Navajo or Navaho (native name: Diné bizaad) is an Athabaskan language (of Na-Dené stock) spoken in the southwest United States by the Navajo people (Diné). It is geographically and linguistically one of the Southern Athabaskan languages (the majority of Athabaskan languages are spoken in northwest Canada and Alaska). Navajo claims more speakers than any other Native American or First Nation language north of the U.S.-Mexico border, with more than 100,000 native speakers, and this number has actually increased with time. During World War II, a code based on Navajo was used by code talkers to send secure military messages over radio.
|Plosives||plain||b [p]||d [t]||g [kɣ]||ʼ [ʔ]|
|aspirated||t [tx]||k [kx]||kw [kxʷ]|
|ejective||tʼ [tʼ]||kʼ [kʼ]|
|Affricates||plain||dz [ts]||dl [tl]||j [tʃ]|
|aspirated||ts [tsʰ]||tł [tɬʰ]||ch [tʃʰ]|
|ejective||tsʼ [tsʼ]||tłʼ [tɬʼ]||chʼ [tʃʼ]|
|Continuant||voiceless||s [s]||ł [ɬ]||sh [ʃ]||h [x]||hw [xʷ]||h [h]|
|voiced||z [z]||l [l]||zh [ʒ]||gh [ɣ]||ghw [ɣʷ]|
|Nasals||m [m]||n [n]|
|Approximants||y [j]||(w [w])|
In Navajo orthography, the letter h represents two different sounds: it is pronounced [x] when stem initial and [h] when prefixal or stem/word final. However, when [x] is preceded by s it is always written as x and never as h so that it will not be confused with sh (e.g. násxéés "I'm turning around", but never náshéés). The consonant gh [ɣ] is written as y before front vowels i and e (where it is palatalized [ʝ]), as w before o (where it is labialized [ɣʷ]), and as gh before a. The glottal stop ʼ is not written at the beginning of words.
For /ɣ/ gh, both the palatalization and labialization is represented in the orthography where is it written as y for the palatalized variant and w for the labialized variant. The orthography does not indicate the variants for the other consonants.
There are four basic vowel qualities in Navajo: a, e, i and o. Each of these may occur as
or with one of four tones:
Various combinations of these features are possible, as in ą́ą́ (long, nasalized, high tone).
Navajo is a "verb-heavy" language — it has a great preponderance of verbs but relatively few nouns. In addition to verbs and nouns, Navajo has other elements such as pronouns, clitics of various functions, demonstratives, numerals, postpositions, adverbs, and conjunctions, among others. Harry Hoijer grouped all of the above into a word-class which he called particles (i.e., Navajo would then have verbs, nouns, and particles). There is nothing that corresponds to what are called adjectives in English, this adjectival function being provided by verbs.
There are two main types of nouns in Navajo:
The simple nouns can be distinguished by their ability to be inflected with a possessive prefix, as in
|Noun stem||Gloss||Possessed Noun stem||Gloss|| Morpheme|
|béézh||"knife"||bibeezh||"her knife"||bi- (3rd person) + beezh "knife"|
|hééł||"pack"||shiyéél||"my pack"||shi- (1st person singular) + yéél "pack"|
Deverbal nouns are verbs (or verb phrases) that have been nominalized with a nominalizing enclitic or converted into a noun through zero derivation (that is, verbs that are used syntactically as nouns without an added nominalizer). An example of a nominalized verb is náʼoolkiłí "clock", which is derived from the verb náʼoolkił "it is moved slowly in a circle" and the enclitic nominalizer =í. Another example is the deverbal noun hataałii "singer" (from verb hataał "he sings" + nominalizing enclitic =ii). Converted deverbal nouns include chʼéʼétiin "exit, doorway" and Hoozdo "Phoenix, Arizona" — when used as verbs chʼéʼétiin may be translated into English as "something has a path horizontally out" and hoozdo as "place/space is hot". Deverbal nouns can potentially be long and complex, such as
|chidí naaʼnaʼí beeʼeldǫǫhtsoh bikááʼ dah naaznilígíí||"army tank"|
which is composed of
Navajo uses a decimal (base-10) numeral system. There are unique words for the cardinal numbers 1-10. The numerals 11-19 are formed by adding an additive "plus 10" suffix -tsʼáadah to the base numerals 1-9. The numerals 20-100 are formed by adding a multiplicative "times 10" suffix -diin to the base numerals 2-10.
