Lenape Grammar

List of Abbreviations

1 first person ("I")
2 second person ("you")
3 third person ("he" or "she" — no gender distinction in Lenape)
abs absentative (denotes one who is deceased or psychologically absent, as when asleep)
anim animate (a category that includes living things and some arbitrarily classified inanimates)
conj conjunct (a class of verbs used in dependent clauses and in noun formation)
dim diminutive ("the little one" — comprable to using a pet name)
dir direct (denotes action flowing from prefix to suffix)
fut future
inan inanimate (a category for non-living objects)
inv inverse (denotes action flowing from suffix to prefix)
MP a morphophonemic insertion required grammatically but having no meaning
na noun (animate)
neg negative
ni noun (inanimate)
obv obviative (a category denoting a subsidiary third person)
part particle (an uninflected form often corresponding to a definite or indefinite article)
past past tense
pejor pejorative ("the old so-and-so"—a way of making an insult)
pl plural
poss possessive
prevb preverb (a prefixed verb that introduces a main verb)
pron pronoun (an uninflected form identifying a person category such as "I" or "you")
psv passive
rel relational (denotes an inherent relationship distinct from "possession")
subjnt subjunctive
subord subordinative (a class of verbs triggered by particles such a "then," etc.)
vb verbalizer (a suffix that makes a form into a verb)
via verb (intransitive verb with animate subject)
vii verb (intansitive verb with inanimate subject)
vta verb (transitive verb with animate object)
vti verb (transitive verb with inanimate object)

Other Terms

  • affix(es),

    the prefixes and suffixes that are attached to a root to construct a grammatical form.

  • analysis,

    the grammatical structure of a word broken into meaningful parts, or morphemes—not to be confused with syllables. The analysis of Lenape words is presented in three lines as follows: (1) the form of the word as pronounced, (2) the structure of the word separated into meaningful elements by hyphens, (3) the meaning of the individual elements.

    Form: ntànkhìtunèn
    Structure: n-t-ànkhitu-ne-nan
    Meaning: 1-MP-lose-inan-pl.inan

    Notice that the above example has five morphemes (but only four syllables—see closed syllable and open syllable). Periods are used in examples like the one above to separate meaningful elements that combine to form a single morpheme.

  • closed syllable,

    a syllable ending with a consonant, for example /ntànk.hi.tu.nèn/ 'we lost it'; The first and last syllables are closed, and vowels are laxed (i.e., shortened from /a/ to /à/ or from /e/ to /è/. Syllable structure in Lenape does not always correspond to grammatical structure.

  • comments,

    one or more statements in the grammatical analysis explaining how an underlying form is converted to a surface form. For example: "The first person plural suffix /-nan/ is realized as /-n/ in final position after /-ne/."

  • elided,

    to be dropped, omitted, not pronounced. Example: "/w/ is elided in final position after a vowel."

  • gloss,

    the indication of a form's meaning. Example: "The root /-mitsi-/ means 'eat'." In analysis presentations, prefixes and suffixes are labeled with grammatical abbreviations. The root is given a gloss indicating its meaning.

  • lax vowel,

    sometimes referred to as a weak vowel or short vowel. Lax vowels are relatively short in duration and sometimes result when a tense vowel occurs in a closed syllable.

  • morpheme,

    a unit of meaning. The word /ntànkhitunèn/ "we lost it" has five units of meaning (see analysis). Morphemes, taken together, comprise the meaning of a word.

  • open syllable,

    a syllable ending with a vowel, for example /ntànk.hi.tu.nèn/ 'we lost it'; The second and third syllables are open and typically have tense (i.e., lengthened) vowels.

  • realized,

    the form a given element takes as actually pronounced. Example: "The sequence /wa/ is realized as /o/." That means that when the sounds in question come together in forming a word, they affect each other and emerge in a different form.

  • root,

    the meaningful part of a grammatical construction, the central part around which a word is formed.

  • short vowel,

    see lax vowel.

  • slashes,

    the diagonal lines used to identify sounds under discussion so they will not be mistaken as words used in the sentence. Example: "/e/ is laxed in a closed syllable."

  • strong vowel,

    see tense vowel.

  • surface form,

    a form as actually pronounced. This is often different from the underlying form.

  • tense vowel,

    one that is lengthened in duration, sometimes referred to as a strong vowel.

  • underlying form,

    the form composed of individual morphemes that make up a word. It is commonly modified by pronunciation rules to produce a surface form—that is, the form as actually pronounced.

  • weak vowel ,

    see lax vowel.

  • word,

    a complete grammatical form. A word may be composed of a single morpheme or several morphemes in a grammatical sequence.

Lenape Verb Structure

Lenape grammar may seem strange to anyone whose native language is English. This is true both for those of Lenape ancestry and for those who ancestors came from Europe or other places.

The most important word in any Lenape sentence is the verb. Sometimes it is the entire sentence. Following is an outline sketch of Lenape verb possibilities. There usually is one prefix followed by a verb root and up to ten suffix positions reserved for specific kinds of information.

Seldom are all possible positions filled. But one prefix followed by a verb root and as many as six suffixes is fairly common. The following chart shows the basic possibilities. This is followed by examples of the most common affixes. The List of Abbreviations may also be referred to for additional reminders.

pre - ROOT - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5a - 5b - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9

Prefix (abbrev. pre). Here are found markers denoting the category of person involved, usually as subject (=AGENT) but sometimes as object (=PATIENT).

