(=)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.


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