There tends traditionally to be two kinds of approach to linguistic description. The first is that done by non-native speaker linguist who collects data from native speakers and produces linguistic descriptions. These descriptions are not usually accessible, because of their technical format, to native speakers many of whom may have acted as informants. The other approach is for descriptions to be done by native speaker linguists, using data collected from members of their own speech community, supplemented by their own native speaker intuitions.
Through accident rather than design, the current project to describe Garifuna manages to bridge the two approaches. One of the participants in this activity, Enita Castillo, is a native speaker who, as well, has a solid grasp of the basics of the discipline of linguistics. The other participant, Hubert Devonish, is an academic linguist who is not a native speaker of the language but who has made some very faltering efforts to learn it as a foreign language. The immediate objective is to produce a grammatical description of the language that is faithful to the functioning of the language from the perspective of the native speaker. However, the description must go beyond that to reveal features which are characteristic of human languages generally. The ultimate goal, however, is to produce a teaching grammar of the language aimed at non-native speakers at university level.
The works of Taylor, as summarised in Taylor (1977, pp. 44-71) represent the main previous work on the syntax of Garifuna within a modern linguistic framework. As far as we can ascertain, his description was based on the variety of Garifuna spoken in Hopkins, Belize, around the middle of the 20th century. Our focus, by contrast, is the variety spoken in Seine Bight, with specific reference to the current speech and native speaker intuitions of Enita Castillo, one of the collaborators in this project.
The variety that is the basis for the description in this paper is distinct, in several ways, from that described by Taylor (1977, pp. 29-71). In the area of phonology, it is innovative. It seems to have applied historical phonological rules to forms similar to those described by Taylor to produce forms which deviate from historically more conservative dialects. For many words recorded by Taylor involving intervocalic /r/ as in erenga tell, the equivalent in the variety we describe is a form without intervocalic /r/ as in eenga [e:?ga]. Along similar lines, the form ariha see in the dialect that Taylor describes appears in the Seine Bight variety as eiha [eiha]. This involves a deletion of the intervocalic /r/ and the raising of the vowel /a/ to /e/ under the influence of the high front vowel /i/ which now immediately follows. There are, as well, some differences in the morpho-syntax of the two varieties which we will have occasion to allude to in the course of our analysis.
At this relatively early stage in our activities, we have decided to simplify our task by narrowing our focus to simple sentences and to very specific aspects of simple sentences. These include morphology as these involve the signalling of syntactic information, notably sentence internal arguments such as those of subject and object. Included within our focus would be the basic systems for the marking of tense and aspect, for signalling definiteness and plurality and for determining word order. We hope, by this, to construct a framework within which we can, at a later date, fill in many of the numerous and interesting details of Garifuna syntax.
In Garifuna, one characteristic possessed by items which we shall call nominals is marking for indefiniteness. In languages which mark indefiniteness, items receive special marking when they get introduced into a body of discourse for the first time. In Garifuna, nominals representing entities being introduced into a discourse for the first time tend to appear immediately preceded by aba. This item we can identify as a marker of indefiniteness in Garifuna. It also means the numeral one but, in an example such as that below, it is functioning as an indefinite marker introducing an item previously outside of the consideration of persons involved in the discourse. For purposes of our discussion, we shall ignore the role of the particle ti in the example below.
Tichiga-ti aban búngidu tun tiraü
She-give-(particle) a bucket her-to her-child
She gave a bucket to her daughter (Taylor, 1977, p. 122)
In Garifuna, items which can be identified as nominals can also be marked as definite, as having already been introduced into the discourse by one of the speakers. One method is by placing one of the third person pronoun forms, i.e. ligiya third person singular, masculine, tuguya third person singular, feminine, or hagiya third person plural after the noun that is going to be marked as definite. These forms are part of a series of special independent pronouns which we shall discuss in the following section. It is sufficient here to note that the use of third person pronouns to signal definiteness is hardly surprising. Personal pronouns are by their nature, definite. They designate either participants in a discourse, as in English I, you and we or entities known to the participants, as in English he, she, it and they.
In Garifuna, the choice of one or the other of these definite markers is dependent on the gender of the noun which precedes them and to which they refer. Thus, where the preceding noun is masculine singular, the independent form marking definiteness would be ligiya. Where the noun is feminine singular, the definite marker would be tuguya, and where the noun is plural, irrespective of gender, the definite marker chosen would be hagiya. It should be noted that some non-human nouns are classified within the lexicon as masculine and others as feminine.
