Tepa particles

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In this section, I discuss a heterogeneous collection of grammatical elements which I will call particles. All particles in Tepa are clitics; that is, they have the syntax of full words but the phonology of affixes (I will use the words particle and clitic interchangeably in the following description). I distinguish between five kinds of particles: 1) pronouns, 2) postpositions, 3) quantifiers, 4) conjunctions, and 5) modal particles.


There are three kinds of pronouns in Tepa: 1) personal pronouns, 2) demonstrative pronouns, and 3) interrogative/indefinite pronouns.

Personal Pronouns

The personal pronouns of Tepa constitute a remarkably lean system. There are only two persons, first and second, and no distinction in number.

=ma ‘1’

=ku ‘2’

The personal pronouns are used primarily as oblique objects of ditransitive predicates. When third person referents need to be mentioned, a demonstrative pronoun is pressed into service.

There is a construction which corresponds in meaning roughly to the colloquial English use of the reflexive as an emphatic pronoun. In Tepa, this is done by affixing one of the argument prefixes to the demonstrative pronoun . For example, wa-nɨ means approximately ‘I (am) that (one).’

Demonstrative Pronouns

There are three demonstrative pronouns in Tepa distinguishing between two degrees of proximity:

=ni ‘this’

=nu ‘that’

=nɨ generic

The pronoun =ni is used for referents near the speaker, while =nu is used for referents which are not near the speaker. The pronoun =nɨ is used when the proximity of the referent is not known, or is not relevant. The demonstrative pronouns are also used anaphorically; that is, to track third person referents in a discourse.

Interrogative and Indefinite Pronouns

The set of interrogative and indefinite pronouns is also rather small. Unlike English, one set of pronouns does both jobs in Tepa; their particular interpretation depends on the presence of the interrogative modal particle su. When it is present, the pronoun is understood as an interrogative pronoun, otherwise as an indefinite pronoun. The pronouns are:

=ttɨ who, what; someone, something

=tti where, somewhere

=tta when, sometime

=ttu why

These particles contain a geminate [tt]; when they are attached to a word (noun or verb) ending in a nasal, the nasal is “overwritten” by the first half of the geminate and does not surface. When these particles are attached to a word which is bound in phase or to a monosyllabic form, the result is a ...CVVC.CV sequence; this is one of only two violations of the constraint against “superheavy” syllables in the language.

Some examples of their use follow. Note also that the position of the pronoun differs with its grammatical function; as a subject, it is attached to the last word in the sentence, and as a direct object it is attached to the right edge of the verb.


su= 0- lɨsi pɨn =ttɨ
 ?= 3>3’- fear child =who

‘Who fears the child?’


su= 0- lɨsi =ttɨ pɨn
 ?= 3>3’- fear =who child

‘Who does the child fear?’


0- naki yɨɨ =ttɨ
3>3’- eat egg =someone

‘Someone ate the egg.’


su= 0- naki yɨɨ =ttɨ
 ?= 3>3’- eat egg =who

‘Did someone eat the egg?’ or ‘Who ate the egg?’

This last sentence has two interpretations. The first is simply a yes/no question; while the second is a wh-question, querying a particular grammatical function (in this case, the subject). They are distinguished in Tepa by means of pitch contour; the yes/no question has on the last word a falling tone contour (a sequence of a high tone followed by a low tone) followed by a high tone on the final syllable:


The wh-question has falling tone contour without the subsequent high tone on the last syllable:


Very often the final vowel of the wh-question is voiceless, as is the final vowel of the indefinite pronoun.


