Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Navajo (Diné bizaad) (occasionally spelled Navaho) is a Southern Athabaskan or Apachean language of the Athabaskan language family, belonging to the Na-Dené phylum. It is like the other Southern Athabaskan languages in that although the majority of the languages in the Na-Dené family are spoken much farther north (Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Canadian Provinces) Navajo is spoken much farther south (in the southwest United States) by the Navajo people (Diné).
Navajo claims more speakers than any other Native American language north of the Mexican border, with more than 100,000 native speakers, and this number is actually increasing with time. During World War II, a code based on Navajo was used by code talkers to send secure military messages over radio.
There are four vowels in Navajo: a, e, i and o. Each of these may occur as
- short, as in a and e,
- long, as in aa and ee,
- nasalized, as in ą and ęę,
or with one of four tones:
- high, as in áá and éé,
- low, as in aa and ee,
- rising, as in aá and eé or
- falling, as in áa and ée.
Various combinations of these features are possible, as in ą́ą́ (long, nasalized, high tone).
The consonants of Navajo in the standard orthography are:
The lateral l is actually a voiced lateral approximant while ł is realized as a fricative (this patterning is common in the world's languages as a true voiceless l is harder to perceive). Some Athabaskan languages, notably Han, have a pair of voiced and voiceless lateral fricatives.
As in many northwestern American languages, Navajo is extremely poor in labial consonants.
Typologically, Navajo is an agglutinating, polysynthetic head-marking language, but many of its affixes combine into barely recognizable contractions more like fusional languages. The canonical word order of Navajo is SOV. Athabaskan words are modified primarily by prefixes, which is unusual for an SOV language (suffixes are expected).
Navajo is a "verb-heavy" language — it has a great ponderance 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 particle (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.
The key element in Navajo is the verb and is notoriously complex. Some noun meanings are provided by verbs, as in Hoozdo 'Phoenix, Arizona' (lit. 'the place is hot') and ch'é'étiin 'doorway' (lit. 'something has a path horizontally out'). Many complex nouns are derived from nominalized verbs as well, as in ná'oolkiłí 'clock' (lit. 'one that is moved slowly in a circle') and chidí naa'na'í bee'eldǫǫhtsoh bikáá' dah naaznilígíí 'army tank' (lit. 'a car that they sit up on top of that crawls around with a big thing with which an explosion is made').
Verbs are composed of an abstract stem to which inflectional and/or derivational prefixes are added. Every verb must have at least one prefix. The prefixes are affixed to the verb in a specified order.
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 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 prefixes that occur on a Navajo verb are added in specified order according to prefix type. This type of morphology is called a position class template (or slot-and-filler template). Below is a table of a recent proposal of the Navajo verb template (Young & Morgan 1987). (Edward Sapir and Harry Hoijer were the first to propose an analysis of this type.) A given verb will not have a prefix for every position, in fact most Navajo verbs are not as complex as the template would seem to suggest.
The Navajo verb has 3 main parts:
|disjunct prefixes||conjunct prefixes||stem|
These parts can be subdivided into 11 positions with some of the positions having even further subdivisions:
|disjunct prefixes||conjunct prefixes||stem|
|postposition object||postposition||adverbial-thematic||iterative||plural||direct object||deictic||adverbial-thematic||mode-aspect||subject||classifier||stem|
Although prefixes are generally found in a specific position, some prefixes change order by the process of metathesis. For example, prefix 'a- (3i object pronoun) usually occurs before di-, as in
- adisbąąs 'I'm starting to drive some kind of wheeled vehicle along' [ < 'a- + di- + sh- + ł + -bąąs].
However, when 'a- occurs with the prefixes di- and ni-, the 'a- metathesizes with di-, leading to an order of di- + 'a- + ni-, as in
- di'nisbąąs 'I'm in the act of driving some vehicle (into something) & getting stuck' [ < di-'a-ni-sh-ł-bąąs < 'a- + di- + ni- + sh- + ł + -bąąs]
instead of the expected adinisbąąs ('a-di-ni-sh-ł-bąąs) (note also that 'a- is reduced to '-).