|base numeral||+10 (-tsʼáadah)||x10 (-diin)|
In the compound numerals, the combining forms of the base numerals have irregular vowel and consonants changes. The numeral "1" has three forms:
The combining form łá’- is used in the compound łáʼ-tsʼáadah "11". The numeral tááʼ loses the final ʼ consonant while the final vowel in hastą́ą́ is shortened when the -tsʼáadah "+10" suffix is added. The suffix loses its initial tsʼ becoming -áadah when added to ashdlaʼ "5". Several changes occur when the -diin suffix is added involving a loss of the final consonant or a reduction in vowel length:
For the cardinal numerals higher than 20 between the multiples of 10 (i.e., 21-29, 31-39, 41-49, etc.), there are two types of formations. The numerals 21-29 and 41-49 are formed by suffixing the ones digit to the tens digit, as in naadįįnaaki "22" (< naadiin "20" + naaki "2") and dízdįįłaʼ "41" (< dízdiin "40" + -łaʼ "1"). Here the -diin suffix appears in the combining form -dįį-. The combining form -łá "1" is used as well:
The other numerals are formed by placing dóó baʼąą "and in addition to it" between the tens digit and the ones digit, as in tádiin dóó baʼąą tʼááłáʼí "thirty-one" and ashdladiin dóó baʼąą tʼááʼ "fifty-three". The numerals 41-49 may also be formed in this manner: "forty-two dízdiin dóó baʼąą naaki or dízdįįnaaki.
The cardinal numerals 100-900 are formed by adding the multiplicative enclitic =di to the base numerals 1-9 and adding the word for "hundred" neeznádiin, as in tʼááłáhádí neeznádiin "one hundred", naakidi neeznádiin "two hundred", táadi neeznádiin "three hundred".
|base numeral||x100 (=di + neeznádiin)|
|1||tʼááłáʼí||tʼááłáhádí neeznádiin (100)|
|2||naaki||naakidi neeznádiin (200)|
|3||tááʼ||táadi neeznádiin (300)|
|4||dį́į́ʼ||dį́įʼdi neeznádiin (400)|
|5||ashdlaʼ||ashdladi neeznádiin (500)|
|6||hastą́ą́h||hastą́ądi neeznádiin (600)|
|7||tsostsʼid||tsostsʼidi neeznádiin (700)|
|8||tseebíí||tseebíidi neeznádiin (800)|
|9||náhástʼéí||náhástʼéidi neeznádiin (900)|
The base numerals with a high tone in the last syllable change to a falling tone before =di.
For the thousands, the word mííl (from Spanish mil) is used in conjunction with =di: tʼááłáhádí mííl "one thousand", naakidi mííl "two thousand", etc. The word for "million" is formed by adding the stem -tsoh "big" to mííl: mííltsoh "million" as in tʼááłáhádí mííltsoh "one million", naakidi mííltsoh "two million", etc.
The Navajo verb can be sectioned into different components. The verb stem is composed of an abstract root and an often fused suffix. The stem together with a "classifier" prefix (and sometimes other thematic prefixes) make up the verb theme. The thematic prefixes are prefixes that are non-productive, have limited derivational function, and no longer have a clearly defined meaning. Examples of thematic prefixes, include the archaic yá- prefix, which only occurs on the verb stem -tééh/-tiʼ meaning "to talk" as in yáłtiʼ "he's talking". The theme is then combined with derivational prefixes which in turn make up the verb base. Finally, inflectional prefixes (which Young & Morgan call "paradigmatic prefixes") are affixed to the base — producing a complete Navajo verb.