Eiha lau würi tuguya
See he-has-her woman she
He has seen the woman
Eiha lali wügüri ligiya
See he-has-(l)-him man he
He has seen the men
Eiha lamayan würiyan hagiya
See he-has-them women-plural they
He has seen the women
Eiha lamayan wügüriyan hagiya
See he-has-them man-plural they
They have seen the men
Nouns used without any marking for definiteness may be used to refer to the class to which an entity belongs, thus being used in the generic sense. We see in the example below that uraga story, which here are simply members of the class story, appears without the pronominal form, ligia.
Engatina uraga bun ligira buga
Told-I story you-to other day
I told you stories the other day
Nouns referring to animate entities take pluralizing suffixes in the form of yan and -nu. The actual form is determined by the phonological environment. In the case of -yan the phonetic realisation of the vowel represented orthographically by an is a nasalised form of the vowel that occurs in the immediately preceding syllable. Particular phonological conditions also determine the selection of -nu over the various forms of yan. An example of a pluralized noun, in the form of eyeri-yan men, is presented below.
Eiha wamutiyan eyeriyan hagia
See we-preterite-them man-plural they.
We have seen the men
Let us now examine another feature of nominals, one which has been identified by Taylor (1977, 54). The vast majority of the members of the nominal class can take a personal pronoun prefix carrying the meaning possessor, defined broadly. The possessed stems to which such prefixes may be attached can either be free morphemes or bound ones.
We should start with the lexical root, -giya~guya. This root can be seen as having the meaning person in the sense in which it is used in the phrase personal pronoun. The various prefixes serve to identify which person within the system of personal pronouns is being signalled.
|nugiya ~ nuguya||I, me|
|ugiya ~ buguya||you (sing.)|
|tugiya ~ tuguya||she, her|
Based on the above, it can be concluded that the prefixes have the following meanings:
|n(u)||first (person) singular|
|b(u)||second (person) singular|
|l(i)||third (person) singular, masculine|
|t(u)||third (person) singular, feminine|
|wa||first (person) plural|
|ha||second (person) plural|
|ha||third (person) plural|
Applying the test to other items, we are able to identify morphemes which we can call nouns. To avoid complexities involving additional changes when morphemes become possessed, we will choose examples involving family relationships as below. The prefixes involved, nu-, bu-, li-, etc. are the same prefixes which we already identified as applying to the pronoun root, -guya ~ giya. We are, therefore, able to identify the lexical roots to which these possessive prefixes are attached as nominals.
Nominals bearing a word-internal pronoun prefix may be followed by a possessor noun. Whenever such a possessor noun appears, the possessed nominal which precedes it must bear the appropriate personal pronoun prefix, matching the possessor for gender and number. It should be noted that non-animate nouns are classified lexically into male and female categories and have restrictions placed on them being marked for plural.
These operations are demonstrated in the examples below. In the first of these, l-ugune his vehicle, has the masculine singular possessive prefix, l-, which refers to the noun which follows, nuguchi my father. In the second, t-, the feminine singular possessive prefix in the item t-ugune, also matches the gender of its referent in the form of the word that follows, nuguchu my mother. In the third, the plural possessive prefix, h-, in h-ugune our vehicle, matches its referent in the form of the following word, n-irahüyan my children. This kind of construction establishes that possessive prefixes can have a referent in the form of a noun which immediately follows the word in which the prefix appears. This prefix must match such a referent in gender, where applicable, and in number.
Weiritu lugune nuguchi
Big-it his-vehicle my-father
Our fathers vehicle is big
Weiritu tugune nuguchu
Big-it her-vehicle my-mother
My mothers vehicle is big
weiritu hugune nirahüyan
big-it their-vehicle my-children
My childrens vehicle is big
There is a sub-group of nominal roots which have relatively abstract place meanings. They end up being used to identify a locational feature associated with the possessing pronoun, i.e. some kind of place or positional feature which can be deemed to belong to the possessor. We need to resist the temptation, based on the English translations, to see these as equivalent to English prepositions. Given the syntactic position in which these occur in Garifuna, they been described as postpositions by Taylor (1977, p. 56). Below are a few examples of members of this group of items.
|-uba||before, in front|
These too, like the more straightforward nouns, can be followed by nouns which operate as referents for the personal pronoun prefixes. This can be seen in the examples below. In the first example, we have the phrase l-uma íu its-with hair, i.e. with hair, with the prefix l- referring to the following noun, íu hair. In the second example, with phrases l-idan faníe its-inside basket and t-urúgabu leskwela
its-vicinity school, we see a similar pattern with the prefixes l- and t- respectively having as their referent the noun which follows the stem of which they are a part. In these examples, the referent has, in each case, been inanimate. In the third example, we are dealing with the relationship between the l- prefix and the word following that to which it belongs, as in l-uba nuguchi his-before my father.