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 11 primary classificatory "handling" verbs stems which are listed below (given in the perfective mode):
|-'ą́||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.|
|-tą́||SSO||Slender Stiff Object||arrow, bracelet, skillet, saw, etc.|
|-ł-tsooz||FFO||Flat Flexible Object||blanket, coat, sack of groceries, etc.|
|-tłéé'||MM||Mushy Matter||ice cream, mud, slumped-over drunken person, etc.|
|-nil||PLO1||Plural Objects 1||eggs, balls, animals, coins, etc.|
|-jaa'||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 11 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 can then be grouped into three different categories:
- free flight
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
- -'ą́ to handle (a round object),
- -ne' to throw (a round object), and
- -l-ts'id (a round object) moves independently.
yi-/bi- Alternation (animacy)
Like most Athabaskan languages, Southern Athabaskan languages show various levels of animacy in its grammar, with certain nouns taking specific verb forms according to their rank in this animacy hierarchy. For instance, Navajo nouns can be ranked by animacy on a continuum from most animate (a human) to least animate (an abstraction) (Young & Morgan 1987: 65-66):
Human → Infant/Big Animal → Med-size Animal → Small Animal → Natural Force → Abstraction
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.
This phenomenon was first noted by Ken Hale (1973).
Here is the first paragraph of a very short story in Young & Morgan (1987: 205a-205b).
- Ashiiké t'óó diigis léi' tółikaní ła' ádiilnííł dóó nihaa nahidoonih níigo yee hodeez'ą́ jiní. Áko t'áá ał'ąą ch'il na'atł'o'ii k'iidiilá dóó hááhgóóshį́į́ yinaalnishgo t'áá áłah ch'il na'atł'o'ii néineest'ą́ jiní. Áádóó tółikaní áyiilaago t'áá bíhígíí t'áá ał'ąą tł'ízíkágí yii' haidééłbįįd jiní. "Háadida díí tółikaní yígíí doo ła' aha'diidził da," níigo aha'deet'ą́ jiní'. Áádóó baa nahidoonih biniiyé kintahgóó dah yidiiłjid jiní'....
Free English translation:
- Some crazy boys decided to make some wine to sell, so they each planted grapevines and, working hard on them, they raised them to maturity. Then, having made wine, they each filled a goatskin with it. They agreed that at no time would they give each other a drink of it, and they then set out for town lugging the goatskins on their backs....
|and||from us||it will be bought||they saying||with it||they planned||it is said|
|Áko||t'áá ał'ąą||ch'il na'atł'o'ii||k'iidiilá|
|so then||separately||grapevines||they planted them|
|dóó||hááhgóóshį́į́||yinaalnishgo||t'áá áłah||ch'il na'atł'o'ii||néineest'ą́||jiní.|
|and||diligently||they working on them||they both||grapevines||they raised them||it is said|
|and then||wine||they having made it|
|t'áá bíhígíí||t'áá ał'ąą||tł'ízíkágí||yii'||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|
- Contrasts between Navajo consonants (sound files from Peter Ladefoged)
- An Example of The Navajo Language (including audio)
- page of Navajo language links
- Dine Bizaad: The Navajo Language
- Navajo Language & Bilingual Links (from San Juan school district
- Navajo Language Academy
- Tuning in to Navajo: The Role of Radio in Native Language Maintenance
- An Initial Exploration of the Navajo Nation's Language and Culture Initiative
- Bá'ólta'í Adoodleełgi Bína'niltingo Bił Haz'ą́ [Center for Diné Teacher Education]
- Navajo fonts
- THE NAVAJO LANGUAGE
- Why No Writing on the Rez: An Inquiry into the History of Navajo Language Literacy
- Navajo language (Encyclopedia of North American Indians)
- Bibliography of Materials on the Navajo Language
- Navajo vocabulary word list
- Navajo Nation website
- See Also Southern Athabaskan languages.
References and Recommended Reading/Listening
- Blair, Robert W.; Simmons, Leon; & Witherspoon, Gary. (1969). Navaho Basic Course. BYU Printing Services.
- Goossen, Irvy W. (1967). Navajo made easier: A course in conversational Navajo. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press.
- Goossen, Irvy W. (1995). Diné bizaad: Speak, read, write Navajo. Flagstaff, AZ: Salina Bookshelf. ISBN 0-9644-1891-6
- Goossen, Irvy W. (1997). Diné bizaad: Sprechen, Lesen und Schreiben Sie Navajo. Loder, P. B. (transl.). Flagstaff, AZ: Salina Bookshelf.
- Haile, Berard. (1941-1948). Learning Navaho, (Vols. 1-4). St. Michaels, AZ: St. Michael's Mission.
- Platero, Paul R. (1986). Diné bizaad bee naadzo: A conversational Navajo text for secondary schools, colleges and adults. Farmington, NM: Navajo Preparatory School.
- Platero, Paul R.; Legah, Lorene; & Platero, Linda S. (1985). Diné bizaad bee na'adzo: A Navajo language literacy and grammar text. Farmington, NM: Navajo Language Institute.
- Tapahonso, Luci, & Schick, Eleanor. (1995). Navajo ABC: A Diné alphabet book. New York: Macmillan Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0-6898-0316-8
- Witherspoon, Gary. (1985). Diné Bizaad Bóhoo'aah for secondary schools, colleges, and adults. Farmington, NM: Navajo Language Institute.
