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Denominative-affirmative words

This part of the speech could be referred to as action nominals. E. A. Krejnovich called them attributive nominals, whereas V. Z. Panfilov thought of them as the Nivkh infinitive (indefinite verb form).

This category of words is derived from non-nominal stems, i.e. from stems that denote an action, process, state, quality or quantity, combined with the marker  -nt ~ -d ~ - d
ʲ ~ - tʲ ~ -t. The marker is complex and consists of two components: -n performs an attributive function, whereas -t ~ -d ~ - dʲ ~ - tʲ ~ -t serves as an object marker, or, in other words, indicates that the content of the stem is performed by sb/sth or characteristic of sb/sth. for example, take the word přynt, which may mean "arrive, to arrive, will arrive" or "someone who is arriving, the one arriving". If a specific object, such as niɣvŋ "man, human being, person" is indicated, it will replace the marker in the frontal position to form přyniɣvŋ "the man who has arrived" or "the man who is arriving". However, if we switch the components of this compound word, we will get niɣvŋbřynt "the man's arrival". The sentence ni itynt means "I (have) said", but the compound word ni-itynt means "my story". The word inʲdʲ may be either a noun that means "food, sustenance" (as in inʲdʲ uixidʲ  - there is no food) or a verb that means "to eat" (as in ni inʲdʲ - I ate).

The name of the action occupies an intermediate position between the noun and the verb and is characterized by both nominal and verbal grammatical categories. One could say that it is, in effect, a verbal nominal or a nominal verb (nomenverbum). It may occupy any syntactic position and have any meaning typical for nouns, deverbal nominals and verbs. Since word order in the Nivkh language is fixed and has a grammatical significance, the exact meaning of an action nominal is determined depending on its syntactic


tyŋаnkat křyuzval pal-täkr vakryŋy: huzux, pʰytʲxtox umt, wiŋy: ekto windaɣr pʰytʲx- nřy-nauf-pʰira, tukto přndaɣr pʰytʲx-nřy-nauf-pʰira a long, long time ago three mountains named Kryuspal stood side by side and departed from there, having become angry at their husband, the one that went (over) there (ekto wind-аɣr) settled within viewing range of her husband, the one that came (over) here (tukto přnd-аɣr) settled within viewing range of her husband

vajrpʰidʲ mаɣоfidʲrох jotŋаn, mаɣоfidʲ-ittʲ when the man living in Vaida asked the man living in Mago, the man living in Mago spoke

Complement (direct object):

čʰоаn,vara kont-hajmra, munt-hajmra a fish also knows pain, knows death just the same (as humans)

Complement (direct object) in the causal-accusative case:

irn-mu, hat itnt pilant...hy-pilandaх ɣauɣаuŋta people say their boat is large…(they) force (one) to swallow that large one

Noun that takes an attribute:

ni zirkun-přynt-xaxar, napy přŋgavrnt I am so anticipating the coming of the irkun, still (it) will not come

nivxgu tʰulf-xedʲɣu tʰolf-xedʲɣudoх rykzdʲ the people exchanged winter garments for summer garments


vytyxxu pʰola-mujnydʲ-хеs-hext her fathers heard the news of their daughter’s illness

tʲevrk pyjdʲ-zyu myra (he) heard the sound of a small bird’s flight

As an infinitive:

jaŋ taftox juɣid аɣud, if tyftох tyvɣnydʲ yɣidʲ  he does not want to enter the dwelling

If a denominative-affirmative word (action nominal) is the predicate of a sentence, it takes on the role of a verb.

It should be noted that the roots of qualitative verbs in the designative role can be transformed into nouns with the help of the suffix -la, for example, pandurd
ʲ  "to be beautiful/handsome" and pandurladʲ  "handsome man, beautiful woman". In cases like this one, pandurladʲ  can be regarded as the name of a property rather than the name of an action. For the sake of clarity, let us say that pandurdʲ  is a qualitative verb, while pandurladʲ  is a qualitative noun.

Words used for spatial orientation

As far as their function is concerned, these words are close to adverbial modifiers of place (complement in a sentence) in other languages, but are not identical to them, as they may be used to describe spatial relationships in every possible respect and are found in the basic, locative-ablative, locative-ablative indeterminate, local and orientative case Therefore in the Nivkh language they should be classified as nominals rather than adverbial modifiers. In addition, one should remember that these words can act as incorporated direct objects and attributes or have attributes of their own.

The rich spatial vocabulary is a relic that can be traced as far back as the Stone Age. In this regard, one must note that Nivkh draws exceptionally subtle distinctions between different geographical objects. There is hardly a single geographic object, even as microscopic as a forest clearing full of wild orchids with edible roots or a nettle thicket that has no name of its own. At the same time, the language widely uses specialized words to denote the position of a place depending on the spatial direction in which it is located. These directions do not coincide with our concepts of "north", "south", "east" or "west".

While spatial orientation in Nivkh may seem simple at first sight, the actual vocabulary used to convey it is very complex and the system itself is surprisingly accurate and detailed. The Nivkh have historically subsisted on fishing, hunting sea and forest animals and foraging for edible herbs, roots and berries, so the only directions that had a practical significance in their lives were "up/down the river", "from the shore into the open sea and vice versa" and "from the shore further into the boreal forest and vice versa".These directions constitute the basic lexical meaning of the roots used to form the words that describe spatial orientation.