Dan le ladunragu íu luma íu, bímeti.
Time which it-meet hair it-with hair, sweet-it
When hair meets hair, it is sweet (Cayetano, 1993, p. 170).
Luagu-ti aban weyu taibuga alúguraha badía lidan faníe turúgabu leskwela.
It-about-particle one day she-go sell melon it-in basket it-near school
One day she went to the front of the school with a basket of melons to sell (Taylor, 1977, p. 125).
Chülühadina lubá nuguchi
Arrived-have-I his-before my-father
I have arrived before my father
As has already been pointed out, non-animate items are assigned lexically to either the masculine or feminine gender for purposes of being represented by pronouns. Thus, íu hair, and faniye basket have their masculine gender classification indicated by the choice of the masculine l- prefix in the preceding stem and leskwela school its feminine gender classification as a result of the use of the feminine prefix, t-.
The position nominal root ubá before is reported by Taylor (1977, p. p. 51-2) to function as an auxiliary as in the sentence below. The auxiliary nubadibu would be deemed to be made up of the prefix n- I, the root of the auxiliary, -uba-, -di-, a relator inserted as a means of facilitating the attachment of a suffix, and bu you.
I will see you (Taylor, 1977, p. 52).
Significantly, in the Seine Bight variety, the equivalent sentence, *eiha nubadibu, with uba- functioning as the root of an auxiliary which follows the verb form eiha see, is impossible. In the negative, however, there is a form in the Seine Bight variety which parallels that reported for affirmative sentences by Taylor. This is seen in the example below. It should be noted, however, that there is a change in the vowel of the verb, from /a/ to /i/, from eiha to eihi, a regular change which is triggered by the negative prefix, m-.
He has not seen her
In the Seine Bight variety, the rule seems to be to employ the auxiliary only in restricted circumstances. One such is when the stem initial position is occupied by the negative prefix. It is then that the auxiliary, -uba-, is employed to bear subject and object pronouns, as prefix and suffix respectively.
There is a second position nominal in the form uma with, i.e. occupying the same position as the entity designated by its personal pronoun prefix, which is employed as an auxiliary. It is employed immediately after a predicator to mark it as perfect, with a meaning somewhat equivalent to have V-en in English. In quite a few languages, the auxiliary signalling the perfect is derived from a form meaning have. This is as true of English, in a sentence such as I have seen as it is French with jai vu meaning the same thing. Semantically, the meaning with, being in the same place as X is very similar in meaning to to have since ownership can be conceived of as having a very close spatial association with that which is possessed. It is, therefore, not particularly remarkable that Garifuna should use a form meaning with to function as a perfect auxiliary marker.
There are two indications of the changed role of uma in its role as a perfect marker. The first is that it can take suffixes, and the second is that its form is far more variable. Both of these flow from that fact that it has been grammaticalised into the function of perfect marker. This is a process by which a word with a full lexical meaning is stripped of some of its basic meaning and begins to perform a role that involves marking relationships between words and phrases in the sentence. Grammaticalisation often has the effect, as well, of reducing the phonological shape of the item as well.
Below are examples of how uma has been grammaticalised to perform the role of an auxiliary marking predicators as perfect. In the singular, it is reduced to its last syllable, a-, plus what Taylor (1977, p. 49) refers to as a relator marker, i.e. a marker which interposes itself between the auxiliary or verb stem and a pronominal suffix. These relators take the form of di-, -l- and r-. In spite of the presence of the relators in all but the third person plural, however, we see something close to the full form, i.e. ma, with the /u/ vowel still missing due to deletion in the face of the vowel in the ha- prefix. In the examples below, the prefixes are being employed to mark the pronominal subjects of the predicator, eiha see, and the suffixes its pronominal objects. Both subject pronouns and object pronouns are affixed to the uma- auxiliary.
They have seen me
See they-have-(di)-you (singular)
They have seen you (singular)
They have seen him
They have seen her
They have seen us
See they-have-(d)-you (plural)
They have seen you (plural)
They have seen them.