- Witherspoon, Gary. (1986). Diné Bizaad Bóhoo'aah I: A conversational Navajo text for secondary schools, colleges and adults. Farmington, NM: Navajo Language Institute.
- Wilson, Alan. (1969). Breakthrough Navajo: An introductory course. Gallup, NM: The University of New Mexico, Gallup Branch.
- Wilson, Alan. (1970). Laughter, the Navajo way. Gallup, NM: The University of New Mexico at Gallup.
- Wilson, Alan. (1978). Speak Navajo: An intermediate text in communication. Gallup, NM: University of New Mexico, Gallup Branch.
- Wilson, Garth A. (1995). Conversational Navajo workbook: An introductory course for non-native speakers.. Blanding, UT: Conversational Navajo Publications. ISBN 0-9387-1754-5.
Linguistics & other reference
- Akmajian, Adrian; & Anderson, Steven. (1970). On the use of the fourth person in Navajo, or Navajo made harder. International Journal of American Linguistics, 36 (1), 1-8.
- Creamer, Mary Helen. (1974). Ranking in Navajo nouns. Navajo Language Review, 1, 29-38.
- Faltz, Leonard M. (1998). The Navajo verb: A grammar for students and scholars. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-1901-7 (hb), ISBN 0-8263-1902-5 (pbk)
- Frishberg, Nancy. (1972). Navajo object markers and the great chain of being. In J. Kimball (Ed.), Syntax and semantics (Vol. 1, p. 259-266). New York: Seminar Press.
- Grimes, Barbara F.(Ed.). (2000). Ethnologue: Languages of the world, (14th ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. ISBN 1-5567-1106-9. (Online edition: http://www.ethnologue.com/, accessed on Nov. 19th, 2004).
- Hale, Kenneth L. (1973). A note on subject-object inversion in Navajo. In B. B. Kachru, R. B. Lees, Y. Malkiel, A. Pietrangeli, & S. Saporta (Eds.), Issuse in linguistics: Papers in honor of Henry and Renée Kahane (p. 300-309). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
- Hoijer, Harry. (1945). Navaho phonology. University of New Mexico publications in anthropology, (No. 1).
- Hoijer, Harry. (1945). Classificatory verb stems in the Apachean languages. International Journal of American Linguistics, 11 (1), 13-23.
- Hoijer, Harry. (1945). The Apachean verb, part I: Verb structure and pronominal prefixes. International Journal of American Linguistics, 11 (4), 193-203.
- Hoijer, Harry. (1946). The Apachean verb, part II: The prefixes for mode and tense. International Journal of American Linguistics, 12 (1), 1-13.
- Hoijer, Harry. (1946). The Apachean verb, part III: The classifiers. International Journal of American Linguistics, 12 (2), 51-59.
- Hoijer, Harry. (1970). A Navajo lexicon. University of California Publications in Linguistics (No. 78). Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Kari, James. (1975). The disjunct boundary in the Navajo and Tanaina verb prefix complexes. International Journal of American Linguistics, 41, 330-345.
- Kari, James. (1976). Navajo verb prefix phonology. Garland Publishing Co.
- McDonough, Joyce. (2003). The Navajo sound system. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. ISBN 1-4020-1351-5 (hb); ISBN 1-4020-1352-3 (pbk)
- Reichard, Gladys A. (1951). Navaho grammar. Publications of the American Ethnological Society (Vol. 21). New York: J. J. Augustin.
- Sapir, Edward, & Hoijer, Harry. (1967). Navaho texts. William Dwight Whitney series, Linguistic Society of American.
- Sapir, Edward, & Hoijer, Harry. (1967). Phonology and morphology of the Navaho language. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Wall, C. Leon, & Morgan, William. (1994). Navajo-English dictionary. New York: Hippocrene Books. ISBN 0-7818-0247-4. (Originally published (1958) by US Dept. of the Interior, Branch of Education, Bureau of Indian Affairs).
- Witherspoon, Gary. (1977). Language and art in the Navajo universe. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-4720-8966-8; ISBN 0-4720-8965-X
- Young, Robert W. (2000). The Navajo verb system: An overview. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-2172-0 (hb); ISBN 0-8263-2176-3 (pbk)
- Young, Robert W., & Morgan, William, Sr. (1987). The Navajo language: A grammar and colloquial dictionary (rev. ed.). Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-1014-1
- Young, Robert W.; Morgan, William; & Midgette, Sally. (1992). Analytical lexicon of Navajo. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-1356-6; ISBN 0-8253-1356-6
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