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Nouns

May be divisble (mostly complex words with one or more suffixes) or indivisible (mostly bare stems). In the past, nouns used to have the ending  -n/-ŋ, apparently because their nominative function was shaped in prehistoric times by an animistic perception of the world. Being an attributive marker, -n/-ŋ denoted the state of being peculiar to something or someone, and suggested that the soul (master) of the object existed in a particular way.

Number: singular, plural, and comitative dual. The plural is not obligatory; if it is clear from the overall context of the message that one is talking about several objects rather than one, the singular (base form of the noun) is used.

The plural suffix is -kun ~ -γun ~ -gun ~ -xun in the East Sakhalin and North Sakhalin dialects and  -ku ~ -γu ~ -gu ~ -xu in the Amur dialect. For example, the plural for tiγr, čʰаř tree would be tiγrku in the Amur dialect, čʰаřkun in the East Sakhalin dialect and tiγkun  in the North Sakhalin dialect  (the stem comes from the Amur dialect, the plural suffix from the Sakhalin dialects).

The plural index in the Nivkh language is a complex suffix. The element -k and its allomorphs -γ, -r, -x convey the meanings of multiplicity and comitativity. The vocalic element -u serves to differentiate plurality. The element -n conveys an attributive meaning, as well as that of mutual connection. In the future, the unification and appearance of an abstract notion of plurality (the destruction of the dual number is already apparent) could cause the disappearance of the vowel and result in -k remaining as the generic plural marker.

When it comes to grammatical case, opinions diverge, with different scholars distinguishing four, eight, ten or even more cases. L. I Shternberg noted the possibility that Nivkh could altogether lack any cases, and he probably was right. The cases have only just begun to form. It would seem that the relationships between the words in a sentence are expressed not through case, but through postpositions of a nominal or verbal origin, some of which may be reduced to case suffixes. Interestingly, these relational postpositions may be with verbs or adverbial modifiers as well as nouns, as in osmund ~ ezmudʲ ~ smodʲ loves (gerundial form) or osmur-kiř with love, lovingly.

There is no separate possessive marker. If the possessor is referred to by a possessive pronoun, the latter merges with the noun designating the possession according to the rules of Nivkh incorporation: tʰuγrys the master of fire (fire-master), tʰuγrkins the devil of fire (fire-devil), nʲryf  my house (home).

When a noun plays a nominative, designative role, it function as an absolute form that could be seen as the equivalent of the nominative case and has several syntactic functions - subject, direct object (complement) or attribute. 

niγvŋ ixnt the man/human (has) killed (sb/sth)

niγvŋ niγvŋ-kʰunt the man/human (has) killed a man/human

niγvŋ-daf a human dwelling/home

čʰyvan nivdy″ a bear is also a (kind of) man/human (-dy is a predicative marker)

The subject of a non-evident action known only from hearsay is marked with the suffixes kan ~ gan ~ γаn ~ хаn.

kʰеvin ittʲ, mygungan kʰеk-xuvur ittʲ Khevin said, Mygun (had) killed a fox, so he said

tu-tʰulf muzxunxan mirn-wоrох laγinyvur itnt yhey say Muzgun is going to come to our village for a visit this winter

This form has all but disappeared from the Amur dialect.

The direct object (complement) is usually unmarked except for the causative, where it receives the accusative suffix -ax, as in, for example, ni muzgunax wigd I (have) sent Muzgun.

Orientative-dative suffix -tox ~ -rox ~ -dox, -rx ~ -tx, as in muzgun palrox wint Muzgun went (has gone) to the forest.

Instrumental suffix -kis ~ -γis ~ -gis ~ -xis, -kir ~ -γir ~ -xir, as in kʰyxis with/using an axe.

Locative suffix -ujn ~ -jn ~ -in, as in vojn humdʲ (he) lives in a village .

This case is absent from the Sakhalin dialects, but -n occurs there as the component of a case suffix taken by spatial nominals such as hunх there.

Locative-ablative suffix, used to respond to the questions "Where?" and "Whence? Where from?” х, -uх. Other existing forms include -uxe ~ -uγe, -xe ~ -хi, for instance: tavux, tyvux from the dwelling (home), to, into the dwelling (home) (the information about the precise direction is supplied through the predicate).

Comparative suffix -ak, -yk, as in tlaŋi kanŋak eγd a deer is faster than a dog.

Vocative suffix -a, -аj, -o, -γо, as in akana ″o elder brother″, ty-nivγо!  ″o, that man!″.

Given the irregular use of the plural, the regular morphological expression of comitativity is particularly conspicuous. The conjugate parts of the sentence are linked through the use of the dual, plural and singular markers, which is similar to the mechanism that exists in the Ostyak language.

The commitative dual (two subjects or complements) has the markers -ke ~ -γe ~ -ge ~ -xe, -kin ~ -γin ~ -gin ~ -xin

ni täkохе tuxke pʰykyn-pʰimdʲ I gave the knife and axe to the elder brother 

jeřkin iřgin mundγun his father and mother (have) died

pʰytxin pʰmamxin hupt, inʲta his old man and old woman sat down, ate

The markers of the committative plural -kо ~ -γо ~ -gо ~ -хо, -kоn ~ -γоn ~ -gоn ~ -хоn, -kunu ~ -γunu ~ -gunu ~ -xunu indicate that the homogeneous conjugate parts of the sentence consist of several components. 

