Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Bixwá Verb: Part the First

In general I devote a lot of loving attention to my languages' verb systems. Nezhan, the sketch that led to Bixwá, produced things like this:

I happened to catch sight of you.

This was a little too much like Athabascan languages, so I pulled back a bit. I no longer cross-reference the subject and direct object in the verb, but I still manage to pack a lot into the verb. Like Nezhan — and the Athabascan languages — a great deal of the verb's morphology is by prefixing, though Bixwá does mark valency and control changes with suffixes.

The Verb Stem

Most Bixwá root verbs are single syllable roots, though two-syllable roots are also well-represented. There is a small set of common transitive verbs which have two forms, one for animate direct objects, one for inanimate direct objects. For example, is see for inanimate DOs. For animate DOs, you must use deezh.

I see a dog.

I see a book.

Note that inanimate direct objects often do not take accusative case marking. A sentence like né áka deezh, using an animate verb with an inanimate direct object, would be an outright error, not implying anything.


Bixwá is quite fastidious about verb transitivity, and requires overt marking to covert valency. The detransitive suffix is (')óó. The transitive suffix, which is also the causative, also makes an animacy distinction in the direct object, with -(')azh for inanimates, -(')azhe for animates. These suffixes have the additional effect of converting any noun they are attached to into a verb, as in báá'óó be angry from báá anger.

After much going back and forth, I finally decided to give Bixwá a passive. Unlike the English passive, though, it can only be used when there is no agent at all. If the agent is named, you have to use a focus construction in the active. A stem is made passive with the circumfix di-V-e, though the final -e part has various realizations if the verb ends in a vowel. Again, animacy must be considered: né dideezhe I am seen, not *né dimáa.


There are three layers of prefixes for the verb, and that's not including the raft of obligatorily pre-verbal particles. The innermost set, that will always occur immediately before the verb root, marks aspect. There are six aspect prefixes, the imperfective, the perfective, the habitual, the inceptive, the continuative and the punctual (or conclusive) perfective. Note, though, that there are other aspects available (in particular, the inchoative for stative verbs) that involve a mix of aspect prefixes and other verb morphology. I'll cover those in a later section.

Did you see him?

He always talks too much.

Coming Soon

Next time I'll talk about the powerful and very common instrumental prefixes as well as the direction and mode prefixes, before moving on to the complexities of the preverbs in yet another post. In the last post (four in total), I hope to talk about the ways I've used combinations of prefix types and the preverbs for refinements of aspect, syntax and pragmatics (discourse effects).


  1. Great stuff here! I remember when you mentioned the phrase né-wíi-x-máá-di (which is néwíixmáádi without the marks for the different affixes, right?) and it was very interesting, now I see it growing into something fascinating. I will kind of miss the fact that the subject is not appended to the verb, which is how I like it the most (why not *koran nédeezh? or *a'é ben kohodeezh?) but I like it so far, very nice features. I like how you have two different verbs for verbs like 'to read', and the thing about the accusative got me thinking.

    Great work!

  2. I pulled out the conjugation prefixes because I wanted to have a large pronoun set for the social control stuff. That many affixes would have been annoying. Besides, I very often have languages that conjugate — I was trying to get out of that habit.