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Description

Nganasan

Nganasan is spoken by up to 2.000 people. The speakers live in the Taymyr Autonomous Okrug in the Russian Federation, more precisely around the city of Dudinka and along the Khatang river. Until the second half of the 20th century the Nganasan people lived their traditional nomadic life. Nowadays they are concentrated mainly in three villages in Taimyr Peninsula.

Naganasan is also known under the names of Tawgi and Tawgi-Samoyed. The selfdesignation of the people nganasa(n) means 'man'.

Nganasan belongs to the northern subbranch of the Samoyedic languages. Samoyedic forms a top level constituent of the Uralic language family.

Nganasan is split up into two very close dialects: Avam and Vadey. Avam covers about 75 percent of the Nganasan speaking community. Another name for the Vadey dialect is Khatang.

Nganasan is a very conservative language in diachronic terms. It preserves more Proto-Samoyedic patterns than other Samoyedic languages.

Nganasan differs from all other Samoyedic in two important points: in the formation of the present tense and in the marking of the locative case.

The Nganasan language is mainly used inside the family. Russian is used for official purposes. Since the 1990s Nganasan is taught in primary schools. A written form of Nganasan exists but is known by a few specially trained people.

Nganasan has vowel harmony. Vowel harmony means that vowels within one word must be of the same type. Nganasan vowel harmony diachronically derives from a [+/-back] division. But in modern Nganasan this division has been clouded by secondary processes.

Proto-Samoyedic *p becomes /x/ in Nganasan.

Nganasan features consonant gradation in both stems and suffixes. Consonant gradation is analysed as lenition of intervocalic consonants in morphological paradigms.

Nganasan is an agglutinative language, i.e. it uses grammatical affixes, which do not merge with each other or with the stem and which mostly bear only one grammatical meaning.

Nganasan morphology is prevalently suffixing.

Nganasan nouns and verbs use stem alternation to distinguish various grammatical categories. Basically there are three stems: Stem one is occurs in the nominative singular of nouns and converbs. Stem two indicates genitive singular and nominative plural and the connegative form of verbs. Stem three appears in the genitive plural of nouns and in the present stem of perfective verbs.

Nganasan nouns and verbs are inflected in three numbers: singular, dual and plural.

Nganasan nouns have seven cases: nominative, genitive, accusative, lative, locative, elative and prolative.

The verb has three conjugation types: subjective conjugation, objective conjugation and objectless (reflexive) conjugation. The objective type has three subtypes: 1) objective with singular object, 2) objective with dual object, 3) objective with plural object.

There is a distinction between perfective and imperfective verbs.

The verb exhibits numerous moods: indicative, imperative, interrogative (used in interrogative and relative sentences), inferential (relates to events not personally experienced by the speaker) , renarrative (reported speech), irrealis (referring to imaginary results of unfulfilled conditions), optative (referring to desirable, but hyopthetical events), admissive-cohortive (various functions), debitive (signals the speakers estimation of the necessity of a future action to be carried out), abessive (not-yet-accomplished action) and prohibitive (warning against an action).

Negation is expressed by a negative auxiliary verb.

There are various non-finite verbal forms. The connegative form is used with the negative verb.

Nganasan exclusively uses postpositions.

Attributes normally precede their head nouns. Adjectives agree with their head nouns in case and number. Numerals agree with the head noun in case. Possessive relation is expressed by genitive constructions or by adding a possessive suffix to the head noun. The unmarked word order in simple transitive sentences is SOV. The case of the subject of intransitive and transitive finite verbs is the nominative. The genitive marks subjects of non-finite constructions and the lative case marks the agent of passive verbs. The direct object of active verbs is marked by the accusative case, whereas the patient of a passive verb is marked by the nominative.

The most familiar way of clause subordination is by infinite verb constructions, but also finite sentences with conjunctions are possible.


Bernhard Scheucher

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