Here are these roots and their meanings:

kʰе upstream if on the bank of the river, coincides with our concept of "north" on the seashore, in the village indicates the edge further upstream or northwards;

а downstream if on the bank of the river, coincides with our concept of "south" on the seashore, in the village indicates the edge further downstream or southwards;

he indicates the direction from the open sea toward the shore or from the coastline further inland;

kо indicates the direction from an inland region toward the coastline or from the summit of a mountain down;

kʰи upward (into the air, toward the top of a mountain or tree, toward the roof);

tʰа direction from the coast to the opposite bank of the river or into the sea toward the horizon into the sea;

tu means a location in the immediate vicinity or a river bank where the speaker is situated;

hu is used almost with the same meaning as the above, but the location is a little further and somewhat less definite;

а the meaning is close to that of the above, but the location is even more remote;

аē indicates the greatest possible distance.

The direction of the movement is described using the following verbs:

tudʲ to move up the river (upstream)

kadʲ to move down the river (downstream)

maɣdʲ to move from the open sea toward the shore, or from the shore further inland

myɣdʲ to move from the top of the mountain down toward the foot, or from the depths of the land toward the shore

kodʲ to move from the shore into the open sea

myrdʲ to move upward, to ascend, to climb a mountain

ezrodʲ to climb a tree

vidʲ movement in general (does not indicate any particular direction)

Intriguingly, the Nivkh use the same spatial terms outdoors (in a natural setting) and indoors (inside their dwellings). In this case, the structure of the home mimics the external world, serves as its miniature copy.

Furthermore, one of the most common verbs, humdʲ ~ hunvd ″to be, to exist, to be located/situated, to dwell, to live, to reside, to inhabit” is derived from a nominal spatial root combined with the demonstrative pronoun hu, означающее ″somewhere, anywhere, here/there“, while the component m ~ v is a derivational suffix that means ″to be, to be located/situated, to dwell, to live, to reside, to inhabit”. The root morpheme tu is also the root of the corresponding demonstrative pronoun.

The roots tu and hu are used to denote four distinct degrees in the spatial positioning of a given object: tud ~ tydʲ this (one) (etremely close, can be touched or held in one’s hands); hud ~ hydʲ that (one) (somewhat further away, cannot be touched with the hands, has to be shown by means of a gesture), adʲ that (one) (еще even further away), āedʲ that (one) (the furthest, would be indicated by pointing with one’s hand into the distance). From these, in turn, one can derive different forms of demonstrative pronouns used to point at an object that the other person was for some reason unable to detect: řaniŋа? ″where is it/this?″, tynni ″this here″, hyni ″that there″, ahynni ″that there (remote)”,  āehynni ″that over there (the most remote)”. In these derived forms the suffix -ni both serves for emphasis (highlighting) and has a demonstrative meaning.

Verbs that answer the question of řadʲidʲ ″where to put/place?″ are used to indicate the position of an object in a particular direction, provided the object is not particularly remote: kʰеdʲidʲ ″to put/place nearby, up the river″, hеdʲidʲ  ″ to put/place nearby on the shore or somewhat further into the interior of the shore (one could say this might done in the water from a boat or while standing on the shore by the very edge of the water″, kodʲidʲ ″to put/place nearby on the slope of a hill or on the shore”, tudʲidʲ ″to put/place at one’s side/beside oneself″, hudʲidʲ ″to put/place there, nearby″.

The verbs derived from xemi, jami are used to describe the orientation of an object’s front part: xemidʲ ″to be facing up the river (upstream)”, jamidʲ ″to be facing up the river (upstream)”, jemidʲ ″to have the end pointing from the shore further inland”, himidʲ ″to be facing upwards″, řamidʲ  to be facing from the shore toward the open sea”.

The fricative-containing forms of these roots, when combined with the suffixes ti ~ tʲ, are used to form verbs that describe the movements of an object in a particular direction due to human activity: xitʲidʲ ″to raise, lift, to stretch out, to hand sth. over further up, to hoist″, ɣotʲ tʲ ″to lower, to hand sth. over further down, to push a boat from the shore into the water″, jetʲ tʲ ″to pull a boat or fishing trawl out of the water onto the shore, to take a pot or kettle off the fire, to take boiled fish out of a pot”, xetʲ tʲto carry, drag an object from the door to the back wall of the dwelling″, řatʲ tʲ  throw ring-seal heads into the sea so they can be reborn in the future as new animals".

The following examples serve to further illustrate the extra-specific nature of the Nivkhs’ understanding of three-dimensional space and spatial relationships. If an object lies behind the house, depending on the speaker's location, one can say tyfhekr-kʰиdʲ "lies/is/is located/is situated behind the dwelling in the direction of the forest″ (if the speaker is on the sea-shore), tʲyfkokr-kʰиdʲ "lies/is/is located/is situated behind the dwelling in the direction of the shore″ (if the speaker is closer to the forest or mountain), tyfkʰеkr-kʰиdʲ ″lies/is/is located/is situated behind the dwelling upstream (up the river)″, tyvakr-kʰиdʲ ″lies/is/is located/is situated behind the dwelling downstream (down the river)″. If the object is on the same side of a cape as the speaker, one can say kʰřytukr-kʰиdʲ (cape+a location closer than+to lie), or, if the object is on the side of the cape opposite to the speaker, kʰřyhukr-kʰиdʲ (cape+a location further than+to lie).

Note that the roots of the spatial nominals tu and hu double as the roots of demonstrative pronouns.


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