1 = first person ("I")
2 = second person ("you")
3 = third person ("he/she")
n-mitsi "I eat"
k-mitsi "you eat"
[Lenape does not distinguish gender. The third person marker often occurs as a suffix instead of a prefix.]

Root (glossed instead of abbreviated) Interlinear presentations are given in this format:

Form: nëmitsi
Structure: n-mitsi
Meaning: 1-eat

Suffix Positions

  1. Here are theme markers indicating whether action is (a) DIRECT (flowing from prefix to suffix) or (b) INVERSE (flowing from suffix to prefix).

    (a) neyo
    (b) neyùkw

    The meaning of the above examples is (a) "I see him" and (b) "he sees me." It is also clear that the underlying structure (the middle line) often differs significantly from the form as actually pronounced (the top line). These pronunciation rules are explained in a box as part of each example in the dictionary. Abbreviations are dir for DIRECT and inv for INVERSE.

  2. Here located are the DIMINUTIVE suffix (-ti) and PEJORATIVE suffix (-shi).

    (a) kawitu
    (b) kawishu

    The meanings are (a) "the little one is sleeping" and (b) "the old so-and-so is sleeping."

  3. Here is found a plural suffix used in CONJUNCT verbs. It takes slightly different forms, but the common variant illustrated below is -hëti. (Another suffix that occurs in this slot is not illustrated because it is fairly uncommon and need not concern the beginning student.)

    come-pl-3-subjnt = "if they come"

    Verbs of the conjunct order are used in noun formation and in dependent clauses such as those translated with "if" or "when." The abbreviation subjnt denotes SUBJUNCTIVE.

  4. The most common position 4 suffix is the negative marker, which in its full form is -uwi- but which is often truncated in various ways. Most commonly, the suffix is reduced merely to -i-, giving the appearance of shifting stress to the end of the word. The negative suffix is normally preceded by ku "not."

    (a) noni
    1-forget "I forgot" not
    (b) ku nonii
    ku n-wani-wi
    1-forget-neg "I did not forget"
  5. This position is traditionally divided into two parts. The first (5a) carries a person marker which, in direct action, represents the object (=PATIENT) of the action. The second (5b) marks the plurality of the person indexed in the prefix, in this case marking the subject (=AGENT).

    (a) npakama
    1-hit-dir-3 "I hit him"
    (b) npakamawëna
    1-hit-dir-3-1.pl "we hit him"

    Thus in (a) the position 5a suffix tells us the object (=patient) of the action is third person "him." The same is true in (b) where, in addition, the 5b suffix tells us that the person indexed in the prefix is plural ("we"). With the inverse marker in position 1, the flow of action is reversed. The 5a suffix is now subject (=AGENT), and the prefix is object (=PATIENT).

    (a) npakamùkw
    1-hit-inv-3 "he hit me"
    (b) npakamùkuna
    1-hit-dir-3-1.pl "he hit us"
  6. In this position is found the past tense marker, widely used in the 19th century, but limited in the 20th century to a few set expressions. (In most situations tense is not explicitly noted but is understood from context.)

    (a) mitsup
    eat-3-past "he ate"
    (b) mitsupane
    eat-3-past-subjnt "if he had eaten"

    The suffix is contracted when it occurs in word-final position but retains its full form when it is followed by another suffix.

  7. The suffixes of position 7 have three functions. (a) The most common is to mark PLURAL for the person indexed in position 5a. (b) Equally common is the OBVIATIVE marker, specifying a subsidiary third person. This is intended to avoid the confusion that occurs in English sentences like "Joe and Bill were playing football and he tackled him." In Lenape the second person mentioned is designated obviative to to keep the two persons distinct. (c) Somewhat less common is ABSENTATIVE, a category appling to one who is deceased or psychologically absent, as when asleep.

    (a) npakamawënanak
    1-hit-dir-3-1.pl-pl.anim "we hit them"

    [Note the logic of the prefix n- ("first person") and 5b -nan ("plural") to constitute "we" while 5a -w ("he") and 7 -ak ("plural") constitute "them." Note also the significance of including the specification ANIMATE. This will be increasingly clear as you move on to examples involving INANIMATE objects not included as examples here.]

    (b) pwënao
    3-look.at-dir-3-obv "he (=previously mentioned) looked at him (=another person)"
    (c) kawiyo
    sleep-3-abs "he is asleep"
    naka nkahesa
    naka n-kahes-a
    late 1-mother-abs "my late mother"
  8. The most common position 8 suffix is -e, the subjunctive marker, which adds the meaning "if" or "when" to conjunct forms.

    come-pl-3-subjnt "if they come"
    enta pahtite
    enta pa-hëti-t-e
    when come-pl-3-subjnt "when they come"

  9. The future marker -ch of position 9 is added to fully formed structures and thus is technically different from other suffixes. However, the difference is too slight to be of concern to the beginning learner.

    1-eat-fut "I will eat"


    Two additional points:

    1. Remember that pronunciation rules for converting the underlying forms of line two to the actually pronounced forms of line one will be given as you look up each word in the dictionary. You can vary the size of the type for better viewing by hitting the control key and the plus or minus key in the numbers keypad.

    2. Nothing has been said about nouns thus far. They fall into two basic categories—animate and inanimate. Their structure is much simpler than verbs, but what little structure they have can be understood in terms of what you already know about verbs.

    Now you are ready to look up words!

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