’s a nice minimal pair:

  • Nganyji minjalagal? ‘Did you see it?’
  • Ngaanyjə minjalagal? ‘Can you see it?’ 

Furthermore, I know I have vacillated about the spelling of this word in the past (as to whether it has a long vowel or not), but it was really hard to tell because: a) there is lengthening under stress, and this particle is mostly initial; and b) there is fast speech shortening and final vowel dropping.

(=)garda and (=)barda and =arda

Oh dear. So… there are many reasons that I am very fond of Bardi, but it’s a rather frustrating language sometimes. This ranks pretty highly in both coolness and frustratingness.

There are a few ways of forming questions in Bardi. One is to use interrogative intonation. That’s a really wimpy way. The second is to stick nganyji at the front of the sentence. That’s the merely wimpy way (although for those with difficulties saying initial [ŋ], it’s not trivial). The way the cool people form questions is to use the constituent interrogative marker. It looks something like this:

Ngay=arda nga-ngg-iid-a* Broome-ngan? or  joow=arda?
“Am I going to Broome, or are you [going]?”

This question marker questions a particular constituent of the sentence, not the proposition itself. In the course of testing a bunch of sentences to find out what could take this marker, it turns out that there are actually two question focus markers, =garda and =barda. Sometimes one works, sometimes the other does, and sometimes either is ok.

Gardi, gardo, garda on its own means ‘still’ – and not, as I found out today, still in the sense of ‘he’s still here’, but only in the sense of ‘he still did it after I told him not to’. I’m still not sure if there are 3 words here or just one. It means ‘still’ when it’s in initial position in the clause. For some of the sentences, it seems like =garda means something like ‘do X gotta’ (as in my example above) – is the meeting important, have I got to go, or do you have to? But it doesn’t always work like that.

Bard or barda on its own means ‘away’ or ‘off’, but that’s a different word. =barda is listed in the dictionary as an ‘epistemic’ particle. =gard has a fairly clear deontic function, and if so, that’s a nice pair. It fits why *Ginyinggi ball garndi inin bardagonkard ‘is that ball up in the tree’ is ungrammatical (no direct deontic control over the existential state of balls) but Ginyinggi ball garndi inin bardagonbard is fine.

Here’s the kicker: for the fair majority of Bardi words, everything with a synchronic final vowel and a fair number of words with historical final vowels, the form of the marker is =arda, so you can’t actually tell which marker it is! (why it’s no wonder I didn’t realise there were two of them…)


*underlyingly -jiidi-; and incidentally the FUT morpheme ngg is the one that is intransitive.

Syntax … the mystery continues

It was a day full of discovery today. I found a sound more painful than chalk on a blackboard (fork on frozen creamed corn…) and there was some new syntax.

Bardi has a lot of morphology that isn’t very productive. The case morphology is very regular but there’s a heap of derivational marking that occurs pretty rarely. For example, there’s aalgadany and goowidany ‘by sun’ and ‘by moon’ respectively, cf aalga ‘sun’ and goowidi ‘moon’. No other words have this suffix that I can find. You expect that from derivational morphology, of course.

BUT, today I came across innyana-nim. It’s a fully inflected verb with an ergative case marker (-nim) on the end of it. Most of the other Nyulnyulan languages do this pretty productively, although not usually with the ergative; it forms temporal and cause subordinate clauses, for example. But this is an exocentric noun, it seems. It means ‘the person who caught it’ (cf innyana ‘(s)he caught it’). Further digging produced inamboonanim ‘the one who hit it’) and sort of injalananim ‘the one who saw it’ but nothing else. This was a Laves item that I nearly wrote off for innyana=min  ‘when he caught it’.

So, we have a case marker that occurs on very few items, to form a verb or noun that can appear as a subject of a sentence.


By the way, more work on my gerunds with -joon has produced some more nice examples. They do have to be resultative, putting the agent in produces problems, but they can be further case marked.

More syntactic mysteries

Another excellently puzzling syntactic day today.

I’d been having trouble eliciting examples of gerunds with ‘source’ case marking. They are mentioned in Nekes and Wurms’ Nyulnyul materials but I didn’t have any examples, and the examples I tried didn’t work. Somehow I got the idea that these forms might be resultative (I’m not sure if this is in the original Nyulnyul materials, or if this was a guess on the basis of what -joon does to nouns). The opportunity to test it came up today while talking about locative descriptions. More on the locative another day, since that was pretty interesting too. Anyway, I ended up with some nice examples, including moogoolinjoon ‘broken’ and monyjinjoon ‘speared’. Trying to do this with complex predicates wasn’t conclusive, although gadim manyanjoon ‘cut’ seemed ok.

Things really got interesting when I tried to add arguments back in, and to further inflect the gerund. In such times, one turns naturally to death and crocodiles for unambiguous agents and transitivity. The conversation went something like this. Continue reading


I have to bite the bullet now and decide how to interlinearise my Bardi examples in the grammar. Most of my corpus isn’t interlinearised. I don’t need it, and I’ve been avoiding this for a while because there’s no good solution that I can see. These are the issues:

  • rampant post-affixal morphophonology (harmony, epenthesis, etc) which obscures prefix boundaries and which makes segmentation arbitrary
  • prefix-root interactions
  • long-distance allomorphic conditioning
  • null roots
  • secondary morphological exponence

Continue reading

warrgam ngandan…

just working-working, not much else to report at present, besides some wildlife and tamelife. I thought the snakes all came out in October, but I must be wrong about that given the number of baby king browns at the moment (seen one a day for 4 days now). I’m pretty sure that the gap under my front door would only let through snakes with mouths that aren’t big enough to bite humans, but I’m hoping to to have to test this. I’ve blocked up the other big holes but that one’s going to be hard, and it’s my main way of getting cool air in in the evening. Other wildlife includes a heap of birds of various sorts, and a semi-feral cat. I’m not sure if tourists are wild or tame.

Today was a good day for tourist spotting. BE and I were outside the building next to the council office working (it’s the Queen’s Birthday weekend so school was closed, but we worked anyway, although BE thought that real gardiyas should respect the Queen and not work today). We didn’t quite do what Peter Austin is rumoured to have done in Birdsville as a PhD student: that is, to talk Diyari in front of tourists, who thought he was a local and that all the white people in Birdsville spoke Diyari, and they got their photos taken and all. They clearly couldn’t tell if BE was speaking English or something else (something I have always found bizarre, since I’ve never had any trouble understanding her, but then I can’t work out why people think I’m a yank so there’s obviously something about language perception that I don’t get…). We speculated about them for a while in Bardi, then came to my house for some quieter and less public work and dinner (ie lunch). We did the put project stimuli, which was useful (no particularly new constructions for me but it’s good to have them in one place) and a set of photos which show blended animals and other objects (e.g. a beetle with a car as its carapace). They were a lot of fun and cool stuff came out of that. I need to check with the person I was running that experiment for if it’s ok to post a picture or two and more info: stay tuned.

We’re about halfway through the Laves texts now, so we’re on track. I’m of course very behind in transcription.