Tepa nouns

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The most fundamental distinction marked in the grammar of Tepa is that of phase. Both nouns and verbs can be marked for either bound or unbound phase. The prosodic cue for bound phase is a final heavy syllable, while that for unbound phase is a final light syllable. Nouns in Tepa which are unbound in phase are semantically indefinite in reference, while nouns which are bound in phase are semantically definite in reference. Some examples are given below:

unbound bound
nɨŋa ‘woman, a woman’ nɨŋaa ‘the woman’
pɨkɨ ‘bone, a bone’ pɨkɨɨ ‘the bone’
tawitu ‘horn, a horn’ tawituu ‘the horn’
anki ‘fish, a fish’ ankii ‘the fish’


Nouns in Tepa are marked for paucal and two kinds of plural: distributive and collective. Singular nouns remain umarked. Below I discuss the formation of these number categories.


Only the final two syllables of a root are involved in the formation of number categories; these two syllables as a unit are referred to as the ‘base’. To form the paucal stem, the initial CV sequence of the base is copied and prefixed to the base. For nouns which are unbound in phase, the second to last vowel is then deleted. For nouns which are bound in phase, the final vowel is lengthened. This is illustrated below with the roots /pitɨ/ ‘eye’ and /palata/ ‘leaf’.

unbound bound
pitɨ /piptɨ/ [piɸtɨ] /pipitɨɨ/ [piβiðɨɨ]
palata /palalta/ [paralda] /palalataa/ [pararaðaa]

Semantically, the paucal refers to a small collection of objects which can be grouped together. For objects normally occuring in pairs, the paucal is understood as a dual; thus, pipte is best translated as ‘a pair of eyes’.


The distributive plural is formed by suffixing a copy of the base to itself. For unbound phase, the second to last vowel is deleted, and for bound phase, the final vowel is lengthened.

unbound bound
pitɨ /pitɨptɨ/ [piðɨɸtɨ] /pitɨpitɨɨ/ [piðɨβiðɨɨ]
palata /palatalta/ [paraðalda] /palatalataa/ [paraðaraðaa]

Semantically, the distributive plural denotes 7 or 8 objects or more where a state or event is predicated of each object individually, rather than of the collection as a whole. Thus a distributive reading of the sentence ‘The men were running around.’ denotes that each individual man was running around independently of the others.


The collective plural is formed by infixing a /k/ before the final syllable of the base for unbound phase. For bound phase, a sequence of /k/ and a copy of the rhyme (everything after the onset in the syllable) of the base-initial syllable is inserted before the final syllable of the base; the final vowel is lengthened.

unbound bound
pitɨ /piktɨ/ [pixtɨ] /pikitɨɨ/ [piɣiðɨɨ]
palata /palakta/ [paraxta] /palakataa/ [ paraɣaðaa]

Semantically, the collective plural denotes a group of objects where a state or event is predicated of the group as a collection, implying some kind of internal structure or coherence to the group. This is especially common when referring to a group of animals, and thus serves the same function as English expressions such as ‘a flock of’ or ‘a herd of’.


Monosyllabic Roots

Monosyllabic roots form a large class of exceptions to the rules describing the formation of the number categories. There are two basic types of monosyllabic roots: 1) CV roots, and 2) CVX roots, where X is a consonant or vowel. For both types of monosyllabic roots, there is no distinction between bound and unbound phase in forms not marked for number (i.e. singular forms). Thus, [tuu] (/tu/) can be either ‘the dog’ or ‘a dog’, and [pɨ̃ɨ̃] (/pɨn/) can be either ‘the child’ or ‘a child’. Forms inflected for number do distinguish between bound and unbound phase. Forms for paucal and distributive plural are homophonous for monosyllabic roots.

CV roots

Since there is a prohibition in the language on words consisting of only a single light syllable, CV roots are lengthened in speech (and in the orthography) to CVV. To form the paucal or distributive plural, the root is first copied. For unbound phase, the medial consonant is geminated (doubled), and for bound phase, the final vowel is lengthened; this is illustrated with the roots /tu/ ‘dog’ and /yɨ/ ‘egg’.

unbound bound
tu /tuttu/ [tuttu] /tutuu/ [tuðuu]
/yɨyyɨ/ [yɨyyɨ] /yɨyɨɨ/ [yɨyɨɨ]

To form the collective plural of CV roots, the rule given above applies to this reduplicated form:

unbound bound
tu /tuktu/ [tuxtu] /tukutuu/ [tuɣuðuu]
/yɨkyɨ/ [yɨɣyɨ] /yɨkɨyɨɨ/ [yɨɣɨyɨɨ]
CVX roots

The second type of monosyllabic roots are those roots which contain a long vowel, diphthong, or are closed by /n/; the cover symbol ‘X’ represents the second part of the long vowel, the glide of the diphthong and final /n/. The following schema illustrates the formation of the paucal or distributive plural of these roots:

root unbound bound

This is demonstrated below with the roots /tɨɨ/ ‘foot’, /lɨi/ ‘star’ and /pɨn/ ‘child’.

unbound bound
tɨɨ /tɨɨtɨ/ [tɨɨðɨ] /tɨtɨɨ/ [tɨðɨɨ]
lɨi /lɨilɨ/ [lɨirɨ] /lɨlɨi/ [lɨrɨi]
pɨn /pɨnpɨ/ [pɨ̃mbɨ] /pɨpɨn/ [pɨβɨ̃ɨ̃]

The collective plural is formed according to the following schema:

root unbound bound

This is demonstrated below with /tɨɨ/, /lɨi/ and /pɨn/.

unbound bound
tɨɨ /tɨɨkɨ/ [tɨɨɣɨ] /tɨkɨɨ/ [tɨɣɨɨ]
lɨi /lɨikɨ/ [lɨiɣɨ] /lɨkɨi/ [lɨɣɨi]
pɨn /pɨnkɨ/ [pɨ̃ŋɡɨ] /pɨkɨn/ [pɨɣɨ̃ɨ̃]

Roots with Penultimate Heavy Syllables

Roots with a penultimate heavy syllable are the second class of exceptions to the regular number inflection rules given above. These roots are exceptional in their formation of the unbound distributive plural. Whereas the regular distributive plural formation involves the suffixation of the entire base to the base, for roots with penultimate heavy syllables only copy the final -XCV as a suffix. Schematically this is CVXCV-XCV where ‘X’ is a cover symbol for vowel length, a glide, or /n/. This is demonstrated for the root /sunpa/ ‘belly’.

/sunpa/ → /sunpa-npa/ [sũmbãmba]

As expected, lengthening the final vowel gives the bound phase form:

/sunpa/ → /sunpanpaa/ [sũmbãmbaa].


Nouns may also be marked for possession. This marking indicates the grammatical person of the possessor. The possessive prefixes are:

wa- ‘first person’

ku- ‘second person’

nɨ- ‘third person’

Note that there is no distinction in number for the possessor; that is, possession by a single first person is not marked differently on the noun from possession by a non-singular first person. Possessed nouns will always be bound in phase, since they are always definite in reference. Adding a possessive prefix to a CV root creates a disyllabic form which is inflected for number as shown above. This is illustrated below with the root /tu/ ‘dog’.

watuu ‘my/our dog’

wawatuu ‘my/our dog:PAUC’

watuwatuu ‘my/our dogs:DIST’

wakatuu ‘my/our dogs:COLL’


  1. Introduction to Tepa
  2. Tepa Phonology
  3. Inflectional Morphology of Nouns
  4. Inflectional Morphology of Verbs
  5. Some Word Formation
  6. Particles
  7. Syntax
  8. Annotated Texts