Tepa syntax

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In this chapter I will discuss three aspects of the syntax of Tepa. The first is the placement of the clitics discussed in Tepa particles, the second is the disposition of phrasal elements (extended words) within the sentence, and the third is the coordination or subordination of clauses in complex sentences.

Clitic Placement

Clitics in Tepa can appear in one of three positions: 1) at the end of nouns, 2) at the end of verbs, and 3) at the beginning of the first word of a clause. Clitics which appear at the end of verbs belong to the set of pronouns, and indicate an oblique argument of the verb.


wa- talta =nɨ
1>3- give:L =3

‘She gave it to me.’


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

‘Someone ate the egg.’

There are several types of clitics which attach to the right edges of nouns. These are quantifiers, postpositions, and pronouns. If all three are present, they attach in the order [NOUN] =DET/Q =POST =PRON.


tiwitwi =ntɨ =ma
birds:DIST =some =with

‘with some birds’


0- nakii yɨyyɨ =nka =ttɨ
3>3’- eat:B eggs:DIST =many =someone

‘Someone ate a lot of eggs.’


0- lɨa hai =ka =ttɨ
3- sit grass =on =someone

‘Someone is sitting on the grass.’

Conjunctions and modal particles appear in clause-initial position, regardless of the category of the first word in the clause. Thus it is possible for a noun to have modal clitics attached to it, when that noun is fronted for focus effects (see the section <Simple Sentences>). If both conjunctions and modal particles are present, they appear in the order CONJ= MOD= [WORD].


wa- sullɨ a= pɨ= wa- nakii yɨyɨɨ tɨɨli
3>1- ask:L DS= IRR= 1>3- eat:B eggs:DIST Teeli

‘Teeli asked me if I had eaten the eggs.’

The word together with the clitics which are attached to it form the “extended word”, which is the domain for stress placement and lenition processes.

Simple Sentences

Basic Word Order

The only obligatory element in a Tepa sentence is the verb and its associated clitic-chain. When other sentence elements are present, they appear in the order V-O-IO/PP-S.


ha= ku- naki =ttɨ
 != 2>3- eat:B =something

‘Eat something!’


0- naki hukma tikwi =nka
3>3- eat fruit:COLL bird:COLL =some

‘Some (kinds of) birds eat fruit.’


mu= lɨa hai =pu nɨmaa
NEG= sit grass =in man:B

‘The man is not sitting in the grass.’

For focus effects, sentence elements (usually noun phrases) can be placed before the verb. When this is done, the clitics which normally attach to the verb attach instead to the sentence initial element.


su= tikwi 0- talɨka nɨmaa =nu
 ?= bird:COLL 3>3- hunt man:B =that

‘Is that man hunting BIRDS?’


ha= hai =pu ku- lɨa
 != grass =in 2- sit

‘(Go) sit IN THE GRASS!’


0- pitɨɨ nɨŋaa tɨɨli a= humahma =nka 0- pulu
3>3’- see:B woman:B Teeli DS= fruit:DIST =some 3>3’- pick

‘Teeli saw the woman as she was picking SOME FRUIT.’

Equational and Existential Sentences

Equational sentences are sentences in which a noun phrase or postpositional phrase is taken to be a predicate. This syntactically derived predicate is always clause-initial, and takes normal inflections:

[paɣuuβu tšiwii]

pakuu =pu tiwii
tree:B =in bird

‘The bird is in the tree.’


su= ku- pakuu =pu
 ?= 2- tree:B =in

‘Are you in the tree?’

Existential sentences are very similar in form to equational sentences. The difference between the two sentence types is the order of the constituents; the postpositional phrase is never sentence initial in an existential sentence.


tiwi pakuu =pu
bird tree:B =in

‘There is a bird in the tree.’

Complex Sentences


The particle hu= serves to link sentences together, just as English “and”. The resulting paratactic constructions are quite common in Tepa. Noun phrases are often omitted in all but the first clause when their referents are unambiguous; the result is a string of inflected verbs connected by hu=.


The subordinating conjunctions serve to join embedded clauses to main clauses. In Tepa, subordinate clauses are not divided formally into types such as relative clause, complement clause, sentential subject clause, etc. Only two kinds of embedded clauses are distinguished in the grammar: 1) an embedded clause whose subject is the same as the subject of the main clause (or the head of the relative clause) in which it is embedded; and 2) an embedded clause whose subject is different from the subject of the main clause (or the head of the relative clause) in which it is embedded. This information is contained in the subordinating conjunctions. They are:

ɨ= same subject

a= different subject

Some examples of their use follow:


0- pitɨɨ nɨŋaa tɨɨli a= 0- pulu humahma =nka
3>3’- see:B woman:B Teeli DS= 3>3’- pick fruit:DIST =some

‘Teeli saw the woman as she (the woman) was picking some fruit.’


0- pitɨɨ nɨŋaa tɨɨli ɨ= wa- pulu humahma =nka
3>3’- see:B woman:B Teeli SS= 3>3’- pick fruit:DIST =some

‘Teeli saw the woman as she (Teeli) was picking some fruit.’


0- pitɨɨ ɨ= 0- pulu humahma =nka nɨŋaa tɨɨli
3>3’- see:B SS= 3>3’- pick fruit:DIST =some woman:B Teeli

‘Teeli saw the woman (who was) picking some fruit.’


  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