There is another auxiliary, -umut(u)-, which might be actually composed of uma- followed by ut(u)-. This auxiliary gives the predicator a punctual meaning, i.e. the event represented by the predicator is seen as a single happening without duration. This produces a preterite interpretation, approximating the English preterite -ed type forms.
He saw me
He saw you (singular)
He saw him
'He saw her'
He saw us
See he-preterite-you plural
He saw you (plural)
He saw them.
It should be noted, in relation to the above examples, that there is a phonological process operating in Garifuna which, in normal speech, reduces non-prominent word final syllables ending in the vowels /i/ and /u/. This makes it impossible in normal speech, to distinguish, except with reference to context, between eiha lumuti he saw him and eiha lumutu he saw her. Phonetically, they both end up being pronounced with the final consonant simply being aspirated to produce [eiha lumut?]. However, careful speech does produce the distinction. In addition, the difference between i third person singular, masculine and u third person singular, feminine is always maintained in the case of the perfect auxiliary already considered. Evidence from usage with both auxiliaries, therefore, indicates that the personal pronoun prefixes are as follows.
|-na||first (person) singular|
|-bu||second (person) singular|
|-i||third (person) singular, masculine|
|-u||third (person) singular, feminine|
|-wa||first (person) plural|
|-ü||second (person) plural|
|-yan||third (person) plural|
It is perhaps significant that the same plural form yan which functions as a third person plural object marker with auxiliaries and, as we shall see, other types of predicator-like structures, is also the pluraliser of nouns, as we have seen a previous section. This is at least reminiscent of Caribbean English-lexicon Creole languages in which the third person plural pronoun, dem, is also the pluraliser of definite noun phrases. As we shall also see, -yan, by way of pluralising nominalised verbs functioning as predicators, also serves as a marker of continuative aspect.
We have already seen that, in affirmative sentences, the form uba- seems, in the Seine Bight variety, unable to function as an auxiliary in the same way as it does in the Hopkins variety. In the Hopkins variety as analysed by Taylor (1977, p. 52), however, there is an alternative construction. This involves the use of ba-, clearly a reduced form of uba-. The alternative construction given by Taylor is narihubadibu I will see you. The equivalent sentence, neihibadibu is the only possible option for expressing this meaning in the Seine Bight variety. We see below an illustration of (u)ba- in this role. Note that the verb stem, eiha, is changed to eihi. The switch from /a/ to /i/ in this stem is consistent with processes by which verbs become nominals, allowing pronominal prefixes to function as possessors.
He will see me
He will see you (singular)
He will see him
He will see her
his-see-will be-di (relator)-us
He will see us
his-see-will be-di (relator)-you plural
He will see you plural
He will see them.
The ba form, derived from the original nominal root, -uba before, earlier than, is here being employed as a marker indicating that the particular event is yet to occur, i.e. it is before the time of its occurrence. This is crudely the equivalent of a future marker. Evidence that, in the above, the stem eihi- is a nominal can be seen when sentence initial independent pronominal roots replace predicator initial bound prefixes. Then, the ba- can and does attach itself to sentence initial pronominal roots, specifically ka interrogative who, whom, what, and independent pronoun forms of the ligiya group. As we see, the future meaning is maintained even as the verb root, no longer sharing the same word with ba-, reverts to its verbal /a/ ending.
Who will see her?
It is he who will see her
If we look at the sentences below, where ba- holds its position on the verb even when preceded by these sentence initial pronominal forms, we see that the meaning has changed. In these circumstances, it signals the preterite. The likely analysis here is that sentence initial pronouns such as ka and ligiya are potential bearers of the ba- marker. If they are not so marked, the sentence is interpreted as having present rather than future reference. When ba- appears on the following verbal stem, the time reference of the sentence is already established as the present and the meaning of before, prior produces a past meaning, i.e. a meaning of prior to the present.
Who saw her?
It is he who saw her.
When a Predicator takes a subject and an object, the uma and -umut- auxiliaries discussed above are used. However, in many cases, the predicator is not transitive or it is not being used in the particular sentence with an object. In such situations, the auxiliary, a device to allow for both a subject and object argument to appear, is sometimes not used. Rather, alternative and arguably abbreviated forms of the auxiliary roots uma- and umut- are employed as suffixes to the verb stem. The forms are respectively (h)a- for the perfect and t- for the preterite. In the case of the perfect suffix, (h)a, Taylor (1977, p. 51) treats ha- as the basic form, with the /h/ deleted when it occurs in occurs after a stem final /a/. Because of our suspicion that the perfect suffix, (h)a-, is related to the perfect auxiliary forms uma- ~ -a-, we prefer for now to treat a- as the base form of the suffix with /h/ inserted when preceded by a vowel other than /a/. Further evidence will resolve this issue.