Nafat pʰymkxun pʰytkxundox viilo? Now should I go to my foster fathers and mothers? (impersonal/passive form)

If there are more than two individual persons or objects, one uses the marker -hara.

 

tyvγŋан vumgugu menm humta, hemar nʲin hara hemanях nʲin hara, hat hundʲγu having entered into the house of his wife, there were both one old man and one old woman, the two of them together

The individual elements of the comitative group can have different suffixes; the connective indicator turns all of them into a single unified part of the sentence. 

ni pʰytkxin-pʰymkxin-xu-milk-ŋanxt viivunt I will go to search for-the devil-who killed-my-father-mother. 

pudʲγо kʰuγо-bo-nivx vidʲ  The man-who took-the bows, arrows went.

Among other things, these examples illustrate the process of incorporation within a comitative group, along with the fact that, when the different components function together as a single part of the sentence, they can serve as an attribute.

The Nivkh naming system appears to have arisen during the Stone Age on the basis of an animistic worldview. Each person had only a double personal name: a uskrkʰа, the true or real name, which was not used and kept in secret to mislead evil spirits, and a lerunkʰа, or jocular name, which was used on a daily basis. No two specific people could share the same name, so that the Nivkh, who number around 4000, have approximately 4000 personal names. The uniqueness of the proper names could be due to the fact that each name was closely linked to personal characteristics and traits of the wearer and thus ceased to exist after their death and could not be inherited.

The use of surnames and patronymics spread during the previous century due to the Russian influence.

Male and female names are morphologically distinct, which is surprising for a language that lacks a grammatical category of gender and has no separate kinship terms for male and female relatives, not even such basic independent words as “boy” or “girl” (if necessary, one may indicate the gender by saying “man-child” or “woman-child”). The absolute majority of male personal names ends in -n, -un, -in, -kun, -gun, -kin, -gin, whereas female names end in -k, -uk, -ik, -kuk, -guk. If we consider this strictly from a linguistic point of view, we are faced with an illogical, incomprehensible phenomenon.

From the linguistic perspective, this phenomenon appears to be illogical, counterintuitive, difficult to comprehend. Although various hypotheses have been formulated in this respect, the main questions have remained unanswered: why did Nivkh develop such a seemingly foreign naming system that contradicts every other rule of the language? One of the suggestions is that the separate groups of names for males and females stem from the structure of the ancient tribal society. Nivkh extended families were exogamous and marriage within them was strictly forbidden. The men would marry women from another family and would marry their own daughters off to still another family. Thus, the men were a permanent element of the tribe, while the women were the variable one. E.A. Kreynovich was told by his Nivkh informants that a tribe or family was comprised of brothers, whereas women were called enхаrŋk “foreign, of a different tribe”, even though they were born into the same family; they were to be expelled from the family and other women were to take their place and marry the brothers of that generation. A child was not named at once, so the act of naming did not coincide with their birth, but as soon as the child was born it was decided whether the child was a member of the family (a boy) or “foreign” (a girl), and, accordingly, whether their future name would end in -n or -k. Consequently, such a design expresses belonging or non-belonging to the genus. Therefore, the markers could denote belonging or not belonging to the given tribe.

In male proper names, the suffix -n has an attributive function and denotes belonging to the given family. The names of the families themselves have an identical structure. All of them end, or used to end before the nasal was dropped, in the marker -n, which refers to the totality of the persons denoted by the base of the word. For example, the name of the Sakhalin clan of Vyskwonŋ can be translated as “the bellicose ones from the village” and consists of the components: vyskt "fights, struggles", wo "village", -ŋ is an attributive-connective suffix. This is confirmed by the use of the word vo+n ~ wо+ŋ> von ~ wоŋ in the sense of "villager, resident of a village". Rui vonkun means "the inhabitants of Rui".

Namyr tol-milk teγr, niŋ-voŋkun кхundra! Yesterday the sea-devil came, killed the inhabitants of our village!

Female proper names, on the other hand, do not indicate belonging to a family. Instead, the attributive suffix -k refers to some other quality, attribute, process or state.

The same word could serve both as a male and female name, but with different endings: Vigun and Vidik from the verb vidʲ  to go, Vadun and Vakuk from the verb vadʲ  to fight, engage in battle, go to war, Putin and Putük from the noun putʲ  edible seaweed, Tatkan и Tatak from the verb tatadʲ  to be whole. Due to the high infant mortality, a significant role in the choosing of a name was played by the parents’ desire to protect their child from evil beings, as evidenced, for example, by names such as kʰautin, which means no, none”; after all, no-one can harm the one who is not there. By the beginning of the 21st century, as a result of a dramatic change in the Nivkh lifestyle, the tribal society had completely disintegrated. Tribal customs, including naming rituals, were lost or eradicated by force.  This is evidenced by the publication "Semantics of Nivkh personal names" by N. A. Laigun, Chief of the Department of Indigenous Peoples of the North under the Administration of the Sakhalin Oblast. This paper demonstrates that, on the one hand, that women allegedly ceased to be seen as "foreigners" (an example is Laigun herself, a woman with a traditionally masculine name), but, on the other hand, that most old customs and rules of conduct have been lost.

 

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