Saying what’s your name and mine in Akimel O’otham

October 21, 2016


Huhugam Heritage Center

Gila River Indian Community


Every language has a way of expressing ownership, or when an object belongs to someone. In Akimel O’otham ñeo’ok, this is done by saying two nouns together or by using a pronoun with a noun.


For example if you wanted to say that you saw Mary’s sister yesterday you could say “Ñei anth heg Mali:ya ve:nag thako." In this sentence the part that means Mary’s sister is expressed by the Akimel O’otham words Mali:ya ve:nag.


Putting two words together to express ownership creates what is called a possessive phrase. In Akimel O’otham the order for possessed phrases normally starts with the possessor (the person that has ownership) occurring first while the possessed noun (the noun that is owned or claimed) comes last.


This is the same ordering of words that English uses in creating possessive phrases. What is different in this example is that there is no suffix (or word ending) like the ‘-s suffix that is always added to the possessor in English possessed phrases (John’s dog, Mary’s sister). Just by combining the two words together in the right order gives the phrase Mali:ya ve:nag the meaning of Mary’s sister.


Now this pattern changes slightly depending on the type of object that is being claimed. If you were to change the first sentence to say you saw John’s car yesterday it would turn into “Ñei anth heg Huan kalithga thako.”


In this sentence the possessed phrase (the part that means John’s car) is expressed by words Huan kalithga.


The word for car in O’otham is kalith and for claiming ownership in this case you add a suffix –ga to the word kalith.


This pattern is different from English in that you do not add the suffix to the possessor (like in English, see for example John’s car) but instead add it to the possessed noun (Huan kalithga).


What is also different is that this suffix is only found with certain nouns and does not get attached to all words like the possessive (‘-s) suffix in English.


Akimel O’otham speakers know without thinking what words use the –ga suffix and which ones don’t need it. For learners it is best to listen closely and take note of what words go with the suffix.


For most speakers, the difference can be loosely described that between nouns that have a close relationship to you and those that are more distant. Nouns that refer to things like parts of the body (mo’o ‘head’, nov ‘hand’, kaiyo ‘leg’), people (alithag ‘man’s child’, maḍ ‘woman’s child’, je’e ‘mother’), and clothing (kamish ‘shirt’, shu:shk ‘shoes’, vonam ‘hat’) never take the –ga ending.


It could be that you don’t need the –ga at the ends of these words because these items are already understood as belonging to someone or have a close relationship to people.


The words that fit in this group will vary from speaker and some speakers will prefer to use –ga with items like clothes.


Other nouns like pets (gogs ‘dog’, mi:thol ‘cat’, ko:ji ‘pig’), plants (ha:l, hu:ñ, pilkañ), and other items (kalith ‘car’, jeveḍ ‘land’, lial ‘money’, ve:m ñeokkuḍ ‘cell phone’) use the ending –ga when you say that it belongs to someone.


The types of nouns that take the –ga ending are often those that can be purchased or that do not necessarily belong to someone.


With animals there is another possible way to make a possessive phrase and that is by using the O’otham word shoiga. This word specifies that the animal that is being talked about is a pet and belongs to someone.


For example you can say “Ñei anth heg Robert kaviyu shoiga” to mean “I saw Robert’s horse.” In this example you don’t need to use –ga at the end of kaviyu ‘horse’ because you specified that the horse is someone’s shoiga or pet. It is also possible to say the same phrase using –ga “Ñei anth heg Robert kaviuga.


This type of possessive phrase works even with animals that are not normally made into pets and can be heard in the O’otham translation of Mary had a little lamb. The first line of that nursery rhyme is seen below.


Mali:ya ash ge kavulga, kavulga, kavulga.