Tepa verbs

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Just as with nouns, verbs in Tepa are marked for phase. For verbs, the semantic correlate of bound phase is perfective aspect, while the semantic correlate of unbound phase is imperfective aspect. This distinction is marked in the same way on verbs as it is on nouns; that is, a final heavy syllable marks bound phase, while a final light syllable marks unbound phase.

Argument Structure

Verbs in Tepa contain very specific information concerning the arguments involved in a particular event or state of affairs, even though agreement morphology does not operate in the familiar sense. Predicates are grouped into three types depending on the number of obligatory arguments: 1) intransitive and stative predicates, which require at most one argument; 2) transitive predicates, which require two arguments; and 3) ditransitive predicates, which require three arguments. In the sections which follow, I will discuss each predicate type in turn.

Intransitive and Stative Predicates

Intransitive and stative predicates require at most one argument. This argument is marked on the verb by a prefix which varies with the grammatical person of the argument. These prefixes are:

wa- ‘first person’

ku- ‘second person’

0- ‘third person’

Transitive Predicates

Transitive predicates can be described in terms of four relations between arguments and three operators which act on these relations. The four relations involved are:

second person acting on first person (2>1)

second person acting on third person (2>3)

first person acting on third person (1>3)

third person acting on different third person (3>3')

Each relation has a particular prefix associated with it; these prefixes are homophonous with (and have the same origin as) the intransitive and stative prefixes (with the exception of le- 2>1, which isn’t available with an intransitive or stative predicate), but their semantic content is different because of the nature of the predicate to which they attach:

lɨ- 2>1

ku- 2>3

wa- 1>3

0- 3>3'

Conflating these relations gives the person hierarchy:


The three operators which act on these relations are: 1) direct, where relations proceed in the order specified in the person hierarchy; 2) inverse, where the person hierarchy is reversed (i.e. 3’>3>1>2); and 3) reflexive, where the second term of the direct relation is replaced by a second occurrence of the first term. These operators are each associated with a particular verbal grade, and will be discussed in the section on verbal grades.

Ditransitive Predicates

It is easiest to think of the arguments of ditransitive predicates in terms of an “argument chain.” The head of the chain is the argument instigating the action (the agent) and the tail of the chain is the affected argument (the patient or theme). The third argument is an intermediate member of the chain and indicates location, goal, benefactive, or instrument. The prefixes are the same as those for transitive predicates, and only encode the relation between agent and patient; the intermediate argument does not enter into this grammatical relationship, but is expressed as an object following the verb, or as a pronominal clitic attached to the right edge of the inflected verb.

Verbal Grades

There are three verbal grades in Tepa; they correspond to the operators discussed above. They are: 1) normal grade, 2) l-grade, and 3) geminate grade. The formation of the l-grade and the geminate grade is defined on a base derived from the verbal root. This base is optimally disyllabic; for disyllabic roots, the root itself is taken to be the base. For roots of more than two syllables, the final two syllables are taken as the base. There are verb roots in which the final syllable has no onset. In these roots, the first syllable invariably contains a high vowel; the non-syllabic version of this high vowel provides the onset for the final syllable in forming the base.

root base
tɨpa ‘speak’ tɨpa
lua ‘lie’ luwa
kɨa ‘flow’ kɨja

As with nouns, monosyllabic roots are an important class of exceptions to base formation. For roots consisting only of a single light syllable, this syllable is reduplicated to form the base:

root base
ti ‘be small’ titi

For heavy monosyllables, a copy of the vowel is repeated after the coda; this forces the coda to become an onset for a second syllable. This is illustrated below:

root base
pai ‘dig’ pa.ya
nɨn ‘live’ nɨ.nɨ

Normal Grade

The normal grade of the verb indicates that the argument relations required by the verb proceed in the order of the argument hierarchy; that is, 2>1>3>3’. Thus, translating the following sentences would involve a verb in the normal grade:

‘You tickled me.’ (2>1)

‘You were kissing him.’ (2>3)

‘I saw my brother.’ (1>3)

‘The cat ate the mouse.’ (3>3’)

The normal grade of a verb which is unbound in phase is equivalent to the root. Since some of these roots cosist only of a single light syllable, the vowel will be lengthened to conform with the minimal word requirement:

root normal grade (unbound)
tɨpa tɨpa ‘speak’
talɨka talɨka ‘hunt’
lua lua ‘lie’
pai pai ‘dig’
nɨn nɨn ‘live’
ti tii ‘be small’

The bound phase forms are derived from the base by lengthening the final vowel of the base. This is illustrated below.

root base normal grade (bound)
tɨpa tɨ.pa tɨpaa ‘speak’
talɨka lɨ.ka talɨkaa ‘hunt’
lua lu.wa luwaa ‘lie’
pai pa.ya payaa ‘dig’
nɨn nɨ.nɨ nɨnɨɨ ‘live’
ti ti.ti titii ‘be small’


The l-grade can also be called the inverse grade. A verb in the l-grade indicates that its arguments are in the reverse order of the argument heirarchy; that is, 3’>3>1>2. Some sentences which would be translated by an l-grade verb in Tepa are:

‘I tickled you.’ (1>2)

‘He was kissing you.’ (3>2)

‘My brother saw me.’ (3>1)

‘The mouse was eaten by the cat.’ (3>3’)

There is some pragmatic force in the use of the l-grade for third person arguments, which I have indicated by using a passive sentence. It should be stressed, however, that the l-grade is not a passive, and that Tepa does not have a passive.

The formation of the l-grade is analogous to the formation of collective plurals for nouns. For unbound phase, an /l/ is inserted before the final syllable of the base. For bound phase, a sequence of /l/ and a copy of the rhyme of the base-initial syllable is inserted before the final syllable of the base; the final vowel is lengthened.

unbound bound
/tɨpa/ tɨlpa [tɨlba] tɨlɨpaa [tɨrɨβaa] ‘speak’
/talɨka/ talɨlka [tarɨlga] talɨlɨkaa [tarɨrɨɣaa] ‘hunt’

Geminate Grade

The geminate grade signifies that the arguments of a transitive verb are not distinct from each other. This need not always indicate a reflexive, although the reflexive is the most common interpretation of a verb in the geminate grade.

The formal characteristic of the geminate grade is the geminate consonant which occurs medially in the base. After gemination, the bound phase is formed by lengthening the final vowel:

unbound bound
/tɨpa/ tɨppa [tɨppa] tɨppaa [tɨppaa] ‘speak’
/talɨka/ talɨkka [tarɨkka] talɨkkaa [tarɨkkaa] ‘hunt’

Verbal Number

Verbs with argument prefixes as the only indication of argument structure are also inflected for number in a manner analogous to number marking of nouns. Ambiguity arises in these cases since there is no indication of the number of subject or object.


0- puplu
3>3' pick:PAUC

‘They picked it.’ or ‘He picked some.’


0- puluplu
3>3' pick:DIST

‘They picked it.’ or ‘He picked a lot.’

When overt noun phrases accompany a verb as arguments, the verb is not marked for number.

pulu huhma nɨmaa

3>3' pick fruit:PAUC man:B

‘The man picked some fruit.’

pulu humahma nɨmaa

0- pulu humahma nɨmaa
3>3' pick fruit:DIST man:B

‘The man picked a lot of 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