Postpositions are attached to the end of nouns. They serve generally to locate objects in space or time, but some have acquired more metaphorical or opaque usages. Some of the most common postpositions are:

=pu in

=ta at

=ma with

=ka on

=ŋu to

=lɨ from, of

=ŋɨa along

=umɨ around

=ptɨ up

There are also two locative particles which function much like English “here” and “there”. They are:

yi here

yu there

Postpositions can be attached to these locatives to show movement or more precise location:

[yurɨ] [yiŋu]
yu =lɨ yi =ŋu
there =from here =to
‘from there’ ‘to here’


To express the kinds of quantification expressed in words like “all”, “a few”, “many”, “some” and “every”, Tepa makes use of its more articulated number system in conjunction with distinctions of phase. Thus, “all” is expressed by a noun phrase which is collective in number and bound in phase:




‘all birds’

“a few” is expressed by a noun phrase which is paucal in number and unbound in phase:




‘a few birds’

“many” and “some” are expressed by a noun phrase which is distributive in number and unbound in phase. In addition, an overt quantifying particle is attached to the noun; for “many” the particle is =ntɨ, and for “some” the particle is =nka:


tiwitwi =ntɨ
bird:DIST =many

‘many birds’


tiwitwi =nka
bird:DIST =some

‘some birds’

Finally, to express “every”, a noun phrase which is distributive in number and bound in phase is used:




‘every bird’

Note the subtle difference between “all N” and “every N”. For “all”, some predicate is applied to a set of individuals, while for “every” a predicate is applied to individuals as defined as members of a set. In common usage in Tepa these appear to be interchangeable, but they are scrupulously distinguished in formal contexts.


A distinction is made in Tepa between coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions.

Coordinating Conjunctions

The coordinating conjunctions are different from the particles discussed elsewhere in this section. The difference is that of all the particles, only the coordinating conjunctions are non-syllabic. The two coordinating conjunctions in Tepa are:

=n ‘and’ =l ‘or’

They are attached to every item in a list except the last as a suffix (this is the other potential source of superheavy syllables in Tepa):


tikwi =l suku =l ankanki
bird:COLL =or dog:COLL =or fish:COLL

‘birds, dogs or fish’


tɨa =n hipitɨ
sun =and moon

‘the sun and the moon’

(Note that the words for ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ appear to be unbound in phase but are translated with the definite article.)

In addition to the conjunctions =n and =l, there is a proclitic conjunction hu= which appears clause-initially; its function is to link clauses together, and is discussed in the chapter on syntax under Coordination.

Subordinating Conjunctions

When a predicate is used to modify a noun as an adjective rather than stand alone as the sole sentential predicate, a subordinating conjunction ɨ= is used:


ɨ= 0- hati tikna
SS= 3- sharp tooth:COLL

‘sharp teeth’

[ɨhažinɨžiɣinaa suu]

ɨ= hati nɨ- tikinaa suu
SS= sharp 3- tooth:COLL:B dog

‘the dog’s sharp teeth’


tina -pa ɨ= hati suu
tooth -HAVE SS= sharp dog

‘The dog has sharp teeth.’

The subordinating conjunctions are dealt with more fully in the chapter on syntax under Subordination.

Modal Particles

There are five modal particles; they are listed below (indicative mode is not marked overtly):

ha= imperative

su= interrogative

pɨ= irrealis

mu= negative

ti= optative

The imperative particle identifies a direct command. An imperative sentence need not always be directed at a second person; it can have jussive force when a first person agent is expressed.


ha= ku- tɨka yi =ŋu
 != 2- move here =to

‘Come here!’


ha= wa- tɨtka yu =ŋu
 != 1- move:PAUC there =to

‘Let’s go!’

The interrogative particle identifies the clause as a question, whether a yes/no question or a wh-question.


su= wa- tɨtka yu =ŋu
 ?= 1- move:PAUC there =to

‘Are we going?’

The irrealis particle identifies a clause which the speaker knows or presumes to be untrue; it most often translates as an “if” clause.


pɨ= wa- tawitu -pa
IR= 1- horn -HAVE

‘If I had a horn...’

The negative particle identifies a negative clause. This particle can also negate other parts of speech.


mu= wa- tawitu -pa
NEG= 1- horn -HAVE

‘I don’t have a horn.’

The optative particle identifies a wish on the part of the speaker.


ti= wa- tawitu -pa
OPT= 1- horn -HAVE

‘If only I had a horn!’


  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