Figurative words are in a category of their own and may be seen as a separate part of speech. They are used to describe a certain scene, feeling or sensation, experienced as a vivid sensual image. In the Nivkh language, there is a lot of such lexical units, which could be said to reflect the concept that lies at the core of a real-life object or phenomenon. They differ from onomatopoeic words and interfections. Their involvement in word formation is unilateral; verbs can be derived from figurative words, but not vice versa.
Figurative words are uninflected and take no formal markers. On their own or combined with and in auxiliary verbs perform the syntactic function of the predicate or complement and are invariably affirmative in nature.
hydʲɣu viɣаr čʰup those (ones) disappeared as soon as they left (čʰup means that sth or sb is not here, absent, missing, lacking, or has gone, vanished, disappeared, been lost)
viba čʰuphadʲ (he) disappeared as soon as he left (the auxiliary verb hadʲ means that sth or sb is as indicated by the first part of the word)
tol-yz qʰvahar mаɣdʲ the master of the sea came ashore with a great noise (when the word qʰva-qʰva stands alone, it means the rumbling of a waterfall and fast-flowing water)
These signals or messages are associated mostly with auditory, visual, tactile images.
1. Auditory sensations:
kear the creaking of oarlocks, opening doors, snow underfoot etc.;
keng-geng a mosquito squeaking;
keng gegge a sonorous female voice;
кeɣr кeɣr a door creaking;
keχ keχ an animal squealing;
kid’re kud’re an imitation of a snake's hiss;
ksaχ the sound made by a taut bow string when it tears or when an arrow is shot;
kyng kyng the sound of a taut vibrating rope;
kʰalaŋ kʰalaŋ the rattling of buckets;
kʰaf kʰaf knocking on a wooden object;
kʰof kʰof knocking snow out of one's footwear, etc;
ken-gen someone has aid something in a high-pitched female voice;
čʰalaŋ-čʰalaŋ the metal ornaments on a woman's dress are clanging or tinkling against each other;
čʰех the impact of one metal object against another metal object or of two pieces of flint when producing fire;
hаhа a person blowing at something with all his might;
hevohevo heavy breathing while walking;
kaurkaur the snow creaking in severe freezing temperatures;
kedʲrekedre the fabric of one's clothes is ripped;
pʰo- pʰo the sound made by a dolphin when releasing the fountain of water and air from its nostrils;
xurrxurr the rumbling, humming or whirring sounds of a fire.
2. Visual sensations:
kalahadʲ to glare with a malicious, spiteful look in the eyes;
qalihiɣidʲ to give an angry glare and turn one’s head around (to the side);
qalydʲ to stare with the eyes wide open;
qolo to cast suspicious sidelong glances at everyone around oneself;
qolohadʲ to look aslant in the same direction without turning one’s head (Nivkh women usually watch their brothers or strange men who found themselves in their dwelling this way);
qoloqolohadʲ to look by having one’s eyes dart to one side and then to the other without turning one’s head;
tomuhad to glance and then turn one’s head in the opposite direction;
- min-přy-xaror tomuhxad she glanced at us and turned away
tomromad to glance and turn one’s head in the opposite direction because the sight is unpleasant;
- qaly χar indyfke tomromad she looked at him wide-eyed, saw what he was like and turned away
q"alyd o open one’s eyes wide;
- mloŋ vuxar tʰyrd looks through closed eyelids;
mloŋvud to close one's eyes;
kmy to be teeming, swarming around, scurrying or swimming back and forth (about scores of insects, fish, etc.);
k'оdrr to race on a sled or on skis down the slope of a hill or on skates across an expanse of ice;
qolo to squint, look cross-eyed, cast sidelong glances;
lip lip to repeatedly open and close one’s eyes;
lou lou to squeeze through a crowd while pushing others aside with one’s elbows, etc.;
matχ matχ to be shaggy;
me repeatedly to peek out of somewhere or from behind an obstacle, taking turns to hide and re-appear;
ŋya ŋya to open and close one’s eyes repeatedly while dozing off in attempt to shake off the drowsiness;
poj voj to swirl, billow (about smoke or the cloud of snow trailing behind a racing skier);
pʰаrа pʰаrа to flap or flutter in the wind (about fabric, clothes, etc.);
pʰir pʰir to whirl, twirl, spin;
pʰlavlav to shine or sparkle with multiple iridescent colors;
pʰlavlav pʰlavlav to gleam, glisten, glimmer;
posqo to have bristling hair or fur;
pʰuŋ pʰuŋ (of foam) to rise in the shape of a cap (about boiling milk);
t'yk zyk to make chaotic circular movements with one’s legs (about an infant lying in a cradle);
t'аŋga t'аŋga to sway or quiver with one end attached to a stationary surface and the other end sticking out.
3. Mixed visual and auditory images that reflecting the movement of an object and the accompanying noise.
hun to rush or fling oneself at sb. while screaming and crying;
hurr to move in a group or crowd, shouting, talking loudly and making other noise;
qоŋisqʰwаj to move in a boat with the traveller rowing, the water rising behind the stern in a breaker and murmuring overboard, and the oarlocks creaking;
psar psar to emit multiple bursts of sparks;
pʰ laχ to jump out of the water and fall back in with a splash (of fish).
4. Tactile sensations:
homq homq to be soft and unpleasant to the touch;
qʰма qʰма the sensation caused by an insect crawling or scurrying over a naked body.
5. Mixed visual and tactile images of objects:
laq laqa to be smooth and shiny or glossy;
pulu pulu the visual image and sensation of the filth on a dirty body rolling into tiny balls.
6. Intellectual (mental) states:
qo qo qo qo to be in a semi-conscious state, drifting in and out of consciousness;
qorχ qorχ to be stupid or stupefied;
kuku to be meaningless, senseless, useless, futile.
Figurative words exhibit no inflection and may not include any morphemes other than the root. Most figurative words are reduplicated in spoken Nivkh.
Nivkh has special words for the noises made by fish, the usage of which depends on whether the speaker sees or hears the fish splash. The following words are used for visible splashes: psar psarх'аd’ a small fish has splashed, psari:хаd several small fish have splashed; pujx-аd a large fish has splashed, pujiх'аd several large fish have splashed.
As for invisible but audible splashes, one can say: p'оzх" a single fish could be heard splashing; p'оzх"хаd one fish has splashed; p'оzg-i:хаd multiple fish were heard splashing around, i.e. one could hear the sound of the water "boiling" from the abundance of fish concentrated in the same limited area. To characterize the sounds made by the fish during spawning, when they make a hole in the bottom of the river to deposit their eggs, one uses the words kurg"urg"ur the sound of one fish making a hole in the bottom, or kurg"i:dg"un the sound of many fish making holes in the bottom. All of these words are used for the sounds produced by fish in the wild. Other words are used if the noise is made by the fish already after they have been caught, and there is a further distinction between the noise produced by the caught fish in the water, and the noise produced when they are pulled out of the water and thrown into the boat, for example: k"ozgjod the sound of a fish caught in the net; pujvuj the sound of a fish caught on a hook; t'u: the sounds made by fish caught in a fishing trawl when it’s been hauled closer to the shore; petx petx the sounds made by fish after it has been pulled out of the water and is thrashing around in the boat or on the shore; petgjod the sound made by fish that have been thrashing around in the boat or on the shore for a considerable time; petg-i:dxun the sounds made by great numbers of fish thrown out of the fishing trawl into the boat or onto the shore.