I have arrived
You have arrived
He has arrived
She has arrived
We have arrived
You (plural) have arrived
They have arrived.
The Predicator, (a)chülüra to arrive, considered a verb by other treatments of Garifuna grammar, notably (Taylor, 1977) and Cayetano (1993), does not behave any differently from predicators regarded as adjectives in these studies, e.g. würiba- bad.
He has become bad
She has become bad.
We now examine the examples involving the preterite suffix, -t-. Again we start with an item regarded as a straightforward intransitive verb in the literature.
You (singular) arrived
Again as we shall see below, items such as würiba-, identified as belonging to the class, adjective, behave in exactly the same way as those items that have been called intransitive verbs in the literature. The fact that it delivers a different translation from such verbs is a creature of the difference in classification of these translated words in English than anything to do with Garifuna itself.
I am bad
you are bad
Finally, we will look at the continuous or progressive aspect suffix. This is different from the other suffixes that we have looked at in that it is not a derivative in any sense of a grammaticalised position nominal which became drafted into the auxiliary system. The form, -yan-, is a carry over from rather different area of the Garifuna linguistic system, the system for the pluralisation of nominals. If one thinks a moment, the connection between the plural in nominals and the progressive in predicators seems obvious. What in nominals involves a multiplication of entities, is in predicators either the repetition of an action or an activity, or their ongoing nature which can be seen as an accumulation of smaller actions. The specific nominal nature of the use of yan- to signal progressive aspect with predicators is demonstrated by the fact that, like with ba-, verb forms lose their stem final /a/, to be replaced either by /i/ or /u/. This is illustrated below.
He is seeing her.
Word-internally, predicators have two slots in which they can accommodate subject and object pronoun affixes. Where both affixes are present, the word internal sequence is that of S-V-O. Here V can represent either a full predicator or an auxiliary. This has been illustrated by a range of predicator structures we have already seen. We present the following example merely as a reminder.
He has seen her
However, across words in a sentence, the language requires that the predicator or V comes first, the subject second and the object third. At the level of the syntax as opposed to word internal morphology, Garifuna is a VSO language. This is illustrated by the following sentence in which a nominal subject, mutu tugiya the woman (literally person-she) and object, mutu ligiya the man (literally person-he), are inserted into the sentence above.
Eiha lau mutu tugiya mutu ligiya
See he-has-her person he person she
The man has seen the woman
One should notice that the t- personal pronoun prefix, she, agrees with its nominal subject referent, mutu tugiya the woman, as does the suffix l- him, with its nominal object, mutu ligiya the man. Personal pronouns by definition are definite. They refer to entities already introduced into the discourse. So far, we know that pronoun prefixes attached to predicators or their auxiliaries should agree in gender and number with nominal referents in expressed subjects and objects. This raises an interesting question. Does this requirement for agreement extend to the feature of definiteness? In other words, when a pronoun affix has a nominal referent in the subject or object, does that subject or object have to be definite? And if it does, how do indefinite nominals get expressed in the language? These are the questions that confront us at the point in the analysis where we find ourselves. The following data is, however, quite suggestive.
enga numuti úraga bun ligira buga
I told you the story the other day
enga numuti úraga ligia bun ligira buga
I told you the story the other day
engatina úraga bun ligira buga
I told you stories (i.e. I was story telling) the other day.
If we look at the object of each of the first two sentences, uraga story and uraga ligia story it, they both get translated as the story. The reason for this, we suggest, may be that the pronominal object antecedent, i.e. i in both cases, is definite and forces a definite interpretation on its object nominal referent, with or without the definite marker, ligiya. However, in the third example, there is no object pronominal affix. The pronominal suffix is the pronoun subject, -na I. There is no definite pronoun acting as an antecedent for the nominal object, úraga and no definite marker, ligiya following. This frees the object from any definite meaning and opens it to the generic meaning of stories as in story telling which is assigned it in the third sentence. The issue of definiteness and the relationship between pronominal affixes and their nominal referents in the subject and object are amongst the items we propose to tackle next in this ongoing work.
Cayetano, E., 1993, The Peoples Garifuna Dictionary, National Garifuna Council, Belize.
Taylor, D., 1977, Languages of the West Indies, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
© Hubert Devonish & Enita Castillo, 2002.
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