The Navajo verb is composed of a verb stem and a set of prefixes. The prefixes can be divided into a conjunct prefix set and disjunct prefix set. The disjunct prefixes occur on the outer left edge of the verb. The conjunct prefixes occur after the disjunct prefixes, closer to the verb stem. Two types of prefixes can be distinguished by their different phonological behavior.
|disjunct prefixes||conjunct prefixes||stem|
The prefix complex may be subdivided into 11 positions, with some of the positions having even further subdivisions:
|disjunct prefixes||conjunct prefixes||stem|
|iterative||plural||direct object||deictic|| adverbial-|
Although prefixes are generally found in a specific position, some prefixes change order by the process of metathesis. For example, prefix ʼa- (3i object pronoun) usually occurs before di-, as in
However, when ʼa- occurs with the prefixes di- and ni-, the ʼa- metathesizes with di-, leading to an order of di- + ʼa- + ni-, as in
instead of the expected adinisbąąs (ʼa-di-ni-sh-ł-bąąs) (note also that ʼa- is reduced to ʼ-).
Although the verb template model of analysis has been traditionally used to describe the Navajo verb, other analyses have been proposed by Athabascanists.
|Number||Subject Prefixes||Object Prefixes|
|Fourth (3a)||ji-||ha- ~ ho-|
|Space (3s)||ha- ~ ho-||ha- ~ ho-|
The subject prefixes occur in two different positions. The first and second subject prefixes (-sh-, -Vd-, ni-, -oh-) occur in position 8 directly before the classifier prefixes. The fourth, indefinite, and "space" subject prefixes (ji-, ʼa-, ha-~ho-) are known as "deictic subject pronouns" and occur in position 5. The third person subject is marked by the absence of a prefix, which is usually indicated with a zero prefix -Ø- in position 8. The object prefixes can occur in position 4 as direct objects, in position 1a as "null postpositions", or in position 0 as the object of postpositions that have been incorporated into the verb complex.
The fourth person subject prefix ji- is a kind of obviative third person. It refers primarily to persons or personified animals (unlike the regular third person). It has a number of uses including:
When used as an impersonal, it may be translated into English as "one" as in béésh bee njinéego hálaʼ da jiigish "one can cut one's hand playing with knives". The "space" prefix can be translated as "area, place, space, impersonal it" as in halgai "the area/place is white" and nahałtin "it is raining". The prefix has two forms: ha- and ho- with ho- having derived forms such as hw- and hwi-.
An example paradigm for "to freeze" (imperfective mode) showing the subject prefixes:
|First||yishtin||"I freeze"||yiitin||"we (2+) freeze"|
|Second||nitin||"you freeze"||wohtin||"you (2+) freeze"|
|Third||yitin "she/he/it/they freeze"|
|Fourth (3a)||jitin "she/he/they freeze"|
|Indefinite (3i)||atin "someone/something freezes"|
The -ł- classifier is a causative-transitivizing prefix of active verbs. It often can transitivize an intransitive -Ø- verb: yibéézh "it's boiling" (yi-Ø-béézh), yiłbéézh "he's boiling it (yi-ł-béézh); naʼniyęęsh "somethings flows about in a meandering fashion" (naʼni-Ø-yęęsh), naʼniłhęęsh "he's making it flow about in a meandering fashion" (naʼni-ł-yęęsh).
The -d- classifier occurs in most passive, mediopassive, reflexive, and reciprocal verbs that are derived from verbs with a -Ø- classifier: yizéés "he's singeing it" (yi-Ø-zéés), yidéés "it's being singed" (yi-d-zéés).
The -l- occurs in most passive, mediopassive, reflexive, and reciprocal verbs that are derived from verbs with a -ł- classifier: néíłtsááh "he's drying it" (ná-yi-ł-tsááh), náltsááh it's being dried" (ná-l-tsááh).
Some verbs can occur with all four classifier prefixes:
In other verbs, the classifiers do not mark transitivity and are considered thematic prefixes that simply are required to occur with certain verb stems.
The modes above have five distinct verb stem forms. For example, the verb meaning "to play, tease" has the following five stem forms for the seven modes:
The progressive and future modes share the same stem form as do the usitative and iterative modes. The optative mode usually has the same verb stem as the imperfective mode, although for some verbs the stem forms differ (in the example "to play, tease" above, the imperfective and the optative stems are the same).
The imperfective indicates an event/action that has begun but remains incomplete. Although this mode does not refer to tense, it is usually translated into English as a present tense form: yishááh "I'm (in the act of) going/coming", yishą́ "I'm (in the act of) eating (something)". With the additional of adverbials, the imperfective can be used for events/actions in the past, present, or future. The mode is used in the second person for immediate imperatives. The imperfective mode has a distinct imperfective stem form and four different mode-aspect prefix paradigms: (1) with a ni- terminative prefix in position 7 as in nishááh "I'm in the act of arriving", (2) with a si- stative prefix in position 7 as in shishʼaah "I'm in the act of placing a SRO" in dah shishʼaah "I'm in the act of placing a SRO up" (dah "up"), (3) with no prefix in position 7, usually identified as a Ø- prefix, as in yishcha "I'm crying", (4) with either a yi- transitional or yi- semelfactive prefix in position 6 (and no prefix in position 7).
The perfective indicates an event/action that has been completed and usually corresponds to English past tense: yíyáʼ "I went/came/arrived", yíyą́ą́ʼ "I ate (something)". However, since the perfective mode is not a tense, it can be used to refer non-past actions, such as the future (where it may be translated as English "will have" + VERB). The perfective mode has a distinct perfective stem form and four different prefix paradigms: (1) with a yí- perfective prefix with a high tone in position 7 as in yíchʼid "I scratched it", (2) with a ní- terminative prefix with a high tone in position 7 as in níyá "I arrived", (3) with a sí- stative prefix with high tone in position 7 as in sélį́į́ʼ "I roasted it", (4) with a yi- transitional prefix in position 6 (and Ø- in position 7) as in yiizįʼ "I stood up".
The progressive indicates an incomplete event/action that is ongoing without reference to the beginning or end of the event/action. This mode may be translated into English as BE + VERB-ing + "along": yishááł "I'm going/walking along", yishtééł "I'm carrying it along". The future mode is primarily a future tense — indicating a prospective event/action: deeshááł "I'll go/come", deeshį́į́ł "I'll eat (something)". The progressive mode has a yi- progressive prefix (in position 7), the future has a di- inceptive prefix (in position 6) and the yi- progressive prefix.
The usitative indicates a repetitive event/action that takes place customarily: yishááh "I usually go", yishdlį́į́h "I always drink (something)". The iterative is a frequentative indicating a recurrent event/action that takes place repeatedly and customarily: chʼínáshdááh "repeatedly go out" as in ahbínígo tłʼóóʼgóó chʼínáshdááh "I always (repeatedly) go outdoors in the morning" (ahbínígo "in the morning", tłʼóóʼgóó "outdoors"), náshdlį́į́h "drink (something) repeatedly" as in nínádiishʼnahgo gohwééh náshdlį́į́h "I drink coffee when I get up" (nínádiishʼnahgo "when I get up", gohwééh "coffee"). The iterative is distinguished from the usitative by a ná- repetitive prefix (in position 2) and also sometimes by a -d- or -ł- classifier prefix (in position 9).
The optative indicates a positive or negative desire or wish. The mode is used with the addition of adverbial particles that follow the verb, such as laanaa and lágo: nahółtą́ą́ʼ laanaa "I wish it would rain", nahółtą́ą́ʼ lágo "I hope it doesn't rain". With punctual verbs, the optative mode can be used to form a negative imperative: shinóółʼį́į́ʼ (lágo) "don't look at me!". In certain adverbial frames, the optative indicates positive or negative potential.
Navajo modes co-occur with various aspects. For example, the verb "rain falls" can occur in the perfective mode with the momentaneous and distributive aspects: -tsąąʼ (perfective momentaneous), -tsįʼ (perfective distributive). As with the modes, different aspects have different stem forms even when in the same mode, as seen with the previous "rain falls" perfective stems. Thus, a given verb will have set of stem forms that can be classified into both a mode and an aspect category. Verb stem paradigms of mode and aspect are given below for two different verbs:
As can be seen above, some aspect and mode combinations do not occur depending mostly upon the semantics of the particular verb. Additionally, some aspects do not occur at all with a particular verb. The patterns of verb stem alternations are very complex although there is a significant amount of homophony. A particularly important investigation into this area of the Navajo verb is Hardy (1979).
Navajo has verb stems that classify a particular object by its shape or other physical characteristics in addition to describing the movement or state of the object. These are known in Athabaskan linguistics as classificatory verb stems. These are usually identified by an acronym label. There are eleven primary classificatory "handling" verbs stems, which are listed below (given in the perfective mode):
|-ʼą́||SRO||Solid Roundish Object||bottle, ball, boot, box, etc.|
|-yį́||LPB||Load, Pack, Burden||backpack, bundle, sack, saddle, etc.|
|-ł-jool||NCM||Non-Compact Matter||bunch of hair or grass, cloud, fog, etc.|
|-lá||SFO||Slender Flexible Object||rope, mittens, socks, pile of fried onions, etc.|
|-tį'||SSO||Slender Stiff Object||arrow, bracelet, skillet, saw, etc.|
|-ł-tsooz||FFO||Flat Flexible Object||blanket, coat, sack of groceries, etc.|
|-tłééʼ||MM||Mushy Matter||ice cream, mud, slumped-over drunken person, etc.|
|-nil||PLO1||Plural Objects 1||eggs, balls, animals, coins, etc.|
|-jaaʼ||PLO2||Plural Objects 2||marbles, seeds, sugar, bugs, etc.|
|-ką́||OC||Open Container||glass of milk, spoonful of food, handful of flour, etc.|
|-ł-tį́||ANO||Animate Object||microbe, person, corpse, doll, etc.|
To compare with English, Navajo has no single verb that corresponds to the English word give. In order to say the equivalent of Give me some hay!, the Navajo verb níłjool (NCM) must be used, while for Give me a cigarette! the verb nítįįh (SSO) must be used. The English verb give is expressed by eleven different verbs in Navajo, depending on the characteristics of the given object.
In addition to defining the physical properties of the object, primary classificatory verb stems also can distinguish between the manner of movement of the object. The stems may then be grouped into three different categories:
Handling includes actions such as carrying, lowering, and taking. Propelling includes tossing, dropping, and throwing. Free flight includes falling, and flying through space.
Using an example for the SRO category, Navajo has
humans/lightning → infants/big animals → med-size animals → small animals → insects → natural forces → inanimate objects/plants → abstractions
Generally, the most animate noun in a sentence must occur first while the noun with lesser animacy occurs second. If both nouns are equal in animacy, then either noun can occur in the first position. So, both example sentences (1) and (2) are correct. The yi- prefix on the verb indicates that the 1st noun is the subject and bi- indicates that the 2nd noun is the subject.
|'The boy is looking at the girl.'|
|'The girl is being looked at by the boy.'|
But example sentence (3) sounds wrong to most Navajo speakers because the less animate noun occurs before the more animate noun:
|'The bird pecked the girl.'|
In order to express this idea, the more animate noun must occur first, as in sentence (4):
|'The girl was pecked by the bird.'|
Note that although sentence (4) is translated into English with a passive verb, in Navajo it is not passive. Passive verbs are formed by certain classifier prefixes (i.e., transitivity prefixes) that occur directly before the verb stem in position 9. The yi-/bi- prefixes do not mark sentences as active or passive, but as direct or inverse.
Free English translation:
|and||from us||it will be bought||they saying||with it||they planned||it is said|
|Áko||tʼáá ałʼąą||chʼil naʼatłʼoʼii||kʼiidiilá|
|so then||separately||grapevines||they planted them|
|dóó||hááhgóóshį́į́||yinaalnishgo||tʼáá áłah||chʼil naʼatłʼoʼii||néineestʼą́||jiní.|
|and||diligently||they working on them||they both||grapevines||they raised them||it is said|
|and then||wine||they having made it|
|tʼáá bíhígíí||tʼáá ałʼąą||tłʼízíkágí||yiiʼ||haidééłbįįd||jiní.|
|each their own||separately||goatskins||in them||they filled it||it is said.|
|"any time||this||wine particular||not||some/any||we'll give each other||not,"||they saying|
|they agreed||it is said.|
|and then||from then||it will be bought||its purpose||to town||off||they started back-packing it||it is said|